Secrets of Moore House

Secrets of Moore House

Susan Kearney

September 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-546

She'd always dreamed of finding her birth family.

Be careful what you wish for...

 
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She’d always dreamed of finding her birth family.

She didn’t count on him being there. The perfect man. The man of her dreams. Or is he?

Be careful what you wish for . . .

A mysterious letter from the past suddenly gives Jasmine Ross a clue to her mother’s fate and reveals a family she never knew she had.

Only Rand Sinclair welcomes her into their fold, and he’s the only one not related to her. Enigmatic, powerful, and irresistible, he makes her want to trust him, to love him, even as "accidents” begin to happen to her, suggesting that her new-found loved ones may want her dead. Could it be that Rand secretly agrees with them?

Kearney, a native of New Jersey, writes full time and has sold books to the industries’ top publishing houses. As an award-winning author, Kearney earned a Business Degree from the University of Michigan. Kearney’s fifty plus books include contemporary, romantic suspense, historical, futuristic, science fiction, and paranormal novels. She resides in a suburb of Tampa—with her husband, kids, and Boston terrier. Currently she’s plotting her way through her 54th work of fiction. Visit Susan at SusanKearney.com.


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Excerpt

 

Prologue

A SOFT TONGUE rasped along Jasmine’s neck and tickled her chin. Groaning, she rolled to her stomach, closed her eyes and snuggled deeper into the covers.

The tongue stroked the sensitive flesh behind her ear.

"Go to sleep, Pete.”

Pete kneaded her shoulder.

Jasmine shoved him away. "Cut that out.”

It couldn’t be time to get up, could it? She peered through cracked eyelids in search of her alarm clock. Inky blackness revealed it was too soon for her morning run, too soon for even an early riser like her to consider climbing out of bed.

Flicking the sheet over her head, she burrowed under her pillow. "I have a new computer program to teach the kids tomorrow. It’s not fair to keep me up all night when you can sleep in.”

Pete worked loose a corner of the sheet. His sandpaper-like tongue in­sistently licked her.

"Stop it.”

Sharp teeth bit her earlobe.

"Ouch!” Jasmine sprang upright. "That’s all the chances you get, mis­ter. If you can’t behave in my bed, you can leave right...”

Smoke clogged her nostrils. No. She must be mistaken. She couldn’t hear any fire alarms, and she’d just replaced the batteries in the smoke detectors. Gooseflesh prickled her neck and skittered down her arms. She inhaled again, and the acrid scent of gasoline fumes and smoke burned her throat, leaving a foul taste in her mouth.

Fire!

Terror skimmed her spine and lodged in her stomach. For the first time in months, she was glad she lived alone. Without family, she need only worry about saving herself.

Her gaze darted to her third-story bedroom window. In the yard, the granddaddy oaks covered with Spanish moss loomed without a hint of flames to silhouette their gnarled branches. She leapt to the far win­dow that overlooked the garage she’d added to her home. It too re­mained dark and peaceful.

The fire was probably inside the house.

Pete meowed, his soft fur brushing her ankles. She stooped, picked him up, and tucked him under her arm. "Good, kitty.”

Grabbing the blanket from her mattress and covering her shoul­ders, she whipped toward her door. Pulse spiking and heart sputtering, she reached for the knob.

Oh, God. Was that the crackling of burning wood?

This house had been old thirty years ago when her mother moved in. After baking for decades under Florida’s tropical sunshine, the aged wooden walls would ignite like kindling, blaze into an inferno within minutes.

We have to get out. Now.

Still, she hesitated, weighing options. She couldn’t survive a jump from the third story. If she phoned for help, the fire department would never arrive in time to catch her.

Placing her palm on the door, she found the wood cool, not hot, but she couldn’t take time to dress. Her t-shirt and panties would have to do. Yet if the floors had caught fire, she wouldn’t escape bare-footed. Keeping a firm hold of Pete so he couldn’t scamper off in a panic, she hurried to her closet, passing up her lace-up running shoes for a pair of slip-on sandals.

Urgency throbbed with every palpitation of her heart. Lunging for the door, she grabbed her backpack. She slung a strap over her arm, hoping to trap the blanket in place.

Smoke curled under the door. She coughed and turned her head to fortify herself with one last gulp of relatively clean air. Her gaze caught on her music box, her only childhood memento, her only tie to her mother. Snatching the keepsake, she stuffed the music box into her backpack and breathed deeply.

With Pete under one arm and the blanket clenched in her hand, she opened the door. Thick smoke billowed up the stairway and clung to the walls, spreading a gloomy pall to impede her only way out.

To survive, she had to escape down the stairs.

Squinting against the smoke that stung her eyes, she raced down the first flight, using the bannister to guide her. She whirled around the landing, praying the flames hadn’t reached this part of the house.

Her prayers went unanswered. Flames shot toward her, licking the steps, and her heart jammed in her throat. Hellish red cinders swirled amidst the smoke. Pete’s claws dug into her arm. She gripped him tighter, wishing she could spare the breath to reassure him, but her chest burned for air. Her eyes teared. Crouching low, she chanced a half breath.

A mistake.

Smoke seared the lining of her throat. She gagged on the stench of burning plastic, and wracking coughs gripped her. Forcing one foot in front of the other, she advanced, staggering around flames, vaulting over a fiery step, careening through the blazing living room that crackled and glowed from floor to ceiling.

She stumbled toward the side door. But the fire burned brighter in front of the room’s only exit. Blistering heat rammed her back.

She sprinted through the kitchen. Bits of burning debris fell from the ceiling, igniting the blanket. Popping and hissing accompanied her every step. The odor of gasoline almost overwhelmed her. Ribbons of flame slithered along the baseboards flaring to a ferocious wall of fire, blocking the double doors, preventing escape.

With a last burst of desperation, she threw off the burning blanket, bolted toward a window.

Locked.

With singed fingers she fumbled with the safety lock, clawed at the window frame.

Behind her a ceiling light crashed to the floor. She couldn’t breathe. Panic ripped her throat, clawed her stomach. With blood roaring in her skull from oxygen deprivation, she rammed open the window and cart­wheeled outside.

Pete scampered from her arms and raced away. Unable to get her legs under her, Jasmine crawled, rolled and fought to draw precious air into her lungs.

Finally, she shoved to her feet and watched... watched the only home she’d ever known turning to ashes.

Ashes.

It was all gone... her home... her computer business... her dreams.

She’d been lucky to escape alive. Clutching her mother’s music box, her only tie to her family, she gazed at the utter devastation. The humid air carried the reek of smoke and burning wood.

At the sight of a five gallon can of gasoline, lying on its side, empty, she ached to turn and run. Instead, she watched the roof cave in, the hellish sparks shooting into the Florida sky.

Damn it. Someone had set the fire.

It was no accident, and the realization pierced her like a knife to the heart. Who would do such a monstrous thing? Who had torched her home? And why?

Despite the arrival of fire trucks, hungry flames swallowed Jasmine’s garage and car, inflaming the rage in her heart. She’d been lucky to get out with a pair of jeans, an old t-shirt and her backpack, which included her wallet and cell phone.

She’d survived. She’d rebuild.

But, gone was the home where Jasmine had spent such happy days with her aunt. Gone was the security of operating her own computer school there.

All she was left with were questions about the past.

Somehow, she would find the arsonist. But how?

She had no enemies. Didn’t know where to start searching—until a twenty-five-year-old letter arrived in the mail.

JASMINE’S HOUSE might have just burned to the ground, but the bills kept coming. However, the instant Jasmine Ross pulled the frayed and faded envelope from her mailbox, her gaze bolted to Return to Sender stamped in conspicuous red. This was no bill. Positive that the postman had made a mistake, she checked the return address, but it matched the Florida cracker house she’d lived in all her life.

Yet, why was this strange letter coming back to her? She hadn’t writ­ten a letter to Mr. Talbot Moore in Dolphin Bay. And the handwrit­ing wasn’t hers.

Jasmine looked again and recognized the neatly printed lettering, and an eerie prickle whispered down her spine. She must be mistaken.

The penmanship couldn’t possibly match her mother’s penmanship in her baby album, could it?

Get a grip.

Telling herself not to get worked up over a lost piece of mail did no good. Although she had no family, common sense told her this letter might shine some light on her shadowy past.

Her fingers shook. For one wild moment, she considered ripping the letter, shredding it to bits.

But then she focused on the postmark dated twenty years ago. In May. The same month her mother had walked out of the house and disappeared from Jasmine’s life.

May. The month she’d become parentless was forever branded in Jasmine’s memory. She shoved the bitter taste of abandonment, the fear of desertion, down hard.

Fresh nerves scrambled into her throat. A throbbing pounded be­hind her eyes and at the base of her skull. Although she didn’t even know her father’s name, she had vague memories of her mother, Daisy. She was never certain if the memories were real or if she’d dreamed of her mother’s soft, loving voice, the scent of wild flowers, the security of a goodnight hug.

As her knees turned rubbery, Jasmine realized the hope of someday finding her mother wasn’t forgotten, just buried. She’d thought she’d put away the childish dream, the foolish conviction that her mother would return and explain why she’d abandoned her three-year-old daugh­ter. But her mother had vanished, her body never found, leaving behind Jasmine’s grieving Aunt Daisy to raise a child tormented by nightmares where she faced her fears alone.

Jasmine had finally resigned herself to never knowing why her mother had left on an errand—and hadn’t returned. For years she’d wondered if her mother had been murdered or abducted. Or more hurt­ful, perhaps her mother hadn’t loved Jasmine enough to stay and raise her alone.

Under Daisy’s loving hand, Jasmine had moved on with life.

Or so she’d thought.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, she stared at the envelope, her eyes misty. Although she’d never heard of Talbot Moore or Dolphin Bay, that her mother had written a letter to this man incited her curiosity. Who was he?

And could he have anything to do with the fire? It seemed like two much of a coincidence for the letter to have shown up in her mailbox on the very same day an arsonist had torched Jasmine’s house. However, she was getting ahead of herself.

With shaking fingers she carefully slit the envelope, and a folded let­ter fell into her hand.


 

 

Chapter One

FROM THE MOMENT the taxi drove up the oak-shaded street in Dolphin Bay and Jasmine Ross took in the gingerbread, three-story Victorian that was Moore House, the looming mansion seemed to suck all the oxygen from the air around her.

After matching the address on the faded envelope to the numbers on the red brick mailbox, she instructed the cab driver to pull into a wide circular driveway. Veiled by the green foliage of thick, moss-draped branches, the chocolate brown house suggested vastness, timelessness, and a hint of forbidding secrecy.

In the twilight, she caught a glimpse here and there of a steep roof, a jutting balcony and a shingled turret. She studied the house, searching for traces of the owner’s character, wondering about the man who lived there. But the immaculately maintained exterior couldn’t talk, wouldn’t reveal anything except an eerie sense of foreboding.

The covered porches along the front and sides held tight to their se­crets. The image made her shiver and raised goose bumps on her skin.

She clutched her mother’s music box for courage. Would she find her father here, as her mother’s old letter had hinted? After hesitating a moment to inhale and exhale a deep breath to calm her nerves, Jasmine walked on unsteady legs up the front porch steps and pressed the door­bell. Would her father answer the door?

From inside the house, strident masculine voices deep in argument rose in volume. After waiting several long minutes, a wizened old woman in a maid’s uniform opened the door. Her hair stood up in orange tufts like an orangutan’s. "May I help you?”

"I’d like to speak with Mr. Talbot Moore.”

The old woman frowned and started to close the door. "That’s not possible.”

Jasmine stuck her foot across the threshold. "It’s urgent. I must speak with him.”

At the sound of footsteps, the maid looked over her shoulder.

"Belle?” a man called out. "Is anything wrong?”

Was that her father speaking? But the voice sounded as if it be­longed to a younger man.

"Someone’s here, insistin’ on speakin’ to Mr. Talbot Moore,” Belle said.

The maid left, and a dark-haired man appeared at the door and ap­praised Jasmine. A faint smile, no more than a slim curve, turned up the corners of his mouth, and black hair swung into his eyes. With a gesture of annoyance, he dragged a hand through his hair, shoving it back off his broad forehead. What had been dimples in youth had deepened to creases that could incite a woman’s fantasies. But it was his steel gray eyes assessing her with intelligent yet cynical curiosity that had her thinking this man knew what he wanted and went after it.

"Yes?”

Her mouth dry as cotton, she moistened her lips. Had one of the male voices she’d heard belonged to her father? Were twenty-five plus years of wondering about her father about to end? "Is this the Moore residence?”

"Yes,” the man drawled lazily, his gaze lingering on the slight bruise on her brow and the cut on the back of her hand from her hasty escape of the fire. At another time she might have admired his rich bari­tone— soft, mellow and undeniably sexy.

Hoping her trembling fingers didn’t betray her nervousness, Jasmine held out her hand, stiffening her wrist to prevent a slight tremor. She met his gaze with a calm she didn’t feel as he shook her hand. "I’m Jasmine Ross.”

"Rand Sinclair.” His words rippled through the night air, warming her like caramel poured over ice cream. The evening breeze picked up the faint scent of sandalwood aftershave from his tanned skin. Radiating authority in his blue chambray shirt and khaki slacks, he looked every inch the owner of this house, a man who wasn’t fazed easily.

Caught staring into his gray eyes, she looked away. She hadn’t antici­pated explaining her situation to anyone other than her father. Rand Sinclair was much too attractive, causing her thoughts to stray from her inquiry. Rand towered over her, but it wasn’t just his height that she found both appealing and intimidating. His perceptive eyes could haunt a woman’s dreams.

Under other circumstances, she’d have wished to know him better, but she didn’t have time for dark and appealingly enigmatic men. "I was hoping to talk to Talbot Moore.”

One dark brow arched with vivid interest. "About?”

"It’s personal.”

Clearly, he was accustomed to more straightforward answers. His shoulders stiffened slightly, and a thread of menace entered his baritone. "Talbot isn’t... available.”

"I can return later. Do you know when he might see me? It’s im­portant.” She tucked the music box under her arm, hoping she’d masked her disappointment with a breezy tone.

His eyes bored into her. "Perhaps I can help you.” What was his rela­tion to Talbot? she wondered, trying to ignore the slippery little fingers of fear gliding over her. Ever since the fire, she had been a mass of jangled nerves. She found herself fighting the instinct to confide in someone. After she’d almost been burned alive, she shouldn’t trust any­one. But since this Rand Sinclair couldn’t possibly know her connec­tion to Talbot Moore, she shouldn’t have anything to fear from him.

"Please. You must let me speak to him.”

His mouth softened with compassion. "I’m sorry.”

"I heard voices inside. Is he in the house?”

"You must be mistaken.” His tone sharpened. "No one is home but Belle and me.”

Jasmine had heard him speaking to someone male, and she hadn’t ex­pected outright denial of the other man’s presence. She almost pan­icked, then squared her shoulders and firmed her lips. She ignored his refusal, his treating her like a door-to-door salesperson, and made an effort to keep her tone matter-of-fact. "Please, let me talk to Mr. Moore.”

Rand watched her like a hawk. "Talbot died three months ago.”

Shock sent her reeling, and pain had her fighting back tears. Her knees buckled. She would have fallen if Rand hadn’t reached out to catch her in his strong arms.

He steadied her against his chest, practically dragged her into the dark hall and settled her on a bench. He sat beside her and kept a protec­tive arm around her. "Hey, are you all right?”

Unable to speak past the lump in her throat, twisting the music box in her hands, she stared at the polished oak floor. After waiting a life­time, she’d missed knowing her father by three months.

Three months.

Somehow she had to get hold of herself, phone for a taxi, and leave. But between the shock of losing her home and business, and this terrible news about her father, she needed a moment to get it together.

Talbot Moore was dead.

She struggled to accept that fact. Her mother’s letter, implying that Talbot Moore was her father, had come too late. Now, just as fate had sent her to Moore House, fate had whisked her father away.

Shuddering, she closed her eyes and clenched her fists. It would feel so good to be held, to cradle her head against Rand’s broad shoulder and melt into the strength of the arm he’d flung around her. But he was a stranger. Not to be trusted.

He’d lied about the other man in the house, but why? She’d clearly heard him arguing with someone before she knocked on the door. Or had she? She was tired. Maybe not thinking straight.

When Rand remained silent, she risked another glance at his rugged face. His eyes weren’t focused on her, which suited her fine. With the aura of power he emanated, she was sure he could be most intimidat­ing—and just as sure she was in no shape to stand up to him. At least not in this moment. Yet at the same time, if she was honest, she found the coiled strength in him exciting.

Damn it. She was no longer an abandoned child. But the fire had thrown her. And then the shock of her mother’s letter and the news of her father’s death... it was a lot to deal with. She needed to take a mo­ment alone to collect her thoughts.

"Could I please have a glass of water?”

"Sure. I’ll be right back.” He stood and left without a backward glance, yet she sensed his curiosity beyond his polite façade.

Too bad. She wasn’t up for explanations just yet. First she had to rid herself of an almost frantic edginess. She had to cope, but for the first time in her life she had no one to help her. Her best friend was on a bike tour in Europe. Another friend had just married and moved to California. She was alone.

She reminded herself she was the same independent woman she’d been yesterday—before the letter, the fire and her knowledge of Talbot’s death, before she’d practically collapsed in Rand Sinclair’s arms.

She might be emotionally strung out, but her thoughts raced. Suspi­cions racked her. Was it just coincidence that her mother had disap­peared soon after her letter was first mailed, asking Talbot Moore for financial help in raising their child? Could her father have had a part in her mother’s disappearance? The sinister question took root and blos­somed. Perhaps Talbot Moore had refused to acknowledge Jasmine as his daughter. If her mother had been persistent, she might have enraged him to the point of violence. And now, could it really be just a coinci­dence her mother’s letter had turned up immediately after the fire?

She’d never known her father’s name until yesterday morning. And with that name had come questions, suspicions. So why should news of his death hit her so hard that she wanted to cling to a stranger like a baby?

True, her life had changed drastically since yesterday morning. But she couldn’t crawl into bed and hide in dark misery. Hell, she didn’t even have a bed—it had burned with the rest of her furniture.

She knew how to work past the pain of loss. She would move on with her life. This wallowing in suspicions was unlike her. So was welcom­ing a man’s arms to comfort her.

But the last twenty four hours’ events was a lot to take in.

Nothing had prepared her for the devastation of the fire and the tur­moil of her mother’s old letter. Nothing had prepared her for a tall, dark stranger who seemed both compassionate and wary. Digging into her pocket for a tissue, she blew her nose.

She would adapt. She could rebuild her house, her business, her life, bury her past.

"Are you all right now?” Rand asked as he handed her the glass, his concerned voice breaking into her worries.

"I’ll be fine.” She sipped the water. A sudden thought burst through her misery. This man could be her half-brother. "Are you Talbot’s son?”

He sent her a peculiar look, as if surprised by her personal question. The hall lights flickered, throwing a dark shadow across his face.

He spoke as if choosing his words with care. "My dad and Talbot Moore were partners. After my folks died, Talbot raised me.”

She almost spilled the water on the music box. Carefully she set down the glass.

Her father had raised him.

She bit back a gasp as his revelation sliced razor sharp, and agoniz­ing pain hit anew. She glanced down to hide the shock, the vulnera­bility that must be in her eyes.

Her father had taken in someone else’s child, while she’d had no fa­ther of her own.

When Rand was a child, had her father tucked him into bed at night, read him stories? Had her father held Rand on his lap after the boy skinned his knee? Taught him to use a computer? Catch fish? Play base­ball? She shut down the unbearable train of thought.

Fighting back resentment, she tried to regroup. This wasn’t going the way she’d planned.

She’d hoped to find Talbot Moore and clear up the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Instead, now she had to confront another pain­ful truth. While she’d grown up without her parents, Rand Sinclair had been raised by her father.

She suddenly wanted to go home, climb into bed and sleep until the nightmare faded into oblivion.

Unfortunately, her situation was no nightmare but all too real, and her home was now in ashes—thanks to an arsonist. Her students wouldn’t be waiting for her, not until she got the business back on its feet. And without her daily schedule to keep her mind on practical, humdrum matters, her thoughts kept skittering around the uncomforta­ble probability that someone wanted her dead. She covered her face with her hands, realizing she’d come to Dolphin Bay as much to escape whoever had burned down her house as she had to find out about her parents.

"What’s wrong?” Rand’s almost reluctant sympathy intruded on her worries.

She drew in another deep breath and raised her head. "Nothing.”

He eyed her with a critical squint. "You don’t look too good.”

"Thanks,” she muttered sarcastically.

His hand closed over hers. "You’re shaky.”

She pulled away, at once missing the heat. "I’ll be fine in a minute.”

Jasmine glanced down the somber hall to avoid his searching gaze. The house exuded a sense of substance, security and provoked a little awe. A rack for hats, coats and umbrellas stood by the door next to a grandfather clock. Two straight-backed chairs bracketed an oversize chest. Family pictures and etchings hung in a collection along one wall. Talbot Moore must surely be in one of them. Recalling that Talbot had been a father to Rand but not to her, Jasmine couldn’t bear to study the photographs. She would. Just... not... yet.

Instead, she turned, faced Rand and baldly stated. "My house burned down yesterday morning.”

Then she carefully watched his face for a reaction.

RAND CONCEALED his surprise behind his best poker face.

If Jasmine Ross was telling the truth, no wonder she was acting dazed and nervous. He had no reason to distrust her—except she had asked for Talbot as if believing him still alive. Plus, doubting everyone these days seemed prudent.

When Rand had first heard her speaking to Belle, he’d picked up a trace of panic in her tone. After he’d seen her wide eyes and the bruises on her face, he’d had only to lean forward to take in the scent of smoke. When she’d demanded to see Talbot, his suspicions skyrocketed. The fact that she felt so good in his arms couldn’t deter him. He needed to learn why she’d come here asking about Talbot and to determine exactly what she knew.

More importantly—how much of the conversation in Talbot’s li­brary had she overheard?

He noted the bruise on her brow beneath her blond bangs and the skinned knee her hose couldn’t hide. Her legs were dynamite—lean, muscular, sexy. But the fact that she hadn’t bothered to hide the dark circles under her startling green eyes with makeup fascinated him. A good night’s sleep might improve the pallor beneath her tanned face.

She was a puzzle he needed to solve. Escaping a fire would explain the assorted cuts on her hands. Still, she could have inflicted minor cuts and bruises to add authenticity to her story. But even after he’d informed her Talbot was dead, what would explain her constant glances toward Talbot’s library, as if she expected him to walk over and join them any minute?

She was hiding something. And she didn’t seem the type of person who would confide easily. But he couldn’t let her walk away without answering his questions. Keeping Jasmine Ross at Moore House would provide a perfect opportunity to observe her, to discover what she knew. Judging from the haunted look in her green eyes and the paleness ofher tawny, smooth skin, she had secrets of her own. When he’d told her no one else was home, she hadn’t believed him, but had pressed her full lips together and swallowed hard. Did she know enough to pose a threat?

Had she come to pry information out of Rand? If so, she would be disappointed. His interest in the woman was unusual for him, and it had been too long since he’d crossed paths with anyone half as fascinating as Jasmine Ross, but he’d have no trouble keeping secrets from her. He held his liquor well. And he didn’t talk in his sleep. Although, if Jasmine Ross was in his bed, he suspected he wouldn’t get much rest.

What was he thinking?

She wasn’t his type. He preferred experienced women who knew the score, rather than those with the vulnerability he sensed beneath this woman’s outer shell. He steeled himself not to respond to her on a personal level.

What was she really doing here? And how much did she know about Talbot Moore?

Rand intended to check out her story. What personal business did she have with Talbot? Meanwhile, he’d keep his suspicions to himself and his tone purposely low, seductive. "I’m sorry to hear about the fire. Where did you live?”

"Seffner, a town just north of Brandon on the other side of Tampa.”

She’d answered easily, without thinking. Either she was well re­hearsed or telling the truth. But a local resident, even one on the other side of Tampa Bay, would have read the papers and heard the area news. She should have known about Talbot’s death. Why had she pretended not to?

Her questions indicated that she could destroy his plans and every­thing he’d worked so hard to accomplish. For all his pragmatism, he usually relied on his instincts. Instinct told him to take her to bed. Common sense told him she was trouble and to stay away. If he was smart, he’d ignore her combination of vulnerability and strength that he found far too attractive.

He’d allowed the silence to last too long. Perhaps if he drew her into further conversation she’d confide in him or, at least, let something slip. "Were you hurt in the fire?”

She shook her head, and blond tendrils escaped her topknot and curled around her solemn face. "I never saw or heard the arsonist, but I smelled smoke and gasoline fumes from upstairs. I only had time to grab my mother’s music box and my backpack before I got out.”

"Arsonist? The fire was deliberate?”

Color slowly returned to her cheeks, though her bottom lip trem­bled. When she noted his perusal, she firmed her lips as if to hide her apprehension, and he enjoyed the laser gleam in her eyes. He considered taking her into his arms again and kissing the wariness from her lips, but she edged away. Smart woman. She must have sensed the danger inher­ent in being alone with him.

"Someone left a gas can in the yard. The fire was worst around the doors, blocking the exits. I barely escaped through a window.”

So she suspected the arsonist hadn’t just burned down the house, but had tried to kill her, too. Stunned, he forced a calm and sympathetic tone. "Sounds like you were lucky. And smart.”

Her hands closed into fists. "I’m lucky to be here.”

"I’m glad you are.” From the way she kept peeking at the library door, she obviously didn’t feel safe. Or could she be waiting for Talbot? That last possibility was crazy. And upsetting. "I suppose you’ve spoken to the police?”

"Idiots!” Disgust glimmered in her green eyes. "They think I set the fire to collect on my insurance.” Again she’d surprised him. This had to be the oddest conversation he’d ever had—but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask questions. "The police accused you?”

She took a long moment to curl a stray lock behind her ear. Alt­hough two nails of her long, slender fingers were broken, the others were clean and well shaped. Noticing his scrutiny, she clasped her hands protectively over the music box in her lap. "They say they’re still investi­gating. But from their attitudes, I can guess what they’re thinking.”

Rand listened as he watched her mesmerizing fingers. Shoving aside the fantasy of her hands skimming his face, and puzzled by the police reaction, he rubbed his jaw.

Why would they suspect she had set her own house on fire? "Can you prove you’re innocent?”

"Only if I catch the arsonist.”

From her sarcasm, she obviously didn’t think that likely. "Can you think of anyone who would want to harm you? A lover or husband, maybe?”

"My business keeps me too busy to have time for personal relation­ships,” she answered without hesitation. Either she was innocent or lies came easily to her. "Now that my computers and business are gone... I should look for a job.”

So she wasn’t going to tell him why she’d come looking for Talbot. Interesting. Keeping an eye on her had suddenly become a necessity. Fortunately, she’d just given him the excuse he needed to keep her at Moore House.


 

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Susan Kearney

July 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-322-1

Book 3 of The Rystani Warrior series

Our Price: US$14.95

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The Quest

Susan Kearney

September 2013 $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-324-5

Book 4 of The Rystani Warrior Series


 

Our Price: US$14.99

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Lunar Heat

Susan Kearney

November 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-371-9

A future that’s out of this world.

A seduction that’s out of control.


 

Our Price: US$14.95

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Solar Heat

Susan Kearney

November 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-370-2

If she saves his life, he’ll be her enemy forever.


 

Our Price: US$14.95

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Devil in Paradise

Susan Kearney

January 2014 $5.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-297

Available in E-book ONLY. This item is not available directly from BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books.

Ari Dillon is not your ordinary hero.

 

Our Price: US$0.00

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