To claim her love, first he must reconcile his past…and catch a killer.
When firefighter Reyn Erikson returns to the small Louisiana town that branded him a killer, he doesn’t want trouble. He plans to slip in, help his hospitalized grandmother, and slip out again as silent as smoke. Instead he runs into two unintended flashpoints: his grandmother’s plea to find the truth behind his mother’s death. And sexy redhead Olivia Crenshaw.
Olivia has found evidence that her late father, the former sheriff, suspected Reyn’s mother was murdered. The truth is still hiding somewhere in this town, and only Reyn can give his grandmother—and himself—the peace they both deserve.
Since Olivia plans to investigate with or without him, Reyn has little choice. From the start, her tenacity and inner strength earn his respect. Despite her reservations about his priorities, Olivia is irresistibly drawn to the handsome firefighter with a uniform full of medals and a past full of mysteries.
The deeper they dig into the past, the more they uncover dark secrets that threaten their sizzling attraction—and draw a killer out of hiding.
“So here’s what we have so far. I plan to search my attic and see if there’s more, but I haven’t had the chance yet between work and school and Lila’s surgery.” Olivia scooped a few files from the counter and laid them in front of him. Pulling out the chair next to him with a scrape, she dropped onto it.
The sweet fragrance of her perfume wafted to him, and a fist of lust tightened his gut. The simple floral scent was far sexier than the heavy designer perfumes most women he knew wore.
He tried to refocus his thoughts on the files she’d given him rather than the smooth thighs he’d glimpsed as she’d climbed in his truck. He didn’t need a distraction while he was in town. A meaningless affair with him, one destined to end badly, was not the legacy he wanted to leave any woman, and especially not his grandmother’s friend.
His break-up with Liz had taught him to be wary of casual sex. His ex-girlfriend had expected more than he could offer once they’d become lovers, and he’d hurt a good woman when he ended the relationship. He pushed aside that painful memory only to take on another. The fire that killed his mom.
He cleared his throat and flicked a quick glance at Olivia. “I was there, you know. I saw the fire. I watched the house burn, watched the men fight the flames. The house was a total loss.”
He bit down on a cookie, which should have been sweet, but flavored with his dark memories, it tasted like cardboard.
“How old were you?” she asked, scooting her chair closer.
“So young. Oh God, Reyn. What a horrible thing to witness. Were you in the house when it started?” Sympathy tinged her voice, and he cringed inwardly. He didn’t deserve her sympathy.
Reyn stared at the wall across from him, seeing the smoke that poured through the windows of his childhood home again, remembering in vivid detail the taunting flames and soul-deep terror that had seized him. He struggled for a breath so he could respond. “No. I was hiding in the woods when it started.”
He nodded stiffly. Guilt flooded him, drowning him, choking the air from his lungs. “I’d run into the woods to hide from my mom. I’d gotten in trouble at school that day—again—and Principal Horton had stopped by to tell her about my latest screw up. I knew I was going to get a whippin’, so I stayed in the woods until nearly dark. I smelled the smoke, saw it from a distance and went back to investigate. The closer I got, the more scared I got, ’cause I knew it was our house burning.”
Olivia laid a cool hand on his forearm, and he glanced down at her slim, graceful fingers, the freckles dotting her ivory skin. He stared numbly as she stroked his arm. Though he registered her soothing gesture at some level, his thoughts remained focused on the horror of the day twenty years before.
“Go on,” she coaxed.
He released a deep breath in a puff. He didn’t want to go on. He’d kept his guilt and shame bottled up for so long he couldn’t talk about it now.
Even when he’d been ordered to spend several afternoons in counseling with the fire department psychologist three years ago, he’d kept it inside. After convincing the shrink that his risk-taking was due to job stress, he’d received a warning about taking unnecessary chances and several days off to decompress. But at the fire in question, he’d gotten a little boy out of an almost fully involved house, and that was what mattered to him.
Now, with his heart thundering, memories crashed down on him, and he shoved back his chair. Restless, he stalked over to the window in the back door to stare outside. He shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to slow his breathing to a normal pace.
“Reyn? What is it?” Olivia came up behind him and put a hand at the small of his back. “Please tell me.”
“Nothing. It was just a horrible day, and Gram doesn’t need those bad memories stirred up.”
“You haven’t even looked at the files yet. Don’t make up your mind until you see what my dad had found out. Things you and your grandmother were apparently never told.”
He whirled to face her and jabbed a finger toward her face. “Damn it, I don’t want to know any more! I already know what the smoke smelled like, how it choked me and made me want to throw up. I felt the flames’ searing heat from a hundred feet away. I lived every horrible minute of it, and I love my grandmother enough to spare her the details.”
Olivia’s eyes misted, and their amber depths glittered as she stared back at him. “You became a firefighter because of that day. Didn’t you?”
His breath hung in his lungs. For several seconds he said nothing, only able to stare back into her insightful gaze. Finally, with a shudder, he murmured, “Yes.”
Her expression softened with concern, and he turned away. “Don’t go jumping to any conclusions about me or over-analyzing it. I’ve always been fascinated by fire, always had a notion I’d be a fireman. That day just sealed the deal.”
“Why do I think there’s more you’re not telling me?”
He crossed the kitchen, to get distance from her knowing gaze and to buy himself time to think. And because having her close toyed with his senses. “The fire started in my bedroom. A candle I’d apparently left burning caught the curtains on fire. Case closed.”
“No. There’s more. My father was on to something before he died. It’s in his files. Read it for yourself.”