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Authors: Mary Burton

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The Arsonist

BOOK: The Arsonist
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“I want you.”

Darcy froze at the sound of Gannon’s voice. Thick with desire and passion, it broke the spell. Losing control wasn’t her style, especially in the bedroom.

“No, Gannon.”

He was already reaching for his belt buckle when she spoke. His hand stilled. “What’s wrong?” The words sounded torn from his throat.

“This isn’t smart.” She moistened her lips with her tongue. “And as much as I’d like your hands on me, there are practical reasons why we can’t do this.”

“Are you married? Engaged?” He didn’t sound like he cared for either option.

“No.”

“Then why not?”

She scooted out from under him. “We’re working together, and I don’t mix business with sex.”

She half walked, half ran out of the door. Gannon moved to the window and watched her enter the tavern.

“When this Nero mess is over, Darcy, I’ll make love to you properly.”

Dear Reader,

Darcy Sampson and Michael Gannon rose above tough situations, and despite all the obstacles, they beat the odds to thrive professionally. However, in
The Arsonist
these two loners discover that the dogged determination that made them a success could also be their downfall. They must learn to trust each other in order to stop a killer and embrace the happiness that is missing from their personal lives.

I hope you like
The Arsonist
as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s a suspenseful read that with any luck will keep you up way past your bedtime.

Mary Burton

P.S. Be sure to visit my Web site, www.maryburton.com, and share your thoughts and comments with me. I love hearing from readers!

THE ARSONIST

MARY BURTON

Books by Mary Burton

Silhouette Intimate Moments

In Dark Waters
#1378

The Arsonist
#1410

Harlequin Historicals

A Bride for McCain
#502

The Colorado Bride
#570

The Perfect Wife
#614

Christmas Gold
#627

“Until Christmas”

Rafferty’s Bride
#632

The Lightkeeper’s Woman
#693

The Unexpected Wife
#708

Heart of the Storm
#757

MARY BURTON

sold her first novel in 1999 and since then has written eight Harlequin Historical novels.
The Arsonist
is her second contemporary novel for Silhouette Intimate Moments. Burton not only enjoys a variety of hobbies, including yoga, hiking and scuba diving, but this year tackled her first triathlon. A graduate of Hollins University, she is based in Richmond, Virginia, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Special thanks to
David S. “Steve” Parrott, Battalion Chief, Emergency Operations, Chesterfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Prologue

A
rson investigator Michael Gannon understood the obsession that drove arsonists to set fires. It was what made him good at what he did.

For seven months, he’d been tracking Nero, a monster who had set nine fires in the Washington, D.C. area, killed twelve people and destroyed millions of dollars in property. The metro area had been paralyzed with fear.

Now as Gannon stared down at the charred corpse the police believed was Nero, he couldn’t quite believe the chase was over. He’d not anticipated this outcome. Nero had been his smartest opponent yet, and he’d never made a mistake—until last night.

The body lay curled in a fetal position near the back exit of the burned-out warehouse. The heat from the newly extinguished fire still radiated from the blackened concrete floor. The low, exuberant voices of police and fire crews buzzed around his head like flies. Reporters and curiosity seekers gathered fifty yards away on the other side of the yellow police tape.

As he studied the body’s rigid arms covering an unrecognizable face, relief, anger, and yes, disappointment collided inside Gannon. He’d never get the chance to look the bastard in the eye or see him stand trial and face those he’d hurt.

“There’s not much left of him,” he said mainly to himself. If not for the evidence found in the back alley, he’d not have believed it was Nero.

The medical examiner, a thin woman with short black hair, dressed in a neat navy-blue pants suit, stood as she pulled off her rubber gloves. “Fifth-and sixth-degree burns nearly disintegrated him.”

Gannon’s sharp gaze rose to her angular face. “Can you ID him?”

She smiled at him and offered her hand. A flicker of attraction sparked in her eyes. “I’ll ID him. Just give me a little time, Gannon.”

He shook her hand, noted it was cold and then released it. He couldn’t remember the woman’s name and didn’t have the energy to pretend he did. “Any thoughts to height, weight, race or age?”

She sighed, sensing he didn’t notice her as a woman. “Definitely male. Maybe six feet. The rest will come when I do the autopsy.”

“Thanks.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Gannon watched the medical examiner make her final inspection of the corpse before ordering it moved to the body bag lying open on the floor.

Though it was only ten o’clock in the morning, Gannon’s eyes itched with fatigue. He’d slept very little since the restaurant fire.

Fire Chief Jackson McCray, a tall redhead, lifted the crime scene tape and moved beside Gannon. “You look like hell.”

Gannon tore his gaze from the body. “Right.”

“What are you still doing here?” The chief’s slightly round belly strained against the buttons on his white uniform.

“I’m just seeing this through.”

McCray watched as officers lowered the body into the body bag and zipped it closed.

Gannon reached in his pocket for his pack of cigarettes. “Not double-checking his escape route was stupid. That kind of mistake wasn’t like Nero.” He hated Nero but he had to respect his intellect and cunning. At first they’d thought the fire had been set by another arsonist because the location was so remote. Nero liked his fires closer to people, where they could generate the most hysteria.

However, the evidence was already piling up. “Did the accelerant found near the body match Nero’s?”

“Sure did. This is our boy.”

“I just can’t believe he’s dead.”

“Believe it.” McCray nodded toward the yellow tape that blocked off the crime scene. Beyond were dozens of television news crews and curiosity seekers. “Go home. Take a few weeks off.”

Gannon felt at loose ends, oddly lost. “I don’t know what to do with myself without Nero to chase.”

“Take that pretty wife of yours out to a fancy dinner.”

Gannon pulled a cigarette out of the pack and then remembered he’d promised himself to give up smoking once Nero had been stopped. He shoved the pack back into his pocket. He’d made a lot of promises to himself these last few grueling months. Not only was he cutting the booze out, but he wasn’t working any more twenty-hour days. He wanted his life back. “Amy left me two months ago.” He spoke about the end of his five-year marriage as if it were the most mundane event. “The divorce will be final in a few months.”

McCray’s smile vanished. “I’m sorry. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Nothing to say.” He and Amy had fought a lot about his job. She’d wanted him to quit the department and sell plumbing supplies for his father.

Gannon watched the officers load the body bag onto the stretcher. They wheeled it over the warehouse floor toward the yellow police tape and the row of officers that kept the press away from the hearse.

TV cameras started rolling. A blond GQ-type stood in front of the Channel Five camera. He checked his hair seconds before his cameraman panned from the hearse to him. “Live from Shield’s warehouse. The bloodthirsty arsonist is allegedly dead thanks to the brave efforts of our fire department’s Michael Gannon who cornered the suspect last night in a final standoff.”

Gannon had grown to despise Glass over the last six months. The reporter had gotten ahold of a sensitive detail of the investigation—Nero always included a pack of Rome matches with his letters. He’d reported it on the six o’clock news. After that, every nut in the city had started sending Gannon Rome matches.

Glass lapped up the extra attention. Ratings were all that mattered to him.

The reporter looked into the camera. “Gannon has worked round the clock for over six months, giving up his nights, weekends and even his marriage.”

Disgust twisted in Gannon’s gut. “He’s painting me to be a hero.”

“Like it or not you
are
a hero,” McCray said.

“I’m no hero.”

McCray knew Gannon well enough not to argue when he was in a foul mood. “Do you want me to make the statement to the media?”

“No. I’ll wrap this one up.” He glanced at the reporters, grateful this would be the last time he’d have to deal with them. “Chief, I’m also going to announce my retirement.”

McCray froze. “What?”

“I quit. I’m done with this job. I’ve lost my edge.”

“What do you mean? You cracked the Nero case.”

“I didn’t. Nero tripped up. I wonder now if I ever had what it took to catch him.”

McCray rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re being too hard on yourself. Hell, we all knew you were closing in on him. You just need some rest.”

Gannon rubbed the thick stubble on his chin. “My mind is made up.”

“Where are you going to go?”

It had been years since he’d slept the night through or had drawn in a deep breath without the scents of fire. “I don’t have a clue.”

Where he went didn’t matter now as long as he got away from this job, which was killing him by inches.

Nero wasn’t dead.

He sat across town at the breakfast counter of a local diner sipping his coffee and watching the late-breaking news. The reporter was Stephen Glass, one of his favorites, and he was talking about Nero’s unexpected death.

A dark-haired waitress, dressed in a white-and-blue uniform, refilled his cup. Following his line of sight to the television, she said, “So what’s so important they got to break in on my game show?”

He glanced down at his coffee, slightly annoyed that the ratio of cream and coffee was now off. “The cops trapped Nero. He died in his latest fire.”

She popped her gum. “No kidding.”

He glanced at the waitress, annoyed by her loud gum chewing. He was looking forward to getting out of this city. It wasn’t fun anymore. “Gannon closed the case.”

“I knew he would.” She waved over another waitress. “Betty, come look at the tube. The fire babe is on the air.” The waitress winked at him. “Gannon is built like a brick house.”

Betty joined her friend and the two women giggled like schoolgirls as Gannon gave his account of last night’s fire.

Nero poured more cream into his coffee and carefully stirred it. Gannon was also smart. He’d been a worthy opponent, one who had kept him in the game far longer than was prudent.

Five nights ago, Gannon had missed him by seconds in the Adam’s-Morgan restaurant fire. He’d known then that it was a matter of time before Gannon caught him.

The time had come to quit the game. As much as Nero loved the thrill of the chase and the exquisite way his fires danced, spending the rest of his life behind bars didn’t appeal to him.

So, he’d found a homeless man in Lafayette Square, and lured him to the warehouse with the promise of money. He had given the man one hundred bucks and a bottle of MD 20/20. Nero had watched as the bum unscrewed the top and drank liberally from the bottle laced with drugs. Within minutes the bum had passed out.

Nero had dragged the man to the back entrance, doused him with accelerant, set the warehouse on fire and slipped into the shadows.

The cops had dutifully found all the clues he’d left behind including the duffel in the alley that was filled with Nero newspaper clippings.

The plan was perfect.

He was free.

For the first time in months, Nero felt relaxed and more at ease.

The itch to burn and destroy had vanished.

Nero sipped his coffee. It tasted good—the right balance of cream and coffee.

Maybe this time, he could quit setting fires and live a normal life.

BOOK: The Arsonist
12.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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