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Authors: Cathie Linz

Wildfire

BOOK: Wildfire
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Cathie Linz

 

Wildfire

Copyright © 1983 by Cathie Linz

 

All rights reserved.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

 

Cover design by Purple Papaya, LLC

 

 

Dear Reader,

 

WILDFIRE
is my first cop and librarian romance.

 

When I reread it
,
I fell in love with
the hero, Brady Gallagher, all over again. Not only is he sexy but he also made me laugh. And as a former librarian myself, I had such fun writing about a non-stereotypical libraria
n heroine like Amanda Richards.
Sparks
definitely fly between these two.

 

I hope you enjoy reading WILDFIRE.

 

All the best,

 

Cathie Linz

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The glass-encased fire alarm had enjoyed a sedate existence, embedded as it was in the wall of Deerfield College’s library. Indeed, its only moments of excitement were the periodic checks by the Wisconsin State safety inspector. But today its moment had come. A feminine hand, betraying only the slightest tremor, reached out and successfully activated the alarm system.

“This is not a drill!” Amanda Richards pivoted to briskly inform the students occupying the library study cubicles. “Don’t panic, you’re not in any immediate danger. Please leave the building, using the fire doors at the ends of the stacks.” Her instructions were clearly audible even over the sudden babble of raised voices, and her inflection held an authority that the students responded to without question.

As associate librarian, Amanda was very much aware of her responsibilities. Never one to panic in a crisis, she supervised the evacuation, checking to make certain that everyone was out before leaving herself. The other department heads would make sure that their individual sections of the library were also evacuated, thanks to the revised emergency disaster plan that Amanda had initiated only last week.

Located amid rolling hillsides in southern Wisconsin, Deerfield College had the reputation of being an excellent private liberal arts college. Its mellow brick buildings, clustered around a small lake like a group of campers around a campfire, blended well with their natural surroundings. But today that sense of harmony was shattered by the high-pitched wail of a siren heralding the arrival of Deerfield’s fire department.

Amanda arrived at the front entrance in time to see the firemen scramble off the multi-laddered truck and enter the building. She prayed that the fire could be contained before it reached the library proper and did irreversible damage. As it was, the flames had no doubt ruined the contents of the library’s storage room, where she’d discovered the blaze.

Amanda adeptly side-stepped a group of students who were busy speculating about the fire and its possible cause. Before catching sight of her coworkers, she overheard one disgruntled student actually suggest that it was all a freshman prank.

Hurrying over to join them, she directed her first question to the circulation librarian. “Did you make sure your section was cleared?”

“We got all the students out,” Connie Stillman confirmed. “They weren’t very pleased about it though. They didn’t believe that there was really a fire. Who set off the alarm?”

“I did,” Amanda replied. “The fire was down in the storage room.”

A breathless voice interrupted the rest of her explanation. “Amanda! Thank heavens you’re all right!”

Helen Liggett was one of the two assistants in Technical Services. Since Amanda had held the position of head of that department before becoming associate librarian, she knew Helen quite well. In her early sixties, Helen had a natural exuberance that defied her chronological age, but she’d always brooded over Amanda like an adoptive mother hen.

At the other end of the spectrum was Susan, the second assistant, who at twenty was looking for a husband in this year’s crop of college seniors. While Helen fretted over the possible damage, Susan viewed the day’s occurrence as a spot of excitement in an otherwise dull day.

“Beth is going to be
sorry that she missed this!” Susan exclaimed. “What a lousy time to be out sick.”

Beth Kent had recently been promoted from cataloging librarian to head of Technical Services. Closer to Amanda’s own age, twenty-five to her thirty, the two had become good friends.

The arrival of John Abbington, the head librarian, precluded further speculation about Beth’s reaction to missing the fire.

“Well, girls,” he boomed with false joviality. “I see you all made it out without mishap.”

Amanda gritted her teeth at his use of the term
girls.
The title didn’t apply to any of the women standing before him. Stifling her immense irritation, she quickly asked, “Have you gotten a damage report yet?”

“No, I haven’t, but the dean has just informed me that the entire building will be closed for the remainder of the day. Once the embers have been doused and the fire department deems it safe, you may all return for your personal belongings and then go home,” he instructed with a paternalistic smile.

Home for Amanda was the white frame house she’d grown up in. Her father had once been a professor at Deerfield College, before taking a job at a prestigious ivy-league university in New England. Amanda had never settled in after the move, perhaps because she sensed the growing discontentment between her parents, who went through a bitter divorce a few years later. At fifteen Amanda had been shuttled back and forth between her father in New England and her mother’s new home in California. It was little wonder that she learned to be self-sufficient at an early age and to distrust the institution of marriage.

Now she was back in Deerfield, had been for the past six years. In that time she’d been professionally successful, quickly rising to her present position of second in command in the library’s hierarchy. She’d also managed, with careful planning, to buy the very house she’d grown up in when it had gone on the market.

Back at work the next morning Amanda spent fifteen minutes fruitlessly searching for the papers she needed to complete a summary of the fire damage before remembering that she’d had the list in her hand right before discovering the blaze. With an impatient sigh at the time already wasted she left her office and headed for the stairway leading to the basement. While slowly descending the steps she scanned their surface for the multi-paged document. A rope strung across the bottom of the stairway cordoned off the affected area and halted her progress. Only one overhead light was lit and it did little to alleviate the shadowy interior of the basement. She might not have noticed the man bent over the pile of charred rubble in the corner if he hadn’t shifted suddenly, dislodging something.

Amanda immediately backed away, her mouth dry with fear. If this was the man who had started the fire, there was no telling what he’d do if he discovered her there. Should she call the police? No, they’d take too long to get there; the man could well be gone by then. It would undoubtedly be faster to call college security.

She punched out their extension on the nearest phone and moments later a security guard dutifully arrived. Amanda followed him downstairs, feeling very much like a character in one of the mysteries she loved to read.

The intruder was standing now, but his back was still turned to them. His dark curly head was bent while he wrote something in a small notebook that suddenly fell to the tanned leather of his boots as the guard grabbed him from behind.

“Listen, buddy, this is a restricted area!” the guard growled. “Can’t you read? Or were you coming back to start another little fire? I want to see some form of ID and I want to see it now!”

“Fine.” The trespasser’s voice was unruffled. “If you’d let me go, I’d be more than happy to show it to you.”

“I’m not letting you go until I see that ID. Ms. Richards, would you get his wallet, please?”

Shackled by the guard’s viselike hold on his arms, the stranger shrugged and agreed with sardonic humor. “You do that, Ms. Richards. I’ve always wanted to be frisked by a librarian.”

Determined not to be affected by the intruder’s suggestive remark, Amanda donned her professional mantle. “Do you keep your wallet in your left or right pocket?” Her voice bristled with crispness.

“Left,” was the laconic reply.

While not a prude, Amanda was not accustomed to reaching her hands into strange men’s pockets. The denim of his jeans may have been soft from numerous washings, but the body beneath was powerfully firm. The jeans were so tightly molded to his muscular form that she could barely squeeze her fingers into the pocket, and then they were trapped between the two layers of denim. With a naughty look that suggested it had been her idea to investigate his jeans, the stranger added one important note to his directions. “In my vest.”

Amanda snatched her hand back, as though it had been burned, and indeed it felt remarkably singed. The news that his wallet was in his vest shouldn’t have surprised
her. He couldn’t keep it in his pants pocket like most men did; the jeans were too tight for anything to fit in those pockets, including her fingers!

Cool
it,
she firmly instructed her increased heartbeat. Her own intense awareness of him threw her, but no more so than the cold metal she discovered when she inadvertently fumbled under the right rather than the left side of his vest.

“He’s carrying a gun!” she gasped, retreating to a safe distance.

Angered by her evident fear, the stranger suddenly lost patience. “Of course I’m carrying a gun,” he snapped. “I’m a cop!”

The security guard made no comment; he merely tightened his grip and nodded to Amanda to continue. On her second attempt she located the wallet with no difficulty, although her fingers shook as she flipped it open. There, staring up at her, was the face of the man before her, and beneath the photograph were both his name and position. Brady Gallagher, Detective. Across from it was his police badge.

Eyeing the substantiating evidence, the college security guard quickly released him, embarrassment reddening his face as he apologized for the mistake.

“Never mind,” Brady dismissed. “I know you were only doing your job.”

Relieved to be let off the hook, the guard quickly took his leave. Amanda, however, was not allowed the same privilege. “Just a moment, Ms. Richards. I’d like a word with you.”

“Yes?”

“I hope you don’t have the same trouble identifying right from wrong as you do right from left.” His tone was one of mocking amusement. “If you had followed directions, you wouldn’t have been shocked.”

“I find your manner insulting, Detective Gallagher,” she haughtily informed him.

“Call me Brady,” he instructed, unimpressed by her frigid tone. “It’ll be easier.”

For whom?
she wondered uneasily, not liking the way his dark eyes were assessing her, taking stock of her from head to toe and resting on every curve in between with more than casual interest.

“As for being insulting, my most humble apologies. Put it down to the disturbing experience of being frisked by you. For future reference, Ms. Richards, I carry my gun on my right side and my wallet on my left.”

“Thank you for that extremely useless piece of information, Detective Gallagher.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“I’ll do that,” Amanda obligingly agreed.

The infuriating man had the nerve to grin.

“Do you think we could continue this discussion upstairs?” Amanda requested in what she was pleased to note were even tones that reflected none of her inner agitation.

“Certainly.” She caught a flash of silver binding his wrist as he motioned her ahead. “After you.”

As Amanda mounted the stairs she was very much aware of Brady Gallagher’s presence behind her. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled with primitive warning. She put her reaction down to nervousness. After all, she’d never been questioned by a policeman before, never even gotten a speeding ticket. Pleased at this rational explanation for her agitation, she turned and coolly inquired, “What was it you wanted, Detective Gallagher?”

“I don’t know you well enough yet to tell you that.” The implication was unmistakable, but in case there was any doubt, his gaze boldly wandered across her body, visually stroking her with growing appreciation. “Ask me again in a week or two.”

Now that they were up in the daylight, Amanda was able to see him properly. She already knew that his hair was dark and curly, but she discovered that his eyes were a warm molasses brown. His height was average, so that although he stood several inches taller than her five foot seven, he didn’t tower over her. He was narrow-hipped, with the powerful shoulders of a swimmer. Dressed in the casual garb of a student—jeans, checked shirt, and down vest—there was little to indicate that Brady Gallagher was a police detective. The padding of his vest effectively hid the bulk of his shoulder holster in much the same way that Amanda suspected his teasing manner sheathed the strength of his will.

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