Read an Excerpt
Gold In The Fire
By Margaret Daley
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDarcy O'Brien's hands shook as she brushed her hair behind her ears. She stared down at her fingers, covered with soot, the black reminding her of the charred remains of the barn only yards away. The heat from the fire chased away the early-morning chill. Smoke curled upward from the darkened boards to disappear in the fog that had rolled in to encase her in a gray cocoon. But there was nothing protective and safe about her surroundings.
Eerie. Unearthly. Darcy shivered and hugged her arms to her.
The sound of a deep, husky voice floated to her from the swirls of smoke and fog. Her eyes stung as she searched the yard. Emerging from the shroud of gray a man appeared, dressed in a black jacket with yellow strips and black pants. He removed his fire helmet and cradled it under his arm. Dark brown hair, damp from sweat, lay at odd angles. Black smudges highlighted the hard angles of his face and emphasized the blueness of his eyes. For just a moment Darcy thought of a warrior striding purposefully toward her.
"Yes, may I help you?" she asked, pushing away her fantasy.
"That man over there said you're the one in charge." The firefighter tossed his head in the direction of Jake, one of the grooms.
The idea that she was in charge weighed heavily on her shoulders, even though it was only for a few months. She straightened, ignoring the exhaustion that cleaved to every part of her. "Yes, I am."
The firefighter stuck his hand out. "I'm Joshua Markham. I conduct the arson investigations for the department."
The strong feel of his handshake reassured her. For a few seconds she forgot the past couple of hours. Then she remembered pulling the frightened horses to safety, watching the barn go up in flames, the scent of burned wood heavy in the air. But mostly she remembered trying to persuade her father to return to the main house before he collapsed. That had been the hardest task of all.
"Yes, ma'am, it's definitely a possibility. This is the third barn fire in the past few weeks."
"Please call me Darcy. "Ma'am' reminds me of my students."
He moved away from the pile of blackened rubble. Darcy followed. When she looked back toward the barn, all she saw was the swirls of fog. The stench of smoke clung to the air.
"When it's safe, I'll bring in my dog. I'll know more after I can take some samples and check the area out more thoroughly."
"Dog?" Her mind refused to grasp the implication of what he was saying.
"He'll be able to locate where the fire originated. We'll pinpoint what the accelerant was. If it matches the other fires, we'll know we have a serial arsonist on our hands."
"Serial arsonist? But why here?"
Joshua shrugged. "There are countless reasons why someone sets a fire. Most are for some kind of personal gain, but occasionally we find a person who just likes to set fires and watch them burn."
Darcy shuddered. Sweetwater was always such a quiet town, not like where she lived now. Even though there were nearly fifteen thousand people in Sweetwater, she still thought of it as a small, close-knit community.
"If it's arson, there'll be a thorough investigation."
"I'll be looking into all the reasons why someone would set a fire. That includes personal gain."
For a moment her mind went blank. Stunned, she couldn't think of a reply.
"Just thought I'd let you know."
"I know your father had a heart attack a few weeks ago. Shamus Flanaghan is a respected member of our community. I don't think he had anything to do with this, but I still have to check out the possibility."
"And you want me to cushion the blow?"
The corner of his mouth quirked. "Yes, ma - Darcy. I would appreciate it."
"So in other words, you want me to help you with your investigation."
Joshua plowed his hand through his damp hair. "Well, not exactly. I just don't want to be responsible for causing your father further grief. But questions will have to be asked - and answered."
"Then you can ask me.As of last week, I'm acting as the manager of this farm until my father gets back on his feet." If she said it enough times, perhaps it would be true.
"I'll be back later with my camera and Arnold. I'll know more after I take a look around." He put his helmet on. "Good day."
Frustration churned in her stomach as she watched the firefighter walk away, the thick fog and smoke swallowing him until all she saw was a gray wall. Another shiver rippled down her spine. What in the world had she gotten herself into? A serial arsonist?
Normally this was her favorite time of day, when the sun was just peeking over the horizon, the sky lit with color, the birds chirping in the nearby trees. Even when it was foggy, there was a certain appeal to dawn, a mystery waiting to be uncovered. But now there was a real mystery. Who would want to set fires to barns filled with horses?
A pounding behind her eyes hammered at her temples. Her father raised jumpers and hunters. People from all over the country came to him. His reputation as a breeder had always been paramount to him - at times to the exclusion of even his family.
Excerpted from Gold In The Fire by Margaret Daley Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.