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Flames raged at the sky, reaching for the stars above, hazing them in a veil of thick black smoke.
Kade Decker trained his camera lens on the crowd behind a strip of yellow crime-scene tape, and clicked off a couple of shots.
He pulled back from the viewfinder and turned to watch the fire devour the vacant house, consuming the last of its corpse like a hungry animal, out of control.
Fire department practice burns drew pyromaniacs; he just hoped theirs decided to make an appearance tonight. He'd made sure the department publicized the information, hoping to capture an image he could use in his investigation.
Steam billowed into the air as the fire crew opened the valves on their hoses, turning water loose on the flames and ending their fiery feast.
He turned back to the crowd, which had begun to disperse, feeling some of their disappointment as they disappeared into the darkness one by one, their excitement put out along with the fire.
Raising the camera, he stared through the view-finder and adjusted the focus.
The woman whose image he dialed in stood on the fringe of the scene, dressed in a long white gown.
Kade squeezed off a shot and lowered the camera, intrigued by her presence, dressed like an angel at such a hellish event.
"Yeah." He turned toward the fire chief.
"You get what you needed?"
"Let's hope. This blaze drew some strange ones. Maybe we caught an image of our guy. We'll compare these pictures with the police department videos. Maybe we'll get lucky."
"Hope so." The chief nodded and walked away. Kade turned around, determined to speak to the woman. He scanned the remains of the crowd, but she was gone.
Disappointment rattled through him as he let the camera drop and hang from the strap around his neck. Squeezing the handle of his cane, he limped toward his car, anxious to get the pictures down to the station.
The Montgomery arsonist was still out there, burning, and he had to be stopped before someone died.
"BRING HER IN for questioning." Kade leveled his gaze on Nick Brandt, Montgomery's lead detective and his old college roommate. Tension wound around his nerves. He needed this job like he needed the air in the room.
"Do you want my expertise?"
"I won't BS you, we need your help. The department is shorthanded. This heat wave is stretching services thin and the arson fires have everyone on edge."
Kade refocused on the paused frame of video, studying the woman silhouetted against a wall of flame.
The woman in white...the same woman he'd taken photos of at the practice burn two nights ago. "Who is she?"
"Doctor Savannah Dawson. A local psychologist. The department has used her on some tough cases. She has a knack for finding the truth."
"She works the mental angle?"
"You could say that."
He didn't like the embarrassed grin on Nick's face or the feeling there was more to the story than he was willing or able to share.
"We did a background check going back ten years. She grew up in Atlanta, moved here five years ago. She's a model citizen, well respected..."
"Beautiful." Kade finished the sentence and felt a jolt of irritation rattle his nerves. "She's a looker, but that's not a perquisite for exclusion. How do you explain her presence in four pieces of department footage taken at the arson scenes, and again at the practice burn?"
"Then let me do my job. If she's innocent, she'll walk out of here. Take the first round of interrogation if it makes you feel better. I'll watch, see what I can pick up."
His friend straightened and he tapped him on the shoulder. "What's the problem? You have a hot date with her, and handcuffs don't go with your dinner jacket?"
Nick smirked. "Nah."
"Too bad." He watched his buddy leave the room and turned back to the TV screen. Pulling his tie loose from his shirt collar, he peeled the top button out of its loop, letting some heat out.
July in Montgomery was a scorcher and the heat wave showed no sign of letting up, but neither was the arsonist who'd set three fires in a week. Same MO, same general area.
The woman caught on video hovering nearby at every scene was a break he couldn't afford to ignore. It was textbook, he could feel it in his bones. Arson-ists enjoyed babysitting their creations. Was she any different? He'd have her confession before the day closed, then he could wrap things up. Put a notch in his belt, prove he was capable, again, and not just coasting on his father's good name.
He picked up the TV remote, but couldn't kill the image. He studied her face, framed in waves of long, dark hair. She had a heart-shaped face and full lips.
Slight, willowy build. Hell, she looked like an angel, in a devilish sort of way. He couldn't see the color of her eyes, but he could almost imagine they were a heavenly shade of blue, though he didn't know where the thought came from.
Moving up to the screen, he focused on her choice of clothing. It was the same nightgown, just like the one she'd been wearing when he captured her on film. He'd never spotted an arsonist in their pajamas, hanging out at the scene of the crime looking like some sort of guardian angel. It was a heck of an odd MO.
He pushed the button and she vanished.
Female arsonists were a rarity, but they did come along every now and again. He picked up his cane and briefcase, a small measure of excitement tumbling in his gut.
This was his first case. His first shot at a comeback. He couldn't afford to blow it. Besides, the only good pyro was an extinguished pyro, even if catching him took second place to actually putting out the flames.
If they didn't get you first.
He leaned on his cane, gritted his teeth and left the room, striding along the corridor to Interrogation, with its two-way mirror and closed in walls.
Pain radiated in his hip, putting a hitch in his step. He paused and opened the door into the tiny watch room.
It had been ten months since the accident. Twenty-eight weeks of grueling physical therapy, and still the pain was excruciating. It sawed into him every time he moved, but it wouldn't break him; he wasn't going to let it.
Nothing was going to stop him from doing this job.
Not even a sizzling pyro in her nightgown.
SAVANNAH DAWSON tried to relax in the hard plastic chair and focused her attention on the officer sitting across the table from her.
She'd met him briefly a couple of times in the course of working a case, but today was different; she could feel it in the air around her.
Nervous energy jumped and bumped along her spine, but she held direct eye contact, a slight smile on her lips. She even resisted the overwhelming urge to glance at her watch. Her ten o'clock appointment would be walking into the clinic right now, and the sooner she took care of this the better.
"What's this about, Detective Brandt? Has there been some sort of accident? Do you have one of my patients in lockup, needing evaluation?"
"No, no. Nothing like that, but I would like to know where you were last night, between midnight and 2:00 a.m.?"
"Sleeping." She shifted under his intense gaze, hoping her answer hadn't sounded curt.
"There was another arson fire last night. A residence on Catalpa Street. We took video, and you're in it. Want to tell me what you were doing there?"
"But, I wasn't there. I was at home, in bed. There must be some mistake." Caution inched along her nerves. She didn't need a map to see where he was trying to take her. "Did you speak to me personally?"
"There you have it. I'm not the only brunette in Montgomery."
"I've seen the video. It's you."
"I went to bed around 10:00 p.m. last night, and woke up this morning at six. It's crazy to think I could have been there without knowing or remembering."
He nodded, a fixed smile on his lips. "You're right. And you'd know crazy if you came across it. Would you like to see the video?"
"I'll take a look. Maybe I can help you decipher who she is."
Nick Brandt stood up. "It's an open investigation, Doctor Dawson. We need to follow every lead and nail this firebug before he hurts someone."
"I understand. Forget it. They say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. Maybe mine just happens to live in Montgomery." She stood up and gathered her handbag, her gaze drifting to a large mirrored wall in the room. It looked like something straight out of an episode of Law & Order, but the vibes coming from the other side were real.
Someone was watching her.
She could feel him behind the glass, knew their exchange of words was being scrutinized, dissected and worse. Disbelieved?
"It's down the hall in the video room."
She fell in behind the detective, the weight of the observer's thoughts trailing along with her. She resisted the urge to shake them off. It wouldn't do any good; they'd only come back, and stronger next time.
Her psychic gift was expanding, shifting, had been for the last three weeks, but she didn't want to know the feelings and emotions of others. She didn't enjoy picking up on information that didn't belong to her, or in her head, for that matter.
Then there was the recurring nightmare... "The video was taken last night around 1:00 a.m." She followed him into a small, windowless room with minimal furniture and aged blue carpet.
He picked up a remote and turned on the television in the corner. "The fire is similar to two others. All of them were set using the same MO."
A paused video clip popped on screen.
She blinked hard, trying to reconcile the image and the sick feeling tossing around in her stomach. "It's me...but I don't understand..."
He was coming...the hunter was coming. Moving in on her like a lion on a kill. The man she'd felt X-ray her soul. Had he discovered her secret?