Vermont newspaper editor Cozie Hawthorne is astounded by the money she makes when her essay collection becomes a bestseller. But she has no plans to let the success go to her head. She’s more than content to keep her rusted Jeep and live in an old house that seems to attract more bats than men.
Daniel Foxworth, renegade son of the Texas oil Foxworths, specializes in putting out chemical fires. At least he did until someone sabotaged his helicopter and almost killed him. The prime suspect is Cozie’s brother and evidence is piling up as fast as the attraction is growing between Daniel and Cozie. When she finds out that the sexy Texan is out to prove her brother’s guilt, Cozie is determined to find out who’s really after Daniel. But as danger mounts, Daniel faces an even greater challenge: winning Cozie’s trust...before someone ends up dead.
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Daniel Foxworth ignored the crushing Texas heat and his own blood and pain as he jumped from the Coast Guard rescue helicopter. Reporters, already down from Houston, surged around him. An oil tanker was on fire in the Gulf of Mexico, a major spill imminent. He’d been hired to put it out. Except that the helicopter he and his partner had flown out to survey the fire had crashed into the warm, shallow waters of the gulf. It was a big story, made bigger because the pilot of the downed helicopter was a Foxworth.
The rescue team raced toward the hospital emergency room with the stretcher carrying the huge figure of James Dell Maguire. A mess of blood, oil, saltwater, shredded clothes, and broken bones, J.D. had been Daniel’s sole passenger and was still cursing him for damned near getting them both killed.
J.D. wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Daniel felt only the searing anger of helplessness and guilt. After they’d hit the water, he’d dragged the semiconscious J.D. from the damaged helicopter before it could sink, drowning them both. Daniel had managed to dial up the emergency frequency in the seconds before they’d plunged into the gulf, but he’d never believed anyone would get there in time. He’d thought J.D. was dead or close to it.
The swarm of reporters and medical staff cut him off from J.D. Daniel fought back waves of nausea and pain. He had a pretty good gash on his right arm, a cut above his left ear, various scrapes and bruises. His clothes, stiff and still damp from saltwater, seemed branded onto his skin. But he couldn’t take time to have a doctor look at him.
He turned from the emergency entrance and headed back toward the parking lot. There was nothing more he could do for J.D.
The reporters quickly figured out what he was doing and ran to catch up with him, shouting questions.
“Was this a daredevil stunt that backfired?”
“What caused the crash?”
“The fire on the tanker is still raging out of control—can you handle it without Maguire?”
“Wasn’t Julia Vanackern supposed to be on board with you? Aren’t you two an item?”
“Any truth to the rumors that your grandfather is coming down from Houston to take over?”
Daniel kept moving in the hot midday sun. An attractive television reporter came up on his elbow and shoved a microphone at him. He looked at her without a word, and she backed off.
Another helicopter was waiting in the parking lot, piloted by another refugee from Fox Oil—one not related to its founder. Daniel could feel the hot wind from the whirling helicopter blades and wished it could just blow him into another time and place. But he climbed aboard. He had no choice. He had a fire to fight. A tanker engine room was on fire. If the fire spread to the cargo area, the tanks would rupture and there would be one hell of an oil spill. He had to stop it.
Only then—when he was finished—could he find out who had blown him and J.D. out of the sky.
Cozie Hawthorne stared into her posh Chicago hotel closet, unable to decide between Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. How her life had changed, she thought, to have choosing a dress for a formal dinner party be her most pressing problem.
The Bette Davis dress was from the scene in Now, Voyager when Paul Henreid lights a cigarette for Davis, back in the days when lighting cigarettes was sexy. Cozie had taken the video to an old high school classmate who lived in a trailer way up on Hawthorne Orchard Road, back home in Vermont. She had four kids, an alcoholic husband, and an ancient Singer sewing machine. She could stitch together anything, including copies of dresses off videos of old movies.
The Hepburn dress, one of Cozie’s favorites, was from the scene in Adam’s Rib when Katharine Hepburn tells Spencer Tracy she’s representing the infamous Doris, the woman who shot her philandering husband. He, of course, is representing the husband. Cozie didn’t pull off the low neckline as well as Hepburn did, but it was still a wonderful dress.
She sighed. She was in her stockings and slip and didn’t feel much like Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis. Her hair—ordinarily her best feature, with its unusual mix of blonds and reds—was still a mess from the Chicago wind because she’d insisted on walking across Grant Park to see Lake Michigan. A rough fall wind was blowing in off the water, and the lake really was spectacular.
Tonight’s dinner party was her first appearance on her latest—and final—book tour, which would take her from Chicago to Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Denver, and then back to New York and, finally, home to Vermont. Her rusted Jeep was waiting for her in long-term parking at the Burlington airport. She’d be back in time for peak foliage week.
By now her publicist would be in the lobby, waiting with her usual impatience. She hadn’t caught on to Cozie’s source of evening wear, just muttered occasionally about getting her a makeover in New York. Cozie had struggled for money until Mountain Views, a collection of her commentaries on everything from international diplomacy to life in Vermont, had unexpectedly hit the best-seller lists—and stuck—six months ago. She had yet to see the point of owning a dress worth more than her Jeep.
The telephone rang. She groaned and padded across the thick carpet to the extension on her bedside table. It was, of course, a king-size bed. As if she needed it.
“Two more minutes. I promise—”
“Hello, Cozie Cornelia. Running late?”
Not again. Her knees wobbling, she sank onto the bed. It was the obviously disguised voice that had followed her for weeks: disembodied, unrecognizable, neither male nor female.
Suddenly she was shaking, goose bumps sprouting on her arms and legs. Her fingers and toes turned cold.
“Chicago’s a fun town,” the voice went on. “Enjoy your stay. Be good.”
Cozie waited for the dial tone, then slammed the phone down.
She had to keep her wits about her. Anger and panic weren’t going to help. She knew that from experience. Still trembling, she grabbed her handbag from the bedside table and fumbled for the spiral memo notebook she’d hoped she wouldn’t need on this trip. She found a ballpoint pen and carefully wrote down the time, the place, and an exact transcript of the call. Never mind that she was suddenly famous for her wit, humor, and incisiveness, she was a journalist by training and instinct. She had developed a knack for remembering what people said.
Her task completed, she returned the notebook to her handbag and did a series of breathing exercises to calm herself down.
The calls had started two road trips ago, in July. They came at unpredictable times, in unpredictable places—at her hotel, at book signings, dinners, parties. Although not overtly threatening, they were unsettling. Someone was keeping track of her every move when she was on the road. Whoever it was had never bothered her at home in Vermont—a small consolation.
But she hadn’t mentioned the calls to anyone. Word would get out, and she was sure that was just what the caller wanted: notoriety. Proof Cozie Hawthorne was rattled. She didn’t want to play into the caller’s hands. For now she would continue to keep her log and hope he—or she—just gave up. She promised herself that if the calls became more frequent, if they ever held even a hint of a threat, she wouldn’t hesitate to go to the police, never mind her publicist.
She went back to the closet and dragged out the Katharine Hepburn dress. It was classy and a little daring, and wearing it always gave her a boost.
A pair of black heels, a fresh coat of mascara and red lipstick, and she was off. She’d enjoy her stay in Chicago all right. She’d be good. Soon she’d be back in the Green Mountains of northern New England, finished with road trips, and finally—finally—able to get her life back to normal.
J. D. Maguire was transferred to a Houston hospital, near where he and Daniel Foxworth had set up shop as petroleum product fire-fighting experts three years ago. Daniel came to visit on a rainy Sunday afternoon six days after the accident. J.D.’s doctors and nurses said he was making a steady recovery, his broken ribs and arm and multiple bruises and lacerations all healing nicely, but he was one ornery patient. Daniel told them J.D.’s orneriness had saved more than one person’s life, his own included.
Then they told him J.D.’s shattered left leg still had them worried. It was still possible he could lose it. They were particularly worried about infection setting in.
J.D. was conscious and reasonably coherent when Daniel entered the private room he’d arranged for his partner to have. The medical types had shaved off his big black beard, but even after being hauled from a sinking helicopter, James Dell Maguire looked huge and very competent, his spirit undiminished by his suffering. He was on IVs, his eyes sunken and yellowed, his color lousy. Bruises had blossomed and spread on his arms and face, probably over his entire body.
“Hey, Danny Boy,” he said. J.D. didn’t believe any self-respecting Texan, even one as rich and educated as his partner, ought to be called Daniel. “We get the fire out?”
“Yeah, J.D., we got the fire out. Took about twice as long as it would have if you’d been there.”
J.D. looked satisfied. “It would have been a hell of a mess if the fire had reached that crude. You still beat?”
He smiled. “I look better than you do, so I must be doing all right.”
“Hell, Danny Boy, you ain’t never gonna look better’n me.”
In fact, days after he’d got the fire out, exhaustion still clung to Daniel like a stubborn fog. A long, hot shower and George Dickel had helped ease some of his fatigue. A woman would have helped even more. But he needed to keep his edge.
He needed to find out who’d tried to kill him and J.D.
J.D. grew serious. “They find out why our copter went down?”
“Something caused an explosion and busted out a bunch of stuff a copter needs to stay in the air, and into the drink we went. Near as I can figure, the tail rotor drive shaft was damaged and we lost control. Best guess is a couple detonator caps I had stored in back ignited.”
Daniel shrugged. “Bad luck.”
“Bad luck, hell.”
“The easy answer is I was reckless and negligent—in too big a hurry to get to the fire—and screwed up, didn’t pre-flight something I was supposed to. But detonator caps don’t just up and explode.”
“So what the hell happened?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Someone could have snuck aboard and attached a timing device to a couple of the blasting caps we had stored. It wouldn’t be much of a bomb, but in a strategic place it could do a lot of damage—like blow a tail rotor drive shaft to hell. I was in the military a long time, J.D., and I know—”
But J.D. had risen up. “You talking sabotage, Danny?”
“I’m saying I want to know what caused the explosion that put us in the water. I want answers.”
“You’re saying someone tried to kill us.”
“Maybe not us. Julia Vanackern was supposed to be on board. She could have been the target.”
J.D. snorted. “This is nuts. You talk to her?”
Daniel shook his head. “I’ve never even met her. She and her parents didn’t waste any time beating a path out of here after the crash. Julia witnessed it. Guess she was pretty upset.”
“Poor thing.” J.D. didn’t think much of Julia Vanackern. “You never got to meet her?”
“Ain’t that a shame. Thought we might see Fox Oil and Vanackern Media in one family. You two’d be so goddamned rich no one could stand you.”
Daniel had no interest in pursuing a relationship, romantic or otherwise, with Julia Vanackern, especially since he’d never met the woman. He leaned over J.D.’s hospital bed. “I’ve done some investigating on my own this week. Remember when you came on board, you mentioned some kid had been bugging Julia before she backed out of going with us. He’d come down from the Vanackern country place in Vermont—he worked for them.”
“Yeah, I remember. He and Julia were really going at it. I asked her if she needed me to knock him on his ass, but she said she could handle him.” J.D. sank deep into his pillow, his energy waning. He swallowed and slowly licked his chapped, raw lips, the pain showing in his yellowed eyes. “After that she changed her mind about going with us. Must have been upset.”
“I checked this guy out,” Daniel said. “His name’s Seth Hawthorne. He’s the younger brother of a Vermont writer named Cozie Hawthorne, who has a best-selling book out; I picked up a copy.”
He had it with him, a neatly packaged hardcover collection of commentaries on subjects ranging from the simple pleasures of cidermaking to the problems in the Balkans. Daniel had read it cover to cover on the porch of the dilapidated log cabin on the small ranch he’d bought a couple of months ago outside Houston. Cozie Hawthorne had a wry humor, a straightforward, distinctly Yankee point of view, and an infectious optimism that permeated everything she wrote. He could see why the book had surged onto the best-seller lists.
J.D. squinted at the color photograph on the back cover of Mountain Views. She was standing in front of a woodpile, wearing a sand-colored field jacket, dark brown jeans, and half-laced L. L. Bean boots, her reddish blond hair pulled back rather inexpertly. Several wisps had escaped and hung in her angular face. Her eyes, Daniel had noticed, were a dark, vivid green.
“Not bad for a Yankee,” J.D. allowed. “She could use some time in the beauty parlor, but they all could up there.” He managed a grin as he sank back into his pillow. J.D. didn’t go for the outdoor look in women. “Wonder what she’d look like in a leopard-skin swimsuit.”
Daniel laughed. “At least your mind wasn’t damaged in the crash.”
“Damn right. What the hell kind of name’s Cozie?”
“Apparently it’s short for Cornelia.”
J.D. made a face.
“Yeah.” Daniel left the book on the bedside table for J.D. to read. “She runs a paper up in Woodstock, Vermont.”
“That where they had that damned rock concert?”
J.D. listened exclusively to country-western music, had lost a brother to Vietnam, and had no truck—none—with anything that reminded him of the upheavals of the sixties.
“No, that Woodstock’s in New York,” Daniel said. “This one’s supposed to be one of the six prettiest villages in America. I picked up a Vermont guidebook. Cozie Hawthorne runs a respected weekly newspaper there. Her family started it back during the American Revolution.”
“Bully for them.” J.D.’s family had crawled out of East Texas poverty, only to be knocked back down into it by the Foxworths of Fox Oil. It was one wrong Daniel had committed himself to righting.
“Vanackern Media bought the paper two years ago when it was about to go bankrupt. The Vanackerns’ country place is in Woodstock, off—get this—Hawthorne Orchard Road.”
J.D. was fully awake again. “So Cozie and Seth Hawthorne both work for the Vanackerns. She’s got to be making a fortune on this book.” He picked at the adhesive tape around the IV on his wrist, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Meanwhile the brother’s a glorified handyman. Can’t sit too well.”
“You saw him with Julia. Do you think she had herself a little affair with the hired help?”
“And he came down here looking for her, she told him to suck eggs, and he had enough and decided to blow her rich ass out of the sky. It’s possible.” J.D. heaved a sigh. “If that’s the case, we were just a frigging bonus.”
Daniel was staring at Cozie Hawthorne’s picture on the back of her book. How had she taken to her unexpected success? From her book, he’d guess money impressed her about as much as it did J.D. “I don’t like being a bonus.”
“Me neither. Hell, you know what they say: I’d rather be shot at and hit than shit at and missed.”
“We’re way ahead of ourselves, you know.” Daniel maintained an outward calm. “Our copter’s under water. I can’t even prove it was sabotaged.”
J.D.’s black eyes narrowed. “Maybe it wasn’t.”
“I know. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I’m just poking under other people’s rocks to keep from seeing what’s under my own.” He turned away from J.D.’s probing gaze. They’d been partners and friends a long time, he and James Dell Maguire. “I’ve been calling realtors in Woodstock. Turns out Cozie Hawthorne herself has a place for rent right on Hawthorne Orchard Road.”
“You rented it?”
Daniel smiled. J.D. knew him well. “Under an assumed name. No point in stirring the bottom unless I’ve got good reason. Right now, I don’t. I leave in the morning. I’m driving up, giving myself time to think. I don’t want to be hunting a scapegoat when the real culprit’s staring at me in the mirror. But I want to know what Seth Hawthorne was doing down here.”
“Keep me posted,” J.D. said quietly.
“I will.” He nodded to Mountain Views. “Make sure you read her piece on the moose-sighting craze. It’s probably the only one that won’t piss you off.”
“Take care, J.D.” His eyes drifted to J.D.’s mangled leg. “I’ll be in touch.”
He was halfway to the door when J.D. said, “If Seth Hawthorne didn’t put me here, Daniel, you did. When I’m on my feet, you’ll answer for it.”
Daniel looked back at his broken, bruised, and bloodied friend. A full recovery seemed impossible. “You get back on your feet, J.D., and I’ll answer for anything.”