Up in Flames. Rita Herron

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Up in Flames - Rita Herron

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       Up in Flames

       Rita Herron

       image www.millsandboon.co.uk

      MILLS & BOON

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      For all the fans who have kept my

       NIGHTHAWK ISLAND series alive—

       hope you like the firestarter twist!



      Chapter One

      Chapter Two

      Chapter Three

      Chapter Four

      Chapter Five

      Chapter Six

      Chapter Seven

      Chapter Eight

      Chapter Nine

      Chapter Ten

      Chapter Eleven

      Chapter Twelve

      Chapter Thirteen

      Chapter Fourteen

      Chapter Fifteen

      Chapter Sixteen

      Chapter Seventeen

      Chapter Eighteen

      Chapter Nineteen



      Four-year-old Rosanna Redhill gripped the charm around her neck as she huddled in the corner of her kitchen. Granny Redhill said the gris-gris would protect her.

      She should have given her puppy, Little Doodlebug, one, too.

      Her daddy was on a tear tonight. He’d been drinking that brown, smelly stuff. Cussing and pacing. Throwing things. He’d already broken an ashtray and a lamp.

      And he’d kicked Little Doodlebug so hard that he wasn’t moving.

      She blotted at the tears on her face, and wished her mama was still here. But her mama had run away and hadn’t come back.

      Her daddy stumbled to the wooden table, grabbed his cigarettes and lit one. The smell made her stomach hurt.

      “Rosanna! Come out, come out wherever you are.”

      She gulped and held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t find her. But he knelt down and stabbed her with his beady eyes. Eyes that looked yellow and evil.

      “Why are you hiding from Daddy?” he sneered.

      She willed Doodlebug to get up and help her, but he didn’t make a sound. Had her daddy killed him?

      He reached for her, and she scrambled away and ran into the den. Wind rattled the windowpanes. The fire in the fireplace crackled and popped. Orange and red flames shot sparks into the dark room.

      The big deer head on the wall glared down at her as if it was her fault he’d been shot. But her daddy had killed it, too.

      She darted behind the big chair to hide. His feet pounded on the wood floor.

      She closed her eyes, and in her mind saw Granny bent over her cauldron pot, the water boiling. Granny sprinkling in weird things like toad’s feet, snakeskin and lizard’s eyes. She could still smell the roots simmering. Hear Granny’s soothing voice telling her stories about witches and voodoo. Rosanna wished she had a magic spell right now to save her from her daddy.

      Something wet plopped on her head. She opened her eyes and looked up. The deer head was crying.

      And her daddy was looming over her, his cheeks bulging red. He was mad as a hornet. And when daddy got mad…

      She clenched her hands together. Prayed he’d go away. But his fingers clamped around her wrist. There was no place to hide.

      Then she saw the firepoker leaning against the hearth. If she had it, she could swing it at him. She reached out her hand. Clawed for it.

      But she was too far away.

      A chant her granny used to say echoed in her head. She whispered it into the darkness.

      Suddenly the poker flew off the hearth and slammed into her father’s head. He bellowed and fell to his knees, blood dripping down his forehead.

      “You’re a devil just like your granny,” he said. “I told your mama that. That’s why she run off. She was scared of you.” He staggered toward her. “Now, you’re gonna be sorry.”

      He dug his fingernails into her skin, but a loud roar split the air. Then the deer head dropped from the wall and slammed against his skull.

      A loud cracking, like the sound of thunder, followed, and she saw the bookcase falling. She screamed and jerked free just as it crashed down on top of her daddy’s legs. He bellowed like a wild animal. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out.

      She gulped back tears, saw the firepoker with blood on it and knew that she had caused it to move. Shaking all over, she laid her hand on the deer head. It was staring back at her, but it wasn’t crying anymore.

      It was smiling.

      Chapter One

      Twenty-four years later, July 4—Savannah, Georgia

      Detective Bradford Walsh was starving. Starved for food.

      Starved for a woman.

      Starved for a reprieve from the sweltering heat in Savannah, and a break from the recent crime wave terrorizing the citizens.

      But as he watched the blazing fire engulfing Cozy’s Café on River Street, the possibility of satisfying any of those hungers that night quickly went up in smoke just like the building had minutes ago.

      Dammit. How long had it been since he’d had a good meal? A decent night’s sleep?

      A night of hot sex?

      A Fourth of July without trouble?

      His partner, Parker Kilpatrick, joined him, soot darkening his jeans and shirt, sweat beading on his forehead. He and Parker had arrived first on the scene and had rushed in to make sure everyone escaped the blaze unharmed. In fact, his captain, Adam Black, knew about Bradford’s history and had handpicked him to spearhead investigations into the recent arson crimes in the city.

      Bradford was determined to prove that a screwup with his brother hadn’t cost him his job.

      Which was the only thing he had left since his family relationships disintegrated with his brother’s arrest.

      Dragging his mind back to the current situation, he assessed the scene. A half-dozen patrons milled around the edge of the sidewalk watching the building deconstruct. Thick plumes of gray smoke curled toward the sky, the orange, red and yellow flames shooting into the darkness. The owner,

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