The City of Five Flags
Sitting at the very top of the Gulf of Mexico -- America's Mediterranean -- Pensacola basks in the semitropical sun. It is the capital of west Florida, that part of the Sunshine State variously known as the Panhandle, the
Redneck Riviera, and L.A. -- Lower Alabama. Home of the Navy's Blue Angels, blinding white beaches made of pure quartz sand, Europe's earliest settlement in what's now the USA, and one of the coolest Googie signs left in the Southeast, it is also the landfall site of some of the Gulf's most destructive hurricanes... 

She went undercover to catch a crook -- but how can a 
criminal be a man of such high principles and virtue?

Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Highlights the trials and rewards
of virtue in an immoral world.

All her life, Briana Farrior has been a SAP -- Southern American Princess.  Small-town, small-time version. But since high school, she has wanted to do something with her life that matters.

      Her big chance comes on the sub-tropical and hurricane-prone Florida coast when she goes undercover for her employer, a consumer watchdog agency in Mobile, Alabama. Her assignment: Infiltrate a small, independent adjusting firm in Pensacola and find evidence of insurance fraud that will bring its crooked owner, Justin Adair, to justice.

      But a few weeks of working with the handsome, personable businessman convinces Briana of his innocence and integrity. Finding themselves intensely attracted to each other, as they struggle toward love, the pair must deal with her deceit and his distrust -- while a ruthless adversary from Justin's past, obsessed with revenge, and Category 5 Hurricane Kathy, endanger them both.




Birmingham, Alabama
Spring 2002
     Moonlight shone down on the steep roofs of the gabled and turetted Victorian mansions in Dutton Heights.
      He shivered from the chill in the air. An April cool snap had rolled in. Blackberry winter, he'd heard it called since he moved down here from upper Michigan.
      Humph. These hicks and rednecks don't know what winter is.
     A glance at his watch told him it was going on two a.m. Everyone in the neighborhood was flat in their beds, dead to the world. Even the dogs had been silent when he parked seven blocks away and trod soundlessly in soft-soled shoes to this particular house.
      Fish scale shingles of cedar weathered to dark silver covered the roof and front gable above light maroon wood siding. The many windows were dressed up with dark blue shutters, and cream-colored gingerbread trim encrusted the mansion from top to bottom, which comprised two stories plus attic and basement.
      Ostentatious structure. Yes, a structure, not a house and certainly not a home. A status symbol. Been in his wife's family for generations. Her father had lost it to a gambling addiction decades ago, and he, dutiful husband, had got it back for her. Took everything he had to do it—and now she wanted to leave him? Take it all and leave him empty handed while she sneaked around and frolicked with her lusty eyed divorce lawyer?
     We'll see about that.
      He headed down the driveway and melded with the shadows. 
The second story was the logical place to begin. From containers he had stashed earlier in carefully chosen hiding places, he sloshed kerosene on the beds and furniture and poured trails from the doorway of each room to the stairs. He repeated the task on the main floor where pricey antiques hulked in the front rooms and the latest imported appliances anchored the kitchen.
      When the fuel cans were emptied and waiting for him on the back porch, he ascended the staircase—the beautiful workmanship of unknown craftsmen and artisans who lived a hundred and thirty years ago— and halted a few feet from the top. He flicked the starter of a long-necked barbecue lighter and gazed at the small golden flame that jumped to life.
      Smiling, he leaned forward to touch the flame to the puddle of kerosene. His stomach clenched from the wild blending of distinct and intense thrills—fear and pleasure.
      But he didn't stay to watch the flames dance along the trails to the bedrooms, as much as he would have liked to. He had to repeat the performance, and quickly, on the floor below.
      By two-thirty he was back in his vehicle, streaking eastward on Interstate 20 headed for Logan Martin Lake, not far from Pell City. As his destination neared, he detoured down a road to a bridge that crossed over a narrow finger of the lake. 
      He removed his clothes--they reeked of kerosene--tied them to the handles of the fuel cans and pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt he had waiting on the front seat. It took only moments to pound gashes into the fuel cans with a hatchet, to insure they'd fill with water quickly. That done, he stepped to the rail and dropped cans, clothes and hatchet into the water, watched long enough to assure himself they were sinking and resumed his drive.
      Half an hour later, he slipped through the door of a pseudo-rustic waterfront cabin. In the living room, he crawled under a granny-square afghan on the sofa. 
      He lay awake a long time, trembling, listening for sounds from the bedroom where his wife slept. The cabin was silent. He hadn't awakened her.
      A multi-class regatta was scheduled for tomorrow—no, today—sponsored by the Birmingham Yacht Club. He'd spent a lot of time conspicuously preparing the Lightning for it. 
      But long before the race began, word would come of the tragic fire that had destroyed the beautiful, historic home in Dutton Heights where he and his wife resided.
      He thought about the payoff in the form of a big, fat check from Sunbelt Property and Casualty—half of it his. He would not be left with nothing to show for the time, money and effort he had wasted on her.
      In the darkness, he smiled and his trembling ceased.

Chapter One
Pensacola, Florida 
Spring 2008 
      Crook. Cheat. Liar.
      The words bubbled up in Briana Farrior's thoughts as she looked across the desk at the man seated behind it. She resolutely pushed them down, buried them. It would ruin everything if her musings showed on her face.
      "Your résumé's impressive," he told her. "Pertinent coursework in school, solid work history." 
      "Thank you. I've had good counselors and mentors." Her voice sounded scratchy and she cleared her throat.
      The secret mission that brought her to this small office in Pensacola, Florida, a few blocks from the city's deepwater bay, gave her a mild case of nerves. But the fellow interviewing her was the real cause of her discombobulation, no doubt about it, and it related as much to his handsome face and lean, muscular form as it did to his possible history of insurance fraud.
      Of all the things Briana's boss had told her about Justin Adair, founder and owner of Gulf States Insurance Services, it was unbelievable that she had forgotten to give a description of him. 
      Never occurred to me that criminals could be so good-looking!
      When he looked down at her résumé again, his eyelids lowered and shielded his eyes with spiky lashes...dark, honey brown eyes that turned to amber when the light hit them just so. Conservatively styled brown hair fell at a slant across his forehead. 
      He reminded her of someone but she couldn't place who and she didn't have the luxury of mulling it over. The interview required her full attention. 
      Discussing her qualifications and work experience with him earlier had inflated her apprehensiveness. Some of the information on her résumé had been fudged to give her an added advantage in landing the job. But there were no outright lies, and she had made it through that part of the interview above suspicion.
      Adair raised his head to make eye contact and her stomach fluttered faintly.
      "You know this interview is for a secretary and administrative assistant to me as the head of the company—but also for me personally." 
      Native Southern accent in a voice ... not soft-spoken, precisely, but perhaps toned down for the climate-controlled quiet of the postmodern business environment. 
      "If you're hired, I wouldn't think you'd have a problem making out checks for my signature, to pay company bills. But there may be times when I will hand you my checkbook and a stack of personal bills and expect the same thing."
       Briana looked thoughtful a moment and shook her head. "That wouldn't bother me."
      "Good. I'm not going to ask you to do my laundry—" his smile was charming and fleeting "—but I'll occasionally ask you to pick up my dry cleaning or fill up my car. I don't foresee personal chores becoming habitual, but they will be a part of the job. You think you'd have a problem doing things like that?"
      Briana gave a slight lift to one shoulder. "No, I don't think so. I haven't heard anything objectionable. They just sound like errands to me."
      It also sounded like he was a bachelor. Or divorced. Or living alone, for whatever reason. She had already noticed that he wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
       "Yes, pretty routine ones. The candidate who gets the job will cross train to back up my office manager, Dottie Parker, who also does support for the in-house adjusters."
      "Right. She and I talked a little and she mentioned that."
      "Our work here is property and casualty claims. What that means, basically, is anything covered by homeowners insurance. We don't do liability claims, except what may be covered by a homeowners policy—no auto, health or life claims, or any other kind. And don't worry if you're not familiar with the terms." 
      He talked for several minutes about other things the job would involve and she asked a couple of questions, hoping she sounded like a job applicant eager to learn. He seemed to take the questions at face value and gave her short but informative answers that didn't waste time on details. When he finished the overview, he glanced down at her résumé . 
      "So you've already moved to Pensacola ... from ... Mobile, was it?" 
      "Yes, Mobile. Well, I have an extended stay motel suite but I'll start looking for an apartment this weekend." 
      "So if you're hired, you could start Monday." 
      She gave him a pleasant smile, hoping it conveyed mild, pre-hire anticipation rather than the fluttering excitement starting up in her midsection. "Yes, I could. No problem at all."
      "Dottie might have told you, we have two more candidates to interview tomorrow. We're coming up on our busy season and need help a-sap, so I'm going to make a decision by Thursday and we'll call the new hire Friday at the latest. All candidates who interviewed will be notified by postal or electronic mail when the position is filled."
      "All right." 
      "Do you have any other questions?"
      "No, I don't believe so. You and Ms. Parker have been very thorough." She gave him another smile, this one accompanied by a tilt of her head, a habitual, frivolous mannerism that made her feel idiotic when she caught herself doing it.
      He apparently didn't notice. Handing her a couple of business cards, he said, "If you think of anything else, you're welcome to call Dottie or me."
       "I'll do that." Did their fingers touch when she took the cards, or was it her imagination? Then why was that tingle zinging up her arm like an electric shock, only pleasant? 
      Adair stood and Briana followed. Try as she might not to, she couldn't help but notice that the pleats of his gray trousers did not fan open even a little. It took a paunchless gut to wear pants like that and Adair had it, along with a complimentary broad chest and square shoulders encased in a tattersall-checked shirt the color of sun-bleached driftwood. He looked to be approaching thirty and stood about six inches taller than she, making him around five foot, ten. Average height. Possibly the only thing average about his physical appearance. 
      "Thank you for coming in." He stepped around his desk and extended his hand. It was pleasantly warm, dry and strong, his grip firm. There was no further tingling, perhaps because she was ready for it this time. And perhaps because, now that the interview was over, awareness of her undercover mission was resurfacing.
      "I appreciate the opportunity to interview," she replied. 
      Hire me and I'll bring you down, you shyster.
      She hitched the strap of her purse across her shoulder and left the office.

Original Material © Copyright 2010 - 2013 by Connie Chastain ~ Web Design by Word Slinger Boutique

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