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
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.
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.
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
shone down on the steep roofs of the gabled and turetted Victorian mansions
in Dutton Heights.
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.
These hicks and rednecks don't know what winter is.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
the darkness, he smiled and his trembling ceased.
Pensacola, Florida Spring 2008
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.
résumé's impressive," he told her. "Pertinent coursework
in school, solid work history."
you. I've had good counselors and mentors." Her voice sounded scratchy
and she cleared her throat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
raised his head to make eye contact and her stomach fluttered faintly.
know this interview is for a secretary and administrative assistant to
me as the head of the company—but also for me personally."
Southern accent in a voice ... not soft-spoken, precisely, but perhaps
toned down for the climate-controlled quiet of the postmodern business
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
Briana looked thoughtful a moment and shook her head. "That wouldn't bother
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
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."
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
"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."
She and I talked a little and she mentioned that."
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
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 .
you've already moved to Pensacola ... from ... Mobile, was it?"
Mobile. Well, I have an extended stay motel suite but I'll start looking
for an apartment this weekend."
if you're hired, you could start Monday."
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."
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."
you have any other questions?"
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
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?
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
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
appreciate the opportunity to interview," she replied.
me and I'll bring you down, you shyster. She
hitched the strap of her purse across her shoulder and left the office.