A thick cloud of smoke hung low in the early morning light, a backdrop to the sparks dancing in the gentle breeze. The acrid stench of burning masked the vibrant summer scents. The sound of firemen calling to each other jarring in the quiet. Yet another iconic building, harking back to an era gone by, was lost. Nothing more than a pile of ash and dying embers.
Frustration rode Grayson James hard as he stood taking in the destruction before him. He massaged the knot of tension in his neck. It had become a permanent fixture of late. This was the third fire in a month that he’d been called to in the chic suburb of Kloofnek, nestled at the foot of the majestic Table Mountain. Sitting above the bustling central business district of Cape Town, it was a much sought-after area for both work and play. Boasting a thriving business as well as an active residential community, it was the place to see and be seen.
Another beautiful day was dawning over the Mother City, and Gray took a moment to savour it. His crime scene waited for him, but he needed a moment to centre himself as he brooded over the wreckage that had once housed someone’s hopes and dreams.
She put on her best face for tourists, but Cape Town in the summer months was a nightmare for firefighters. The brutal African heat mercilessly dried everything out, turning the famous African fynbos into a fire hazard. The old buildings, built as they were with all their wood, also succumbed easily to the uncaring flames.
The previous two fires, however, had turned out not to be the work of Mother Nature, but rather that of an arsonist. The same person it seemed, since the modus operandi was alike in both instances. And he had a nasty suspicion today’s fire would prove to be the same.
Residents and business owners alike were unhappy with the spate of fires. Gray knew he needed to close this case soon, before unhappiness turned to anger. If that happened, he knew it would only be a matter of time before people started taking matters into their own hands in a bid to protect what was theirs
He knew he was missing something crucial; he just couldn’t seem to put his finger on what it was. He was sure he’d seen something before very similar to the fires that had been plaguing the neighbourhood. For the life of him, though, he couldn’t quite place it.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, Gray surveyed the scene before him, trying to decide where best to start. The team of firefighters that had tended to the fire were in the process of packing up their gear and stowing everything back in the vehicles.
Gray turned towards the sound of his name, catching sight of his colleague and friend, Kyle Stevens, heading over to the nearest truck. He couldn’t help but smile as he noticed the appreciative looks Kyle was getting from the ladies who had, to this point, been watching the goings-on around them.
Tall, well-muscled, and probably too good-looking for his own good, Kyle drew the attention of the ladies wherever he went. They couldn’t keep their eyes off him as he strode purposefully towards his ride. Firefighting was a physically demanding job, and the guys worked hard to stay in shape. They knew it was what made the difference between life and death for them. It had to be said, though, the ladies definitely appreciated the results.
“We’re all done here. Fire’s out, so I’ve handed the building back to the owner. We’re headed back to the station. I’ll let you have my report this afternoon if there’s no more call-outs this morning,” he continued.
Walking over to intercept him, Gray replied, “Thanks Kyle. Anything I need to be aware of here?”
Kyle looked over at the smoking ruin, intense loathing crossing his handsome face. “I hate this Gray.”
“Yeah. I hear you.”
Coming back to Gray’s original question, Kyle added, “Nothing, other than our unsub appears to have been busy again. The signs look familiar.”
Shit! Definitely not what Gray had wanted to hear. All the same, he nodded. “Thanks, Ace, I’ll keep that in mind. Catch you at the station later, maybe.”
Kyle gave a nod of acknowledgment and a quick wave before hopping onto the fire truck. He banged the side to let the driver know everyone was on board. Gray waved back before turning an assessing eye to the gutted building, charred and still smoking from its dousing. Pulling his notepad out of his pants pocket, Grayson took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work.
To preserve the integrity of his scene, he donned gloves and overshoes before making his way through the front door to start sifting through the rubble. Carefully bagging evidence as he went, he kept a lookout for the tell-tale signs that would show him not only where the fire had started but how. Kyle didn’t believe this fire was an accident. Gray didn’t either. His gut told him this was the work of his firebug. He just had to follow the clues.
Every fire had its own personality, like a game of chess, waiting to see who won. As he trusted his intuition to uncover the next move, skill and instinct had never steered him wrong. And they had kept him alive in this dangerous profession.
By the time he was ready to call it a day, the sun was just starting her descent. He was tired, dirty, and reeked of smoke. It had been a long day — he’d seen the sun come up, and he now got to watch the spectacular sunset as the day came to an end. He was satisfied he’d made good progress. For the first time, the arsonist had slipped up. They’d left evidence behind, giving him his first solid clue as to who it could be terrorising the neighbourhood.
Making his way over to his truck, Gray looked forward to a long, hot shower to ease his aching muscles and wash away the grime of the day. He searched for the number of his favourite pizza restaurant as he waited for his phone to pair with the car’s Bluetooth system. Order placed, he contemplated a lazy evening binge watching something mindless to rest his tired brain.
Kitty wrinkled her nose as she breathed in the pungent smell of smoke that hung in the early morning air. She knew it must have been close by, but she was unprepared for the sight that greeted her as she rounded the corner onto her road. The coffee shop up the way from her own speciality bakery lay in ruin. What had once been a beautiful historical landmark was now nothing more than a heap of rubble.
She was beginning to think that maybe someone was targeting buildings in her area. Surely it couldn’t be coincidence that three buildings in the same area had burned down in such a short span of time. Maybe she should phone the local fire house and see if there was someone she could speak with to find out. It would ease her mind to have some answers.
And while she was about it, maybe she should increase her security and insurance. She definitely didn’t want to be caught short. Decadence was her life as well as her livelihood. Situated on the slopes of Table Mountain, in the chic suburb of Kloofnek, the bakery was her pride and joy. She’d worked hard to achieve success in such a tough industry.
As a speciality cupcake baker, her creations where in high demand, and her business had far exceeded anything she’d dreamed she could achieve. Katherine Spence, better known as Kitty to all, had always known she wanted to be a baker. Despite it not always having been an easy path, she loved everything about the business. Most especially the pleasure her cupcakes brought to people.
Pulling into her reserved spot in the parking lot behind her building, she hopped out of her candy-apple red Audio Audi A3. She set the lock, steeling herself against the creepy sensation of being watched. A shiver worked its way down her spine as she dashed to the back door of the shop, unlocked it as fast as she could, and slipped inside with a sigh of relief.
Fridays were always busy days at Decadence. Saturday was party day, and she was always inundated with orders besides the usual baking that was needed for the display cases out front. As always, the day flew by in a blur of preparation, production, and clean up before heading for home. In lieu of working on Saturdays, her assistant, Jazz, worked late on Fridays to help her get all the orders filled.
Thankfully, Saturdays were short days. The shop was only open in the mornings, mainly for customers to collect their orders. Since the majority of the surrounding offices were closed on weekends, walk-in trade was minimal. With all orders already complete, the casual staff working on Saturday morning simply had to box the orders as the customers came in to collect.
In the middle of the chaos that was life on a Friday, Jazz appeared in the kitchen wearing a big grin.
“Oh my God, Kitty, the most yummy-looking man has just walked into the shop asking for you. Archie is giving him the lazy eye.”
“What man?” she asked as she rolled a trolley of baking tins into the industrial oven.
“He said his name is Grayson James.”
“Did he say why he was looking for me?”
“No, but does it really matter why he wants to see you when he’s a twelve out of ten?”
Laughing at Jazz’s sassy comment, Kitty shook her head and simply replied, “Tell him I’ll be out in a second. I just need to set the oven for this batch.”
Giving Kitty an irreverent grin, she replied, “Will do boss-lady,” and sashayed out of the kitchen.
Setting the oven and washing her hands, Kitty did a quick mental run through to assess her progress and found herself running a little ahead. That would have meant leaving a little early that night, but her unexpected visitor had just put a spoke in that wheel. Walking into the shop area, she spotted Archie Durwood at the counter looking over the day’s selection. Farther back, closer to the door, she saw her friend, Leyla Newman, sitting on a barstool at the window counter. Waiting for her, it would seem.
The three of them had gone to school together, but Archie hadn’t hung out in the same circle as Kitty and Leyla. While Kitty’s inherent sweetness and sunny nature had made her popular, Archie had never been able to claim the same. Being soft-hearted, she hadn’t been able to bear how badly he’d been treated at school.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that his parents had named him Archibald, he’d grown up to be downright plain. Insipid strawberry-blond hair, unremarkable features and eyes too close together made it easy to overlook him in a crowd. But the clincher? Archie lisped. The kids had ragged on him mercilessly, making his life a living hell. Still, she’d been friendly and pleasant to everyone, and made no exception when it came to Archie.
Smiling, she waved at Leyla and showed her ten minutes with her hands. Layla nodded. Unfortunately, Archie happened to look up as she turned to ask Jazz where her visitor was.
A smile split Archie face as he saw her. “Hi, Kitty. Hi. How are you today?”
“I’m fine, thank you, Archie. How are you doing?”
“I’m great Kitty. Great. Thanks,” he lisped.
“That’s good, Archie. So, what can Jazz get for you today?”
“Um, you seem to be out of mocha fudge. I always have the mocha fudge. I, er, I . . . I, er . . . I don’t know what else . . . What else should I have?” he stammered, looking very agitated.
“I’m really sorry, Archie. I didn’t realise you only ever have the mocha fudge. I’ll keep that in mind. In the meantime, why don’t you try the Chocolate Peppermint Delight? It’s very nice with the same moist texture as the mocha fudge. It’s my personal favourite”
“Oh . . . Oh . . . I didn’t know that. I’ll have that one then, please. So, Kitty, er . . .”
“I’m sorry, Archie, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have someone waiting to see me. Jazz will help you. Have a lovely weekend.”
Looking none too pleased, Archie glanced around, looking for the other man.
“Um, sure. Okay. You have a good weekend too.”
“Jazz?” she murmured so as not to be overheard.
A mischievous grin broke out on Jazz’s face, and she surreptitiously pointed to someone standing behind Kitty.
Turning, she looked towards the man standing at the far end of the counter and simply stared. Apparently, her brain felt that moment was the perfect time to quit working. Standing a good few inches over six-feet tall with the face of a fallen angel, he took her breath away. Dark blond hair and emerald green eyes framed by impossibly long, thick lashes completed the whole fallen angel look.
Then he smiled. Oh God!
Holding out his hand, he asked, “Ms Spence? I’m Fire Marshal Grayson James of the Cape Town Fire Station. I’m investigating the fire that happened down the road. I wondered if you might have a couple of minutes to chat to me?”
Kitty forgot how to breathe. She wasn’t sure if she was capable of speech either. In fact, she wasn’t sure she was capable of anything besides staring. The fallen angel had a voice to match the image – deliciously husky and deep. That was not right. No man should be tall, good looking, built for sin, and sound like that. Not right at all!
“Hi. Yes, I’m Katherine Spence,” was all she could manage at first. Mentally, she slapped herself. For heaven’s sake, get a grip. “I’m sorry, Mr James, Fridays are really bad days for me. And my day is already spoken for tomorrow. Would Sunday do? I have an errand to run before I meet someone for breakfast, but I should be done by about one o’clock. Maybe I can meet with you around then?” she finally answered, making a valiant attempt at pulling herself together. She belatedly reached out to shake his outstretched hand. On contact, it felt like she’d touched a live wire.
“Yeah, that’ll do just fine. If you can let me have your cell number, I’ll give you a call to firm up the where and when,” he replied.
“Oh. Sure. Just a second.” Kitty went to the kitchen to retrieve a business card out of her handbag. Back in the store, she handed him the card.
“Thanks for your time. I’ll be in touch.” With another killer smile, he turned to leave. His walk was part saunter, part swagger, all sexy. Totally not right!
As the bell over the door chimed, Kitty snapped her mouth shut and gathered her shaken composure. She was sure she’d never encountered anybody quite like Grayson James before. Her brain re-engaging now the distraction of the super-hot fire investigator was gone, she remembered Leyla was waiting for her.
Looking around, she noticed with a sinking heart that Archie was still lurking. Thankfully, his attention was elsewhere. She headed over to where the other woman stood waiting for her.
“Hey Lee,” she greeted her with a smile.
“Hey yourself, gorgeous. Who’s your new friend?” Lee replied with a smile of her own, leaning in for a hug.
“Not a new friend. The local fire investigator. Apparently, he’s investigating the fires we’ve had around here.”
“So, what does he want with you?”
“Wants to interview me to see if I know anything, I guess.”
“Fair enough. Well, I just popped in to see if you had a minute for some lunch, but I completely forgot it’s Friday.”
“Yeah. Sorry, love. I really need to get back to it. I was running a bit ahead, but that visit just set me back now.” Kitty sighed. She’d really been looking forward to going home a little early and soaking in a nice hot bath.
“I’ll leave you to it then. Cheers, babe. I’ll chat to you later, yeah?”
“Sure. Chat then, babes.”
She turned and made a quick dash for the kitchen in the hopes of avoiding Archie. She wasn’t in the mood to stand and make nice with the man. Heaving a sigh of relief as she made it to the kitchen without incident, Kitty got on with the rest of her day.
Anger roiled in their gut. He had no right. No right. They wouldn’t stand for it. She belonged to them, and they wouldn’t tolerate it. They couldn’t allow anybody to upset their plans. Everything had been running smoothly up to this point. They would just have to make sure it continued to. Nothing could be allowed to stand between them and achieving their goal. They needed to think things through.