Smoke on the water header

Chapter 13: Hoyt

Buying a house on the east side of the island was a risk. I’d take the brunt of any hurricanes that blew in. But this house had weathered those for decades and was still standing, so I’d considered it worth the gamble for everything I’d be gaining. As I sat on the second-floor porch in my newly assembled Adirondack chair, watching the sun slowly crest the horizon with Caroline curled up in my lap, I knew I’d been absolutely right.

“This is part of why I bought the house. I wanted to be able to sit here and watch the sunrise just like this.”

She turned her head to look at me, her fingers twining in the hair at my nape. “Just like this?”

I tightened my arms around her. “I didn’t have you in mind when I picked it out, but I’d say this is icing on a pretty awesome dream.”

The corners of her mouth kicked up. “I don’t hate it.”

“I’d say I was sorry there’s only one chair, but I’d be lying.”

With a soft laugh, she nuzzled my cheek, then settled her head against my shoulder to keep watching the show Mother Nature was putting on across the water. The thin edge of light slowly lifted out of the ocean, brightening the burnt orange sky and bouncing off the thin scrim of clouds.

The only thing that could’ve made this better would’ve been if Caroline had spent the night in my bed. Still, it had been a great couple of days. An unexpectedly quiet couple of days that we’d spent more or less joined at the hip while she wasn’t working. I’d finally done some work on my side of the duplex, taking a page out of her playbook and painting, just to have the sense that I’d made progress. Since I hadn’t had a team of six to help me, I’d only gotten the downstairs primed, but it was still nice to see that blank canvas. The to-do list had been revised since I wouldn’t be knocking down walls anytime soon. That actually made the projects feel a little more manageable.

But my forty-eight hours were just about up, and I’d be going back on duty soon. I worried about leaving Caroline alone. There’d been no further sign of Hector. He hadn’t approached Gabi or Rios. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t the moment any of them were alone. Well, probably not Rios. But the girls?

I tipped my head to Caroline’s. “I wish I didn’t have to go to work.”

“Mmm. A lazy Saturday would certainly be lovely. But even if you didn’t have to go to work, I do. Marisol Gutiérrez hired me to help her set up her stall for the farmer’s market.”

“Oh yeah? Does she pay well?”

“Minimum wage. But she sets aside some of those gorgeous artisanal breads and pastries, too, so I call it a win.”

“That certainly seems like a side-gig worth keeping.”

Threading my fingers into the silky hair that had quickly become my obsession, I drew her mouth to mine for a soft, lingering kiss that tasted of the pre-dawn coffee we’d shared. She melted into me, a willing surrender that gave me all kinds of ideas we absolutely didn’t have time for. On a groan, I pulled back. “I guess that will have to hold me.”

“Guess it will.” She darted back in for another quick kiss, then slid off my lap. “I’ve gotta get going. Be safe.”


“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She started to pull away, but I used the hand I still held to tug her back against me for one more full body kiss that left her mouth swollen and my dick more than a little hopeful. “Don’t forget me.”

“Guh.” At her blissed-out expression, I laughed and finally released her. She blinked and shook her head as if to clear it. “I think you need a license for that mouth.”

Delighted, I waved her on her way. “I’m sure we can discuss that when I’m off-shift again. Go on. I’ll text you later.”


When she still didn’t move, I gently gripped her shoulders and turned her back toward the door to her room.

“Right. Later.”

I was still on the upper gallery a couple minutes later when I heard the downstairs doors close and her car crank up. For a few more minutes, I debated with myself, then sent a text that very well might get me in trouble with Caroline later. If she found out.

No reply had come in by the time I headed into the firehouse a half hour later. The whole place smelled of bacon and coffee. I found everybody gathered family-style around the table inhaling biscuits and eggs along with that bacon. They had that amped up, post fire excitement going.

I poured myself another cup of coffee. “I gather it wasn’t a quiet night?”

Jamal reached for another biscuit. “Our firebug seems to have struck again.”

I braced myself. “Where?”

“You know that old beachcomber’s shack on the south side? The one near Pelican’s Rest?”

“The one the kids used to use as a lover’s lane?”

“Still do. Or did. Won’t be able to anymore,” Smokey added. “Burned to the ground.

“Shit. Was anybody hurt?”

“Nobody was there,” Jamal said. “And while we were dealing with that, somebody called in an unattended bonfire about two miles down the beach. We were damned lucky the wind was on our side last night. That one could’ve easily spread to all the marsh grass.”

On autopilot, I loaded my plate. “Whoever it is, they’re escalating.”

“They’re having a grand ol’ time jerking us around is what they’re doing,” Tank muttered.

“How long until they set a fire to something actually occupied?” Pete asked.

“The question is whether these fires are connected to the beach house fire.” I tapped my fingers against the side of my mug. “All the others have been easy access. Convenient outside garbage cans. Vacant property. That sort of thing. The house would’ve required either a key or breaking in. Who has the photos from the scene?”

Biscuit in hand, Jamal rose and went to retrieve them. “What are you looking for?”

I flipped through the images until I found the one I wanted. “Here. Back door. See those scratch marks around the lock? That wasn’t from our breach. This door was jimmied.”

Flash bit into a piece of bacon. “So what is this? Some kid bored with the summer? Since it’s mostly been around the areas of rentals, could it be somebody who came in for vacation?”

“Gotta be somebody who’s here for a while. How many folks stay here for two weeks or more?” Smokey asked.

“Could be somebody who has a beef with the tourist industry expansion,” I mused.

We continued to discuss theories until Blaze stuck his head in the room. “Hey L-T, you got company.”

I glanced beyond him to see Rios in the doorway.

So he’d decided to come in person instead of answering by text.

I was aware of everyone’s gaze on me as I rose to meet him. “C’mon.” I led him to the conference room where we conducted trainings. At this hour, it was empty. Perfect for a private conversation. “Thanks for coming.”

Rios adopted a faux casual stance, resting one hip on the table. “What’s up?”

“I’m worried about your dad. More specifically, the possibility that he’ll target Caroline or Gabi when one of us isn’t around. I figured you were the person to discuss things with to figure out what to do about it.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Well, in all honesty, even though I know your sister would happily skin me for the saying so, I’d like to put them both under some kind of protective detail.”

Rios folded his arms and studied me. “What exactly are your intentions toward my sister?”

There were a lot of things I could’ve said, but I didn’t have a good read on Rios and how he’d respond to any of them. As a rule, I preferred honesty wherever possible. “I intend to protect her. I care about her, and I don’t want to see anything happen to her. Or to Gabi or you, for that matter.”

The other man’s brows drew together in skepticism. “Why do you give a shit about our family?”

“Look, I think you’ve all had a shit time of it. You, especially. Caroline matters to me, and I want to see her safe when I can’t be there to make sure of it. I know it’s not practical to expect anybody to be with her twenty-four-seven—not that she’d be okay with that if it was. But I think you can agree that your father represents a threat. Did she tell you about him confronting her at work the other night?”

A muscle jerked in his jaw. “No. But that doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

I filled him in.

Rios loosed a string of curses in Spanish. “Jury’s still out on you, McNamara, but I agree with you on this. Sawyer and I have already been trading off as much as we can with our jobs, but I can lean on Jace and Ford a bit more. They haven’t picked up jobs yet this summer. And I’ll be having a conversation with both my sisters about keeping me informed if the asshole shows up.”

“That’ll be a start.”

Someone outside shouted a split second before the alarm blared.

I opened the door to see Blaze racing toward a hose.

“Your fucking truck is on fire!”

“What?” I bolted outside, sprinting for the employee lot out back.

Sure enough, my pickup had flames shooting up from beneath the hood and inside the cab.

All around me, my crew leapt into action, quickly dousing the fire before it could spread. But my truck was toast.

“No way was that accidental,” Jamal muttered.

Apparently, the chief had come in while I’d been talking to Rios. He arched his brows. “Who all have you pissed off lately?”

I thought about all the confrontations I’d had on Caroline’s behalf in the past few weeks. “Quite a few people, as it happens.”