Smoke on the Water Episode 27

Smoke on the water header

Chapter 27: Hoyt

I fishtailed on my way out of the Police Department parking lot, one hand controlling the truck as I dialed Rios with the other. The phone rang. And rang.

“Pick up. Pick up. Pick up, damn it!”

At last he answered. “Hey, Hoyt, I—”

“It’s your father.”

“Wait, what? What’s my father?”

“He’s the one behind the fires. Some of them anyway. I think he’s at the house. Caroline texted me earlier, thinking it was me, and now she’s not answering the phone. I’m on my way out there. Where the hell are you?”

Rios swore. “North end of the island, near the edge of the Sutters’ property. Leaving now, and I’ll call the others.”

“Hurry.” Disconnecting the call, I made it out of the village limits and floored the gas pedal.

The truck leapt forward, and I blessed Stan Jenkins for putting a Corvette engine in the thing. Other vehicles honked as I flew by, weaving in and out of traffic on the two-lane coastal road that would get me home.

I hadn’t yet called the police. They were in the middle of an interrogation and if I was wrong, I’d just cause more problems for Caroline and her family with Chief Carson. I didn’t have any idea who else might be in the house when Rios was with Gabi, but anybody would be better than Hector.

Please God, let me be wrong. Please let this be an overreaction.

But as I caught a little air cresting the last hill in the road, I spotted an unfamiliar truck parked in front of the house. For a few long moments, I wrestled with myself. Come in blazing and obvious or take this fucker by surprise? I had no backup. Not yet. So I slowed the truck and eased it down the drive, deliberately angling behind the other vehicle to block its escape.

Throwing myself out of the driver’s side, I didn’t even shut the door before racing as quietly as I could up the steps and around to Caroline’s door. Even before I tested the knob, I could smell gasoline.


The door was unlocked. I eased inside, and even without the quick sweep of the lower floor, I knew no one was down here. I could hear the drone of a low voice upstairs. I needed a weapon. But the butcher’s knife wasn’t in the block on the counter. Was that because the guy upstairs had used it on her? My blood chilled at the thought. Wasting no more time, I crept up the treads, blessing the effort I’d spent learning which ones creaked and might need replacing.

At the top of the stairs, I paused. Caroline had been in the bath when she texted. I eased across the hall, peering around the door that had been left ajar. At the sight of the blood on the edge of the tub and trailing across the bathroom floor, my heart all but stopped.

A male voice was coming from Caroline’s room.

Easing closer, I peered into the room and froze.

Caroline was gagged and tied to a chair. Blood dripped down from her bruised temple. Her robe had slipped off one shoulder, partly baring one breast. Her head was bowed, and I couldn’t tell if she was conscious.

The room itself was in total chaos. The wooden shelves she’d used to organize her things had been broken and arranged in teepees around the space. Her sheets had been ripped and turned into trailers all around her. The pillows had been slashed; the stuffing pulled out and scattered as more fuel. The stink of gasoline was stronger here, and I spotted Hector splashing it in a circle around his daughter.

One spark and everything would go up in a blaze.

Hector continued to mutter while he worked. “—make you pay for your disrespect. A daughter must obey her father. No woman is going to leave me.” He tossed the can aside and flicked the lighter in his hand.

“No!” I hurtled into the room, diving forward and tackling him around the middle.

Hector stumbled back, our joint momentum sending us crashing into the French door. It shattered on impact. We hit the ground hard, rolling over the scattered shards. He dropped the lighter, but not before the spark caught on the tattered cotton sheers now billowing in the breeze. The fabric ignited with a whoosh. I’d have less than a minute to get the fire out before everything went up in an inferno.

I pushed to my feet, my gaze on the fire. My mistake. Hector’s fist connected with my jaw, sending me stumbling back.

Regaining my feet, I rushed forward. “You’re not getting away with this.”

“You’re not going to save her this time.”

I ducked under his guard, landing a solid hook to his ribs and propelling him toward the wall. For just a few moments, I had the upper hand, landing a series of blows to his kidneys. With a snarl of rage, he shoved me back, propelling me into the adjacent wall hard enough to crack the sheetrock and drive the breath from my lungs.

Hooking an arm around his neck, I squeezed, trying to lock Hector down. But he twisted, elbowing me hard in the ribs. Pain shot through my torso, but I held on, grimly aware of every ticking second as the fire spread ever closer to Caroline, who hadn’t stirred in that chair.

Hector tripped over one of the wooden teepees, taking us both to the floor, where we rolled, trading blows in a frenzy. He fought like a cornered animal, desperate now to escape before the fire he’d set claimed more than his daughter’s life. I fought just as hard to stop him.

Smoke was already filling the room, and I gasped for air, struggling to keep my focus. Shards of glass dug into my knees as I rained punches on Hector’s face, striving for that knockout.

In the distance, I could hear other vehicles approaching. And the moment of distracted relief lost me everything. Hector rolled, getting both hands around my throat and squeezing. My vision began to blur, gray creeping in at the edges. I only had one chance to get out of this. One chance to save Caroline.

Gripping his shirt in both hands, I used all the strength I had left to throw him up and over me, through the broken French door. Hector crashed through it. The rickety railing splintered beneath the weight of his body, and he went tumbling off the edge with a scream. That scream cut off abruptly with a sickening crunch.

I scrambled up, shouting, “Fire!” to whoever had arrived below. There was no time to fight the blaze. No time to contain the spread. I had to get Caroline out. Her head was still bowed. Carefully, I lifted it, checking the wound on her temple. At my touch she roused, jerking her head away, eyes peeling wide, a muffled scream sounding behind the gag.

“It’s okay. It’s me!”

Her gaze focused in, and for a moment, relief lit those beautiful brown eyes. Then she spotted the flames, and everything turned to panic.

“I’m going to get you out.” I coughed the words through the increasing smoke.

The bastard had zip-tied her to the chair. I struggled to break the ties, wondering if I could just take her out, chair and all, when people rushed into the room. Rios was in the lead, and he opened up with a fire extinguisher. Sawyer was right behind, kneeling beside me and slicing through Caroline’s restraints with a pocketknife.

Ford came hustling up the stairs, another fire extinguisher in hand. “Fire department and police are on their way. Get her the hell out!”

I hauled ass out of the room, downstairs, and straight out of the house. For just a moment, I drew up short as I spotted Hector’s body sprawled in the seagrass, his neck and both legs bent at an unnatural angle.

Deal with it later.

Sirens sounded in the distance. Maybe they’d get here in time to save the house. Maybe they wouldn’t. I’d saved the most important thing. I hurried around and down the steps, laying her in the grass on the other side of the house and tugging down her gag.

She coughed, her whole body convulsing. But she was alive.

“Hoyt.” The rasp of my name on her lips was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.

“Yeah, baby. I’m here.”

“You came.”

As emergency vehicles barreled into the driveway, I cupped her cheek, careful not to touch the purpling bruise. “Yeah, and I always will.”

Gabi and Rios dropped to the grass beside us. They each reached for Caroline, wrapping her in their arms. Despite the continued coughing, Caroline held on. Gabi was sobbing, and Rios looked as if he wished he could bring Hector back just to kill him all over again. Over the top of his sisters’ heads, he met my gaze and offered a grim nod of thanks.

So he did realize. Hell, given when he arrived, he might even have seen the fall.

Something else to deal with later.

As she caught her breath, Caroline looked at her siblings, her eyes drenched with pain. I couldn’t imagine the devastation of what she’d just been through. Of having her father—even if he had been an abusive son of a bitch—try to kill her in cold blood. Twice.

Tears spilled over, and she tightened her grip on them both. “He killed Mom.”