Fury on FireSophie Jordan
For Angela Hanna:
Thanks for the wine, the laughter and the friendship—not necessarily in that order! You’re good for my soul.
About the Author
By Sophie Jordan
About the Publisher
It was move-in day.
Faith had been waiting for this her whole life. Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration. As a child she had been perfectly content sharing a roof with her family, but at the age of twenty-six she was overdue for getting her own place.
Propping her hands on her hips, she took a satisfying look around. She was a homeowner.
She knew she could continue to live with her father forever (he would love that) or at least until she married. She stifled a wince. Not that there was any prospect of that happening. One usually required a boyfriend first.
“You sure about this, Faithy?”
Her brother posed the question. Hale was a little sweaty from hauling all her things from the back of his and Dad’s trucks. He wiped a forearm against his brow.
She smiled and shook her head. It was a little late to be asking. The mortgage was signed. The down payment made. Her stuff was everywhere, surrounding her inside the two bedroom, two and a half bath, including all the new furniture she’d bought—the most money she had spent on anything excluding her car.
Although it wasn’t as if Hale had never asked the question before. He’d asked. Every step of the way he had grumbled his disapproval. Apparently it was fine for her brother to have his own place, but his sister? Not so much. As far as Hale was concerned she was still the baby of the family. Never mind that she went away to college all by herself. Four years in a dorm and then two more in graduate housing was apparently different.
She’d probably encouraged her family into thinking she was going to live with Dad forever. When she finished her grad program she had moved back home right into her old bedroom with its Hello Kitty curtains. For the last two years she had resided with her now retired father and worked as a social worker for the city of Sweet Hill. It had been easy. Comfortable.
She went to work every day and then came home and made dinner. Hale would join them a couple nights a week. It had been just like when she was growing up. The only thing missing on taco Tuesday was her other brother, Tucker, who was an Army Ranger fighting somewhere on the other side of the world.
Ever since her mother died, Faith had attempted to fill the void and take care of the men in her family. Her father and brothers had come to expect it of her—and she had let them. She’d expected it of herself even.
After grad school, it was easy to fall back into the lifelong pattern. Less easy was breaking the pattern, but she was doing it. Finally.
She needed her own place and she was finally making it happen. A social life, dating. She was claiming that for herself because God knew a hovering brother and father wasn’t conducive. Hard to invite a man back to your place when you lived with Daddy. Even harder when Daddy was the former sheriff.
“Are you sure about this, Faithy?” Hale repeated.
She winced at the lifelong nickname. Lifelong or not it made her feel like a little girl. As long as she lived at home, her family would always treat her like a child.
Standing at the door of her new duplex she smiled at her father and brother as they gathered on her porch.
“Yes, Hale. I’m sure.” She propped a hand against the doorjamb. “For the hundredth time, yes.”
Her older brother eyed her house, turning slightly on his heels to survey the surrounding neighborhood—as though he hadn’t examined it the moment she’d first picked out the property over a month ago. His steel-eyed gaze hesitated on the duplex next door. A truck was parked in their shared driveway.
“Well, let’s leave her be.” Her father clapped Hale on the back. It was funny actually. She had two brothers and a father, but Hale was the most protective. Kind of hard for Tucker to be protective when he wasn’t around. And Dad probably figured he didn’t need to be as long as Hale was doing such a bang-up job.
“Dinner next week?” she called as her father moved down the driveway between her car and the neighbor’s.
Dad didn’t glance back at her as he moved toward his truck parked along the curb. He held a hand up in a quick wave. “Sure thing,” he called, his manner brusque, even for him.
She couldn’t help noticing that he wasn’t meeting her gaze. With a farewell tug on his baseball cap, he pulled open the driver’s side door and climbed inside the cab, still averting his stare as he started the engine and drove away.
Hale lingered on her porch. He, on the other hand, had no trouble looking at her. His deep-set eyes were probing. “He’s trying to act like he’s okay with this.”
“Hale,” she said, her voice pleading. She didn’t want to feel guilt over doing this. Guilt had kept her home for the last two years. It had taken a lot for her to announce she was leaving. A lot to buy a house and actually go through with it.
He held up both hands, palms face out. “I get it. I do.”
She nodded. “Considering you moved out and have had your own place for years now, I’m really glad to hear that.”
“It’s different with you,” he countered.
“Why?” she demanded.
“You’re a girl . . . a daughter.”
She puffed out a breath and waved to his truck in the street without any real heat. “Go on with you. Take your sexist double standards and get out of here.”
Hale dug a hand in his pocket and he moved toward his truck. “Take it easy, sis.”
“Seriously, you’re a caveman,” she called. “It’s like you stepped straight out of the nineteen fifties!”
His typically stern expression cracked with a grin, reminding her that the majority of the ladies in town had his name knitted on their pillows. Her brother was a heartbreaker—even more so because he rarely dated, and when he did it was never anyone in the local community. He never let any of the nice girls of Sweet Hill get within twenty feet of his bed, insisting they were only after a ring. She knew he was off and on again with a woman in Alpine. A CPA that worked long hours and apparently wasn’t looking to get said ring on her finger.
“See you at dinner next week,” he called.
“I don’t remember inviting you!”
“Of course you did. I just broke my back moving you in. You owe me.” He winked at her as he ducked inside his truck. “Make your chicken parmesan.”
“I’m making liver and onions . . . or something vegetarian,” she called after her carnivore-loving brother.
He hung out his open window, his broad palm skimming the side of his door as he replied, “Funny. You don’t like liver. Neither does Dad.”
“I can learn to like it.” She planted her hands on her hips.
Chuckling, he started backing out of her driveway. “See you next week.”
She waved grudgingly. Overbearing or not, she loved him and she knew he loved h
er, too. She knew he even understood her need for her own place and her own life or he would have dug his heels in much more than he had.
Closing the door to her house, she turned back around to face her new abode.
It was perfect. An open-concept space with a kitchen that looked out into the living and dining area. She imagined entertaining in this space. Hosting Sunday dinners with her father and Hale—Tucker, too, when he came home. Maybe one of her brothers would eventually settle down with a girlfriend or wife.
She carried the image a little further and saw herself cooking for a few of her friends, maybe even a boyfriend. She winced. She had the friends. Now she just needed to work on getting the boyfriend. Easier said than done.
The good thing about growing up as the sheriff’s daughter was that no one screwed with you.
The bad thing about being the sheriff’s daughter was that no one screwed with you.
A chastity belt could not have been more effective. No one dared mess with her. By the time she was a junior in high school, Hale was already one of her father’s deputies and giving MIPs to her classmates every time he caught them drinking at a party. As far as those high school parties were concerned, no one handed her a beer. No guy even attempted to touch her. Half the time they didn’t even invite her, too afraid that the party would get busted.
No, Faith never had a prayer. She was a social pariah, and that did something to a girl. Watching guys turn tail when they saw her coming cut into her confidence when it came to the opposite sex. That lack of confidence had followed her through life.
By the time she got to college, she was woefully lacking in experience and kept to herself. She landed her first boyfriend in her last year of college. She dated Chad for eighteen months. He was an engineering student. Sociable and outgoing, he put her at ease. Sex, when they finally had it, was nice if not exactly rock-your-world. She figured that would get better with more practice. However, their last few months together they hardly practiced. No, they spent more and more time at school and work than with each other. When Chad broke up with her, explaining that he wanted to see other people, it wasn’t so surprising. Maybe even a relief. They were hardly seeing each other at that point. She couldn’t say she truly loved him. She thought she had, in the beginning at least. But it had never been passionate between them. Not like she always imagined love to be. It was never a chest-squeezing, giddy and breathless kind of thing, but maybe that was simply the remnants of her teenage self hoping for something that belonged on the pages of a romance novel.
Rolling up her sleeves, she got to work unpacking her kitchen and putting everything in its place. Coasters on the bar counter. Oven mitts on their hooks. Trivets in the drawers. Dishes in the cabinet. Her spices in the rack that hung on her pantry door. The tall pepper mill that had belonged to her mother and still cracked pepper better than any pepper mill she’d ever encountered took position by her stove.
She eyed the ancient stove, vowing to look into upgrading it. A good oven was essential. Faith liked to cook. She had been doing it since her mom passed away and it became apparent that if she relied on her father and brothers, every day of her life would consist of frozen pizza and scrambled eggs. Badly scrambled eggs. Bone-dry and crunchy. If she wanted to eat anything better for the rest of her adolescent life, she’d concluded that she was going to have to be the one to prepare it. She’d found peace working in her mother’s kitchen. It was like she was connected to her somehow, surrounded by her pots and spices, using her recipes.
She ran a hand over her gleaming new refrigerator. Tomorrow she’d have to go to the store and buy groceries. Right now she had a few basics. Opening her refrigerator, she peered inside and assessed if she had enough ingredients to make her mother’s chocolate chip scones.
Satisfied that she did, she tightened the band of her ponytail and got started. Soon she was shaping doughy crescent scones onto a well-seasoned pan, the place smelling like the childhood of her memories. With three kids, two of whom were teenage boys that topped six feet, her mom had constantly been cooking. Setting the timer on her phone, Faith wiped her hands off on a dishtowel.
Content, she sank down on her couch and turned on the television, relieved that her cable was already up and running. She flipped channels until she landed on a comedy. She saw enough grim realities at work. When she vegged in front of the TV, she preferred lighthearted fare.
She abandoned the episode of Modern Family when the timer went off. She sprinkled the tops of the hot scones with sugar until their golden-brown crust sparkled with sugar crystals. Leaving the pan to cool, she returned to her couch.
It wasn’t very long before the sound of an engine outside drew her attention. It must be her neighbors. Sharing a driveway (not to mention a wall), she imagined she would hear them whenever they came and went.
Her Realtor hadn’t imparted any information about her neighbor the few times Faith had looked at the house. Curious, she stood and peered out the peephole, glimpsing a body moving to the front door before disappearing out of sight. In that split second she identified it was a male body. A very tall male body. She marked his height, the curve of a well-muscled shoulder covered by a black T-shirt and a gold-skinned arm roped with sinew. His dark hair was on the long side, obscuring his face. There wasn’t enough time to see his features, and she felt an uncalled stab of disappointment.
She heard the key in the lock. She listened as he entered the other side of the duplex. The door thudded shut. For a moment, she absorbed the fact that only a wall separated them. Only a wall divided her from a stranger. But he was her neighbor. He wouldn’t be a stranger for long. Not once they met.
She stood there for some moments, thinking, debating how she should go about introducing herself.
Reaching a decision, she moved back into the kitchen and grabbed a plate. She carefully chose the best four scones and placed them on it. Without bothering to don her shoes, she walked outside and strode along the duplex’s shared porch, stopping in front of her neighbor’s door. She knocked twice. Nothing.
She waited several moments and then knocked again. Louder. Maybe he was at the back of the house and didn’t hear her.
Knocked again. Nothing. Staring at the peephole, she wondered if maybe he was in the shower. Several seconds ticked pass and she lifted her hand to knock yet again.
The sound of a car pulling into their driveway had her turning around. A beat-up Honda parked behind her car, blocking her in. She watched as a bombshell of a redhead climbed out of the car. She was wearing ripped-up jeans so tight they were painted on. A yellow Rainbow Brite graphic tee so thin you could see the dark leopard-print bra underneath it completed the ensemble.
She slipped her keys into her back pocket as she walked up the drive, her thick-lashed eyes landing on Faith.
“Hey,” she greeted.
“Hi,” she returned, wondering if she should say anything about the woman’s car blocking hers, but then decided against it. Faith wasn’t going anywhere tonight.
“What you got there?” Redhead nodded at the plate in her hands.
Faith glanced down, a little flustered in face of this confidant, sexy female. “Uh, scones,” she answered.
“Scones?” she echoed like she had never heard the word.
“Chocolate chip,” she added.
“Damn.” The girl bent at the waist to breathe them in. “Sounds good. These for North? You here to see him?”
“North?” Was that her neighbor’s name?
“Yeah. North Callaghan.”
Faith jerked a thumb to her new place. “I just moved in. Thought I would introduce myself to my neighbor.” She motioned to the door she had been knocking at.
“Oh. Ain’t that nice. I’m Serena.” Serena picked up a scone off the plate. She sank her teeth into the crust and then moaned in delight. “Oh my God. These are amazing. Promise me you’ll make these all the time.”
Faith shrugged uncertainly, wondering why she was asking. Because she
lived here with North? Or was she simply a frequent guest? “I like to cook,” she offered.
Serena nodded. “You moving in is a very good thing. Or bad.” She laughed harshly. “My ass doesn’t need to get any bigger.”
From what Faith could see, Serena’s ass was very nearly perfect.
“Do you live here?”
“With North?” She laughed. “No. No one lives with North. I’m just a friend. I pop in . . . you know, whenever the mood strikes. North.” She chuckled again and this time the sound was throatier, as though she’d just taken a bite into a delectable piece of pie and was reveling in it. “He’s always up for a good time.”
Faith’s cheeks burned. Serena’s meaning was unmistakable. The two of them were friends with benefits. Fuck buddies or whatever.
Serena sniffed the scones again. “Maybe I’ll come by even more now if you keep supplying him with baked goods.”
“Oh, well.” She motioned lamely at the plate. “I was just going to say hello—”
Serena’s eyes glinted with amusement. “Have you seen North yet?”
Faith shook her head.
That eating-a-slice-of-fabulous-pie look came over her face again. Only this time Faith knew it had nothing to do with food and everything with this North guy. “Well, you’ll be baking more scones for him once you do. Trust me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Let me do you a solid. I’ll give him the scones. Tell them they’re from his new neighbor. You introduce yourself to him another time.” Her thick-lashed eyes swept up and down, surveying her. “Once you’ve done something with yourself.” She whipped her finger in a small circle at Faith. “I suggest you start by losing the sweatpants. You’re tall. Wear something short and show off your legs.”
Faith groped for speech, shooting a quick glance down at herself in baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt. She plucked at her shirt, pulling it away from her chest. She wore a sports bra underneath, so her breasts were mashed into one nearly nonexistent uniboob.
“Don’t look so offended. You’ll thank me later.”
Feeling embarrassed enough, Faith mumbled something incoherent and abandoned the scones to her. Whirling around, she stalked back into her duplex without another glance behind her.