Janet Ennis tragically died five years ago in what the police labeled an accidental fire. But Janet’s mother, Nora, believes it to be murder and arson. And she’s hoping ex-cop Michael McLaren can prove it quickly, for she’s losing her memory to dementia. As McLaren pokes through the case details, he becomes emotionally involved with the dead woman. Yet, Janet isn’t the only person who threatens his mental well-being. A series of arsons on his own property hint that he’s upset someone connected with this case.
Motives for Janet’s murder rise like the smoky tendrils of a fire. And, motive aside, the murder scene seems a bit too pat: a drought-stricken landscape eager to lap up flames and a conveniently locked door barring Janet’s escape.
Will McLaren solve the case while Nora can still comprehend the resolution, or will Harvester’s plans see McLaren’s career go up in smoke?
“Two cases to investigate?” Her eyes suddenly sparked into life, bringing a suggestion of color to her ashen cheeks.
McLaren shook his head, annoyed by the subject. Slapping his fist on top of the chair arm he said, “Dry stone wall repairs. Near Bakewell.” He was vague on purpose, not wanting her to come to his work site and pester him about the case.
“And these bits of repair will pay you more than taking on Janet’s case.”
He pulled in the corners of his mouth, annoyed at the woman and his attempt to rid himself of her. She had no right to question his choice of livelihood. Why should he alter anything to please her? He tugged at the knot of his plaid tie. It hadn’t bothered him until now.
She must have sensed his building resentment or seen the glare in his eyes, for she said, “I am sorry, Mr. McLaren. That was uncalled for. But you can appreciate how I feel. I’ve been trying for five years to get my daughter’s murder case opened again.”
“Let me guess.” He said it more sharply than he had intended, irritated with her, himself and the subject. “Our lads in blue won’t listen to you.”
“Nothing to make a song about, at least, no.”
“Deaf ears.” He leaned forward and picked up the bill for their tea. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Ennis, but even if I did take on your case, I don’t think you could afford my fee.”
“You haven’t told me what it is.”
He named his price, watching her intently.
“I’d double that if you could find Janet’s killer.” His right eyebrow rose in skepticism but she rushed on as he opened his mouth. “I’m serious. I’ve got the money. I can give you a check for the amount and you can cash it today, so you’ll know it’s good.”
Recovering his composure, McLaren leaned back again. “It means that much to you, then.”
“Yes. And it will to you, too.”
“The money’s nice, I admit, but—”
“Oh, I’m not referring to the money, Mr. McLaren, though I suppose that will be welcome.”
“I meant coming up against your nemesis again and proving him wrong after all these years.”
“Yes. The man you tangled with, the man who’s responsible for you leaving your police job last year. Charlie Harvester.”
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