Lacey had pulled in ahead of him. After a hospital stay lasting most of two days, they’d finally released her. She’d asked him to drop her at her office, where she’d left her car.
He’d insisted on checking it thoroughly, then following her home. No way was he letting her walk into her place alone. Especially since Ivan was still walking the streets.
He had an alibi. Sort of. He claimed he’d spent the past three days at home with the flu. The attorney’s office where he worked as a paralegal confirmed he’d called in sick all three days. No one could verify he’d been home, but not a single witness could put him in the vicinity of the fire Thursday night or the hospital midday on Friday. He didn’t show up on any video surveillance, either.
Lacey stepped onto the small porch and inserted her key into the lock. “Thank you for everything you’ve done. You’ve always had a way of coming to my rescue.”
“I thought it was the other way around.”
Though he was a year older than her, he’d been held back. He’d been in danger of failing again when the lost twelve-year-old had landed in his seventh-grade math class. They’d bonded instantly, because they’d both been drowning in their own insecurities, his underscored by anger, hers by grief.
When she opened the door, two cats were waiting, a calico and a long-haired gray, who took one look at him and bolted under the couch.
“That was Nessie.” Lacey closed the door. “Like the Loch Ness monster, that will probably be your only sighting.” She picked up the calico. “This is Cassie.”
He scratched the top of the cat’s head. “I didn’t know you were a cat person.” When she and her father had moved to Murphy, they’d had a dog.
“I’m an animal person. I love them all. But cats are easier for working folks.”
She headed into the kitchen to feed them. A neighbor had handled the chore yesterday.
She’d just finished plopping canned food into their dishes when her phone rang. She glanced at the screen and her face lit up.
Her boyfriend? Why did that thought bother him?
Her smile faded. Whoever Stuart was, he apparently didn’t have good news. She thanked him, then disconnected the call. Her face was pale, her brow creased.
“That was Ruben’s dad. They’re calling in the state fire marshal. They suspect arson. Something about the burn pattern.”
“Yeah. In an accidental fire, there’s usually a dark V shape emanating from the origin.”
She pursed her lips. “According to Stuart, the point of origin was the coffeepot, but the pattern of the burn marks looks like an accelerant was used to make the flames spread quickly. They’re doing chemical tests.”
As she talked, a cold lump of dread formed in his gut. The fire had been intentional. And whoever started it had known Lacey was inside.
“Stuart caught Ruben before the ship left port and updated him. Ruben thinks, with his mind on everything he had to do to get ready for his trip, he forgot to lock the door. Stuart said Ruben feels terrible. I wish he’d have waited to tell him and not spoiled his trip.”
Jason wasn’t as forgiving as Lacey. Leaving her alone in an unlocked building was totally irresponsible.
“Knowing my office was in the basement, Ivan was able to walk in and set the fire.”
“You can’t stay here alone.” He would move in and sleep on her couch, but he couldn’t leave his mother for extended periods. That was his whole reason for coming back to Murphy.
He took her hands in his own. “Come stay at my mom’s place.”
“I won’t leave my cats.”
“We can drop by every day and feed them.”
She pulled her hands from his grasp and started to pace. “What if Ivan sets the house on fire and no one’s here to get them out? I can’t take that chance.”
“Then bring them with you.”
“Your mom’s allergic.”
He winced. She was right.
She sighed. “I’ll ask the police to drive by regularly. I’ll even have an alarm installed.”
He stared down at her, but the determination in her eyes discouraged any further argument.
He’d let her have her way. He had no choice.
But until Ivan was behind bars, he was going to be doing a lot of worrying.
Praying would be better.
Unfortunately, he’d be doing plenty of both.
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