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Her Firefighter Protector

Written by Carol J. Post

Chapter Nine

Lacey stretched and leaned over the back of her computer chair. She’d completed the first two lessons in this semester’s managerial accounting course.

She usually worked days and did schoolwork nights and weekends. But there would be no work for Advanced this week, unless she disobeyed Ruben’s orders.

Which was what she intended to do. She wasn’t incapacitated. Other than still coughing up some phlegm, she felt fine. Leaving everything at work hanging until Ruben returned this weekend would drive her wild.

First thing this morning, she’d called ADT Security. Someone was going to be out late in the afternoon to meet with her.

Jason had already called once today. Right after discovering the action figure last night, the officer had radioed to have someone verify Ivan’s whereabouts. He’d been home, claimed he’d been there all day.

His car engine was cold. The neighbors confirmed it hadn’t moved. If Ivan had gone anywhere, he hadn’t used the 370Z.

The ringtone sounded on her phone and the screen ID’d Stuart Fanning as the caller.

“Hey. Any news?”

“Not yet. The investigator took samples from the fire and they’re doing a chemical analysis. That’ll determine which, if any, accelerant was used.”

Lacey shuddered at the image his words evoked. “Any idea when we can get my computer out of there? I’d like to finish some things I was working on when the fire happened, but I need my billing software.”

Hopefully, her computer had survived. From what she’d heard, the fire hadn’t reached the basement level. But enough water had soaked through the ceiling to do considerable damage.

“I’ll ask the fire investigator when we can go in. The insurance adjuster has already been there.”

Lacey had always liked Stuart. She’d worked for him off and on since high school, then moved to full-time when she graduated from college. Her job had morphed from processing insurance claims into handling a little bit of everything, including administrative and accounting duties.

After Stuart retired, Ruben took over the other portions of her job, leaving her with billing. That had been okay with her. She’d finally decided to return to school and was now enrolled in an online MBA program.

When the doorbell rang an hour later, she peered out the front window. As expected, Jason stood on the porch. He’d texted to say he was coming.

She invited him inside. “How’s your mom?”

“Slightly better. I made her some oatmeal this morning with a little milk and honey. It looks like she might actually keep it down.”

He took a seat on the couch. “Her next treatment is Friday. She just starts feeling decent, then it’s time to start the process all over.”

She sat next to him. “I know how tough it is.”

“What have you been up to this morning?”

“School. I’m working on my MBA in accounting. Then it’ll be prep for the CPA exam.”

He grinned. “After all that education, will you still want to associate with a lowly cop?”

“I thought you were a firefighter.”

“I am. I’ve been a volunteer with Ashland Fire and Rescue for the past six years. But it’s my job with the police department that pays the bills. It will when I return, anyway.”

“A cop and a firefighter. A hero, times two.” Whatever happened, he’d always be hers.

His smile faded. “This hero wouldn’t be where he is if you hadn’t gotten him through seventh-grade math. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have graduated from high school.”

Her chest filled with warmth. “I was only here a year. It couldn’t have made that much difference.”

“It did. You encouraged me to apply myself. Watching you maintain As and Bs after losing your mother and being completely uprooted, I realized I didn’t have any excuses, no matter what was going on at home.” He put a hand over hers and squeezed. “I’m not sure I ever properly thanked you.”

She looked down at their joined hands. If he’d thought about kissing her last night, she wished he’d consider it now.

She shook off the thoughts. He was appreciative. But he was just a friend. She needed to rein in her emotions.

It was the strain of being stalked for the past few weeks. She wasn’t herself. A special guy showed her kindness and she almost melted into a puddle of goo.

She drew in a breath. “Ivan was here last night. I have no doubt.” She frowned, chewing her lower lip. “I’d love to compare notes with Tiffany, his ex.”

“Do you know how to reach her?”

“No, but Ivan said she was a teller at Nantahala Bank. A friend of mine started working there last month. She could at least get a last name.”

Cassie jumped up and stretched out against Lacey’s leg. Lacey stroked her back. “Maybe Tiffany didn’t cheat. Maybe Ivan did the same thing to her that he’s doing to me.”

He nodded. “If she didn’t report it before, she might be willing to step forward now.”

It couldn’t hurt. It might even help them anticipate Ivan’s next move.

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