Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren

“It was the middle of the night. We stood outside the house and didn’t see anyone standing around holding a gasoline can or lighting a match.”

“Right,” I say, my throat dry. Except it was pitch black that night. It’s terrifying to think there might have been someone in the trees watching us. Waiting to see if we’d die in the fire or make it out alive. Maybe wanting to finish us off, if the fire truck hadn’t arrived in time.

“You’re cold,” he says, pulling me up from the sofa. His arms wrap around me, but I don’t feel their warmth. I’m not cold, precisely. I’m scared. What kind of crazy person sets a house on fire?

“What are we going to do?” I whisper.

“We’re going to hire a construction company. Rebuild. Restore. Move back in. I’m paying enough that they’ll drop their other jobs to work on mine.”

Then we’ll know how it happened, but how will we find the person who did it? I suppose that’s a question for the cops, but I learned early not to trust the cops. Or teachers. Or nurses. They have too much power. And children have too little. I glance at Paige, anxious for her.

“She’s fine,” Beau says, reading my mind. “I don’t want her to worry. I don’t want you to worry either, but you need to keep your guard up. In case…”

“In case what?” In case whoever set the fire tries again. The words hang between us. I wish they were mocking, his dark eyes. Taunting. It would make this a joke, instead of serious.

He looks grave as the night. “In case Detective Causey comes around.”

“He already questioned me.”

A grim smile. “I have no doubt he’ll be back. And based on the way he tried to ambush Paige when I left the hospital, he’ll probably try to catch you alone, too.”

“I won’t let him get near Paige.” The detective made me uncomfortable. I don’t know whether it’s my old fear of authority or something deeper. Regardless, I’m not going to let him question Paige. “Why’s he so suspicious? Even if someone did set the fire, it seems like he should be looking at other people. Not just us.”

Beau gives a half shrug. “It’s in his nature.”

I glance away, a little nervous. A little scared. “I’ll protect her.”

“I trust you to protect Paige, but I need you to do more than that. I need you to protect yourself.”

A shiver runs down my spine. “Do you think he’s dangerous?”

“I think I don’t trust anyone until we know what happened that night.” That only raises more questions. More concerns. Every single thing I learn about Beau Rochester only pulls me deeper into murky water. He must see it in my face, because he gives a short shake. “Anyway, Paige is resting. You should be resting, too.”

“No, I’m fine.”

A dark look. “That wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order.”

I remember Mrs. Fairfax’s words. I see the way you look at him. And more importantly, I see the way he looks at you. He’s looking at me now, his gaze a dark pool of secrets. What does he really think about me? What does he want from me?

The same thing I want from him, possibly.

Or nothing at all.

I love you, damn you. He said the words to me when we were inside the burning house. And the worst part is, he meant them. He told me his love is dangerous, but he’s wrong. His love didn’t start that fire. His love didn’t kill Emily Rochester.

“A boss couldn’t tell me to rest,” I tell him, almost gentle in my rebuff. “Only a lover could do that. And you’ve already made it clear that you won’t be mine. Your love is dangerous, remember? Your love starts fires and wars. Your love is a category five hurricane.”

His gaze turns sharp. “This isn’t a game.”

My cheeks heat. He’s going to break my heart. “Even if you don’t want me, you can’t go on believing this. Forget about me. Paige needs you.”

At the sound of her murmured name, she rustles. There’s a murmur, and then her eyes flutter. She’s coming awake. Beau looks at her, and in his dark eyes, I see the love he has for her. The fear he has for her, because he believes it. My love is dangerous.

He walks out of the room before Paige stretches and sits up. I feel rejected all over again—the same way I felt in the hospital bed. Embarrassed and small. Most of all, alone. Except I have a small child with me now, one with rumpled hair and sleepy eyes. She needs me.