Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren

My head shakes, back and forth, back and forth. It’s scary to think that someone might have set that fire. Who could have done it? Paige was asleep in her room. And Mr. Rochester was in bed… with me. Technically we both have an alibi. We couldn’t have set the fire because we were beneath the same sheet, limbs tangled together, sated. I don’t say any of that to Detective Causey, though. He already seems suspicious of my relationship with Beau.

“Listen,” I say, my voice shaking. “I understand you have to ask questions and investigate, but I would gain nothing if Beau or Paige died in a fire. I don’t have any anger against either of them. They’ve been like a family to me.”

The detective nods as if he expected as much, as if he didn’t just make that ugly accusation. “That leaves the other people in the house, then. Paige doesn’t present as a sociopath, so that leaves Beau Rochester. Did you know that the most common motive of arson is to commit insurance fraud?”

A vise closes around my lungs. “Why would he do that?”

The detective gives me a cold smile. The hair on the back of my neck rises. Living in group homes, you get a sense for danger. You know which people never to turn your back on. He’s one of them. “Why not? Because he’s wealthy? There’s never enough money, Ms. Mendoza. And once you’ve acquired a taste for making it, it’s hard to stop.”

“Are you speaking from experience?” I ask, my voice hoarse.

I don’t know where the accusation comes from. Detectives don’t exactly make tons of money, do they? Except I had the feeling he was speaking from experience. His eyes narrow. “We’ll all do things we aren’t proud of for the right price, won’t we?”

My heart thumps in my chest. If he knew about my intimate relationship with Mr. Rochester, I’m sure he would accuse me of sleeping with him for money. I swallow around the lump in my throat. “Not everything we do is for money.”

A hard smile. “You’re young, Ms. Mendoza. Perhaps you still believe that.”

There’s a bustle outside. Shouting. Then Beau bursts into the room, his nostrils flaring, his dark eyes blazing. “What the hell are you doing in here?”

The room was tense before—a spill of gasoline. Beau Rochester is the match.

“Just doing my job,” Detective Causey says with deceptive calm. Deceptive because I can sense the challenge underneath his words. It’s a glint in his blue eyes.

Beau’s wearing a casual beige jacket over a white T-shirt and jeans. He brings with him the crisp smell of the Maine outdoors. Along with the faint scent of something burnt. That’s when I realize he must have just come from visiting the Coach House. He hides the limp; his fury overcoming whatever pain he feels from walking around.

I narrow my eyes at Causey. “You said you just spoke to Beau.”

“I told you I’d spoken with him already. I never said I spoke with him about the fire.”

“Listen, Causey,” Beau says, his voice pitched low, fury vibrating through every syllable. “You don’t speak to her. You don’t speak to Paige. You have a question for them? Ask me.”

That makes Causey smile. It’s not a nice smile. “Protecting your employee? That’s admirable. I wasn’t sure you had it in you. Figured you’d throw her to the wolves.”

“Go to hell,” Beau says, the words a growl.

“Then again, maybe you aren’t so much protecting her. Maybe you’re keeping the family secrets. Secrets she’s been learning while she lives under your roof.”

“Leave.” Beau stands between the hospital bed and the detective, as if he really is protecting me. Against what? An overzealous detective? A childhood rivalry? It feels worse than that. Deeper than that, though I can’t see the undercurrents. I can only feel them. “Don’t come back without a warrant. We have nothing to say to you.”

“Or what?” Causey asks, taking a step toward Beau. Toward me.

“Or I’ll have your fucking badge.”

A harsh laugh. “You may have been hot shit in California. With your money and your women. But you’re still the Rochester kid around here. I don’t have a goddamn IPO but I have all the connections I could need around here. You can’t touch me.”

I watch in stunned silence while Causey leaves the hospital room.

Beau turns to me, his dark eyes intense. “What did he say to you?” His hard gaze sweeps over my hospital-gown-covered body. “Did he hurt you? Did he touch you?”