A Question of Fire
By Karen McCullough
When Cathy Bennett agrees to attend an important party as a favor for her boss, she knows she won't enjoy it. But she doesn't expect to end up holding a dying man in her arms and becoming the recipient of his last message. Bobby Stark has evidence that will prove his younger brother has been framed for arson and murder. He wants that evidence to get to his brother's lawyer, and he tries to tell Cathy where he's hidden it. But he dies before he can give her more than a cryptic piece of the location.
The man who killed Bobby saw him talking to her and assumes she knows where the evidence is hidden. He wants it back and he'll do whatever it takes to get it, including following her and trying to kidnap her.
Cathy enlists the aid of attorney Peter Lowell and Danny Stark, Bobby's prickly, difficult younger brother, as well as a handsome private detective to help her find the evidence before the killers do.
Karen McCullough's wide-ranging imagination makes her incapable of sticking to one genre for her storytelling. As a result, she's the author of more than a dozen published novels and novellas, which span the mystery, fantasy, paranormal, and romantic suspense genres. A former computer programmer who made a career change into being an editor with an international trade publishing company for many years, she now runs her own web design business to support her writing habit. Awards she's won include an Eppie Award for fantasy; three other Eppie finals; Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
The word slithered from the bushes behind her, startling Catherine Bennett out of the few wits she'd managed to recover in the peace of the dark, quiet garden. Thready strains of violin music and the buzz of voices drifted across the lawn from the open door to the house. In the light spilling out from it, she could distinguish a couple of people sitting at a table on the deck. Cathy measured the distance with her eye. A good, heavy-duty scream would be heard, even over the party noises.
"Please, miss!" Tense urgency drove the voice as it called again.
She didn't need this. The evening had been disastrous enough already and a man hiding in the garden spelled trouble with capital letters. She got up and backed away, while turning to face the source of the call.
"Don't run away, please," the voice begged. "I won't hurt you. I promise. I just want to ask you something."
A ring of sincerity in the pleading tone kept her from sprinting straight back to the house, an action the more cautious part of her brain urged. Cathy strained for a look at the person in the shrubbery. The voice was male and adult, though probably not very old. "Come out where I can see you," she demanded.
"Shhh!" he ordered in a fierce whisper. Leaves rustled, and a slender shape detached itself from the bushes. In the darkness she couldn't distinguish his features.
A light breeze in her face set her shivering. "What do you want?" She backed another step away. They both jumped when a particularly loud laugh rang across the yard.
He turned to face the house. "You been at the party?"
At it, not of it, Cathy thought. She didn't say so; the young man wouldn't understand the distinction. "Yes," she answered.
"You know a guy named Peter Lowell?"
"Yes," Cathy admitted, wondering where this was leading.
The young man's indrawn breath sounded almost like a sob. "He's in there, ain't he?"
"Could you ask him to come out here?"
"I don't know. We just met tonight and I. . . I don't think he liked me very much. He might not come."
"Please. It's real important. You gotta try." A quiver shook the young man's body and voice. Tension or fear -- or both? Whichever it was, he sounded near the breaking point.