ExcerptDANCING WITH FIRE
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Tor Romantic Suspense
Pub. Date: July 2008
Damn, the woman had moves.
Stunned and awed, Sawyer Scott peered through the sheer curtains into Kaylin Danner's dance studio. Ignoring the hot Florida sunshine baking his neck while he stood on the sidewalk, he watched, riveted, by Kaylin's shapely silhouette, a Kaylin like he'd never seen before.
The conservative, practical, proper ballet teacher he might have imagined on pink toe shoes and a sleek leotard had been replaced by a Kaylin in black, a Kaylin who was innovative, wild and uninhibited, a side of her that Sawyer barely recognized. Beyond the pink door of the dance studio, this new Kaylin was dancing to the radical music of Goldfrapp. Sawyer would have given up dinners for a week to watch her dance all evening. In fact, Kaylin's erotic and undulating movements, like pulling thread from a silk cocoon, had so seduced him that he'd almost forgotten he'd come to her school about business.
And forgetting business wasn't like him at all. During the last ten years while Sawyer had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics at MIT, he'd rarely been distracted from his goal of running a manufacturing plant with Kaylin's father, Dr. Henry Danner. Set on having the satisfaction of being an innovator and entrepreneur, he'd turned down a big offer from a petrochemical company to work with Henry. And they'd make remarkable progress. In fact, they were on the verge of a breakthrough. Sawyer had never regretted his dedication, a dedication that meant he'd been doing little more than studying, researching and dreaming about oil. Yet now, seeing his business partner's daughter dance, he had no doubt Kaylin would be invading his thoughts as easily as she'd distracted him from his objective.
Sawyer had no idea what kind of dancing Kaylin was performing but was fairly certain it wasn't the classical ballet she taught the neighborhood children. No way. These moves were as complex as they were mesmerizing. And so out of character for Kaylin that the surprise had stopped his forward momentum.
But he wasn't here to watch a private performance or to enroll as student in her class. He was here on business. Sawyer forced his feet forward and his hand to knock on the door. But Kaylin didn't stop dancing.
"Probably can't hear over the drum beat," he muttered, a drum beat that echoed from his ears to his toes.
Taking a deep breath, Sawyer opened the door and stepped from warm and humid to sultry and steamy. Kaylin wore a black sports bra and matching yoga pants that sat low on her hips and flared wide at the ankles. Her feet were bare, her hair in a messy knot at the back of her head. However, her clothing, or lack of it, had nothing to do with his breath whistling out of his lungs. Instead of precise spins and regulated moves that he would have expected of the Kaylin he thought he knew, this Kaylin's body ebbed and flowed like a wave, the rhythm provocative, the beat primal. The effect she had on him was druglike, tantalizing, like a whitecap swelling, breaking, sweeping him under.
From outside the studio, the full impact of her skill hadn't been as apparent. Her stomach muscles, emphasized by a slick gleam of sweat, shimmered and flexed as she spun a complete rotation. As she twirled, she caught sight of him and went still. If he hadn't been watching closely, he wouldn't have seen her bristle, her nostrils flare, her lips tighten, her eyes narrowjust a bit. Then she flicked off the music, picked up a towel and draped it around her graceful neck, and raised an imperious eyebrow.
Dabbing her face with the towel, she shot him a you-better-have-a-damn-good-reason-for-invading-my-space look. "Yes?"
"That dance . . . wow." He could tell by her expression she wasn't sure whether to take his words as a compliment. She bit her lower lip, the confidence and the sensuality of the dance hidden, replaced by invisible armor she'd wrapped around her rigid frame. She appeared as unhappy as he'd be if a stranger intruded on one of his experiments. Uncertain if he'd offended her, he combed his fingers through his hair. "Sorry. I didn't mean to come in uninvited. I knocked. You didn't hear. Those moves you do . . . that's not classical ballet, is it?"
Kaylin chuckled, her green eyes brightening, her lips breaking into a wide and playful grin. In that one moment, her barriers shredded and her inner self shone through. "That was tribal belly dance. An experiment."
"If you want my opinion," and he wasn't sure she did, "your experiment's an unqualified success."
"Thanks, but as you aren't a dance critic . . . What are you doing here?"
She hadn't taken long to redirect his personal comments. She did it smoothly, giving him a gentle brush-off. He had to give her credit. Kaylin Danner was outwardly consistent. Her tribal dancinga wild aberration in her normally staid characterhad shocked and intrigued him into forgetting his latest quadratic equation. To his frustration, the Kaylin he'd occasionally seen around her father's business had returned, the one who was a master at keeping Sawyer at an emotional distance. "I'm looking for your father."
She frowned. "Isn't he at the lab?"
Twenty-five years ago Henry Danner had built his lab, a nine-thousand-square-foot steel building on the one-acre lot next door to the house he'd inherited from his grandparents. Back then, building and zoning hadn't existed and the industrial building in the middle of the neighborhood had been grandfathered in, allowing Henry to work legally on his inventions literally in his own backyard. Although Kaylin's studio shared land with her family's home and stood about a hundred yards behind her father's laboratory, Sawyer hadn't been here before.
Since Henry had promised to make Sawyer a partner in an exciting new business, they'd stayed busy at the lab. Lately, their experiments had appeared promising and Sawyer had just returned to Tampa after an interesting consultation with researchers at the University of Michigan. With technology growing exponentially, Sawyer and Henry couldn't afford not to stay apprised of the latest developments.
"Your father didn't answer the phone or my knock." Sawyer pulled a key from his pocket and held it up. "My key didn't work and he didn't answer his cell. I heard your music, and thought you might know where he is. So I came over. Why'd he change the locks?"
"He upgraded security." Kaylin went from uptight to thoughtful. "You were gone last week, right?"
"Yeah. Why?" Sawyer was surprised she'd noticed his absence. Kaylin didn't come over to the lab much, if ever. She preferred her dancing. According to Henry, she'd been all set to head for New York and ply her talents on Broadway four years ago. Then her mother, Danielle, had died and Kaylin had given up a serious boyfriend and her dreams. She'd stayed home to raise her younger sisters and undoubtedly to pick up the slack. Henry, who would be the first to admit he was a better inventor than businessman, needed Kaylin's help to pay the bills. Though with Sawyer on board, that was about to change.
Still, he'd understood why Kaylin was so prickly. As much as he admired her loyalty to her family, he thought it a shame that she'd given up her ambitions to stay home and teach ballet to five-year-olds. Anyone who could move like she did should be sharing her talent with the world.
"Would you like a glass of water?" Kaylin asked, then headed toward an alcove she used as her studio's office.
The apricot-painted walls showed off framed pictures of her students as well as posters of famous ballet stars from the New York City and Moscow ballets. A pair of threadbare toe shoes hung from ribbons on a hook, signed by some ballerina whose name he couldn't read. She opened the mini fridge beside her desk, and removed a pitcher of water, poured two glasses, and handed him one.
She sighed. "Dad told me this morning he has the biodiesel formula all worked out. He was waiting for you to return to fire up the plant's reactor. But after class when I walked my students to their parents' cars, I heard the generator go on. I assumed you were with him. You think he started without you?"
"I doubt it. It takes both of us to make fuel. He was probably just warming up the power." However, the generator hadn't been on when Sawyer had discovered his key didn't work. He hoped the power wasn't on the fritz.
Kaylin's shoulders slumped as she let down her guard again, allowing him to see her concern. "Dad's been working too hard. Sometimes to relax, he sits by my mother's rose bushes. Did you check out the back yard?"
Kaylin stood, pulled open the sheer curtains so they could both peer out the window. Sawyer's gaze swept over the lot that Kaylin's students' parents used for parking. Spiked grass with Mexican Heather, blooming yellow, pink and orange Zinnias and variegated ginger decorated the yard. Her students and their parents were long gone. But Henry wasn't there.
His gaze swept over the Danners' back porch, a cozy deck with a potted pink grapefruit tree and hanging baskets of white and pink orchids. Their mutt, Randy, lay curled and lazy on a lounger cushion, sunbathing in a beam of Florida sunlight that filtered between palm fronds. The grass needed mowing, and the orange trees required pruning, but the ferns beneath the moss-laden granddaddy oaks shone green and healthy. A swift perusal of the fading olive colored paint along with the curling shingles and sagging shutters of the family's two-story home reminded Sawyer the house needed repairs to squeak through another hurricane season. He didn't see Henry anywhere.
Kaylin went to her big yellow purse on a hook by her desk and pulled out a key. "Let's see if he's in the lab." As she lifted the purse, an airline ticket fell out.
"Going somewhere?" he asked.
"Maybe." Her jaw clenched. A muscle in her neck tightened, and she picked up the ticket and replaced it in her purse.
"Maybe?" His eyebrows rose in surprise. "But you've already bought the ticket." Kaylin helped support the family with her dance studio. She was practical, full of common sense and managed the family checkbook like a seasoned accountant and financial planner. And she never, ever went anywhere. Not to the beach with friends. Not over to Disney or Universal Studios for a day trip. Certainly not anywhere that required air travel. It was so out atypical for her to buy an airline ticket, never mind one that she wasn't certain she'd use, that she'd piqued Sawyer's curiosity. And from the flush of color in her cheeks, she didn't want to talk.
One moment she was placing her purse strap onto her shoulder and speaking, the next a thunderous roar rocked them. The glass panes of her studio's windows shattered. Sawyer yanked her to the floor with him and caught a glimpse outside. Of a fiery inferno.
"Oh, God," he breathed.
The lab had exploded.