I fall in love with each of my heroes as I write them, but Andrew Barrington, from Let It Burn, holds a special place in my heart. It could be because he’s so damaged at the beginning of the book. I cried as I wrote that scene.
No, it’s more than that. I knew Andrew would be a character who always stayed with me when my husband, a retired Marine, read the opening over my shoulder then sat down beside me. It’s not unusual for my husband to read my stories and make suggestions, but the opening moved him enough that he started sharing stories of men he’d known who came back in the same heartbreaking condition.
It was important to my husband that Andrew was portrayed in a way that honored the real struggle veterans often face when they come home. If you read a scene and tear up, know that my husband and I wrote it with tears in our eyes. If you feel yourself cheering for him to make it, know that we cheered for him, too. He became real to us.
This is a photo of my husband who retired after serving for twenty-two years. He’s not afraid to come to someone’s defense, but is also an incredibly kind and supportive soul.
I wrote a wild adventure for Andrew and, Helene Franklin, the woman he falls in love with. My husband and I spent about as much time laughing our butts off as we did wiping tears from our eyes. Helene is a quirky virgin with a strong sense of self, and exactly what Andrew needs. His questions will put her in danger. Her love will set him free.
Come fall in love with my favorite Barrington brother, Andrew.
Billionaire Andrew Barrington walked away from the lavish lifestyle he was raised in to serve as a Marine. Until recently, he would have said he’d made the right choice. A tragic set of events, however, has him not reenlisting and emotionally hitting rock bottom.
Helene Franklin is visiting her uncle as part of an extended vacation in Aruba. She trades her bikini for an office job when he says there is trouble brewing at his clinic and asks her to keep an eye out for anything unusual.
Every Marine needs a mission. To appease his family, Andrew heads to Aruba to track down what he believes is a wild goose chase. Expecting to discover nothing, he meets a quirky, irresistible virgin who is just about to turn his whole world upside down.
His questions will put her in danger.
Her love will set him free.
What will they gain and what will they lose when they both decide to. . .let it burn?
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Release Date: Jan 17, 2016
A month earlier
A repeating loud noise in the distance pierced through Andrew Barrington’s dreamless sleep, pulling him grudgingly back from the only part of the day he found comfort in. Lately, sleep required a substantial combination of alcohol and sleep aids. It was a dangerous game of chemical Russian roulette, and one he was beginning to think he’d rather lose.
He threw an arm out to see if he was alone. Christy, or maybe her name was Christine, had attached herself to him a couple weeks ago after they’d hooked up at a bar. She said he was not only gorgeous, but fucked up just enough for her. He didn’t ask and she didn’t say if she was a prostitute. In the last month, she’d tracked him down several times to spend the night with him. The next day there was always money missing from his wallet, but she was a good fuck who didn’t ask questions so he hid his credit cards and padded his wallet with extra bills for her. He couldn’t remember if she’d come home with him the night before or not. The days had begun to blur into each other.
Realizing the loud noise was someone knocking on his door had him cursing. “Whoever you are, go the fuck away,” he snarled.
The door crashed open and a man walked across the room toward him.
What the fuck?
He closed the now damaged door behind him. “The name is Emmitt Kalling. I was hired to find you.”
Andrew sat up slowly, hating how the room spun almost as much as he hated the stranger before him. “By my family?” Only they would resort to something this dramatic. “I’ll pay you double what they paid if you say you couldn’t find me.”
Emmitt looked around the room at the trash and piles of clothing. He kicked a pair of women’s underwear out of his way as he stepped farther into the room. “How long have you been like this?”
After rubbing a hand over his throbbing temple, Andrew swung his feet around and stood with a groan. He left Emmitt standing in the middle of his hotel room while he took a much-needed piss then caught his reflection in the mirror and curled his lip in disgust. It hadn’t taken long for his outside to reflect how he felt on the inside. He leaned on his hands and looked into his bloodshot eyes. Did I finish the Jack Daniels last night? I could use it now.
Emmitt spoke from the doorway of the bathroom. “What the fuck happened to you?”
A flash of a memory pierced through Andrew, and he clutched the sink counter. Her smile. Her fucking smile. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Lofton’s seven-year-old, pretty-as-ever, chocolate-eyed daughter had run to him when she’d seen him, assuming her father was one step behind him. Her bright smile had filled his mouth with the taste of his own vomit. “Is your mother here, Giniya?”
“She’s in the bathroom and told me not to answer the door, but I saw you in the window.” She’d looked past him, not asking, but she didn’t have to.
Gabrielle Lofton was quickly at her daughter’s heels, but her reaction to him was much different. When she saw he was alone, she knew. Fear. Shock. Horror. Her eyes had pleaded for Andrew to deny the reason he was there. “Gini, go get a bottle of water for Uncle Andrew. I bet he’s real thirsty.”
“You run along and get it, Gini. And before you come back, clean your plate from your snack.”
“Go Gini, now,” Gabrielle had cried, and the smile had faded from her daughter’s face.
Pulling himself back from the memory, Andrew used the palms of his hands to roughly wipe at his eyes. Fuck. “How much is it going to take?”
Emmitt leaned on the doorjamb and shook his head. “I’m not leaving.”
The anger that held him in a dark grip found an outlet. He rose to his full height. “Yes, you are.”
With a shake of his head, Emmitt pushed himself off the doorframe. “Calm down, man. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m not the one you should worry about.” Andrew turned and stepped toward Emmitt without a clear plan; all he knew was that Emmitt was leaving, one way or another. Unfortunately, the speed in which he’d turned undermined his balance and the floor came up quickly to meet him. He broke his fall with his arm and was on his knees in front of the other man, failing at first to get back to his feet. “Enjoying the show?” he growled.
“Get the fuck out of here.” No one needs to see this. Not him. Not my family.
Emmitt crouched down in front of Andrew. “You don’t need to tell me what happened, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been where you are in here.” He tapped his own temple. “I’ve done things and seen things no man or woman ever should. There are days when I think I don’t deserve to be the one who came home, but then I remember that my miserable life, insignificant as it sometimes seems to me, matters to my family. You matter to yours.”
Andrew sat back on his haunches. “Was it my father? Did he send you?”
“No, Dax Marshall hired me.”
“My sister’s husband?”
“Why the hell would he? I’ve never met him.” I didn’t even bother to go back for their wedding.
Emmitt sighed. “He loves your sister and, by default, you. Those were his words, not mine.”
Andrew closed his eyes. He’s good to her. She’s always leaving me messages about how happy she is with him. “My whole family is so fucking happy lately.” They’re all getting married, having kids . . .
“And you’re here.”
Andrew pushed himself back to his feet. “Exactly.” He met Emmitt’s eyes and said harshly, “Go back and tell them whatever will make them stop looking for me. I’ve got some things to work out before I can see them.”
“Your brother Lance was afraid he got you killed. He was beating himself up over telling you about Aruba.”
“He asked you to look into something he’d discovered over there.”
Nodding tiredly, Andrew pushed past Emmitt and began to search for whatever alcohol might be left in the room. “Oh, yes, his conspiracy theory. Doctors dying. People missing. All during the same time my brother and sister were born there, twenty-nine years ago. Who gives a shit about anything that happened back then?”
“Apparently Lance does. He thinks it might have been tied to the stillborn death of Kent. Negligence that was covered up.”
Andrew scored a half-full bottle of Scotch from beneath a pizza box, opened it, and took a long drink. “What does he want to do? Sue the hospital if he finds they were at fault?” As if my family needs more money?
Emmitt folded his arms across his chest. “He wants answers. Consider finding them for him.”
After taking another long drink, Andrew wiped his mouth with his forearm. “Why would I do that?”
“Because men like you need a mission. You stay here, you’ll kill yourself slowly or choose a quicker way out. You know it, and I know it. You don’t want to see your family, but do you love them?”
The bottle shook in Andrew’s hand. “Of course I do.”
“If you give up now you pass your pain along to them. Is that what you want to do?”
His eyes filled with tears again. “No.”
“Then put down that fucking drink and let me help you.”
Helene Franklin brushed sand from the bottom of her bare feet before stepping into the guesthouse of her uncle’s Aruba home. She laid her beach bag beside the door and smiled as she closed the door. Another day in paradise.
Looking back, she couldn’t believe she’d originally resisted making a trip to meet her mother’s brother into a vacation. Until now, she’d only known Uncle Clarence through phone calls and the presents he sent for her birthday and the holidays. Meeting him hadn’t felt as important as continuing to do what she’d always done: help her parents maintain their large exotic animal rescue in Florida.
She took a moment to send her parents a mental thanks for pushing her to go. Her uncle, much like the island he’d made his home, was a million times more amazing than she had ever imagined. He ran a large private clinic on Aruba and his generosity with community programs had made him a celebrity of sorts. When people found out who she was, they always had something good to say about him. He’d touched the lives of many in the small island community. Some referred to him by his local Dutch nickname, Weldoener. Translation: Benefactor. It fit him perfectly. He’d devoted his life and finances to improving the health of the people of Aruba. No one was ever turned away from his clinic. She had no idea how he continually made a profit while giving so much money away, but there wasn’t any part of his story she didn’t love.
The phone on the hallway wall rang. She glanced at the clock on the table and rushed to answer it. “On my way. I’ll take the world’s quickest shower and be right over.”
“Did you even leave the beach today?” he asked in amusement.
“I didn’t,” she admitted without guilt. Her parents had called this her long-overdue vacation, and her uncle had told her that her presence brought him joy. Pending life decisions had been temporarily pushed to the background as she’d indulged in a few weeks of heaven.
“Don’t rush. I’ll have the cook keep it warm until you’re ready. Call when you’re walking over.”
Always understanding, her uncle was simply the nicest man she’d ever met, and she hoped one day she could do something to repay his kindness. “Twenty minutes tops, I promise. I feel awful that you’re waiting on me.”
He chuckled. “Always so serious. You remind me of your mother. I wish she’d been able to come with you.”
“Me, too. You know how she is about the rescue, though.”
“Yes. I’m the same about my clinic, so I have little room to judge her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about going to see her, but there’s always something here that needs my attention.”
“And you think I’m the one who sounds like my mother?”
He chuckled again. “Take your time, little one. I have calls to answer that will keep me occupied.”
Helene stopped halfway through promising again that she’d rush, laughed at herself, and hung up. He was right; she took everything too seriously. She’d heard as much from her friends her whole life. They’d usually been referring to how she chose to go home right after school each day to clean out cages and work with the animals. She’d never fully convinced them that rehabilitating animals that had frequently been illegally captured and working with organizations to return them to the wild brought her more joy than shopping, movie theaters, or school dances ever could.
After sprinting up the stairs, Helene sang her way through a quick shower and was still humming as she chose a light summer dress for dinner. She caught her reflection in the mirror and smiled. Her cheeks had a pleasant honey-tanned glow. She usually wore her hair pulled back in a practical ponytail, but here on the island she left it mostly down and thought it made her look younger.
I’m not old, but I’m definitely looking better since I’ve been here.
She applied a light amount of makeup, not for the benefit of her uncle, but because she felt beautiful for the first time in her life. She sniffed the material of her dress. Maybe because I don’t smell like someone who just cleaned up rhino dung?
Not that I mind the smell. She grimaced. I can see, though, how it might have contributed to my limited dating experience.
Her smile faded somewhat as she remembered one of the conversations that had led to her agreeing to this trip. Her mother and father had requested a “family meeting.” Her stomach had churned nervously as she’d waited for them to tell her why. The last family meeting had been when she was eighteen. Her parents had announced a loss of funding that had made it necessary for them to let go of the few employees they had. Helene had already been accepted to the University of Florida and had been excited to start classes to become a veterinarian. That dream had come to a skidding halt when her parents had explained they couldn’t afford to run the rescue without her help.
Save animals in the short-run or save them in the long-run. It hadn’t been an easy choice to make, but she hadn’t regretted deciding to stay with her parents. Every animal they sent back, every release day photo Helene received, was a reminder that she’d made the right choice. As she’d waited for her parents to speak, she’d prayed she wouldn’t hear that the future of the rescue was in danger again.
Her mother had taken her father’s hand in hers, and she knew that look. The one that wondered why she wasn’t out dating, why she was still single. Here we go. “Your father and I are worried about you.”
“You’re twenty-six, Lenny, and . . . well, we’ve never seen you with a man,” her father said, looking as if it was as awkward for him to say as it was for her to hear.
Her mother added gently, “We want you to know that we love however God made you.”
“I don’t understand.”
Her father had cleared his throat. “Whatever your lifestyle is, you don’t have to hide it from us.”
“I don’t have a lifestyle,” Helene had said slowly, then her eyes had rounded as she’d realized what her parents thought. “I don’t have a lifestyle.”
Her parents had exchanged a look. “I told you,” her mother said.
Her father had frowned. “Pairing up is a natural part of life, Lenny. Do you have any questions about how it happens?”
There were few moments in Helene’s life that could rival how mortifying being offered the sex talk at twenty-six had been. “Please. This is not necessary. I know how it works. I mean, I’ve been watching animals procreate since I was in diapers.” That had sounded strange even to her own ears so she added, “Not that I watch. I just mean that I’ve accidentally come across animals—” She stopped there. “I don’t want to have this conversation.”
Her mother had shot her father a sad look. “Honey, your dad and I think you need to go out into the world for a little while. This rescue was our dream, not yours.”
“I love it here,” Helene had protested.
Her father had shaken his head. “You can’t know that until you’ve compared it to somewhere else. We were selfish. We shouldn’t have let you choose keeping our dream over your dream for college. Your friends have moved on. They travel. Some are married. Nothing has changed for you except your phone rings less and less.”
“I’m happy here.”
“No,” her mother said quietly, “you feel safe here, but Lenny, there’s a whole big world out there you’ve never seen. I’ve spoken to my brother in Aruba, and he said he has a guesthouse you could stay in for a while. You’ve never taken a real vacation, and he knows a lot of people. Worst case, you come back with a beautiful tan and are able to tell me all about how my brother is doing. Best case, you discover your dream.”
“This is my dream,” Helene had insisted. “And you need me.”
“We’re doing well enough to hire a couple people. Go, Lenny. Find yourself.”
“I’m not lost.”
“You’re going,” her father had said.
It had taken a while for her to adjust to the idea of leaving the rescue, but once she had, the trip had begun to feel like an adventure rather than a shove out the door. I am the luckiest daughter in the world to have parents like them. Helene turned away from the mirror and practically skipped down the stairs. I needed this. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of doing nothing, but her weeks on the island had been good for her. At first she’d missed her parents and the rescue so much she’d been unable to enjoy herself, but that feeling had been replaced with euphoria. I can go back to school and get my degree if I want. I can finally become a veterinarian. My parents were right, it’s time to find myself.
Helene knocked twice on the door of her uncle’s mansion before letting herself in, beating the staff. They smiled at her indulgently.
Her uncle’s home office door opened, and he gave her the same look. “You didn’t call.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, my God, I forgot. I’m so sorry. I was thinking about how grateful I am to be here, and everything else fell right out of my head.”
He gave her a brief hug. “I suppose that’s as good of an excuse as any. Come, let’s eat.”
They sat across from each other at one end of a table long enough to seat twenty people. As it always did, a bounty of food and beverages appeared, delivered discretely by staff who seemed to magically disappear when not needed. Her uncle asked her about her day and listened with a smile as she described the absolute joy of hours on his private beach.
“Stop before you make me feel guilty for asking you for a favor.”
“Are you kidding, Uncle Clarence? If there is some way I can repay you for three of the best weeks of my life, just say it. I’ll do anything.”
He gave her hand a gentle pat. “You’re a good girl, Helene.”
The expression in his eyes had Helene asking, “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing too serious.” He took a sip of his wine. “I’ve been having trouble with something at the clinic.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“It’s a small island and my clinic competes with the main hospital. Competition in a market like this is not always appreciated.”
Helene’s mouth rounded, and she leaned forward to grip his hand. “Count me in for whatever you need.”
His smile returned. “Shouldn’t you wait until you know what I need?”
“Uncle Clarence, you do so much for other people—you’ve done so much for me—it would be my honor to help.”
“Politics, especially here, can be tricky to navigate. Someone is trying to dig up any mistake anyone at my clinic has ever made to try to smear my reputation. They’ve gone as far as to bribe people in my records department. They didn’t find anything.”
“Because there’s nothing to find,” Helene said adamantly.
He pressed his lips together briefly then said, “When someone wants to find dirt, they’ll keep digging until they either find some or find something they can twist into what they want. I need someone in my records office that I trust. Someone who can’t be bought.”
“And that’s what you want me to do? Run your records office?” The idea of clerical work when all of her experience had been manual in nature was daunting, but she knew she was up to the challenge. “What I don’t know how to do, I’m sure I can learn.”
“You would simply be my eyes and ears; how well you file is irrelevant. Do what you can while you’re there, and who knows, maybe you’ll decide you like working in an office.”
She rushed around the table to give him a hug. He could dress it up however he wanted, but she didn’t believe he actually needed her at the clinic. Like her parents, he was nudging her on her way. It wouldn’t hurt to put some time in at the clinic before getting back on the path toward animal medicine. Who knows? I may end up wanting to treat people. Sure I’m starting late, but my uncle’s career took off later in his life. He is living proof that anything is possible.
“When do I start?” she asked, giving him a tight squeeze.
He laughed and gave her shoulder a pat. “How about tomorrow?”
“Perfect,” she said with a huge grin and returned to her seat.
And it was perfect. Not only was she in paradise, but she’d found a way to repay the person who’d made it possible for her to be there. What was better than that?