- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Release Date: 2008, 2009, 2015
- ISBN-13: 978-1416563068
- Available Languages: Spanish (84), Japanese (4), Norwegian, English (UK), Bulgarian, Large Print
- Available Formats: Audio, e-Book, Print
When newswoman Britt Shelley wakes up to find herself in bed with Jay Burgess, a rising star detective in the Charleston PD, she remembers nothing of how she got there…or of how Jay wound up dead.
Handsome and hard-partying, Jay was a hero of the disastrous fire that five years earlier had destroyed Charleston’s police headquarters. The blaze left seven people dead, but the death toll would have been much higher if not for the bravery of Jay and three other city officials who risked their lives to lead others to safety.
Firefighter Raley Gannon, Jay’s lifelong friend, was off-duty that day. Though he might not have been a front-line hero, he was assigned to lead the investigation into the cause of the fire. It was an investigation he never got to complete. Because on one calamitous night, Raley’s world was shattered.
Scandalized, wronged by the people he trusted most, Raley was forced to surrender the work to which he’d dedicated his life. For five years his resentment against the men who exploited their hero status to further their careers—and ruin his—had festered, but he was helpless to set things right.
That changes when he learns of Jay Burgess’s shocking death and Britt Shelley’s claim that she has no memory of her night with him. As the investigation into Jay’s death intensifies, and suspicion against Britt Shelley mounts, Raley realizes that the newswoman, Jay’s last sexual conquest, might be his only chance to get personal vindication—and justice for the seven victims of the police station fire.
But there are powerful men who will go to any lengths to keep questions about the fire unanswered. As Raley and Britt discover more about what happened that fateful day, the more perilous their situation becomes, until they’re not only chasing after the truth but running for their lives.
Friends are exposed as foes, heroes take on the taint of criminals, and no one can be trusted completely.
Thank God he was still asleep. Waking up to find herself in bed with Jay Burgess was embarrassing enough without having to look him in the eye. At least not until she had time to collect herself.
As carefully as possible, she inched to the side of the bed and slipped out from under the sheet, trying not to lift it away from him in the process. She perched on the very edge of the mattress and glanced over her shoulder. The draft from the air-conditioning vent above the bed was cold, causing goose bumps to break out on her arms. But although Jay was naked and covered only to his waist, the chilly air hadn’t roused him. Shifting her weight from the bed to her feet a little at a time, she stood up.
The room tilted. To keep from falling, she instinctually reached out for support. Her hand found the wall with a smack that might just as well have been a cymbal crash for the reverberation it created in the silent house. No longer concerned so much about waking him as about wondering how in the world she’d got so terribly drunk last night, she remained propped against the wall, taking deep breaths, focusing on one spot until her equilibrium returned.
Miraculously, her clumsiness hadn’t awakened Jay. Spying her underpants, she crept to the foot of the bed and retrieved them, then tiptoed around the room, gathering strewn articles of her clothing, hugging each garment against her chest in a gesture of modesty, which under the circumstances was rather ridiculous.
The walk of shame. The college phrase seemed apropos. It referred to a coed who sneaked out of a guy’s bedroom after spending the night with him. She was way past college age, and both she and Jay were single, free to sleep together if they chose.
If they chose.
The phrase struck her like the cruel pop of a snapped rubber band.
Suddenly, the shock of waking up in Jay’s bed was replaced by the alarming realization that she didn’t remember how she’d got there. She didn’t recall making a conscious decision to sleep with him. She didn’t remember weighing the pros and cons and deciding in favor of it. She didn’t remember being wooed until practicality was obscured by sensuality. She didn’t remember giving a mental shrug and thinking What the hell? We’re adults.
She didn’t remember anything.
Looking around, she took in the layout and furnishings of the bedroom. It was a pleasant room, tastefully decorated and tailored for a man who lived alone. But nothing in it was familiar to her. Nothing. It was as though she was seeing it for the first time.
Obviously it was Jay’s place; there were pictures of him scattered about, mostly vacation snapshots with various friends of both sexes. But she had never been in this room before, nor in this house. She wasn’t even certain of the street address, although she had a vague recollection of walking here from…from somewhere.
Yes, The Wheelhouse. She and Jay had met there for a drink. He’d already had several when she arrived, but that wasn’t uncommon. Jay liked spirits and had an amazing tolerance for large quantities of alcohol. She had ordered a glass of white wine. They’d sat and chatted over their drinks, catching up on what was happening in each other’s life.
Then he’d said—
Remembering now what he’d told her, she shivered, but not from the cold. She covered her mouth to catch a low moan and looked back at him where he lay sleeping. She whispered a sorrowful “Oh, Jay,” repeating the first words she’d uttered when he broke the awful news to her last night.
Can we continue this conversation at my place? he’d asked. I’ve moved since I’ve seen you. An elderly aunt died and left me all her worldly goods. Lots of china, crystal, antique furniture, stuff like that. I sold all of it to a dealer and bought a town house with the proceeds. It’s a short walk.
He was chatty, acting as though they’d been talking about nothing more worrisome than the approach of hurricane season, but his news had been a bombshell. Terrible. Impossible to believe. She’d been staggered by it. Had compassion moved her to affection? Did that explain the lovemaking that had followed?
Lord, why couldn’t she remember?
Searching for answers as well as for the rest of her clothing, she went into the living room. Her dress and cardigan were bunched up in a chair, her sandals were on the floor. There was an open bottle of scotch and two glasses on the table in front of the sofa. Only an inch of whiskey remained in the bottle. The cushions of the sofa were rumpled and dented, as though someone had been wallowing on them.
Apparently she and Jay.
Quickly she went back through the bedroom, finding the bathroom on the far side of it. She managed to close the door without making a sound, a precaution that was canceled out a moment later when she retched noisily into the toilet. Her stomach was seized by painful spasms as it disgorged what seemed to be gallons of scotch. Never a big fan of scotch, she knew with absolute certainty that she would never touch a drop of it again.
She found toothpaste in the mirrored cabinet above the sink and used her index finger to scrub the film and bad taste from her mouth. That helped, but she still felt rather shabby and decided to shower. When she faced Jay, she would feel more confident and less embarrassed over the excesses of last night if she was clean.
The stall was a tile enclosure with a large, round showerhead mounted into the ceiling. Standing directly beneath the simulated rainfall, she lathered and rinsed several times. She washed carefully and thoroughly between her legs. She shampooed her hair.
Once out of the shower, she didn’t tarry. Surely all the noise she’d made had woken him up by now. She dressed, used his hairbrush to smooth out her wet hair, then bolstered her courage with a deep breath and opened the bathroom door.
Jay was still asleep. How could that be? He was a well-conditioned drinker, but apparently last night had been an overindulgence even for him. How much scotch had been in the bottle when they began to drink from it? Between them, had they nearly emptied a whole fifth?
They must have. Otherwise why couldn’t she remember taking off her clothes and having sex with Jay Burgess? Years ago, they’d had a brief affair that soon flamed out, ending long before it developed into a bona fide relationship. Neither’s heart was broken. There hadn’t been a scene or a formal breakup of any kind. They’d simply stopped dating but had remained friends.
But Jay, charming and irrepressible Jay, hadn’t stopped trying to lure her back into his bed whenever their paths crossed. “Having a roll in the sack and staying friends aren’t mutually exclusive,” he’d say with his most engaging smile.
That hadn’t been her experience, and she’d told him so each time he tried to talk her into a sleepover for old times’ sake.
Last night, he must have persuaded her.
She would’ve expected him to be up early this morning to gloat over his conquest, waking her up with a kiss and a teasing invitation to have breakfast in bed. She could almost hear him saying, Since you’re here, you might just as well relax and enjoy the full Burgess treatment.
Or why hadn’t he joined her in the shower? That would be a Jay kind of thing to do. He would step in with her and say something like You missed a spot on your back. Oops, and here’s one on your front, too. But the shower hadn’t disturbed him. Not even the repeated flushing of the toilet.
How could he sleep through all that? He hadn’t even—
Her stomach gave a heaving motion like an ocean swell. Soured scotch filled her throat, and she feared she was about to be sick again. She swallowed hard. “Jay?” she said tentatively. Then louder. “Jay?”
A Note From Sandra
When I began thinking about my new book, it was the heroine’s plight that occurred to me first: waking up in bed with a man without having any memory of how she got there. A nightmare that gets much worse from there. But when the lead male character stepped out of my subconscious, he let me know immediately that it was going to be his story.
I played along and discovered that he did indeed have a gripping story to tell. So I listened and wrote it down. A few days later, when I was verbally outlining the plot to my editor, and told her what the hero and heroine had in common, she gasped. Gasped! I considered that a good sign. I set the story in Charleston, South Carolina. Not only because I love Charleston, but because it was a city of just the right size for this tale – not too small, not too large. In fact, it’s a city that retains a small town feel.
Britt Shelley is a television journalist, because my story needed a woman with a high public profile. Raley Gannon is a fireman and arson inspector, because the pivotal event of the book is a deadly fire. I was well into the writing of the book when, on June 18, 2007, nine Charleston firemen died while fighting a blaze. I, along with everyone in the country who heard of this disaster, mourned the loss and grieved for the families of these men. I felt it would be insensitive to set my story about a costly fire in a city that had so recently experienced one such calamity.
For months I researched other cities. None fit the story. None felt right. Ultimately I decided to let my story unfold where it was originally planned. Because Raley is a hero, you see. And although his valor doesn’t compare to that of those who paid with their lives trying to protect property and the lives of others, I hope my fictional character will at least reflect the dedication and courage of these real-life heroes. SMOKE SCREEN is dedicated to them.