Argeneau book #32
April 27, 2021
Mac Argeneau knows all too well: immortals can be killed. Not with holy water or silver crosses, but by decapitation or being set on fire. So when Mac’s house bursts into flames—with him inside—he’s sure it was no accident. But who would want to kill a scientist specializing in hematology? There is a silver lining: a blonde investigator appears on the scene and sparks feelings in him that have been dormant for centuries.
CJ Cummings is in town on a special investigation, but she’s been waylaid by the local police to deal with this arson case. The biggest mystery is how this sexy scientist with silvery blue eyes has emerged from a blazing inferno without a burn mark on him. He’s clearly hiding something. Sure, she’d love to see him without his lab coat, but she’s got a job to do—despite his insistence that he needs a bodyguard and...he wants her.
But when a second attempt on their lives puts CJ in harm’s way, it’s Mac who will do anything to safeguard the woman who’s destined to be his life mate.
It was time to introduce some fresh blood and one of Katricia's many siblings to the Argeneau series. This story also brings a new small town into the mix along with some very local likeable characters. And of course the extended Argeneau family also come in to play here.<G>
To hear more about what inspired Mac and CJ's story, the characters, my favourite and most difficult scenes to write, and read an exclusive excerpt, go to the Harlequin Junkies spotlight on MTBI.
4 out of 5 star review on Goodreads.
The romance was super steamy, the storylines were great and I loved the book. There were several storylines, one being the investigation that C.J. is in town to conduct. Another is about who is trying to kill Macon. Lastly is the storyline about Macon and C.J. being life mates. So Mac has to keep finding ways to spend time with her until she falls for him. C.J. has some issues due to her past and Mac has to find those and overcome them.
5 star review by ILikeBooksBest.com.
I quite enjoyed this slow-burn vampire romance. Mac and CJ built a relationship before they acted upon their attraction for each other, which I liked. I would definitely not consider this romance novel an insta-love story. They first mutually respected each other before they fell in love (but it does get quite steamy toward the end!).
I also enjoyed the whole "big family" aura surrounding this book. I came to realize—as more and more vampire characters popped up—that other books had been written about these other vampires first. But I quite enjoyed the colorful cast and the protectiveness and love this clan of vampires felt for each other. I did not realize this was #32 in a series. Even though this book was one in a series, though, it can be read as a standalone, as I understood everything clearly.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the character development, this crazy family of vampires, and the relationship between Mac and CJ. I would definitely read another installment in this series. Review by Mrs Ortiz @ TheLifeStyleBlogOfMrsOrtiz.com.
Ahhhh...the Argeneau world is like coming back to an old friend. I can’t even remember how long I have been reading Lyndsay Sands books, but they sure do make for a fun and romantic escape. Well, at least while the couple’s story is being told. I guess some of the storylines have some bloody scenes. I do love that Sands gives her characters equal opportunity. The resolutions are satisfying and I hope there are tidbits about how they are doing in future books. I love this world that Sands has built. I love all the character names...the best names can be found in this series. Anytime she has a book release day, I am nowhere to be found, enjoying my escape in the newest storyline. Review by Romance Librarian.
If you can believe it, we are thirty-two books into the Argeneau series now! And I’m still finding the plots to be solid and the offbeat cast as charming and fun to catch up with as ever. Mac and CJ’s book might not have been the most thrilling or fastest moving one of the lot for some readers, but I definitely enjoyed their polar opposite personalities.
Mac was basically all happy-go-lucky, with not a whole lot getting him down. Then again, he’d been alive for millennia so he’d probably seen and been through just about everything you can imagine. Plus he had a very supportive family at his back. Like a lot of the heroes in this series, Mac was kind of clueless when it came to wooing modern women, which had me chuckling a few times.
CJ was actually the one I had a hard time connecting with. It was once we found out the details of CJ’s previous marriage as well as the fallout from her relationship with her ex that I put the pieces of her personality together. Then it all made sense. It was pretty fun to see her slowly falling for Mac as her trust in him grew. I will admit it was a very, very slow burn between them. But the ending made up for it in my humble opinion. 4 star review by Sara at Harlequin Junkies.
Overall the story is cute. Mac is likeable enough but I’m not overly attached to him. CJ is a little harder to like since she has some baggage she is dragging around and goes out of her way to keep people at a distance. Still I liked how Mac and CJ finally start to talk and get to know one another, building something. Her reasons for being off men were valid and her history a little sad. Still once she opened up I liked her a lot more...
After reading this book, I will probably give the series a shot. It is interesting and I liked how the origin story of nanos seemed a little different than some of the other vampire/immortal origin stories. I could see really enjoying the series overall and liking this book even more had I read some of the others. Review by Robin at Books Of My Heart.
Ms. Sands does it again. She’s created another fun romance story for fans to enjoy. This one can definitely be read as a standalone because the main focus is on Mac and CJ. There is a mystery about who is out to kill Mac. Or, is CJ the target? Or is it both? What is really going on in this little town called Sandford? The action starts off in the first chapter and the novel’s pace picks up and keeps on going from there.
There is a lot more ground to cover about this novel, from other secondary characters, the town’s police personnel, the hot, ice-melting dream that proves CJ and Mac are life mates, CJ’s family history and so much more, but I’ll leave that for readers to discover. Just know that Meant to be Immortal is another satisfying romance from the fertile imagination of Ms. Sands and is definitely a recommended read.
Review by Long & Short Reviews.
Mac had just finished setting up his centrifuge when he caught a whiff of what smelled like smoke. He lifted his head and inhaled deeply; there was the astringent cleaner he'd used on the counter surfaces, various chemical and other scents he couldn't readily identify that were coming from the boxes he had yet to unpack, and—yes—smoke.
A frisson of alarm immediately ran up the back of Mac's neck. Where there was smoke there was fire and fire was bad for his kind. It was bad for mortals too, of course, but was even worse for immortals who were incredibly flammable.
Straightening abruptly, Mac stepped over one unopened box and then another, weaving his way out of the maze of unpacking he still had to do and to the stairs leading out of the basement. He took them two at a time, rushing up the steps to the special door he'd had installed several days ago. It blocked sound, germs, and everything else from entering the lab he was turning his basement into. He'd also had the walls sealed and covered with a germ-resistant skin. Apparently, his efforts had been successful. Even at the top of the stairs, he was only able to catch the slightest hint of smoke in the air, yet when he opened the door he found himself standing at the mouth of hell. The kitchen on the other side of the door was engulfed in flames that seemed almost alive and leapt excitedly his way with a roar.
A startled shout of alarm slipped from his lips as heat rushed over him, and Mac slammed the door closed at once. He nearly took a header down the stairs in his rush to get as far away from it as he could and crashed into a box as he stumbled off the last step. Pausing then, he stopped to turn in a circle, a mouse in a blazing maze, searching for a way out.
His gaze slid over the small half windows that ran along the top of the basement wall on the back of the house, skating over the flames waving at him from the burning bushes outside, and then he turned toward the rooms along the front of the house and hurried to the door to the first one. It was a bathroom, its window even smaller than the others in the main room. It was also covered with some kind of glaze that blocked the view. Even so, he could see light from the fire on the other side of it.
Rushing to the next door, he thrust it open. This was an empty room about ten feet deep and fourteen wide, with two half windows that ran along the back of the house. Mac stared with despair at the flames dancing on the other side of the glass. He was trapped, with no way out . . . and no way even to call for help, he realized suddenly. There was no landline in the basement, and he'd left his cell phone upstairs on the kitchen counter to avoid interruptions while he set up down here.
I'm done for, Mac thought with despair, and then glimpsed a flash of red light beyond the flames framing and filling the nearer window. Moving cautiously forward, Mac tried to see what was out there, and felt a bit of hope when he spotted the fire truck parked at the top of the driveway and the men rushing around it, pulling out equipment. If he could get their attention, and let them know where he was . . .
Turning, Mac rushed back into the main room, wading through the sea of boxes until he spotted the one he wanted. He ripped it open and dug through the bubble-wrapped contents until he found his microscope. It was old and heavy, and Mac pulled it out with relief and then tore the bubble wrap off as he moved back to the empty storage room. He didn't even hesitate, but crossed half the room in a couple of swift strides and simply threw the microscope through the nearest of the two little windows. Glass shattered and Mac jumped back as the flames exploded inward as if eager to get in. They were followed by rolling smoke that quickly surrounded him, making him choke as he yelled for help.
He was shouting for the third time when dark figures appeared on the other side of the fire now crowding the window. He thought he could make out two men in bulky gear, what he supposed was the firemen's protective wear, and then someone shouted, "Hello? Is there someone there?"
"Yes!" Mac responded with relief. "I am in the basement."
"We'll get you out! Just hang on, buddy! We'll get you out!"
"Get somewhere where there's less smoke," someone else shouted to him.
"Okay!" Mac backed out of the room, his fascinated gaze watching the fire fan out from the window as the drywall around it caught flame. It would spread quickly now that he'd given the fire a way in, he knew. The smoke was already filling this room and pouring out into the main room, but he could deal with that. Smoke couldn't kill him. Fire would.
Cursing, he turned abruptly and returned to the bathroom next door. There was no fire or smoke in the small room yet, but would be soon enough. Moving to the cast-iron claw-foot tub he'd had refinished before moving in, Mac plugged in the stopper and prayed silently as he turned on the taps. Relief slid through him when water began to pour out. The fire hadn't stopped the water from working yet, and the taps and faucet were old enough not to have an aerator to reduce the speed at which the water jetted out. It gushed from the tap at high pressure, filling the tub quickly, or at least more quickly than his tub back in New York would have filled. There it would have taken ten or fifteen minutes to fill the tub; here it took probably half that, but they were the longest minutes of his life and fire was beginning to eat through the wall between the bathroom and the storage room before it was quite finished.
Mac didn't wait for it to finish filling, but stepped into the quickly heating water in his pajama bottoms and T-shirt when it was three-quarters full, and submerged himself up to his nose. Smoke was coming into the room now, pouring through the air vents, making breathing hard, and the water was hotter than hell, the fire heating it in the pipes on its way to this room and the tub. But it was only going to get hotter. The one wall of the room was now a mass of flames, and the fire was eating its way into the two connecting walls as well. The linoleum tile on the floor was catching flame and curling inward toward the tub. The water he was in would be boiling soon, by his guess. He now knew how lobsters felt when dropped in boiling water. It was one hell of a gruesome way to die. . . But it wouldn't kill him. As long as he didn't catch fire, he would survive, but Mac suspected he'd wish he was dead before this was over.
The reception room of the police station was empty when CJ entered. Not a big surprise. Small-town police stations usually had minimal staff at night. The counter that ran along the back of the room had a bell on it, but she didn't end up having to use it. Even as she started toward it, an older man stuck his head out of the door behind the reception counter and raised his eyebrows at her.
CJ nodded. "Captain Dupree?"
"That's me," he assured her, and then added with no little bit of irritation, "I've been waiting on you."
CJ allowed her eyebrows to rise slightly, but merely said, "It's not quite midnight. We agreed I should be here at midnight when Jefferson got off shift."
"Yes, we did," Dupree acknowledged testily. "But when we made that plan, I didn't know some firebug would take it into his head to burn down one of my citizen's houses while he was still in it. Had I known that was going to happen, I'd have gotten a contact number from you. I've been stuck here waiting on you before I could go out there and walk the crime scene."
CJ's eyebrows had risen higher and higher as he spoke. Now she said, "I don't really see why you felt you had to stay here, Captain. It's Jefferson I'm here to interview. You don't need to be present for that."
"I may not need to be, but he's one of my men and I intend to be," he told her firmly. "But that's no never mind anyway since Jefferson is the one who caught the call about the fire on his way back to the station. He's out there now waiting for us to join him."
"Us?" CJ echoed with surprise.
"Us," he said with a firm nod. "I need you there."
"Why?" she asked at once.
"You're a detective, aren't you?" It wasn't a question and he didn't wait for an answer, but continued, "Well, I was a detective before I was captain, but that was twenty years ago. Evidence gathering may have changed since then. This is the first murder Sandford has seen, and I don't intend to mess it up."
"Surely one of your men—" CJ began, only to be interrupted.
"My only detective dropped dead of a heart attack last month. I haven't hired a replacement yet, and while one of my younger fellows is taking a training course in detective work, he's just started that. I need someone who knows their business out there to help with evidence collection. So—" he paused and raised his eyebrows "—I figure you can come tell us what to collect and how to bag it and ask Jefferson your questions while you're at it."
CJ was shaking her head before he'd finished speaking. "Captain, I'm not a cop. I'm with the Special Investigations Unit; we're a civilian organization. We investigate cops; we aren't one of them. I've got no business being at a crime scene," she said firmly.
"You may not be a police officer now, but you used to be," Captain Dupree said with unconcern.
CJ's eyes narrowed at these words, and only continued to do so as he proved he'd looked into her background by adding, "In fact, while you started out on patrol like my boys, you moved up to homicide detective before shifting over to CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. I gather there you were blazing a fine trail of successes as one of the best detectives they had before you switched over to the SIU."
He didn't say "and became a traitor to the boys in blue," but CJ could hear that in the words. Investigating the police for corrupt or illegal activity did not make you a lot of friends. At least not with the police. They tended to see CJ and the people she worked with as traitors to fellow officers. As far as other police officers were concerned, the members of the SIU were one step up from slugs. Or maybe one step down.
CJ didn't particularly care. She had at first, but she'd gotten used to it, and what she did was important. To her mind, a good cop was worth their weight in gold, but every profession had their bad apples, and bad cops could do more damage than your average dirtbag criminal. She felt no regret or guilt over what she did.
"Well?" Dupree snapped. "Are you going to step up and help out here or what? If you don't, we'll have to wait for a detective from the Ontario Provincial Police to come help us. That could take days and evidence has a tendency to walk away or get trampled on if not gathered right away."
CJ knew that when it came to fires, a lot of evidence was unavoidably damaged by the firemen as they fought to put out the fire anyway. But it was always better to collect whatever wasn't damaged as quickly as possible.
"Sure," she said finally. "I'll help. But I can't collect or bag evidence. That would affect your chain of custody."
"You won't have to. You just tell Jefferson what and how and he'll do it," he assured her, some of the stiffness sliding from his shoulders now that he had her agreement. He immediately came around the counter to hand her a slip of paper with an address on it. "That's where the fire is. You'll want to take your own vehicle so you aren't stuck there until one of us is ready to go. You have GPS?"
CJ nodded as she glanced down at the address.
Irritation flickered over his face at that shout from somewhere toward the back of the building, and then Captain Dupree started to back away, saying, "You head on over there. I'll follow in my squad car."
He didn't wait for a response, but turned and hurried around the counter and through the doorway at the back of the room, disappearing from sight just as someone shouted for him again.
CJ folded the slip of paper and headed back out to her car. This wasn't how she'd planned to start her investigation, but that didn't bother her. Investigations rarely went according to plan. Hell, neither did life for that matter, and she'd learned to roll with the punches that came at you. Still, being roped into a police investigation was a bit unexpected and, in this case, not something she was looking forward to since it involved a crispy critter. Her nose wrinkled at the term they had used on the force to describe murder victims whose remains had been burned. They'd had lots of nicknames for victims. Civilians probably would have thought them heartless and cruel for the most part, but when you investigated the atrocities people committed on each other, you had to find a way to separate yourself from it emotionally or it would tear you apart. Nicknames were just one of the ways they did that.
Sandford was a relatively small town of 12,000 people. That might not seem small to some. There were much smaller towns, but 12,000 was small for having its own police department. Most towns in Ontario that were that size, and some with even larger populations, had given up the expense of running their own department in favor of contracting out to the Ontario Provincial Police. Sandford had avoided that so far. But while the town wasn't all that large when it came to population, it was much larger in physical size thanks to being a farming town and it took nearly twenty minutes to reach the address the chief had given her, which ended up being on a rural route lined with large fields and the occasional farmhouse.
CJ was able to see the house from several minutes away, or at least the fire raging through it. The building was an old brick farmhouse and the fire was still roaring, despite two fire trucks and more than a dozen men fighting valiantly to put it out. CJ pulled in behind a long line of pickups—volunteer firemen was her guess—parked on the grassy verge of the extremely long driveway and made her way up the gravel drive toward the chaos of bodies moving around the blaze. She was about halfway up the driveway when she heard the "whup whup" of the ambulance and saw it heading toward her. CJ had to step onto the grass to make way for it to leave, but then continued forward, heading for the only man in the mass of people ahead who was wearing a police uniform.
Pain, pain, pain. That's what woke Mac. Every bit of his body was in agony, from the tips of his toes, to the top of his head, and every inch of his skin felt like it was afire. A scream of agony was rising up in his throat when voices pierced the cloud of suffering, distracting him.
"What is it, Sylvie? Is he dead? Should I turn the lights and siren off?"
"No, Artie. He's still alive, but he's—well, he's healing."
"What?" Artie asked. "What do you mean, healing?"
"He's healing," Sylvie said with something like awe. "The blisters are— You need to see this, Artie. This isn't normal. Pull over and—"
The woman's words died when Mac finally managed to push his eyes open.
"Your eyes," she breathed with amazement as the ambulance began to slow. "They're silver."
"What was that?" Artie asked from the front of what Mac now realized was an ambulance. The woman's uniform and the gurney he was lying on gave that away.
Which meant he was on his way to the hospital, Mac realized, and knew that couldn't happen. Rising up on the gurney, he sunk his fangs into the female EMT's neck, and began to drink.
"I think that's it," CJ said as she watched the officer bag the cigarette butts she'd spotted. They'd started the search over an hour ago, using a grid-work pattern to cover the outer edges of the property first, and then moving slowly inward. Fortunately, by the time they'd reached the area around the house itself the fire had been all but out, the firemen concentrating on the interior.
"Yeah. I think we've covered everything outside," Officer Simpson agreed, closing the evidence bag and straightening next to her.
CJ nodded absently, her attention on the farmhouse. They couldn't look inside yet, but she doubted that would be necessary anyway. Gasoline had been used for the accelerant. She'd been able to smell it as she approached. That and the melted remains of three empty gas cans that they'd found on the edge of the fire had given it away. Two of the three plastic cans had just been melted lumps, but the third one had only been partially melted, and the handle and cap had remained. It might be a lucky find if the arsonist hadn't used gloves. The cigarettes might be helpful too if they belonged to the arsonist. They might get some DNA off them.
"What now?" Simpson asked.
CJ turned to Officer Simpson. Not Jefferson. Simpson. Officer Jefferson had left about ten minutes before she got there. Simpson had told her that after introducing himself, explaining that Jefferson had been called away to handle a situation downtown. CJ suspected it was the same situation that'd had someone back at the station shouting for the captain as she left, because he had never shown up here either.
"I think that's it for the night," CJ said, and wasn't surprised by the obvious relief on Simpson's face at her words. It was nearly 2 a.m. and she suspected the younger man probably worked the same shift as Jefferson, and should have been off at midnight. He was probably ready to go home to bed.
"Will we need to go through the house itself?"
CJ eyed the charred remains of what had once been a charming old Victorian-era farmhouse. The fire was out, but a couple of firemen were still running a spray of water over the smoking ruins to make sure there were no embers that might spark up later. She knew from past experience that no one would be allowed inside for a day or two, if at all. An inspector would have to check to see that it was safe to enter and floors wouldn't collapse underfoot. If there were still floors inside the brick exterior, she thought, but said, "Not tonight. Maybe in a day or two . . . if it's even necessary," she added. "I don't think the arsonist bothered to go inside to set this fire. It looks to me like he just poured the gas over the front porch, back porch, and the bushes around the house and lit it up."
"Yeah. It does," Simpson agreed, contemplating the house as well.
"We can come back and check inside in a couple days if we have to, or whenever the fire chief says it's safe to enter," she said. "Will the body be examined here in town, or will they have to send it to the city?"
"The body?" Simpson asked, turning to her with a frown.
"Captain Dupree said the homeowner was in the house when it was set on fire and this was the town's first murder," she explained.
"Oh." Simpson nodded, his gaze sliding toward the vehicles in the driveway. "Yeah, the guy who lived here was trapped in the basement until the firemen were able to beat back the flames enough to go in through a basement window and get him out. I guess they found him in a tub in a bathroom down there. He'd filled it with water and submerged himself." Grimacing now, he added, "They said the water was boiling by the time they got to him. He was alive still, but barely. I didn't see him when they brought him out, but Jefferson said he was red as a lobster, parboiled with huge bleeding blisters all over." He shuddered at the thought of it. "They rushed him to the hospital just before you got here, but the EMTs didn't think he'd even survive the ride."
"Yeah, the ambulance passed me on their way out," CJ murmured, her thoughts now consumed with the shape the man must have been in. Boiled alive didn't sound any more pleasant than burned alive to her.
"I wonder why they're back," Simpson said suddenly.
Eyebrows rising, CJ followed his gaze to where an ambulance was parked on the lawn next to the fire trucks. It was quite a distance away, but she could see that the back doors of the ambulance were open, and there were a couple of people inside, hovering around the gurney.
"Do you think one of the firemen got hurt?" Simpson asked with concern.
"That or they found someone else in the fire," CJ said, and set out across the yard toward the vehicles, with Simpson at her side.
Several firemen and a woman in a paramedic's uniform were gathered to the side of the trucks and CJ wasn't surprised when Simpson veered off toward the group rather than heading straight to the ambulance. She assumed he was going to ask them what was going on rather than bother the EMTs working in the ambulance, so she followed him. But while he stopped briefly, and opened his mouth as if to ask something, he then snapped his mouth closed without saying a word, and turned abruptly to continue on to the ambulance.
CJ stared after him with surprise, and then followed. But when he started to climb into the back of the vehicle where a male paramedic and a fireman were bent over someone sitting up on the stretcher, she caught his arm to stop him.
"They're working on the man—wait here and give them room," she admonished when he turned a blank face her way.
Officer Simpson didn't respond, even in expression. That remained blank, she noted, and CJ was about to ask if he was all right when movement in the ambulance drew her attention. The fireman had straightened as much as he could and was moving toward the open doors with the paramedic following. Both of them were walking slightly bent at the waist to maneuver the cramped space.
"Is this a second victim, or did one of your men get hurt fighting the fire?" CJ asked as the fireman stepped down from the ambulance. Much to her amazement, he didn't even slow down or glance her way to acknowledge the question. Expression oddly blank, the fireman simply walked past her to join the group of people several feet away.
"I was the only victim."
CJ tore her surprised gaze away from the rude fireman and turned back to the ambulance at that announcement. She couldn't see the speaker at first—the paramedic was now stepping down from the ambulance, his bulk blocking her view—but once he was on the ground and following the fireman, CJ was able to get her first good look at the speaker. A lack of light in the ambulance affected visibility, but he was a big man, with wide shoulders. She suspected he would be tall once he was standing. His hair was short and appeared dark, while his skin was very fair, but looked blotchy to her in the poor lighting. Although that could have been due to the shadows cast in the ambulance, she thought, and then asked, "I'm sorry, did you say you're the only victim?"
The man was silent so long she didn't think he was going to respond, but finally he said, "Yes. I live here alone. Or I was supposed to. I guess I shall have to find somewhere else to live now."
"Then who did the first ambulance take away?" CJ asked with confusion.
"The first ambulance?" The question was sharp, with an undertone of concern.
"There was an ambulance leaving when I arrived," she explained.
"Ah," he said with understanding, "you must have arrived as they were heading for the hospital with me. Fortunately, I regained consciousness before they reached town and convinced them I was fine, so they turned around and brought me back."
CJ's eyebrows rose at that. "I was told the tub of water you were in was boiling by the time they got to you. Officer Jefferson told Simpson here that you were red as a lobster, parboiled and covered with large blisters. They didn't expect you to survive."
"Where is this Jefferson?" the man asked at once.
"He left before I got here," CJ answered.
The man clucked with annoyance, and then pointed out, "Well, obviously this Officer Jefferson was wrong, was he not? Maybe all the flickering lights from your emergency vehicles played havoc with his eyes. But I assure you I am fine."
CJ didn't respond at first. He certainly sounded fine, but she couldn't see him well enough to be assured that he really was. The interior lights in the ambulance had no doubt been on earlier, but were now off. They'd probably turned them off when they realized there was nothing that needed doing for him, if he really wasn't injured. But then what had the men been doing in the ambulance when she and Simpson had approached? And why hadn't they taken him to the hospital? He'd said he'd regained consciousness before they reached town. Something must have caused his unconsciousness. Probably smoke inhalation, she thought. In which case they definitely should have taken him to the hospital to at least be checked out. The man had barely escaped being burned to death, not to mention boiled alive, and rather than allow them to take him to the hospital, he'd made the paramedics bring him back to his burning home? "Mr.—"
"Argeneau," he said when she paused expectantly.
"Mr. Argeneau," she started again. "You really should go to the hospital. You've been through a traumatic experience, and could be suffering from shock or smoke inhalation. You should be treated for that."
"They gave me oxygen here," he announced. "I am fine."
"Smoke inhalation is a serious business, sir," she said firmly. "They don't just give you oxygen for a bit and call it good. They give you humidified oxygen, bronchodilators . . . sometimes they even have to use suction and endotracheal tubes and—"
"I have no need for any of that," he interrupted her.
"You don't know that," she responded at once, and lectured sternly, "You should have your lungs checked. You might think you're fine, but you may have suffered some thermal damage to your lungs or throat. If so, you could go into bronchospasm, or your lungs could become infected, swell, and fill with fluid restricting your air supply, and if that happens you could suffer brain damage or even die."
Rather than be dismayed by her words, she was quite sure the man smiled faintly as if amused by her concern before he asked, "So, you're a doctor?"
"No," she said with irritation. "I'm with the SIU."
"Ah, a police officer," he said with a nod.
"No," she corrected quickly. "I'm not police."
"Does SIU not stand for Special Investigations Unit?" he asked with surprise. "I thought from the TV shows I have watched that it was an arm of the law."
"It might be in some parts of the world, but here in Canada we are a civilian-run organization that investigates the police," she said stiffly. "I'm not a police officer anymore. I'm just helping out here tonight because the local police department recently lost their only detective, and I have some training in that area."
"Ah." Nodding, the man suddenly swung his legs off the gurney and stood up as much as he could in the cramped space, then made his way toward the back of the ambulance to get out. Once he was standing in front of her, she saw that he was indeed tall. The man was a good six inches over her own 5'11", and while she'd thought his shoulders wide from a distance, they were wider still once they were right in front of her, blocking out the world. The man now stood uncomfortably close, so that she had to tip her head back quite a bit to meet his gaze.
He clearly had no concept of personal space, CJ thought, and scowled at him, but didn't step back as she wanted to do. She wasn't the sort to back down from a challenge, and that's what it felt like to her, like he was trying to intimidate her.
"You smell good," he said suddenly, a smile definitely curving his lips.
CJ stiffened at the unexpected comment, and snapped, "You smell like smoke, which your lungs are probably full of. Now get back in the ambulance and let the paramedics take you to the hospital."
"My lungs are fine," he assured her with amusement.
Irritated by his attitude, she threw his own question back at him. "So, you're a doctor?"
CJ blinked at his answer, the steam running out of her like air out of a balloon as she squeaked, "You are?"
"Yes," he repeated, grinning widely now. "So, I can assure you with some authority that I am fine."
"But the fire—"
"Smoke rises," he interrupted the argument she'd been about to give him. "Unfortunately, I was working in the basement when it started and didn't realize there was a problem until the whole upper story was ablaze and I was trapped. I let the firemen know where I was and took shelter in the bathroom, filled the tub with cold water, and submerged myself to wait for them to get in and rescue me."
He paused briefly, and then repeated, "As I said, smoke rises and I was as low as I could get in the house lying in that old claw-foot tub, so I inhaled a minimal amount of it at best. My lungs are fine."
CJ's mouth compressed at this news and she turned to glance toward Simpson, which also served to give her some space from the man. She'd lied when she'd said he smelled like smoke. He didn't. In fact, he smelled good, like spices and the woods mixed together. It was a potent aroma that was playing havoc with her thought processes, and she was grateful to suck in a breath of some good clean, smoke-tinged night air to wash his scent away.
She was less pleased to see that Simpson had slipped away to join the circle of firemen and paramedics. His presence would have made a helpful buffer between her and this man. Aside from that, though, Simpson was the police officer here and should be the one questioning the man as to what had happened. Apparently, that hadn't occurred to him yet, and the fact that it hadn't made her wonder just how much of a rookie the kid was.
"Simpson," she called with exasperation.
The patrolman turned a blank face her way, and then left the group to rejoin them. When he then just stood there, she asked pointedly, "Don't you have some questions for Mr. Argeneau?"
"No." The word was said without any inflection at all.
CJ gaped at the young officer briefly, and then shook her head and snatched the small notepad and pen out of his front chest pocket where she'd seen him place it earlier. She quickly flipped it open to the first clean page, and turned to Argeneau. "Can you give us your full name, Mr. Argeneau?"
"Macon Argeneau," he answered easily. "But my friends call me Mac."
CJ quickly wrote down Macon (Mac) Argeneau. "No middle name?"
CJ nodded. "Birth date?"
"June 21," he answered.
"Year?" CJ asked as she wrote down what he'd said, and then glanced up when he hesitated. Raising her eyebrows, she repeated, "Year?"
"You tell me yours, and I shall tell you mine," he said lightly, but when CJ stared back at him, unimpressed, he sighed and said in a questioning tone, "1985?"
It was almost as if he were testing to see whether she would believe him, CJ thought, and since he looked about twenty-five and being born in 1985 would place him around her own age of thirty-six, she didn't believe it. She didn't say as much, though, but merely raised one eyebrow and asked, "Is that a question or the year?"
"The year," he decided.
CJ nodded and wrote it down, but put a question mark beside it. She suspected he was lying about his age, which raised red flags in her mind. Someone had set his home on fire and he was lying about his age. Was he even giving his real name? She'd ask for ID, but since he was standing there in pajama bottoms and a T-shirt and his house had just burned down with everything in it, she doubted he'd have any to provide. She'd check his info when she got back to the police station, CJ decided as she asked her next question. "And where do you work?"
"From home," he said at once.
CJ lifted her gaze to his, her pen poised over the notepad, but not writing. "You said you were a doctor."
"Yes." He nodded.
"And you work from home?" she queried doubtfully.
"I started out a physician, but then went back to school to study hematology and now I work with, and study, blood in the lab."
"From home?" she repeated dubiously. That seemed even more unlikely than running a doctor's office from home.
Mac shrugged. "I prefer to work from home, and fortunately the company I work for allows it."
"And who is that?" CJ asked at once, and then clarified her question. "The company you work for?"
CJ wrote it down with a question mark beside it. She'd never heard of it and would be looking up the company later too. If she got lucky, they'd have an employee listing online. Some companies did, and sometimes even had photos of the individuals. Although usually it was people in leadership roles, and she doubted Argeneau was a manager or other leader if he was working from home.
Lifting her head, she eyed him solemnly for a moment, and then said, "You mentioned that you were working in the basement when you smelled smoke. So, you were working with blood?"
"No. I was unpacking boxes and setting up my lab," he corrected. and then added, "I only just moved in yesterday."
CJ had lowered her head to write down his answer, but jerked it back up at that. She blinked briefly as she absorbed the fact that his home had been burned down directly after he'd moved in. She cleared her throat and said, "It's 2 a.m. on Saturday morning now. Are you thinking it's still Friday night and you moved in Thursday, or do you mean you moved in Friday?"
"I arrived at about eleven on Thursday night. The movers got here about ten minutes after that and worked through the night to move everything in, finishing about nine thirty or ten Friday morning," he explained, getting more specific.
CJ turned to peer at the house. It wasn't overly large. She would have guessed it was a three-bedroom, which she estimated would normally take five to seven hours to move, not the nearly eleven he was claiming it had taken. But if he had a lot of lab equipment, maybe it would take longer.
"They were a full-service mover," Mac said, obviously sensing where her mind had gone. "They had a crew of six, but set everything up in the living areas, placing the furniture where I wanted it, putting the beds together, and even making them. They also placed the books on the bookshelves, etc." He shrugged. "They would have set up the lab if I'd wished it too, but I wanted to do that myself. Which is what I was doing tonight when the fire broke out."
CJ nodded, but asked for the name of the movers. She intended on checking out everything this man told her.
"The movers were hired through Argentis Inc.," he said with a slight frown, and then shrugged apologetically. "You shall have to check with them to get that information."
CJ hid her expression as she wrote that down. If he wanted her to call the company, he was probably telling the truth, after all. Which was surprising to her. She would have sworn he wasn't, and her instincts were usually pretty good about these things. It was why she'd been such a good detective. Her old partner used to say that she had an incredibly sensitive bullshit meter that always went off when something wasn't quite right, or someone was lying to her. It usually worked great. But for some reason this guy was throwing her off.
CJ glanced over what she'd written and then peered at the house again before turning back to Mac and saying, "So, you moved in Thursday night/Friday morning and were working down in the basement last night/this morning, setting up your lab when you smelled smoke and realized the house was on fire?"
"Did you hear anything prior to smelling the smoke?" she asked. "Someone moving around outside or upstairs, maybe?"
"No." He shook his head firmly. "I didn't hear a thing from outside, and I know they weren't inside."
"How can you be sure?"
"It's an old house. The main floor is hardwood and creaks like crazy when someone crosses it. I noticed that when I was directing the movers on where to put the boxes in the basement. I heard every step the others took upstairs from down there. I even heard them going up and down the upper stairs to the second floor from down in the basement." He shook his head again. "Whoever set the fire definitely did it from outside and did not enter the house or I would have heard it and gone to investigate."
It was exactly what CJ had suspected, but she was glad to have verification and made a note in the pad before looking up to ask, "Can you think of anyone who might want to kill you?"
It was a blunt question meant to catch him by surprise, and hopefully shock an honest response from him. Instead, it made the man smile.
"I've hardly been here long enough to make enemies," he pointed out with amusement. "I haven't even met my neighbors, let alone annoyed them enough to make them set my house on fire."
CJ merely nodded. "Where did you live prior to moving here?"
"New York City."
She stiffened at that and raised her eyebrows. "You're American?"
"No. But I lived and worked in New York for the ten years preceding my move here," he answered.
"So, you're Canadian?" she questioned, and her eyes narrowed when he again hesitated before answering.
CJ considered him briefly, quite sure he was lying, and then asked, "Why move here?"
"To be closer to my father and sister," he said at once, which suggested he hadn't been lying about being Canadian, after all. If his family was from here, then he probably was too.
CJ shook her head as she wrote down his answer. He had again set off her bullshit meter, and then made her think the meter was wrong with his next words. It was more than a little frustrating.
"So," she began after considering what he'd said, "you grew up here in Sandford and your family still lives here?"
CJ glanced at him sharply. "No what?"
"No, I did not grow up here and my family does not live here," he answered helpfully, but not helpfully at all.
"But you just said you moved here to be closer to your family," she pointed out a bit irritably.
"Yes. I moved to Canada to be closer to my family. But my father lives in Toronto and my sister lives in Port Henry so I wanted someplace that would make visiting either of them easier. Sandford seemed a nice little town and is about halfway between the two," he pointed out.
CJ was writing down the info when he added helpfully, "My sister is Katricia Argeneau Brunswick. She's a police officer in Port Henry. Her husband, Teddy, is the chief of police there."
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