Thursday, October 11, 2007




When Becca Reynolds heads for rural Georgia to investigate a suspected crop insurance scam, she's concerned about her career, not her heart.Chief among the suspects is handsome Ryan MacIntosh, who isn't telling everything he knows. Could his involvement possibly be deeper than his devotion to his grandmother and the small farm that's been in the family for generations?

Becca can't be sure, even though she knows Ryan intimately--at least online. She's certain he's the charming stranger with whom she's exchanged countless e-mails--and fallen in love. But she can't admit the truth any more than Ryan can--nor predict what it will cost them in the end.
-- Mobipocket

CRAIG ANDREWS WAS moving in for the kill.
He'd trapped Becca Reynolds as neatly as any hound would trap a rabbit.
She swallowed hard, her mouth dry. To reach for the tumbler of water in front of her would be a sign of weakness, wouldn't it?
Yes. Better to have a mouth that felt as if a sandblaster had let loose in it than to have her actions prove it.
"Miss Reynolds…"
Andrews pivoted on his Testoni dress shoes and held up a single sheet of paper. The corners of his mouth lifted, but the expression bore about as much resemblance to a smile as a shark's chompers did.
"You based your conclusions on weather patterns and the very scientific NASA photographs."
"Yes. Yes, I did. It is my—"
But before Becca could explain how she knew the hailstorm had been nothing but cocktail ice and a few migrant workers beating plants down in the field, he held up one perfectly manicured hand.
Really. The fop spent more on his appearance than she and her father spent on their monthly office lease.
And now she was stuck on the stand, testifying in the first federal criminal-fraud case she'd investigated. The case was a slam dunk, or so she'd assured the feds and the insurance company who'd hired their firm.
It certainly didn't feel like that now.
"You even went so far as to say there were no tomatoes planted—"
She gritted her teeth. "No. I said there weren't as many tomatoes planted as Mr. Palmer said. His insurance claim forms indicated he had several hundred acres—"
"Yes, yes." He waved away her answer. "How much do you know of the weather in this part of the state?"
"I'm a private investigator, Mr. Andrews. I'm not a meteorologist."
"Ah, but you based your findings on meteorological evidence. So is it going to rain today, Miss Reynolds?"
With the prosecution's objection offered and sustained, and the laughter in the courtroom finished, Andrews came back. "Were you aware, Miss Reynolds, that this part of the county had heavy spring rains?"
Her stomach clenched. "No. My…recollection of the rainfall levels indicated that they were a little above average but not inordinately heavy."
"But if your recollection—" Andrews's emphasis of the word dripped with sarcasm "—was faulty, would that impact your analysis?"
Becca swallowed hard again and this time succumbed to the call of the water on the witness stand. No way had she goofed those rainfall levels. She'd looked at them, standard procedure. She glanced at her father, the senior partner of Reynolds Agricultural Investigations. It was only after he glowered at her in a way that screamed "Don't screw this up!" that she answered Andrews's question.
"Possibly. It depends."
"You based your entire opinion on the analysis of photos. You said that you would be able to see evidence of tomato crops from satellite photos taken the week before, right? Isn't that correct?"
"Uh, yes. The red—"
"Would show up." Andrews spun again on his Testonis, this time to face the jury. "But if the fruit was unripened? If the tomatoes were still green on the vine…"
Becca wanted nothing more than to run from the courtroom and make it to the nearest bathroom stall. She didn't have the luxury of that option, so she stuck it out. "If the rains were heavy enough to delay planting, the ripening could be delayed, as well. But it would have to be extremely heavy rains—"
"Something like these?" Andrews turned back and dropped the printout into Becca's hands.
It was worse than she thought. She'd never seen this report—it totally contradicted her own research. If these figures were accurate, the farmers in the area would have needed an Evinrude on the back of their tractors to navigate these rains.
After he'd dragged the offensive numbers out of Becca and retrieved the printout, he said, "Your Honor, I would like to admit into evidence rain reports from the county extension agent in the early spring of that year."
Becca sat, numb, twisting her hands in her lap, her fingernails digging into her palms. Andrews smiled again.
"Did anyone from Reynolds Agricultural Investigations—um, how did you put it—go on-site?"
She closed her eyes.
When would I have had time? Would that have been between visiting my dad in ICU and keeping the firm open while he was out? But she bit back the words, which she knew would open a whole other can of worms with Ag-Sure, their client. Opening her eyes, she forced out, "I did not personally go on-site, no."
"Did anyone from Reynolds Investigations—eh, how did you put it—go on-site?"
"No. The satellite images showed clear evidence—"
"Of unripe tomatoes. Oh, yes. Right. Perfectly understandable. I mean, you just get paid to rip apart farmers' lives. We wouldn't want you to get dirt under your pretty little fingernails. You should leave that to the farmers who are trying to scrape out a living."
Even before the prosecution could get out its objection, Andrews withdrew the question. "I'm done with this witness," he said.

* * *

Becca's blood pressure spiked as she heard the bite in her father's voice.
"The jury's back already?"
"Yeah, while you dashed out for a bite to eat."
Her fingers tightened on the fast-food bag she had in her hand, supper for the both of them. "Dad, I wasn't gone—"
But her protest that she had truly been gone for only ten minutes got interrupted by another of his impatient growls. "The federal prosecutor isn't happy, and neither are the insurance-company suits. This verdict torpedoes their earlier turndown. They aren't happy in the slightest, Becca. They're talking about using another firm."

"Where Love Grows" is on Harlequin's top ten of "small town" novels. Cynthia Reese, a native of Emanuel County, lives with her husband Ricky and daughter Kate just outside Soperton, Georgia.

Posted by Bill Ricks of Soperton

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