Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of THE RELUCTANT THIEF today for a FREE gift!
GIVEAWAY ALERT! It took me a long time to figure out who my inspiration for Scott Hart. He not only had to have the edge of a man who has been pushed to the breaking point, but he needed to still be enough of a “good ol’ boy” so that you believed he used to be a respectable cop. I used to be a big fan of the show Las Vegas, and thought Josh Duhamel walked that thin line perfectly.
Do you think Josh fits or do you have another celebrity in mind? Comment with your choice casting for Scott Hart for a chance to win the FIRST SIGNED COPY of THE RELUCTANT THIEF! Good luck!!!
THE RELUCTANT THIEF: Chapter One
Toni drummed her fingers on the metal table and looked at her reflection in the one-way mirror. She’d spent her entire life avoiding rooms like this and here she was, voluntarily walking into one.
The things she did for Scott Hart.
She almost didn’t recognize the woman staring back at her in the mirror. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a stern bun and the oversized glasses perched on her nose were giving her a headache, even though they weren’t prescription.
Toni was lucky enough to live a life where she rarely had to leave the comfort of her own computer desk, so the fact that she was currently wearing a starchy and hideous beige suit was firmly going to be Hart’s fault as far as she was concerned. She made a mental note to remind him of that as frequently as possible.
The door to the interview room opened. Toni jumped up as Scott Hart, wearing jail-provided pants and a shirt that looked like a pair of ugly green scrubs, was led to the table, where he was pushed forcefully into the chair.
“Thank you, Officers Pearson and Sloane.” She made eye contact with both of the men and tried her best to convey her disapproval of their treatment of him. She wasn’t normally the type to hold her tongue, but in this case she had to focus on the job at hand. And if everything worked out right, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cops mistreating Scott any longer.
The second they were left alone, she looked Hart over. He looked like shit. He was still frustratingly handsome, but those good looks were under a layer of red eyes surrounded by dark circles and a bruise on one of those high cheekbones. “You look like shit.”
“Some thoughts are better kept to yourself,” he said through a sigh. “What the hell are you doing here?”
She motioned to her horrible outfit. “What does it look like? I’m your lawyer. I’m here to lawyer you out of this.”
“I don’t need a lawyer. I didn’t do anything. They don’t have any evidence to tie me to the explosion,” he said confidently.
“Yeah? Tell that to the broken capillaries on your face. I’m sure the guys in your pen love being shut up with a former cop. Do they all think you’re innocent too?”
“I’m going to be out any day now.”
“Yeah.” Toni leaned forward on her arms. “You’re getting out today.”
Scott narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about breaking you out. I put a bug in the system and power is going out in two minutes. You and I are going to saunter out like we’re allowed to and then we’re going to take down Sterling.”
“Toni, I didn’t do anything. They’re not going to be able to even charge me. They’ve been holding off on getting me in front of a judge but within the day, I’ll be in court. When the judge sees how little they have on me, they’re going to have to set bail and I’ll walk out of here, legally.”
Toni ran a hand over her forehead and hair, rolling her eyes so hard it hurt. “You beautiful moron. It’s going to be damned hard to take the moral high ground when you’re dead.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean there’s not hardly any evidence against you. There’s no evidence against you.”
“They couldn’t arrest me if there was nothing.”
“They could arrest you if there was nothing and they knew you’d never get in front of a judge.” She’d had a feeling that this would be an issue and she reached inside her jacket to pull out some papers she’d printed off ahead of time. The top page was a dummy page if she was searched; underneath was what she actually wanted Scott to see. “Take a look at this.”
She slid it across the table and he eyed it warily. “They’re transferring me?”
“Before you ever get in front of a judge, by the way. Sounds rather illegal to me. What do you want to bet that you’re not going to make it to the jail they’re taking you to?”
She saw his eyes widen right as the lights flickered off and then a soft glowing of the lights powered by a generator kicked in. “Now you can stay here and put all your faith in the legal system that has already failed you, or you can walk out of here a living man, and live to fight another day.”
“Another day as a wanted man.”
“I’ll take care of that. But it won’t make a difference if I clear your name and you’re dead.”
He was quiet for a moment and she could practically see the two sides of him at war. But the war was pointless because there was only one right answer. Finally he held up his hands. “Here.”
She pulled the key out of her bun and undid the cuffs. It was a high-quality plastic so it got through the metal detector easily. Her sisters could all probably pick the lock no problem, but she had a different roster of talents.
“Aren’t we on the cameras?” He rubbed his newly freed wrists.
“I can’t hack into the police station without setting off alarms, but I was able to manually pull the wire that hooked up the generator to the cameras when I snuck off to the bathroom earlier.”
Scott looked at her with a look of horror. “They need those cameras.”
“I’ll send them a very nice anonymous email to fix it once we’re out of here. Let’s go.” She pulled him up by the bicep, but Scott moved out of her grip and led the way. She wasn’t sure whether it was because he was a control freak or because he knew the layout better than her, but she decided to let him have it.
“I need a change of clothes,” he said as they approached.
“Gotcha.” Toni pulled off her jacket and then started to unbutton the horrid blouse underneath.
Scott glanced at her and then covered his eyes as if he’d been burned. “Whoa. A little fucking warning.”
“Like you’ve never seen this before.” Once the blouse was off, she pulled the oversized black t-shirt off and handed it over to him. “Here you go.”
He took it and she saw his eyes bounce along her bared stomach and black bra. Just as quickly, he pulled the shirt on and Toni got dressed again. Was it totally necessary to go topless in front of him? Maybe not. But it would be nice if he could act as if the sight of her was at least somewhat pleasant.
But no. He showed as much interest in her as he would pay to a table or chair or any other inanimate object he’d never want to have sex with.
“Let’s go,” he said as he started out.
Toni was just buttoning her shirt as she followed him. The power outage was an annoyance, but it didn’t exactly leave people scrambling for cover. However, when Toni had gone to the bathroom, she’d put together one more little surprise. As they walked down the hallway, she took out her cell phone and text the number associated with the burner phone she’d strapped to the device. A few seconds later, a boom echoed through the building.
Scott froze before he turned to glare at her.
“What? I assassinated a bathroom door. Move, Boy Scout.” For good measure, she gave him a pat on the ass as she moved to stand in front of him. She didn’t look behind her but she could hear his growl of frustration as they made their way to the front of the floor. They would have to go down the stairs because the generator didn’t power the elevators. At the end of the hall, Scott turned left while Toni turned right. They both looked at each other. Even in the dim light, the annoyance was plain on his face. “The stairs are closer this way,” she said quietly enough that it wouldn’t draw attention but loud enough for him to hear her annoyance.
“There are less people this way.” He pointed to the mostly empty hallway behind him.
“Scott, I have this entire thing planned to the T. Now we need to get out before they realize you’re gone and shut the whole place down.”
“I agree. Which is why we’re going the best route.”
“I’m not going that way.”
“Fine.” He turned away and walked away from her.
Son of a— Toni twisted around and made her way to the closest stairwell and took the stairs two at a time, determined to beat Scott down. When she hit the first level, she found the nearest exit that wouldn’t sound a fire alarm and opened it onto the street.
After glancing around to make sure no one was chasing her, Toni walked calmly along the side of the building and right when she reached the corner, Scott appeared in front of her. But instead of acting happy she’d made it out, he gave her a frustratingly smug smile. “I told you.”
“You told me? You told me? I put my ass on the line to get you out of there and—” She stopped herself before she started to strangle him on the spot. People would probably notice that. “My car is over here.” She led him to the nondescript blue sedan across the street. She got into the driver’s seat before the control freak she was obsessed with tried to take over driving duties. Once she was a few blocks away, she hit the button that caused the dummy license plate to fall off.
Scott kept on looking over his shoulder and Toni checked her mirrors constantly. “We’re not being followed.” She took a sharp right.
“You should’ve left me.”
She gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. “Is a thank-you really so hard to say?”
“Thanks for what? For making me a wanted man?”
“I didn’t do that! Sterling did it. What the hell is wrong with you?” She took the next left a bit too sharply and Scott had to hold onto the handle to keep in place but he didn’t say anything.
Finally, after a few blocks of silence, he admitted, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Well, that didn’t do a thing to make her feel better. But she stopped from yelling at him any longer and instead said, “There has been some movement on the Sterling stuff.”
That got his attention. He leaned forward in his seat. “What happened?”
“Willa Belli was attacked by one of Sterling’s guys but she managed to talk him down when she told the hitter that we were close.”
“That makes no sense.”
“It makes a lot of sense. Sterling is an ass. Not even his own guys want to work with him. That could give us exactly what we need to take him down. Added to that, I got a hit on some facial recognition software I plugged into the local CCTVs on Sterling. He’s in town.”
“You have facial recognition software on the CCTVs?”
“Yeah, but it’s not as effective as I’d like. Give me a year and I’ll catch up to TV, I promise.” Why was she downplaying her awesomeness? If there was anyone she should be bragging to, it would be Scott.
“Great. Where is everyone based out of?”
Toni scoffed. “Based? Our last base was blown right out of the sky. We’re not based anywhere.”
“You could get a new apartment in a heartbeat.”
“Yeah. An apartment for you, who is currently the most wanted man in the city; Melody, who used to be the most wanted woman in the country; and Jennifer and Austin, who have had their faces all over the security cameras at the Cordon building. No, the team is temporarily disbanded.”
“The team isn’t disbanded. Sterling is closer than ever. We need to move forward while we can.”
She knew that under normal circumstances, Scott was calm and logical, but these were hardly normal circumstances. He didn’t seem to think clearly when Sterling was involved and for good reason.
This was the man who had ordered the murder of Scott’s wife—Catherine Hart, the constant shadow that seemed to loom over Scott’s life.
Toni knew that kind of anger could lead to questionable judgment and, considering Hart’s frustrating morality, his judgment was already questionable. When helping others, she trusted him a hundred percent. But when it came to helping himself…she was wary.
“I’m taking you to the train station,” she said. “I have a passport and ID for you in the backseat. You should be able to get out of town before any major searches start. I’ve looped the CCTV feed for the station we’re going to, so if anyone is monitoring, they will be looking at what happened yesterday. Once you’re out, we’ll give it a month or two and wait for things to settle down.” The lie slipped off her tongue easily. It wasn’t as hard to lie when you were keeping someone safe.
“I’m not going to be any less wanted by the cops in a month or two.” Scott looked out the window. He seemed to be coming off the adrenaline rush of the station escape now and relaxing into the seat.
“I think I have a way to get you off their radar,” she said carefully.
“What? You can’t hack into everyone’s mind and make them forget me. People saw my face in jail. They saw my name on the arrest warrant. This isn’t going to just go away.”
“You’re right. That’s why I need a month or two. But I got your picture away from all the news stations, so at least you’re not all over the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And since they have no evidence on you, they’re not going to keep up with a nationwide manhunt.”
“You and I both know that lack of evidence wasn’t enough to keep them from arresting me and it won’t be enough to keep Sterling from coming after me again.”
Well, yeah, she knew that. But because she knew Scott would flip a lid if he knew her true plan, she was trying to act as if she had this all under control.
She pulled into the train station parking lot and immediately got out of the car and pulled a pre-packed bag out of the trunk. “This train is going to take you to Phoenix.” She handed Scott the bag and an envelope with his new ID documents and train ticket. “Weston and Willa will pick you up and you get to be their awkward third wheel.”
He took the bag and the envelope, setting the bag on the ground so he could flip through the documents skeptically, as though looking for any mistakes in her work. Even though she knew those fakes were the best fakes a person could get, she still held her breath as she waited to hear what he thought.
“It’s scary what you can do,” he said finally.
Was that a compliment or an insult? It was hard to tell with Scott. She shifted her weight awkwardly. It was easy for her to fight with Scott or yell at him. But whenever it was time for normal human conversation, Toni found herself at a loss. Normal just wasn’t her specialty and Scott had a way of making her brain function at a lower level. “So, um, the train isn’t taking off for about an hour. Did you want to grab dinner?” Had she just asked him out on a date? No. This was a dinner between friends. Had she ever had a dinner alone with a guy friend? Well, she didn’t have all that many friends so…
“I’d rather get on the train and settle in,” said Scott, immediately stopping all of her mental conversations with herself.
“Right,” she said, as though she should’ve thought of that first. “Forget I said anything. I’ll be in touch, Hart.” She gave him a little punch on the shoulder as though that wasn’t the stupidest thing ever as she went back to her car. But Scott reached out and wrapped his fingers around her upper arm. She sucked in a breath and looked up to meet his dark-brown eyes.
“Toni, we’re going to get Sterling. I promise.”
She swallowed nervously as she pulled free from his grip. “I know,” she said softly.
And she did know. Because she was going to be the one to get Sterling and she was going to do it once Scott was safely out of the picture.
The only problem was that once he found out that she was cutting him out of the job, he was going to want to kill her—if Sterling didn’t get the job done first.