Love and Danger Series, Volume 3
The family he has no way to rescue...
The woman he has no right to love...
Undercover FBI agent Rowan Mitchell married Tamra de Toffoli because he believed she was carrying his baby. The truth was far more sinister, and on the day Rowan asks for a divorce, Tamra and the baby are kidnapped and the painting he was assigned to protect is stolen.
Becky O'Connor sees the story on the news and recognizes Rowan immediately. Their brief meeting months earlier left an impression--of a very sexy man who had no right to be looking at her like that if he was married to someone else. Becky comes to Rowan's aid and is quickly drawn into a deadly search that will take her to the edge of right and wrong, where true love awaits those who dare to accept it under any circumstances.
Becky O’Connor leaped over a puddle of brown slushy water and onto the opposite curb, a taxicab speeding through the intersection in her wake. The evening streets were crowded and she moved quickly, the staccato sound of her heeled leather boots punctuated by the crush of salt on the winter sidewalk.
It was cold and blustery even by Boston standards, and she pulled the soft green yarn of her hand-knitted scarf tighter around her neck. Its childlike puffiness contrasted with her finely tailored dress coat and highlighted the red of her long, curly hair.READ MORE
The hair was her nemesis. The bane of her existence in middle school, Becky had worked feverishly to straighten it, treating it with chemicals to make it more blond and less pumpkin pie, forcing it with mousse and spray to fall in careful waves like the more popular girls. In high school she took to fastening it in a series of unfortunate hair-holders, from pigtails and barrettes to giant bun holders and one that made her hair cascade down her skull like a horse’s mane.
It was Julie who taught her to own her red hair. Becky’s roommate at MIT and a fellow computer science major, Julie Trueblood had the ethereal beauty of the middle school girls that had made Becky sick with envy. When Julie suggested Becky let her hair down, literally, Becky figured she had nothing at all to lose.
That’s when the men started to notice her.
Sometime between seventh grade and freshman year of college, Becky’s gypsy features and wild mane had gone from unfortunate and awkward to exotic and tantalizing. It was like she’d been granted a magical power to attract men, an invisible wand she could wave at will and control the majority of the male population.
Becky liked men. She liked tall ones and short ones, the lanky and the thick, the handsome and the rugged. It seemed each one she met had qualities that had been lacking in his predecessors, something to make her laugh or entertain her easily bored spirit. Dating was to be enjoyed like a good mud wrestling match, not a means to an end or a search for one oh-so-special soul mate.
Becky didn’t believe there was such a thing.
She vividly remembered as a child, her teacher asked the students to draw pictures of themselves in the future, all grown up. Still uncomfortable with her appearance, Becky had carefully sketched a woman more beautiful than she with neat auburn hair, standing proudly in front of a home of her own, birds flying freely in the sunny sky above.
“Where’s your family?” her teacher had asked. Becky’s eyes wandered awkwardly to the pages of her classmates. On every paper she saw people, lots of people. Some kids had drawn whole families with children and pets, others just a happy couple holding hands.
Everyone had someone except her.
It was the first time she realized she was different on the inside, not just on the outside. She had no desire for a family, no longing to be part of a couple.
Only one thing looked appealing about her friends’ hopes for the future. “I forgot to draw a dog,” she said, taking her picture back to her desk with a determined gait. She would name the dog Lucy, in honor of the most confident redhead Becky had ever seen.
Up ahead, a group of people walked slowly, effectively blocking the sidewalk. Becky checked her watch. Damn it. She was going to miss the opening face-off if she didn’t bust a move.
“Excuse me!” she said cheerfully, breaking into a jog as the group parted to let her through. The rest of the way down Huntington she ran, grateful that the icy sidewalks from last night’s storm had been reduced to wet concrete. Not many things could make Becky run, but the Boston Bruins and the promise of a frosty beer were high on the list of things that could. Heck, she might even get some chicken wings, her mouth beginning to water at the thought of deep fried goodness covered in hot pepper sauce and blue cheese dressing.
Her calf muscles began to balk at the strain of running in heels, just as the sign for the popular sports bar came into view. “C’mon, Beck. You got this,” she said to herself, mimicking the deep voice of her trainer at the gym. Becky loved to lift weights almost as much as she hated the treadmill, her love for exercise as selective as her taste in general.
A hundred yards, maybe less. Justin would be there already, of course. Methodical and organized, there was no way her date would arrive at the last minute and sit somewhere in back, or worse yet let her stand through the whole first period. He was a gentleman, that one, and she enjoyed dating him, though she suspected they were nearing the end of their relationship.
Becky was no fool, and she’d seen the expression on his face last week at Legal’s when he took her for a special “crabfest for one”. Becky loved crab like nobody’s business, with Red Lobster being her own personal nirvana, but Justin considered the restaurant sub-par. He’d actually used that word. Sub-par.
It was the handwriting on the wall.
So they’d sat at Legal’s eating what must have been a hundred dollars worth of crab legs, as her date tried to find the words to tell her something she was pretty well sure she didn’t want to hear.
She silently encouraged him to keep his mouth shut.
It was like trying to keep the victim in a horror movie from entering the bad guy’s lair, or trying to fight gravity. There was only so long you could put these things off before they burst out on their own like water through a broken dam.
Becky opened the door of the bar, a cacophony of conversation spilling into the street as a smile spread wide across her face. She was a social person who lit up in social situations, more at home in a crowd than she could ever be in a more intimate setting.
The bar was enormous, with dozens of large TV screens in a huge half-circle. One movie-sized screen dominated the field, a shrine to the mecca that was sports television.
It was standing-room-only, a crush of bodies that smelled like men, cologne, beer, and food, and she took a breath deep into her lungs. Heads turned as she made her way through the crowd, the more brazen of the patrons exchanging friendly greetings as she passed. Becky made a beeline for the big screen, knowing the Bruins would command it, her ears searching the din for the familiar voice of Jack Edwards doing the play-by-play and grateful when she couldn’t hear it. She’d made it on time.
Justin came into view, his handsome playboy face offset by his oh-so-smart-looking glasses. The man was hot, she had to give him that. With any luck, it would be too loud in this place to have any kind of real conversation, which meant he wouldn’t be able to profess his undying love.
He caught her eye and stood up, bending to kiss her cheek. “I was wondering if you were going to show up.”
She didn’t miss the chastising tone. Yes, it was nearing the end with Justin. “You don’t think I’d be late for the Bruins if I could help it, do you?” She stripped off layers of outerwear as she watched them prepare to drop the puck. Justin ordered her a cosmo from the waitress, and Becky turned to touch the woman’s shoulder. “No cosmo,” Becky yelled over the noise. “I want a beer. One of those tall ones,” she said, gesturing with her arms. “The size of a small child.”
“Foster’s,” said Justin, and the waitress nodded before leaving.
Becky shot him a look. “It didn’t have to be Foster’s.”
“You like Foster’s.”
“I like beer.”
He raised an eyebrow. “All beer?”
“Heck yeah. It’s beer. Fermented grain. Each is unique and wonderful.”
“Some of them suck, and you know it. How was work?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Fine.”
Actually, work had been crappy, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. As Vice President of Technology for Systex Corporation, Becky was in charge of the computers for the entire company. It was a job she’d worked hard to get and was proud to have, which challenged her eager mind and fed her inner nerd.
“Don’t be angry.” He smiled at her, his blue eyes twinkling. “I was trying to be nice.” He raised his hands. “I won’t order for you again today.”
Oh, cupcake. You won’t order for me ever again.
“Thank you.” She turned her attention to the TV as the game began, Boston getting control of the puck right away. “All right! Let’s go, Bruins!”
Justin moved his chair closer to hers. “I’ve been thinking.”
Becky’s hope for a pleasant evening began to wane.
It’s time. What was the sense in putting it off any longer?
She turned toward him with a sigh. “I’ve been thinking, too.” The waitress brought their drinks, and Becky took a big sip from the comically tall glass.
“Do you want to go first or should I?” He smiled sheepishly.
She patted his leg twice. “Oh, I think I should go first.”
Becky understood what it was to dump someone. She even knew what it was to be the one being dumped, though she had experienced that role far fewer times than the first. She liked to think of herself as a professional, a surgeon. Use a sharp enough scalpel to make a clean cut the first time. Separate what needs separating and get the hell out of there before anything starts to hemorrhage. Easy as pie, like killing a fly with a big ol’ swatter.
Justin was gone by the first intermission and Becky had the prime table all to herself. She took a sip of her second giant beer, though she ditched the Foster’s this time around and suspected she had lost the taste for it forever. The waitress was seeing about some chicken wings and Becky leaned back in her chair, hands behind her head, in a pose her friend Julie affectionately referred to as the preying mantis.
“Is this seat taken?”
“Nope.” She smiled up at a man with skin the color of wheat and rich brown hair. “I’m Becky.”
“Nice to meet you, Edward. Can I call you Eddie?”
He grinned. “You can call me anything you want, sweetheart.”
Eddie was an engineer. He was also a hockey fan, thank goodness, and he insisted on ordering his own wings instead of sharing hers, a sign of good character in Becky’s book. The Devils tied it up 2-2 by the end of the second period, when a special report banner appeared on the screen and the bar quieted down some to listen.
“Moments ago a woman and her eight-month old son were abducted from a private party at the Gardner Museum here in Boston. Authorities are asking for your help tonight as they search for the woman, Tamra de Toffoli, and her infant son, Anthony de Toffoli Mitchell.”
That’s right down the street!
They showed a picture of a beautiful brunette in a swimsuit, holding a chubby and angelic baby in orange swim trunks. Becky heard herself sigh as she stared at the infant, so perfect and fine. She let her eyes wander to the mother, who was stunning, and Becky frowned. She hoped that woman wasn’t dead. Oh God, I really hope that baby isn’t dead.
The screen switched to a reporter who appeared to be on-location. “You are Ms. de Toffoli’s husband?”
The camera panned to include a man, and recognition slammed into Becky. She jerked upright, spilling her beer.
“Hey!” said Eddie.
Becky held out her hand and shushed him harshly, her eyes riveted on the screen. Rowan Mitchell stared back at her, his dark hair disheveled, his face sweating and pale, a haunted look in his eyes. It had been a long time since she’d seen him outside of her dreams, but his rugged features instantly affected her, making her pulse jump and her senses scream.
She’d been drawn to him, pulled as if by some outside force. They’d met when he flew over from Italy to help his brother Colin catch a killer, and Becky had gone with Gwen to pick him up at the airport.
From the moment Rowan climbed in the car, Becky knew there was something special about this man. And he had looked at her like he’d never seen a woman before in his whole entire life.
The chemistry between them sizzled right up until he told her he was married, and her respect for the man flew out the window in a heartbeat. Who the hell was he to look at her that way if he was married to someone else?
“Yes, I am.” Rowan rubbed his hands over his face, his fingers shaking.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. They were here, then they were gone. I found a note…”
“What kind of note?”
“A ransom note, asking for money.”
“What did it say? How much money are they asking for?”
Rowan stepped closer to the camera, staring into its lens. “Please, help me find my family.” His eyes shone, watery and bloodshot. “If you know where they are, or you know anything at all, please call the police, the FBI.” He covered his face with a shaking hand. “My wife is an Italian citizen, her father an ambassador. This could be politically motivated. Or the artwork. It could be anything.”
The reporter came back onscreen but Becky was no longer listening. All she could see was Rowan’s stricken face, his horrified expression, and the sweet little baby he might never again hold in his arms.
She couldn’t stay here. Becky hurriedly wrapped her green scarf around her neck and grabbed her coat. “I have to go.”
“I know that guy.” Her mind was racing ahead of her. She needed to call Gwen, Rowan’s sister-in-law and her own dear friend, make sure she and Colin knew, right away. How long would it take them to get here from Vermont?
“You know that guy? On TV?”
She nodded, throwing a twenty-dollar bill on the table.
“Oh, my God. Hey wait, can I have your number…”
She didn’t even slow down, already reaching for her cell phone as she pushed her way through the crowd and into the freezing night air. With a trembling hand she dialed Gwen’s number, then held up a hand to flag down a cab.
The Gardner Museum was less than two miles from here, the horror of the evening close enough to have swept right next to her unconnected life.COLLAPSE