Read an Excerpt
Brooklyn, New York Six years ago
"Don't be a fool, Kaia."
Kaia Bennett's father gestured dramatically, his hand crashing into her roommate's study lamp. As he steadied it, Kaia dumped the dirty clothes from her backpack into a mesh hamper sitting on her closet floor. She'd planned to change her T-shirt before class, but not while her parents were in the room.
"I'm not." She inhaled, secretly smiling when she caught Blake's scent mingled with hers. "I'm a student. Just like everyone else."
"You are not just like everyone else." He made a sound and muttered, "I thought you would have outgrown this phase by now."
"It's not a phase. It's what normal kids my age do."
One of her bras slid off the mound of dirty clothes to the floor of her tiny dorm room closet. She kicked it out of sight and bent to open the bottom dresser drawer. The drawer wouldn't open all the way unless she moved the bed, but her father was standing on the other side of it, being parental.
Her mother had positioned herself in the doorway where she could keep a lookout.
Typical. What wasn't typical was her parents making a trip into the city to see her.
"How can you live like this?" her father asked, looking around the cramped space.
"She can't. That's why she hasn't been back in three days," her mother snapped.
Her father looked pained. He was very good at looking pained.
Kaia stood upright clutching a sports bra; it was the only clean underwear she'd found in the drawer. "Have you been spying on me?"
"No," her father denied at the same time her mother said, "Yes."
"Louisa, it's not spying to be concerned about our daughter's welfare."
Her mother ignored him. "You haven't checked in with Roy Dean for your messages."
"He goes by Royce now," Kaia reminded them knowing her friend would always be Roy Dean to her parents.
She stuffed the sports bra into her backpack along with her last clean pair of jeans. Actually most of her clothes were in the mesh hamper. Mentally shrugging, Kaia pulled the drawstring on it closed and prepared to take it all with her. She could do her laundry at Blake's. "You know, most parents just call or text their kids when they want to talk with them. They don't message through a go-between."
Most kids didn't have jewel thieves for parents, either.
"We prefer to stay off the grid."
Tell me something I don't know. Kaia met her father's dark gaze squarely. "I don't have any reason to stay off the grid." It was impossible once she'd enrolled at Brooklyn College, anyway. "And I never will again." She added that last bit in case they were here to try to talk her into doing a job with them.
They were getting older, although her mother's hair was still as black as Kaia's without the need for hair dye. But after her mother's long ago fall, Kaia had been the one to climb over roofs, scale buildings and slither through air ducts.
Until she was old enough to say no and move out.
As she returned her laptop and other class materials to her backpack, she was aware of the long look her parents exchanged.
"You fixed for money okay?" her father asked.
"I'm fine." More than fine.
"We heard about the job," her mother said, and quickly glanced up and down the hallway.
"Yeah. It seems I have a knack for selling jewelry.
"We're not talking about your minimum-wage job at the mall." Her father reached across the bed and tapped the tiny lump at her throat.
Rats. She'd hoped they wouldn't notice the necklace beneath her T-shirt.
"Roy Dean mentioned a diamond," he said.
"Royce," she emphasized, "talks too much." Before her father could ask, Kaia tugged on the gold chain so he could see the stone.
He glanced at it and in that brief look, Kaia knew he'd assessed the grade, carat weight and color. Way too puny for him.
"Interesting flaw enhanced by the marquise cut. Like a cat's eye. A cat's eye for a cat burglar. I see why it appealed to you." He dropped the pendant and moved to the doorway, relieving her mother, who limped over to have a look at the stone, herself.
Kaia rolled her eyes, both at their paranoia and the exaggerated limp.
"I saw that," her father said without looking at her.
Her mother stared at the necklace and then at Kaia. "You didn't get that at your little rinky dink mall jewelry store."
"It was a gift."
"Not from your boyfriend," her mother said sharply. Kaia shouldn't have been surprised that they knew about Blake. "No."
"Casper Nazario?" asked her father from the doorway.
Kaia gasped. Now they had surprised her. "I"
"Does he know you have it?" her mother interrupted.
"Of course. He gave it to me."
Kaia's mother looked toward the doorway and her parents changed places again.
"Payment? For the job?" Her father appeared genuinely concerned.
What was he thinking? "Yes! I mean, no, he paid me money for the job. This was something else. A bonus because he was happy and relieved that I'd pulled it off."
Kaia remembered how the silver-haired man had seemed giddy was about the only way to describe it. Word got out that he'd wanted someone who could put various objects back inside his friends' homes without them finding out. He'd made up some story about why Kaia had forgotten because it didn't matter. Royce heard about it, mentioned her name, and ultimately, that job, and the money she'd earned, had bought her sophomore year of college.
She remembered seeing the diamond winking at her from an open box when Casper had unlocked his wall safe to get her cash. She'd admired it and he'd handed it to her. "It's yours. A cat's eye for a cat burglar."
That was what her father had just said.
A prickle of unease flashed through her, especially when her father shook his head and said, "Oh, Kaia" in the same tone of voice he used when she'd made a mistake.
"Men such as Casper Nazario do not give away anything."
"He did this time." But now she wondered if it was his to give.
"You have the papers for it?"
"Kaia, you can't trust a man like that."
"According to you, I can't trust anybody."
"I am so sick of this!" She zipped up her bulging backpack. "I just want to be normal and have a nice, normal life with friends and an actual job I can tell people about."
Her father gave her a pitying look.
"Tell her, Manny," said her mother from the doorway.
"Tell me what?"
Her father rested both hands on her shoulders and sighed. "Kaia, Kaia, Kaia."
"Papa, Papa, Papa." The words lacked rhythm because he'd insisted she call him Papa with the accent on the second syllable.
"Get on with it, Manny," urged her mother. "Kaia, this person you've been associating with, this Blake McCauley."
Her heart froze. "What about him?"
"He's an officer of the law." Her father looked as though he'd just told her there was no Santa Claus.
Relief made her laugh. "I know." She shrugged away from her father's hands. "He told me."
"He told you? You knew?" her parents asked at the same time.
"Yes." She hoisted the backpack over her shoulders. "And guess what? Cops aren't so bad after all. In fact," she paused for dramatic effect as she'd seen her father do so many times before, "we love each other."
Kaia picked up the laundry bag, enjoying her parents' horrified expressions. "He'd like to meet you," she added.
"I'll just bet he would!" her father exploded. "I'm going to warn Phillip." Kaia's mother disappeared.
"Uncle Phil is here, too?" What was thisan intervention?
"Who do you think is watching the street?" Her father pointed out the door. "Have you forgotten everything we've taught you?"
"Nobody needs to watch the street, Papa. All I told Blake is that you own a jewelry repair business." And maybe a little more.
"You told him the truth?"
"Obviously not all of it."
Her father was pacing now. The room was so tiny, he reversed direction every four steps. "Here's what we're going to do. Pack up everything you can carry. You won't be back. The situation is bad, but not unsalvageable, if we move quickly. Fortunately, we have plans in place"
"Papa, stop. You don't have to disappear."
"I do when my daughter tells me she's in love with a policeman." He paused in front of the desk. "Do you need any of this stuff?"
She shook her head. "It's my roommate's. Here's the dealwhen you're not doing anything illegal, you don't have to avoid the police. What a concept, right?"
"I don't like it." He moved to the window and pushed aside the blinds. All he was going to see was the building next door.
"What don't you like? Going legit?"
"Your situation. I don't trust him."
"You don't even know him."
Her father let the blinds fall back into place. "I don't trust you when you're with him."
Kaia knew that, but hearing him say so still hurt. "You don't trust anybody."
"And neither should you. Time to go." He reached for her laundry bag.
Something in her voice got her father's attention. Maybe it was because she hadn't shouted or struggled or pleaded. Maybe it was because she was acting like an adult who'd chosen a different life path. Maybe because he finally believed she was finished with the family business.
He straightened. They gazed at each other for a few moments, during which Kaia noticed him slip his hand into a pocket but pretended she didn't. He touched her arm, leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.
Like he ever kissed her on the forehead. She checked the pockets of her jacket. "What did you plant?"
To a disposable cell, she knew. "I won't change my mind."
Wearing a half-smile, he gently cupped her cheek. "You can't trust him, Kaia."
"I love him."
Dropping his hand, her father headed for the door. "You can't trust love, either."
"I need more time." Blake McCauley sat in his car on the backside delivery area in the Brooklyn mall parking lot.
"You've had plenty of time," his captain said. "Got a meeting with the parents set?"
"No, but I'm close. Kaia's talking to them."
"And what did they say?"
"Nothing, yet. They're out of town."
"Right. She's playing you, McCauley."
Blake gazed through his windshield into the middle distance, picturing Kaia with her smoky good looks and thick black hair. And those dark eyes that drew him in and saw through him at the same time. They'd been sleeping together for weeks and for weeks there had not been one false note. Blake knew her. And ironically, since he was undercover, she knew him better than any other woman he'd ever been with.
The only thing out of tune was the story he'd been given about her. The Kaia he'd come to know and the Kaia they said she was didn't match. Not unless she was the best liar he'd ever met in his work as a police detective. And that was saying something, since working undercover had made him a pretty good liar, himself.
"She's not playing me," he said. "She didn't do it."
"She's wearing the diamond?"
Blake smiled to himself. "Yeah." Most of the time that was all she wore.
There was silence followed by a heavy sigh. "Start thinking with your other head, McCauley."
Blake wiped the smile off his face and sat up straighter. "I am, sir. If she stole it, why didn't she disappear when she found out I'm a cop?"
"Oh, gee, because maybe then you wouldn't suspect her? Because then she'd have a chance to warn her parents? Because then you'd argue that a member of one of the slipperiest family of jewel thieves around couldn't possibly have stolen a diamond?"
"She said it was a gift." Blake knew the words sounded weak.
"Funny. He doesn't remember it that way."
Blake shifted uncomfortably. He knew what his captain was saying was logical, but Blake's gut told him Kaia was innocent. His brain told him it wasn't his job to establish her guilt or innocence. Blake usually went with his gut.
"Look, son, you're too close to this one. We've all had that one case where our emotions got all tangled up." Blake heard a dry chuckle. "You were overdue."
"It's not that."
"She's real pretty. Of course it's that."
Blake ignored him. "I'm about to break this case. Eventually she's going to say something that will lead us to her parents." Because if anybody was guilty of stealing, they were. "Kaia never said who gave her the necklace. Maybe they did."
"We can place her at the scene."
"You can place a lot of people at the scene."
"They aren't wearing a diamond that looks like a cat's eye."
Blake closed his eyes. He was pushing it and the captain had been surprisingly lenient. Blake figured he'd used up all his superior's good will and the man's next words confirmed it.
"It's the end of the month. Time to wrap this up, McCauley."
Blake's stomach felt worse than when he'd eaten a bad burrito on a stakeout.
"Lemme do this alone," he asked. "I don't need backup."
"McCauley!" The captain spoke sharply, Blake's name a verbal slap in the face. "She's an expert at getting into and out of places that are impossible for normal human beings. You can't handle this by yourself."
Blake clenched his teeth. "And you just expect her to walk outside when I'm surrounded by patrol cars?"
"McCauley, I didn't suspend you when you blew your cover with her, but if you don't shut up and do your job, I'll suspend you now."
"Yes, sir." Blake didn't point out that Kaia discovering he was a cop had worked to their advantage in gaining her trust.
"We're standing by for your signal."
At that moment, Blake saw Kaia push through the beige employee exit doors by the loading docks. She was a few minutes earlier than usual, so she must not have had to close up tonight.
And it meant his backup hadn't had a chance to arrive yet. Blake glanced in the side and rearview mirrors before looking toward Kaia again. She saw him and flashed a big, excited smile. Calm and happiness seeped through him.
In that very brief moment of time, he felt that life was perfect and all he wanted was to see her smile every day and night for the rest of his life.