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A spear of late-afternoon sun cleared a corner of the warehouse and cut through Morgan Swann's windshield. The alley's Dumpsters, discarded food wrappers and bottles disappeared in the sudden brilliance. She pulled the visor down to block the glare, then slipped on her sunglasses. As heat rose inside the truck cab, she rolled her window down a crack for ventilation, but only a crack. She couldn't afford to have someone reach in and drag her out.
"The last customer pulled away," she said as she started the ignition and Bessie rumbled to life.
Her lone passenger and partner on this gig sat up. Joe Calder slid his cap to the back of his head. He'd been dozing, face covered against the light.
"Showtime," he responded as he buckled his seat belt.
Morgan shifted Bessie into Drive and a familiar lust grew inside her as they moved forward. "I love stealing cars!"
"You've gotta stop thinking that way," Joe warned. "This is no time to get sloppy."
"Yak, yak, yak." She tapped her fingers and thumb together to mime his mouth. "You sound like BB." The office manager and Morgan's best friend. She braked, then shifted into Reverse to guide the tow truck into the far corner of the warehouse where the target sat, nose out. The sunlight disappeared as they crawled backward into the darkness. Joe reached over and removed her sunglasses so her eyes could adjust.
"Guy in the office just perked up, Morgan. Move it."
She cozied Bessie up to the front of the Charger they were after, then leaped out with Joe and dropped the T-bar to the floor. She glanced toward the glass-walled office and sweat broke out all over her body. The man inside reached low under his desk and came back up with a tire iron in his hand.
"It seems he was expecting us," she said. Joe was slower in getting the loops around the front tire on his side, but their time was still excellent. In twenty seconds, Morgan jumped back into Bessie's front seat.
Not a second too soon, either. The guy from the office moved quickly now, dodging around racks of home-renovation materials. The look on his face took fury to an all-new high.
"Get the hell in here!" she shouted, but Joe had already bounced into his seat. She slammed Bessie into Drive and wished the old girl accelerated faster. Diesel wasn't quick enough sometimes.
The doors to the loading bay just ahead geared up to close. A sudden clang and clatter told her the tire iron had hit Bessie's back end. "Poor baby." She patted the dashboard and jammed her foot to the floor.
Joe reached for the radio and BB responded immediately. "Got the Charger?" her voice crackled.
"Any problems?" BB sounded suspicious.
As soon as Bessie broke free into the daylight, Morgan turned left and gunned her to get the car out, too.
"No problems," Joe said with a wink and a thumbs-up for Morgan. "ETA thirty minutes—I'm out," he told BB, cutting off any further questions.
Morgan checked the side mirror. The Charger's former owner had followed them into the alley. He stood in front of the now-closed bay doors, fists raised and mouth working. She heard curses a sailor might use. The end of the alley was ten feet ahead while the deadbeat was over a hundred feet behind.
Morgan rolled down her window and flipped him the bird. He responded with another furious toss of the tire iron.
Joe looked out the back window. "He needs anger management classes."
"He needs to pay his debts," she responded, then let out a rebel yell as she cleared the alley and hit the cross street.
Joe laughed. "You must've been a hell of a car thief."
"I was a great car thief." Sweet adrenaline pulsed and kicked her heart into high gear. "At least I thought so until the day I got caught."
Joe smirked. "Like most criminals you figured you could outrun the system?" He cast her a sidelong look.
"I was young enough to believe a smooth-talking jerk. If it hadn't been for a judge who intervened on my behalf, I'd have been up the brown creek without a paddle." She shuddered to think what might have happened if she'd maintained her connections to DeLongo's gang. A starstruck girl in desperate need of attention, she'd been far too easy to impress.
He gave her a curious glance. "Why are you telling me this?"
"The first time one of the drivers found out about my youthful indiscretions—" she chuckled at the phrase "—he tried to blackmail me." Which had been nothing to laugh at at the time. She'd been furious for trusting him with what she considered her secret shame. To hell with that.
"For money?" Joe blurted.
Clearly, he hadn't grasped the context of blackmail for some men. She cocked an eyebrow at him until his face went red and he swore under his breath.
"Not for money," he said, and shook his head.
"I learn from my mistakes. Since then, I've had this particular conversation with any of the guys who hang around longer than a few weeks. I'll never be put in a situation like that again." She hated being vulnerable, and keeping the secret of her criminal past had opened the door to harassment. It had been only one in a long string of life lessons.
With luck, she had learned everything she needed.
"Because of the help and support I got back in my teens, I've now got a great life," she admitted. "I couldn't ask for a job I'm better suited for. I love the hunt and chase, the occasional surprise during a pickup, and since repo is legal, I have the best of both worlds." The adrenaline junkie inside her needed a regular fix and this job provided it.
She thanked her lucky stars that she'd been smart enough to see the hard, dark road she'd stumbled down. Life had been damn fine ever since she'd been given a chance to take the right path. Her volunteer time at the youth center was her way of paying the judge's kindness forward.
A love life that gave her as much satisfaction as the other areas of her life still eluded her. A couple smooth-talking charmers had cured her of bad boys.
She wasn't sure she should test that theory and her hesitation kept her lonely. Not that she ever admitted to loneliness. With friends and coworkers Morgan cultivated the image of happily single.
Joe lifted her clipboard off the dashboard to reveal her newest copy of the World Courier. She blanched. She didn't care if her partner found out she enjoyed the odd bit of sensational tabloid gossip. It was the top news story she didn't want Joe to notice. She'd misplaced the paper in her haste to follow up on BB's brilliant detective work tracking the Charger and she hadn't been able to read more than the headline.
But Joe, all business, read the work order on top and ignored the tabloid. "BB did a good job finding this guy." Admiration rang in his voice.
"You've got a thing for BB."
"She's a fine-looking woman under all that makeup." He watched the traffic from his side. "Nice features. Warm eyes ."
"That was one of the longest speeches I've ever heard from you." He was more astute than she'd realized. "Most men don't notice her face." Or her soft, vulnerable eyes.
"Most men aren't me." The finality in his tone said the subject was closed.
Too bad. BB was her best friend and needed special care, so Morgan pushed. "She's been hurt more than once, Joe. She doesn't need a line of BS." Her tone was just as final. Mess with BB and you messed with Morgan, too.
"That's fine, I don't hand out lines."
She studied his hard-edged profile. "See that you don't." If she were a man, Joe's comments might be different. He might point out BB's natural double D's. Lush and round all over, BB had told Morgan she'd developed early. Morgan suspected her friend's full parade of makeup was more self-defense than enhancement of her pretty features.
Still, Joe's quiet confidence and thoughtful conversation stood out among the yahoos they had working the rigs. Joe had only been with Five Aces Towing a couple weeks. Maybe he was different. Maybe he did like BB for who she was rather than the size of her chest. Her friend was one of the warmest people Morgan had ever known. Fiercely loyal, BB cared too much about people. Even when they didn't care back.
Morgan could warn Joe about BB's decision to steer clear of the drivers, but maybe, just maybe, Joe was different enough to change BB's mind.
When they got to the office, she would let Joe go in ahead of her. She wanted to catch up on her reading about Kingston McRae. The memory of the headline she'd read earlier taunted her.
Wealthy playboy Kingston McRae returns from parts unknown after a mysterious and extended absence
She had an affinity for Kingston McRae and had missed the stories about him. The playboy tycoon had been out of sight for three months and twelve days. She felt parched for information.
An "affinity" was a new, more adult way to admit she had a secret, girly crush. The tabloid called to her and she itched to get to page two where the story continued. Maybe there'd be more pictures of the delicious Kingston McRae.
After they dropped the Charger off in the company's impound lot, she drove two blocks to the office.
A squat square building, the offices of Five Aces Towing looked like a circa 1940 gas station with scalloped overhang and two-bay garage. The company had been headquartered here since BB's uncle had started the business.
After an insecure childhood Morgan finally had the security she'd always wanted. She made decent money and loved the adrenaline that kept things just this side of reckless while the necessity of recovery kept her on the right side of legal.
At fifteen, she'd been charmed by Johnny DeLongo. A mistake she'd learned from. She could now spot a charmer a mile off. He had impressed her with fast cars, fancy restaurants and what her fifteen-year-old heart believed were declarations of devotion.
Hah! She'd been fooled. Somehow, Johnny had recognized that her love of fast cars could be turned to his advantage. Before she knew it she was on the fast track to prison, hooked on the rush that came with boosting cars. She was only glad she'd been caught while she was still a minor.
The moment she pulled into her parking spot, Joe jumped out and strode quickly for the door. She hadn't had to prod him to go inside without her, so she picked up her paper and settled into her seat. Kingston McRae, man about town, bachelor playboy and all-around hunk o' man, looked hot in every sense of the word. Tall, commanding, in charge. The picture was clear and focused. The photographer must have been in the front lines of the crowd at the movie premiere.
The pages of the World Courier have been bereft without the handsome McRae. Seen here with starlet Jakeera Sofia, McRae arrives at the premiere of her movie, Teenage Terror, Friday night. Informed sources say McRae and the lovely Jakeera are so hot for each other they had sex in the limo. Is that a smudge of DNA on her lip? This reporter's dying to know.
The idea of being alone with him in the back of a limo flushed her with arousal. Her panties moist, she took a guilty glance around the lot. She was alone, so she took another moment to skim the article.
She should get a grip on this girly nonsense, but since fantasizing about him had helped save her from falling back into a life of crime, it was hard to let him go.
Right now, life was great. All she lacked was a sex life. Her Kingston fantasies were her only release.
Seven years ago, she'd been jobless, broke and downhearted, tired of the effort it took to stay on the straight and narrow. Tempted to go back to car theft to make a living, just in time, she'd stumbled across a picture of Kingston McRae. The model on his arm had looked a lot like Morgan: auburn-haired with a square face and green eyes. Visualizing herself in a photo with McRae had been the lifesaving technique she'd needed.
It had been easy to dream that his engaging, warm smile was for her, that his feelings for her were true, ran deep and strong. And if she could just hold on awhile longer, better days were around the corner. Crushing on Kingston McRae was her only flight of fancy, because life had taught her to take care of her own business and to depend on no one. Unlike her juvenile file, adult records were public and she seesawed about going back to a business that had been exciting but deadly dangerous. She let her dreams of McRae play out—dreams were safe—and put her energy into finding a good job in the real world.
A week after her fantasy life began with the playboy tycoon she found Five Aces. But once she learned answering phones wasn't as much fun as the hands-on recoveries, she'd badgered BB to let her go out on a job. The other drivers had laid bets she would cut and run when things got scary, but car theft was something she'd been good at, and the thrill of the chase made recovery a natural fit. She'd never gone back to the phones.
Page two of the story said that an informed source reported McRae had met this most recent starlet at a charity ball. There was speculation about marriage, but so far, McRae had avoided more engagements than any rich bachelor had a right to.
The man was prime, no doubt about it.
If she met him, just once, maybe she could let her fantasy go and open her heart to someone more in her league. After a night filled with dreams of him she woke overheated, the sheet twisted, her heart pounding. Her emotions were raw for the whole day as she struggled to tamp down her sexual nature.
She fought hard to keep her fantasy life separate from reality. Most of the time she won the battle, but lately her dreams had invaded her daytime thoughts.
The whole thing stemmed from hormones rather than loneliness, so she ignored her need most of the time. But she'd taken on more dangerous gigs, looking for another kind of outlet. It was definitely time to do something about the lack of sex before she went too far.
All she needed was to hook up for a night. Work out some of her frustrations. Up until a couple of weeks ago, BB had been a regular at a bar downtown. The two of them could have a girls' night out.