Elvis has been spotted in the little town of Climax, North Carolina. Or at least, a shapely female Elvis impersonator—who’s got Kaz Cates all shook up . . .
Kaz is having one of those days. Cyber criminals, federal agents . . . and now, Elvis. In reality, the King is Mirabel Diaz, earning money by delivering singing telegrams. But Mira’s got another reason for being here: she knows Kaz Cates is secretly a master hacker with the skills to help people disappear, and that’s exactly what she needs to do. Still, Kaz can’t help wishing she’d stay awhile . . .
This isn’t Mira’s preferred career—her singing voice isn’t even that great—but her ex-boyfriend, a powerful Russian gangster, hasn’t left her a choice. No matter where she runs, he seems to find a way to pull strings and get her fired. If she doesn’t get off the grid, his vengeful acts may only get worse. Kaz reluctantly agrees to help, and insists on teaching her self-defense. Though she’s afraid to trust any man, she feels safe with Kaz . . . and welcomed by his family. But if they don’t stop the danger that’s chasing her, she may have to go on the road again instead of finding a haven in his arms . . .
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A Cates Brothers Book
By Lee Kilraine
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Lee Kilraine
All rights reserved.
Kaz Cates, thirteen years old. Climax High School, Principal Bonner's office.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cates, we hope you can appreciate the gravity of the situation your boys find themselves in."
Seamus Cates looked to his left and right, where his twin thirteen-year-old sons sat, each one sporting a shiner. "Mind running the facts by me again, Principal Bonner?"
The principal's frown deepened as he cleared his throat. "Certainly. As near as we can tell, because your boys have refused to talk, is that they engaged in a fist fight with a group —"
"A group? How many would that be? Two?"
"Five against two? Okay, please, continue."
"Yes, well, when a few boys began a confrontation with Kaz, Paxton jumped in and it escalated into a physical altercation."
Seamus looked over at Paxton.
"You know Kaz; he was just going to let them clobber him — so I jumped in," Pax muttered.
Cecelia leaned forward, her lovely face strained as her gaze took in both boys.
"Conquer anger with nonanger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity." Kaz looked at
Principal Bonner with a rock-steady gaze. "Conquer dishonesty with truth."
Principal Bonner leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk in front of him. "Is that from the latest superhero movie?"
"No, sir. Buddha."
Seamus tried to keep the grin off his lips. "So you tried to deflate the situation?"
He shrugged. "Five football players against a science geek? No point. I calculated it would end quicker to simply take the punch."
His father nodded. "And how did that work out?"
"Not good. I've concluded that nonviolence might work better if a guy can kick ass but chooses not to."
"I think you may be right about that."
"Yes, sir. I'd like to begin martial arts training this summer."
Once Kaz set his mind to something, he threw himself into it, body and soul. It wouldn't be a matter of if his son would earn a black belt, but when. Seamus turned his attention back to the principal. "How does Paxton fit into the situation?"
"Witnesses say he attempted to talk their way out of it."
Seamus looked over at the bruises blossoming on Paxton's jaw and around his eye. "Paxton?"
"They had no right picking on Kaz. Everybody knows Kaz gets along with everyone." He crossed his arms over his chest and raised his chin. "Besides, you can't attack one of us and not expect the other to respond."
"What did you learn?"
"That I need to work on my debate skills. I set up an argument for an average person. I should have thought to tailor it specifically for Kenny. If I'd argued better, I could have defused the situation — or at least confused him."
As the father of five boys, this wasn't even close to Seamus's first visit to a principal's office. He'd admit to himself there was always the impulse to help his sons clean up the fixes they were in. Sometimes watching them learn life's painful lessons hurt him more than it hurt them. And then there were times when his sons stepped up and impressed the hell out of him.
Like today. Both Kaz and the more hot-headed Paxton had attempted nonviolence to avoid the fight. Yep, Kaz and Paxton were a might on the thin side for their age. But what they lacked in brawn, they made up for in brains. Damn good thing Tynan hadn't walked by or he'd have started a rumble for sure. Not only did Tynan take his oldest-brother role seriously, he loved a good fight.
"Okay. So what's the punishment? Detention? Suspended for a week? Kicked out of extracurriculars for the rest of the year? My boys understand about taking responsibility for their actions."
Principal Bonner's face turned red and his brow lowered over narrowed eyes aimed at Kaz. "No. It seems sometime today someone managed to access the computer system —"
"Bypassed the security and added a file into the school's database. It was a petition that then disseminated through email to every student in the school. So far, seventy-six percent of the students have signed it, and the rumor is there will be a sit-in if the punishments for all students involved in the altercation aren't equal."
Cecelia raised her eyebrows in the way only mothers can and had even Principal Bonner squirming in his seat. "Please assure me the rumors burning up the Grapevine are wrong and discipline is evenhanded. Especially because by your own accounting, the football players started the altercation."
The twins sat as quiet and calm as could be in their chairs. Seamus himself kept a straight face and scratched the back of his head to ponder the situation. "Oh, I guess it'll be hard to win the football game against Guilford without five of your players."
"Well, it turns out the disciplinary committee held an emergency meeting about an hour ago, and everyone agreed that the lunchtime detention each of the boys served today will suffice." Principal Bonner's gaze landed on Kaz. "And that should make the petition disappear, I would think. And stop rerouting our teacher's log-ins to a dating web site for felons. And remove the encrypted password so we have access to our web site and computers again."
"Fiat pax fiat justitia." Kaz nodded once at
Paxton grinned over at his brother before looking back at the principal. "That's Latin for, 'Let peace be made, justice be done.'"
Kaz, Present Day ...
"Mr. Cates, we hope you can appreciate the gravity of the situation you're in."
"You know, I'm not sure I do, but I have no doubt you'll enlighten me." Kaz Cates sat back in his chair, staring down the long length of the conference table separating him from the three men at the other end. If he weren't pissed, he'd take the time to be amused at their tactics. Too bad he didn't intimidate easily. Like he hadn't had conversations with federal agents in expensive suits before. Hell, his first had been before he'd turned sixteen.
The men moved on to the silent stare down and Kaz couldn't stop his grin because, please, did they think this was television or something?
"This is anything but funny, Mr. Cates."
"Finally, something we agree on. You can be sure I was unamused to get another 'invitation' to rearrange my schedule for another chat with you boys." He checked the face of his watch on the inside of his right wrist. "You've got seventeen minutes before I walk out of here, so you might want to get to the interesting stuff any time now. Not that I believe you have any actual evidence of wrongdoing on my part, or Jones here already would have arrested me and accidentally dropped me on my face a few times while he was at it."
"You bet your ass I would have."
Taggart, the Special Agent in Charge at the Charlotte FBI field office, leaned forward with a glower. "Cates, your lack of cooperation has been noted before. You know, we're all on the same team, so it completely baffles me as to why that is."
Right. And here was the part of the meeting where they segued from Intimidation 101 to BS for Beginners and Entrapment for Dummies. He didn't have the time for this. And he sure as hell wasn't going to give them a weapon to use against him by telling them what he really wanted. He'd been burned by their "team player" shit once before — hell, he'd had friends lose not only their jobs but their reputations by reporting some of the unsavory and illegal behavior they'd seen within the Bureau and at NSA. The Whistleblower Protection Act was bullshit and everyone in the room knew it.
"I think I've been very cooperative. Rather than beat the crap out of the last two agents who showed up unannounced to 'invite' me to these meetings, I acquiesced each time, but since you bring it up — I'm done. From now on, if you want to ask me questions, you'll need to bring the correct paperwork and I'll bring my lawyer. And I don't care what your written policy is — the interview will be recorded.
"You know what I do find funny? When I gave you solid evidence of illegal behavior by one of your agents, you weren't interested at all. Your selective interest in illegal activity doesn't make you very trustworthy."
Taggart gave a shrug, but then that incident had happened before he'd been assigned to this office. No, Kaz didn't have a problem with Taggart. The agent sitting to his right, on the other hand, was a different story. He and Agent Jones had a history, and neither one of them was going to forgive and forget. Jones was in for a surprise if he thought this constant harassment was going to get to him. Kaz was a fairly patient guy. It took a lot for him to lose control.
Sure, he'd have to back away from his work with the underground for a bit. There was no way he'd let Jones jeopardize the lives of people in desperate straits and those who put their necks out to help them.
Jones narrowed his eyes at him. "Speaking of untrustworthy, it sure would be a shame if your contract work dried up."
The laugh burst out of Kaz before he could stop it and he flashed a genuine smile over at Jones. Kaz's work spoke for itself. He had a solid rep in the field. No one who hired him cared if he was on the FBI's not-a-team-player list. "Right. Good luck with that."
Taggart caught the eye of his agent, jerking his head to silence him. Jones might have shut up, but he managed to convey his warm, fuzzy feelings for Kaz in one long, heartfelt I'd-be-happy-to-stab-you-in-the-back glare. Damn, Jonesy had a hard-on for him even four years later.
Clearing his throat, Taggart pushed back and up from the table and moved around to sit in the chair to Kaz's direct right. Looks like it was time for the intimate-buddy chat.
"Sorry about that, Cates. Look, I don't know any more than I read in the file, but I can see there might have been some mistakes made. Promises weren't kept. I can't change the outcome. That was long before I arrived. I understand it was a crappy deal."
Not for everybody. Some people got promoted. That's when Kaz had decided he was done. Turned in his badge and walked away. He could fight bad guys just as well in the corporate world. The need for cyber security was growing exponentially every damn day; criminals popped up faster than roaches in a night kitchen. His skills were in high demand and corporations were willing to pay a premium for them. He didn't need to work with bureaucrats in a system that had the power to trample over the laws they wanted and reward the wrong people.
He'd heard the bullshit we're-all-one-team line before — until you got on someone's bad side. Blow the whistle on the wrong senator or discover shady activity by a big-name fund-raiser or one of the politically connected and suddenly you weren't on the team anymore. You became the enemy. You became the cancer that must be cut out.
"I don't know what connections you still have, but maybe you've heard of the influx of Russians here in the Carolinas. We're not even sure they're all with the Red Mafia. To be honest, we're short-staffed. Many of our IT resources were pulled over to work the DoD hack."
Kaz shook his head and shrugged. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I'm trying to entice that brain of yours. It's rumored to run like a computer and solve puzzles almost as fast." He sighed, running a hand over his head. "My understanding is you still have connections to your informants from before you left. You speak Russian and you're the best damn hacker we've ever had."
"Who's in charge of the investigation?"
Taggart's eyes darted away, over to Jones and then back to Kaz. "Agent Jones is in charge, but I promise to keep a leash on him if you come back. You could even just sign on as a contractor."
"That sounds an awful lot like a threat. So if I don't sign on ... you'll let Jones keep nipping at my heels?" He crossed his arms over his chest and hit Taggart with a steady gaze. "Let loose the hounds, then, because I think I'll pass."
That was apparently the wrong answer because Taggart dropped the friendly demeanor quicker than a nerd solves math problems. He went from smiling like someone's friendly uncle to a growling bulldog. "I've heard a lot of rumors about you over the years. I didn't think you'd put pride before something as big as this."
"You're asking me to swallow a lot more than my pride. You're also asking me to toss my ethics right out the window and into the sewer. I can't think of a single worse thing than working under Jones."
Jones snorted and slapped the table in front of him. "Ethics? Oh, that's rich coming from a famous hacker. You're delusional."
"Yet not crazy enough to put up with you."
Jones jumped up from the table, stalked down to Kaz with a snarl on his lips. He got right up in Kaz's face, pointing a shaking finger into it. "Watch your back, Cates."
"Why would I?" Kaz stood up, taking his time. At six foot two inches, he looked down into the agent's angry face, making it clear to Jones he wouldn't be intimidated. "I'm sure you'll waste plenty of time and taxpayer dollars watching it for me."
"Fuck you, Cates."
"That's sweet, Jonesy, but I think I'll pass on that too." He nodded over at Taggart and left the room for what he hoped was the last time. It would be a cold day in hell before he'd work with Jones again.
* * *
On the hour and a half drive back to Climax he purposefully pushed the whole situation from his mind. Instead, he listened to a TED Talk on the newest development in virtual reality technology, an area he was working on in his free time.
Once in town, he stopped by the diner when he saw the collection of his brothers' trucks in the parking lot. Paxton was standing out front talking to Jolene Joyner. Well, actually, Jolene looked to be doing all the talking while Paxton looked like he was trying not to blow a gasket. The two of them had been mixing it up like oil and water since forever. Kaz didn't get it. He liked Jolene just fine, but then, he hadn't competed with her for class president every year in high school either.
Kaz grinned when Paxton crossed his eyes at him as he passed by. He could hear Jolene laying into him as he pushed through the side door and joined his brothers Tynan and Quinn, along with his sister-in-law Delaney, at their regular corner booth.
"What's up with Paxton and Jolene this time?" He nodded over to Renee so she'd know to bring over his usual half-sweet tea.
"As the president and vice president of your senior high school class, it's their job to plan the reunion together."
"Next one isn't for two years." Although he knew their history; it might take them two years to agree on everything.
When Paxton joined them a few minutes later, he looked like he felt about the same as Kaz still did from his meeting in Charlotte: more than a little pissed. Funny how their twin lives often ran in parallel. Or, in this case, because they were both in crappy moods, not funny.
Paxton glanced across at him. "Heads-up, Kaz. Our reunion's in two years."
"And I need to know that now ... why?"
"Because it'll take you that long to get a date."
"No, it won't."
Renee brought over his tea and happily dispensed her two cents. "Kaz, sugar, you haven't asked a woman on a date in months, no matter how much they throw themselves at you."
Had it been months since his last date? "I haven't noticed any throwing. Who did I miss?"
"Sad." Tynan shook his head. "You're a sad excuse for a single Cates male."
Delaney poked Ty in his arm. "Hey now, women find hot, distracted nerds irresistible."
"Except you, right?" Quinn tugged on a strand of Delaney's blond hair. "You go for the good-looking, smart cops."
"You got that right." She leaned forward and kissed him.
"All I'm saying is you could use a little help, Kaz." Paxton grabbed a doughnut from the plate on the table before looking back up at his twin. "'Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him as you would a guide to hidden treasure.'"
"Ha! You want me to take advice from you?" Kaz shook his head. He'd only been stupid enough to take relationship advice from Paxton once. That had ended up being his shortest relationship ever. "'Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.'"
"Y' all suck as twins. You know, most twins make up their own language — not spout Latin phrases or Buddha back and forth." Tynan, the oldest of the brothers, reached out his hand. "Pass the doughnuts, please."
Excerpted from Love 2.0 by Lee Kilraine. Copyright © 2017 Lee Kilraine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
love 2.0 is the fourth installment in lee kilraine's cates brothers series. this can be read as a standalone though, since i had no trouble following the plot even though i hadn't read the earlier books in the series. kazimir cates, or kaz, is a computer whiz. a well-known hacker, he refuses to play nice with the fbi, but still uses his hacking powers for good. in addition to his online game and the cyber-security contract work he does for private sector businesses, he's also been secretly helping abused women disappear and start over for a while now. mirabel díaz, or mira, is at the end of her rope when she gets to climax, north carolina. she's working a crappy job at an elvis impersonating singing telegram service and sick of running and trying to hide from her ex-boyfriend. she is pretty sure she's id'd kaz as the wizard, her last recourse since she's ready to disappear and hope that her ex won't follow her. but kaz, who has just tangled with the fbi over his illicit activities, is trying to lay low. and most of his clients don't contact him in person, so he is suspicious. but when an unfortunate run-in with a bull leaves mira's car totaled and her head concussed, kaz feels compelled to take care of her. the closer he gets to her the more he wants to help her out. first by giving her tips on keeping her identity and whereabouts secure. then by helping her with her self-defense skills. and then by falling for her. wait, that is totally not something he does intentionally. but even as he falls for her, she falls for him. the only thing holding them back is the fact that her ex is probably a russian gangster and definitely is keeping tabs on mira. as the danger increases, kaz knows he needs to pull out all the stops to keep mira safe, even making her disappear from his life if worst comes to worst. and really that would be the worst thing that could happen, because in each other mira and kaz have found the one person who complements their brand of crazy. she's crazy good with numbers, he's amazing at computer code. she loves some good junk food, when he's paying attention he eats clean and healthy. she's got elvis' songs and dance moves down pat, while he's an expert in krav maga. clearly, they are meant for each other. and once they get rid of the pesky russian mafioso, things should calm down around them. **love 2.0 will publish on april 18, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (lyrical shine) in exchange for my honest review.