Then comes temptation
Former Black Ops soldier Logan McCabe is in high-tech heaven. The "smart" apartment he's staying at has it allluxurious amenities, walls that change color, and a seductive and nearly naked woman in the living room. Now, that's everything a man can ask for. Except Kensey Roberts is no pixel pinup and the sexual tension between them is most assuredly real.
Kensey is in way over her head. She's undercover to expose a possible art thief and clear her absentee father's name. She doesn't need a distractionespecially the ex-military, crazy-sexy hot kind. "Captain McBabe" is over six feet of pure, delicious temptation. But one sizzling night won't just compromise her reputation it could blow her cover sky-high.
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Kensey Roberts made the short walk from the mansion to her boss's office at a brisk pace. They'd been working out of his Tarrytown, New York, estate for a week now, and normally she enjoyed the leisurely stroll through the garden when she had occasion to meet with him. Not today. She paused outside his door and glanced down at her pressed linen pants and cream-colored blouse.
She'd paid particular attention to how she looked this morning. Her hair was simple, a little wavy now that it was past her shoulders. Applying makeup had been a challenge, but she'd had to do something to hide the fact that she hadn't slept in over twenty-four hours. A final inspection assured her that she looked as cool and polished as usual.
Inside she was a complete mess.
Neil Patterson was sitting behind his immaculate teak-wood desk. On any other day, she'd help herself to coffee first, exchange a few pleasantries if he wasn't in the middle of something. Today Kensey headed straight for him and skipped the small talk.
"I hate to spring this on you at the last minute," she said, ignoring the leather chair across from him. Too much adrenaline was shooting through her system. She couldn't sit, hadn't been able to sleep or stomach the thought of food since last night. "I need some time off."
Neil leaned back, eyebrows raised. "Good morning."
Kensey nodded. "Hopefully it will be just a week, so I'll be able to escort the van Gogh to Vienna next month as planned." Her voice, she knew, was well modified, and there was nothing about her expression that signaled anything but calm assurance. This mask had been her saving grace for years. She'd learned how to play a part from the best teacher in the world. "But it's possible I'll be away longer."
Neil didn't ask why. She doubted he thought it had anything to do with the weeks of vacation time she'd never used. He simply waited, his expression as neutral as her own, though she'd bet her Rolex he already knew what was going on. The CEO of The Patterson Group had made his first million at twenty-three and turned that into a billion-dollar empire before he'd hit fifty. Not only was he brilliant, he was careful and he did his research.
He was also the man who'd spotted something worthy enough in her that he'd taken her under his wing four years ago, giving her a life she'd never dreamed possible. Ironically, they'd met over a forgery.
God, Kensey didn't want to disappoint him. But she had something very important to prove.
"I'd wondered if you'd seen this," Neil said, and opened the folder sitting in front of him.
The second she saw the neatly folded copy of the New York Post she knew it was over. Her secret was about to unravel. In truth it had started to fray two years ago when Neil had guessed that she had a connection to the Houdini Burglar. But the thefts had stopped by then, and Neil hadn't pressed her to fill in the blanks from her past. He would now, though, and she could hardly blame him.
He slid the paper across his desk. Every part of her wanted to run, but she stayed right where she was, her gaze lowered to the article that could change her life forever.
Art Collector Does a "Houdini" with $10M Degas by John Witseck Art lovers around the globe have been stunned by the report that Douglas Foster, highly respected art collector and import/export entrepreneur, is a person of interest in the investigation of a Degas landscape heist.
At nine o'clock Sunday morning, investment banker Clive Seymour discovered his security system disabled and The Wood, painted by Edgar Degas, missing from his private collection. Mr. Seymour was alone in his home at the time, although he and longtime associate Foster had dined together the previous evening.
NYPD Detective Sergeant Calvin Brown arrived at the estate at nine-thirty and confirmed that Foster had been Seymour's only dinner guest before Foster left for Manhattan shortly after midnight. According to Mr. Seymour's driver, he dropped Foster off at the Waldorf Astoria where he was staying. Foster, who lives in Paris, had arrived in New York early Saturday afternoon.
When police went to the hotel Sunday morning to pick Mr. Foster up for questioning, he could not be located. His suite had been cleared of his belongings, but a spokesman from the hotel stated Mr. Foster was not due to check out until Tuesday.
Seymour denied that Douglas Foster was the famous art thief dubbed the Houdini Burglar who has eluded authorities across four continents for three decades. Mr. Seymour has declined further comment, though he seemed understandably shocked as the two men have known each other for many years.
Detective Sergeant Brown, a thirty-year veteran of the NYPD white-collar crime division, is confident they will find Mr. Foster and bring him in for questioning. Brown, who will be retiring from the department in three months, has been after the Houdini Burglar for most of his career, although he stated that as of this morning there was no evidence to support the allegations that Foster is involved with the theft.
"Your father, I presume," Neil said, as calm as could be. There wasn't a trace of judgment or censure.
She looked up into his piercing blue eyes and simply nodded. The story hadn't even hit the front page, what with yesterday's oil tanker spill. But it had made page two and the scandal had the fine art world buzzing. Everyone who was anyone knew Douglas Foster. From the time she was young he'd been an A-list party guest.
"He's innocent," Kensey said. "I'm sure of it."
Neil's brows rose. "How would you know that?"
"It's a forgery, a good one, I'll give you that, but it's not perfect."
"You've seen the Degas?"
"No, but I dug up every digital picture of it that was taken after Seymour bought it, and some from the prior owner. Most of the pictures are shadowed or just plain bad. On purpose, I'm thinking. But seeing it up close? Foster would have written it off as a forgery and never given it another thought." No one she knew, and she knew a lot of people in the art world, was better at spotting forgeries. "He taught me just about everything I know."
"Circumstances might have changed," Neil said. "You haven't seen him in a long time. He's older, slower. It's possible he's lost his touch. It happens."
"He might have slowed down but there's no way he would have taken a forgery. Or for that matter, be so stupid and careless. He was Seymour's only dinner guest. Why on earth would he choose that night to go back and steal the painting? Please. And God knows he doesn't need the money. He has enough to live out three lifetimes in luxury."
Neil smiled. "It's not always about money for people like him. It's the thrill of the chase or the rush of being the smartest and the best. It gets in the blood and clouds people's judgment. So they don't know when to quit."
Kensey's chest hurt. She didn't like the way those unnerving blue eyes studied her so closely. If he'd ever thought she was indeed her father's daughter, or the possibility existed that she could be drawn back to her old life, he would've cut her loose by now.
But no, Neil had always been her champion. What her father never taught her about business or life, Neil Patterson had. He'd invested in her, encouraged her and listened to her opinions.
"All I know is that this thing smells like a setup. Seymour probably realized the painting was a fake ages ago, and knew he couldn't sell it to any of his regular buyers. This con must have dropped into his lap like an early Christmas present. My bet's on the cop. Brown's retiring soon. He's been after the Houdini Burglar for most of his career. He doesn't want to go out looking like a fool."
"A cop? About to retire with a pension?"
"Why not? He's been obsessed."
Neil gave her a slow, considering look. "Fine," he said. "Let's assume you're right. What is it you want to do?"
She tried to relax, her gaze going to the Modigliani hanging behind him. It was one of her favorites, one he'd kept out of circulation far longer than most. She suspected because he knew of her fondness for the painting.
As his curator, she worked up a complete profile for each piece in his vast collection, checking and double-checking the provenances, all of which went into a very complex metadata formula that told them when a piece was ready to go into circulation, and where. Some of the pieces would be marked for sale, while other were to be held on to as an investment. All that mattered to her was that she had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing the work up close, studying the craft and basking in its pure genius.
"I need to prove he didn't do it," she said, finally sinking into the leather chair. "As long as he's on the run he can't return to his home in Paris or access his accounts. I'm sure he has money stashed away somewhere in case something like this were to ever happen but who knows if he can get to it."
"Do you think he'll try to contact you?"
"No." The thought hadn't even occurred to her. She shook her head. "After ten years without a word? I doubt it."
"You're right. He wouldn't want to involve you."
Kensey stared in disbelief. "Are you serious? He doesn't care about me. A letter, Neil," she said, the pain as sharp now as the day she'd found herself alone in a Swiss hotel. She'd just turned eighteen and was about to start at Yale, which had the best undergraduate fine arts program in the world. She'd been over the moon about it. "Three lines basically telling me to have a nice life was all he left me before he disappeared." He'd also left enough money to finance her Ivy League education, including a master's degree in art restoration at the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro in Rome. Plus her Manhattan co-op. She hoped the overtures hadn't eased his guilt one bit. "He's probably forgotten he has a daughter."
Neil hadn't looked away once. But she did, before she could see pity in his eyes. "The smart thing would be to stay away from the investigation," Neil said. "It's not easy to trace you back to that old life, but it can be done. So, why risk it?"
"I don't know." Kensey sighed. "I honestly don't, but I can't look the other way. I wish I could."
Neil's gaze drifted toward the window and the lush greenery outside. "What's your plan?"
"I don't know that, either." The headache that had been teasing her since four o'clock this morning was making itself known, as it began to throb behind her temples. "If I'm right and he's being framed, the fake painting would have been destroyed by now. The insurance company will have pictures. I still have connections from when I worked as a fraud investigator I can call in a favor."
Neil stared at her with unforgiving focus. With his thick dark hair and athletic build, the man had the nerve to be great looking. She'd have preferred he wasn't. Not because they had anything going on, but because some people automatically assumed that their relationship was more than professional.
Okay, so they were friends, as well, but that was a far cry from being lovers.
"Do you know how many red flags you'd send up?" Neil asked. "I don't care what anyone owes you, you'll end up under the same microscope as Foster."
"I hadn't thought that far ahead," she admitted. "But you're right. I need to be careful." She exhaled slowly, embarrassed at how foolish she sounded. "I can't let this go, Neil. I can't. He's in his late fifties. He can't spend the rest of his life in prison. Even if he gets off, the authorities will be watching him. He'd be forced to retire. So I wouldn't feel guilty helping him."
Neil nodded. "I agree something's off. It wouldn't surprise me if he has been set up. But he's not my concern. You are."
Kensey smiled. "Thank you." Of course he would think of her first. She'd never wanted him to be involved, but now that he was, she was incredibly grateful. "I mean it. I don't know where I'd be without you. I hope you understand that I have to do this."
"Time isn't on your side, Kensey. You'd have to work fast. Once the police arrest him and have enough to indict him, the prosecution will start digging deep. And I don't think they're going to dither on this one. Too many rich, interested people involved. No judge will consider bail, since he's the poster boy for flight risk. And once he's in Sing Sing, he's going to stay there."
Her heart squeezed so tightly it took her by surprise. She never would have guessed that helping her father would matter so much to her. "I can't tell if you're encouraging me to get moving, or trying to get me to drop it."
"I know you better than to think you'd do that." He rose and walked over to the coffee service on his credenza. After filling his own mug, he held out the carafe to her.
She shook her head. God, all she needed was more caffeine added to the adrenaline racing through her body.
"I know you have something in mind," he said. "Tell me what it is."
"I don't have a plan. Not really" The idea Kensey had entertained at five o'clock this morning seemed completely insane now. If she told Neil about it, he would probably have her committed on the spot. No, first he'd fire her, then he'd call a psychiatrist to send men in white coats to haul her off to some sterile institution with cheap hotel art on the walls. Kensey sighed. "I could steal the original myself."
Anyone else might've spit out his coffee. Neil swallowed and set the mug down on his desk, then sat. "You don't know who has the Degas."
"We've both heard the rumors."
"Rumors being the operative word."
Kensey studied her boss. His brows lowered, he wasn't quite frowning, more like he was deep in thought. She was encouraged by the fact that he hadn't told her outright it was a ridiculous idea.
"You and Ian Holstrom used to be business partners," she said. "Do you think he could have a private collection of stolen masterpieces?"
"We parted company over twenty years ago. Hard to say what he's into now."
"Is he capable of such a thing?"
Neil's smile held no humor. "He wasn't always narcissistic and greedy. We made a lot of money very quickly and Ian figured that entitled him to a seat among Boston's elite. But he was crass, always talking about how rich he was. People didn't like him. They still don't, no matter how much expensive art he acquires. So, yes, I can see him wanting to stick it to everyone by hording stolen art for his own amusement, but I can also see how the rumors might have gotten started out of disdain for the man."
"But since the Degas hasn't been seen in seven years, only the forgery, it is possible Holstrom has it, right?"
"It's also possible Seymour's painting isn't a forgery."
Kensey didn't blink. "I'm not wrong. And I don't have any other leads."