Page 30

Which was how Joe found himself glued to the computer in his office for the next few hours. He had a lead on their next apprentice, who’d moved to Santa Cruz. Sixty-year-old Raymond Martinez had changed his name to Rafael Montega, maybe to attempt a mile of the bad debts left in his wake, including a bankruptcy disaster. Rafael wasn’t woodworking anymore. He’d recently begun managing a little art gallery.

Joe sent Kylie a text that he was driving up there after work. “And five, four, three, two . . .” he murmured, smiling grimly when his phone buzzed a return text.

I’m coming with.

Of course she was. He texted that he’d pick her up after six o’clock.

But then he and the guys got held up on a job. One of their clients’ cases had gotten moved up on the board as needing immediate attention. The client’s very successful company had grossed close to fifty-five million dollars in the past year and was in the process of trying to sell itself to another entity.

Unfortunately their client discovered by accident that he was being embezzled. He’d been having lunch with a banker friend, who’d thanked him for opening a new business account at his bank and making such a large initial deposit.

The client freaked because he hadn’t opened any such account. He’d immediately reported the embezzlement to the police, who’d been slow to mobilize. That’s where Hunt Investigations had stepped in.

Yesterday, Archer had sent Joe and Lucas in to snoop around. They’d discovered the client’s receptionist was opening the mail and passing client checks to her partner-in-crime. This partner then filed a fictitious business statement, which enabled him to open a bank account in the client’s name and deposit the monies into his own account.

Joe had notified the bank and told them to let Hunt Investigations know when there was activity on the account. Almost immediately after, the suspect called the bank to ask why they’d not cleared a $55,000 check. Joe told the bank to tell the guy to come in and sign the check to get the funds. Joe and Lucas were parked outside the bank when the partner parked right next to them.

Unfortunately, somehow he smelled a rat, jumped back in his car, and took off, with Joe and Lucas in hot pursuit. Joe was driving and Lucas was on the phone with both law enforcement and Archer when the suspect started shooting at them.

Needless to say, the shooting ramped up police interest in a big way. They’d eventually caught up with the gun-toting rat and arrested him, but the incident had involved a lot of extra hours of reporting.

Joe hated reports.

In the good news department, the embezzler had been caught and Joe and Lucas had secured a very nice bonus for Hunt Investigations from the pleased and relieved client.

But it was nine o’clock that night before Joe got to Kylie’s place. He stood on the porch and once again remembered the other night, how he’d felt watching Gib come out of her apartment obviously in possession of a key, and his own over-the-top reaction.

Because he’d wanted it to be him.

Just as he lifted his hand to knock—since he didn’t have a damn key—he heard Kylie cry out from inside.

In five seconds he’d broken in and had his gun out. Sweeping his gaze across the room, he found Kylie on asleep on the couch, clearly in the throes of a bad dream. He quickly cleared the room and the rest of the apartment before coming back into the living room to crouch at her side. “Kylie,” he said softly.

“Don’t leave me,” she whispered, voice thick with tears, and for a minute Joe’s heart stopped because . . . she wanted him to stay?

He dropped to his knees and took one of her flailing hands in his. She squeezed it tight and pressed it to her heart. “Grandpa, please don’t die.”

Well, hell. All those of years living with his dad and then his own experiences in the military had taught Joe the dangers of waking someone up without warning. But this was Kylie and she’d been reduced to heart-wrenching whimpers, so he scooped her up into his arms and sat on the couch with her in his lap. “I’ve got you, Kylie.” He brushed a kiss to her damp brow. “You’re safe. Wake up now.”

At the sound of his voice she instantly came awake. He could tell by the sudden stillness of her entire body and how she stopped breathing. Pulling her in closer, he kept his mouth at her temple. “You okay?”

She let out a shuddery sigh and relaxed into him, pressing her face into the crook of his neck as she nodded. He didn’t believe it for a second, but sometimes one had to fake it to make it, so he let her have that one. “Bad dream?”

Face still buried against him, she nodded again. She had one arm around his neck, the other clutching something.

A photo.

Shit. He pried it from her fingers. It was the penguin, perched on the edge of a bonfire this time, tipped as if it was about to fall in. He started to get up, but she tightened her grip and he relaxed back into the couch, willing to give her whatever time she needed to compose herself. He held her close with one hand, using the other to pull out his phone to access the app that would bring up the feed of the security camera he’d installed outside her door the last time she’d gotten a delivery.

The camera recorded only when there was motion, so he could zip straight to any action, as he’d been doing two times a day since he installed the camera. He ran quickly through, pausing at the first action sequence—a cat chasing a bird.

And then a shadow arriving on the porch, time-stamped to several hours before.

Male.

Bulky.

He wore a hoodie sweatshirt and kept his face averted as he shoved the manila envelope into Kylie’s mail slot before vanishing into the night.

“I got a new pic,” she murmured, face still planted against him.

“I see that,” Joe said calmly, but he wasn’t actually calm at all. He was furious—for her.

“It upset me,” she said.

“Of course it did.”

“No,” she said, and then paused. “I mean it upset me because it showed the penguin near a fire.”

And he got that too. “Because of the warehouse fire.”

“Yes. It’s the setup. It’s a play on how he died.”

“But he didn’t die in the fire,” Joe said. “He died two days later when he succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.”

She blinked in surprise. “How do you know that?”

“Because I researched it.”

“Wait.” She stared at him. “You researched him? Did you research me too?”

“I research every job I take. It’s why I’m so good at what I do.”

“Right.” She nodded, scooting back away from him, making herself comfortable in a small ball on the far end of her couch. “I’m a job. Somehow I keep forgetting that.”

“Okay, not what I meant.”

“You researched me,” she whispered to herself.

“Yes.” Joe drew a deep breath and held eye contact as he gave her the rest. “And there’s something else. I put a security camera outside your front door. Motion sensor detection.”

She gasped. “You what?”

“I wanted to make sure you were safe and also hopefully ID whoever was doing this at the same time.”

“And?”

“And what?” he asked.

“I thought maybe you’d want to apologize for the camera thing.”

“No, because I’m not sorry,” he said.

Source: www_Novel12_Com