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She stared at him and he blew out a breath. “Okay, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he said. “But not for the camera itself.”

She studied him and then nodded. “Did you get anything?”

“Not until tonight.” He showed her the feed. “Recognize him?”

“I can’t tell.” She shook her head. “He’s smart. He kept his head down and the hoodie up.” She slid him a look. “What did you learn about me? When you did your research?”

“Mostly stuff I already knew.” That she’d been raised primarily by her grandpa because they’d been teenagers when they’d had her and hadn’t been up to the task. A fact that’d been proven the time that a four-year-old Kylie had been found in the street in the middle of the night, having walked out the front door after being scared awake from a bad dream and finding out that she’d been alone in the house. Her dad hadn’t been in the picture by then and her mom had gone out for the night.

That’s when Kylie’s grandpa had stepped in and taken her. She’d grown up and attended an art high school where she’d showed big promise. The tragic warehouse fire had happened the summer following graduation.

Afterward, she’d taken a year off from school, then gotten her AA before entering in her chosen field. She’d worked for herself on her own for a short time before going to Reclaimed Woods.

She was looking at Joe and then suddenly she broke eye contact. “The dream I just had . . . It reminded me that there’s something I haven’t told you about, either. Something I wasn’t sure I was going to tell you at all.”

“Okay.” He tried to meet her gaze, but she wasn’t having it.

“It’s something I’ve never told anyone,” she said.

He got up and moved closer, sitting right next to her, and ran his hand up her back and into her hair, trying to soothe her. “You can tell me anything.”

She gave a mirthless laugh.

“Anything, Kylie.”

She shook her head. “You’re going to think different of me after you hear it.”

Gently he pulled on her ponytail until she looked at him. “Listen to me,” he said. “I’ve done and seen shit that would make your hair curl . . .” He spared a glance for her wavy hair and smiled. “More than it already is.”

She gave him a small smile but shook her head. “You don’t understand.”

“I do understand,” he said. “I was an asshole punk when I was younger. And then in the military . . .” It was his turn to shake his head. “So trust me. There’s nothing you can tell me that would change my mind about you.”

“It’s my fault.” Her eyes filled with tears, but not a single one spilled over. “It’s my fault my grandpa died.”

He shook his head. “The fire was deemed an accident by the arson investigator,” he said. “It’s believed that possibly a soldering iron caught fire. Your grandfather was soldering some copper pieces onto a dresser but no one was listed as at fault.”

“I was the last one to use the soldering iron,” she said. “Which makes the fire my fault.”

“That wasn’t in the reports,” he said.

“No, because when my grandpa was transported to the hospital, he was awake. He told the police and firefighters that he was the last one to use the iron. I don’t know why.” She closed her eyes. “It was me. Which means the fire was all my fault.”

His heart squeezed tight. “Kylie, no. It wasn’t—”

“Yes! It was!” She jumped off the couch and scrubbed her hands over her face. “And on top of that, I lost everything that was his. I have nothing of my past except that penguin, and I want it back.” She grabbed a sweatshirt and yanked it over her head. “You said you had a lead on another apprentice. We doing this or what?”

“Yes,” he said carefully. “But it’s late and you’re upset. Maybe we should try this again tomorrow—”

“No,” she said. “Nothing matters except the penguin. I want to know whatever the hell you’ve found out.”

All he wanted to do was haul her back into his arms and hold her, but that yearning was his own problem. He’d bent his rules, changed his ways for her from the very start. They should probably talk about that, but she’d had enough emotional upheaval for one night. “I located Raymond Martinez,” he said. “He’s changed his name. He goes by Rafael Montega now and he’s managing a small gallery in Santa Cruz.”

She blinked. “Why would he change his name?”

“Let’s go find out.”

Chapter 16

#BondJamesBond

The drive took an hour and Joe spent that time dividing his attention between watching the road and Kylie, who stared out the window for a long time, lost in her thoughts. Then she unexpectedly turned to him and out of the blue asked, “Have you never been in love, not even once?”

He glanced over at her in surprise. “So now you want to talk about feelings?”

“Do you ever just answer a question?”

He used the excuse of going around a slower vehicle to give himself a moment. “I’ve been in lust,” he said carefully. “I’ve been in like. And maybe a few of those might’ve eventually led to love, but I bailed before they could.”

“Why?”

“Because loving someone comes with a price.”

“One that you’re not willing to pay?” she asked.

“One that I’m not willing to let someone else pay,” he corrected her. It began to rain and he flicked on the windshield wipers. The rhythmic swooshing back and forth was the only sound in the truck for a long moment. “And you?” he asked against his better judgment.

“Me what?”

“You know what,” he said. “You ever been in love?”

She was quiet so long that he wasn’t sure if she planned on answering or not. Then she finally said very softly, “I’m not real good at love.”

Because her mom had always put men before her? Because her dad didn’t appear to care enough to check in with any regularity? Because her first crush/love had been oblivious for too long?

The insane thing was, she deserved love more than anyone he knew. “You don’t have to be good at it but the one time,” he said.

She laughed. Laughed.

He glanced over again. “What’s so funny?”

“You,” she said, shaking her head. “Giving me love advice.”

He thought about it and had to laugh as well. “Okay, so that was a definite stretch for me.” But it’d been nice to hear her laugh.

“My mom once told me to fall for someone who makes me feel like I do when my phone’s at three percent and I just found a charger.” She paused. “But my problem is that I never let my phone get to three percent.”

He smiled. She matched it, but then sighed. “We’re both pretty messed up. You realize that, right?”

“In a very large way,” he agreed.

They were silent for a minute. “I never got to ask you,” he said. “What happened with Gib after I left the other night?”

She paused. “Does this pertain to the case?”

“No,” he said honestly.

She absorbed that for a moment. “Interesting,” she said. “Given your relationship stance of not liking anything too relationship-y.”

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