Authors: L. j. Charles
TO TOUCH A THIEF
An Everly Gray Novella
L. j. Charles
Forensic accountant Jayne Hunt will do whatever it takes to catch the thief stealing charitable contributions from Steele Management, Inc.—even if it means asking Everly Gray and her bothersome ESP fingers for help.
Parker Steele has a solid, tactical strategy to disrupt Jayne's spreadsheet fixation with his charms, and claim her for his own—until family secrets, a dirty cop, and a dangerous toxin blow his plan to bits and put their lives in imminent danger.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
To Touch a Thief
Copyright © 2012 by L. j. Charles
Cover Design by Lucie Charles
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.
A NOTE TO MY READERS
If you’ve been with Everly for an adventure or two, welcome back. If you’re entering Everly’s world for the first time, I’m pleased that you’ve decided to join us. Chronologically, this novella takes place between a Touch of TNT and a Touch of the Past—to be released in 2012. It falls neatly into line with the series, but can also stand alone, or as an introduction to Everly’s adventures.
For those of you new to her world, I’m including a brief Cast of Characters to “set the stage” and ease you into the family.
L. j. Charles
CAST OF CHARACTERS
: Red hair, midnight blue eyes, pale skin, of Scottish and Hawaiian heritage. Everly was born with ESP fingers. When she touches people or objects, she “sees” things about them. She and Mitchell Hunt are an item.
: Sandy brown hair that streaks blond on sunny days, amber eyes, (although Everly insists they’re more chocolate). He’s a famous photographer who works mostly confidential gigs for the military. Mitchell is Jayne’s younger brother.
Spikey brown hair, amber eyes (identical to her brother’s), hides a fragile heart beneath an abrasive personality. A forensic accountant, Jayne is sharply precise on the outside, a muddle of trouble on the inside. Mitchell was their parent’s obvious favorite, so Jayne has to be “the best” at everything. She wants Parker Steele for her very own—on her terms.
: Dark hair, graying at the temple, grey eyes. Both temples and eyes turn silver in bright light. Born into money, graduated top of his law school class, financial wizard. Parker’s parents had him late in life, and passed away from natural causes, leaving him in the CEO position of Steele Management, Inc. He wants Jayne Hunt on any and all terms.
Joe Francis Stephens
: Raleigh Police Department Detective on a shortage-of-personnel assignment—temporarily on loan to the Apex PD.
: Blond with brown streaks, green eyes. He’s a homicide detective for Apex, NC law enforcement. Adam follows procedure—always.
It would end her career
as a forensic accountant. She knew the arrest was going to happen, had helped to plan it, participated in the fine tuning, and even requested they handcuff her before the “event” so she’d know what to expect. They’d refused. Insisted it needed to be a virgin handcuffing to keep her response authentic.
A slippery column of sweat trickled along her spine and pooled at the small of her back. The detective held the shiny metal handcuffs loosely, almost as if they were a toy or an ingredient in a sexual fantasy. But they weren’t. This was all too real, right down to the newspaper reporters and the snarly, disgusted twist of Parker Steele’s mouth. Perfect lips should never wear such an ugly expression.
The detective snapped the handcuffs in front of her face, sending a ripple of fear to her belly, and then he pulled her hands behind her and secured the cuffs. Cold metal. Tender skin. It wasn’t a good combination.
“Jayne Hunt, you’re under arrest for theft, grand larceny, and fraud.” And then he read her the Miranda warning—so rote on television, so terrifying in real life. Chief Hayes better have her back on this, or…
The detective’s meaty hand circled her upper arm, and panic clouded her senses. She focused on the anger and loathing in Parker’s glare to keep her from screaming when the handcuffs clamped down on her wrists, and flashes from the reporters cameras blinded her.
A uniformed officer stepped to her other side, grabbed her arm, and together they fast-walked her to the waiting cruiser.
Chain link mesh and locked doors.
A glimpse at her future.
The officer put his hand on her head, just like they did on the small screen, and pushed. She landed on the hard seat with a thud, pain shooting through her wrists. A wash of heat stained Jayne’s cheeks. She’d never allowed anyone to manhandle her. Not ever. It was positively tawdry to be arrested. And being photographed in handcuffs was worse—a permanent testament to her professed sins.
The cruiser door slammed. She wanted to hide, or maybe evaporate. But when she inhaled, the sickly smell of sweat and fear with a whiff of stale alcohol coated her nose and throat, making it impossible to do anything but accept the reality of her situation.
Nausea churned in her belly, and chill bumps covered her arms and legs. They could have picked her up in a clean vehicle. Really, they could have.
Mitchell Hunt and Jayne Hunt
Mitch reached for his beer,
the condensation cool and damp against his palm. “Nope. Not gonna do it. No way. No how. And neither are you, even if you are fresh out of jail.” He swallowed slowly, buying time, then flashed a look over the rim of the bottle into Jayne’s furious brown eyes. Not good. He marked the second hand on his watch and started to count down.
The anger that had turned her amber eyes to black was about five seconds from erupting. He’d bet his new K1300 BMW bike on it. A sure bet. When they were kids he’d timed it, and early on had learned how to be out of the way when his sister got herself worked into a snit.
And this was the mother of all snits.
“You’re not thinking clearly. You have to do this.” Jayne’s fingers danced on the table, apparently tapping to a tune only she heard.
He slid a glance toward the nearest exit.
“Forget it, Mitchell Hunt. I’ve only been a free woman for three hours and I’m irritated. I’d tackle you before you got out of your chair. It’s a sibling rule for little brothers to help their sisters.”
“Damn it, Jayne. I get that you’ve bet your career on this, but—”
“It’s not like I’m asking too much.”
“Yeah, you are. I respect Everly and her gifts. And what were you thinking, having us meet two blocks from her house? And in public? You’re damn lucky there aren’t any reporters following you.”
Jayne leaned her lanky frame snugly against the back of the chair, relaxed some when she crossed her legs. He hoped it meant she wasn’t gonna try to take him out in the next couple of minutes.
“I like the food. And after a night in jail, I deserved a decent meal.
the proximity to Everly’s house is ideal. She’s just around the corner, so you can talk to her tonight.” Some of the black left her eyes. “Maybe you don’t really respect El’s gifts, Mitchell. Maybe you just want to protect her. She’s so strange, and the survival of my professional life depends on her help.”
Jayne’s voice was taut, her words strung tightly together. Not a good sign.
He placed his beer on the table, lining it up with the edge, his movements too controlled. “I get that you’re in trouble, but if you don’t stop insulting El, I will walk out of here.”
“Yeah? So why didn’t you bring us into your plan early on? Pissed me off to watch my sister being arrested on the noon news.”
“I couldn’t say anything to you. Your response had to be genuine just in case anyone was keeping tabs, watching you. We shouldn’t even be talking about it in a public place, but I’m starving.” She tapped him on the arm, none too gently. “I’m the sister here, and I’ve been in your life eons longer than Everly has. That should count for something, and besides, Mom and Dad are on my side.”
Tension clamped nasty hard in the small of his back. Why the hell had she talked to their parents about her plan and not him? He chugged the rest of his beer. It was well past time for him to take control of the situation.
Jayne aligned the salt and peppershakers perfectly, her movements deliberate. Calculated. “This project is critical to me, to Steele Management, Inc., and it’s personally important to Parker Steele.” Her fingers curled into fists around the salt and pepper. “I promised Parker that Everly would run the séance.”
Mitch closed his eyes to shut out the plea in her voice. Damn, but sisters were a pain in the butt. “Promised? You promised without asking her?”
Jayne shrugged, a delicate move that set his nerves on edge. His sister was not delicate. She was hiding something.
“It just slipped out, Mitchell. Besides, it’s no big deal. This is a fundraiser, and El is a save-the-wildlife kind of person. Nobody believes in that psychic woo-woo stuff anyway.” She tilted her head and eyed him. “It’s pretend. Surely you don’t think El can actually talk to dead people?”
A wave of indigestion knotted in his belly. “I don’t question what El can or cannot do. And I don’t expose her to situations that are potentially dangerous.”
Jayne shifted, uncrossed her long legs then re-crossed them the other direction. “We were in the planning stages of my arrest, and before I realized it the words had slipped out of my mouth. I’ve bet my career and my integrity on this operation. Everly has nothing to lose.”
The rich scent of tomatoes and fresh garlic filled the air as a server walked by with a tray full of plates. Mitch’s stomach growled. “Yeah, she does. And this animosity thing isn’t working for me.”
Jayne sighed. “I know I’ve been difficult. She’s the first woman you’ve…loved, and I hate that she’s taking you away from me.”