A Rare Chance
He had followed her three times in the past week. Today made four.
Gabriella Starr decided four was enough.
She dumped her untouched pasta salad in a nearby trash can and started across jam-packed Fanueil Hall Marketplace, straight toward the South Market Building, where he had stationed himself in front of the Crate & Barrel display window. His tall, lean good looks reminded her of Sean Connery back in his 007 days, just without the natural charm. She had spotted him in front of her apartment almost a week before, then on her way home from work a few days later, and just last night as she’d emerged from the dry cleaner’s.
It was the same man each time. Gabriella had no doubts about that.
She’d kept her chocolate chip cookies, and she clutched the small white bag to her as she edged her way through the crowd. The cookies were still warm. She’d meant to find a bench in the courtyard-like area of trees and stone and brick walks amidst the three long, renovated nineteenth-century buildings that made up the heart of Boston’s famous marketplace. The warm, sunny weather had brought out the crowds. Surely her stranger wouldn’t try anything with so many potential witnesses.
She groaned to herself. She did not need this wrinkle in her life. For a whole year her life had been nearly wrinkle-free. Work she loved, an apartment she loved, friends, money in the bank. She was content.
More or less.
But she quickly pushed back thoughts of her father, thoughts as insidious as the cold wind off Boston Harbor. She loved him, missed him, worried about him, and might stay mad at him forever—and chasing down a man to find out who he was and why he was following her was just the sort of thing he’d do.
Well, she had no choice. She had to do it. Better to confront him here, now—at Fanueil Hall Marketplace on a beautiful spring afternoon—than at a time and place not of her own choosing. It didn’t matter that her father would approve.
Barely ten yards to go and he was clearly in sight. Had he seen her? Was he waiting for her? Was this his plan, to provoke her into a confrontation?
The man snapped his fingers, dispersing a swarm of pigeons that had gathered at his feet. He seemed in no hurry, just a man killing time. He had on neat khaki pants and a black windbreaker, unzipped. His dark hair was trimmed close.
A pigeon flew up in Gabriella’s face, startling her.
When she recovered, the man had his back to her and was threading his way through the crowd toward the waterfront, away from her.
Gabriella lunged forward. “Wait!”
She resisted the temptation to push people aside, knock them over, do what she had to do to get to him before he could disappear or slip on to a quiet, isolated street where she wouldn’t dare confront him. She broke into a half-run, cursing her mid-heel taupe shoes. She was dressed for work, not for chasing some strange man who’d been following her.
She reached the South Market Building, stopping hard in front of the display window. She squinted in the bright sunlight as she searched the crowd for a black windbreaker and khaki pants, for that ramrod-straight stance.
But she’d lost him.
He could have ducked into a store, down a street, behind a tree. It didn’t matter. He was gone.
“Damn.” Gabriella crushed her bag of cookies in one hand, her heart racing as much from nerves as from exertion. “Damn and blast.”
“You always charge after guys following you?”
The voice was deep, male, languid, irreverent. Gabriella spun around, almost into the chest of a thick, compact man with shaggy, tawny hair and eyes she immediately noticed were the color of the sea.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Name’s Cam Yeager. You?”
She didn’t answer. He wore jeans, a faded black Bruins sweatshirt, and running shoes that needed replacing. She had never seen him before, had never heard of a Cam Yeager. He had what she estimated was a two-day growth of beard and exuded an earthy sensuality that had her automatically taking a step back from him.
He studied her a moment. “So what would you have done if he’d stayed put?”
“The man following you.”
She took a breath. Playing dumb wasn’t going to work, not with this man. “I’d have demanded to know why he’s been following me.”
“Why not? Do you know him?”
His sea-blue eyes narrowed on her, and she sensed she would be foolish to let his casual irreverence deceive her. “His name’s Pete Darrow. If you spotted him following you, it’s because he wanted you to spot him. He’s got a gift for tailing people.”
“Forget this Mr. Yeager business. Makes me think of my father. Here, let’s sit down before your knees give out.”
“I’m not the type to faint, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He glanced at her. “It’s not. I’m just making up excuses so you’ll share your cookies with me. Chocolate chip, right?”
Her grip tightened on the white baker’s bag. “Who are you?”
He dropped onto a vacant wood-and-iron bench and patted the spot next to him. Gabriella noticed a three-inch scar that ran along the edge of his jaw. It didn’t have the look of a childhood injury.
When she didn’t take him up on his invitation, he leaned back, unconcerned. “Pete’s an ex-cop. He resigned as a detective with the Boston police department a couple weeks ago. Now will you sit down and give me one of those cookies?”
“Why would an ex-cop be following me?”
“Seeing how I don’t know who you are, I couldn’t say.”
Gabriella hesitated. This time she couldn’t blame Scag for her difficulties. Her father was in South America. She hadn’t seen or heard from him in a year. He couldn’t be responsible for a former police detective upsetting the peaceful, stable life she’d established for herself in Boston.
She sat down next to Cam Yeager, taking care that her thighs didn’t touch his. If Pete Darrow were an ex-cop, what did that make this guy? She pried her fingers loose from the bag and fished out a couple of tiny chocolate chip cookies, each no bigger than a quarter.
“I bought a dozen,” she said. “You can have as many as you want.”
He popped one into his mouth. “Not very big, are they?”
“That’s why I bought a dozen.”
“I don’t blame you for ditching lunch and keeping dessert.”
Gabriella squelched a wave of uneasiness at the idea of two men having watched her. What would Cam Yeager have done if she hadn’t gone after Pete Darrow? She could feel his eyes on her. She wore a simple double-breasted navy suit with a cream silk top and a silver lapel pin of a lady slipper, a wild New England orchid. Her hair was a medium brown, cut just above her shoulders, and she wore neutral makeup that downplayed the fullness of her lips and the warmth of her brown eyes. She wasn’t tall, but she stayed slim and fit with regular workouts and not too many chocolate chip cookies.
She ate half of her cookie, barely tasting the sugar and the gooey semi-sweet chocolate. “So what else do you know about this Pete Darrow? What’s he do now that he’s no longer a police detective? Why did he quit?”
“Whoa. Easy on the interrogation.”
Gabriella gave him a tentative smile. “Sorry. I’m just nervous. This isn’t the first time he’s followed me. I first spotted him a week ago outside my apartment. It was creepy.” She breathed out, trying to stay calm. “So I’d appreciate anything you can tell me about him.”
“Okay.” He helped himself to another cookie. “Pete quit the force to take a job with TJR Associates.”
Gabriella stared at him. “What?”
“Thought that might strike a nerve. You work there, don’t you?”
“Yes, I—I’ve been there a year.” Her words came out in something just above a whisper, almost as if she were talking to herself. “My name’s Gabriella Starr. I can’t believe I wouldn’t know—” She forced herself to stop. She didn’t know who this man was or why he was at Fanueil Hall or what he wanted from her. She didn’t need to give him information; she needed to get information from him. “Are you positive?”
He nodded, his expression alert, even wary. “It’s my understanding Titus and Joshua Reading hired Pete to beef up their personal security after the attempt to kidnap Joshua a few weeks ago.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Pete and I used to be partners.”
Gabriella almost shot out of her seat. “Partners? You mean you’re a cop?”
“Ex. I resigned just over a month ago. I start in the D.A.’s office the first of June as a prosecutor. I’m supposed to be taking an extended vacation, going fishing, painting the bathroom. Stuff like that.”
Gabriella got out two cookies that had stuck together and ate them both. A cop turned prosecutor. Good God. She was sharing a bag of cookies with him, discussing another former cop who was following her.
She knew exactly what her father would say: Cops involved? Get out now.
“I haven’t seen Pete since I left,” Cam Yeager went on. “When I heard he took the job with TJR Associates, it didn’t make sense to me he’d quit to become a glorified bodyguard. So I decided to check it out.”
“By following him,” Gabriella said.
He shrugged. Behind the casual facade, she sensed that Cam Yeager was one intense, deliberate man, alert to every nuance of his surroundings. “That wasn’t my plan. I saw him coming out of TJR Associates’ offices, realized he was following you, and tailed you both to New England Merchants Bank.”
“I had a meeting there.”
“He waited for you, then followed you here. I just tagged along.”
She shuddered at the thought of both Pete Darrow and Cam Yeager—two ex-cops—following her all morning, without her knowledge.
He stretched out his thick legs, crossing his ankles. “Think the Reading brothers put Darrow up to following you?”
The question caught Gabriella off guard. “Of course not. Why would they?”
“You tell me.”
“Mr. Yeager—” She breathed in, trying not to be too snappy. “You might be who you say you are. But I have no proof anything you’ve told me is true. For all I know, you’re in cahoots with Pete Darrow and this is some elaborate scam.”
He stretched one arm across the back of the bench. “I’ll bet you work with numbers at TJR Associates. The brass-tacks type. Have to see proof before you believe anything. However, you’re right. I could be lying.” His sea-blue eyes narrowed on Gabriella, all business, nothing calm or irreverent about him now. “But I’m not.”
Gabriella believed him. She didn’t know why, and that was enough to propel her to her feet. She was relying on her instincts, but too often her instincts had betrayed her. She left the remaining cookies behind on the bench and hoisted her leather tote onto her shoulder.
“I’ve got to get back to the office,” she said.
“Just a couple cookies for lunch?”
“Here.” He had a pen out and was scratching something on the cookie bag. “This is my address and phone number. If you need me, give a yell.”
“Why would I need you?”
He leaned back, amusement creeping back into his eyes. “You never know.”
She ignored him, pretended the unmistakable attraction gnawing at her insides wasn’t there. It was purely physical, an involuntary response. She did not go for cops, cops turned prosecutors, law enforcement types in general. And they didn’t go for her. She was too smart, too driven, too naturally defiant.
She’d spent too many nights in jail.
“Just tell me one thing,” she said. “Is Pete Darrow dangerous?”
His eyes reached hers, serious again. “If you cross him, yes. He can be dangerous.”
And you? she wanted to ask. Are you dangerous?
Instead she snatched the bag from him and got out of there, refusing to glance back as she made her way to TJR Associates’ waterfront offices. What a fine pickle you’re in, she thought. Thanks to her own efforts, she no longer had just one man keeping an eye on her for reasons unknown. She had two.
Cam Yeager stared out at the crowd as he contemplated dark-haired, dark-eyed Gabriella Starr and what trouble she might be in with Pete Darrow. She worked at TJR Associates. So did Pete. And Pete was following her.
None of it was good.
Cam had done some basic research on TJR Associates, a real estate and development outfit specializing in historic buildings. It was run by two brothers, Titus and Joshua Reading. On the surface, they were the embodiment of the American dream: middle-class guys who’d worked hard, done well, and maintained high principles as their bank accounts grew by leaps and bounds. Titus had the drive and vision, Joshua the charm and personality.
But there was a dark side. There was always a dark side, Cam thought.
The information had come to him without names attached to it, without evidence, without proof. It was just talk. Maybe someone was trying to spread lies to bring down the Reading brothers; maybe someone was just telling the truth; maybe there was a glimmer of truth in what was being said and the rest was exaggeration.
The talk had started with a relatively harmless statement from a fellow detective. Joshua Reading’s a gun nut. Cam was unruffled. These days a lot of people were gun nuts. Depended on how one wanted to define “gun nut.” Someone with any gun at all? Someone with illegal guns? A bona fide psycho armed to the teeth?
Then the talk escalated. Joshua Reading was no ordinary guy who happened to like keeping a gun on hand. He was into seriously illegal stuff. Grenades, antitank weapons, miniguns. Whatever he could get his hands on. He could arm a small militia and make a run on Boston.
Word was, the kidnap attempt was a warning from his dealers not to get too cocky, not to think he could get away with not paying up, with playing his gun games any way but their way. They wouldn’t tolerate any arrogance and recklessness from some rich boy who liked to play Rambo.
The police investigation into the incident hadn’t turned up any tangible leads. Joshua hadn’t pushed for answers. He hadn’t thwarted the investigation or refused to cooperate. He’d just let it be known that he and his older brother didn’t want to play up such a sensational story when the police were unlikely to make an arrest. The police would look incompetent, and TJR Associates didn’t need that kind of publicity. They were a high-prestige, low-profile company.
Cam hadn’t learned a thing he could sink his teeth into. Just rumor, innuendo, speculation, maybes, and what ifs, the kind that sometimes ran rampant in the law enforcement community. There wasn’t even enough grounds for an investigation.
Pete Darrow had worked on the periphery of the investigation. He could have heard the same talk. Had he believed it? Had he hired on with the Reading brothers so he could play the hero and bring Joshua Reading down?
Or had he decided to use the information for his own purposes? Find the secret cache of weapons, steal them, sell them to the highest bidder. Or just bleed Joshua Reading. Make him pay to keep his habit a secret. Pete had walked the tight rope a long time. He’d put up with the stress, the bullshit, the ugliness of the work itself. He’d been tempted before. He could have fallen off on the wrong side. It happened. He could have seen his chance at the good life he had always talked about and seized it.
So why would he follow Gabriella Starr?
Gabriella Starr. Cam rolled the name on his tongue. She’d thrown away her lunch and kept her chocolate chip cookies. She’d charged after Pete Darrow. She wore a funky little pin of some flower on her lapel. She’d shared her cookies with him.
Maybe Gabriella Starr wasn’t as brass-tacks as she seemed.
A shadow fell over him, and Pete Darrow dropped onto the bench. “Follow me again, Yeager, and I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp. I swear I will.”
“Hello to you too.”
Darrow’s dark eyes zeroed in on his ex-partner. “I’m only giving you one warning.”
Cam settled back against the bench, drawing his right foot up onto his left knee. He wasn’t afraid of Pete Darrow. Never had been, never would be. “What did you do, duck into the bookstore, give Gabriella Starr the slip? She’s quite the pepperpot, you know. She’d have nailed your hide to one of these trees if she’d caught up with you. Tried, anyway. I don’t think much deters her from trying. Even you.”
“Mind your own goddamned business, Yeager.”
“Not my style. First I became a cop, now I’m a lawyer. Minding other people’s business is just a function of my personality.”
Darrow glared at him, fuming in silence. Cam had felt the sting of his ex-partner’s temper before. Darrow was taller, maybe as strong and as tenacious, definitely more unpredictable. He hated being crossed. He hated finding out Cam was with him, never mind a step ahead. They’d known each other for ten years. For three years, they’d had a difficult, enduring partnership based on a trust and loyalty that sometimes defied logic. The trust came from an understanding, if not an acceptance, of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The loyalty was just there, inexplicable.
But both had been frayed in the past few months. To Pete Darrow, born and raised in a tough Dorchester neighborhood, Cam Yeager was a trust-fund cop who’d had to prove his commitment to police work. When Cam had started taking law classes at night, Darrow had maintained his partner would never be able to tear himself away from the job. When Cam had gotten his degree, when he’d passed the bar, when he’d announced he was resigning to become a prosecutor, Darrow had taken it all as a personal betrayal. Cam had defected. He’d thumbed his nose at Darrow’s world, so much as told Pete Darrow he was inferior for being a cop, staying a cop. Nothing Cam said could convince him otherwise. Cam had used the job, had used his partner, and now he was out. Darrow refused to see it any other way.
A month later, however, he’d turned in his own badge. Pete Darrow, the cop’s cop. He was devoted to the job, unable to imagine another life. He needed the adrenaline, the action, the authority. He needed to know he was doing a job worth doing.
It didn’t make sense that he’d quit, not to Cam.
“I’m just doing my job,” Pete said.
“Gabriella Starr doesn’t know that.”
“Not my problem.”
Cam had the feeling it was now. Gabriella Starr had something of the foxhound about her. Put her on the scent and she’d stay at it until she dropped. “You trying to rattle her?”
Darrow jumped to his feet, just a twitch at the corner of one eye giving away the depth of his anger. “Stay the fuck out of my life, Yeager.”
“Pete Darrow tossing it in to look out for a couple rich real estate and development guys doesn’t make sense. Your work’s always been sacred ground, Pete. Why quit to play bodyguard?”
“I don’t have to explain anything to you.”
“Yeah, you do. Because until I understand—until I believe you’re not doing some dumb-assed thing designed to make you a hero or a fortune—I’m staying on your case.”
“Go fishing, Cam. Go play with your pals on Beacon Hill. I can run my own life.”
Cam didn’t relent. “Why follow Gabriella Starr? What’s she to the Reading brothers? You pick her out yourself, or did your bosses put you up to tailing her?”
Ignoring him, Pete Darrow started into the crowd.
“Pete, listen to me—”
Darrow turned, his eyes narrowed, his temper under tight rein. “I see you on my tail again, it won’t be pretty. I promise you, Yeager.”
Cam sighed. He knew his ex-partner well enough to believe he would do exactly as he promised. “If you need my help, you know where to find me.”
But Darrow had already melted into the crowd.
Cam got to his feet, feeling the fatigue come over him. This morning, following Darrow had seemed like a good idea. Now he wasn’t so sure. He’d alerted Darrow that his ex-partner was on his case, and he’d alerted a dark-haired, dark-eyed Gabriella Starr that her employers had hired the man who was following her.
He bit back a curse, pushing his way through the crowd. Hell, he thought, maybe she was the one who’d tried to kidnap Joshua Reading. Maybe she knew who had. Maybe she was his weapons supplier. For all Cam knew, she could have had half a dozen grenades tucked inside her navy suit, and in following her, Pete Darrow was just doing his job.
But Cam didn’t believe it.
He had the feeling that before too long, Gabriella Starr was going to be glad she had his name and address on her cookie bag.
Gabriella barely noticed the tulips coming into bloom in the Boston Public Garden, the buds on the trees, the smell of grass. She’d decided to walk home. It wasn’t a short walk from the waterfront offices of TJR Associates to her Back Bay apartment, but she’d changed into running shoes and taken her time, hoping the exercise would calm her nerves and help her think.
She hadn’t confronted Joshua or Titus Reading about Pete Darrow and why he was following her. Instead she’d asked subtle questions, gathering more information. Yes, Pete Darrow was an ex-cop hired to analyze and improve the Reading brothers’ personal security following the attack on Joshua. Hiring him had been Joshua’s idea and his doing, with Titus going along reluctantly. He understood his younger brother was spooked. Three masked thugs had run him off the road, bound him, gagged him, and vowed to ransom him for a fortune before a passing patrol car had scared them off. The police had turned up no leads—not even a strand of hair—that pointed to the identity of the would-be kidnappers. If Joshua wanted to lure a detective off the police force, who was his older brother to stop him?
Gabriella groaned at her own confusion. Nothing she’d learned explained why Pete Darrow had chosen her to follow. Was he checking out everyone in the company? Was he just being thorough?
Of course, no one else at TJR Associates had her past.
She crossed Arlington Street in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and walked down to Marlborough, arguably the prettiest street in Back Bay, a section of the city built on landfill, part of the huge expansion of Boston during the nineteenth century. The streets of Back Bay were wider and straighter than those of much-older Beacon Hill, the architecture and landscaping on a larger, grander scale. Gabriella’s building was a former single-family townhouse of gray stone, with Victorian overtones. It had a tiny front yard fenced in with ornate wrought iron, its front stoop flanked with huge old rhododendrons, not yet in bloom. Gabriella considered herself fortunate to have found such a perfect location, to be able to afford her fourth-floor condominium with roof rights. She liked her life in Boston. She didn’t need to be looking over her shoulder for a couple of ex-detectives.
She still had the cookie bag with Cam Yeager’s phone number and address in her leather tote.
She slowed. Two people were standing on the front stoop. An old man and a honey-haired woman.
Gabriella held her breath.
Scag and Lizzie. Tony Scagliotti and Lizzie Fairfax. Her father and her best friend. She hadn’t seen either of them in a year. That they’d pick today of all days to show up was somehow inevitable. And undoubtedly, Gabriella thought, not good news.