FBI Agent Thomas Bristol has wanted Cassi Nolan since he was a kid. Now Cassi is wanted by the law and he's tracking the little thief down. The former prom queen was always wild, even when she was befriending poor foster child Tommy. But he never thought she could turn this bad: swindling destitute old ladies out of thousands, jilting men after stealing their cash.
Cassi has changed--no doubt about it. So he can't let those guileless blue eyes trick him into letting her go. Even if she does profess her innocence...and her story is starting to make sense. He made vows to follow the law to the letter. And he won't let a word like love get in the way.
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March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from The Past Between Us by Kimberly Van Meter
Warm moisture trickled between the valley of her breasts, which were bound tightly by the purple sports bra she'd found at a little thrift store on Third. Her muscles were loose and slack from the workout, and she mentally congratulated herself for managing to convince a class of twenty upwardly mobile New York executive-types that she'd been teaching yoga for the past six years when in fact, she'd only just assumed this identity in the past month. She dabbed a thin towel at her hairline and slung it around her neck. This was by far the easiest identity she'd ever taken on and she actually liked being Trinity Moon, the earthy yoga instructor who believed in peace and love, vegan food and karma.
She really liked the karma part. If karma really worked, she enjoyed imagining that her stepfather was destined to be reincarnated as a dung beetle. Although, that was probably unfair to all the industrious dung beetles on the earth who were not nearly as odious as Lionel Vissher.
Unpleasant memories blotted out her previous feel-good, exercise-induced endorphins and she exhaled softly. Home was so far away, not so much geographically but definitely as a possibility; Lionel had made certain that Cassi could never go home as long as he was alive.
A bitter draft danced along her spine and she knew someone had just walked into the yoga studio from outside where the temperatures were hovering in the forties. Why did people always pop in for information when the class was clearly already finished? "Sorry but you missed the class. Schedule's on the door if you want to--"
The breath wilted in her lungs, threatening to wheeze out in a painful gasp if she wasn't careful. She turned slowly to face the man whose voice she hadn't heard for years yet remembered with a ferocity that shocked her.
"Nobody calls me that anymore," she said, her gaze sliding over him in a quick but wary appraisal. Time had been good to him. Not that he hadn't started out with an advantage in that department, but his boyish cuteness in high school had hardened into the kind of take-a-girl's-breath-away attractive that often found its way onto the movie screen. Tommy had that quality in spades.
Except Tommy Bristol had always hated the attention his good looks had brought his way and never would've tolerated fame well. Unlike Cassi, who had basked in any light that had shone her way. She blinked away the unexpected tears, unsure where they originated from but felt certain they could gain her no ground with the man assessing her as intently as she had assessed him.
"How'd you find me?" she asked. No one in her current circles knew her true name.
He shrugged, but a hard light entered his eyes that she didn't care for.
"Been a while..." She let the rest of her sentence trail.
"That it has," he agreed easily. "You've been busy."
She cut him a short glance. "A girl has to make a living."
"Not typically on the backs of others," he returned mildly.
Put that way, it sounded so sordid, so mean. She supposed to him it probably looked like that. A minor ache bloomed somewhere in her chest for the dry, dusty remains of whatever had once softened him toward her. Would it change things if he knew how her life had spiraled to the place she was mired in now? Likely not, given the cool chill coming from those ocean-blue eyes so like her own. In school, kids had snickered that they were probably related. She cocked her head and wondered what he saw when he looked at her. A thief? A liar? Perhaps both. But she was certain when he looked at her he didn't see a long-lost friend. Yes, there it was again, that ache, ghosting across her chest, squeezing painfully. Why did it have to be him? Anyone but him.
"Not everything is as it seems," she said, surprising herself at the effort. She shouldn't have wasted her time.
"And most of the time...it is," he countered.
"Not all of it is true," she murmured, glancing away so as not to see the derision in the cruel twist of his lips.
He sighed and the sound pulled her attention. He almost looked...regretful. But it was gone in one laborious heartbeat. "Cassi...you're under arrest. You had to know this was coming sooner or later."
She refused to answer. It was probably rhetorical, anyway. "And you're going to be the one to bring me in, huh?"
Keep thinking that, Tommy boy. He was blocking the front exit. She couldn't count on outrunning him to the back exit. Besides, the latch sometimes stuck and she figured if luck had been on her side, she wouldn't be facing down Thomas Bristol at that moment so she wasn't about to lean on luck for favors. That left one way out. Not the way she preferred, but there wasn't much she could do about that.
"What if I'm innocent?" she asked, testing the waters one last time.
"Then a court of law will decide that. Get your stuff. We have a hard night of driving ahead of us and I want to get moving."
She took in his stance, the way it seemed he might know her next move before she made it, and she knew no matter their history, he wasn't going to be swayed by the pull of old times.
This man was going to arrest her.
Trinity Moon--aka Cassandra Amelia Nolan-- still had the delicate features of a fallen angel, though where laughter and mischief had once lit up her face, shadows now lurked in her eyes. Eyes that had once captivated his soul and made his world spin out of control with wanting something so badly. It was hard to believe he was staring at the woman who had once been his friend, confidante and the secret love of his life until reality intruded and sent them running away from one another.
"Are you going to tell me how you found me or should I guess? As far as I know I didn't leave a trail of bread crumbs," she quipped, interrupting his thoughts.
"Wasn't easy. You're a slippery one," he said. He left out the part where he'd been tracking her movements for about two months. Just as he'd been getting ready to pounce, she'd gotten squirrelly and taken off again. She never used the same name twice but she left a path of troubled and perplexed victims who were lighter in the pocketbook for making her acquaintance. He still had a hard time believing the evidence but it was all there in black-and-white. His childhood friend had become the worst kind of thief--the kind who wormed her way into the warm, trusting bosom of strangers and then split with their hard-earned cash.
It was near unfathomable but plain despicable. And he was going to bring her in.
She must've read it in his eyes for she gestured. "Can I get a quick shower?" she asked. "It'll just take a minute. I promise."
The answer should've been a short and succinct no. It was no worry of his if he hauled her back to West Virginia stinking of sweat but it seemed a small thing she was asking. The room was warm even though the thermostat had been turned off for the night. He knew her routine by now. He knew her license was fake and that she'd likely never been to India in spite of her claims that she'd studied under some swami guru while traveling abroad to find her inner sense of peace. He had to hand it to her, for a girl who grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth, she'd become damn resourceful. In the two weeks since finding her, he'd lurked around the edges of her life, waiting for the right opportunity to bring her down.
There was no malice--he was just doing his job. Therefore, her request for a shower seemed a decent thing to grant. Perhaps in a slight nod to the time when she'd been his only friend in a world that had turned against him, he agreed.
And that was mistake number one.
Cassi smiled with lips gone cold and forced humble gratitude into her gaze for his small concession. She didn't recognize the hard man before her even though he wore the face of someone who had once been very dear to her. She knew he wore a gun under his jacket, that he carried a badge of some sort though she didn't know from what agency, and that he was going to haul her in on charges that she was certainly guilty of--if you went by the letter of the law--but could explain with complete sincerity if he'd but give her the chance.
Only, she knew there would be no chances to explain to this man. He was hard as granite and functioning as a robotic arm of the law.
So after she set the water temperature in the shower stall and made small appropriate shower noises, she quickly jerked a sweatshirt over her sweaty sports bra and slipped on her tennis shoes.
She climbed out the bathroom window to the fire escape and melted into the frigid night.
And if she felt a twinge of guilt for duping him, it was eclipsed by the knowledge that she was not cut out for prison life and not even Tommy Bristol was going to make her test that assumption.
Thomas swore something ugly when he entered the bathroom and found it empty. She'd given him the slip. Just like that. Smiled and disappeared like smoke on the wind. He should've seen it coming, but he hadn't. Was it necessary to log that in the report? That he'd been momentarily fogged by a sense of nostalgia and inadvertently let a wanted woman slip through his fingers like a rookie cop fresh out of the academy?
Hell, he wasn't even a cop. He was an FBI agent. And he should know better.
The fact was.he did know better. Cassi had always managed to turn the contents of his brain upside down until all the smarts just tumbled to the floor, useless. Apparently, not even the years between them had changed that.
No. He didn't think he'd include this first meeting in the report.
He knew where she was going. He'd just have to beat her there before she split again. Knowing her, she already had another destination in her mind, another identity to assume. She was becoming damn good at disappearing but he was damn good at finding those who didn't want to be found.
That was why her dossier had landed in his lap. At first, he'd been stunned stupid, staring down at the file in his hands, hardly hearing a word his supervisor was saying about the case. He caught bits and pieces, none of it good, and by the time he'd recovered from seeing Cassi staring back at him from a dated driver's license photo, he'd lost most of what had been said and had to follow up on his own so as not to let on that there was a definite conflict of interest for him on this one.
He should've given the file right back with the admission that they'd grown up together and he'd once harbored romantic feelings for her, but his lips sealed shut and the words died, trapped in his mouth. If anyone should bring Cassi in, shouldn't it be him? He'd make sure she was treated with respect and even if he couldn't help, perhaps having a familiar face might lessen the fear of being taken into custody.
Then he read her file and he'd been appalled, no, horrified at how much she'd changed since they saw each other last, more than a handful of years ago. Actually, it'd been their freshman year in separate colleges. She went off to Boston University while he was going to junior college with the hopes of transferring to a state school or university, but Cassi had never found education particularly alluring and never graduated. Instead, she fell into a party crowd that Thomas gave a wide berth. He had no use for overprivileged Yanks with inflated egos and ridiculous credit card limits.
It had never mattered much that they came from different worlds until then. Cassi started to change-- or maybe she would've said that he was the one who changed; it didn't really matter at this point--and hot, angry words had been said, mean enough to sever ties and fracture an enduring friendship. He hated to admit it but he'd never stopped nursing that particular wound, no matter how hard he tried.
And now the devious woman had just proven she didn't give a rip for anything they might've shared when they were young. So why the hell was he?
He gave the studio one final sweep just in case she'd doubled back, though he instinctively knew she wouldn't. But he wasn't about to make another rookie mistake. He left because he knew Cassi wasn't going to hang around this town much longer.
And one thing was for sure, he was ending this night with Cassi in custody.