December 18, 2018

Stolen Goods - Third Chapter Reveal!

Happy #TeaserTuesday!!

If you've been following along with the December chapter reveals of Stolen Goods, you've hopefully already read the first and second chapters! If not, just click here to get started :) 

Today, we're revealing the third chapter...which means, it's meet-cute time!! Woohoo! Take a look at Thad's POV as he lays eyes on Addison for the first time. Trust me, their adventure and love story is only just beginning... 

If you're counting down the days until January 7th (like me!), don't forget to pre-order your copy :) The ebook is available on Amazon!

Without further ado, keep reading!

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FYI - The final manuscript is currently being proofread, so there may be some grammatical errors! Sorry in advance!

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- 3 -

Thad


Thad stood in the shadows, watching her through the shop windows. But not in a creepy way, more in a, well…okay—in a creepy way. He had, after all, been stalking the poor girl for two days. But it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. @Sprinkle-Ella was one of Jo’s online baking friends, which meant she was one of the few ways he could possibly contact his partner without the Feds or the mob taking note. Talking to Jo was of the utmost importance, and finally his mark was alone, approachable, his moment ripe for the taking.
Yet, Thad found himself hesitating.
Because, well, she seemed so damned sweet he couldn’t stand it, with her pink shoes, all the polka dots, and that bright headband holding back her voluminous black hair. For the past two days, he’d watched her bop around the bakery as though an invisible soundtrack were constantly playing in the background of her life, adding a jaunt to her steps that seemed like something out of a musical. Her smile never disappeared—it was always plastered to her lips. Even now, as she worked with her lips pressed together in concentration, the ends still perked in a grin. Every morning on her way to work, she waved to each person she walked by, prepared with a cheerful hello. Every evening, she settled onto her couch with a meal for one, a perfectly folded napkin resting on her lap and a laugh stirring on her lips from whatever was playing on the TV. The girl oozed positivity in a way Thad found unnerving, and he couldn’t bring himself to burst the bubble she’d built—not yet, anyway. He waited and watched, hesitant to step forward and destroy yet another innocent life thrown into his path.
But he was running out of time.
Two weeks had passed since his escape from the Russians, and in that time, his entire world had exploded—literally. After he’d managed to evade the Russians in Brooklyn, Thad hijacked a small yacht from a nearby marina and went completely off the grid for a few days, trying to get as far south along the coast as possible. By the time he returned to the mainland, everything had changed. Sitting in a cheap motel in Virginia, paid for with the cash he always kept on hand in case of emergencies, Thad watched his entire life flash across the television screen. Every channel told the same breaking news: A bombing in the Bahamas. Murder on the high seas. Famed art thief Robert Carter finally meets his end. FBI makes arrests in one of the biggest mob roundups in history. Etcetera. Etcetera.
The Russians had blown up the island compound Thad had once called home, killing Robert and nearly killing Jo in the process. She’d given one interview—short and succinct, saying she was prepared to cooperate fully with the authorities, anything to bring these evil men to justice. Thad had watched it on repeat about a dozen times, just to convince himself she was alive and unharmed. That it wasn’t some trick. Jo had survived, and Thad hadn’t missed the Fed standing behind her while she spoke, eyes sharp and protective—Agent Parker. The hero to Thad’s villain. At least that’s what all the news anchors were labeling him as while they flashed photos of him across the screen. Thad was a thief working for the mafia, a bad man who needed to be caught, a criminal on the Most Wanted list, and there was nothing Americans liked more than a manhunt.
Thad had been in hiding ever since—from the mob, from the Feds, from the entire country. His picture was no doubt posted at every police station. Lord knew it flashed every night on the evening news. A tabloid story popped up—“From budding artist to wanted felon: the true story of Thaddeus Ryder”—with some grainy photo from college slapped across the front page. The freaking article had dredged up every sad, pathetic moment from his childhood—abandoned by his mother, son of a felon born into the life of crime, a boy with a bright future but a past he couldn’t escape. Total bull. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the sheer amount of fame seekers oozing through the woodwork, searching for their fifteen minutes while the news story was still hot. Ex-girlfriends. Guys he’d gone to school with. Teachers. Coaches. As though they’d known him well enough to have any sort of authority on his life. The only person in the world who knew the real Thad was Jo, and he needed to talk to her before he vanished off the face of the earth.
As he floated aimlessly across the Atlantic Ocean, letting the tide be his guide, Thad had a realization—he didn’t need to die. He needed to disappear. The Russians wanted one thing, to ensure Thad would never bear witness to their crimes in a court of law. That could be accomplished with a bullet to the head, true. But it could also be accomplished by his slipping south of the border and disappearing forever. The Degas still neatly tucked into its art tube would provide enough dough he’d never have to steal another thing again. Thad could retire from this life he’d never wanted. He could get a bungalow by the beach in Brazil, sit and watch the ocean every day, and paint to his heart’s content. A simple life, maybe, but that was all he’d ever wanted. A pallet. A brush. An empty canvas. The world at his disposal. What more could he ask for? Nothing. This little dream was already more than he deserved.
But he couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to Jo. Without knowing she would be okay. Without apologizing for the mess he’d brought her into.
And he needed to act fast.
Every day, more people did a double take as he walked by. Every day, the story gained more attention as he continued to evade capture. Every day, the dream slipped farther and farther out of reach. The disguises would only last so long. His cash reserve was already running low. He needed to talk to Jo, and that disconcertingly cheerful girl on the other side of the window was his last shot.
But he had to play it just right.
If he walked over with his baseball cap pulled low and his jacket collar popped, she might freak out and call the police. If he showed his real face, she might recognize him immediately and sound an alarm. He’d have to be smooth. Charming. Stick a hundred-watt smile on his face and beguile her with his dimples. Hell, they’d pulled him out of more than one sticky situation. But even if the initial greeting went okay—what then?
Hello, my name is Thad. Your friend Jo? Yeah, well, I need to talk to her and I can’t tell you why or what about, but I’m going to need you to trust me, a complete stranger, when I say it’s a matter of life or death. My life or death. Okay?
Cheerful or not, the smile would vanish in a second, and a scream would likely follow. Nah, he’d have to come up with some cover story. His car broke down. He was lost. His phone died. Could he borrow hers to make a call? Would she mind if he looked up directions to his hotel? Once he had access to her phone, he could open her messenger app and reach Jo—a smile on his face as he lied through his teeth. The FBI would never notice the conversation, and he’d lost the Russians two weeks ago. If he played his cards right, both he and this innocent girl would walk away unscathed.
Actually, that just might work.
Thad pushed off the brick wall at his back and straightened his spine, bolstered by the thought of an actual plan. He refocused on the blazing beams shining through the bakery window, the only shop open at such a late hour in this small, sleepy town, and studied the girl.
Addison Abbot.
Her name sounded like something out of a nursery rhyme—which actually made sense from what he’d seen of her so far.
Focus.
In case the conversation went south, he needed a card on deck, something that would erase her suspicions, something to make her trust him. A shared interest usually did the trick with most people—nothing soothed worries like common ground. The second someone could see themselves in another person, distrust went away.
To his surprise, the answer came immediately. Through the window, Thad watched as Addison finished rolling out a sheet of white dough. An amazed smile spread across his face as she dropped food dye into bowls of water and studied a set of paintbrushes.
Art.
Everything in his life had always come down to art—it was poetic justice that his freedom should be no different. Painting, whether with oil on a canvas or dye on a cake, was something he could bullshit about for days. And upon seeing the first hint of frustration cross her lips as she jerkily spread strokes across the edible surface, Thad knew exactly what to do. Mysterious stranger showing up to ask for directions in the middle of the night? Some might say alarming. Others might say intriguing. It was too risky to chance. But mysterious handsome artist come to save the day? That was a winning hand he’d played many times before.
Game plan at the ready, Thad discarded his baseball cap and straightened his collar. Then went the glasses and the faux beard. He scuffed up his hair and wet his lips, bringing his most charming smile to his face as he strode across the street and into the light. Standing before the door, he took a deep, steadying breath and tapped his knuckles against the logo etched into the glass.
She didn’t hear.
Stifling a sigh, Thad tried again, a little more forceful this time but not enough to frighten.
Addison didn’t look up. Instead, she politely called, “Sorry. We’re closed.”
Even her rejections are cheerful, he remarked, doing his best to keep a frustrated curl from rising to his lips.
He knocked again. This time, her shoulders drooped and her entire body deflated with a sigh. She set the brush down, lifted her torso, turned her face in his direction—and froze.
Thad lifted the edge of his lip just so and waved once, fully aware of the effect he normally had on women. The summer he turned fifteen, he’d grown six inches and started lifting weights. By the time he was seventeen, after hours and hours of carefully studying his own reflection in the mirror, he’d figured out the optimal grin for seduction—a little cocky, a little unsure, and high enough to dig one small dimple into each cheek. At the time, he’d wanted nothing more than a date, but his father, a true con man, had shown him the value of an innocent smile that brought all sorts of wicked thoughts to a girl’s mind. Men in our line of work can’t afford modesty. Thad had taken his father’s lesson to heart. He knew every tool at his disposal, and he’d learned to wield them well.
Addison’s brows mushed together…and then shot up in shock. She jumped into action, straightening her spine as her eyes glanced everywhere but at him. Those sugar-coated hands smoothed out the wrinkles in her apron as she rushed to the door. A gulp tightened her throat. She tucked a wayward black curl behind her ear and chewed her bottom lip, gaze still on the floor beneath her feet as she reached for the lock. The latch clicked. Only then, as her petite, elegant fingers twisted around the knob, did she slowly raise her eyes to meet his. He stared into those two deep turquoise pools, but the remarkable color wasn’t what made him pause. It was the faith, the innocence, the joy shining within them that made his heart skip a beat.
“Can I help you?” she asked, somewhat breathless, the barest hint of wonder laced through her feminine southern drawl.
Thad blinked and refocused, deepening his grin as he lifted his hand to the frame and leaned in, not too close, but close enough to make her draw in a sharp breath.
Just like that, he knew he had her.
Hook.
Line.
And sinker.

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Thanks for reading!

Click here to read the fourth chapter... in which the meet cute becomes a meet ugly real quick ;)

Or check out Stolen Goods on Amazon for more info!

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