March 26, 2019

Off the Grid (To Catch a Thief Book 3) - Third Chapter Reveal!

Happy #TeaserTuesday!

Off the Grid goes on sale in just TWO weeks, which means it's time to reveal exactly how the first meeting between our hero and heroine goes! Spoiler (for my fellow housewives fans)...


I adore hate-to-love, enemies-to-lovers, misunderstanding sort of romances, and McKenzie and Leo definitely fall into this category. I hope you enjoy their "meet-ugly" :)

PS: You can read the first chapter here if you missed it! Or the second chapter here!

And if you're counting down the days until April 8th (like me!), don't forget to pre-order your copy! The ebook is available on Amazon!



- 3 -


Leo stared at the closed door with his mouth agape. When she’d first opened it, he’d been struck dumb by her sheer beauty. Reading stats on a screen—blonde, five-foot-nine, blue eyes, slim—and seeing them in person were two very different things. Her features were striking, and they’d slapped him good. But the second she opened her mouth, that smooth skin gained sharp edges, and now he suffered from a very different problem—verbal whiplash. It wasn’t that he was used to having women fall at his feet—okay, it was partially that he was used to having women fall at his feet—but the abrupt dismissal stung.
It’s the jeans, he reasoned as he lifted his arm to knock again. Normally when he was on the job, he wore a suit, which automatically gave him an air of authority. The plain clothes were working against him. Leo straightened his shoulders and plastered a suave smile across his lips before he gently rapped his knuckles against the wood a second time.
“Miss Harper, please open the door. My name is—”
“I’m sorry,” she cut him off. “I’m not interested.”
He ground his teeth. Leo wasn’t used to people getting under his skin. He knew how to keep his cool. He was the smooth, good cop to Nate’s grumpy stickler. Be charming. You catch more bees with honey. Don’t get annoyed.
“My name is Leo Alvarez.” He finished his previous thought, making his voice a touch louder. “I’m a special agent with the FBI, and I was sent here for your protection.”
Let’s see what you think of that. He stared at the door, expectant.
Oh, come on! he grumbled silently. This girl was something else.
Leo glanced around the hall, taking note of the marble trim around the doorways, the smooth tile along the floor, the gilded sconces. There’d been a doorman, this was the Upper East Side, and Central Park was less than a football field away. This was a posh building, in a posh neighborhood, with a posh occupant. If there was one thing he’d learned about rich people in his limited time spent with them, it was that they didn’t have time for anyone deemed lesser. Right now, to her, he had the sense he was just an unnamed Hispanic guy in a hallway where he didn’t belong. Out of place and unworthy. The very thought made his blood boil.
Typical. Fucking typical.
Leo pounded—ahem, knocked—on the door again.
I could be on my way to Hawaii right now. I could be getting drunk for the first time in months with my free business-class booze. I could be tearing up to a sappy drama in the privacy of my overly large, expensive seat with my team none the wiser. I could be—
“If you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.”
I am the cops, he wanted to snarl, but he took a deep breath and pulled out his badge instead, then held it up to the peephole indignantly. “There are half a dozen NYPD in the foyer of the building. I’m sure one of them would be happy to assist you.”
The door swung open.
That crystalline gaze flicked from his face, to the badge in his hand, back to his face. Her lips pursed and she closed the door behind her, presenting him with her back as she clicked the lock into place. She jiggled the knob three times, as though out of a force of habit, before brushing by him on her way toward the elevator.
“Miss Harper,” he said again, tone a little sharper than intended.
“You have the wrong person.”
“Are you McKenzie Harper?”
She continued marching down the hall. The rubber soles of her loafers squeaked against the tile floor. The gold bands around her wrist jingled with each step. Her lips, however, were silent.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said and chased after, not used to so much hostility from someone he was trying to protect. A suspect, sure, they gave attitude for days. But everyone else usually treated the Feds with awe and respect. With a little common freaking decency.
Not McKenzie Harper.
She lifted her hand with the elegance of a ballet dancer and pressed the button down. Then, and only then, did she finally grace him with her attention and release a heavy sigh. “Is this about my father?”
“What?” The word blurted out before Leo could stop it. Her father? What does he have to do with anything? He made a mental note to look into that later, but cleared the question from his mind. “No. As I was trying to explain before, my name is Agent Leo Alvarez and I work in the Organized Crime Division of the FBI. We have reason to believe you’ve become a person of interest to some very dangerous people, and I’ve been assigned to your protection for the next few days, until the threat has passed.”
She blinked twice, expression still as stone, and then shook her head curtly. “No, I’m sorry. You must have the wrong person.”
Leo sighed, but the sound was covered as the elevator dinged. She stepped on, then turned, extending her hand. For a moment, Leo thought her tune had changed a bit and that maybe, just maybe, she was going to hold the door for him. But no, her fingers turned to the side and pressed a button he couldn’t see five times in quick succession. The elevator door started sliding closed.
For God’s sake, he silently growled and jumped forward, catching the metal as it passed the halfway mark. He forced his way inside. McKenzie lifted her hand to her shoulder and clutched her purse strap, using her elbow to clamp the leather bag against her side. Leo had seen the move plenty of times before. Relax, lady. I’m not going to rob you.
She kept her eyes glued to the little screen above the door as the fingers of her other hand went to her bracelets and rubbed them in a way that seemed habitual. Her lips moved. It took him a moment to realized she was quietly murmuring the floor numbers as they made their descent.
“Miss Harper,” Leo said again, softening his tone, trying a new tactic. “I know this must be a lot for you to take in. You must be overwhelmed—I know I would be. But you are the person I’m looking for, and you need to listen to me. Do you know a woman by the name Jolene Carter?”
McKenzie’s head turned sharply and her acute gaze latched onto his, alight for the first time with a flicker of interest. “Jo?”
“Jo, whom I believe you know only as an at-home baker, is in reality an internationally renowned hacker and art thief—”
“Wait—Jo?” McKenzie interrupted.
“My Jo?”
“Your Jo.”
“Is a…criminal?”
Was,” Leo corrected. “She’s reformed. Two weeks ago she handed herself over to the FBI in exchange for an immunity deal, and she’s been helping us ever since. Are you aware of the situation that’s been in the news recently? The mafia roundups? And a man named Thaddeus Ryder who is on the run from police?”
“I…” She trailed off, blinking slowly, then shook her head. “I watch the news every morning after I run. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but Jo? She bakes cookies. And she’s a slob. And she was talking to me about code browns an hour and a half ago. There’s no way your Jo is my Jo. I’m sorry, there’s just not.”
“They’re the same person,” Leo cut in, ignoring that code-brown comment—because, what? Finally, this stubborn woman was having a normal reaction, one he knew how to handle with a relentless assault of facts, until denial was no longer possible. Sparing a second, he glanced up. They were four floors from the lobby.
“Jo was partners with Thad Ryder, and when she turned herself in, he went on the lam. The Feds are looking for him, but so is the Russian mob, because if we catch him first and manage to talk him into a deal, Ryder will provide invaluable eyewitness testimony we can use against the mafia in court. Which is what brings me here, to you. Roughly an hour and a half ago, Jo informed the bureau that someone had been hacking into her private files. We believe it was the Russians, looking for communication between Jo and Ryder. Instead, they found her communications with you and your other friend, Addison. We believe they suspected that Ryder was planning to use you or your friend as a way to get to Jo, and they wanted to cut him off at the source. Local police in Riverbend, South Carolina, received a call early this morning, a missing person’s report, filed on behalf of your friend Addison. No one has seen her since eight o’clock last night, and the bakery where she worked has been ransacked. At this point in time, it’s unknown if she was taken by Ryder or by the Russians, but we have reason to believe someone may be coming for you next.”
The elevator dinged and the door slid open.
McKenzie jolted and jerked her head to the side, darting her gaze toward the cops waiting idly in the lobby. Leo was impressed by her awareness. He recognized the look in her eyes—it was the same one he’d seen on any number of the agents he’d worked with over the years. She was in shock, and yet, her mind was shrewd, calmly assessing the situation, cataloguing every detail of what she saw.
Leo didn’t like it.
He didn’t like it at all.
Hysteria was much easier to deal with, as surprising as that might sound. When a person was falling apart, all they wanted was someone who could hold them together. Leo knew how to deal with that. How to wrap his arm around a victim and subtly guide them to a patrol car. How to hand them a glass of water and get them to open up. How to become their savior. People who could compartmentalize were difficult. They didn’t automatically listen. Instead, for better or worse, they questioned.
Worse, he thought with a sigh. Definitely worse.
“I believe it’s in your best interest to please come with us.” Leo tried to pounce before all her mental capabilities returned, but the second he spoke, he already knew it was too late. Those icy eyes turned toward him, cool and calculating. He pressed on. “We’d like to escort you to a safe location—a hotel room we have secured for the next few days. The bureau will pay for all of your expenses, room service included.” That wasn’t exactly true. Nate was the one who would be hefting the bill, at least until he got formal approval from the boss, but she didn’t need to know that. “Think of it as a vacation.”
The word stung rolling through his lips. A vacation. Black sand beaches and crashing waves flashed before his eyes as he blinked—there and gone, exactly like his moment of victory.
“I can’t,” McKenzie said, turning toward the front door of her building and hastily stepping away. “Thank you very much for your concern, but I’ll be fine. I don’t have time to be kidnapped today. I don’t have time for a vacation. I don’t have time, period. I have to go.”
“That’s not really how this works.” Leo chased after her, shaking his head. “They’re not going to call you to pencil in a time for your abduction. They’ll just grab you.”
“Again, thank you for the offer, but I have the most important presentation of my life in a few hours, and I can’t waste another minute talking to you.” She had a way of making the words thank you sound more like F-U as they passed through her lips. Leo rolled his eyes. Frigging New Yorkers. “I’m sure this is all just a big mistake. Goodbye.”
Good Lord, this woman was exasperating, and she’d almost reached the door.
That’s it, Leo thought, no more Mr. Nice Cop. This is for your own good. He reached out and grabbed her hand, stopping her where she stood. “I’m sorry, Miss Harper, but it wasn’t a request. You’re coming with me.”
She froze, going still in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, as though she were a predator hiding in the bush one second before launching into attack.
He winced. I shouldn’t have grabbed her.
“Excuse me?”
Leo dropped her arm in the same second she yanked it free. He gulped as she turned to glance over her shoulder. Death himself would have had a less menacing stare.
“Am I being arrested?”
“Am I being detained?”
His shoulders writhed. “No, but—”
“Then, like I said, thank you, but no thank you.”
Leo glanced around, quickly making eye contact with some of the NYPD watching this interaction go down, hoping someone might step in. They were the best cops in the world, but they stayed quiet. Because he was in their jurisdiction, stepping on their toes in their turf where he didn’t belong. He was a Fed, and the Feds never got very warm welcomes from the local authorities. Before he could think of anything to say, McKenzie shoved the front door of her building open and strode out onto the busy street.
Thanks, guys.
He ran after her.
“Miss Harper!”
She didn’t slow.
“Miss Harper!”
She disappeared around the bend.
Not even a pause.
Goddamn, she’s fast.
Leo kept his eyes glued on her platinum-blonde bun as he chased her across Eighty-Sixth Street and down a set of stairs to the underground subway platform. Clearly a native, McKenzie didn’t miss a beat as she scanned her MetroCard and slid through the turnstile, never glancing back. The screech of a slowing train echoed across the cavernous tunnel, loud enough to make Leo wince as he ran thigh-first into the locked turnstile, no card in hand. He cursed—at his luck and at the bruise he’d no doubt have later.
The first car slid into view.
McKenzie took a step forward.
Leo put his palm on top of the scanner, shifting his weight. Now or never.
He jumped, vaulting over the bars and onto the platform as the doors to the train rolled open. McKenzie followed the herd inside and turned, eyes widening in surprise as she made eye contact with him.
“Not so fast,” a deep voice growled and a hand clamped around his forearm, jerking him painfully back. Cold steel circled his wrist, then cinched into place with a resounding clink. “I saw you jump.”
Now, this is a first. Leo sighed. He hadn’t seen the cop standing watch on the platform. His gaze had been too locked on the target, but it wasn’t his fault. He was used to working as a pair, and Nate usually handled the surroundings.
“Let me go. I’m a Fed.”
“Oh, like I haven’t heard that one before.”
“No.” Leo used his other hand to grab his badge and shoved it into the cop’s face indignantly. Three times in one day—that’s got to be a record or something. First the flight attendant. Then McKenzie. Now this. I’m never going out in casual clothes again. I’ll sleep in my damn suits if I have to. “I really am a Fed, and I have to get on that train.”
The cop’s jaw dropped and he let go.
Leo turned.
But it was too late. The doors slid closed. McKenzie lifted her palm, offering a small wave as the train lurched into motion and sped away.


Thanks for reading!

The fourth chapter will be posted next week, so stay tuned :) There's a lot more going on in McKenzie's head than she lets Leo see, so don't be fooled by her tough exterior the way he was...

For now, you can check out Off the Grid on Amazon for more info!

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