April 1, 2019

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

Happy #TeaserTuesday!

Off the Grid goes on sale in ONE WEEK!! Ah! This is not a drill people!

For the past few weeks, I've been slowly revealing the first few chapters of the book :) You can read chapter one here, chapter two here, and chapter three here. Today, we're closing out our chapter teasers with one last reveal!

Leo is fooled by McKenzie's seemingly tough exterior during their meet-ugly in chapter three, but I hope you weren't! There's a lot more going on inside her head than she lets on, and the fourth chapter dives into her backstory, explaining why she has such a hard time when she sees Leo standing outside her door...

💚Hope you enjoy! 💚

PS: 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!

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- 4 -

McKenzie

The last thing McKenzie saw before the platform disappeared from sight was the fiery glare burning to life in the agent’s eyes. She dropped her hand with a sigh.
That wave might have been a mistake…
A spark of guilt flickered in her gut. The agent had seemed like a nice enough guy, and he was clearly trying to do what he believed was best. It wasn’t his fault he’d been misinformed. Jo and Addy—McKenzie’s Jo and Addy—were fine. She’d spoken to them this morning. No one was kidnapped last night. No one was a criminal. They’d been their normal bubbly and entertaining selves, discussing code browns and chocolate ganache without a lick of stress in sight. Even the cops made mistakes, and McKenzie knew that better than most. Any other day maybe she would’ve tried to explain her apprehension, but not today. Her schedule was too tight. There was no time to waste, especially not for a Fed.
At least, that was what she told herself. But as McKenzie continued to stare into the impenetrable black on the other side of the train window, a memory seeped through the cracks, oozing to the forefront of her thoughts—the real reason she’d simply had to get away. She could blame work as much as she wanted, and it was probably mostly true, but there was something lurking beneath all that ambition. The agent had no way of knowing what his sudden appearance at her front door would unlock, but the little bit of guilt she might have otherwise felt was quickly smothered by the weight of her past.
“McKenzie, honey, would you get that?” her mother called from the dining room, where she sat with two other ladies discussing their upcoming charity auction.
Her father was upstairs in his study, but McKenzie was by the front door, in the middle of untying her cleats. Her mother hated when she dragged mud through the house, so she always sat on the cold stone floor of the foyer the second she got back from soccer practice to tug them off. She stood, one foot bare and the other in a half-undone cleat, and yanked open the door.
Two men in suits stood on the other side, tall and imposing.
She’d never seen them before.
“Is your father home?” one asked. His voice was deep and kind, but overly so, with the subtle hint of suggestion. No one recognized fake in another person’s tone better than a middle school girl.
McKenzie crossed her arms. “Why?”
The men shared a look. “We need to speak with him.”
“Who’s there, honey?” her mother called, a strain of annoyance in her tone. She hated to be interrupted when she had guests—there was nothing more important than maintaining her mirage of perfection.
“Two men,” McKenzie shouted back.
“Mrs. Harper?” The man who’d been talking loudened his voice. “Are you home? Could you please come to the door? We need to speak with your husband.”
“Excuse me,” her mother murmured to her friends. The words were faint, but McKenzie heard the fear laced through them. She turned in time to see her mother freeze as she stepped around the door. Her face fell. A sudden dread raced through McKenzie’s nerves, tying them into a bundle of knots.
“Mom?”
“Go upstairs,” her mother ordered, voice dark. She kept her eyes on the men.
“Mom?”
“Upstairs, now!” That time her tone was shrill. “Yolanda, take McKenzie to her room, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” her nanny answered, appearing out of nowhere. “Come, mija.”
A loving hand pressed against the small of her back, guiding her up the stairs as her mother shouted, “Charles!”
McKenzie reached her bedroom door, but before she followed Yolanda inside, she heard her father’s study door open. The look in his eyes froze the air in her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. He lifted the corner of his lip, seemingly calm, but McKenzie knew exactly what it was—the face of a man trying and failing to be brave.
Her father walked closer and knelt before her, then put his finger beneath her chin. “It’ll be okay, Mac. I promise.”
Then he hastened downstairs. McKenzie watched him, ignoring Yolanda’s attempts to guide her into her room until her father disappeared from view. She spun toward her nanny the instant he was gone.
“Yoyo, what’s going on?”
“It’s okay, mija,” her nanny whispered, using a soothing voice as she guided her into her room.
McKenzie raced for the bay window on the far side of her room, then dropped to the cushions and pressed her nose to the glass. She had a perfect view of the front yard. Two black cars she didn’t recognize were parked in the circular drive. On the street, there were three more cars, but they had a word she recognized written on the side—police.
Muffled voices traveled up the stairs like thunder, growing louder, quicker, an oncoming storm. Suddenly, the two men appeared below her window. Her father stood between them, his head hanging low and his wrists bound by gleaming metal. Before McKenzie could process, they shoved him into the car. Her mother ran out, screaming and yelling, chasing after the cars as they slid undeterred down the drive. McKenzie didn’t move until two arms came around her, pulling her into a warm chest.
Estara bien,” Yolanda murmured, holding her close and running a soothing hand through her hair. “Estara bien.”
It was only then she realized she was crying.
The Feds came back a few more times after that. Once to ransack the house. Once to drop her father off on bail. Once to drag him off to jail. The experience had given McKenzie a knee-jerk reaction to police officers showing up at her front door—hide.
Don’t think about that.
Not today.
Bright lights pierced her eyes, painful. McKenzie blinked, clearing her vision and her mind. They’d arrived at the next platform just in time. She gripped a pole to keep her balance as the train slowed, a gut reaction after living in this city for so long. As soon as the doors opened, she strode off. Usually, she waited until the next stop to get off, but she needed to get out of these tunnels. She needed to move. She needed the distraction.
Think about your menu.
Think about your plan.
As McKenzie shuffled with the masses, her focus returned to her food, her one constant. She reviewed the numbers—each perfect measurement, each precise minute—finding solace in their consistency. Baking, at least, would never fail her.
When she finally yanked open the door to the restaurant and stepped into the kitchen, McKenzie was ready. First things first, she pulled out her chef coat, shrugged it on, and double-checked the bun on top of her head to make sure it was still tight. Loose hairs were the death of any great dish. Then she pulled her recipes from her bag—all handwritten and color-coded by time. She had them memorized by now, but it was helpful to have the pages set out along the prep table just in case. Many of the steps had been crossed out—she’d made nearly all the decorations and doughs earlier in the week—but there was still plenty left to do.
McKenzie folded her fingers together and stretched her arms high overhead, taking a deep breath.
You can do this.
You will kill this.
These desserts are your—
The door to the kitchen swung open.
“You’re early,” McKenzie groaned, trying and failing to stifle her sigh. How many times had she asked the line chefs to give her a few hours alone to prep? “I’m supposed to have the kitchen to myself until— Oh. It’s you.”
The federal agent she’d ditched in the subway leaned against the wall with his arms folded and a single dark eyebrow raised. “It’s me.”
McKenzie frowned. “What are you doing here? Who let you in?”
“Someone who respects authority.”
Must’ve been one of the waiters. McKenzie shrugged and returned her gaze to her papers. “I thought I made myself abundantly clear before. Thank you, but no thank you.”
“So did I,” he said. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him use his foot to push off the wall. When he reached the prep area, he put his palms against the table and leaned forward, gaze so piercing McKenzie couldn’t help but look up. “When I make a promise to protect someone, I honor it. So, I’m here. And I’ll be here. Whether you want me to be or not.”
The golden highlights in his eyes flared with unspoken challenge. McKenzie was more than happy to oblige. This was her kitchen, her safe place, and she wouldn’t be intimidated here. He didn’t seem more than an inch or two taller than her, so she put her hands on the table and leaned in, meeting him at eye level. “Some people might call that harassment.”
The muscles in his arms flexed, drawing her attention. His bronze skin was contoured and hard in all the right places. “Some people might call it admirable.”
“Some people understand how to take a hint.”
“Some people understand how to show some gratitude.”
“For what?” She scoffed. “Barging into my place of work and promising to stalk me?”
“No,” he clapped back, shaking his head. “For sacrificing my time and energy in order to keep you safe.”
“I’m not in danger!”
“Yes. You are.”
Somehow, their faces had moved closer, a little too close. McKenzie could feel the warm brush of his breath on her skin. The muscles in his square jaw were clenched. A layer of scruff covered his cheeks. His hair swept over his eyes, steeping them in shadow, so only the barest hint of glittering green was visible. She felt that stare in every part of her, as though it were a physical caress. The heat in the kitchen spiked, even though she hadn’t had a chance to turn the ovens on yet.
The ovens!
Crap!
McKenzie tore her gaze away, finding the clock on the wall. She was ten minutes behind. She needed to preheat all the ovens, and she needed to start baking, dammit! With a sigh, she slumped her shoulders and relented, if only for the sake of her rapidly disintegrating schedule.
“Fine,” she murmured, using her palms to push back off the table and break away from this Fed who had seemingly made it his life mission to babysit her. “Fine, if you’re so hell-bent on protecting me, do it. I don’t care. But I am not leaving this kitchen and there’s nothing you can do to make me. So, go stand in the corner or something, and don’t under any circumstances get in my way. Got it?”
“Got it.” He stood and stepped back, one foot behind the other, holding her gaze the entire time, until his spine hit the wall. Then he held his hands to either side and arched his brows, as though asking if that was satisfactory.
McKenzie nodded and returned to her work.
Okay, time to croquembouche.
She had a hundred profiteroles that needed to be baked, filled with cream, and stacked into a dazzling tower all in under three and a half hours while she finished five other desserts.
“Excuse me,” the agent murmured, breaking her concentration yet again. McKenzie slowly slid her gaze across the room to meet his eyes. At least he had the courtesy to appear chagrinned. “It just occurred to me that I have no idea how long I’m going to be standing here. Do you by any chance have a chair?”
Without a word, she marched over to the closet, pulled out a folding chair, and handed it to him before returning to her spot at the prep table.
Okay, now—
“Oh,” he interrupted again. And again, McKenzie pulled her gaze across the room to meet his eyes. “Do you know the Wi-Fi password?”
She closed her eyes and held them like that for a moment as she took a breath. “Give me your phone.”
He did.
She typed in the password, handed it back, then resumed her spot at the table, hesitating for a second. He didn’t say anything, so she turned around to pull her raw profiteroles and cream from the fridge. The dough was cool but no longer frozen. She’d pop them into the oven as soon as the preheat was done. McKenzie squeezed the edge of the piping bag she’d filled yesterday night, forcing a dollop of cream onto her finger to taste. The consistency was nice, thick yet smooth. The chocolate and hazelnut came through nicely.
So far, so good.
When she turned back around, Agent Alvarez was out cold. The back of his head leaned against the wall, tilting to the side. His legs were outstretched and his ankles crossed. One hand held his cell phone flat against his chest, while the other had dropped from his lap to dangle over the floor, lifeless.
My knight in shining armor.
A smile came unbidden to her lips, and McKenzie shook her head ruefully. She didn’t look away, even though she knew she should. The cut angles of his face were softer in sleep. His lips weren’t pursed, but plump and slightly opened. His chest rose and fell with deep, peaceful breaths. Her walls lowered, just an inch, as she watched him sleep so soundly, seemingly exhausted by her, or maybe by this city—it had a way of eating people alive.
Just as she was on the verge of finding him somewhat endearing, an offensive snarl erupted from his lips, like a dying lion roaring in its sleep.
What the hell?
McKenzie flinched back. The sound came again, a gravelly engine sputtering and rasping as it hung on for dear life.
You have got to be kidding me. That’s not a snore. That’s—that’s a crime against humanity. My humanity.
The agent didn’t seem to care. He snored again, louder this time.
Oh, for the love of God, McKenzie silently growled as she marched across the room and grabbed her bag. She stuffed her earbuds in, then turned her music on. Another snore pierced the air, muffled this time, but there. She slid the volume up to ten and returned to the prep table. No more, and I mean no more, distractions.


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Thanks for reading!

Off the Grid goes on sale in only one week, so this is the final teaser! If you want to find out how McKenzie and Leo's love story unfolds, I hope you'll pre-order a copy :)



1 comment:

  1. Just an fyi for you next time just put them in the oven! I dont fry anything anymore everything that is supposed to be fried gets baked and I actually like it better and its so much healthier for you...Just thought I would share that tip with you.....
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