March 19, 2019

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

Happy #TeaserTuesday!

To help ramp up the excitement for Off the Grid, I'll be revealing a new chapter on the blog every week leading up to on sale! YAY!

Last week, I revealed the first chapter, which is told in Leo's point of view. This week, you'll get your first glimpse of our leading lady, McKenzie! PS: The meet-cute-turned-ugly starts at the very end of this chapter :) These two definitely embody the idea that first impressions don't mean everything!

💚Hope you enjoy! 💚

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!

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- 2 -

McKenzie


McKenzie Harper woke up the same way she did every morning—to the beep of her 6 a.m. alarm. She didn’t press the snooze button. She didn’t grumble or groan. She simply reached over to her nightstand, pressed the off button, and sat up, ready to begin the day.
Though she’d been born in Connecticut, New York City was her soul mate—it never slowed, never stopped. It was always go, go, go. Yet there was an order to the chaos, meticulous planning that went on behind the scenes to make sure each detail ran smoothly. The trains worked on a strict schedule. The architecture followed a specific scheme. The natives moved to a set of unwritten rules. And McKenzie liked to think she was the same—structured, precise, and constantly moving forward. Which was why she always began her day the exact same way, like clockwork. First, she eased out from underneath her covers and slid her feet into the slippers waiting on the floor. Second, she made her bed and fluffed her pillows, using an old design trick her mother had taught her to give them extra volume. Third, she brushed her teeth, allocating twenty seconds for her top left molars, twenty for her front teeth, twenty for the top right molars, then repeating on the bottom. As a pastry chef, she could never be too careful. Fourth, she changed into her workout clothes and neatly folded her hair into a braided high ponytail. Fifth, she repositioned her slippers by her bed for that evening. And sixth, she ate breakfast before her daily five-mile circuit through Central Park. Since it was the beginning of summer and the sky was a beautiful clear blue, she stepped out onto her private balcony with her morning meal—overnight oats she’d prepped the day before and a single-serving carton of orange juice.
Her true one-bedroom apartment would be considered a luxury size and location to most New York City residents, but this little four-by-ten sliver of paradise with a table for one was her favorite part. Even at six fifteen, the streets were alive with beeping taxis and barking dogs, with bicyclists and early morning risers. The gentle rustle of leaves provided a subtle background and a reminder that Central Park was only one avenue west of her building. She took a deep breath, pulling the energy into her lungs and letting it linger as a smile rose to her lips. A lot of people came to New York to be discovered, but McKenzie didn’t mind staying hidden. In a smaller town, her isolation might’ve been suffocating, but not here. New York was too alive, too bustling, too vivacious. Here, she never truly felt alone.
Her phone vibrated against the wrought-iron tabletop.
McKenzie pulled her gaze from the street and glanced at the screen. Her grin widened as soon as she saw the message flashing across it, even as her brows scrunched together in confusion. Addy? At this hour?

@Sprinkle-Ella: HELP!!!

Addison was one side of what McKenzie liked to think of as her little baking trio, a threesome that was completed by their other friend, Jo. Addison was a cake designer in the south, and though her fixation on flowers, the color pink, and all things frilly made McKenzie roll her eyes on a somewhat daily basis, her heart was pure gold. And Jo, well, Jo was the entertainment. She was an at-home baker longing to turn her hobby into a profession, and though McKenzie was at the complete other end of the spectrum—a French-trained pastry chef with a bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America—Jo’s drive and enthusiasm were nothing if not admirable, and completely infectious.
They’d met about two years ago in an online forum for fans of a baking competition. Even though they only chatted online, McKenzie still thought of them as her best friends. In some ways, her only friends. The food industry in Manhattan, like every other industry in this city, was cutthroat. She regarded her coworkers as competition instead of as colleagues, and the backwards hours of working in the evenings instead of the mornings didn’t exactly make socializing outside of her job easy. She didn’t mind being alone though. McKenzie was fine by herself. She was used to it. An only child with two absent parents didn’t have the luxury of acknowledging loneliness.
Her phone vibrated again.
One more time. 
Whatever was going on, McKenzie was sure it could wait a few more seconds while she finished her oatmeal. Addy and Jo were both prone to dramatics, while she was more practical—she liked completing one task before moving on to the next. But her curiosity got the best of her, because McKenzie honestly couldn’t for the life of her remember the last time either of her friends had texted before noon. She liked to keep to her morning-run routine, Jo was perpetually sleeping in, and Addy never liked to text while she was at work. The afternoons and the evenings were usually their sweet spot.
Okay. What the hell is so important?
Putting her spoon down, she lifted her phone and opened the group chat.

@Sprinkle-Ella: Baking emergency!
@Sprinkle-Ella: This chocolate-obsessed bride is driving me crazy. She wants some sort of soufflé style cake, with a gooey exploding center, covered in a rich, melty ganache…on her wedding day!! Does she not understand she’ll be wearing white??
@Sprinkle-Ella: It’s a total code brown situation!

Oh, come on! I’m eating. McKenzie nearly spit out the bite of oatmeal she’d been chewing. This conversation was wrong on so many levels. Was Addy serious right now? The last things she wanted to start the day thinking about were code brown situations—of any variety. Not the chocolate kind (that bride was deranged), and especially not the other kind.
Before she had time to respond, a message from Jo came through.

@TheBakingBandit: Code brown?
@Sprinkle-Ella: Code brown.

McKenzie shook her head, unable to quite believe what she was reading. Her friends were…unique. But this was special, even for them.
She opted to give them the benefit of the doubt.

@TheGourmetGoddess: Do either of you actually know what code brown means?
@TheGourmetGoddess: I really don’t think you do…

After a moment, a response from Addy came through.

@Sprinkle-Ella: Chocolate emergency…?

McKenzie barked out a laugh, unable to hold it back. The sound gave way to a sigh. Typical, so typical. She took a sip of orange juice and another bite of oatmeal before she sank into her seat, eagerly typing into her phone.

@TheGourmetGoddess: You’re too pure for this world.
@TheBakingBandit: Email me your recipe for the melty ganache and I’ll see if I can think of a way to make it less messy!
@TheGourmetGoddess: You? Help make something cleaner? Am I in an alternate universe?
@TheBakingBandit: I’m a whole new Jo! ;)
@TheBakingBandit: Send me the recipe…
@Sprinkle-Ella: Will do!
@TheGourmetGoddess: Do you actually need my advice? Or do you just enjoy putting me through mental torture?
@TheBakingBandit: The second one!
@TheBakingBandit: Definitely the second one :P

McKenzie snorted under her breath and shook her head. If being neat and orderly and not wanting to discuss code-brown situations at the crack of dawn was a sin, she’d be going straight to hell. But she was pretty sure her friends would be right there with her—for other reasons, of course.

@TheBakingBandit: I’ll help Addy out! Don’t you worry! Good luck with that presentation today, I know you’re going to kill it!
@TheGourmetGoddess: Thanks! If either of you need help with that ganache, just holler. If any other code brown situations come up, leave me out of it.

McKenzie turned her screen off and gathered the trash. It was already six thirty, and she needed to be at the restaurant by 8 a.m. to start preparations. The head pastry chef had gone off on a rant last week and quit. He’d done it before—like she’d said, the food industry in this city was enough to drive anyone insane, and the French seemed predisposed to dramatics, at least the ones she’d met. This time, however, his dismissal had stuck. The head chef and the owner were done putting up with his bull, and now there was a job opening she intended to fill. Given that she was only twenty-five and a woman, the odds were definitely stacked against her. But she could do it. She’d been the pastry sous-chef in this kitchen for three years, she knew the menu inside and out, and the rest of the kitchen staff loved her—well, tolerated her, anyway. This job was hers to lose. All she had to do was knock her presentation out of the park.
The head chef had been interviewing candidates all week, and today at noon, it was her turn—her do-or-die moment. She had to prep six brand-new desserts for a taste-testing with the head chef, his chief sous, the owner, and two investors. The menu was one she’d been working on for a year, just in case an opportunity like this presented itself, and it was good. French-inspired, but with a creative twist, which was exactly what she did best. Her favorite dish was probably her high-end take on the classic s’more—marshmallow crème brûlée with a caramel-chocolate drizzle served flaming with a cinnamon biscotti on the side. The owner would probably like her traditional croquembouche the best—an impossibly high tower of profiteroles held together by a butterscotch drizzle, stuffed with chocolate buttercream, decorated with spun-sugar poufs and gold-leaf accents. He liked to display one at the front of the house every Christmas season, and McKenzie had never found the prior head pastry chef’s to be particularly inspired. Along with those two was a peanut-butter-cup-inspired soufflé, an assortment of éclairs (her absolute favorite dessert—to make and to eat), a berry torte perfect for the summer, and a colorful selection of elegant macarons to complete the set. McKenzie had prepared as much as she could earlier in the week, but the few remaining hours in the kitchen this morning were when the magic would happen.
She’d considered forgoing her run altogether for the extra hour in the kitchen, but in the end, McKenzie knew she needed the time to think. Which was exactly what she did as she laced up her sneakers, turned her phone to airplane mode, and took off toward the park. For forty-five minutes, as her feet pounded down a trail her body knew by heart, McKenzie went over every meticulous detail of the day—a down-to-the-minute schedule, from the time it would take her to shower and travel to the restaurant, to how long she would need to bake each aspect of each dessert, to the exact minute she’d need to take them out of the oven before presenting them to the chef. Her focus was acute. On her run, in the shower, as she dried off, got dressed, and gathered her hair into a tightly coiled bun, she thought of nothing but the details spinning in her head. McKenzie was a pastry machine and today, not a single thing in the world would get in her way.
At least, that was the goal, until the doorbell to her apartment rang.
What the hell? McKenzie looked at the clock on her microwave. It was 7:34, which meant she had exactly ten minutes to catch the subway downtown if she wanted to roll into the kitchen on time. The walk to the station would take two of those minutes, the wait for the train anywhere from two to five more, which left her three minutes to answer the door. Her mysterious caller would be lucky to get even that.
McKenzie took five seconds to glance through the peephole. A man wearing jeans and a plain black T-shirt stood before her door with what appeared to be a backpack slung over his shoulder. He was attractive, there was no denying it, with his bronze skin, hazel eyes, and scruffy black hair, but he was also a complete stranger, which meant she simply didn’t have time to deal with him right now.
“Please go away,” McKenzie called through the door.
“Miss Harper?”
At the sound of her name, an odd spike of fear flared in her chest. McKenzie was used to New York. There were stalkers, criminals, harassers, and plain-old crazy people, and she’d seen them all, but none of them had ever called her by name.
Whoever this guy was, she wanted him gone—now.
“I’m—”
He stopped talking and widened his eyes as soon as she opened the door, which suited McKenzie just fine. It gave her the opening to fill the silence. “Hi. Whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested. I don’t know how you know my name, and I don’t know how you got past the doorman downstairs. If you come here again, I’ll report you. Have a nice day. Goodbye.”
Then she closed the door in his face and looked down at her wrist. She still had two minutes spare. If he’s not gone in one, I’m calling the cops. Nothing—and I mean, nothing—is getting in my way today.



***

Thanks for reading!

The third chapter will be posted next week, so stay tuned :)

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


Blogger Tricks

March 14, 2019

Announcing "Kingdom of Sand and Wishes" -- A Collection of Aladdin Retellings!

I'm so excited to announce that I've teamed up with eight other fabulous authors to put together a box set of Aladdin retellings! Kingdom of Sand and Wishes goes on sale on May 24th (just in time for the new live-action movie)! You can pre-order it on Amazon now :)

Here's the beautiful cover!
💜💛🎉💜💛 


All nine of the books included in the box set will be at least 30k words (which is about half the size of a normal YA book), and some will be longer :) If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen my recent posts teasing the title of my addition to the box set! 


 Granting Wishes is a prequel novella to my Once Upon a Curse series, and it will follow a girl named Alanna who teams up with a mysterious mage to save her brother from the clutches of a decrepit sorcerer king. There may be a handsome prince dreaming of freedom...and a flying carpet ;)

For those of you who are new to the series, Once Upon a Curse asks the question--what if a magical parallel universe crashed into earth and the two worlds merged into one? What's stronger, magic or modern technology? What's more powerful, a curse or true love? The full-length books in the series each retell a different fairy tale, and are set ten years after the two worlds merged. Granting Wishes will take place on the day the worlds merged, giving an introduction to the earthquake that changed everything! 

I'm so excited to dive back into this world!! 

Remember, Chasing Midnight (Once Upon a Curse Book 3) will be headed your way this summer :) And I may have another surprise up my sleeve after that...

Enjoy!


March 12, 2019

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

Happy #TeaserTuesday!

Off the Grid goes on sale in FOUR WEEKS!! Woohoo! Leo and McKenzie completely stole my heart while I was writing this book, and I just know the same thing will happen to you! I'm ready for everyone to be as excited about their love story as I am, which is why...

I'm revealing the entire first chapter today!

When my first beta reader finished the book, she told me, "I loved it so much that I immediately went to Amazon and got the first two books in the series. Well done! =)" 💖💖💖There's no greater compliment than that! If you've already started this series, I think you love this final book. And if you haven't, I hope you give it a try! 

Off the Grid goes on sale on April 8th, 2019! If you want to pre-order your copy, just head to Amazon.

Hope you enjoy the preview!

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- 1 -

Leo

Agent Leo Alvarez stared out the window and across the tarmac at the sinister gray clouds looming on the horizon.
I will not allow a little rain to ruin my first vacation in months, he decided, refusing to let any worry or anger bubble to the surface. Instead, he leaned back in his cushy chair and took another sip of the red wine he’d grabbed for free at the bar a few feet away. Business class was great—well worth the splurge. He hadn’t flown anything besides coach, well, ever, but this lounge thing? He could get used to this. There was free booze, free food, and free newspapers, not that he’d read the one draped across his lap too carefully. He was on vacation, after all. But he’d wanted to skim the headlines.
Fifty-Seven Arrested in Second-Largest Mob Roundup in History.
Famed Art Thief Robert Carter Finally Brought to Justice.
Wanted Felon Thaddeus Ryder on the Loose with a Twenty-Million-Dollar Degas.
Yada, yada, yada.
Leo knew the details by heart—heck, he’d lived them. He and his partner, Nate Parker, were agents in the Organized Crime Unit of the FBI, and they’d been working on infiltrating the Russian mob for nearly four years. Two years ago, they’d caught their big break on the case that would eventually lead to all these arrests. One of their undercover agents sent word of stolen art being used as collateral in an arms deal their team had been tracking. The painting led them to Robert Carter, an infamous art thief who’d been evading the Feds for nearly half a century. Two weeks ago, Nate had managed to turn Carter’s daughter, Jolene, into an informant in exchange for a plea deal. The Russians had somehow gotten word, which sent him and Nate racing down to the Caribbean to save their lead. After a high-speed boat chase, a shoot-out on a private island, and a massive explosion, they’d finally gotten what they’d been after all these years—evidence to use against the Russian mafia in court. Jo gave them access to all her father’s files, and though it wasn’t airtight, it was more than enough to begin making arrests. Fifty-seven arrests, to be exact.
During the shoot-out, Nate had taken a bullet to the calf, and was off on medical leave for a few weeks. Despite his partner’s absence, Leo had tried to stick around the office to help with the paperwork, but his boss practically shooed him out the door with a pat on the back. You deserve a vacation, Alvarez. And I don’t say that lightly. Now get the hell out of my office before I change my mind.
Leo had done just that, booking a flight to Hawaii before he had time to second-guess. Because, well, the boss was right—he damn well did deserve a break. The beach, the surf, and a Mai Tai or two sounded as close to heaven as a guy like him could possibly get. His little brother, Manuel, agreed to meet him out there for a few days. Manny lived in San Francisco, so a hop over to Hawaii was practically nothing for him, and he was headed to Hong Kong for business next week, so the timing was sort of perfect. Leo couldn’t wait to greet him with a forearm around the neck and a knuckle scrub to the top of his head. Little Manny Alvarez may be a hotshot tech executive now, but before he’d founded the start-up that made him millions, he was a scrawny street kid. To Leo, he’d always be the little brother who needed protecting, no matter how old or how rich he got.
The phone in Leo’s pocket vibrated, pulling his thoughts from the past and the ever-darkening sky outside. He jolted, then slid the phone out to read the name across the screen.
With a sigh, he answered. “Don’t even think about it, Parker.”
“Leo,” his partner said slowly, apology already heavy in his voice.
I’m not going to like this. Not one little bit. “Do you know where I am?”
“The airport.”
“Do you know where I’m going?”
“That’s what I’m calling you about.”
“I’m going to Honolulu, Parker. It’s six thirty in the morning, my flight leaves in half an hour, and I didn’t sleep at all last night so I could finalize all my reports before I left.”
“I know, but—”
“Vacation, Parker. A much-needed vacation. I’ve already bought a packet of Twizzlers and a bag of chocolate-covered almonds for the trip. I spent twenty minutes reading through the in-flight entertainment, picking out the movies I want to watch. Do you know you get a personal TV in business class? And free liquor? And food? And a seat that goes completely flat? Don’t take this away from me, Parker. Not now. Not after I saved your ass on that Caribbean island, and helped you get Jo a plea deal, and convinced the guys that your relationship with her was completely legal and not at all a violation of the code of ethics.”
“I know.” A heavy sigh came through the line.
Leo knew that sigh.
He loathed that sigh.
Suddenly, the storm clouds on the horizon weren’t what had his heart plummeting. He downed the little bit of red wine he had left and rubbed his palm over his face. I’m going to regret this. I already do. He sighed. “All right. What is it?”
“It’s Jo.”
Of course it’s Jo, Leo thought, shaking his head. For the past month, every aspect of their lives had been about Jo. First, she’d been their target during their stakeout in the Caribbean to get information about the heist she, her father, and her partner, Thad Ryder, were planning. Then, she’d been their lead as they spent a week following her around New York City, trying to uncover her plan and turn her loyalties. Now, she was their informant, giving them everything she could against the Russians and helping them answer the only question left in the case—where exactly Ryder and the twenty-million-dollar Degas she’d helped him steal had gone.
It wasn’t that Leo didn’t like Jo—he did. She was bubbly and fun, smart and savvy, and watching her turn his buttoned-up partner into a lovesick puppy had been entertaining as hell, but…
Hawaii, he thought longingly. And Mai Tais. And a few days with my little bro, who I haven’t seen in, God, I don’t even know how long.
Leo squeezed the phone in his hand and sighed as the dream slipped away. Nate was his partner and his best friend. They’d saved each other’s lives on more than one occasion. If he was calling, it meant something serious was going down, and Leo needed to hear him out.
“What about Jo?”
“Not Jo, so much as her friend.”
He scrunched his brows together in surprise. “Her friend? Who? How is she connected?”
“Her name is McKenzie Harper. Age twenty-five. Professional pastry chef. Lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, blonde and about five—”
“Yeah, yeah, you can skip the rundown. What’s going on?”
“This morning, Jo told me someone hacked into her personal computer. She ran a trace on the IP address but it was scattered. There’s no way to know for sure, but she thinks it was the Russians hacking into her messages, looking for contact from Ryder. We both know they’re trying to permanently silence the asshole before we can find him.”
Leo frowned and nodded. Jo’s partner, Thad Ryder, was the only person left who could positively ID the Russians her father had been working with and who could provide eyewitness testimony to their crimes in a court of law. The Feds were after him to offer a plea. The Russians were after him to offer a bullet to the head. It was a race against time to see who found him first. But Leo and Nate had been taken off the case due to Nate’s less-than-professional relationship with Jo, which was fine with Leo. Because…Hawaii.
“Anyway, they were nosing around her chat with two of her online friends, McKenzie and a girl named Addison. Jo tried calling them both, but no answer. I called the local precincts and there’s been a missing person’s report filed for Addison. Apparently, her boss arrived at her place of work this morning to find a dead body, bullet casings, and a whole lot of blood. We think she was possibly approached by Ryder as a way to contact Jo, but the Russians got wind and interfered. As of right now, we’re working on two theories—Ryder kidnapped her to get to Jo, or she was taken by the Russians to use as collateral.”
“And McKenzie?” Leo asked, though he had a sneaking suspicion of what was coming next.
“No word.”
There was a pause. The silence stretched, full of hesitation on one end and stubborn denial on the other.
Leo caved first. “You want me to go to New York?”
“I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important,” Nate pushed forward, taking the opening. “I tried the boss first, but he doesn’t want to waste an agent on a hunch, not when this police report about Addison down in South Carolina might be a lead on Ryder. He told me to call the NYPD. They’re on their way to stake out her apartment. And they’re good. I know they’re good. They’re one of the best police forces in the country, but—”
“They’re not me,” Leo finished, not bragging, just being honest. Before joining the Feds, he’d been a marine. And before that, the streets in the less-than-desirable neighborhood where he’d grown up had done their part to train him. More importantly, Nate trusted him. Which meant Jo trusted him. Which meant he was the only one either of them would trust with one of her dearest friends.
“They’re not you,” Nate echoed.
“Okay.” Leo hardly believed his ears as the word slipped through his lips. Then again, he did. He’d always had a hard time saying no to the people he cared about, especially when they needed his help. It had never seemed like a character flaw until right now, with the sands from those Hawaiian beaches slipping through his fingers. Why, why, why did I answer the phone?
“I’d go myself, but I’m still on crutches dealing with this damn leg injury, and— Okay?”
“You heard me.”
“Thank you, Leo,” Nate rushed to say, gratitude heavy in his Boy Scout voice. “Really, thank you. I know how much this trip with your brother meant to you, how much you need a vacation—”
“I said okay, Parker,” Leo cut in, shaking his head as his partner laid it on thick. “I never said I was happy about it.”
Nate snorted over the line. “I owe you for this, Leo. Anything you want, just tell me.”
“Oh, anything I want? How generous.” Leo grinned. He didn’t need anything. This was what partners did for each other, what friends did, but he couldn’t help pushing when Nate left him such an easy opening.
“Anything, Leo. Name it.”
“How about a new partner?”
“Very funny.”
“I’ve been eying a new Harley…”
“Leo.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll settle for a business-class seat to Hawaii, leaving from JFK tomorrow night, assuming all goes well.”
Nate sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Leo turned and scanned the board over his shoulder. “So will I. There’s a shuttle to New York that’s boarding now. I’d better go if I want to catch it.”
“Thank you.”
“Enough, or you’ll give me an even bigger ego than I already have. Don’t worry about the flights—that was a joke. I’ll figure it out later after I have McKenzie secure. Just tell Jo I expect some cupcakes or brownies, anything gooey and chocolatey really, as soon as I get back to DC.”
“Th—”
Leo hung up and shoved the phone back into his pocket. He hated being thanked for things he felt were common decency to do. Given the choice between a vacation and saving an innocent life, well, there was no contest. If he chose Hawaii only to find out that something serious had happened to Jo’s friend, he’d never forgive himself. Leo had waited months for a break. He could wait a few days more. Manny would understand. It was hardly the first time his job had come between him and his family, and it wouldn’t be the last. Life as a Fed was unpredictable, to say the least.
Leo slung his bag over his shoulder and ran across the business-class lounge, ignoring the not-so-subtle looks from the people around him. He burst through the doors and kept going, not pausing until he reached the gate he’d seen on the board, the one flashing final call to New York.
“I need to get on this flight, now,” he said as he barreled into the information desk.
The attendant kept a pleasant smile on her face, unfazed. She probably dealt with more crazy in a day than most people did in a lifetime. “Of course, sir. If you give me your ticket, I’d be happy to scan it.”
Leo flashed her a grin and held up his finger. “About that…”
“You don’t have a ticket, sir?” The attendant’s lips twitched, but she kept that slightly dead-in-the-eyes yet accommodating expression plastered to her face.
Oh, she’s good, he thought. I’m going to have to be better.
“I do have a ticket,” he answered smoothly, and forced the frustration down as he brought his most debonair expression to his face. “It just happens to be to Honolulu. But there’s been a change of plans, and I need to get to New York as soon as possible. Please.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied calmly. “This flight is full, but I’d be happy to get you on the next available one leaving in…” She looked down and quickly clicked a few buttons on her keyboard. “About two hours.”
“That’s wonderful of you. Thank you so much for the help. Really, I mean it,” he said, holding her gaze. The edges of her lips twitched appreciatively. He’d learned in his life a little kindness could go a long way, especially when mixed with flirtation—hell, he could only imagine the amount of mistreatment she experienced on a daily basis from stressed travelers. But sometimes, he had no choice but to play the federal-agent trump card. Abuse of power wasn’t his typical modus operandi, but if those storm clouds he’d been watching from the business-class lounge were any indication, this airport wouldn’t be functioning in two hours. If McKenzie’s life was really on the line, he couldn’t afford to wait. “But I’m afraid I have to get on this flight, right now. It’s a matter of national security.”
Her eyes popped wide.
Leo leaned in before she got too alarmed and darted his gaze left, then right, as though what he was about to say were some incredible secret. Then he slipped his badge out from his backpack and casually slid it across the desk. By the time he met her gaze again, curiosity lit those dark brown eyes. She leaned closer, lured by his voice and his words. He almost had her.
“I’m Special Agent Leo Alvarez with the FBI, and I’m needed in New York as soon as possible. There’s been an incident. It hasn’t hit the news yet, but I need to be there before it does.” Not a lie, technically, just a very, very exaggerated version of the truth. “And I need you to help me. Please.”
The attendant glanced around before she spoke to make sure no one else was listening, as though the two of them were in cahoots. “What happened?”
He shook his head slightly and grabbed his badge, then stuffed it back into his bag. “I’m not at liberty to say, but trust me, you want me in New York.”
“Well…” She stood straight, looking down at her screen, then up at him, then down again. “I could call my manager, quickly. Maybe there’s something she can do…”
“That’s all I’m asking,” he said, letting gratitude give weight to his words. “Thank you. And your country thanks you too.”
He was laying it on thick, but hey—it worked. Ten minutes later, someone offered up their seat for a five-hundred-dollar credit, and Leo took the man’s place. While the flight attendants prepared the cabin for boarding, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed. There was one more call he had to make.
“Leo?” A muffled, sleepy voice crackled over the line.
He sighed. “Hey, Manny.”
“You do know it’s like four o’clock in the morning on the West Coast, right?”
“I know. Sorry, little bro.” No turning back now. He scrubbed the sleep from his eyes and pressed on. Goodbye, Hawaii. Goodbye, vacation. Hello, frigging New York. “There’s been a change of plans…”


***

Thanks for reading!

Click here to read the second chapter, which introduces our leading lady, McKenzie!

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