From the Author
Garrett watched the curvaceous blonde throw a few last things together, and he shook his head behind her back. This was exactly the kind of individual who could get away with skimming budget funds if she wanted to. No one would suspect someone as lovely and as, well, wholesome-looking as Cait Walsh. Not of fiscal misdeeds.
Still, it would be bad form to deny a teacher her glitter. The school board had approved the office supplies change, but he wondered who'd orchestrated it and why. Something seriously strange was afoot in this district.
He studied Cait. She was young, dynamic and closer to his sister's age than his. Twenty-five, maybe. But unlike Sis, this shapely woman was a neat freak who used round vowel tones as weapons. She challenged him with that reserved posture, that combination of clarity and caution. With those huge gray-green eyes, freckle-splattered nose and forehead creased in concentration over God knew what, she was cute as hell.
Which annoyed him. He had too much to do. A leak to pinpoint. He had no intention of finding anyone "cute as hell." Least of all a potential embezzler from Wisconsin.
He saw her lift a bulky beige tote with the letters "CLW" stitched in green. It looked as heavy as a golf bag, but shorter and twice as dense. She had it crammed with papers, scratch 'n' sniff stickers, lots of stuff he couldn't see. He'd have offered to carry it for her, but she grabbed it tight. Didn't look like she'd trust the FBI with that thing. Huh. Suspect behavior.
"What's the 'L' stand for?" He pointed to her monogram. "It wouldn't be Lynn, would it?" He squinted. "Leigh? Or Loretta?"
"None of the above." Cait locked her classroom door.
Then again, maybe secrecy was just part and parcel of being a woman. They always thought they had to be so mysterious.
"So, what? You're not going to tell me? Think I'll laugh?"
She nodded, standing still and staring at him in the hallway.
He puffed out some hot air. He'd have to brush up on his chitchatting. Not a good idea to alienate the staff so soon, even if he had suspicions about somebody. He'd known her for...what? A whole fifteen minutes? And already she pretty clearly despised him. Well, never let it be said he couldn't make a strong first impression.
"I won't laugh." He tried to radiate sincerity.
She gave him a thorough once-over. "Livie," she mumbled. "After my grandmother Olivia."
"Oh." He shrugged. "That's not so bad. Olivia's nice, too. Why'd your parents shorten it?"
At this she chuckled. "Think about it, Mr. Ellis. You couldn't have grown up around here. Even in Wisconsin--the 'Dairy State'--having the initials C.O.W. is hardly a woman's deepest desire."
A laugh erupted from deep within him. So there was a sense of humor behind the snow queen façade. Good. Maybe she'd thaw a bit, they could talk, he'd figure out her angle and, hopefully, discount her from his investigation. He needed to concentrate on forwarding his career...and on keeping his father from disowning him. Ogling attractive women was his brother's department, not his.
"You have bright parents," he said finally. "Bet you appreciated their foresight."
"I did." She surprised him with a grin that lit up her whole face. For a moment he was rendered speechless.
They strolled outside toward the parking lot.
"Okay," she said. "Now that you know my secret, what's your middle name?"
Sheesh. He hadn't been thinking. Sharing his middle name could only land him in boiling water. "Mine's not real interesting."
The light in her face vanished. She turned huge, distrustful eyes on him. "So?"
He grimaced. "My middle initial's 'M,' how 'bout you guess?"
"What? I practically told you mine outright. There's no reason to hedge with me. It couldn't be that terrible."
"Oh, don't be so sure. Your parents altered yours from your namesake's to be less embarrassing, my parents did nothing of the kind." He hesitated, praying she'd back off. The name recognition, he knew from years of painful experience, could be instantaneous. But no such luck. This Miss Walsh was a persistent one.
Her forehead crinkled. "Hmm. Well, it couldn't be Michael or Matthew, could it? Those aren't unusual enough to upset anyone. Max, maybe? What about Mitch? Or, Marvin?"
"I wish," he muttered. And he did. For maybe the ninety-thousandth time he wished he came from a family that wasn't internationally famous.
They reached their vehicles, and he changed the subject. "Look," he told her, "why don't you jump in with me? It'll be easier than taking two cars. I can drive you back here later."
He opened the passenger door of his red BMW and held it for her. She slid into the black leather seat, her eyes bulging at the rows of gadgets on the dash. He knew how impressive it looked. He liked his cars complicated, his women simple. Yet another reason the chilly and changeable Miss Walsh posed a problem: She did not seem simple. But someone was meddling with funds and, although instinct and experience told him Cait didn't have the bearing of a ringleader, she might know who was at the center of these thefts.