The Thomas Crown Effect

Road Trip Rendezvous, Book 3

FBI special agent David Marshall loved a good fight, and he played to win.

Always.

His personal credo? He who hesitates is lost. And David hated losing. Whenever a situation called for action, he seized control and bluffed his way through any consequences. Usually victoriously.

He’d learned to battle hard for what he wanted. He also discovered he occasionally had to bend a few rules. But once in a while, one of his less prudent rule-bending moments came back to bite him in the ass.

Like now.

Where in the hell was Cassie Cooper? For the tenth time in as many minutes, David checked his wristwatch. Eight thirteen.

With an impatient snort, he sank his fists on his hips and scanned the rendezvous spot. Forest Park on the Trinity River, fourth picnic bench at the seven-mile marker of the jogging trail, eight a.m. sharp.

Had Cassie gotten mixed up about their meeting place? Highly possible. The woman personified blond jokes.

Her flaky personality was why the art theft task force rejected using her as an informant, even though Cassie was a public relations specialist at the Kimbell Art Museum, and the FBI knew Peyton Shriver had marked her as his next sweetheart victim.

Realizing that Cassie was the best lead he’d had on Shriver in years, David took matters into his own hands. He’d gone behind his boss’ back and recruited her. No one except he and Cassie knew about her involvement in the case.

Not even the men he had shadowing her. His men believed they were simply tailing her because she was Peyton’s new girlfriend. Because of this, all their communications, except for the initial meeting, had been via text.

He would deal with the fallout of his unorthodox police methods once he had Shriver securely in handcuffs. It was always easier to get Jim Barnes’ forgiveness than his permission.

For ten years, he’d doggedly pursued Shriver. The time had come to end this battle of wills. With Cassie’s help, he knew he’d win it.

Come hell or high water, he would see justice served.

But last night, his surveillance team delivered unwelcome news. They observed Shriver meeting with a world-class scumbag named Jocko Blanco. The creep was a pock-faced thug with a rap sheet as thick as his hammy thigh and a history of violent behavior.

Shriver might be a heartbreaking cad and an unrepentant thief, but he’d never physically harmed any of his victims. In fact, his courtly behavior was legendary. Blanco, on the other hand, was as dangerous as dynamite near an open flame.

Upon hearing the news about Blanco and Shriver hooking up, his first thought had been totally selfish. Yes! Two criminals for the price of one. That would show his boss he’d been right to make an end run around authority by involving Cassie Cooper.

But he knew he couldn’t keep her on the case.

As eager as she might be to help him bring down Shriver, frivolous Cassie was no match for the likes of Jocko Blanco.

Regretfully, he must terminate Cassie’s mission. No matter how much he lusted to see Shriver in prison, he wouldn’t justify jeopardizing her life.

David shoved a hand through his hair and paced to the edge of the embankment on the opposite side of the jogging trail. He stared down at the thin ribbon of river a hundred feet below, and then he swung his gaze through the rest of the vacant park.

There weren’t too many people out and about this early on a damp, blustery February day. A couple of joggers off in the distance, an elderly man letting his dog take a leak on the trash can near the park entrance, but no one else.

A heart-stopping thought occurred.

What if Shriver discovered Cassie was spying on him for the FBI? What if he had actually hired Blanco to bump her off?

Icy chills shot up his spine.

“Dammit, Cassie.” He glowered, pissed off at himself.

He shouldn’t have arranged a meeting. Instead of setting up the rendezvous, he should have just called her. But he’d needed the recording she’d made of Shriver bragging about his exploits. Besides, David thought it only fair he break the news in person.

Where was Cassie?

He glanced at his watch again. Eight fifteen.

Mindlessly, he reached to pat the breast pocket of his London Fog trench coat in search of the vape pen that was no longer there.

It had been almost a year since he’d kicked the vape, but in times of stress, the old nicotine hankering still lingered. He’d given up vaping not long after his ex-fiancée Keeley dumped him. Not because he still had a thing for her and was trying to win her back. No, that ship had sailed. In fact, she married an orthodontist not two months after they had broken up. Nope, he’d quit smoking simply to prove her wrong.

“Face it, David,” Keeley told him the day she’d yanked off her engagement ring and tossed it on the table. “Your obsessive need to tempt fate and win at all costs will be the death of you. And I refuse to hang around and watch it happen.”

“I don’t have an obsessive need to tempt fate,” he protested.

“Ha! Look, you can’t even stop vaping long enough to have this conversation with me,” she’d crowed. “What’s vaping, if not tempting fate?”

So, he quit vaping and won that argument.

Although he was loathe to admit it, but maybe Keeley had a point. If Cassie’s involvement ended up botching the investigation, his boss would have his head.

And his job.

Shriver would get away, and David would lose.

A woman jogger appeared from under the train trestle. She was too far away for David to see her facial features as she strode rhythmically toward him, breasts bouncing despite the sports bra, blond ponytail swishing, hips rolling forward. And then she drew close enough for him to recognize.

Cassie. Thank God. Relief rolled over him.

He stared at her…

And she ran right past him without a second glance.

Dumbfounded, David’s jaw dropped as he gazed after her retreating figure. He glanced in the direction from which she’d come to see if anyone was following her. Nobody. Hadn’t she seen him standing there?

Perplexed, David trotted after her. “Hold up!”

She swiveled her head, saw he was following, and started running faster.

Dammit. What game was the woman playing?

“Stop,” he commanded, even as he sped up to cover the increasing distance between them. Damn, but she was in some kind of shape. Who knew?

He was running flat out by the time he caught her. He grabbed her by the elbow and spun her around to face him. They were standing on the edge of the embankment, both panting, their gazes locked.

Before David could suck in his breath long enough to speak, she whipped a can of pepper spray from her pocket.

She was quick, but David was quicker.

“Oh no, you don’t,” he said and clamped his hand over hers before she had time to depress the nozzle and wrenched the can away from her. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Hands off, buddy!” She jerked backward.

Momentum strong, she teetered unbalanced on the edge, a look of shock passing over her face. “Oh,” she cried, her arms windmilling wildly. “Oh!”

Reaching for her, David grabbed at the first thing he could get his hands on—the front of her workout pants—and attempted to reel her in like an unruly tarpon.

She flailed. The material of her pants stretched out, exposing naked skin, and David swiftly learned that not only was she wearing pink satin G-string undies, but she was a natural blonde with a sexy landing strip.

He blinked; his mind momentarily numbed by the breathtaking view.

“Hi-ya!” she yelled and aimed a foot at his crotch.

He dodged her kick, but the movement sent him reeling off-balance, too. Gravity took over and plunged them both headlong toward the river.

“Oh, crap,” David muttered, finally realizing she wasn’t Cassie. This spunky woman could be no one other than Cassie’s identical twin sister, Maddie.