Read A Kept Man Online

Authors: Kerry Connor

A Kept Man (18 page)

“Charlie—”

“I might not be a journalist, but you’re not the only one
who can keep pushing until she gets answers. Why did you become a
reporter?”

Jess sighed and considered the question. “Because I never
wanted to be anything else. I know that probably sounds silly. Most
kids change their minds about what they want to be a few times, and
then they grow up and change them some more. Not me. I wanted to
travel the world. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to tell their
stories. I wanted to show people things they didn’t know,
things they needed to, things they should. Of course, when I was a
little kid, I was just nosy and wanted to get into everyone’s
business.” She gave an embarrassed smile. “Some things
never change.”

“You were lucky. Most people don’t get to grow up to do
what they always wanted to. You must have loved your job.”

In spite of herself, she felt tears prick her eyes. She quickly
blinked them away. “I really did.”

“Why did you leave it?”

“I didn’t have a choice. Being a journalist requires a
certain amount of trust. People need to be able to believe what
you’re telling them. At the end of the day, certain people who
needed to trust me decided they couldn’t any more.”

“What happened, Jess?”

Jess shook her head. “It’s a long story.”

“We have all the time in the world.”

He said it so simply, without a trace of manipulation. Her gut
instinct was to say no. She didn’t want to talk about it.
Except there was a very small part of her that did. The need was
there, to tell it all to someone, to have him believe her when so
many others hadn’t. Charlie wasn’t exactly an impartial
observer, but that wasn’t what she wanted.

She just wanted to be believed.

“Trevor Hastings happened.”

“Who’s he?”

“A photographer. I told you about him. For the last few years,
we worked together whenever he was available.”

“Were you close?”

“I thought so. I met him a few years ago when I was covering
the elections in Argentina. He was there too, and we just got to
talking one night. He seemed like a great guy. I liked him a lot. But
when I saw his pictures, well, that just sealed the deal. He had such
an amazing eye. He had this way of finding the defining image of a
story and capturing it in a way that practically turned it into art.
You’ve probably seen his work on the front page of the paper
numerous times. He won a Pulitzer a few years back. I tried to work
with him whenever he was available.”

“If I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying
to make me jealous.”

She snorted. “Trust me, there’s no need to be.”

“So you weren’t lovers?”

She laughed out loud. “This may be outside your world view, but
some people are capable of being around each other without it turning
into sex.”

“Only because one person isn’t interested, rarely because
neither is. Who wasn’t interested, you or him?”

Jess frowned. Trevor had made it clear on more than one occasion that
he was interested. She hadn’t wanted to ruin their working
relationship by throwing sex into the mix. “He was my friend.
Nothing more.”

“Where is he now?”

“Dead,” she said simply. “He was killed last year.”

“I’m sorry. Does that have anything to do with what
happened?”

“It has everything to do with it. Good ol’ Trev got me
into this mess, then up and died on me, leaving me holding the
proverbial bag.”

One of Charlie’s eyebrows went up. Even she was surprised at
the bitterness she heard in her own voice.

“What happened?”

“It turned out that Trev had a sideline I didn’t know
about. He was a thief, which I only found out when he turned up dead
last year with a couple of bullets in him.”

“He was shot trying to steal something?”

“He broke into the home of this insanely wealthy family in Rio
de Janeiro to steal an emerald. Apparently, it was flawless and had
been in their family for generations. Also apparently, it would seem
that he was working from outdated schematics of the family’s
security system when he broke in. He got the emerald, but he also got
caught taking it. I don’t know how he managed to get away. All
I know is that he was found dead outside the city the next morning,
the emerald was nowhere to be found, and the police came after me.”

“Why you?”

“Because we’d entered the country together and everyone
knew we were covering a story together. It didn’t help that I
was scheduled to leave the country that morning, and when the police
caught up to me, I was at the airport trying to catch a plane.”

“They thought you were trying to leave with the emerald.”

It wasn’t a question. Even a blind person could have seen where
her story was going. She still answered in the affirmative. “Exactly.
And so began the most humiliating week of my life. First they
exhausted every possible way of making sure I didn’t have the
damn thing crammed into some part of my body. That was fun, believe
me. Once they determined I didn’t have it on me, or inside me,
they put me through the ringer demanding to know where something I’d
never even heard of was.”

He ran a comforting hand up and down her arm. “Why were they so
sure you were involved?”

“They did a check on Trev’s travel history. Turns out an
unsolved theft of a highly valuable gem or piece of art took place in
every city Trev and I worked whenever we were there. He was using our
work as a cover for what he was really up to.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“That about sums it up,” she agreed.

“So when they figured out he was probably involved in all those
other burglaries—”

“Suddenly it wasn’t just an emerald they were asking
questions about. It was a bunch of other things I’d never heard
of. And all I could do was sit there saying that I didn’t know
anything, which I didn’t. Hell, if I was them I probably
wouldn’t have believed me either. With Trev pulling this crap
on my watch, I’d either have to be in on it or the biggest
idiot in the world. Too bad for me, I really was that stupid.”

“You weren’t stupid. You were deceived.”

“I’m not sure there’s a difference. Not that it
mattered to the police either way. They were pretty convinced that I
had to be in on it. Not only was I his partner in the thefts, but I
must have killed him to.”

“What?”

“Yeah, that’s the best part. Trev was shot once by the
guards, but the other two bullets came from someone else entirely.
They figured it was his partner—in other words, me—who
took the emerald from him before trying to hightail it out of the
country. Good thing they caught me before I could disappear into the
ether with their precious emerald, which I didn’t even have.”

“But at least you were cleared, right? They let you go.”

“They let me go because they didn’t have any hard
evidence. That’s a far cry from being cleared. If it wasn’t
for the wire service I worked for pulling a few strings, who knows
what would have happened. The last thing they wanted was one of their
reporters involved in this mess. Bad enough a freelance photog they’d
worked with had been revealed as an international thief. They got me
out of there as soon as they could, then promptly canned my ass as
soon as I got back on American soil. I was a liability. Worse, I was
a lousy reporter.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“What would you call it? A man I worked closely with for years
was doing this and I had no idea. I think they would have preferred
that I was involved than to be that blind. I think I would have
preferred it too.” She shook her head. “I should have
seen it. Trev was a daredevil. He liked taking risks. I’m sure
that’s why he did it. Not for the money, but for the thrills.
It would have been perfectly in character for him. But no. Even after
they showed me the evidence, I sat there like a chump, saying it
couldn’t be true.”

“There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to see the worst
in a friend.”

“It is when the friend is a criminal, and your job is to
uncover and reveal the truth.”

“And that’s why you’re having such a hard time with
the book. You don’t trust your instincts anymore.”

The words hit uncomfortably close to home. Suddenly defensive, she
lashed out. “What, so now you’re a shrink?”

“Well, I have had you on a couch.”

Just like that, the fight went out of her. He was too good at that,
reading her emotions and knowing how to react. She jabbed him with
her elbow. “Horny bastard.”

“Guilty as charged. That doesn’t make me wrong.”

He wasn’t wrong. She knew that. That didn’t make it any
easier. “Kind of hard to write a true story when you don’t
know what’s true anymore.”

“Don’t,” he said sharply. “Don’t let
him do that to you. Don’t question everything you think you
knew because one man deceived you.”

“But if I was wrong about him—”

“You might be wrong about other people you thought you knew.
You may have been deceived on other occasions. That’s true.
That’s life. Not everything we think we know is always going to
pan out. Then again, most of the time it will. You may have been
right on target when you weren’t too emotionally involved with
the story, when a friend wasn’t involved. Has any story you’ve
covered turned out to be false?”

“No.”

“So you’re going to question a history of being right
because of the one time you were wrong?”

“He was my friend. I should have known—”

“You can’t be the only person who knew him. You can’t
be the only one who was his friend. And you weren’t the only
one who was fooled. The police are specially trained to catch
criminals, and they obviously had no idea he was a thief. None of the
government officials that kept letting him into their countries knew.
What about the rest of his colleagues? Any of them suspect?”

“Not that they said so.”

“Do you really think you’re so much smarter than everyone
else that you should have known what no one else did?”

“Ouch.” She glanced back at him. “Laying on the
tough love pretty thick, aren’t you?”

“Sorry. Now answer the question.”

“I guess not.”

“So write your story as you know it and trust you’ve
gotten it right. Your instincts are better than you think.”

She wanted more than anything to believe that he was right. The funny
thing was, hearing him say all the things she was afraid to believe
did make a difference. It was more convincing coming from someone
else, someone without a real stake in the matter.

It didn’t hurt that she could hear the unshakable conviction in
his voice. The words were more sincere than just about anything he’d
said since she met him. He believed what he was saying. He believed
in her. She really would be a fool not to do the same.

The thousand-pound weight that had been pushing down on her seemed to
be gone. She smiled up at him. “Thanks for the pep talk,
coach.”

He smiled back. “No problem. I can’t wait to read the
book.”

“And here I thought you didn’t read books.”

“I’ll make an exception in your case.”

She looked up into his face, the undisguised tenderness in his
expression warming her inside and out. It was all there for her to
see. The affection, his confidence in her. He smiled and it made her
want to smile too. She could have laid there all day basking in his
warmth.

I’m falling for this man
.

The knowledge popped into her mind out of nowhere. The absolute
certainty of it shocked her, and she nearly jolted upright.

It was inexplicable. It was insane. But there was no other way to
describe what she was feeling. It was something she’d never
felt before. That didn’t mean she didn’t know what it
was, this sense of rightness, the helpless pull she felt deep in her
bones when he looked at her. It had nothing to do with lust. It was
something far more unsettling than that, something that resonated
deeper.

Disconcerted, she tore her gaze away from his and pushed his arms
away. He automatically released her.

“Everything all right?”

There was concern in his voice. She could understand that. He didn’t
know what had changed in the last ten seconds. She sure as hell
wasn’t going to explain it to him.

“Absolutely,” she said. She pushed off of the bed without
looking at him. “It’s just that I really should try to
get some work done. You’ve given me something to think about.
Hopefully it’ll pay off.”

“I hope so.”

She could still hear his confusion. She did her best to ignore it.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she announced. She
padded to the bathroom without a backward glance.

Only when she had the door closed and locked behind her did she take
a breath. She sank back against the door, trying to pull her thoughts
together.

Maybe Charlie had given her far more credit than she deserved.
Because if she was foolish enough to fall for him, her instincts
weren’t worth a damn.

Chapter
Thirteen

Caleb watched Jess walk out of the room, his attention drawn to the
soft bounce of her ass as she moved. Man, she had one magnificent
behind. She hadn’t reached for anything to cover herself with
as she left the bed. Whether she was so comfortable with him now that
her nudity didn’t bother her, or she was so preoccupied that
she hadn’t noticed, he didn’t know. He wasn’t about
to bring it to her attention either way.

After she finally disappeared from view, he waited until he heard the
bathroom door close behind her before he drew in a breath. It hadn’t
been easy hiding his thoughts from her when they were lying face to
face. It was growing harder than ever to hide them at all, especially
after this development.

He believed her.

He wished he didn’t. It would make things so much easier if he
didn’t. But he’d known a lot of liars in his lifetime.
Hearing her story, watching the emotions move across her face,
listening to the inflections in her voice, told her she wasn’t
one.

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