Love 2.0

Cates Brothers Series — Book 4 

Elvis has been spotted in the little town of Climax, North Carolina. Or at least, a shapely female Elvis impersonator—who’s got Kaz Cates all shook up . . .

Kaz is having one of those days. Cyber criminals, federal agents . . . and now, Elvis. In reality, the King is Mirabel Diaz, earning money by delivering singing telegrams. But Mira’s got another reason for being here: she knows Kaz Cates is secretly a master hacker with the skills to help people disappear, and that’s exactly what she needs to do. Still, Kaz can’t help wishing she’d stay awhile . . .

This isn’t Mira’s preferred career—her singing voice isn’t even that great—but her ex-boyfriend, a powerful Russian gangster, hasn’t left her a choice. No matter where she runs, he seems to find a way to pull strings and get her fired. If she doesn’t get off the grid, his vengeful acts may only get worse. Kaz reluctantly agrees to help, and insists on teaching her self-defense. Though she’s afraid to trust any man, she feels safe with Kaz . . . and welcomed by his family. But if they don’t stop the danger that’s chasing her, she may have to go on the road again instead of finding a haven in his arms . . .

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright © Lee Kilraine

Mirabel Díaz had heard the expression hide in plain sight, but she was relatively sure walking down Main Street of some small town that time forgot, dressed as Elvis, the Las Vegas years, wasn’t quite plain enough. Her white bell-bottom, rhinestone-studded pantsuit was turning heads. Of course, the fact that her boss Monty had given her a pantsuit two sizes too small didn’t help. She wanted to kiss the inventor of polyester because if she hadn’t been able to squeeze her curves into the Elvis pantsuit, she’d be Madonna right now. And not like-a-virgin Madonna either. No, she’d be Blonde-Ambition Madonna strutting down the sidewalk in fishnet tights and a cone bra.

The costume had come with a wig that smelled like road kill, so she’d opted to chop off her long auburn hair and dye it ink black, slicking it back with a touch of gel on work days. Mutton-chop sideburns extended halfway across her cheeks, accented by the three-inch collar of her jumpsuit as it framed her face. A short, jewel-encrusted cape fluttered around her hips as she walked. Her hands, adorned with big, flashy rings on every finger, held a boom box and a slip of paper with the address for her next delivery.

To think she’d graduated near the top of her class with an accounting degree. Ay! Deja! Enough, Mira. Positive thoughts. The good news was today’s telegram finally had her in the last of the two North Carolina towns in her search for help.

Mira was still cursing the day she’d met Ivan Prosser. She’d known she was a terrible judge of character; her last three boyfriends before Ivan had proven that. But she’d never have thought her judgment was so far off that she would date a man she’d be desperate to get away from. She’d passed desperate three jobs, two cities, and forty-three hang-up calls ago. Now she was exhausted, lonely, and broke.

Oh, yeah. And Elvis.

Delivering singing telegrams for Monty’s Electric Party Circus was keeping her from starving. She liked not starving. And because Monty’s was the only job she’d found willing to pay her off the books—other than the job offer dancing at the Boom Boom Room—it was also keeping her off her ex’s radar—for now.

Another reason to rue the day she’d met Ivan: he’d made her into a tax-evading criminal. But stupid Ivan must have some connection to the social security office because he kept tracking her down and getting her fired. Not that she could prove it, but each time her newest boss fired her, they’d drop a subtle clue. It was only a matter of time until Ivan found her again. Which was why she’d fled to Greensboro, North Carolina, two months ago—to look for a man she’d heard could help her. Mira didn’t know who he was, just that the rumor in the online chat room she’d discovered hinted he helped women disappear. She’d also finally caught a break and had a quick peek at a photo purported to be the man who could help her: a reclusive game designer who if Mira was right, was the Wizard.

Glancing above the door of each storefront as she passed, she was almost at the delivery address. Twenty-nine…twenty-seven…ah ha, twenty-five; this was her stop. She reached out to open the glass door but paused when her nose tickled on the edge of a sneeze. Nope, false alarm. She stepped into the office. Elvis had entered the building. Ha! Cracked her up every time. Ah…ah…achoo! Darn allergies. The sneeze shifted one of her contacts and she blinked repeatedly in an attempt to reposition it.

“Hello. May I help you?”

Mira smiled and blinked madly at the blurry man behind his desk. It was no use; she’d have to go ahead, blurry vision or no. When she squinted one-eyed at the man blur, he came into semifocus. “Mr. Cates?”

“Yes, Kaz Cates, but—”

She held up her hand, palm out, while she set her boom box on the edge of his desk and hit the Play button. Experience had taught her too many people tried to turn down singing telegrams and she didn’t get paid if she didn’t perform. Her music started and she threw herself into her “All Shook Up”/“Suspicious Minds”/“Viva Las Vegas” medley like her next meal depended on it, because it did. 

* * * *

Kaz had been having one of those days. Cybercriminals were thwarting him, fed agents were threatening him, and now Elvis had shown up. He thought about turning off Elvis’s boom box because he knew this singing telegram was meant for his brother, who was in the back room dealing with a jammed fax machine. But then Elvis jumped right into her number. For an Elvis impersonator, it was damn hot—which felt a little weird—but still hot. This Elvis had a lush figure and wasn’t afraid to use it. Like Marilyn Monroe with sideburns.

She started with her left knee, twitching and vibrating to the music. Next she threw in a lip curl and jerked her hips, pumping her pelvis forward and back with the staccato pounding of drumbeats. A hip slide segued her into the next song and the toe of her right shoe scraped across the floor with her body following. She belted out a few of the King’s top hits, and what she lacked in talent and the ability to produce anything close to an actual note, she made up for with energy. She had Elvis’s signature moves down.

“Oh, sweet.” Paxton entered the room and perched on the corner of the desk to watch the show with an appreciative smile. 

Elvis didn’t even blink an eye. Or rather, one of her eyes was blinking quite a bit. And when she wasn’t blinking she looked a bit unfocused. And squinty-eyed.

She circled one arm around like a windmill, sinking down into a deep lunge over her right foot before smoothly shifting the lunge over the left foot. Popping up with a high leg karate-kick move as the song rolled into a final wild drum crescendo, her hips pistoning rapidly with each beat.

Kaz couldn’t tear his gaze from her riveting performance. He and his brother both sat mesmerized. The boom box slipped into the first notes of “Happy Birthday” as Elvis quickly reached over and punched it off.

“Yeah, so, this is the part where normally I would strip down to the birthday bikini underneath.” She blinked one eye and squinted the other at them as she caught her breath. “But you look like modern men who would hate that, since historically, stripping has been utilized as a tool of repression and degradation to keep women down. Am I right?”

“Uh…” Paxton, the normally verbose lawyer, was stymied.

So was Kaz. The thing was, men were visual creatures and easily led by suggestion. After watching her spectacular figure gyrate for five minutes his brain was already scrambled. So, when she dropped a mental image of her curves in a bikini, it hit like a bomb. He wasn’t proud to admit he needed a minute to search around for that inner modern man. Of course she was right, damn it.

When his brother still sat, probably trying to suppress his inner Neanderthal, Kaz leaned forward and grabbed a pen from the desk and threw it at his back.

“Right.” Paxton nodded and cleared his throat. “Absolutely. No. No striptease necessary.”

 “Wonderful.” She flashed a smile, along with the blinking/squint thing she was still doing. “So, next I’m supposed to blow up a birthday banana balloon. It’s included in the fee, but honestly, not only is it too much of a sexual innuendo, but I’m a little out of shape, and after my Elvis routine, there’s no way that’s happening either.”

“That’s fine. Seriously, your Elvis impersonation was…great. More than great.” Kaz stood up from behind the desk and walked around.

“Awesome.” Again, her smile flashed and she did the one-eyed, blink-blink-blink thing. It almost looked like she had a wandering eye, until she sneezed again, lifting the corner of her cape to contain it.

Kaz grabbed a tissue from the desk and handed it to her.

“Thank you.”  She accepted the tissue, dabbing it delicately to her eye before turning her finally focused gaze on him and reaching out to shake his hand. “Well, happy birthday, Mr. Cates—oh crap. You’re my guy.”

Distracted by her striking green eyes, it took a second to set her straight by pointing over to Paxton. “Oh no. That’s the birthday boy. He’s your guy.”

“What?” Her gaze shifted from Kaz to Paxton and back to Kaz again. “Two of you? Twins? Wait, this singing telegram is for a birthday…”

The brothers watched her pull a slip of paper from the cleavage of her jumpsuit. It was a heck of a…piece of paper. Gutter. Mind. Out, Kaz.

“Yep, says it right here—happy birthday telegram for Paxton Cates.” Her gaze raked over them both as she jiggled her shoulders, maneuvering the cape behind her. “If you’re twins, why is this birthday gram only for one of you?”

“Different birthdays. Just before midnight and just after midnight.” Kaz shrugged, thinking that would clear things up.

Not for Elvis it didn’t. Her face scrunched up and she stepped forward, again her gaze ping-ponging between the two of them. “So which one of you is the Wizard?”

What the…? Kaz forced himself to relax every one of his tense muscles. He had to have heard that wrong, except his brother threw him a look that said Elvis was “all shook up” in the head. If only that were the case.

“Neither.” Paxton reached into his back pocket for his wallet and drew out a twenty-dollar bill for a tip, slipping it into Elvis’s hand along with her boom box. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Elvis narrowed her eyes at his brother. “That’s my line, birthday boy. Is it you? Are you the Wizard? Please, I need your help. Can’t you see I’m desperate?”

Between the unfocused, wandering-eye deal and the off-key Elvis impression, she was definitely something. Desperate? Just plain crazy? High on something? What do you do for someone like that? Point them in the direction of counseling? Detox? Las Vegas?

Looking in to her very pretty and suddenly very sober eyes, Kaz got an itch between his shoulder blades. Even if Elvis was totally sane and sober, there wasn’t anything he could do for her.

“Hey, I’m not crazy. Some guy in an online chat room told me the Wizard would help me.”

“So you’re saying, you’ve been sent to see the Wizard.” His brother was doing a piss-poor job at keeping the smile off his face. “Do I have that right, Elvis?”

“I saw a photo of you.” Elvis pointed at Paxton. And then her finger slid over to him. “Or possibly you. Jeez, are you identical twins? One of you. I know what I saw.”

“You’re mistaken. It seems like someone fed you bogus information and led you on a wild-goose chase. You shouldn’t trust people you meet on the internet. Look, obviously you’ve hit some bad luck.” Kaz shook his head and reached for his wallet, handing her all the bills in it. “Please, take this. That’s all we can do for you. I’m sorry.”

She grabbed at his hands with hers, her chunky rings cutting coldly into his hand, but she grabbed the money too. Her gaze searched his and he stiffened his resolve and pulled himself from her grasp. 

Taking her elbow gently but firmly, Paxton ushered her out the door.

Kaz moved over to the window, resting one hand casually against the casing and watching Elvis scowl back at the office before shaking her head and walking away. The look in her big green eyes held him frozen until Paxton’s chair squeaked behind him as his brother settled back behind his large oak desk.

“Well, hell, that was fun. Elvis was better than last year’s. What did Sijan send us last year? Oh yeah, I got the bad cop. What did you get?”

“What? Last year? Si sent me the zombie gram.” He forced his attention away from the retreating woman and back around to his brother. Except he couldn’t shake the guilt that stabbed him when Elvis’s hands had frantically grasped his, not letting go until he’d pried her tight fingers off and slipped her the money. Shaking his head, he leaned back against the wide windowsill. “Yeah, Elvis was something all right. You ready for lunch?”

 Instead of getting up to go, Paxton relaxed further into his chair, even throwing his Cole Haan–shod feet up on his desk. He crossed his arms over his chest and leveled Kaz with one of his intense lawyer looks. “Change of plans. First, I’m fairly certain I need you to explain about the Wizard.”

 

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