As though the thought had conjured him, a tall figure in a black parka appeared in the doorway.
Shane’s heart sped up as Linus shoved back his hood, glanced casually around the mostly empty restaurant, and spotted Shane.
Linus nodded. Shane nodded back.
He knew Linus was going to walk over to his table and ask to join him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was in the mood for company, and Linus was better than nothing.
Who was he kidding? He wanted Linus to come over and sit down every bit as much as he didn’t want him to come over and sit down. It wasn’t logical, but it was the truth. His skirmishes with Linus made him feel awake and alert in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Linus nodded to the bartender, who greeted him by name, and sure enough, Linus walked down the aisle to Shane’s table. “Okay if I join you?”
What really decided Shane was that he could see Linus expected him to say no. Linus was smiling, but it was a neutral sort of smile. His gaze was cool and steady. When Shane declined, he would move to the next table, sit down, and pick up a menu, unfazed. Linus had already worked it out, and recognizing this, Shane realized something else.
Linus had come looking for him.
He felt a funny little flutter in his chest, like a sea anemone had flexed and unfurled in his rib cage. An emotion both exotic and probably poisonous.
Shane smiled. “Sure.”
Linus blinked and then shrugged off his jacket and slid into the booth. He had shaved and changed into an oatmeal-colored Aran-knit sweater. He wore that expensive cologne which mixed nicely with the rain and ocean.
Now past the initial shock, Shane was curious about Linus. Who was this guy who had managed to fool him so completely?
Or was that the real question? Maybe the real question was why had Shane been so attracted in the first place to someone who…well, first of all, was a fake. But more to the point, wasn’t the kind of guy Shane would ordinarily have gone for. The loud shirts and the love beads? Was that the attraction? That Norton had been the antithesis of Shane’s usual type? Not that Shane necessarily had a type—beyond immediately available. Or had part of the attraction been the fact that Shane sensed there was more to Norton than appeared on the surface?
If so, it was kind of funny that what he had sensed was a personality only too similar to his own.
The waiter brought Linus his drink—he was enough of a regular to have a “usual”—a Rusty Nail. Which was what he’d drank when Shane knew him, so that at least was the real Linus. Good to know.
Linus held out his glass. “Cheers.”
Shane clinked his glass against Linus’s. “Happy days.” He sipped. Crème de cacao, Kahlúa, vodka, cream, and maybe a hint of banana? It was more like a dessert than a cocktail.
“I’m surprised you’re not spending the holidays with your family,” Linus said. Meeting Shane’s look, he shrugged. “You talked about your family a lot that spring.”
“The Doctors Without Borders sister, the Navy SEAL brother, your mother’s work with Scholarship America. You were obviously close to your family. In fact, that closeness, and your family’s dedication to public service, was one of the first clues that you probably weren’t a thief.”
“I’m touched,” Shane said dryly. “So what about you? You have family?”
“Yes. We’re not close.” Linus added, “We’re not not close. I saw them for Thanksgiving. That’s enough for one year—for all of us.”
“Do you still work for Metropolitan Mutual?” Shane asked.
“I freelance for them now and again, but I opened my own agency not long after we…met.”
“Met?” Shane grinned sardonically. “You mean after you set about trying to entrap me.”
Linus’s mouth twisted. “Entrapment is an exaggeration, but I don’t deny I did try to catch you out. I was operating under the assumption you were guilty.”
Shane made a sound of disbelief.
“I know, but that’s the truth. First impressions can be deceiving. I thought you were slick, too sure of yourself.”
“I wasn’t slick. I thought I was going to lose my job. I thought I was going to lose everything I’d worked for.”
“Yeah, but you hid it well. Later I got it. But when we first met…” Linus offered an apologetic smile.
“What?” Shane asked, torn between irritation and curiosity.
“You kind of put my back up. I enjoyed keeping you guessing. I figured you were used to everything going your way. Used to getting whatever you wanted.”
“That’s not true.” It stung, because he had been attracted to Norton right off the bat. Although…if he was absolutely honest, at first he had been entertained and maybe—he hated to admit it, but it was true—a bit superior. He’d pegged Norton for a very sexy beach bum.
Linus tilted his head consideringly. “It’s kind of true, Shane. I mistook your certainty for a sense of entitlement. Initially, I didn’t see how hard you work to make what you want happen. You’re used to getting results because you give a hundred and ten percent all the time. Whether you’re charming somebody into bed or climbing out onto a window ledge after a stolen painting.”
Shane grimaced. “Nice to know you’re following my career.”
“I used to.” There was an odd note in Norton’s tone. Almost bitter. But the moment was lost as the bartender arrived to take their orders.
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