Falling for Rachel Page 1


Nick couldn’t figure out how he’d been so damn stupid. Maybe it was more important to be part of the gang than he liked to admit. Maybe he was mad at the world in general and figured it was only right to get his licks in when he had the chance. And certainly he’d have lost face if he’d backed out when Reece and T.J. and Cash were so fired up.

But he’d never actually broken the law before.

Not quite true, he reminded himself as he pulled himself through the broken window and into the back of the electronics store. But they’d only been little laws. Setting up a three-card monte scam over on Madison for suckers and tourists, hawking hot watches or Gucci knockoffs up on Fifth, forging a couple of ID’s so that he could buy a beer. He’d worked in a chop shop for a while, but it wasn’t as if he’d stolen the cars. He’d just broken them down for parts. He’d gotten stung a few times for fighting with the Hombres, but that was a matter of honor and loyalty.

Breaking into a store and stealing calculators and portable stereos was a big leap. While it had seemed like a lark over a couple of beers, the reality of it was setting those brews to churning in his stomach.

The way Nick saw it, he was trapped, as he’d always been. There was no easy way out.

“Hey, man, this is better than swiping candy bars, right?” Reece’s eyes, dark and surly, scanned the storeroom shelves. He was a short man with a rough complexion who’d spent several of his twenty years in Juvenile Hall. “We’re gonna be rich.”

T.J. giggled. It was his way of agreeing with anything Reece said. Cash, who habitually kept his own counsel, was already shoving boxes of video games in the black duffel he carried.

“Come on, Nick.” Reece tossed him an army-surplus bag. “Load it up.”

Sweat began to roll down Nick’s back as he shoved radios and minirecorders into the sack. What the hell was he doing here? he asked himself. Ripping off some poor slob who was just trying to make a living? It wasn’t like fleecing tourists or selling someone else’s heat. This was stealing, for God’s sake.

“Listen, Reece, I—” He broke off when Reece turned and shined the flashlight in Nick’s eyes.

“Got a problem, bro?”

Trapped, Nick thought again. Copping out now wouldn’t stop the others from taking what they’d come for. And it would only bring him humiliation.

“No. No, man, no problem.” Anxious to get it all over with, he shoved more boxes in without bothering to look at them. “Let’s not get too greedy, okay? I mean, we got to get the stuff out, then we got to fence it. We don’t want to take more than we can handle.”

His lips pulled back in a sneer, Reece slapped Nick on the back. “That’s why I keep you around. Your practical mind. Don’t worry about turning the stuff. I told you, I got a connection.”

“Right.” Nick licked his dry lips and reminded himself he was a Cobra. It was all he’d ever been, all he ever would be.

“Cash, T.J., take that first load out to the car.” Reece flipped the keys. “Make sure you lock it. Wouldn’t want any bad guys stealing anything, would we?”

T.J.’s giggles echoed off the ceiling as he wiggled out the window. “No, sir.” He pushed his wraparound sunglasses back on his nose. “Thieves everywhere these days. Right, Cash?”

Cash merely grunted and wrestled his way out the window.

“That T.J.’s a real idiot.” Reece hefted a boxed VCR. “Give me a hand with this, Nick.”

“I thought you said we were just going for the small stuff.”

“Changed my mind.” Reece pushed the box into Nick’s arms. “My old lady’s been whining for one of these.” Reece tossed back his hair before climbing through the window. “You know your problem, Nick? Too much conscience. What’s it ever gotten you? Now, the Cobras, we’re family. Only time you got to have a conscience is with your family.” He held out his arms. When Nick put the VCR into them, Reece slipped off into the dark.

Family, Nick thought. Reece was right. The Cobras were his family. You could count on them. He’d had to count on them. Pushing all his doubts aside, Nick shouldered his bag. He had to think of himself, didn’t he? His share of tonight’s work would keep a roof over his head for another month or two. He could have paid for his room the straight way if he hadn’t gotten laid off from the delivery-truck job.

Lousy economy, he decided. If he had to steal to make ends meet, he could blame the government. The idea made him snicker as he swung one leg out of the window. Reece was right, he thought. You had to look out for number one.

“Need a hand with that?”

The unfamiliar voice had Nick freezing halfway out the window. In the shadowy light he saw the glint of a gun, the flash of a badge. He gave one fleeting, panicky thought to shoving the bag at the silhouette and making a run for it. Shaking his head, the cop stepped closer. He was young, dark, with a weary kind of resignation in the eyes that warned Nick that he’d been this route before.

“Do yourself a favor,” the cop suggested. “Just chalk it up to bad luck.”

Resigned, Nick slipped out of the window, set the bag down, faced the wall and assumed the position. “Is there any other kind?” he muttered, and let his mind wander as he was read his rights.


With a briefcase in one hand and a half-eaten bagel in the other, Rachel raced up the courthouse steps. She hated to be late. Detested it. Knowing she’d drawn Judge Hatchet-Face Snyder for the morning hearing only made her more determined to be inside and at the defense table by 8:59. She had three minutes to spare, and would have had twice that if she hadn’t stopped by the office first.

How could she have known that her boss would be lying in wait with another case file?

Two years of working as a public defender, she reminded herself as she hit the doors at a run. That was how she should have known.

She scanned the elevators, gauged the waiting crowd and opted for the stairs. Cursing her heels, she took them two at a time and swallowed the rest of the bagel. There was no use fantasizing about the coffee she craved to wash it down with.

She screeched to a halt at the courtroom doors and took a precious ten seconds to straighten her blue serge jacket and smooth down her tousled, chin-length black hair. A quick check showed her that her earrings were still in place. She looked at her watch and let out a deep breath.