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"So," Liv said. "Want to tell me why you've been tailing me around Portland the last couple of days?"

They were seated at Liv's kitchen table. She hadn't particularly wanted to have a conversation with a federal agent outside on the street, so she'd invited him up for a cup of tea. Agent Snow, to his credit, didn't seem too fazed that she'd burned him. "Have to admit, I'm impressed," he said. "Ever considered a job with the Bureau?"

"Um, no, but thanks for the compliment," Liv said, sipping her lavender-lemon herbal. She'd had enough coffee. Any more and her stomach would rebel.

"Well, then, would you mind answering a few questions?" Agent Snow blew on the surface of his Earl Gray and raised his eyebrows over the rim. She wasn't fooled by his nonchalant attitude. The voice recording device was running and he had a pen and small notebook at the ready.

"Depends. What about?"

"How well do you know Robert Mickelson?"

Liv rolled her eyes. Rob. That figured. "I should have known this had something to do with him. What's he done?"

"We're investigating him for mortgage fraud. You know anything about that?"

Liv sucked in her breath, surprised. She'd known he was a cheater and a slime-ball, but she'd never suspected him of breaking federal laws. "I'd like to help you, but no.This is news to me."

Random facts reshuffled themselves and slipped into place: Rob's position in commercial lending at the bank. Gina's real estate broker job. Maybe that's why Rob had asked her to investigate Gina, and why he'd been so angry when she'd sent Gina photos of him. It was possible the files on Gina were a kind of insurance policy, in case she considered cooperating with the feds. Maybe he'd threatened to hurt her lover or some other kind of blackmail.

Liv considered the little she knew about money laundering. If Rob was involved in a complex mortgage fraud scheme, he probably worked with a network of lowlife criminals and willing mules, people who allowed him to use their bank accounts in exchange for a cut of the profits. He'd have set up dummy companies and overseas bank accounts.

She thought about his many "business" trips. How could she have been so naive?

Disgusted, she sipped her tea and cursed herself again for getting romantically involved with Rob. Her radar had certainly gone haywire on that one. She wondered how much else she'd gotten wrong lately. Maybe it really was time for a vacation. In South America. With a cat.

Her temples started to throb and she put a hand to her head. "I'm sorry," she told Snow who looked at her with shrewd eyes. "What were you saying?"

"I said, we know he entered your place of business on Wednesday and stayed for twenty minutes. What did he want?"

"You were following him," Liv said slowly, nodding as events clicked into place. "And then you started following me. That's when I first spotted your SUV near my office and cruising past my house. Where's your partner? Staked out in front of Rob's bank?"

Snow's face remained blank. "Maybe."

"Ah. Right. Sorry. I guess you can't say. Well, if you've done your homework--and I bet you have--you probably already know everything about Rob and me. Just the same, I'll tell you what I know, and you can match that up with your intel. I have nothing to hide."

Liv gave him the lowdown on the job Rob had hired her to do, answered his questions, told him what she knew of his habits and hangouts and routine. She owed no loyalty to Rob the Rover. In fact, the thought of him going to jail gave her a thrilling jolt of satisfaction.

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by Shelley Burbank
A new case thrusts private investigator, Olivia Lively, into the cut...
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