A Lot Like Love

By: Julie James

To my sister, for the Western Barbie story and many other timeless classics.





Acknowledgments




To my fabulous editor, Wendy McCurdy, for her insight, suggestions, and support, and to my wonderful agent, Susan Crawford, for her dedication and tremendous enthusiasm. Thanks as well to the entire team at Berkley, all of whom do such an incredible job and whose contributions are extremely appreciated.



A special thanks to Denise and Martin Cody, for showing me the ins and outs of running a wine store, and for being so gracious in answering all my pesky questions. Thanks as well to wine educator and sommelier John Laloganes for his fantastic wine appreciation course.



To Maria and Brian Guarraci, Matt and Melissa Boresi, Jen Adamo, and most especially to Pete Montenaro, my New York consigliere, for their insight and wonderful stories about Italian families. I only wish I could've used every story they shared with me—particularly the one about the tomato plant.



Thanks as well to my father-in-law, for his investigative expertise and that of his mysterious "sources," for helping me develop the setup of this story in its early stages.



To my incredible beta readers, Elyssa Papa and Kati Dancy, for all their helpful suggestions, and an extraspecial thanks to Elyssa for the title of this book.



Thank you to my family and friends, for all their love and support, and particularly for putting up with me when I'm on a deadline. And finally, to my husband, for always listening, helping, advising, and being all-around amazing.





One




FROM THE MOMENT Nick McCall walked into his boss's office, he knew something was up.

Being a special agent for the FBI, he was an expert at both observing body language and reading between the lines, often gleaning all he needed to know from a carelessly chosen word or the subtlest of gestures. A skill that frequently came in handy.

Upon entering the room, he watched as Mike Davis, the special agent in charge of the Chicago field office, toyed with the sleeve of his venti Starbucks coffee cup (even he refused to drink the crap they had in the office)—a gesture many of the senior agents in the office had noted long ago. It was Davis's tell, and Nick knew exactly what it meant.

Trouble.

Another long undercover job, he guessed. Not that working undercover bothered him—in fact, for the past few years, that was almost exclusively the type of investigation he'd handled. But having just finished a particularly grueling assignment, even he was ready for a break.

He took a seat in one of the chairs in front of Davis's desk, watching as his boss now twisted the sleeve around the base of the Starbucks cup. Shit, he was screwed. Everyone knew that twisting of the sleeve was even worse than sliding.

Nick saw no point in beating around the bush. "All right. Just lay it on me."

Davis greeted him with a grin. "Good morning to you, too, sunshine. And welcome back. How I missed our pleasant chats while you were working on Fivestar."

"Sorry. I'll start over. It's good to be back, sir. Thank you."

"I assume you were able to find your office without too much trouble?" Davis asked dryly.

Nick got comfortable in his chair, letting the sarcasm bounce off him. True, while working on Operation Fivestar over the last six months, he hadn't been in the office much. And it felt good to be back. Surprisingly, he realized that he had missed his chats with Davis. Sure, his boss could be prickly at times, but with all the crap he had to deal with as special agent in charge, this was to be expected.

"I wandered around the floor until I found a door with my name on it. Nobody's kicked me out yet, so I figure I must be in the right place." He looked Davis over. "You're looking a little grayer around the temples there, boss."

Davis grunted. "Spent the last six months of my life worrying that you'd screw up your investigation."

Nick stretched out his legs in front of him. He didn't screw up investigations. "Have I ever given you any reason to doubt me?"

"Probably. You're just better at covering it up than most."

"That's true. So you want to go ahead and give me the bad news?"

"You're so convinced I've got something to tell you." Davis feigned innocence as he gestured to his Starbucks cup. "Can't a guy simply catch up over coffee with the top agent in his office?"

"Oh, so I'm your top agent now."

"You've always been my top agent."

Nick raised an eyebrow. "Don't let Pallas hear you say that," he said, referring to another agent in their office who'd recently been on a run with some very high-profile arrests.

"You and Pallas are both my top agents," Davis said, as diplomatically as a mother who'd just been asked to name her favorite child.

"Nice save."

"Actually, I wasn't kidding about the catching up part. I heard the arrests last week got a little rough."

Nick brushed this off. "That can happen with arrests. Funny enough, it's typically not an experience that catches people at their best."

Davis studied him through sharp gray eyes. "Coming off an undercover job is never easy, especially a rough one like Fivestar. Twenty-seven Chicago police officers charged with corruption is quite a coup. You did a great job, Nick. The director called me earlier this morning and told me to extend his personal congratulations to you."

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