Trading the past for a simpler life in Miami is part of yoga teacher Taki's path to better karma. But when a devastating theft brings federal prosecutor Reese Beauchamps into her life, things are suddenly a lot more complicated!
She's drawn to gorgeous Reese in ways she can't explain. His analytical mind prevents him from understanding why spiritual intuition guides her and he reminds her of what she'd rather forget. But chasing a criminal, they can't dodge the sizzle of attraction. Now, unless Taki trusts Reese's determination to protect her, she might run again and leave love behind.
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Her back flat on the floor, Taki pushed into the yoga mat with both feet and lifted her hips toward the ceiling.
"Picture your spine as if it were a string of pearls," she told her class as she demonstrated bridge pose. "Raise each vertebra one at a time and edge your shoulders closer together."
Taki released the pose and stood to observe her students, making certain they didn't hurt themselves. Placing a block between one student's legs, she said, "Remember to keep your knees close together."
A chorus of groans answered her reminder.
"But only go to your personal edge," she instructed. "When you feel resistance, back off. In yoga, we never want to cause any pain."
Benny, one of her regulars, laughed and moaned at the same time. Taki glanced his way and hurried to adjust him. Poor skinny Benny. He tried so hard, but, at seventy, had little flexibility and she always worried he'd push too hard.
"Now make yourselves as comfortable as possible," she said. "Our final pose is the most important one we do, where we give ourselves the gift of a few minutes of total relaxation."
"Time for our reward," Benny said with a deep sigh.
As her students covered themselves with towels or blankets for warmth, she dimmed the lights. They would all sleep better tonight after she helped them progressively relax each part of their bodies. In a few minutes Benny would likely start snoring.
"Close your eyes," she said, making her voice gentle, "and allow your attention to focus on your breath." Taki smiled, loving this part of the class where she helped her students achieve at least ten minutes of stress-free existence. Something everyone badly needed in this fast-paced world.
"Imagine yourself in a field full of yellow daisies. Beautiful fragrant flowers stretch as far as the eye can"
The door slammed open, hitting the wall like a gunshot. "Taki!" an excited female voice shouted.
"Shhhh." Taki glared at Debbie, one of SoBe Spa's energetic aerobics instructors. Deb knew better than to interrupt the end of her yoga class.
"I'm so sorry, but there's an emergency," Debbie said. "I need to speak with you right away." She brightened the overhead light, making Taki wince in surprise.
A sense of dread replaced her peaceful mood as she approached the door. "What's going on?" she whispered. The class began murmuring.
"The police want to speak to you," Debbie whispered back. "Get your purse. Someone broke into your Jeep. You'll need your registration."
Immediately thinking about the package behind the driver's seat, Taki told the class to remain in relaxation as long as they chose and redimmed the lights. She grabbed her cloth bag and draped it over her neck and shoulder, then followed Debbie.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Nobody knows," Debbie replied as she pushed open the glass doors to the spa.
Taki shivered as she stepped into the crisp February air and wished she'd grabbed her sweatshirt before rushing out into the dark night. Still worried about the package, she hurried toward the bright lights illuminating a paved lot jammed with cars.
"I thought our parking area had security," Taki said.
Debbie nodded, her ponytail swinging with the motion. "So did Reese Beauchamps. Whoever robbed you also broke into his brand-new Jag."
"Oh, no," Taki murmured. She'd never spoken to Reese, but knew him by sight as he was popular with most of the female staff.
"He's not happy," Debbie said, "and is even sexier when he's mad."
Taki continued toward where Reese stood tall and confident with his arms folded across his chest, speaking to a uniformed police officer. His dark hair was damp, either from his workout or a shower, and the way he'd combed it back accentuated the strong, high cheekbones of his handsome face.
She couldn't understand his words but sensed irritation in the jab of his index finger. Oh, right. Wasn't he some sort of big-shot lawyer? He definitely needed one of her relaxation sessions.
Then she spotted her Jeep, and her breath caught with a painful lurch. Her heart hammered inside her chest.
The canvas top had been cut twice with long, jagged slashes.
She took a deep breath and released it slowly to calm herself. The package had to be there. The bowl had no value to anyone except her.
"My briefcase contained my cell phone and other valuable papers," Reese told the cop as she approached. "It is imperative that I get them back."
"We'll certainly do our best, Mr. Beauchamps." It seemed to Taki that boredom dripped from the policeman's voice. But maybe he was just overworked.
When Reese Beauchamps's angry dark eyes met her stare, a whisper of familiarity brushed over her, an unexpected feeling that she'd met him before. But she hadn't. No one would forget meeting this man.
"I'm Taki," she said, forcing her attention to the policeman. "I own the Jeep." The officer's eyes widened when he faced her.
As the two men openly checked her out, she again wished she'd thrown some sort of cover over her form-fitting yoga pants and halter top.
She reached into her cloth bag for her wallet. "Here's my registration, Officer."
"Taki?" The officer frowned as he studied her papers. "That's your legal name?" He glanced up. "Just Taki?"
"Just Taki. And here's my driver's license and proof of that PIP insurance we all have to buy."
She turned to Reese Beauchamps to offer her sympathy, and the buzz of recognition again surged through her.
Disoriented by the strange sensation, she glanced at his car. A temporary tag lay beneath shards of tinted glass from the shattered rear window. The trunk yawned open, its lock obviously forced. Poor guy.
"They stole your briefcase?" she asked.
He nodded. "From the trunk, yeah, with my cell phone inside. You have no idea how" He ran a hand through his wet hair. "My whole life is in that damn phone."
"Really?" she murmured. Your whole life? Refusing to be tethered to some addictive electronic device, she didn't own a cell phone, but understood the rest of the world considered that beyond odd.
"Check to see if there's anything missing from your vehicle," the officer told Taki as he scribbled across a form. "I need to document it in my report."
Somehow certain that the next few moments would impact the rest of her life, she straightened her shoulders and approached the rear of the Jeep with a quick prayer that she'd find a one-foot-square cardboard box with a Tibetan postmark wedged behind the front seat. She peered inside her vehicle.
The box wasn't there.
After a thorough search, she accepted her bowl was gone. Stolen. Her stomach plunged toward her ankles. A year of hard workand all for nothing. She closed her eyes and leaned against the Jeep's hood. How could she have been so foolish?
But who would want an old metal bowl?
"Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?"
Reese Beauchamps's voice brought Taki back to the present moment. Opening her eyes, she blinked back tears, refusing to cry. She had to accept another painful truth. Obviously she had more work to do.
"I'm okay," she said, although she felt anything but.
"Are you sure? You're not going to faint, are you?"
"Hardly." She attempted a reassuring smile. "It's just that my singing bowl is missing."
"Your singing bowl?" he asked. "You mean like a fruit bowl?"
She nodded, thinking only an attorney would compare a spiritual object to a bowl of apples.
"Was it an antique?"
"Yes," she said. Better to leave it at that.
"I guess we both learned a painful lesson tonight about valuables in cars." He held out his hand. "I'm Reese Beauchamps."
"I know who you are," Taki said as she grasped his warm hand. When they made contact, an electric sensation shot down her arm, and she felt a tug at her belly. That eerie sense of recognition washed over her again.
Had she known Reese Beauchamps in a previous lifetime? Could be. Or maybe she was just intensely attracted to him. The man was unbelievably good-looking.
"I'm the spa's yoga instructor," she said, still holding on to him, enjoying the sensation. "I know who most of the members are."
"But I've never been to your class."
"You should come," she said, reluctantly releasing his hand. His strong grip was somehow reassuring. "Yoga would help you relax."
Confused by her powerful reaction to him, she stared at a pulse beating steadily at the base of his neck, then raised her gaze to be captured by a pair of intense brown eyes. No wonder Debbie gushed over Reese.
"Hey, too bad, Taki."
She glanced toward the voice. Hector, one of the spa's personal trainers, approached with a purple gym bag slung over his heavily muscled shoulder. The police officer continued working on his forms.
"Reese," Hector said with a nod at the Jag. "Wow. The new wheels. Bad luck, huh, man?"
"No," Reese said. "Stupidity is more like it."
"You lose anything?" Hector asked Taki.
"The bowl," she said simply.
"Bummer." Hector patted a Free Tibet sticker on the Jeep's rusted bumper and shook his head. "Maybe you're right, girl. Maybe you do have a spiritual blot on your soul. Gotta go, but let me know if I can do anything."
With a wave, Hector continued to his red Camaro. Taki cursed herself for telling big-mouth Debbie her theory of why her life was such a wreck. When would she get it that most people didn't understand her unusual slant on the cosmos?
"Listen Taki, is it?" Reese Beauchamps's husky voice grabbed her attention again. He now stared at her as if she'd materialized before him from another dimension. "I'm confident I know who took my briefcase and why," he said. "I had important notes inside regarding a missing witness."
She raised her chin. "You lost a witness?"
"Not exactly." His dark eyes still searching hers, he shook his head. "Anyway, if we find the stolen property, I'll make sure you get your bowl back."
"Okay, Miss Taki," the officer called out, his voice emphasizing her name. "What's missing? They get your radio?"
Taki and Reese approached the policeman. "The only thing that's gone is a box with an ancient Tibetan bowl," she said.
"An old bowl?" The cop frowned. "Give me a description."
"It's copper and brass, eight inches in diameter. There was also a wooden wand that came with it."
The cop nodded as if now he understood. "A magic wand. Okay. So what's the approximate value?"
"Priceless. I had it blessed by a holy man, so there's not another one like it in the world."
The officer raised his gaze and stared at her as if she were an alien invader. "Uh-huh. What'd you pay for it?"
"Nothing. It was a gift. From a Tibetan monk."
"Come on, Miss Taki," the cop insisted. "Give me a figure. What's it worth?"
"My mortal soul," she murmured. "I made a promise to give the bowl, as a symbol of gratitude more than anything, to the Paradise Way Ashram. If I don't " Taki looked down, but not before she saw the policeman roll his eyes heavenward. Reese Beau-champs said nothing, but she sensed his curiosity.
"What's an ashram?" the officer asked.
"Like a secluded religious retreat, right?" Reese answered.
She nodded. "Something like that."
"Well, a hundred bucks ought to cover it," the officer said. "I'm done here." He handed Taki her registration and driver's license. "You can get a copy of the police report for your insurance company in a couple of days."
"Thank you, Officer," Reese said. "I'm sure you'll get to work on this right away."
"Too bad I don't have insurance," Taki said when the officer returned to his black-and-white police cruiser.
"You don't have insurance?"
"Just the required liability thing. Theft is too expensive." As the enormity of her loss sank in, she blinked back tears. The bowl was supposed to right so many wrongs.
"If the perpetrator is who I think it is," Reese said, "I'll see what I can do about getting you some restitution."
Thoroughly chilled now, she hugged her elbows, looking for warmth. "Thanks, but I just want my bowl back."
"And believe me, I want my briefcase." Rattling his keys as if anxious to leave, Reese gave his broken window a disgusted glance. "Well I'll be in touch."
"Let me know as soon as you hear anything. That bowl is very important to me."
"I can tell. But then, not many bowls are able to sing." He raised his brows. "Does it perform opera or more like rap?"
She narrowed her eyes at the amusement in his voice, wishing people wouldn't make fun of what they didn't understand. But seriously, what did she expect? A man like Reese would never appreciate the peaceful tones created by her bowl, how soothing the sound was to her troubled soul.
"Mostly yodeling," she said, trying to make her voice as earnest as possible.
He shook his head, obviously unsure whether she was serious. Good.
"Don't get your hopes up too high, though," he said as he opened the Jag's door. "I can't make any promises."
After watching Reese drive away, Taki trudged back to the warmth of the spa. No matter how hard she tried to set things right with the universe, her karma always came back to haunt her. She tried to do the right thing, but maybe she was doomed to un-happiness forever.
She'd planned to deliver the bowl to the ashram immediately after her last class. Why, why had she been so foolish to leave it in the Jeep? She should have taken it into the spa and stashed it safely inside her locker. Yeah, she had been worried someone would ask her about it, want to see it, and of course she didn't want to talk about the challenge Guru Navi had given her and how long she'd waited for the package to arrive from Tibet after the blessing. But maybe no one would have noticed.
She was just plain stupid. She deserved everything bad that ever happened to her.
Inside the ladies' locker room, after a long steam bath which she hoped would melt away lingering negativity, Taki tried to think about what to do next. Unfortunately, no amount of steam could halt her depressing thoughts.
No point in visiting the ashram tonight. She could start over with another task, but where would she find the money to go back to Tibet? It had been a miracle she got there last time. With her lack of skills, she wasn't likely to find another steamer captain willing to let her work her way across the Pacific Ocean. Although she had learned how to cook vast amounts of food for the always-hungry crew.
Debbie approached while Taki towel-dried her hair, wishing her brisk movements could push a new idea into her brain. She'd been seasick for three months on the last voyage and really didn't want to go through that again.