Kerry sat alone in the lounge area of the suite, a book open in her lap to the same page it had been for an hour. Billy was still awake, clacking away at his computer, and Henry was waiting for her, though she hoped he was already asleep.
It couldn’t be love. It had to be infatuation. That was it! She had never felt either before, so surely she was confusing things. And look what it was doing to her: the sun was coming up soon, she couldn’t sleep, and her mind was so far off the game it was pathetic.
She closed the book and picked up her pack of cigarettes. What had McCall meant with his remark? What game could he be playing she didn’t know?
Kerry went over in her mind what she knew.
Two years earlier with Interpol closing in she had sat down to dinner with Georges in New York. Luckily for her the FBI had backed off since she had married McCall and moved the bulk of her operations to Europe.
They sat in a trendy bistro that was the current darling of the Old Guard, not yet discovered by the Hollywood noveau riche. Georges had ordered their wine and the sommelier, a real Frenchman, had lingered at their table pleased to be with a fellow countryman.
When he finally left them to their vino and appetizer Georges hadn’t pulled any punches. “This competition with McCall must stop, chere.”
“You’re right.” She’d been pleased by his shocked look. “Absolutely right. I know that Interpol is getting closer. So I have decided on a few small jobs in Asia to help me sharpen my skills, but I want to pick some specific ones depending on what McCall is up to.”
“Didn’t you just say I was right?”
She took a sip of wine and did her best to ignore the businessman trying to catch her eye. If he knew Georges was her godfather, and not the man she was digging gold from, his tune might change. She knew Georges had brass knuckles, a wicked blade, and a slim gun all beneath his tailored designer suit.
“Yes, you are, but hear me out. The next time I see McCall it will be to set him up. I am confident I can work out a deal: Interpol can take the Night Hawk down once and for all, and I shall entice them to broker a deal with me. The Simian has knowledge, names, dates, details they can only dream of.”
“Chere, Interpol will not let you go so easily. They will take your offer but claim your soul.”
“Let me work that out. I need to know what McCall is planning. Oh, I know all about the Sherbrook job and what he has lined up in Istanbul, but that’s just two this year and he’s being quiet. He has something big cooking.”
Georges sat back, raising an imperious eyebrow as he swirled his vintage and sipped it delicately. His dark eyes glowed, proving he knew something and delighted in the power of his knowledge. “I will tell you, only if you promise to stay away from Cornwall and Istanbul. Promise me, chere.”
“That all depends on how good this phantom job is. Istanbul is sapphires, and you know how I love them.”
Negotiation was what Georges lived for and they bartered until their steaks came. Over rare meat and buttered potatoes, Georges warned her what he knew was second hand, gossip amongst fences.
“What do you know of the Leopard Diamond?”
Her eyes went misty. “Thirty-seven carats currently, it is light yellow with brown highlights under ultraviolet light, corrupted red phosphorescence, giving it the nickname of leopard. Mined in the seventeenth century from what is now Liberia it was traded without record between warlords primarily in the Arabic world.
“The first recorded possession was by Mehmed IV and legend has it his vizier purchased it and had a sorceress power a spell with it so the emperor was bespelled into giving up his powers. It was recorded at nearly forty-eight carats at the time. Since then it remained within the Ottoman empire until the eighteenth century when it was given to Catherine the Great in seventeen sixty-two, supposedly purchased by Potemkin. They say it was he who cut it to forty-two carats to bring out the leopard shine.
“Since then it bounced around the royals of Europe and allegedly a curse was born, that if it was possessed by a heart that had not known true love great ruin would fall. Someone attempted to break the curse and cut it to the present thirty-six and presented to Queen Victoria just a month before the death of the prince regent.
“It resided in the tower of London until the second world war when it was moved for safety during the bombings. A double agent got hold of it and it was headed for Mussolini’s collection when a French resistor saved it.
“In nineteen fifty-three the Dauphin family successfully won it in court by claiming a distant relationship with both Catherine and Victoria. They paid nearly two hundred million U.S. for it in today’s money and the last three generations have been on a slow slide to hell, resurrecting claims of the curse.”
Georges’ face shone with paternal pride. “Very good, bahis firmaları you know your gems.”
“I also know they keep it under lock and key and it is beyond grasping.” Wistfully she sighed and took a bite of steak, daydreaming of the gem for a long moment. Curse or no, it was a prize worthy of being the crown jewel in any thief’s career.
“Do you know the daughter has remarried? Pierre du Champ is a gigolo, not a very good one. He married for money and has burned through it. He is pushing the family to debt they cannot recover from and they have already taken drastic measures. It is known this will not save them, and in one year, perhaps two, they will auction off all, including the diamond.”
Her fork clattered to her plate and Kerry felt her blood burn with the sensual promise of the ultimate score. To hold the Leopard Diamond in her hands…a thief would sell her soul for the chance.
“And McCall will go for it,” Kerry wistfully sighed once more.
“Of course unloading it will be the difficult part. Perhaps only a handful of men can afford it with both cash and morals. He will need to assemble buyers first, men Interpol would very much like to get their hands on.”
“The kind of men one could sell to Interpol so she may keep her soul?”
Kerry’s mind snapped back to present. The four men who had agreed to bid on the diamond once McCall had it were now her insurance. Interpol knew nothing of them for that reason. Once McCall was found with the diamond on him Roger would move in, letting Interpol take custody rather than French authorities. McCall would offer to trade her as well as some of the few other thieves in existence and the four buyers for his freedom. But Kerry would get to them first. If McCall went quietly he got to live. If he fought the charges, Kerry would let him know that those four men would be happy to silence him forever to keep him quiet.
What game could McCall be playing? She had four days to find out, but more accurately she had four days to let Henry find out while she and Billy worked on the schematics and specifics.
Should she tell him the truth? God, to have someone to talk to besides Georges, who was the closest thing she had to a father. To have a lover to share herself with, someone to hold her tightly when she was afraid like this, fearing she was falling apart. It was so tempting, so wholly tempting, but perhaps that was the problem.
Maybe she didn’t love Henry, but the idea of him. She stubbed out her cigarette and fought mad laughter. Two nights with the man and she was more confused than she had ever been.
Kerry stretched out, closed her eyes, and wondered for the first time in her life what was right, and what was wrong.
When she woke, she was in the bed, not the couch. She smelled coffee and bacon, eggs too, an American breakfast, not the light French fare she expected. Henry sat reading another damn law book at the foot of the bed, his wet hair long, his shirt off, pants loose and feet bare.
God, what a sight to wake up to! Something in her chest warmed. “Good morning.”
“I had thought you wouldn’t actually sleep on the couch,” he drawled with good humor.
“I passed out after deep thoughts.”
He smiled and set the book down. “Hungry?”
“I need to brush my teeth. Then maybe coffee black and a croissant, if there is one.”
He rolled his eyes as she rose and padded out towards the bathroom. “You barely eat anything.”
She ignored him to brush her teeth, do the necessary, and wash her face. Ugh, she still wore her dress from the evening and her bra was killing her. Kerry stripped down to her skin and slipped on her robe before returning.
“I’m not that vain of a woman. I don’t watch what I eat to fit into fashion, I just have to keep in top physical shape for my job. I need to fit into small areas, be quite flexible, and be light enough any ropes and rigging work, guaranteed.”
He grinned and held up a large piece of bacon. “I can help you work off these calories.”
“Nice try, but sex, even good athletic sex, does not burn nearly as many calories as people think. And bacon as well as eggs scrambled as such contain loads of salt which causes bloat. Bloat is the enemy.”
He sat back. “Are you all right? You seem annoyed.”
“Just because I am not ripping those trousers off you does not mean I’m annoyed.”
“Women,” Henry sighed. “I thought you would be happy that I agreed to stop holding you back in this…job, and help.”
Pouring her coffee black she sat in the bed against the pillows and curled her legs under her.. “And just why did you? Such a sudden change of heart, is it all just because of the sex?”
He sat back, blue eyes steady. “Would it matter if it was?”
Kerry realized she was simply panicking and fought back down the bile of temper. Henry called up feelings in her she had never had to deal with before, and with him so close it had felt natural when she woke. That in itself was unnatural kaçak iddaa for her, and all she wanted was space and time to figure out what was now twisted up inside her heart.
“It’s hard to trust anyone in my line of work,” she said weakly. It was true enough she felt safe hiding behind the statement.
“I’m no thief, like you, nor a killer like Billy, nor a fence like Georges. I’m a lawyer, which means I can be objective, I have to be. I handle trusts and wills, mostly. I met Georges because he was a material witness on a will which contested a deed. David versus Goliath stuff, one little farmer and a large corporation.”
“You don’t seem to come cheap. Representing the corporation?”
“Farmer, actually. I’d already finished a case with a large evil corporation as their representation and my pockets were lined, so I took this case do my soul some good. Georges let me know what he did and I never judged. The corporation looking to develop the land had stolen the will that left a large portion of an adjoining farm to Jean-Paul’s. Georges let me know he knew a man who could get it when all other copies were destroyed.”
“And he sent you Michel.” She was rather amazed by his story. Henry seemed like, well, a square, but also affluent, and “affluent lawyer” were not words one paired with nice guy.
“Nice young man, good set of skills. My partner at the firm is a criminal lawyer. It’s rather handy having someone with second story work under his belt on staff. Good or bad, so few people play fair in the legal world.”
“Wow. I… didn’t know.”
“Michel, Georges, they can vouch for me. I know the world is not black and white, and I know the Dauphins are broken people with bodies littering their past, some not so far in the past, and McCall is as bad as they come. If I need to feel any sense of righteousness it will be in helping you outsmart them all. And, hell, if you think I am betraying you in any way, I am not, and you can investigate me all you like.”
“Calm down. Are you ready to handle it? We have to question loyalty, it’s the only way to survive. This is what it means to live in my world. I trust Billy, but every time he comes back from an interlude with Dan I look into his eyes and try to read any allegiance changes.”
“Well you won’t have to worry about me.” He stood and stretched, and the play of muscle made her mouth water and her soul yearn. “Perhaps because I am not from ‘your world’ I don’t play by those rules. I am not for sale to the highest bidder. Kerry, you know very little about me. Maybe I am sick of being the guy who holds others back when they have to venture into the greyer areas of life.”
There was a story there, but he seemed worked into quite a froth over it, so she pasted on a smile and decided to gloss past it. “You’re right. Look, Henry, I am sorry. I am on little sleep and I am on edge. That chess remark yesterday is getting to me.”
He stilled. “Damn it, we can’t talk here.”
She opened her mouth to reply but caught herself. Hell, he was right. She was losing sight of what was important all because six plus feet of gorgeous muscle topped by a beautiful face hiding a sharp mind was in her proximity. The first good sex to rattle her teeth in…ever, and she was losing it.
“Where is he?” she asked in German, pointing towards the wall indicating she didn’t mean Billy.
“Breakfasting with Marchal and then he is due to join the men who have arrived in a fox hunt designed to entertain the British guests. Danny will be on him then and Billy will be watching. Come into town with me so we may talk.”
They had three days left until McCall would go after the diamond. Like many thieves, he always worked with a tech man. She preferred to work alone, but he usually had a partner in another location with toys and gadgets to help him. Yet no name had come up and McCall had yet to make contact. Georges had been looking for a name but neither he nor Billy had found anything. In town they could talk and perhaps she could do some old fashioned sleuthing and find his partner.
“I’ll get dressed. Ask Billy about bugs.”
He left and she grabbed a tunic sweater that would hang off one shoulder, a camisole, and one of her few pairs of jeans, aiming for casual.
Billy opened the door with his dark hair standing on end and his eyes slitted against the light. At the sight of a half-naked Henry he straightened and grinned. “Blymie! Please tell me you’ve decided to leave your ‘wife,’ mate!”
“Bugs,” Henry just growled. “She wants bugs. We’re going into town.”
“Bugs? Oh! Give me five.”
Kerry smiled and dressed quickly. She could shower when they returned, so she stuffed her hair into a ponytail and slipped on her gym shoes. Henry came back and raised his eyebrows.
“You look cute.”
That made her freeze, eyes narrowed. “Cute?”
He smiled gently and leaned against the doorway and god, she wanted to lick him head to toe, peeling those jeans off kaçak bahis slowly and-
“Cute. Soft. Girl-next-door as we say back home.”
She growled. “I have been called a goddess by minor royalty, I have posed for current masters, I am widely regarded as quite a beauty. Cute is harmless, cute is the retarded puppy who mangles your slippers when you teach him to fetch them.”
He grinned now. “I thought you weren’t vain.”
She threw a pillow at him which he let hit his chest and fall to the floor. Crouching to retrieve it, he chuckled. “What’s the matter? Don’t like dogs?”
“Cats are better.”
He looked stricken. “My god, a cat person? I should have known!”
“Get dressed.” She went into the bathroom to put on makeup, determined to polish herself right out of cute.
Billy appeared in the doorway. “I think I know what you want to do. Here is the recorder, you need to get this close by, and these two bugs will need a power supply. Know what to do? Oh, honey, no red lipstick today. Come on, come here.”
He set the bugs down and then grabbed tissues and a moisturizer, pulling her blush and lipstick off, tsking like a mother hen. “Honey, remember how we talked about wearing costumes? Not today. You are a beautiful woman, but when you put on this kabuki goop right here the world only sees the image you project, not what you are. Today, you do not want to stop traffic. So let’s go au natural.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The longer this goes on the more I doubt you’ve ever killed anyone in your life.”
“Luv, never say! If it’ll convince you just pick out a lecher from the crowd, any, and I’ll kill him straight away so that you may regret besmirching my honor. Now quit laughing and hold still.”
She let him fuss and smooth, stuck her tongue out when he asked how she felt about tinted lip balm. Finally he was done and she turned back to the mirror and saw she looked fresh-faced and clean, not cute or child-like as she feared, but…softer. “Hmm.”
“Goes with the shoes,” Billy said in German. “So today I’m going to compare the personnel schedule with reality. The target is going to be out until four, perhaps five, Danny will be on him, but I will keep them in sight on the grounds.”
“Won’t they be in the woods?”
Billy snorted. “Not this lot. Lazy and ancient, the dogs will keep the foxes close.”
She shivered. “Seems so cruel.”
He grinned evilly. “Perhaps when this is all done I can take you to a leather cow operation.”
“Oh my god. Are you one of those Peta nutjobs?”
“Christ.” She punched his arm and pushed past him. Henry waited on the couch, reading his book, dressed in a long sleeved polo the same deep shade of blue as his eyes, his hair clubbed back, and comfortable looking boots on his feet beneath his well-worn jeans.
She’d never had a taste for the All American Male before, but now it was quickly becoming a fetish.
Clearing his throat, Billy headed for his room. “I’d better get dressed and meet up with Danny before the cruel hunt.”
Standing, Henry smiled and handed her her purse. “Will those fit in there?” He nodded to the bugs.
She slipped them in but had to remove her sunblock to make room. “There. Shall we have coffee in town and see the sights?” she said in her carefully-American accent.
He nodded, took her arm, and they left. With the new guests it was now crowded, and there were now many ages represented. The older crowd had been along early to see the charm of the house, also for sale, but now there were young Turks cheek-to-jowl with aged collectors.
Kerry caught many women admiring Henry, and had the new experience of seething with jealousy. Without conscious thought she plastered herself to his side as they walked to the front door and then Henry handed his keys to the one of the young parking attendants.
His blue eyes glittered as he surveyed the crush. “Larger turnout than expected.”
She understood what he was asking. “Everything will go smoothly.” More people actually helped, security would be spread thinner, less attentive, a thief’s dream. “I am sure you and Marchal have it all in hand,” she added for anyone listening.
His car was brought around and once inside they quickly drove the short distance to town. They passed the doorway where they had first kissed and Kerry felt a bolt of lust shoot through her.
“McCall doesn’t work alone. Calling him a two-story man is generous. He has Daniel to do the more athletic work, but Daniel is not terribly smart. So McCall also uses a hacker, a gadget man. Someone to do the tech work Billy can do, but better.
“I have a feeling this person is in in town, probably has rented a room. Usually McCall keeps them offsite, sends Danny back and forth with things. So we should find McCall’s man, tail him. If he leaves we can get inside his room, if not we’ll have to think of a distraction.”
“Why not just buy him off?”
“Loyalty. McCall pays him, but if I pay him more what’s to stop him from starting a bidding war between me and McCall?”
“So there’s truly no honor among thieves?”
“You must read such interesting books. And here I thought it was all dry law volumes.”