FLESH AND ROBBER BARRONS


Book 3 in the Flesh and Thieves series

Effie and Mr. Big go over plans for the big job, but manage to take time to let the passion between them heat up to the boiling point.

PREVIEW

We take a trolley for two stops, and then a sky tram, suspended by cables. The view is breathtaking, with a 360-degree view of snow-capped mountains and distinctly European-looking buildings.

Mr. Big nudges me at the last stop and we get off on a street named Zer Mitterland. The air is different, crisper. The sky is bluer. It hits me hard that I’m in Switzerland, with a lover I barely know, a guy who can steal, kill, and fuck. Well. Very well.

Life is good.

Hell, I can probably get some really good chocolates here too.

I smile at Big. He smiles back.

He jerks his head slightly toward the left and we head that way. I assume we are heading toward a small motel, but not so. We stop in front of a fairy-tale looking, two-story brick house, with white columns, detailed wrought iron work, and a quaint blue door and brass door-knocker.

Big takes out a key. He unlocks the door and holds it open for me.

Does he own a house here? I look around. It’s decorated in European average. No. He rented a place. Smarter than a hotel.

Big takes my hand. Kisses my palm. It sends a zing to my core. I shake my head.

He kisses the back of my hand. Links our fingers together.

Big leads me up to the master bedroom. The first thing I notice is that the bed is huge. It’s a four-poster bed. Which immediately makes me think of being tied up.

I smile.

Big smiles back at me. Maybe he can read minds. Or expressions. You learn to become very observant in our business.

But he bypasses the bed and leads me over to the big glass double doors. He unlocks them, guides me out on to the balcony.

Big hands me his $3,000 binoculars. I put them up to my face and he turns me slightly so I’m facing what he wants me to look at.

It’s a very large house. A palace really.

Ah.

Okay.

So this house was a strategic rental.

A smart guy who can steal, kill, and fuck. A really smart guy. An amazingly stealthy thief. I’m assuming he’s a grade A, quick-as-lightning assassin. I already know he’s got the “mind blowing” thing down in more ways than one.

A girl could do worse.

I put down the binoculars for a minute to look at him and smile again. He raises an eyebrow. I’m not sure if that means, ‘Do you want to scale the walls to the palace? or ‘Do you want to try out the bed?’ It could mean both I guess. Definitely both.

I look through the binoculars again.

“I’m assuming you have a plan.”

“Yup. It’s open for improvement though,” he says.

We go inside. I hand him back his binoculars.

He takes out a detailed blueprint. It’s the first floor of the mansion.

Hmmm.

Big takes out two photos. Both are of pretty brunettes in their twenties. First girl is wearing a pink top.

“Countess of Ranton,” Big says.

I nod.

He points to the other picture. “Countess of Centrell.”

I nod again.

“First cousins.”

“Ut-oh.”

“Yeah-huh,” he says. “Ranton will be wearing the necklace. Her aunt lent it to her mom, who never gave it back. Apparently this little item has been in contention, and hiding, for a number of years, and is going to make a debut on the young, lovely Ranton tonight.”

He pauses while I take that in.

“Centrell,” he says tapping the other photo.

“Whose mother owns the necklace,” I say. Just to make sure that I’m clear on who the players are.

“Yes. Centrell,” he says and taps the photo again, “She’s the princess we need to safeguard. Her father thinks there may be some kind of trouble at the ball. He is trying to push through a peace treaty and peace is not always popular. He’s worried about everything from terrorism to kidnapping, but particularly kidnapping.”

“Ah,” I say. “Okay.”

I take a few seconds to think on this. Neither of these jobs would be extremely hard. It’s doing them both at once that makes it near impossible.

“Plan?”

He points down at the blueprints. “The party will be here.” He has his finger on a part of the rendering showing a very large ballroom. He puts a small blue felt dot on the paper near his finger. “I will bump into the fine Ms. Ranton and charm her into a stupor.”

I smile at his choice of words.

“While you switch the necklace with a fake.”

“Me? You want me to steal the necklace off a live per ”

“Better than off a dead person,” he interrupts.

“You want me, me to steal the necklace off the princess… in the middle of what? Three hundred guests?” I ask. “I have to be the one to get that part?”

“Yes.”

Jeesh.

“Unless you think you can do a better job of charming the pants off her.”

I got to admit, he was pretty good at that.

My expression must have been priceless.

“I’ve discreetly checked into her proclivities; she doesn’t lean that way. But if anyone could temp her, you could.”

“Fine, fine. You be the distraction, I’ll be the thief.”

He smiles at me. He leans down and kisses me on the cheek. Then he puts his lips by my ear. His voice is low, sexy. “Thank you, baby. If you do a good job…” his voice gets lower, “I’ll reward you.”

I wiggle away. “All right, all right. I said I’d do it.”

He puts a red dot next to the blue dot. I’m assuming that’s the mark. He puts a blue dot behind the red dot. That’s me. Miss Invisible. Sneaking up behind Ranton, and, oh, no problem, taking the necklace off her neck while she makes googly eyes at Big. Hopefully.

“Let me see the necklace,” I say.

Big takes a necklace out of his pack.

“Phew-eeeee.”

It’s stunning. Seven large triangular ruby-looking stones set in gold. I take it from him. It’s heavy.

“Fuck.”

“What?”

“I hate clasps like this,” I say. “They’re a pain in the ass. Tough to manipulate. Hard to get on.” I pause. “And hard to get off.”

He shrugs.

“I’m serious. They’re persnickety. They’re made so they won’t fall off accidentally.”

He shrugs again.

“We needed an exact duplicate. If I’d known I could have maybe engineered a fake that looked the same but was easier to use. It’s too late now.”

I sigh. Very loudly. A pained, exaggerated, put-upon sound.

He smiles.

“More risk. It’ll make it interesting.”

I roll my eyes.

His voice goes smoky again. “The greater the reward.”

Okay. Hellooooo motivation. I can do this.

I nod.

“Put the necklace on.” The way he says it is commanding. The way I picture he’d say it if he threw me a pair of cuffs and said, “Put these handcuffs on.”

I shiver.

“Cold?”

“No.”

I place the necklace around my neck and begin working the clasp. Because my hands are behind me and I can’t see it, it’s difficult to get. I sigh, turn the necklace around so the clasp is in front, but then it’s too close under my chin for me to get a good look at it. I go to the mirror, and I close the two pieces of the clasp without much problem, but it takes a good forty to forty-five seconds. I fix the necklace so it sits correctly, with the rubies in front.

I put my hands on my hips and turn around and face Big. I’m not happy.

He looks to the side and I automatically follow his gaze. I have a second to hear his footsteps and try to process before he walks into me, full body contact. He literally knocks me over, catching me just before I reach the floor, so he’s got me almost horizontal. His arms are around me. It’s like we’re dancing and he has me suspended in a low dip.

I look at him. He looks amazed.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. Although how I could have missed you…”

He very slowly raises me up to standing but doesn’t let me go. He steps in a little closer so that there is only an inch between us, and bends down a little. He gives me fierce eye contact, looking at me like I’m the only woman in the world. My body heats up. I can feel his breath.

His hands are hot on my low back and on my waist. The one on my waist takes a short glide up and down my side and then retreats and I feel its loss. I don’t see it, because I’m lost in his gaze, drowning in his eyes, seeing only him. The hand appears again, his knuckles grazing the side of my cheek ever so softly before tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

His voice is an exotic whisper hinting of safety, danger, whiskey, and promises. “I was sorry I bumped into you. I’m not now.”

He leans down as if to kiss me, but doesn’t. His lips hover a hair’s breath away from mine. “Again, my apologies.”

He backs up a half step, flashes me a killer smile, and walks around me and away.

I fan myself. And as I do my fingertips touch the top of my chest.

I’m not wearing the necklace.

That lucky bastard. Damn he’s good.