A THIEF OBSESSED (International Thief Book Three)
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Read Chapter One
Stealing the diamond without telling Dimitri was not the way to start a serious relationship with him.
But I had planned this job long before he came back into my life. And if I were going to successfully start my life anew, completing this job on my own was paramount.
With the priceless blue diamond safely tucked inside my jacket pocket, I reactivated the alarm system of the Grand Palais’ vault exactly how my mentor, Elisa Garment, had taught me. Then I carefully made my way back, skirting around each blue laser beam that would trigger the alarm and result in my imminent arrest.
Getting to the safe that held the exquisite jewel was challenging, but getting out without letting a single strand of hair drift through one of the security beams was even more difficult.
But I had fifty thousand euros on the line. Not to mention I was determined to prove that I could live the straight and narrow life. I had to prove this. Not only for Dimitri, whom I felt had arranged this job for me, but for myself.
And I needed to complete the job on my own. I wanted to show Dimitri that I was serious about changing. Hell, I wanted to show myself that I was capable of changing.
Since I left my family in the South of France two weeks ago, I had done a lot of soul searching while walking along the amazing cliffs dotting the eastern coastline of Ireland and meditating while staring out into the ocean.
I could have decided to just take what money I had saved and find some remote island to live a quiet life. Maybe Dimitri would visit me between his own jobs, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would get bored. He sure didn’t strike me as the type to enjoy the quiet life.
A couple of weeks in a castle high up on some rugged cliffs in Ireland? Sure. But stay there forever? No way. He needed the fast life he’d come to know well. And so did I.
So here I was—a thief for hire. But this time I was on the right side of the law. I had been contracted by the Grand Palais and their security team to steal the diamond.
The only problem? In order to truly prove that their security system was flawed, I had to steal one of their most valuable possessions the way any other thief would, unexpectedly. In order to maintain the element of surprise, I hadn’t actually run my plan by the people who hired me.
We’d talked once over a video conference call about the job. I even signed a contract to complete the job. But their plan was for me to meet them at the museum tomorrow and discuss how to proceed. I decided to show them what a real thief would do.
The diamond had been stored in a small vault behind an important painting—something I already knew and had studied. It was scheduled to be on display starting tomorrow, opening with an invitation-only luncheon for special guests.
I got the impression that the diamond would be on display daily, then stored inside the small vault at night, but I couldn’t be sure of that. The security firm outfitted the entire museum with top-of-the-line security for each exhibit, but Elisa and I had already found the flaws in the Grand Palais’ security system.
If I wanted to steal the precious blue diamond, I would have to take it while it was in the small vault. Tonight. I would prove to the insurance company that the jewelry they insured was not secure enough. And I’d prove that my services would help them make the assets they protected more secure.
So with the diamond tucked in an inside pocket of my jacket, and a replica in its place inside the vault, the job was almost complete. Unfortunately for the people who hired me, I proved their vault system was lacking. All I had left to do was escape the building without being caught, thereby proving that the Grand Palais had work to do.
The trickiest part of my escape was making my way through an unused part of the building that was barely monitored by the actual security guards. Keyword: barely. It was the least risky way out of the building, and I had to take that path by keeping my night vision goggles in place. Finally, I was in the last long dark hallway just before I would reach the back exit—the exit Elisa and I had mapped out many times when we rehearsed this job. Of course that was back when I’d planned to steal the diamond for Reynard Jules, my handler.
I stepped softly down the tiled hallway, making almost no sound.
When I reached the end of the hallway, I turned right, and there was the door—solid metal with a long bar that would take me directly outside—with one drawback. The door was wired into the security system. An alarm would alert the night shift security guards of a problem, which was why I would have to be quick.
A sense of relief washed over me as I stepped forward. I pushed through the door and exited the large building. The cool night air hit my face just as a new wave of excitement coursed through my blood. I’d always gotten an adrenaline rush when I stole something beautiful and valuable, but this was different. This was honest. Or at least I hoped they’d see it as honest when I met with the men who hired me tomorrow.
As the door shut behind me, a figure appeared. Arms circled me and dragged me backwards into the shadows.
“Hello, ma chère.” Reynard’s mouth was next to my ear. My heart nearly leapt from my chest. “You didn’t think I was going to let you get away with stealing that diamond for someone else, did you?” His breath, hot and heavy, feathered across my face. He had one arm wrapped around my waist; the other hand reached up and splayed across my throat, holding my head next to his.
My pulse sped up to record speeds. “What are you doing here?” I managed.
“Do you mean ‘Why aren’t you in jail?’ Isn’t that where you hoped I would end up?”
“Not at all.” It was, of course. I was breathing heavily. More than anything, I wanted to take off my night vision goggles. Now that I was outside the building, street lamps provided enough light that the goggles weren’t necessary and were actually hindering my sight.
Across a wide sidewalk, a police car sped by with its siren on. Any minute security guards would be coming to check the breach in the system of one of the exterior doors.
“I could scream,” I said.
“But you won’t.” He let go.
I stepped forward and ripped the goggles from my head. I spun around to face him. My knees shook slightly. No matter how strong I wished to be, this man frightened me. Especially when he was losing something he’d held so hard to for the past many years.
“If you scream, you’ll get caught with that gem in your pocket,” he said. “And I just might not save you this time.”
“I didn’t get the diamond,” I said with disappointment in my voice. “The security has changed since I practiced with Elisa.”
“What?” He angled his head and took a step closer. “You’re lying.”
“Am I? What are you going to do? Attack me here in the street and force me to hand it over? Risk the museum’s security discovering us both?”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t come for the diamond. I came for you.”
At those words, I did increase the distance between us. I had finally gotten out from under Reynard’s thumb. I was determined to forge a new path, find a new life, without him anywhere near it.
“You owe me.”
I angled my head. “How do you figure? I got you the Gauguin you were after. We made a deal that I would be free after that.”
“Yes, you did get me the Gauguin. Well… you had Arias steal it. And then you turned over evidence of crimes you thought I had committed.”
“Crimes you did commit. How did you manage to escape?” I was asking the right questions, but the weakness in my voice betrayed my attempt at sounding confident.
He lifted a finger. “Ahh. That’s an interesting question, now, isn’t it?”
“You threw Claude under the bus, didn’t you?” Which probably satisfied the Americans, but not Interpol. Not that Claude didn’t deserve every punishment coming to him, but so did the man standing in front of me. Claude and Reynard had gotten caught up in a scheme to fund terrorists who planned an attack on the American president on French soil.
He stepped closer and placed a hand on my cheek. I resisted every urge to pull away. “You, ma chère, will always be a part of me. You will always be mine. And now, you owe me for the trouble you’ve caused.”
Heat crept along my spine. My pulse picked up speed again. Anger I couldn’t control was ready to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. “What do you want, Reynard?” I asked through gritted teeth.
He made a clucking sound with his tongue. “Not so fast, ma chère.” Just him calling me by that name caused bile to rise into my throat. “I knew I would find you here on the eve of when the diamond would be moved to its resting place for the special exhibit. I knew you couldn’t say goodbye to your talent so quickly. And that rush of adrenaline you only get from successfully breaking through barriers of security and alarm systems to hold an invaluable object in your hands. You think I don’t still have contacts everywhere? Bold move, though. Breaking in and proving that their security is flawed before you were actually hired to do so.”
How did he know?
I reached up and grabbed Reynard’s hand, removed it from my face, and squeezed it hard. “I’ll only ask one more time: What do you want?”
“I came to warn you. There will come a time when I will call on you. And you’ll have to answer. We aren’t done yet, you and me. You can keep the diamond tucked away in your inside jacket pocket. Taking it from you might land you in jail, and that’s not my desire. I’ve never wanted harm to come to you.”
“You no longer have a hold on me,” I said, but there was no conviction behind my words.
He smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong. I, too, have been busy since we last saw each other. I’ve reacquired the data your friend Arias stole from me. I’m once again in possession of the evidence I collected of every one of the crimes you committed.”
I let my eyes close. Dimitri had assured me he was working on getting his hands on the information Arias took and gave to Claude. But when Claude’s country estate and Paris apartment were ransacked by investigators looking for any and all evidence leading to his arrest on charges of aiding terrorists, I was afraid the evidence on my crimes would fall into the wrong hands.
I was right to worry.
“You will never own me again, Reynard. I will disappear, before you ever have the chance.”
He moved on me so fast, I didn’t have time to react. He circled an arm around me, brought my body flush with his. “I already own you.” He leaned in and forced a kiss on me full of tongue and desire. And it took everything in me not to bite his lip, his tongue. When he released me, he said simply, “Good night, ma chère. Sleep well. I’ll be in touch.”
He let me go, then disappeared into the shadows of the building just as I heard the sound of voices from inside the door I had exited.
I, too, quickly ran off into the darkness.
Read Chapter Two
Paris will always be my home, I thought, as Dimitri and I strode hand-in-hand along the River Seine.
The vineyard in the South of France was where I was raised by my loving parents, but Paris was where I grew up and discovered who I was—the good, the bad, the reckless—and the strength hidden deep within me.
I carried a purse on my arm that, by all appearances, was a fashion statement, but in reality was a lock box for an exquisite blue diamond. It was a box wrapped in tweed the color of cantaloupe and embellished with silver hinges and decorative metal corners. The handles were made of matching faux leather and attached to the top of the box by sturdy silver metal.
I wore a sleeveless sheath dress made in a pale pink fabric that reached below my knees. My shoulders were wrapped in peach tulle that gathered in the back and draped down my back as it blew in the late summer breeze.
“You ready for this?” Dimitri asked beside me. He was dressed handsomely in a tan linen suit and a baby blue and tan plaid tie.
We were both dressed for a high society luncheon.
I tightened my grip on the purse in one hand and leaned into him, squeezing his other hand. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
We walked ten minutes further, both enjoying cooler air than what July had given us.
I completed my sophisticated luncheon outfit with an auburn-colored wig cut to shoulder-length. I liked to work with a disguise. Old habits die hard, and all. When we were close to our destination, Dimitri stopped and faced me. He lifted a hand and ran a finger along the side of my face. I removed my oversized sunglasses and met Dimitri’s gaze. In three-inch heels, I was close to his eye level. “What if I fail these people? Or what if they don’t like my way of doing things?”
“You’re going to knock their socks off. Besides, the people who hired you have nothing to hold over you. You are not working for Reynard Jules this time.”
Failing to confide in him about my run-in with Reynard the night before sent a harsh electric pulse of guilt straight through my heart. He had been asleep when I left our hotel room and didn’t stir when I returned. He even slept through the shower I took to wash the smell of Reynard from me.
I hated lying to him but now wasn’t the time for this conversation. I’d have to explain the conversation with Reynard eventually, but not today.
“These executives want to see you succeed,” he continued. “They hired you for your expertise.”
“My expertise,” I repeated, trying the words on to see how they fit while staring off toward the river. When my eyes returned to his, I asked, “What am I an expert in?”
“In high-end security and alarm systems.” He gave me a warm smile, then leaned in and placed his lips on mine.
“Right.” I wiped lipstick from his lips when he pulled back. “I find the holes in their systems so that they can fix them. And people like me—the old me—can’t steal their clients’ valuables.”
“See?” Dimitri’s lips curved upward. “You’re already starting to sound like a professional. It’s no different than corporations hiring hackers to exploit weaknesses in their cyber security systems.”
I returned the smile, but I was sure it didn’t reach my eyes.
Dimitri grabbed my hand and led me across the street to the Grand Palais entrance we were instructed to enter for today’s meeting. After the meeting, we were invited to attend a luncheon and a private showing of one of the rarest and largest blue diamonds of the world—a diamond I was hired to attempt to steal in order to prove or disprove that the Grand Palais had adequate security to protect items loaned to it. The meeting we were to attend prior to the luncheon was to be with executives from a security company, along with representatives from the insurance company insuring the diamond, and a member of the board of directors of the Grand Palais.
We entered the administrative offices of the museum. A woman sat behind a small secretarial desk at the entrance wearing a business suit the color of eggplant. She looked up from where she sat, a pair of readers perched on the end of her nose. “May I help you?” she asked in French.
After I answered her in French and told her who we were there to meet, she led us into a lovely conference room that was decorated in furniture that looked more like art. The walls had exquisite paintings and mixed media pieces, an eclectic mixture of old and new.
“Mademoiselle Parks, Monsieur Tobias.” A short man with a beard approached us with an outstretched hand. “Bienvenue. Je m’appelle Alberto Morel.”
Dimitri and I shook Alberto’s hand as well as the two other men. Alberto was with the security firm, Jerome—the insurance company, and Thomas represented the Grand Palais. All three looked like stuffed suits, if you asked me.
“Dimitri would rather we speak English, if that’s possible,” I said after introductions were made. “And please, call me Lola.”
“Of course.” Alberto gestured toward the table, inviting us to sit.
Dimitri gave my hand a squeeze and nodded at me, letting me know that I was doing fine. He had to have felt the perspiration in my hand. I was nervous that, at any moment, the French police would tear into the room and arrest me for stealing the diamond.
Of course that was only if they’d already discovered that I had taken their precious jewel.
“Miss Parks, how shall I say this?” Alberto began while Jerome and Thomas listened. “We would like to adjust our offer.”
“Oh?” I watched the three of them, “In what way?”
“We think that our security systems are more than adequate. There’s no way anyone can penetrate them. But we’re still willing to pay you… let’s say… twenty-five thousand euros to try to breach our system. We think that’s a more than generous offer.”
“That’s half of what you offered her.” Dimitri slammed his hands on the glass conference room table and stood. “That’s absurd!”
I placed a gentle hand over his. I stayed in my seat with my legs crossed elegantly at the ankles and tucked beneath the chair while I surveyed the three of them. When Dimitri saw that I wasn’t bothered by the suggestion, he sat again, eyeing me curiously.
“I think the three of you should reconsider,” I said in a calm, gentle voice.
“It’s our final offer,” Alberto declared.
I stood, picked up my box purse, and slid it into the crook of my elbow. “Gentlemen, I’m very sorry to hear that, because here’s the thing: I, too, would like to adjust the terms of our agreement. I will tell you exactly what is wrong with your security and vault systems for one hundred thousand euros.”
The three men leaned back in their chairs and laughed. Dimitri initially looked surprised but quickly recovered; I could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
“Talk about absurd,” Alberto said while trading condescending looks with his colleagues. “Why would we pay a thief that amount of money to prove what we already know to be true—that our security is fail-proof?”
“You have until the luncheon is over to transfer the money into my account,” I said plainly, ignoring the insult.
“What makes you think we’d agree to such a ludicrous amount?” Alberto huffed.
Dimitri looked from me to the fashionable box hanging on my arm. He looked like he had to bite his tongue to keep from smirking at the three men. Dimitri had gotten to know me fairly well, knew how I worked, and even if he couldn’t work out the logistics of it all, he knew I’d already secured the diamond.
“I’m assuming you have certified gemologists—jewelry and diamond experts—attending today’s luncheon? People you’re trying to impress with your latest exhibit?”
“Of course,” Thomas said.
“That’s good.” I turned and walked toward the door. Dimitri was beside me. We stopped just short of exiting, and I faced the three men who had all stood when I did. “After your experts have examined what is in your vault, you will change your mind about paying my agreed upon fee. And for another fifty thousand euros, I’ll tell you what is wrong with your security.” I lifted a finger. “Oh, and when you do change your mind, remember that I have a signed contract from the three of you that states you hired me to steal your little jewel.” I looked at my watch. “You have two hours.” I slipped a hand into Dimitri’s.
He nodded to the three men, not even trying to hide his smile. “Gentlemen.”
Read Chapter Three
I had never wanted to kiss Lola or do other things to her as much as I wanted to in the moment she stood and peered across that ridiculous sculpture of a table and addressed the men who had hired her. The way she peered down at them before they stood and met her stance was absolutely brilliant and made me respect her even more than I already did.
But how had she done it? How had she stolen the diamond without me knowing it? We’d spent almost every waking moment together.
But I already knew the answer to my own question, didn’t I?
We were shown through the administrative offices by the petite woman dressed in eggplant and into the Grand Palais atrium where lunch was being set up. “Guests should be arriving shortly,” the woman said. “You are invited to explore the open exhibits until the meal is served.”
“Thank you,” Lola said.
We decided to do exactly what the lady suggested and explore some of the exhibits that had been opened exclusively for today’s guests. Everything but the jewel exhibit was already open. The jewel exhibit would only be opened after lunch was over, and only after the blue diamond was unveiled.
The beautiful woman beside me was as cool as I’d ever seen her. She often showed signs of doubt in herself, doubt that she might never find her way out of a life of crime. Or that she might always be chained to the likes of Reynard Jules.
But not today.
She had transformed into the brave, talented woman I’d met in London only a few months ago. She was confident while standing in front of those condescending pricks. Arrogance was their downfall and they were about to learn just how hard of a landing awaited them.
Lola and I were smart enough to know that we were still in a part of the building that was heavily wired with video surveillance, and possibly even audio. So we made small talk as we walked through the exhibits. I held onto her hand as we did, looking for any chance to duck out of the view of a camera.
When we were between exhibits, we passed by a ladies’ restroom. I darted inside and verified that it was empty, then I grabbed Lola, pulled her into the restroom, and locked the door.
Pushing her up against the door, I covered her lips with mine. “God, you’re the sexiest woman alive,” I murmured against them when I came up for a breath.
She leaned her head back against the door as I left a trail of kisses and light nibbles along her jawline and down her neck.
My body quickly reacted to her taste and to her smell—the fresh scent of roses. She arched into me, not caring what I was doing to her dress or her makeup.
“It was last night, wasn’t it?” I finally whispered against her neck. “I wanted to ask you where you had gone. I thought about fighting with you after you returned. Then again this morning. But I decided I would wait until after the meeting and the luncheon.”
“You knew I had left?” she asked, surprised.
“Of course. I knew you weren’t beside me for the better part of two hours in the middle of the night. I was terrified.” I stepped back from her. We both were breathing hard. As much as I wanted to take her right then and there, I wouldn’t. I had a little more patience and dignity than that. But not much, apparently.
“Terrified?” she said. “Of what?”
I ran a hand through my hair, not caring what it did to it. “This is going to sound so insecure, but dammit, I don’t care. We were back in Paris. I assumed you had people—friends—that you needed to see after you up and disappeared. Since we had already decided not to stay long…”
Lola’s lips curved a little at the edges. She stalked toward me, still holding onto that ridiculous purse. I would never understand high fashion, but I was starting to get her. Lifting her hand, she ran the back of it down my unshaven face. “I did not leave you last night to go see ‘friends.’”
“I see that now… What’s in the box?” I asked nodding toward the decorative container hanging on her arm.
Her eyes slowly drifted down my chest until they landed on her purse. “Oh, just a little something I picked up last night.” She met my gaze again.
“You can tell me later how you managed it. For now… You handled those men brilliantly,” I said. “Have you ever thought about going into business? Or law? You’re quite the negotiator.”
She lifted a shoulder. “Negotiations aren’t the part of the transaction I enjoy the most. But I expect clients to honor their word and pay what I’m owed. And I proved last night that their security is shit. That’s what they hired me to do, no?”
“Indeed.” I let one hand slide to her waist, while the other roamed up to her breast. “Do we have to stay for the luncheon?” I couldn’t keep my hands off of her.
She closed her eyes as I pressed harder into her, breathing like she, too, was struggling to regain the composure necessary for getting through the next two hours. “Only long enough to get paid for the job I did and to return the diamond I’m carrying around.” Her voice came out breathy. “And then you can take me back to our Paris hotel, back to the Irish cliffs, or wherever you wish to take me.”
I leaned in and kissed her again, then smiled against her lips. “Did you ever think working on this side of the law would turn you on this much?” I asked.
She straightened a bit. “Actually, so far, it hasn’t felt much different. Those three men in there were slimier than Reynard with how they tried to back out of paying me what they promised. Reynard never did that. He always paid me what he agreed and saw that I was taken care of.”
“Go fix yourself in the mirror,” I stepped out of her way. The mere mention of Reynard was enough to pull me out of the mood. “The quicker those wankers pay you, the quicker I can get you out of here and into bed.”