A Thief Revealed (International Thief Book One)

Because of a single careless mistake as a troubled teenager, Lola Parks is forced into a life as a thief. However, her victims—the corrupt and greedy upper crust of European society—hardly warrant sympathy.

Eleven years after that fateful mistake, her life hopelessly tethered to her “handler,” Lola lifts a diamond worth £2.6 million from the finger of a young socialite while at a posh London soirée and inadvertently steps into the midst of a much larger crime. When the target winds up dead, the murderers’ mission becomes finding the diamond, leaving Lola to seek protection from an unlikely source—the man tracking the girl’s killer.

Dimitri Tobias is tasked with finding the thug responsible for murdering his client’s daughter while stealing a priceless diamond. But when Dimitri meets the exquisite and sexy Lola Parks, he quickly realizes: Lola may be a clever thief, but she’s no killer. When Dimitri discovers what evil force is behind the murder, he becomes torn between capturing a thief, saving a thief, and falling in love with a thief.

 

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A Thief Revealed - Chapter One - Lola

There was never a perfect time to steal a piece of jewelry off someone’s finger, but tonight seemed as good a night as any. And I had the ring in my sight.

I pretended to sip champagne as I watched Lady Sarah Somerset flirt with a man not much older than she was. She was wearing a long white satin gown, and a small tiara sparkled in her brunette hair. It was her twenty-first birthday, and her brother, the viscount of Somerset—whom everyone simply called Viscount—was throwing Sarah a birthday bash at his posh London home. Parties at Viscount’s home were usually reserved only for the social elite and Viscount’s more sophisticated “friends.” He had made exceptions tonight by inviting many of Sarah’s younger friends to mix with a select few of his own. Having met Viscount recently, and having proven I was worthy of his class level, I was able to secure an invitation with some help from a friend.

Drunk from too much champagne, Sarah giggled while placing a manicured hand on the lapel of her young friend’s tuxedo jacket. Glittering brilliantly on her right ring finger was the jewel I had come for: a rare, red-violet two-and-a-half-carat diamond. It was surrounded by four heart-shaped white diamonds and perched inside an intricate design of perfectly polished platinum. The Gaft Diamond—named for the jeweler who originally acquired it and later designed the ring—was purchased by the earl of Somerset at auction for more than £2.6 million. He gave the ring to his daughter for her twenty-first birthday.

The object of Sarah’s drunken affection—a physically buff man in his thirties sporting a goatee—leaned in and kissed her on the lips, then smiled at her in a sleazy way that made me want to punch him in the nose, despite the fact that I didn’t really care for Sarah. I still believed in girl power, however, and this despicable creep was clearly taking advantage of a young girl who had indulged in too many alcoholic beverages.

The party was kicking into full swing inside Viscount’s spacious London home. As more guests arrived, crowding the main living room, I struggled to keep an eye on Sarah and the man she flirted with, so I moved closer. 

A server, dressed in the standard white blouse and black skirt and holding a tray of hors d’oeuvres, approached Sarah and the man. “May I offer you a miniature crab cake?” she asked in a thick, Northern British accent. Her nearly black hair was twisted into a messy bun on top of her head. She smiled, and a small scar above her lip twitched. Her tone was pleasant enough, but a look passed between her and the man that seemed… off.

“No,” Lady Sarah said, loud enough to attract the attention of those around her. She turned her back on the server and faced the man in the tux again. As she did, she knocked into the server.

The server stumbled backwards and lost her footing. The hors d’oeuvres tray flipped into the air, and crab cakes went flying. A black woman with thick red hair cut in a bob—it reminded me of one of Rhianna’s many hairstyles—shrieked as one of the crab cakes landed in her hair.

Sarah whipped around and yelled at the poor server. “Watch what you’re doing!” The force of screaming at the girl made the drunken Sarah stumble slightly.

The flirting man backed away, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Strange, I thought.

When Sarah realized that the man was gone, she yelled at the poor girl again. “I’ll have your job for this.” Then she stormed off.

The other guests—members of the upper echelon of British society—went back to their conversation and expensive drinks, as if minor interruptions like this were a normal occurrence at these events. Only I stepped over to help the server. As I held out a hand, the girl looked up at me suspiciously, as if wondering whether this act of kindness came with a catch.

“I’m just trying to help you up,” I said with a German accent, my chosen disguise for the evening. The accent, along with the navy chiffon gown and blond wig, disguised me as a wealthy member of a German family that the earl of Somerset had gotten to know recently. His knowledge of my fictional family had earned me invites to several parties thrown by Viscount in the last six months, all part of my plan to carry out a couple of jobs this week.

The server slid her hand into mine and pulled herself up. “Thank you. What a bitch, that one is. I’d be just fine with her brother giving me the sack if I never have to serve her kind again.”

I lifted both brows. 

“Oh. Sorry,” the girl said, embarrassed. “I guess you’re one of ‘her kind.’”

I glanced down at my dress, which cost more than a thousand pounds, then waved her off. “I’d like to think I’m not exactly one of her kind.” I didn’t think of myself as a diva of aristocratic blood. Nor did I wear jewelry apt to catch the eye of a thief. 

I had a job to do—a job that had afforded me nice things in recent years, and a job that, if not done to the highest standards, would land me in prison. That was a place to which I had no intention of going.

I glanced over my shoulder to see Lady Sarah climbing the stairs to the second floor. Then I smiled at the server again. “You going to be okay? Is there some place you can clean up?” Some sauce from the crab cakes was dripping down the front of her white shirt.

A man held out the silver tray to her. “You seemed to have dropped something.” He spoke in English with a French accent. His blond hair framed his face and rested just above his shoulders. With his high cheekbones and bright blue eyes, he looked like a high-fashion model.

Arias Bouvier.

“Thank you.” The server took the tray, thanked me again, and walked off in the direction of Viscount’s kitchen.

Arias took my hand and lifted it to his lips. “Bonsoir, mademoiselle.”

“Have we met?” I asked, keeping with the German accent. I looked around to see if anyone was listening.

“Oh. We’re going to pretend we don’t know each other?” He dropped my hand. “And shall I refer to you as Fräulein tonight?”

I didn’t answer. 

He stepped closer and played with a blond curl hanging down the side of my face. “I like the hair. I nearly didn’t recognize you. You’re certainly the consummate professional when it comes to changing your appearance. Do I really need to ask why you’re here?”

I narrowed my gaze and studied the humor in his eyes. Then, in American English, I asked through gritted teeth, “What do you want, Arias?”

“Want? What makes you think I’m after something? I just saw a lady on the ground and thought I would offer a helping hand.” He looked around, confirming we were having a private conversation. “I know why you’re here. You know…” He met my eyes again. “We could work together on this job. I think we would both agree that this is bigger than one person.”

“And what job is that?” I asked. He was obviously talking about a bigger job than what I was here to do tonight.

Before he could answer, a woman sidled up next to him and placed a hand decked out in jewels on his forearm. “Arias, darling,” she purred. Her gown shimmered in gold and cream all the way to the floor. “There you are. I thought you were getting us drinks.”

I started to back away, bowing my head slightly.

“I was on my way, but I ran into a couple of damsels in distress.” Arias looked at me, as did his lady friend, making me pause. “You were about to tell me your name, Mademoiselle.”

I looked uneasily at the woman, then back at Arias. “Kristina Schaeffler.” 

“Well, Kristina, I’d like you to meet Madame Roche.”

“It’s nice to meet you both, but I need to visit the ladies’ room.” 

I turned on my heel and headed for the stairs. Arias’s date seemed unfazed that I rushed off the moment she appeared, and I was positive Arias didn’t care. One look at the jewels the woman was wearing, and I knew what he was up to tonight. In fact, he was likely also using the party as a way to case Viscount’s art collection for a future heist as well. Arias had always been a master of efficiency. 

But I had my own job to do tonight. I had a ring to steal.

* * *

Tucked into a small pocket sewn into the sleeve of my dress was a near-exact replica of the ring that Lady Sarah was wearing that evening. Near-exact in that the jewels in my version of the ring were a combination of red-violet cubic zirconia and moissanite diamonds. My ring was created by a craftsman known for designing the best costume jewelry in Europe. His talent had come in handy many times in the past, and it did not come cheap. But the cost of this replica was a tiny fraction of the Gaft Diamond’s worth.

I ventured up the grand staircase at the front of the house. As an approved guest of the party, no one questioned me walking about the home—an obvious flaw in Viscount’s security. At the top of the stairs, I stepped carefully down a long hallway, admiring Viscount’s artwork. I also admired the lasers discreetly placed throughout the hallway—part of Viscount’s main alarm system. But they had all been turned off for the party. Another flaw.

As I passed a set of double doors, I paused. I so badly wished to open those doors to Viscount’s private gallery, home to his most prized possessions. The gallery had recently been fitted with a new, state-of-the-art, and virtually impenetrable security system. But the artwork in the gallery was not tonight’s assignment. Tonight’s assignment was to secure an invite to another party being held by Viscount next week. And if I could pick up a little trinket for my trouble along the way… then I would be another step closer to being done with this life. 

I knew from my research that when Viscount’s sister visited, she stayed in a bedroom at the far end of the hall. Just as I neared the doorway, she stumbled out. 

“Oh,” she said, surprised. “Who the fuck are you?”

Charming. Sarah had turned out to be about as pleasant as a lion that hadn’t eaten in a week.

I pretended to be shy. “I’m so sorry, Lady Sarah. Viscount said he would meet me at the top of the stairs. He was planning to show me his beautiful art collection.”

She let her eyes travel the length of my body and back up, no doubt examining my navy dress and jewelry to see if I was worthy of her wealthy, aristocratic brother. “Uh-huh.”

I noticed a smudge of mascara on her face. “Oh, dear, Lady Sarah. You have a…” I pointed to her face. “How do the British say… uh… smudge. Yes, a smudge of mascara on your face.” I stepped closer and grabbed her elbow to lead her back inside her room. “Allow me to help you.”

I led her through the bedroom to the en-suite bathroom, and she didn’t stop me. She took one look in the bathroom mirror and said, “Oh, you’re right.” She eyed me. “Thank you. I didn’t catch your name?” She was slurring slightly.

“Kristina Schaeffler.”

Sarah opened a drawer and pulled out a compact of powder. She began dabbing at her face and rubbing the dark smudge away.

“Do you mind if I wash my hands?” I said, gesturing toward one of the sinks. “I sloshed champagne on myself when that server fell.”

“Of course. My brother really needs to look into hiring a competent catering company.”

I slipped off my diamond ring and set it gently on the vanity between the two sinks. I shrugged at Sarah in the mirror. “I loathe getting soap or lotion in my rings.”

“That’s a beautiful ring,” she said. 

“Thank you. It was a gift from my father. He passed away.”

“I’m sorry.” She finished applying powder on her face, and then, as if giving me a gift, she, too, removed her ring and set it next to mine.

“Oh, my!” I exclaimed. “Your ring is magnificent.”

“Is it?” she said, shrugging as if she had no idea that her ring was of value. “My father asked me not to wear it out tonight. Said I shouldn’t flaunt such extravagant items. But why have lovely jewels if we can’t wear them to parties with our friends?”

“I couldn’t agree more.” I tried to keep my eyes on her, and not the rings, as I dried my hands.

When she reached for a hand towel, I reached for our rings. I grabbed them both, and dropped hers on the bathroom rug. I quickly reached into the small pocket of my sleeve and pulled out the replacement. “Oh goodness,” I said, dropping to the floor and grabbing the Gaft Diamond. “Please forgive me, Lady.” I stood and handed her the replica. “I wasn’t paying attention.” I slowly slid my own diamond ring onto my right hand.

Sarah stared at me as if trying to decide how to react. I think I had shocked her into silence. 

I was sure she was about to scream at me when, out of nowhere, she laughed. “You are the clumsiest woman alive.” She slid the ring onto her finger. She didn’t even look down at it. And even if she had, she wouldn’t have identified the fake. To the untrained eye, the ring I had commissioned was perfect. There was no way the socialite standing before me would discover that she’d just been robbed.

* * *

When I returned to the party, the music had grown louder, the laughter more festive, and for the first time that night I spotted the host, the viscount of Somerset.

“Viscount,” I called. Almost no one called him Lord Somerset. His title was awarded to him by his father, the earl of Somerset, but Viscount was a playboy who liked to traipse all over Europe while pretending to work for his father. His title was simply for show.

“Kristina,” he said. “Where have you been all night?” He put his arm around me and pulled me into a one-armed hug. His other hand held an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice and an amber liquid. “Please tell me you’re staying here with me tonight.”

“Viscount,” I said, slapping at his chest. “You’re drunk.” 

“Intoxicated by you,” he said with a sly grin. He turned to face the couple that was now watching us with growing interest. “Let me introduce you to Mary and Diana Penn. Sisters. They’re visiting from the States.” 

As I shook the hands of the Americans, I spotted Arias across the room. I managed to nod at the appropriate places in the conversation while keeping one eye on Arias. When a server offered me champagne, I took the flute. I planned to stay exactly thirty minutes more, then I would return to my hotel and catch a train to Germany first thing in the morning—all part of the ruse. 

Just as the bubbly touched my lips, a piercing scream sounded behind me, followed by gasps. Viscount thrust his glass at Diana and ran toward the staircase. I nearly collapsed when I saw why. 

Sarah was walking down the stairs, her face pale. She was shaking all over, and blood dripped down the front of her long white dress. 

“Did you do that?” a man whispered in my ear.

I jerked my head to look into Arias’s eyes, then turned back to Sarah again. 

Viscount had reached her. He started to put his hands on her shoulders, but she flinched away. “What happened? Who did this to you?”

Sarah said nothing. She was hyperventilating, and appeared to be in shock. 

A woman yelled, “Her finger! It’s gone!”

I looked from Sarah’s wide eyes down to the hand she cradled. It was true: the ring finger on her right hand was gone.

The music stopped. People stared in stunned silence.

“Someone call an ambulance!” Viscount shouted. “And the police!” He helped Sarah to sit on the stairs. A server handed him a white towel, which he used to wrap her hand.

“Police are on their way,” a man yelled.

Seconds later, the front door flew open and in walked a couple of men in dark suits. One wore a hat and looked like a driver. The other rushed to Sarah’s side. 

I was close enough to hear Sarah acknowledge him. “Dimitri,” she said, and began crying.

“Who did this to you?” he asked. He was British. “Where did this happen?”

Sarah said something that I couldn’t make out, and the man who knelt before her—Dimitri—said something to the driver. The driver took the stairs to the second floor three at a time.

Dimitri touched Sarah’s knee. “Sarah, look at me. Focus on me. Who did this to you?”

“I don’t know. It happened so fast.” She sniffed. “Someone put a dark pillowcase over my head, and—” She sobbed.

“It’s okay.” Dimitri placed a hand on her cheek. It was a strange gesture from a man who looked several years, maybe a decade, older than Sarah. Was he her boyfriend? No, because why would he have been outside? A bodyguard then? Equally strange, unless he sucked at his job. If she’d had an actual bodyguard, I wouldn’t have been able to steal the ring, and Sarah wouldn’t be missing a finger. 

I examined Dimitri’s touch again. It was a colder act than I’d first thought. One borne out of obligation, perhaps.

“They took my ring,” Sarah whispered.

A heat crept up my shoulders and neck. The ring in the sleeve of my dress felt like it weighed ten pounds.

Dimitri continued to speak with Sarah, but I couldn’t make out their words. Sarah’s face was wet with tears.

I turned toward Arias and spoke softly with my head directed at his chest, praying I didn’t attract the attention of anyone around us. “Her ring is gone. Did you do this?”

Arias kept his eyes on Sarah. “Not my style to harm one of my marks,” he said with little emotion. “I get squeamish at the sight of blood. Besides, I didn’t come for the ring.”

The sound of sirens in the distance cut through the party guests’ chatter. Multiple sets of tires screeched to a halt outside.

I lifted my head to look into Arias’s eyes. “I didn’t do this. And if you didn’t, that means there’s another thief in this room—one who would cut off a young girl’s finger to steal a piece of jewelry.”

If I hadn’t been watching Arias closely, I would have missed the brief look of horror in his eyes.

A slew of police officers and paramedics rushed in the front door. “No one is to leave,” one of the officers called out. He pointed to one of the other policemen. “Post an officer at every door.”

The paramedics tended to a hysterical Sarah while the police secured all the exits. A server—the woman with a scar above her lip who had dropped the crab cakes earlier—approached the paramedics with a bag of ice, and one of the paramedics took the ice and climbed the stairs.

I suddenly realized that I shouldn’t be standing beside a man I knew to be a thief, even if all of Europe was clueless as to his identity. I wondered if the ring at my wrist created a bulge. Would anyone notice? I was overcome with guilt for having stolen it, an emotion I worked hard to avoid. I’d had no choice but to steal the ring. And now, if they discovered the stolen item on me, I’d be blamed for this vicious assault.

The paramedics ordered people to give them some room. Viscount backed away, though he was visibly distressed. Wanting to get a closer look, I walked over to him. 

“Viscount, can I get you something?” I said in my German accent. 

He ignored the question. “Who would do such a thing to an innocent young girl?” His voice cracked with anger. 

“I don’t know,” I said to Viscount, “but I’m certain they’ll sort it out.”

“Lord Somerset,” a police officer said. “Could we have a word?”

The officer pulled Viscount away, and Sarah’s driver, along with a paramedic, came down the stairs carrying a bag of ice. I noticed blood in the ice and realized immediately the bag held the severed finger. I wrinkled up my face at the sight. Blood didn’t bother me, but I liked having all of my appendages.

“Ma’am,” an officer said to me. “We need to question every guest. Do you mind?”

“Of course, Officer. I’m happy to help.”

I felt the weight of eyes on me. I let my gaze wander over the faces around me until I found the source of the stare. Dimitri, the man who had been helping Sarah, stood in a doorway, studying me intently.

“What is your name, Miss?” the officer asked.

“Kristina Schaeffler.”

“You’re German?”

“I am.”

“Are you well acquainted with Lord and Lady Somerset?”

“I’ve met Viscount before. I only met Lady Sarah this evening.” 

The paramedics were helping Sarah onto a gurney. I watched her carefully. Fear was still etched in her face, and it sent a chill through me.

The officer waved a hand in front of me. “Ma’am, are you okay?” 

“Oh, I apologize. It’s just that…” I let my head fall forward and pretended to dab at my eyes. “I just don’t know who would do something like that to that young girl.” That was true. Sarah was utterly rude, but that didn’t mean she deserved to have her finger cut off. 

“Excuse me,” a male voice said. “Are you searching everyone’s bags and pockets?”

I looked up to find Dimitri standing beside the police officer. His eyebrows furrowed, casting dark shadows over his mysterious hazel green eyes. He nodded toward my right hand, where the ring was tucked, and where I held my clutch.

“I beg your pardon,” Officer Evans said. “Who are you?”

“I work for the earl of Somerset. Tonight I work for the viscount and his sister, Lady Sarah. And I want you to search this lady’s clutch.” This man I’d never met didn’t remove his eyes from me as he spoke. “And every lady’s bag at this party,” he added as an afterthought. “I want you to search the men’s pockets as well.”

“And what exactly are we looking for?” the officer asked.

Dimitri slid his angry look toward the officer. “Someone at this party severed my client’s daughter’s finger and stole an extremely valuable ring in the process. Find the ring, and you find the man”—he looked at me again—“or woman who did this.”

A Thief Revealed - Chapter Two - Dimitri

I spent the next two hours watching the police interview and search Viscount’s guests. No one had been allowed to leave, but I was starting to believe that the person who’d attacked Sarah had departed before the police had even arrived.

The Earl of Somerset was on his way to London. He was traveling directly to the hospital where, I hoped, Lady Sarah was having her finger reattached. 

Sarah wasn’t the most pleasant girl I’d ever had to protect. She was only twenty-one, and had been raised in a lifestyle of opulence and privilege. Her brother, Viscount, who had thrown this ridiculous party, was no prize either. But their father—a successful real estate developer—paid me very well to do whatever he asked. I didn’t have to like the people I served.

My phone rang, and I answered immediately. “Lord Somerset,” I said. “Are you in London?”

“Dimitri, tell me they’ve discovered the person responsible for this.”

“I’m sorry to say they have not, sir.”

“I want you to find the scum who did this, and bring him to me.”

“Me, sir? The police are on the scene and already investigating.”

“I will make a call to my contact at Scotland Yard. I want you apprised of all developments in the case, and I want you to find the sorry piece of shit who did this to my daughter.”

“Yes, sir. I will get to work straightaway.”

“Whoever did this will pay for harming my darling Sarah.”

“Yes, sir.”

As I hung up, I knew my reputation would be tarnished in the intelligence community after tonight. Lord Somerset hadn’t directed his anger at me, but I had failed in my duty.

The woman I’d been watching earlier—a woman who called herself Kristina Schaeffler—was standing across the room. She was elegantly dressed in a dark sapphire chiffon gown that hid long legs. Her blonde hair was tucked into a sophisticated style that I couldn’t describe other than to say that I knew if I were to tug at a couple of pins, curls would cascade down her back. And as inappropriate as my thoughts were, I wanted to see her hair do exactly that. 

She had spoken with a German accent, and told police she was from Munich, but she didn’t look German, and as a master of foreign accents myself, I suspected her accent was false. The police hadn’t found the missing ring in her clutch, but as I scanned the length of her body, I mentally counted the places a lady could hide a small piece of jewelry. 

On the other hand, there was the blood to consider. Removing an appendage would cause a fair amount of blood spatter, and Kristina Schaeffler didn’t have so much as a single hair out of place, let alone any drops of blood on her dress.

Still, she was my prime suspect. There had been something about the way she had assessed the room and Lady Sarah’s predicament that made me want to ask her additional questions. But most damning of all was what Sarah said to me before she was wheeled out of Lord Somerset’s home: Kristina had been upstairs with Sarah shortly before someone attacked her and stole the ring.

* * *

The police continued to question and search the guests, many of whom were simply appalled that they’d even be considered a suspect in such a heinous crime. Viscount, embarrassed, tried to hurry the cops along. When I heard him tell the police that it had to have been one of the servers—because no one he had invited into his home would have harmed his sister—my disgust made me step forward.

“Viscount,” I said, “I’m sorry to intrude, but unfortunately, the only way to rule out a suspect is to treat everyone exactly the same.”

“You have some nerve.”

“Excuse me?”

“Where the fuck were you when my sister was being mutilated?”

“I was exactly where your father, your sister, and you said I should be. Outside in a car, waiting for the party to end.”

He started to speak again, but I held up a hand to stop him. “Who is that?” I asked, pointing at my new “friend” Kristina. She’d been cleared to leave, but had been stopped by another guest beside the front door. 

“Who, Kristina Schaeffler? Are you seriously trying to pick up women at my party, Mr. Tobias? And while on my father’s payroll.”

“Sadly, no. I’m asking about the man Miss Schaeffler is speaking to.”

“That is Arias Bouvier. He’s a French philanthropist.”

“French?”

“Yes. Lives in Paris, last I heard. Why?”

Kristina flashed a smile at Bouvier and touched his forearm, but based on her body language, I was almost positive a snarky exchange was taking place between them. There was no lean-in, and while he appeared serious, then laughed, her expressions were just the opposite: an arrogant smile followed by a frown.

When she turned and left, Arias glanced around the room—as if to see who might have witnessed their exchange. His eyes met mine, and I lifted my chin in a silent hello. He didn’t return the gesture. Instead he, too, made his exit.

“Just getting a feel for who your friends are,” I said. I turned to the police officer. “Who is in charge this evening?”

“I am.”

“Wonderful. Lord Somerset has asked that I be advised of all findings tonight. He is meeting his daughter at the hospital.” I pulled a card from my pocket and handed it to the officer. “If you locate the ring or come up with a list of suspects, can someone please phone me? I, of course, will pass along any information I discover.”

“And someone will verify this?”

“Yes. Calls are being made now.”

I didn’t stick around for further discussion. I wanted to follow Kristina Schaeffler and find out why she’d been upstairs with Lady Sarah. Unfortunately, when I got outside, Kristina was already being helped into the back of a silver Mercedes sedan.

Nice car, I thought. I ran to the car that had been meant to drive Sarah home. Her driver wasn’t there, nor were the keys, but I knew how to get around that. I hot-wired the vehicle and pulled out before the silver Mercedes could disappear from sight.

* * *

I followed Kristina Schaeffler to the Milestone Hotel—exactly the type of place the heiress of a wealthy German family would stay. I parked outside, watching as she walked through the hotel’s grand entrance. 

A car pulled up behind me, and a woman in a black trench coat got out and leaned against the fence across from the hotel. She was tall and lanky, and she looked like she’d spent all of three minutes on her unkempt hair. She wasn’t completely unattractive, but she was definitely low maintenance. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lit up.

I compared the woman to the photo on my phone, confirming her identity, then exited my car and joined her. “Agent Steele?” I asked.

She rubbed her red-stained lips together—lipstick being the only makeup she wore—and stuck out a hand. “That’s right. Carol. You must be the infamous Dimitri.”

I cocked my head. “Infamous?”

She tossed her half-smoked cigarette to the ground and stepped on it with her black ballet flat. “My boss at Interpol says they’ve been trying to hire you for years. And when he interrupted my evening at the theater to meet you, he said you might have new information on a case I’ve been working—information I might not have access to.”

“Well… yes, I prefer to work a little more behind the scenes.”

“Meaning, you like to skirt the law, and you like to work alone.”

I shrugged. “I enjoy solitude.” 

She pulled a photograph from her pocket and showed it to me. It was extremely blurry, but definitely a man and a woman. The woman wore sunglasses, and the man wore a baseball cap. I couldn’t see any distinguishing characteristics other than that the woman had long brown hair.

I looked up at Agent Steele. “Okay. Does Interpol have any idea who these two people are?”

“We’ve been studying a string of recent thefts that have occurred around Europe, trying to come up with commonalities.”

“And by recent, you mean…”

“Mainly in the last year, but we’re starting to go back even further.”

“What does this picture have to do with these thefts?”

“We believe there’s a team of thieves out there, conning their way into parties, galas, charity events, and art exhibitions frequented by the wealthy and famous. That is a photo of one such team. We think the man in the photo is Arias Bouvier.”

“Arias Bouvier,” I repeated. “He was at Viscount Somerset’s party tonight.” 

“I know. He was there with Madame Roche.”

“Who is Roche?”

“She could be the other part of his team. The two of them were seen together at an art auction in Paris several weeks ago.”

“A couple attending multiple events together doesn’t make them thieves, Agent Steele.”

“No, but a piece of art—an original Degas—disappeared from the auction house the night before it was to be delivered to its new owner.”

“How does this tie to Bouvier and Roche?”

“The Degas was bought at auction by Madame Roche’s former husband. She remains friendly with Monsieur Roche and knew of the delivery plans for the painting.”

“She was married to someone who can afford an original Degas, and now she’s pulling off art heists? That doesn’t make much sense.”

“People steal for more reasons than money, Mr. Tobias. Some do it simply for the thrill. Take Bouvier, for example. A few days after the theft of the Degas, Bouvier was seen volunteering at a youth center in Paris.”

“I’m not following.”

“After several of the heists we’ve investigated, sizable anonymous donations have been made to charitable organizations linked to Mr. Bouvier, including the youth center in Paris.”

“Are you saying that Bouvier is a regular Robin Hood? And Roche is his partner?”

“It’s just a working theory. We can’t trace Roche to every theft, but they have attended several of the same events—and many of those events have closely preceded a theft.”

“I’m sorry, Agent Steele, but this sounds like a whole lot of speculation. I’m not hearing any proof.” And something wasn’t sitting well with me. 

“That’s just it. We have none. That’s why I’m here. We want assistance. Someone—or more likely a gang of people—is making fools of us. Police all over Europe are looking to us to link these international crimes, and we’ve come up short at every turn.”

“Has the name Kristina Schaeffler come up in any of your investigations?”

“No. Should it have?”

I looked up at the hotel, wondering which window I might find the beautiful Kristina behind. “I’m not sure. Can you give me contact info for Bouvier?” If Kristina was the last one to see Sarah with a finger, and she was acquainted with Bouvier, then I’d bet my life that she knew way more than she told the police.

Agent Steele reached into her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “No one is to know you’re helping Interpol.”

“Who said I was helping Interpol?” I reached for the slip of paper, but she pulled it away.

“I was warned you might be difficult. If we share information, then you help us in return. I was told you understood this would be a quid pro quo arrangement.”

I grinned. “Fine, Agent Steele, I’ll help you with your case. My job is to find the diamond and find out who cut off Lord Somerset’s daughter’s finger. If, in the course of that job, I come up with any information that will help you with your case, I will pass it along. To provide any more help than that, I’d need a lot more than the contact information for Arias Bouvier. We both know I could find Bouvier on my own.”

“How much would it take for you to get more involved?” Steele asked, then shrugged. “I was told to ask.”

“Tell your boss I’ll be in touch.”

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