It Takes a Cat Burglar
When Darcelle Lebeau throws off the invisible chains that keep her bound to her family, she discovers a new vocation. Tempted to enter the illegal playground of a man she nicknames Matou, she becomes a cat burglar in training. Deeply ensnared with each task he entices her to fulfill, she fails to discover his identity and true intentions.
Sebastian St. Croix, a wealthy businessman, has a dark side. He’s a thief, a cat burglar who steals art and historical objects. For one year, he trains Darcelle to become his assistant, remaining incognito, observing her from afar. His admiration grows along with his desire for her with every phase-one challenge she completes. Phase two will test the limits of his control. Hands-on personal training? Yes. Sex? No. With his sister’s happiness at stake, nothing, not even the tempting Darcelle Lebeau, can interfere with accomplishing the biggest break-in of his career.
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The first in the A Thief in Love Romance series of novellas.
DARCELLE’S REFLECTION STARED back at her from the solid mirror that covered the side of the Jepsen Building where she hung, suspended twelve hundred feet above the city sidewalk. Anger and determination filled the charcoal-gray eyes of her mirror image. Even as an infant, the darkness integral to her nature must have peered out of round, solemn baby eyes that weren’t the expected dark brown of her mother and father or the amber of her twin sister. No, she’d been born with eyes best described as a grayish mist. With each passing year, they’d grown darker. Someday they might rival the night sky that tonight was a wash of black pushed back by the ineffectual streetlights below and the pale serenity of a waning moon. The skull cap she wore covered the braids she’d used to tame her masses of kinky cinnamon curls.READ MORE
No breeze stirred the night air, for which she was thankful. The micro-cable anchored to the sidewalk didn’t allow for much sway as the winch above pulled her higher. The noise of traffic wafted up like a soundtrack to another reality.
She swung a leg over the ledge surrounding the roof of the building. Sunrise was less than an hour away, but for now, the wealthy residents of the Jepsen slept below her, convinced that the security they spent thousands of credits on created an impenetrable barrier around them. She smirked, satisfied she was about to prove them wrong. The latest antiskimmer technology may prevent aircars from landing, but it didn’t keep out birds or, as in her case, people who avoided the domed security field by slipping under it at the edge of the building’s roof.
Security plans always had holes. Her day job at the Art et Antiquités Institut de la Sécurité was to close those she discovered in her client’s protection profiles, or at least render them too small to be exploited. Your average cat burglar couldn’t accomplish what she was attempting. The mirrored facade of the building resisted any attachments, so any of the standard slick surface anchors were worthless, as were the nonslip soles of her shoes. It was worse than trying to climb on ice.
Over the last year Darcelle had honed her skills to surpass those of the typical thief. The instructions she received before each job had included training exercises and detailed steps for committing each robbery. It was as though she was being mentored by a master thief, a man she’d never seen much less met or spoken with. Notes were his sole means of communication, written in a flowing script that was both masculine and artistic.
This was the most difficult assignment she’d received. She couldn’t land on the top of the building, she couldn’t climb the side, and attempting to penetrate through an entrance was equally impossible. Not a problem.
The surface of the roof was covered in fine-grain sand. She dropped from the ledge, squatting to avoid skidding and falling on her ass. The bands of her harness burned as though they were embedded in her skin. She snapped the releases and pulled the harness off, rubbing between her legs and over her lower butt cheeks. The painful part of this operation was over. She let the harness fall next to the winch. When the break-in was discovered, they’d find the hoist chem-sealed to the ledge of the Jepsen’s roof. Let the security guards figure that out. It hadn’t taken her long the previous night to use a gravity drone to slip it under the security field and drop it onto the ledge. The breakable containers filled with chems on the winch’s underside had smashed, allowing the contents to mix and bond the winch to the stone, and the hoist had been ready to use.
She turned, squinting across the roof at an aircar circling in the distance. Time to get indoors. The heat tap was to her left and, next to it, the entrance to the main utility conduit. The cap had a standard entry lock, but the keypad was on the inside. Tough luck if the cover shut and you got stuck up here, unless you had the gadget she had tucked in her pocket. In less than thirty seconds it ran through a gazillion keystroke variations, and the cap popped open. She swung inside, bracing her feet on a rung of the synthsteel ladder that scaled the conduit from top to bottom. The cover thunked when she pulled it closed. Her destination wasn’t far.
She stopped her descent and clamped one hand tightly on the textured metal of the ladder. With the other hand she pulled the hood of her used hazard suit over her face and sealed it. Ugh! Nothing smelled like the stale odor of air inhaled through secondhand hazard suit filters, but it was better than breathing in the poisonous air she’d be entering.
No one was supposed to be home in the penthouse. Sand nits had invaded the CEO of Trans Vargas Shipping’s lofty domain. Once established, the only way to get rid of the bugs was fumigation. Who would have thought the anonymous floral bouquet sent to the man’s wife would be infested with nasty critters? Threat assessment of deliveries didn’t include scanning for the hundreds of tiny little eggs waiting to hatch and release a horde of pernicious pests. After all, the flowers were organic, and they weren’t meant to be eaten. Thoughts of sand nits made her back itch, right in the center along her bra strap where she’d once been bitten by the nasty buggers.
Gah! Not real!
She wrenched her mind back and climbed through the hatch into the dark utility room. “Lights.” Her voice was muffled by her hood and the sound-dampening walls. Across the narrow room crowded with the mech required to create modern luxury, a door led out to the main apartment. She’d taken a set of the original Jepsen Building plans from the Bureau de la Conformité de la Construction. Over the last week she’d memorized the route she would follow and alternates. She’d learned the hard way to do just-in-case planning when her third venture outside the law had taken a turn for the worse.
The utility room was in the staff area of the suite off a short hall that led to a swinging door. It was the dividing line between the haves from the have-nots. She hadn’t grown up on the haves’ side of such doors, but once her sister made tubs of money, she’d learned her way around the other side. She loped to the door, cracked it open, and scanned the serving foyer. The safe she planned to crack was in the study. That room had two entrances, one from the main hall that connected the bedrooms and another that opened from inside the master bedroom. She’d chosen the second route even though it was longer. Retrieving the item in the safe was only part of the reason for breaking and entering this luxurious home. Her primary purpose was to find what the mastermind behind her crimes had promised to leave her.
His instructions detailed the location and description of a valuable piece of art or an antiquity she was to reacquire and return to the person or institution designated. All of them had been stolen. This was her twenty-ninth burglary. Once the artifact was restored to its legitimate owner, a clue to the mystery that dominated her existence was delivered. Who was sending the notes? Why had he chosen her? She never discovered how the messages and the clues ended up where she could find them. Sometimes they were in the desk drawer in her office at work. One she found stuck to the mirror in her bathroom. Whoever was sending them was an expert cat burglar. He’d made it evident he had free run of her personal and business space. She’d nicknamed him Matou, tomcat, for obvious reasons.
Tonight’s initial task, scaling the Jepsen Building, was the toughest task she’d so far encountered. Opening the safe would be easy. She could crack any safe made. You might as well gift wrap your valuables if you relied on a safe to keep burglars from walking off with them. This time her instructions had included no how-tos, just where and when. And sniggering information about sand nits. Figuring out how to get into the penthouse suite was up to her. He’d increased the difficulty.
He’d also told her this was her final exam. Whatever that meant. And after she recovered the artifact, she would find a reward waiting where the master laid his head at night. Okay. Look on the pillows of the bed in the master bedroom.
Now the end was in sight, through the entrance to the penthouse master bedroom that stood before her.
She swung the door open soundlessly. The bed was against the far wall. It had been stripped of bedding and covered with a large gray sheet. A single pillow lay at the head, a bright yellow piece of paper visible on it. The ancient Viking knife in the safe was supposed to be her priority, but she’d check the pillow first. Matou wouldn’t know she’d switched things up.
She strode to the bed, her pulse pounding in her ears.
Four words. That’s all that was written on the paper in the same ornate handwriting used on every preceding communication.
Congratulations. I’m behind you.
How could she have missed it? The same dark, prickling tension that had inched along her spine every time she’d sensed Matou observing her in the past was now knitting her muscles and bones together, turning her to stone. It was him. He’d never let her see or hear him, but her body reacted when he was near, as though when he gazed at her, a furnace ignited inside her. It was damn spooky.
She jumped when his fingers closed on her shoulder.
Like a low, throbbing bass note, his voice resonated through her to the ends of her fingers. Hell. She couldn’t move, much less turn. He trailed his hand along her collarbone. Despite the thick layer of duracloth between her and his fingertips, Darcelle was certain warmth penetrated the fabric.
His sudden yank startled her. Shock pulsed through her. He was undoing the seal on the hood of her skin suit.
“No!” She batted at him, twisting to escape his grasp. He clamped her in a bruising hold, immobilizing her.
“I said don’t turn. Stop struggling.”
Rapid inhalations of the sour combination of aged body odor and fear inside her skin suit made her nasal passages burn. She continued to writhe, fighting to free herself. He’s going to kill me!
“Fuck it. Stop. The air is pure. Look.”
Several moments passed before she registered the sun-darkened arm and hand waving in front of her. Long elegant fingers twiddled. Her breathing hitched. No gloves. He wasn’t wearing a skin suit. She stilled, allowing him to remove her hood.
“Do exactly as I say, and all will be well.”
With gentler hands he turned her toward him. She gasped. He was gorgeous. Only a master sculptor could have formed a face of such perfect symmetry. The masculinity of his high cheekbones, angled jaw, and straight brows was softened by his exquisite lips. Heat flushed through her body.
From beneath black locks slanting over his forehead, pale green eyes stared at her. Was he waiting for a response?
A smile flashed across his lips. “Are you ready to trust me?”
Darcelle pursed her lips. “I’ll try.”
He grunted. “Good enough. We are alike, minou, my kitten. Our trust must be earned.”
In the silence that fell, Darcelle waited, her legs growing restless. An instant before she burst into anxious questions, he spoke.
“This skin suit is repulsive. Clothes have been laid out for you in the master bathroom. I assume you know where that is located?”
She nodded her head, trying to keep her respiration steady even though her chest was tight. This calm, gorgeous man, her cat burglar, her Matou, had her flustered and, beyond all belief, compliant.
“Change and meet me in the study.”
Her confusion must have shone on her face, because he filled in the missing designation. “Sir. Call me sir.” He quirked an eyebrow at her.
Darcelle dropped her gaze to the floor. “Yes, sir.”
She heard a smile in his voice. When she looked up, his lips were twitched in a half grin. She returned his expression before skittering off toward the bathroom. Gods, he’s so damn hot!
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