Anson: Good and bad mean nothing to a master thief. I take what I want, and what I want is vengeance. No more, no less.
Maybe the girl can help, so I’ll hide her. Protect her. And if I have to manhandle her to keep her quiet, she’ll deal. Hell, she might even like it. But she’ll learn fast that I make the rules.
“At the door,” I whispered.
“Standard electronic lock?” Walker confirmed.
“Yep. It’s so cute. I haven’t seen one of these since I was a kid.” I pulled a tiny, battery-powered device from my pocket and plugged it into the port at the bottom of the door handle. Most people never noticed that such a port even existed, to their detriment, but they’d been a thief’s wet dream back when they were popular. People had assumed that because a thing was electronic and highly technological, it was superior to a good, old-fashioned deadbolt. They’d been proven wrong so often that these models were hardly used anymore.
“I’m in,” I said, detaching the device and turning to close the door so it rested on the latch. “Laptop’s on the desk. It’s an older model, looks like. Just like you guessed.”
“Lord have mercy. Did he leave you a fruit basket and a bottle of wine?” Walker wanted to know. “An engraved invitation?”
I snorted softly. “Pretty much. The fucker.”
I looked around the office once, noting the details. The way the blinds were mostly closed, the arrangements of pillows on the sofas and papers on the desk. I wouldn’t disturb a single thing, not a molecule of dust if I could help it.
I removed a second device – this one just a super-charged thumb drive – from my other pocket, and slid it into a port on the computer. The drive would transmit a mirror image of the hard drive to Walker’s machine. “Drive’s in. Ready to boot it up.”
“Excellent.” I could hear Walker cracking his knuckles enthusiastically as he got ready to make magic at the keyboard. “Let Daddy take control, my precious.”
“Wow. Anyone else uncomfortable right now?” Ethan asked. “I mean, no shade but you and your computers have a really unique relationship, Walk.”
“I dunno,” Caelan defended. “I’m actually kind of aroused.”
I snorted softly as Caelan, Walker, and Ethan cracked up.
“Enough!” X snapped. “Jesus. I ran a multi-million-dollar company, and I took a leave of absence to become babysitter to a bunch of overgrown toddlers.”
“Parental leave,” Walker said solemnly. “You should look into that.”
I couldn’t see what happened next, sadly, but there was a scuffle on the other end of the comms, and a second later, Walker exclaimed, “Alright, alright! Jesus! No violence around my babies.”
“Is he holding out his arms to protect his monitors again?” I breathed.
“You know it,” Ethan agreed. “After Xavier slapped the back of his head.”
“Jesus. And I missed it?” Figured.
“It’s working,” Walker said, all professional now that the link was established. “I’m copying the directories. You’ve got… One hundred twenty-eight seconds until you’re free.”
This was the hardest part of any operation – the waiting.
Careful not to touch the desk chair or even move a paperclip, I surveyed the papers on his desk. Nothing of any interest, as far as I could tell. Certainly nothing that said “Re: Your Friend’s Criminal Activities.”
My eyes skimmed to the bookcase behind the desk. There were pictures of his wedding to Emma – which seemed to be within the last few years. A picture of him with another woman – two decades ago, judging by the fashions – was perched on a lower shelf. Probably the first wife.
There was a cardboard box on the floor by the bookcase, filled with a jumble of papers and mugs. They looked like someone’s personal effects – the kind the recently-fired guy always carried out with him when he made his walk of shame – and I wondered what the hell Pederson was doing with them… And then I looked more closely at the picture frame on the top of the box.
It was a picture of a little girl sitting on an older guy’s lap in the captain’s chair of a boat. They were both smiling at the camera like they’d been caught in the middle of laughter. The sun glinted off the shining wood of the boat’s wheel behind them and the little white-capped waves of the ocean beyond. The girl’s hair was flaming red- almost orange.
Sabrina. This was the picture she’d been talking about earlier.
I carefully moved the frame aside to peer at the next layer and found exactly what I’d expected: a wood and brass name-plate, the kind that sat on fancy folks’ desks, bearing the name Stuart Fowler.
These were her father’s personal effects, I realized. Why the hell had they been given to Pederson, even if they were friends, during an office cleanout, when clearly they should have been sent directly to Sabrina? I could imagine Pederson wanted to hand-deliver them later, the lecherous asshole.
“We’re clear.” Walker’s voice in my ear brought me back to exactly where I was. “I’m out of the system. Just remove the drive, shut it down, and it will be as though we were never here.” He whistled a few notes of the X-files theme song.
I was a little horrified that I recognized the X-files theme song, but then again I’d been living with this computer geek twenty-four-seven for half a year now.
I pulled the drive from the system and shut it down, then shut the laptop.
“Job well done, boys,” I whispered as I walked across the room.
I paused by the sofa and looked back at the picture frame. Something about it was calling to me. I knew Sabrina wanted it, and I wanted to give it to her.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. You didn’t last long in this line of work if you were a magpie, distracted by every shiny thing. You came in to get what you were contracted to get – or what you thought you could reasonably fence. You never took personal shit if you could help it. Get in, get out, move on.
But I remembered her eyes this morning when she’d talked about her dad, about wondering if it was still okay for her to remember him as a decent person even though he’d done shitty things. Back when that picture was taken, he’d been her hero. It was clear on her face. And I wanted to give her back just a tiny bit of that.
Even if it wasn’t for me to do.
I hesitated half a second too long.
“Is that you, Mr. Peder-. Hey!” Gwendolyn walked in, hands on her hips and eyes narrowed on me. “What are you doing in here, Sonny?”
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
You’d think that I’d have been good at making shit up, given that getting caught was always a possibility in my line of work. But I wasn’t. God’s honest truth, I’d never been caught before.
“Anson?” X’s voice was in my ear, quiet and controlled. “What’s going on?”
“I’m, uh, I’m so sorry!” I told her, all affable smile, hands spread wide. “It’s just, the door was open, and…well…”
“Oh, Sonny, baby!” Sabrina’s cheerful voice called from the hallway. “Are you ready?”
Ready? Jesus, no!
I was not a praying man, but I prayed right then that Sabrina was not doing anything as foolish as walking into this room right now.
But apparently sinners don’t have a lot of capital to burn with the man upstairs, because Sabrina walked in, right then and there.
And she was buck-fucking-naked from the waist up.
For a second, all I could do was stare. I mean, this woman was hotter by far than Emma Pederson could ever hope to be, even if she did her fucking yoga from dawn til’ dusk. The body that I hadn’t really had a chance to appreciate the night before was on display for me – all pale skin, dusted with golden freckles, smooth stomach and rounded limbs, and perfect lush breasts topped with light pink nipples – and my cock had zero respect for the complete inopportunity of this timing as it stirred in my jeans.
Sabrina gasped and grabbed her shirt, holding it up to cover her chest and staring wide-eyed at Gwendolyn. “Oh, my God,” she wailed. “Oh, my God!”
“Sa-breee-na!” Gwendolyn was clearly scandalized. “What on earth? Why are you naked?”
“Sabrina’s naked?” Walker demanded in my ear. “From now on, we use cameras on ops! I mean… Hey, ow!” It sounded like Xavier had hit him again, and for once I gave thanks for our fearless leader’s high-handedness.
Jane has been writing since her early teens, dabbling in short stories and poetry. When she married and began having children, her pen was laid to rest for several years, until the National Novel Writing Challenge (NaNoWriMo) in 2010 awakened in her the desire to write again. That year, she wrote her first novel, and has been writing ever since. With a houseful of children, she finds time to write in the early hours of the morning, squirreled away with a laptop, blanket, and cup of hot coffee. Years ago, she heard the wise advice, “Write the book you want to read,” and has taken it to heart. She sincerely hopes you also enjoy the books she likes to read.
Maisy is an unabashed book nerd who has been in love with romance since reading her first Julie Garwood novel at the tender age of 12. After a decade as a technical writer, she finally made the leap into writing fiction several years ago and has never looked back. Like her other great loves – coffee, caramel, beach vacations, yoga pants, and her amazing family – her love of words has only continued to grow… in a manner inversely proportional to her love of exercise, house cleaning, and large social gatherings. She loves to hear from fellow romance lovers, and is always on the hunt for her next great read.