Richard Addison awoke before Samantha. He usually did. When most people claimed to be night owls, they had no idea what they were talking about. Sam lived for nights, and with few exceptions she detested rising early.
Their sleeping habits were a pointed reminder of the differences between them. The necessities of running a worldwide conglomerate forced him to rise early and keep long hours. Until three months ago Samantha, on the other hand, had done most of her work at night. Cat burglaries, robberies, art and jewel heists, things he knew about in general terms but would probably never learn the specifics of except for her last job. That one had been memorable. And if she hadn't been in his Palm Beach, Florida house trying to steal a stone tablet rumored to have originated in Troy, he would have been killed in the explosion which had literally thrown them together. She'd saved his life that night, and since then he'd made it his goal to save hers.
Richard leaned over to kiss Samantha softly on the cheek, then slipped out of the King George II bed and into the large adjoining private room. Once he'd called New York for an update on the Chinese tariff research he'd ordered, he buzzed the kitchen downstairs to request a pot of tea and headed into the shower. He had a bruise on one hip from the chair collapse last evening, but as far as he was concerned, the sex had been worth the damage.
Samantha had startled the hell out of him when she'd jumped through the library window. If he hadn't driven three hours to get home, and if he hadn't happened to begin his search for her in the library, he would have missed her arrival.
And thank God he hadn't; the only way to convince her she shouldn't return to her former and extremely successful life of crime seemed to be for him to stay one step ahead of her. That in itself could be a full time occupation.
Mindful of the typical Devonshire weather in January, he shrugged on a heavy pullover sweater and his jeans before he left the residence on the upper floor of the north wing of Rawley House and headed downstairs to his office. The tea was waiting for him when he sat down behind his desk, and he held the warm cup in his hands for a blissful moment before he took a drink and logged onto his computer.
After eight o'clock he called his London offices to request the latest paperwork and updates on the pipe-fitting company he was in the midst of acquiring. He bumped the day's appointments so he wouldn't have to drive back into town until tomorrow, and had his assistant, Sarah, schedule a meeting for him with the Commerce Secretary for after the weekend. That finished, he sat back to check the closing numbers for the American stock market, sipping his tea as he surfed.
Twenty minutes later he stood, stretching, and strolled into the chilly hallway. He'd provided an office for Samantha next to his, in what had historically been the estate manager's quarters. He hesitated before he put a hand on the door handle. Despite her colorful past she'd been honest with him from the beginning, and if she said she'd decided to set up a small security business, then that was what she was doing. The problem, though, was twofold: One, a small business seemed more like a hobby than a permanent career change; and two, if her reaction to her interview with John Harding was any indication, apparently recommending alarm systems didn't provide enough of a rush to satisfy an adrenaline junkie. Richard frowned.
I heard somewhere that you shouldn't frown, because your face could freeze like that, Samantha's voice came from a few steps behind him.
He just barely avoided jumping. That's just a rumor, he returned, facing her, perpetrated by people who sell cosmetics.
The sight of her stilled his breath, as it did nearly every time he set eyes on her. His best friend, his thief, his lover, his obsession what she was coming to mean to him changed and evolved with every beat of his heart. Her parts green eyes, brunette hair hanging to her shoulders, slim, athletic figure drove him as mad as the whole of her.
I thought so, damned anti-wrinkle cream people, she commented, stepping by him to swing open her office door. It's not locked. What were you looking for?
I thought I might lend a hand with your proposal for John Harding, he improvised, following her inside.
I'm not sure I want to give Harding a proposal, she said, flipping on the lights. I told you I'd rather focus on getting something manageable started in Florida before I open a worldwide megaconglomerate. I've never run a business before. Samantha offered him a fleeting grin. Not a legitimate one, anyway.
Of course she would prefer to work in Florida. That was where they'd met, and where she'd begun to put down a few tenuous roots. Taking her fingers, he pulled her closer for a kiss. There's no such word as megaconglomerate, Harding's a neighbor, and I need to stay in England for at least another fortnight.
Not fortnight. Two weeks. And I get it. You're telling me to keep busy while you're working, she commented, breaking his hold. That's lame. I have my own business, and it has nothing to do with you, bub. I mean, shit. Next you'll tell me that you decided to turn the entire south wing of your house here into a public art gallery just because I said I liked art and you didn't want me to get bored.
That had only been part of the reason. I enjoy art, as well. If I recall, you tried to steal some of it.
Only one piece. She looked at him, green eyes speculative.
Time to go on the offensive before she figured out everything. I'm setting up a public gallery because I want to. I asked you to help me because you've worked in museums, you have a damned fine eye for aesthetics, and I don't have to pay you. And you happen to know something about keeping my property secure. Besides, you have a nice ass.
Mm hm. Obviously you have a fine eye for beauty, yourself, Brit. She grabbed his hand again. Now stop bugging me about starting my business and follow my nice ass into the gallery wing. I want to know what you think of the lighting we're setting up for the sculpture hall.
Ah. That was Samantha and her mental sleight of hand; confront and redirect. But if she wanted to change the subject from business to art display, at least it stopped the argument for the time being. And how much is this lighting going to cost me? he asked, playing along.
Her quicksilver smile reappeared. You don't want a cheap lighting system make your Rodan look all glary now, do you?
It's far too early in the day for you to keep making up words, love, he returned, pleased to hear the genuine enthusiasm in her voice. And I meant to ask you, if someone can break into Rawley Park as easily as you did, why are we moving my Rodan here, anyway?
I can break in. That doesn't mean anybody else could. Besides, it was a test. The idea is to keep improving security until I can't break in anymore.
Is that how you're going to test all of your security work?
I don't know yet. It might be fun, though. There are companies who hire people like me just to test their security.
Wonderful. They probably hired people who couldt present their credentials without going to prison for them, but he didn't mention that aloud. That would mean making her acknowledge that as separate as she wanted to keep her business from his, she was using his name and reputation. And he liked that just fine. Did you make those phone calls I suggested to get an idea of what you might charge for your services?
Samantha sighed. Rick, butt out. You go make your billions, and I'll work my stuff out for myself.
He wanted to keep pressing, mostly because once she did have a business established, it would be more difficult for her to throw her things into a knapsack and vanish into her former life. But he also recognized the expression on her face. She was someone who hated being handled as much as he did, and he'd been pushing hard.
Fair enough. Might we at least have breakfast before I face the gallery? He did genuinely like the idea of creating a public gallery, a place to display his priceless artworks and antiquities and to encourage their study and preservation. What he found annoying was the construction crew inside his house, tromping on his privacy and calling him Amy lord. Democratic or not, his fellow Brits were unable to ignore a dusty old inherited title like the Marquisdom of Rawley. Thank God for Americans, and in particular for the one currently walking beside him.
Fine. Breakfast first. Just remember that even though the gallery's a favor, you are paying me to do the security.
I remember. You keep in mind, though, that this favor you're doing is costing me a small fortune.
She chuckled, her shoulders lowering. Yes, but it'll look so nice when we're finished. You might even win an award.
Lucky me. Why didn't you break in through the construction mess?
Because that's where I've got most of the live-action security stationed. And besides, it would be cheating.
His resident chef, Jean-Pierre Montagne, had prepared American pancakes for breakfast. As far as Richard knew, the culinary master had never lowered himself to such a thing before Sam's arrival, but Samantha seemed to be as persuasive and charming with his Devonshire household staff as she was with his employees in Palm Beach. And pancakes happened to be her favorite breakfast meal.
After they ate, Samantha led him down to what they'd begun terming the gallery wing. Some time ago he'd given up trying to figure out why she had no trouble stealing anything from anyone, but she refused to rob museums or public collections and in fact she practically worshiped them. A sort of thieves' snobbery, he assumed. And where Sam was concerned, it made an odd and endearing kind of sense.
I widened the alcove here, she said, indicating the blueprint she'd borrowed from the crew chief, because I thought it'd be a great place for your blue Van Gogh. You need to view it from further away to see the theme of loneliness and not get tangled up in the details of busy nightlife.
I'm still amazed at how well you drew up the blueprints, he said, gazing at her profile.
She shrugged. I practically learned how to read by looking at blueprints. Besides, nearly photographic memory, remember? Sam tapped her skull.
It had more to do with innate talent and skill than memory, but he declined to point that out. Your memory doesn't explain how you know I own a blue Van Gogh, he said instead. It's on loan to the Louvre.
I'm subscribing to your monthly fan newsletter, she returned, her voice cool and only the upturn at the end indicating she thought she was being hilarious. It's only $12.95 a year.
And you're having it delivered here, I suppose? he asked dryly. ABecause that would be bloody splendid. Yes, Richard Addison subscribes to his own fan club newsletter.
I'd do that, if I had a newsletter. But no, it goes to Stoney's house in Palm Beach and he forwards it to me.
Wonderful. Your fence gets my newsletter.
Former fence. He retired too, remember?
Moving in behind her, Richard slid his arms around her waist, leaning in to kiss the nape of her neck. How could I forget? And how is Walter?
Like you care.
Hey, you care, so I care.
She shrugged against his chest. Fine. I'm waiting for his call. He's . . . looking into something for me.
Something legal? he asked, keeping his voice amused. Walter Stoney Barstone was like the party-loving father to Sam's reformed alcoholic. The addiction in this case, though, was thievery rather than liquor. And no, he didn't like Walter. Stoney was the closest thing Sam had to family, and he was a bloody bad influence on her. And Rick wouldn't wager five pence that he was committed to his retirement, whatever he might say. An acquisitions relocation professional, as the fence called himself, didn't quit a very lucrative career just on a whim. And certainly not on someone else's whim.
Like I'd tell you if it wasn't legal.
The cell phone on her belt chimed the tune to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Just the fact that she had a cell phone with a traceable number whether he'd pushed her into it or not spoke volumes about her intentions to join the legitimate world. ASpeak of the devil, she muttered, sliding it off its clip and flipping it open. Hola.
So she'd chosen a thief theme for Walter's ring. Richard wondered what tune she'd chosen for his calls. She listened for a moment in silence, then with a glance at him moved away down the gallery. He could hear her animatedly chattering about something, but obviously he wasn't supposed to know what was going on. He didn't like that much and she would know it, too, damn it.
Taking a deep breath, he returned his attention to the blueprints. For someone who generally looked at building layouts with an eye toward breaking and entering, her plans for the gallery wing were amazing: Simple, elegant, and designed for the artworks to be seen as the artist would have envisioned. It warmed his heart, and for the oddest reason; she enjoyed doing this, and he'd been able to provide her with the opportunity.
At the sound of her phone snapping closed, he faced her again. And to repeat, how is Walter?
He's good, she returned, smiling. He got the latest newsletter. You've apparently turned your fling with that mysterious Jellicoe into something more long-term, and have in fact invited her to move in to your massive and very private estate in Devonshire, England.
Hm. Rumors, you know. Can't trust them.
Right. I can't wait to check in on your fan board. I bet all the girls start flaming me again.
What the devil are you talking about?
I told you, you have a website, hosted by Rick's Chicks. They don't like when you're dating anyone.
I'd think they would be happy for me, he said dismissively, knowing she only kept track of such things because it annoyed him and amused her. ASo that's the only reason Walter called?
Knowing her as well as he was coming to, he saw the bare second of hesitation before she rejoined him at the drafting table. No. He found a place with some good potential.
For your office?
Maybe. He wants me to go back to Palm Beach to take a look at it.
He nodded, covering his frustration. As much as he wanted her to want to remain in England with him, he'd known the Palm Beach issue would surface eventually. Give me a week, then, and I'll take a look at it with you.
Samantha cleared her throat. It's apparently a pretty hot property.
Have Walter tell them I'm interested. They'll wait.
A furrow dipped between her fine eyebrows. You're not interested. I am.
Same thing. Come on, let's
It is not the same thing, Rick. For the last damned time this is my deal, okay?
AI know that, he returned, wondering whether he was facing her independent streak, which was what had first attracted him to her, or her equally wide stubborn streak, which on occasion annoyed the hell out of him. ASomeone as enterprising as you, though, might consider that I set up companies and make them profitable for a living and that I'm rather successful at it. Furthermore, I have no objection to your making use of my experience, or my resources.
Samantha narrowed her eyes. You have no objection? she repeated.
Uh oh. I'm happy to offer my assistance, he revised, inwardly swearing at himself. She wasn't a leveraged buyout, and she wasn't a bloody employee. I'd like to help, he tried again.
I don't think you're offering help, she said stiffly. You want to do it. Set up an international security firm, line up the clients you think would get the business going profitably and with minimum hassle. But I am not going to open a satellite office of Addisco. This is my idea, my project, my shot. And I have to do it. By myself.
Except for Walter, you mean. He gets to be included. It's an office not a Picasso you can steal and fence.
Oh, gee, thanks for clarifying that.
My point is, you and Walter have experience at something which doesn't lend itself to establishing a legitimate business. I specialize in business, and it would be stupid not to take advantage of that fact.
Samantha wasn't so sure that law-breaking and business were that far apart, but that was a different argument. So now I'm being stupid? Why, because I want to do something without you, right? You know, Rick, I've made a fucking ton of money without your help and without my help, you would have died three months ago.
He scowled. AWhat the hell does that have to do with setting up a business?
The biting retort she conjured came out of her chest as a frustrated growl. She'd tried to explain, numerous times, and he refused to listen. AI get it, you know. You want me to be obligated to you, and you want to be able to remind me endlessly that you were the reason I was able to succeed. That's not how I do business, legal or otherwise. So you can go to hell.
If you try this on your own, I would imagine you'll get there first.
Oh, that's enough of that, asshole, she snapped, turning on her heel and striding toward their private rooms. Or rather his private rooms, which she shared. Buckingham damned Palace was smaller than this place.
What does that mean? he demanded, stomping after her.
I'm going to Florida.
In a week you're going to Florida.
Ha! He still didn't get it. AThink you can keep me here, rich guy?
It's for your own good. If you'd stop and use your brain instead of your bloody ego for a damned minute, you'd realize that you'd be better off if you waited for me.
You think my ego's the problem?
Hey, here's my advice to you, she retorted, flipping him the finger as she vaulted over the stair railing to the landing below, then did it again to reach the second floor well before him.
She knew what he was doing, trying to control her and the situation. That was how he'd made his billions. But this was her gig, her test, and if they continued with this escalated pushing and pulling as they had over the past few weeks, one or both of them were going to end up hospitalized or dead.
Sam! Rick bellowed, charging down the stairs after her.
She'd been a thief all her life but for the past three months, and some habits died harder than others. Dashing into the bedroom, she dove into the wardrobe and snatched out her knapsack. As many things as she'd been acquiring lately, everything she absolutely needed to survive stayed packed in that knapsack.
In the bedroom entryway he practically crashed into her, and she dodged beneath his grab. He was getting better at tracking her. After all, even for a rich guy he was in damned good shape, and she wasn't entirely certain she'd be able to take him in a brawl especially since he'd been known to fight dirty.
Rick had given her a black Mini Cooper, mostly because she thought it was just too cool for words, and last night she'd left it parked half a mile from the estate. Rick had at least half a dozen cars of his own here in Devonshire, all but one of them currently in the large former stable he'd converted into a garage.
On her way out she snatched up her pruners, detouring through the garage and snapping the door cables as she dove out the front rolling doors. Behind her Rick skidded to a halt just in time to avoid getting brained, yelling at her to stop and quit fucking around. Ha. She'd barely begun. He'd have to go out through the front now, so she had at least three minutes on him. And she knew where her car was stashed, and he didn't.
His sleek blue James Bond BMW was parked on the drive, no doubt waiting for him to whisk her away on some picnic or fancy lunch or something, as he seemed to do on an alarmingly regular basis. From her first view of him three months ago, she wouldn't have thought him a romantic, but he seemed to have an uncanny sense of what she enjoyed and what she'd always longed to do. But fuck that. She refused to give him any points for being nice today.
Clutching the pruners like a knife, she plunged them into the right front tire of the BMW. At the hiss of air escaping she yanked it out and went to work on the other three tires. It was a damned shame to disable such a hot car, but she was not going to let this turn into a chase. She'd told him she was leaving, and she meant it, damn it.
She left the pruners in the last tire, then sprinted down the long, sloping drive. His property extended for an obscene number of acres, but he'd been forced by the paparazzi and the public to put up a wall around the house itself. That was where his heaviest security could be found, and it was where she'd been concentrating on protecting both him and the collection of artworks he'd been relocating in anticipation of the gallery wing opening.
This morning, though, she didn't much care about setting off alarms, or any kind of stealth at all. The locks would be engaged on the main gate, so she simply scaled it, dropping down on the other side to the cobblestoned ground of the drive entry. That done, she hoofed it up the narrow road to the lake turnoff.
Sam couldn't help looking over her shoulder as she unlocked her car and tossed the knapsack onto the passenger seat. No sign of Rick, but he wouldn't be far behind her. And he wouldn't be happy.
Even as she started the car and shot down the road toward the main highway, part of her enjoyed this. A little rush of adrenaline, no matter the reason, still helped to satisfy that deep craving inside her that craving which hadn't been satisfied nearly enough, lately. The craving that he wanted to lock behind a desk probably in an office without even a window.
Flipping open her cell phone, she dialed British Airways. Using one of Rick's credit card numbers that she'd memorized, she booked a seat on the first available flight to Miami, and then arranged for a connecting flight to Palm Beach. Credit cards were good. She really should get one soon. As for paying him back, she'd wire him the damned cash as soon as she got to Florida. She wasn't going to owe him anything.
Sam watched out the tiny window as the plane took off. No sign of Rick at the terminal. For the first time she wondered if he might have decided not to come after her.
Sitting back, she shrugged. So what if she never saw him again? He wasn't any better than she was, but he was a hell of a lot more arrogant. She definitely didn't need that right now.
As she flipped open the People magazine she'd snagged in the airport, she found herself looking at him at them, when they'd attended a movie premiere last month. He looked great in a black tuxedo, while she looked like she was trying not to cringe at the mass of camera flashes and yelling celebrity-holics. She definitely wouldn't miss that. And she wouldn't miss him.
Okay. Maybe she would miss him, but it didn't matter. After three straight months in England, she was going somewhere that for the previous three years she'd almost begun to think of as home. Except that right now in her mind home had the alarming tendency to be wherever Rick Addison was.
Mentally she shook herself. She didn't need him; she simply liked being around him. And she liked the sex. A lot. Even so, the promise she'd made to go straight hadn't been so much for him as it had been for herself. He didn't get to take the credit, and he wasn't going to do any of the work. It was up to her. Her life and the direction it took had always been up to her.
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