Palm Beach, Florida
Thursday, 11:28 p.m.
Samantha Jellicoe crouched between a full suit of sixteenth century Prussian armor and a life-size terra cotta warrior from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Footsteps entered the dark hallway a few yards beyond her and she stilled, keeping her breathing slow and deep.
“I know you’re here,” the deep voice said in a slightly faded British accent. “You may as well give up now.”
No friggin’ way. If he had any idea where she was, he would have found her already. Richard Addison might be a high-powered billionaire, a Great White shark in the world of business, but where creeping around in the dark was concerned, he was a rank amateur.
She, on the other hand, had gone professional well before her tenth birthday. Resisting the instinct to back deeper into the shadows as he approached, she took a breath and held it. Adrenaline pumped into her system, making her want to move, make a run for it. That, though, wasn’t part of the plan.
“You’ll never make it,” Addison’s voice taunted. “All I have to do is stand in front of the door, and you lose.”
He paused, his bare feet shifting in a slow circle about a dozen feet from where she crouched behind good old Colonel Klink’s shield. If he’d had a flashlight with him she would have been done for, but she knew him, knew that his pride would consider a flashlight to be cheating. She’d counted on that, and had made her plans with his large ego in mind.
“Okay, have it your way,” he continued. “I just thought it might be less humiliating for you to give up than for me to find you.”
That was probably true, but obviously his chances of finding her weren’t all that he claimed they were. As soon as his footsteps resumed down a side hallway she moved, springing down one flight of stairs and dashing into the first door on the left. Technically she could already have been out of the house with a million plus in merchandise, but the Matisse and the fourteenth-century Turkish tapestry weren’t on her list. Neither were any other of the fifty-odd other pieces of art and antiques in the house.
Still working in the dark, Samantha walked to the far corner of the library and unlatched the window there. Normally the alarm would have gone off, but she knew for a fact that the whole system was down. She smiled as she slipped out the window and onto the two-inch-wide ledge running along the wall. Now this was fun.
Reaching back, she pushed the window closed again. She couldn’t latch it, but unless he came in very close he would never know anyone had unlocked it. Since she also knew that the power was out for at least the next twenty minutes, she had the early October darkness working in her favor, too.
Edging sideways another six or seven feet with her back to the wall, she stopped as she came opposite one of the ubiquitous palm trees surrounding the mansion and the entire three-acre estate. This one stood about five feet in front of her, and climbed about sixty feet into the air. “Okay, Sam,” she muttered, drew a breath, and pushed out from the ledge.
For a second she hung in the air before she smacked into the palm’s trunk and wrapped her arms and legs around it. That would have hurt if she hadn’t worn jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Black, of course; not only was the dark color slimming, but it was the clothing of choice for disappearing into shadows. Sucking in another breath, she shimmied up the rough trunk until she was about four feet above the house’s roof.
The roof here at the back of the house was flat and had a very nice skylight set into the ceiling of the room she needed to get into. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure she was lined up, she pushed off backward, twisting in midair to land on her hands and knees on the rooftop. Keeping her forward momentum going, she somersaulted and came up onto her feet.
Normally speed wasn’t as important as stealth, but tonight she needed to get into Richard Addison’s office before he tracked her down. And for an amateur, he had a pretty good nose for larceny. Of course she was a damned bloodhound, if she said so herself.
With another smile she crouched in front of the skylight and leaned over to peer into the dark office space below. Just because he’d announced that he would wait for her to show up outside the door didn’t mean that he’d done so. The padlock he’d put on the skylight stopped her for about twelve seconds, most of that taken up by the time it took her to dig the paperclip out of her pocket
Setting the lock aside, she unlatched the skylight and carefully shoved it open, gripping the edge to lean in head first. The large room with its conference table, desk, and sitting area at one end looked empty, and her Spider-Man senses weren’t wigging out.
Pushing off with her feet, she flipped head over hands and landed in the middle of the room, bending her knees to cushion her landing and cut down on any sound. A small black box topped by a red bow sat on the desk, but after a glance and a quick wrestling match with her curiosity, she walked past it to the refrigerator set into the credenza and pulled out a Diet Coke. Deliberately she walked to the office door, leaned against the frame, and popped the soda tab.
A second later she heard the distinctive sound of a key sliding into a lock, and the door handle flipped down. “Surprise,” she said, taking a swallow of soda.
The tall, black-haired Englishman stopped just inside the doorway and glared at her. Blue eyes darkened to black in the dimness, but she didn’t need light to read his expression. Annoyed. Rick Addison didn’t like to be bested.
“You used the skylight, didn’t you?” he said, making the sentence a statement rather than a question.
“I padlocked it an hour ago.”
“Hello,” she returned, handing him the Diet Coke, “thief. Remember?”
“Retired thief.” He took a drink and gave it back to her before he continued past her to the desk. “You didn’t peek?”
“Nope. The thought never crossed my mind.” Well, it had, but she hadn’t given in, so that counted. “I wouldn’t ruin your surprise.”
When he faced her again, his mouth relaxed into a slight smile. “I was certain you’d attempt to get around me in the gallery hall.”
“I went out through the library window. If I’da been a bomb, you would have been blowed up, slick.”
Grabbing her by the front of the shirt, he yanked her up against him, bent his face down, and kissed her. Adrenaline flowed into arousal, and she kissed him back, pulling off her black leather gloves to tangle her bare fingers into his dark hair. A successful B and E was a lot like sex, and when she could actually combine the two, hoo baby.
“You smell like palm tree,” he muttered, sweeping her legs out from under her and lowering her onto the gray carpeted floor.
“How do you think I got in here?”
Rick’s hands paused on their trek up under her shirt. “You climbed up the palm tree?”
“It’s the fastest way to go.” She pulled his face down over hers again, yanking open the fly of his jeans with her free hand. She loved his body, the feel of his skin against hers. It amazed her that a guy who spent his days sitting at conference tables and computers and arguing over pieces of paper could have the body of a professional soccer player, but he did. And he knew how to use it, too.
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