Chapter 1

 1

Southampton, England. Now.

 

I love this part. The thought rattled around my brain. The first few minutes of a new job always started the same—excitement built in my fingers and toes, moved to my arms and legs and then settled in my stomach just long enough to give me butterflies.

The feeling bubbled away as I passed my party invitation to one of three huge bouncers at the mansion’s front door. It was an official invite, so I was unconcerned about being denied entrance. For the amount of money I’d bribed a staff member to get hold of the damn thing, it should have come in a solid gold envelope. A friend of mine had given me the job a few weeks earlier. Initially I’d been reluctant to accept. Most jobs went through my partner, Holly, and she recommended the best ones to undertake. I was a thief, and a good one at that, but I’d stayed off most law enforcement radars because I never had any contact with my clients. It was all done electronically via Holly.

Saying yes to the job brought a whole new set of problems to deal with. My friend needed me to steal something from a house, despite the fact that he was fully aware of how much I hated breaking into homes. For a start, the occupants were much more likely to call the police and freak out to the media, but mostly I hated them because the variables for a home break-in are astronomical. Anything can go wrong. There are neighbours and pets to consider. Will the inhabitants wake up in the night for a drink? Does one of them work shifts and get home, or get ready for work, just as I’m beginning to do my own? Even after researching the owners, I considered them a damn minefield of crap, so avoided home jobs like the plague. But my client was a good friend, and the pay was excellent. Besides I owed him. And he’s the sort of man who collected on his debts.

The bouncer waved me through, and a waiter offered me a glass of champagne. Personally, I’ve always hated the stuff, but as everyone in the huge room beyond had a glass of champagne in hand, I decided that blending in would make life easier, so I accepted the drink.

The hosts lived in one of Southampton’s high-class neighbourhoods, frequented by footballers and people with too much money and not enough taste. Case in point, the massive foyer I found myself in had a large zebra skin rug on the marble floor. It lay miserably between two ornate staircases leading to an empty landing above. More bouncers stood at the top of each set of stairs, turning people away when they tried to get to the upper floor. I’d have put money that the owners of the house would use that area to address the crowd below, thanking everyone and looking down at them all from their lofty perch.

I walked through the house and noticed several small mahogany display cabinets. Each one contained a collection of bronzed statues of ancient Greek warriors, and the occasional vase from the same time period. People congregated around them, pointing and talking about the house owners’ acquisitions.

“Nice suit.”

I turned to see a young woman, champagne flute in hand, running one perfectly manicured finger gently down the crystal stem. It was either a subconscious gesture of nerves or a conscious gesture of seduction. I hadn’t decided.

“I’ve not seen you before,” she continued. Her eyes were large and deep brown, with thick lashes and her full red lips looked moist and inviting. A golden dress clung to her voluptuous body, leaving little to the imagination. She licked her bottom lip slowly, never taking her gaze from me. Okay, she knew exactly what she was doing.

“I haven’t seen you either,” I said.

“You know the birthday boy well?” She moved forward ever so slightly and brushed my shirt cuff. “A bit of fluff,” she lied, using the distraction as an excuse to get a good look at my wedding ring finger.

“Thank you,” I said with a smile, ignoring her question. “I’m Nate.”

“Jasmine.” She moved again and her golden dress rode up perfectly toned thighs. Just a small amount, but it was enough to gain my attention. She caught me watching as she readjusted herself, and smiled. “So what do you do to afford such beautiful clothes? Footballer?”

If I’d been drinking the champagne, I probably would have ruined the moment by spraying it all over her immaculately made up face. Instead I just chuckled. “I’ve never kicked a football in my life. I’m a thief.”

Jasmine raised her hand in front of her mouth to hide her smile. “And what do you steal? Women’s hearts? Their virginity?” Most people would rather hear a reasonable lie than the fantastical truth.

It was my turn to smile. “It’s been a long time since I’ve stolen a woman’s virginity. I was under the impression that virginal women no longer exist.”

“And hearts?”

“You can’t steal what is given freely.”

Jasmine smiled again. It was a beautiful smile, and I regretted that I would never see it again once the job was over. I glanced past her at a clock hung high on the wall. Almost ten, the party had only been going on for a few hours and it would be a while before it hit full swing.

“A lot of women turned to watch you as you walked in. As did their boyfriends. They don’t like it when a new man enters the equation, especially one who turns their dates’ heads.”

I’d noticed a few of them moving between me and their girlfriends or wives. “So where’s your boyfriend?”

“My boyfriend is an asshole who thinks that playing football gives him an excuse to cheat on me with that bitch in the corner over there.”

I took a step to the side and followed Jasmine’s gaze. At the end of a throng of people, another stunning woman leaned against a faux Roman pillar, drink in hand, and pretended to be interested in the young muscular man who spoke to her. Every now and then she glanced briefly at the expensive watch on the man’s wrist. “He why you’re flirting with me?”

“He was to begin with. But now I’m enjoying myself.” Jasmine blushed slightly, downed her champagne in one motion, and picked up a second flute as a waiter walked past. “Maybe if I had fake tits I wouldn’t have been left here all alone.”

“You don’t need to change a single thing. If he can’t see that, then he’s a fool.”

I moved back to my original position, facing Jasmine, who looked pleased.

“Yet I stay with him. What does that make me?”

I hadn’t counted on being a relationship councillor. “You want to go for a walk?” I asked out of a desire to get her off topic.

She watched her boyfriend for a few seconds. “Yeah, let’s go outside.”

Jasmine took my arm as we threaded past dozens of people, most of whom appeared as fake as the woman with Jasmine’s boyfriend. A few of the men, obviously friends of theirs, gave me evil glares, but no one stopped us.

We walked past a huge swimming pool and down to some secluded benches. I turned back to get a good view of the bedrooms on the top floor. This might be easier than I’d imagined.

Jasmine sat on the bench and crossed her legs, allowing the skirt to move up her thighs again. We continued to flirt and eventually she asked, “So, Mr. Thief, what are you really doing here?”

I leaned up against a giant stone gargoyle, its face a permanent snarl that not even a mother could love. “I’m going to steal a book.”

She laughed. “A book? Really? Is it expensive or important?”

Her tone of disbelief was almost identical to the one I’d used when told what I was stealing. I shook my head. “No idea, I’ve been asked to steal it and I intend to go through with it.”

“So what about me?”

“You’re a… complication.” I smiled.

Jasmine returned the smile and shook her head before looking around the garden. “Are you planning on ravishing me in the darkness?”

I glanced at my watch. Midnight. I wanted to get this job finished sooner rather than later. “Do you want me to?”

She nodded and took a deep breath. “God, yes.” Her voice was raspy. She moved back slightly, uncrossing her legs. “I want you, right now.”

I sat next to Jasmine and my body screamed for me to rip her dress off there and then. To touch every inch of her body, over and over again, that it would be amazing. Unfortunately, my head intervened to point out that it would also cost me any chance of completing my job that evening. That meant having to be a dick. I kissed her. Our tongues explored one another’s mouths for what felt like an eternity. My hands rode up her back, entangling in her hair as I kept telling myself that I was not here to fuck the stunning blonde in her friend’s back garden.

Jasmine breathlessly pulled back as she began to undo my belt with a fevered urgency. “Fucking thing,” she said after she was unable to just rip my trousers off.

“Wait,” I said. “Not out here.”

“What? Why?”

“Because there are enough people around that any of them could catch us.”

“So?” Jasmine had unhooked my belt and slid her hand down my trousers, stroking me slowly.

“So,” I groaned and closed my eyes to her magnificent touch. “I like to finish what I start.”

She stopped, and I opened my eyes. “I know how to get into the bedrooms upstairs without going past those idiots on the staircase.”

I refastened my belt. “Lead the way.”

Jasmine led me up to the house and through a side door, where steps led down into some sort of game room. A pool table and dart board occupied one side, a huge TV and several leather couches on the other.

We passed through the room and walked down a dark corridor. Jasmine stopped me at the foot of a set of stairs and looked around the corner before dragging me past them to a lift. She shoved me inside, and hit the button for the top floor. She pushed herself against me and kissed me hard.

“I’ve only just met you,” she whispered.

“Does that matter?”

She shook her head. The lift began to ascend and she moved away from me. “It’s been so long since anyone’s made me feel like this.” Jasmine sighed and kissed me once more. A small moan left her lips as she started to kiss my neck and I quickly sprung back to life as my hands roamed her body.

I stared up at the ceiling of the lift and mentally wondered whom I’d pissed off in a previous life. Having to upset a beautiful young lady who wanted to do unspeakable things to me was not going to make me happy.

The lift stopped and the doors opened with only a tiny squeak. Jasmine grabbed my hand and quickly led me across the hallway and through a set of double doors. As we dove into the room I caught a glimpse of the bouncers at the top of the stairs, their stares never wavering from the front door.

The bedroom was huge, with a four-poster bed to one side, an ornate dressing table next to it. Another huge TV hung from the cream coloured wall opposite the bed. Everything was white, cream, or a variation of them. Even the bed’s wood had been dyed cream. It was vaguely disturbing, like the room had been covered in milk.

“Is this the master bedroom?” I asked as I looked through the large windows down onto the back garden.

“Yeah,” Jasmine said, followed by the click of the door locking.

I turned around to discover that she’d removed her dress, letting it fall freely to the floor as she walked toward me. She rubbed her hands over her exposed breasts, squeezed them slightly and smiled as I watched. She definitely didn’t need work done. Stunning was too timid a word to use. “You like?” she asked.

I nodded and walked toward her. “I want you to know something.”

Now?” she asked as she played with one of her nipples.

“You can do better than your boyfriend. Not all men are assholes, and you deserve to find one who isn’t.”

“Are you an asshole?” Jasmine licked her finger and ran it down her body to her pierced bellybutton.

I tried not to watch her move, to allow my own desire to over-take me. “You need to know something about me.”

Concern flickered over Jasmine’s face. “If you’re married, I won’t do that.”

“No, nothing like that.” I raised my hand, so that the back faced Jasmine. She stared in shock as lines of brilliant white crisscrossed my skin. If I’d been shirtless she would have seen it continue up my arms and across my chest and back.

Wonder changed to panic as Jasmine fought for breath. “I’m sorry,” I said as she passed out into my arms. “I’m a sorcerer,” I whispered as I laid her on the bed and pulled the covers over her body.

She’d wake up after twenty minutes with a headache, but that was the extent of the damage I’d done by removing all the oxygen from her lungs. I made my way over to a large painting opposite the bed. It depicted the party hosts in some sort of regal pose. A small dog sat in the woman’s arms. The whole thing looked ridiculous.

I pulled the painting off the wall, placed it gently on the floor, and turned back to the now exposed safe. The steel was cold as I placed my palm against it. A moment later the white, spider web-like pattern re-emerged across the back of my hand and wrist. After a few seconds of concentration the steel began to buckle and warp. Soon after, the air pressure I’d created was enough to bend the safe’s door, snapping it free of its hinges. I tossed the metal door with ease onto a thick padded armchair nearby, where it landed with a soft thud.

Inside the safe was a large quantity of money, some jewellery, and a small black box, just big enough for a paperback book. I ignored the money and jewellery and removed the box, opening it to reveal the leather-bound book inside. The pages looked old and worn, and the leather appeared singed in places. It seemed like a complete waste of vast quantities of money. But then it wasn’t my money that had purchased it.

I dropped the box back into the safe and placed the book inside a satin pouch I’d brought with me. I slipped it into my jacket’s inside pocket before replacing the painting, and hiding the ruined safe door behind a chest of drawers. It would give me some time before anyone noticed something was wrong.

One last glance at the still unconscious Jasmine and I left the room, taking the key with me. Once in the hallway, I locked the door and pushed the key back into the room, using the crack between the door and carpet, allowing Jasmine to let herself out when she was ready. I wasn’t worried about her telling everyone she’d seen me—eyewitness reports were notoriously unreliable and besides, she’d probably have been so embarrassed to wake up naked in her friend’s bed, that mentioning what had happened would have been the last thing on her mind.

I was going to use the lift and make my exit through the back garden, but one of the bouncers at the top of the stairs was arguing with a few guests who wanted to go upstairs. I used the opportunity to walk past undisturbed and continued down into the foyer and out the front door. The cacophony from the party guests followed me down the drive and past five 4X4 BMW’s that had probably never seen an off-road path in their life. The noise faded when I reached my car on the street.

I climbed into the black Audi TT I’d stolen earlier and felt a twang of guilt over Jasmine. Hopefully she wouldn’t get into any trouble for what I’d done. I pushed the emotion aside and removed the book from my pocket, holding it up to the car’s interior light. A smile broke across my face and a thought entered my mind.

I love my job.

 

 

 

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