Stanhope Auction House
Upper East Side, Manhattan
Right or wrong, he must possess her.
Stealthily, Jean Luc Allard, professional jewel thief, crept from the shadows of the silent auction house, intent on one thing and one thing only.
The surveillance camera mounted overhead whispered as it rotated to scan the perimeter, but Jean knew how to avoid detection. Strategically placed, a high-powered magnet would disrupt the camera’s feed.
For weeks, following the death of high-society heiress Zoey Zander, he’d researched every detail, learned every facet of the auction house’s routine, preparing for the moment when his target would show up for bidding as part of the vast Zander estate. His instructions were clear. He must not allow her to up for auction, no matter what the risk.
And now soon, very soon, Jean would hold her in his hands.
Excitement trembled his fingertips, anticipation sped his pulse.
Nothing thrilled him like a daring heist. Nothing, that is, except what she represented.
The key to his future as a very wealthy man.
It was the most lucrative job he’d ever taken. He was close, Jean could taste the money.
He’d heard the stories about her. She was legendary in his small world. According to rumor, only those who were pure of heart could possess her without falling under the curse.
His whole life had been cursed. There was nothing she could dish out that would top what he’d already suffered. Besides, he didn’t believe in curses. Ruthlessness? Yes. Cruelty? Oui. Violence? A necessity in his trade. But fabled curses were no more real than children’s fairy tales.
Silently, he crept toward the vault, barely able to restrain himself from rushing forward, when he heard a noise somewhere down the corridor.
He stepped back, pressed his body against the wall, stood stock-still in the darkness and willed himself to disappear.
Don’t move, don’t make a single sound, don’t even breathe.
Jean was dressed all in black from his black wool cap to his black leather sneakers. His hair was jet black and so were his eyes. Three days’ worth of beard growth shadowed his jaw. He was one with the darkness, owned it. Holding his breath, he waited.
Footsteps drew nearer, but it was not the sound of the security guard’s booted gait. The footfall was almost as furtive as his, sneaking quietly toward the vault without benefit of illumination.
Was someone else robbing the auction house?
Not on the same night he had chosen. Jean had discussed his heist with no one. A smart thief never talked about his jobs, no matter how tempting it might be to brag. Keeping his mouth shut was what had saved him from jail on many occasions and his ability to stay silent was the main reason his very wealthy, very well-connected employer had selected him for the job.
Could his enigmatic boss have hired someone else, just in case, to make sure Jean kept his end of the bargain? He ground his teeth, angered at his employer’s lack of trust. Was there truly no honor among thieves?
The again, maybe he was jumping to conclusions. The contents of Zoey Zander’s estate had be extensively detailed in the newspaper. The woman had been wealthy enough to cause thieves on three continents to salivate, and the fact she had no immediate heirs made her fortune that much more enticing.
Jean watched as a broad-shouldered man loomed in the hallway. His mind shot back to an early childhood memory of his father stumbling through their house along a seedy stretch of the Seine. Come here, you son of a whore. Don’t hide from me. But Jean knew if he stayed hidden long enough his father would pass out in a drunken stupor and in the morning forget why he’d wanted to beat him in the first place. He’d learned to hide in plain sight, blending into the shadows, anchoring his fear down tight inside him.
When the stranger reached the door of the vault, he stopped and switched on a penlight.
Jean studied the man’s face in the gloom, but did not recognize him. He was younger than Jean and dressed casually, but elegantly. Like the son of a rich man. The interloper punched a number into the coded key pad and the vault clicked open.
Where had he gotten the code? Did he work for the auction house? Jean had planned on sabotaging the mechanisms of the vault door then disengaging the internal alarm with a special device designed by his employer. An anti-anti-theft apparatus. But this poser had simply obtained access to the deactivation code.
Specifically what had he come after?
The man disappeared inside the vault, but left the door ajar.
Jean hung back for a second and then edged forward. Cautiously, he peered through the opening. The man quickly skirted the antiques, memorabilia and other large items of the Zoey Zander collection and headed straight for a tall, upright safe at the back of the room.
Suddenly what had seemed like an imposing obstacle – the unexpected appearance of this stranger – became a blessing in disguise. Jean would let this man do the hard work.
His excitement was back. It tasted sweet and edgy against his tongue. His nose tingled with the smell of secrets, the tang of adrenaline.
The man stuck his penlight between his teeth and shone the thin beam on the lock. He spun the combination. The safe door popped open. Shoulders hunched, he dug inside, retrieved a fistful of jewels and stuffed them into a royal blue felt pouch he’d pulled from his jacket pocket.
Jean flexed his fingers, aching to touch her.
The man straightened, turned and for the first time saw Jean. He startled and then opened his mouth.
But he never got a word out.
Jean slammed the butt of his Lugar hard against the side of the other man’s temple.
His eyes glassed over, his knees buckled and he went down.
Reaching out, Jean plucked the felt pouch from his hand as he fell. The penlight hit the floor beside him. Jean bent and picked it up, directed the light into the pouch. He ignored the rubies and emeralds and diamonds. His eyes were hungry for one thing and one thing only.
She smiled up at him, resplendent in the sliver of wan light. Smiled and winked and sparkled. She was perfect. Ivory in the shape of a five-pointed star with a hollow center.
He separated her from the other gems, but in the process, the pin of an onyx brooch pierced his thumb. He cursed softly, brought his thumb to his mouth and tasted blood.
He dropped the brooch and the rest of the jewels on top of the downed man. The interloper might as well have something for his troubles besides a throbbing headache when he awoke.
Jean’s eyes turned back to the amulet, now cradled in his palm, compelled by her allure. His breathing stopped. How could such a beauty be cursed?
Never mind the foolish legend. At long last she was his. And she was going to make him rich beyond his wildest imagination.
How he loved her.
His White Star amulet.
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