some of the world’s most talented criminal minds. Because as
everyone knows, it takes a thief to catch a thief—or to seduce one. . .
thief Josephine Deveraux. Admittedly, there aren’t many men in the
vicinity, but she has her cat to cuddle up with. It’s a far cry
from her former life, constantly running from the law, and she’s
enjoying her peace . . . until the intruder in the three-piece suit
tackles her. He wants her back in the game, helping with a heist—and
he’s not above making threats to get his way.
Xavier Lambert, is after the very same 180-carat prize she’s being
blackmailed to steal. To his chagrin, he’s doing it not as a free
agent, but as a member of the Elite Crimes Unit—the team he was
forced to join when his brilliant career came to a sudden end. And
little does Xavier know that his comeback is about to include a
stranger’s kiss, a stinging slap, and a hunt for missing
treasure—along with the infuriatingly sexy woman who’s outfoxing him . . .
over twenty years. Her first published novel was Dark Rapture
(Zebra). France, musketeers, vampires and faeries populate her
stories. And if she followed the adage “write what you know,” all
her stories would have snow in them. Fortunately, she steps beyond
her comfort zone and writes about countries she has never visited and
of creatures she has never seen.
Josephine Devereaux strode through the open front screen door into the kitchen. Creamy golden evening light spread quiet warmth across the aged hardwood floors. The old farmhouse had stood on this plot in the southern French countryside for centuries. She’d had the pleasure of owning it for two years.
Setting a clutch of fresh carrots pulled from the rain-damp garden into the sink, she spun at a tiny meow. Behind her, the two-and-a-half-year-old Devon Rex cat with soft, downy fur the color of faded charcoal batted at the hem of her long pink skirt.
“Do you want fish or chicken tonight, Chloe?”
She opened the refrigerator to find the only option was diced chicken, left over from last night’s supper. Her neighbor, Jean-Hugues, had butchered a rooster yesterday morning and brought her half.
The cat went at the feast she’d placed on a saucer with big elf ears wiggling appreciatively. Chloe had come with the farmhouse. The couple moving out hadn’t wanted to bring along a kitten on their overseas move to the United States. It had been love at first purr for Josephine.
She smiled at the quiet patter of rain. And then she frowned. “Mud,” she muttered. And she hated housecleaning. She had never developed a domestic bone in her body and didn’t expect to grow one.
She’d spend the evening inside, maybe finish up the thriller she’d found on Jean-Hugues’s bookshelf. He always encouraged her to take what she wanted—she was a voracious reader of all topics—and she gave him vegetables from her garden in return.
Not that she was a master gardener. Jean-Hugues tended the garden, along with the few rows of vines that produced enough grapes for one big
barrel of wine. Jean-Hughes was sixty, but he flirted with her in a non- confrontational, just-for-fun manner, which she appreciated probably more than a twenty-six-year-old woman should.
Living so far from Paris made it difficult to find dateable men, let alone a hook-up for a night of just-give-it-to-me-now-and-leave-before-the-sun- rises sex. But that’s what grocery trips to the nearest village were for. If the mood struck, she’d leave in the evening for eggs, bread, and a booty call, and find her way out of bed and back home by morning.
Sighing, Josephine forgot about the dirty carrots in the sink and padded barefoot to the lumpy jacquard sofa that stretched before the massive paned window at the front of the cottage. The window overlooked a cobblestone patio, which stretched before the house and also served as a driveway, though no cars used it. She didn’t own a car. And she never had visitors, save Jean-Hugues, and on occasion the neighbors who lived on the other side of him. They were newlyweds, Jean-Louis and Hollie, and they spent most of their time by themselves. And that was exactly how Josephine preferred it.
She picked up the book, and the creased spine flopped open to the last page she’d read.
An hour later, she had to squint to read because the sun had set. Splaying the book across her chest, she closed her eyes and breathed in the fragrance of rain on fieldstones. Chloe nestled near her foot, keeping her ankle warm. The screen door, still open, squeaked lightly with the breeze. Everything was….
Peaceful? Was that a word she was supposed to embrace? To somehow understand?
“I am embracing it. Life is good.”
Or rather, more different than she could have ever imagined it would be. She set the book down, but the sound she heard was not of a paperback book hitting the wood floor. Josephine closed her eyes to listen intently. The floor creaked carefully above her, where the bathroom was located.
It did not indicate the aches and pains of an aging house. This house had settled long ago.
Curling her hand beneath the sofa, she gripped the cool bone handle of the bowie knife she’d tucked up into the torn fabric amongst the springs and pulled it out. Pointing the blade down, she took a deep breath and stood up. Moving sinuously, she crept around the end of the sofa. Her free hand skimmed over Chloe’s body, comforting and promising she’d return. The cat purred but thankfully didn’t follow.
Upstairs, it was silent. Josephine wasn’t easily spooked by natural noises, but that had not been a natural noise. And she wasn’t unnerved now. Just…. annoyed.
This was her sanctuary. No one knew where she had disappeared two years ago. Very few had known her location before that. But since then, she’d completely erased herself from the grid. Therefore, whoever was stupid enough to break in was looking to rob a random person. And they had to know she was home, which meant the intruder did not fear an altercation.
Tough luck for that idiot.
On the other hand, she had only herself to blame for leaving the ladder up against the north wall after knocking down a wasp nest this morning. Approaching the stairway, which was worn in the center of the stone risers from decades of use, Josephine tugged up her maxi skirt and tucked in one side at the waist to keep from tangling her legs in the long, floaty fabric. The stairs were fashioned from limestone; no creaks would give away her position. Barefoot, she padded up six steps to a landing. Ahead,
around a sharp right turn, rose another five steps to the second floor.
Hearing the creak of a leather sole, she realized the intruder had stepped onto the stairs. But where was he? Waiting for her to spin around the corner? He probably thought she was still downstairs relaxing on the couch.
Which gave her the advantage.
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