Authors: Myra Song
I sign with a jagged flourish. My signature looks angry.
Well, big surprise there. It’s my fault, really. I’d sworn I wouldn’t fuck him and then I did, persuaded by a stupid semantic technicality. It was my fault that when Locke had finished with me, he’d let me know exactly how done he was.
Was I crazy? It’s just that, in those last throes of rapture, it had felt like we were making, I don’t know… a connection. Something sparked, for me at least.
His name. Jameson. It had spilled from my mouth like gospel.
It clearly meant nothing to him, because he was already handing me a carbon copy of the contract. It contained an non-disclosure addendum. P.I.’s don’t talk about their clients, but I should have read it more carefully. Folding my copy and shoving it into a back pocket, I follow on his heels.
We leave the office in a quick clip.
Jameson’s home could be a freaking museum. The walls were this gorgeous, silvery gray color. Like the morning fog. His windows were mostly set in the ceiling, with exception to the full-windowed wall and door he had to the garden. At first I thought the high windows were strange, but then I quickly understood their function.
Angled to make full use of the sun as it traversed the sky, the windows picked up its rays while keeping the light directly off the art.
There was a lot of art. Paintings, spanning Dutch renaissance to Spanish Baroque to modernism were covering the walls of his home. Gorgeous statues dotted the corridors, their marble subtly gleaming and seeming to glow.
Seeing so much art, real art --not just prints or copies -- is making my chest ache. It reminds me of home, of family. There’s even a chance that Locke bought one of these from my father.
It’s a curiosity I can’t ignore. “You’re quite a collector. Did you purchase anything locally?”
Jameson stops and gives me a quizzical look. “A few things, yes. Why?”
“Did you ever buy from Luis Martin? Brilliant Oaks Gallery?”
His eyes light up. “Yes! I did! I purchased a Manet from him, as well as a Caravaggio. Don’t tell me--”
“My dad. You should have those paintings verified.” This part comes out more venomous than I’d like, but my view of my father was tinged heavily with pain.
Locke manages to look sympathetic and it rubs me the wrong way. People shouldn’t feel badly for what others have done-- they usually had enough wrong on their own plane to own up to. “I did when I heard the news. Is he still in prison?”
“Yep. Another twenty years.”
“Don’t be. He broke the law, he got caught, that’s what happens.”
Locke start to take a step toward me, his hand moving like he might pat my shoulder. Or brush my hair out of my face. My breath hitches and I quickly shuffle away. I can’t. Not after how he treated me in his office.
“So fill me in on your security system,” I urge. My arms cross on my chest to let him know the subject of my father is closed. I brought it up, but that didn’t mean I wanted to spill everything and have a good cry out with him.
He sighs, like he’s actually disappointed, and I see red. What a jerk! So stereotypical billionaire playboy; he wants what he wants and pouts if it isn’t thrust in his face.
I need to finish this job and I need to get out. Being in this home, being next to this man just makes things complicated in a way I’m wholly uninterested in.
Luis Martin. Maybe I should be mad at myself for not seeing a connection, but Martin isn’t exactly a rare last name.
Yeah, I bought from her father. I knew exactly what he was when I bought from him and I knew the paintings he sold me were real. My love for art was balanced with a need for detail. When I did anything, from running my company to purchasing art, to sex-- the detail was what made me comfortable. Gave me control.
Which is yet another reason why I shouldn’t be so irrationally frustrated that Elise chose to sign the contract. That was the whole reason she was here, wasn’t it? I’d seen enough of her life to know a check the size of what I was offering was something she couldn’t turn down. And, in my fear, I was an ass to her.
Correction: Still being an ass.
Her father throws another wrench in my plans.
Luis Martin is a master forger and con man. For years he worked his gallery, the largest in Raleigh. People in the art world knew it, and his name, around the globe for years. Like me, people were stunned when a name appeared, seemingly out of the blue and from an unlikely city. Luis had done that with his gallery. He’d orchestrated purchases that would have made any metropolitan museum jealous.
He’d also sold numerous forgeries that he himself had painted. These forgeries were so good, fo masterfully crafted, that no one was onto him for
Then one of his forgeries had been stolen and turned up, half a year later, on a park bench in Seattle. While initially exuberant to have the seemingly priceless Degas returned, the museum took extra safe measures.
They brought in numerous experts.
They discovered it was a forgery. Martin had claimed that the thief must have left the forgery. A tease. Taunting them. After all, there was a calling card of sorts left with it.
But the museum had made a small, untraceable and almost impossible to see mark on the “original” they’d purchased.
The returned painting bore their seal.
The investigation moved quickly after that and millions of dollars of art connected to Luis were pronounced fakes.
And his daughter is walking beside me, stiff and purposefully, her sharp eyes taking in each piece I owned. And earlier she was so interested in--
No way. There’s no way she’d know about the case in that much detail.
“How old were you when he was arrested?”
She glares at me, furious that I’m still asking about something she obviously didn’t want to talk about.
“Sixteen. Right after I graduated high school.”
She says this casually, but now I’m invested. “Sixteen, huh?”
Elise shrugs. “Yeah. I worked hard and studied summers. Did it in college, too. Criminal Justice degree in two and a half years instead of four. Had to wait a year and a half before I was old enough to join the force, so I helped out with paperwork. Got a feel for the job that way. Twenty one, bam! First job as a cop. Promoted to Detective at twenty-two -- youngest in the Department’s history. Private Investigator at twenty three.”
She’s saying this, line by line, in a punctual voice. I may as well have asked her to recite the periodic table of elements. Yet there’s a hint of pride in her voice, and there damned well should be-- Detective at twenty two was an enormous accomplishment, not to mention her academic career.
I drift closer to her, hooked on the mystery of her. What had made her quit when she’d obviously been so driven to go into law enforcement?
We arrive at my main control room before I can ask. Elise hums in appreciation, and she should. She has her track record. This is one of mine.
The room is outfitted with cameras, control panels, security tape reels, the works.
“You mic your house?” She nods to the audio equipment.
“Doesn’t everyone?” I joke, but she’s already moving on, looking at each screen and its respective view. She freezes when she comes to the study.
“I’m going to need a copy of that,” she growls, realizing I have our tryst on tape.
Heat blooms in me, thinking of her watching us fuck. I bet she’d touch herself, too. I know, because that’s what I plan on doing with it later. “Not likely. Not without a warrant.”
She whips around, poking a finger hard in my chest. “You listen here, asshole, you filmed me without my consent--”
“You consented plenty, and this is my private residence. I’m sure you can push your point, but you’ll have to tell people what we did -- what you let me do to you -- to make it happen. Defeats the purpose of trying to keep the video under wraps, yes?”
The way she fumes is a major turn on. I like getting under her skin. Maybe not as much as I like touching her skin, though.
Her eyes drift back to the screens. She points to two that’re turned off. “Why have these screens if you aren’t going to use them?” Her finger stretches toward the power button on one and my heart falters. Quick as lightning, I grip her wrist and stop her.
Christ. I’ve never met anyone more observant than she is. No one else would question two blank screens. No one else would even see them. They’d be focused on the activity they could see, not what they couldn’t. I was going to have to disconnect those monitors before tonight.
A man needs to protect his secrets, after all.
“Look, I’ll have someone in this room, and I have a feeling you’re going to want to be out in the crowd,” I offer. “Now, let me show you to your room.”
“What are you talking about? Room?” She’s still glaring from the video, and I know this has her simmering.
Which means I can’t wait to see her reaction when she finds what else I have in store for her.
Jameson looks smug as hell when he opens a door for me, and I don’t trust him for a minute.
The room is lovely. Obviously a guest bedroom. He’s crazy if he thinks I’m staying here. I will never stay under the same roof as him. Not once in my twenty three years have I met anyone as infuriating, smug, and secretive as him. It makes me angry that being near him makes my skin as hot as my temper.
“Thanks, but no thanks--” I stop, because I see the box sitting on the table. I know that kind of box. My father gave me a similar one for my debutante ball.
It’s a dress box. Large and cream, tied in a silky lavender bow.
“Open it,” Locke urges, and I’m moving toward it despite knowing better. Butterflies are in my stomach as my fingers trace the shining fabric ribbon before slowly tugging the bow to release.
Sliding my fingers under the top, I lift and hear the whisper and crinkle of protective paper and fabric.
Inside is a dress. It’s silk, real silk, in a dark and daring violet. The color dances in the light, sometimes black, other times a vivid purple, but so, so lovely. Knowing I shouldn’t, I pull it from the box, admiring how it ripples free like water to hang from my hands.
Simple. Elegant. Capped sleeves and a sweetheart neck leading to what looked to be a tight bodice and a mermaid flare.
I’d been dressed up before, but it had been a princess gown, made to highlight my youth while welcoming me to adulthood. This dress zoomed past that, straight into sexy. Daring.
“I’m not wearing this,” I breathe, but I can’t take my eyes off it. The color will look incredible next to my skin. It’s cut will highlight all the right curves, playing up my voluptuous figure.
Another box is in his hands. Locke sets it down and takes the dress from me, hanging it on the closet door.
Frustrated, I open the second box. In it are a pair of fuck-me heels. The toe is pointed, fierce and enticing, while the heel itself seems almost miniscule, as if daring physics to deny it.
I can hold any weight
, it promised,
and look like art
. They were black and I knew from the shape they were from a designer who was expensive. Two paychecks for a pair of shoes expensive.
“What are these for?”
“Tonight.” Locke’s voice is husky again and I know he’s picturing me in these clothes. I shut my eyes tight, willing my body to refuse the urge of arousal he seems to be able to inflict with just a word or a look.
“Are you taking it out of my pay?”
“No. If you’d read the contract, you’d have seen this, as well as a room for the night, were payment in addition to the fee.”
“Are you doing this for the police department, too?” I can’t help the snideness in my tone. I’m still battling my desire for him.
He chuckles. “Hardly.”
“Then I can’t accept.” I glare at him, trying to appear more resolute than I feel.
Locke shrugs. “Fine. But you’ll stand out wearing what you’re wearing, and not in a good way. I, of course, love it. I just think you may have a hard time seeing anything nefarious if you’re not blending in.”
“Do you expect something nefarious?” My gut is screaming at me. He knows something, for sure. It feels too close to home for comfort.
He winks at me on the way out the door. “I expect something interesting, at least. Always interesting.”
The door thuds behind him.
I’m left with a dress, shoes, and a bunch of doubts.
~ ~ ~ ~
In the end, I settle on the dress. He was right, though I despised admitting in. The best way for me to observe, learn, and maybe meet a few potential clients, is to blend in. Appear like I am on their level.
I kept my Chucks, though.
The silk whispers on my skin as I walk, making me feel naked despite being dressed. It shows, well,
. But, I have to admit, in a flattering way. My hips, which always made me shy, are elevated to Greek Goddess status. My smaller breasts become lusty globes, my cleavage peeking out the sweetheart neckline.
The purple makes my skin appear paler, almost ethereal. After I’d grudgingly showered in the room Locke had offered, I’d found bathroom drawers stocked with everything I’d need and more for the night. From a hair dryer and flat iron to makeup to deodorant and, to my pink-cheeked realization, nipple protectors. They were black, and shaped like stars.
I didn’t have a bra that worked with the dress. Or panties. Apparently Jameson had decided to “forget” the panties. Big surprise.
Fine. As I make my way down to where I could hear voices, I try to ignore that, underneath the dress, I am wearing nothing but two black stars on my tits.
The voices are familiar, and as I round a corner, I catch glimpses of the faces of my former coworkers. When they discover me, their faces drop. All but one.
Exhaling in relief, I make my way to him. He whistles as I approached.
“Holy smokes, Martin. If I wasn’t married to Gina--”
“You’d still be old enough to be my dad.” I smile and give him a quick handshake.
“Some people are into that,” he winks, but I see the red creeping up his neck. One of the things I like most about Dalton is that, while he tries to make crude jokes like one of the boys, he always feels a little embarrassed after.
“So what’s the plan for the squad tonight?” I nod back at the officers, now in suits, behind me. This event is black tie, but Locke hadn’t lied-- I am the only one he’s provided proper attire for. The suits are the guys’ nicest, but they’ll stand out in the crowd.
Was Locke trying to help me blend in more? Or, I think with frustration and ire, does he just enjoy manipulating me for whatever he’s playing?
“We’re posted throughout the mingling rooms and restrooms. Three patrols of two through the primary art quarters, and five to guard the ruby safe, three on the room carrying the rest of the auctioned goods. There’s three safes in general, but one is being used to home items brought by guests.” There is a twinkle in Dalton’s eye. “That isn’t one of Locke’s safes. It’s a competitor's. So they are providing their own guard.”
My eyebrow raises. “You mean there are three independent protection duties here? The RPD, me, and some other guys?”
Dalton nods. “Yep.”
I frown. “That’s an awful idea. No cohesiveness. If something happens, the communication is wonky.”
My old partner shrugs. “Nothing’s going to happen, though. This house has more security than all of our museums combined. Add over thirty capable bodies watching all the bodies? It’s overkill.”
He isn’t wrong, but I am brooding. Locke has all but said he is playing us, but I’m not seeing any connection.
Dalton looks at his watch. “Probably getting ready. The Auctioneer arrived, and the caterers are set up. Guests should be getting here, well, now.”
As if on cue, the doors are opened by hired staff, and in come the guests.
I don’t love that Locke has decided to dress me, but as the guests file in, I am grateful. The dresses are ornate and have designer cuts. The hair and makeup are flawless. All of the women look like models, dolls, or the elegant and older versions of them.
They are on the arms of men in tuxes. All exceedingly good looking, or wealthy looking enough to make up for it.
The world’s elite.
I catch glimpses of celebrities, government officials-- at one point I’m certain I see a few foreign emissaries.
Mostly I see the other security force. They greet a few of the guests, seeming to know exactly who to approach, and I notice as they take packages and bags, discreetly moving off-- most likely to their safe.
“Time to work,” I say to Dalton, giving him another shake.
With that, I slip into the crowd.