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Copyright © Genella DeGrey 2014. All Rights Reserved, Total-E-Ntwined Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
The London Season, 1898
Does she have to be so bloody loud? The woman mewled like a cat in heat. For God’s sake, it’s only a rogering.
From underneath the partially refurbished rig in a fashionable London town house’s repair shed, Katrina waited, ice pick in hand, for the perfect opportunity. Thankfully, the woman, who may or may not have been in the throes of passion, was too occupied with her ear-piercing song to notice when her overly-gauche diamond necklace, heavy with its glittering jewels, slid round to dangle from the back of her neck. The woman must have been hanging halfway out of the buggy door, for the top of her blonde head nearly swept the ground. Had the lamed rig wheels been attached, her coif wouldn’t be in danger of attracting bits of hay and dirt from the floor—then again, Katrina wouldn’t have been so well hidden in the moonlight-dappled buggy port.
It was now or never. Eyeing the stone she’d chosen to detach from the ensemble, Katrina adjusted the instrument of liberation in her grip.
The woman who’d been vocalising her crisis, feigned or not, quieted.
“Come, Mrs Fowler, this is no time for your silence,” the man doing the firkytoodling, and the front row centre recipient of her concert, hissed in a strangled whisper.
“Shut up, you lout. I’m almost there,” she retorted.
At once the padded bench squeaked with the vigour of a thief fleeing a crime scene. Katrina reached out to grasp the winking stone between her fingers when all at once, the entire necklace fell to the floor.
“Stop! I’ve lost my necklace!”
Katrina shrank to the opposite side, deeper into the shadows, her breath trapped inside her petrified lungs, and watched as the woman scrambled out of the cab to retrieve her bauble.
The wayward wife snatched it from the dirty ground and huffed out an exasperated-sounding breath. “I’ve had enough sport for one evening, sir.”
After a few feeble protestations from the man, Mrs Fowler’s pink slippers hit the dirt floor with a soft smack. She stepped a dusty, silk-clad foot into each of them and hastened from the repair shed.
Katrina’s angst about being caught quickly transformed to anger. However, she found it unnecessary to verbalise her internal monologue. Readying to dismount from his makeshift love nest, the man let loose a string of scalding swearwords worthy of a sailor writing his memoirs.
She hated this—hated stealing—hated her life. And it was all her father’s fault. Damn his dead drunken soul to the Devil!
“I almost had it—it dangled not a pinch away from my fingertips. Had the woman’s paramour been more efficient, I would have the entire necklace for you.” Katrina flopped onto the nearest love seat in the dingy warehouse turned multi-nook lair. The scent of dust, likely belched up from the old seat, permeated her nostrils, causing her to hold her breath for a scant second or two.
Mr Brenner sat upon the lumpy, mouldering cushion next to her. If any of the thieves who ranked above Katrina in the self-imposed hierarchy of the Den knew she could get an audience with Mr Brenner any time she chose, she’d likely be pulled into a dark alley one night and experience a thrashing for doing so. One didn’t presume to be familiar with their superiors, even in the underbelly of society.
“You know, love, no one ever said life is a late-afternoon stroll through Hyde Park.”
Katrina nodded and scratched her nose on the back of her fingerless black glove as he snaked his arm round her shoulders.
“And regrettably, there is no prize, nor quarter given, for a botched mission.” He pulled her close so that her shoulder acted like a wedge beneath his pungent underarm. Thank heavens for the barrier of his thick coat. She’d smelt that pit of spoiled soup up close the very night he’d taken her under his wing—and taken her virginity as payment for the tiny space he’d let to her and the one trunk of gowns she’d refused to part with. He’d convinced her it wasn’t whoring herself out, merely forging a contract between two friends.
However, Mr Brenner was not her friend. No, he was more like an accidental acquaintance. In her wildest dreams, she’d never have pictured herself in the same room with the sort of man who was even now attaching himself to her side like a leech.
“But I was so close!” The tears that threatened to form sounded in her voice.
“Do you know what tonight is?”
The abrupt change of subject knocked her off topic so fast it took her logic by surprise. “What?”
“Tonight marks the second month with us here at the well-oiled machine that is the East Side Den of Thieves. And you know what that means?”
She attempted to pull away discreetly. “But I tried—I’ve been trying to pick pockets and lift trinkets from the more fortunate of London—”
“I understand, I truly do. However, you agreed, of your own free will, to my payment terms. Had you been able to make rent in a more fiscal way, we wouldn’t have need for a physical reimbursement, would we?”