My name is Timberly Day. I don’t drink, but I do know things.
I know the heart beats over 100,000 times per day.
I know for every one second, lightning strikes the Earth 100 times.
I also know that Jaxon King—the bloody tosser!—is a muddler.
A manipulator. A liar. A con, a thief...and a closet nerd.
He’s as beautiful as innocence, as harmless as a feather.
Except, it’s all an illusion.
I see him and I see lies. I smell him and I taste deceit.
And still—fool that I am—I rush in.
His eyes are like ice. His tongue is like fire.
His lies are white, but his touch is red hot.
I had the chance to run.
Now, I am a part of the game.
And the only way to win...is to give in.
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Frosty Blue Eyes.
It's been thirteen months and many dramatic happenings later, but I'm still able to pick out those eyes among a gallery of 107 guests and over half a billion dollars' worth of valuables.
There is no mask this time. No mystery or concealment. No snarling curl of the lips.
No. This time, there is disarming and arresting.
Disarming and arresting features that complement the eyes, with an end result of utter and complete perfection. A fortress of a jawline, art for a nose, and poetry for lips. Yet, it's the hair, the hair that upgrades him from perfection to divine. Deep brown, thick, and luscious, finger-swept in layered waves, an unruly lock falling over his forehead.
He is unimaginable
He is the most fascinating creature I have ever seen.
He is terrifyingly handsome.
He is ... obviously a thief.
A thief who is about to get caught.
A year ago, he'd been the picture of criminal and trouble and unrepentance. Right now, he is the deceiving depiction of wealth and influence, pomposity and snobbery. He is what he wants the other eyes in this gallery to see and believe.
But I see past the act. I see past the lie. I see his real eyes.
I see the con.
Currently, Melanie and I are at the Betty Matte Auction in Paris. Betty Matte was an infamous Parisian virgin, remembered as one of the comeliest, most sensual women of her time, but who'd been impossible to please ... and as a result spent her whole life waiting for the perfect man who never came. Her chastity rendered her the most desirable woman in Paris, and she was thus pursued and courted by some of the wealthiest, most prestigious names, not only in France, but Germany, London, and Russia.
In a competition to win the virgin's heart, they lavished her with expensive gifts, million-dollar houses, priceless jewelry, lands, and exotic pets. One by one, she turned them down but kept the gifts. Some said she only liked the attention. Some said she was never a virgin and had had an affair with her gardener. Whatever was true, whatever lies, the general consensus was that Betty Matte lived, grew old, and died a virgin. And all the possessions earned from pursuing prospects, she willed to her younger sister when she died — a sister who then left them to her daughter. A daughter who has now decided to auction off all the gifts.
We flew all the way here, Mel and I, to bid on the medieval Greek coins gifted to Betty by the prince of England at that time. We've had this auction marked since it was announced eight months ago, and we are determined to be the ones to go home with those coins.
Frosty is here for something, too. But from the plasticity of his smile and the I'm-so-much-smarter-than-you-fools gleam in his eyes, I don't think that something he is here for is up for bidding.
He is here to steal it.
I stand across the room, a flute of untasted champagne in my hand. I watch him. I watch him fool everyone around him. In a charcoal suit and shined shoes, he stands tall and proud and squared, with a group of bragging blokes, a perpetual smirk on those poetic lips.
He thinks he's got this one in the bag. Thinks he's going to get away with whatever he is machinating.
But my eyes are not the only pair watching him over the rim of a champagne flute. He is in trouble, and he doesn't even realize it.
Melanie comes up beside me, poking me in the ribs. "Hey, the bidding is about to start. Come on."
A tiny bell rings, a call for all to exit the gallery and take their respective seats in the auction room. I opt to keep quiet about Frosty to Melanie for now and instead keep a surreptitious eye on him as we all shuffle into the room.
After much — ten whole minutes — introductory chatter, the bidding begins.
Frosty is seated two rows ahead on the opposite side. Out of nowhere, a pretty brunette slides into the vacant seat beside him. She lovingly touches his arm and peers up at him with a serene smile, conveying something to him without ever moving her lips.
I should not have picked up on it, but I have done that too many times before not to have picked up on it. With a closed-lip smile, Frosty lowers his head to press a kiss to her lips, and then they both refocus their attention on the auctioneer.
Melanie jabs me with her elbow. "What are you looking at?"
I turn to her. "Do you remember that run-in we had at Castellos in New York last year?"
At this, her eyes darken with hate. "Remember? Of course I remember that rat-arse filth."
"Right," I mumble. "Well, I think I just spotted one of them."
"That's impossible." She is shaking her head at me. "They were wearing masks."
"But his eyes. I remember his eyes."
Melanie rolls hers. "Okay, I know you have your superpower photographic memory, and all, but I also know it doesn't work that way. There aren't that many different eye colors in the world. Therefore, millions of people share the same eye color and shape. Some are so exact they could be one and the same. Thus, your supposed recognition is improbable. Not to mention, this encounter was a year ago, in a different country. What other proof do you have?"
I could argue back with his height and stature. The winning proof, of course, would be his voice. Melanie is great with voices — she never forgets a voice — and considering she was threatened and manhandled that night, his is undoubtedly a voice she hasn't forgotten. But the debate would be lengthy, tedious, and distracting from Frosty's impending doom.
Therefore, instead of picking up the gauntlet, I give her the win. "You're right. Silly thinking, that bit."
Her mouth opens to concur, but then her lips pinch together in suspicion, distrustful of my easy relent. I never give in without a debate. I'm as fierce a challenger as she is, and she knows it.
Turning away from her suspicious glare, I flick my gaze over to Frosty again. Or rather, to his chair. Because he is gone. Pretty Brunette is still there. But he is smoke.
I glance around the room, searching. Pretty Brunette raises her number board and calls out a bid. Nothing suspicious about that. Except that the second she lowers her board, two dark shadows move in the periphery of my vision.
A cue. Her bid was a cue.
And there it is. She's setting Frosty up.
Before I know what I'm doing, I'm up and moving. "I need to use the loo," I tell Melanie. "The coins are up next. Be sure to win them."
I sidle down the row and out of the bidding room before I can question my sanity. As I re-enter the gallery, I catch sight of two suits moving into a wide hall with large framed paintings on the walls.
Quietly, I start to follow. Yet, after a few feet, I stop. And I think.
Nope. This is too easy.
What professional thief journeys all the way to Paris to allow himself to be caught this easily? On the one hand, Frosty is being sold out by someone he appears to trust. On the other hand, no one in the art of conning and thievery really trusts anyone, do they?
Simple answer: no.
Going with my gut instinct, I turn and go in the opposite direction, down the other hall.
There are three doors along this hall, and Frosty is behind one of them. Of the three doors, two are locked with regular knobs, easy to pick. Door number three is key-card entry. Behind which door do you think something valuable is hiding?
Snapping my purse open, I retrieve my credit card — translation: swipe access hacker — and move to door number three. My faux credit card has a built-in chip that, when swiped, hacks the system and grants access.
Smooth as oil, the door unlocks, and I slip in, a soft click sounding behind me as the door automatically closes.
Frosty is not behind the door. Behind the door is an empty room leading to a sturdier door. Stainless steel. There is a rotating camera above it. Except it's not rotating but stuck pointing toward the left of the room — to the wall, to be precise.
It's been overridden.
Sticking to the right side of the room, I move to the door. Fingerprint access controller. Crap.
Do I have T63 with me, or does Melanie have it? Once again, I snap my purse open and feel around for the familiar shape of the T63 case. I whisper a tight, "Yes," when my fingers wrap around it.
Flipping open the case, I carefully take out the COF (chip-on-film) and scan it at the controller.
Half a minute later, I'm granted access. I turn the door handle and push in.
And there he is.
I knew it.
Aside from the thief, nothing but a tall glass case stands in the middle of an all-white room. On the sole velvet shelf inside the case sits a golden Fabergé egg. Beautiful in its intricate details, sizable diamond cuts punctuating each looping pattern on the egg, glistening under the light. A piece of art worth millions of dollars.
Frosty, who appears to have just finished picking the lock on the case, slowly turns at the sound of the door.
After thirteen months, those unforgettable eyes meet mine again. They are expressionless. No sign of shock, or fear, or panic. He watches me. Roves me over, but gives me nothing.
A real pro.
As I stare back, it dawns on me that my being here is rash and stupid. I left an auction to search for him, hacked through two doors to get to him, and now that I'm face to face with him ... what?
How is he any of my business? Why do I care if he gets caught? What does it matter if he looks like a Shakespeare sonnet?
After much staring, much silence, much waiting to see what the other will do, I say, "She's setting you up."
Just barely, one eyebrow lifts. Still, he doesn't speak. He's trying to deduce just what the hell is happening here, I assume.
I push my glasses up on my nose and expound. "The pretty woman you were with? I saw her signal two suits to follow you. They went in another direction. Seeing as you are here instead of there, I take it you didn't trust her with the truth of what you are really here for, yeah?"
Nothing but an intense stare.
Okay, then. I search him — eyes, fingers, pulse — for something, anything that would belie his equanimity, expose his feigned insouciance.
I find nothing. He's good. Bloody hell, he's good.
At last, he asks, "Who are you with?"
"I'm not undercover to take you down, if that's what you're asking."
"Why are you here, then?"
"The Greek coins," I reply. "My mate and I flew here to Paris to bid on them."
His thumb and forefinger rub together, one, two, three times. There it is! A tell. But a tell for what? "Why are you here? In this room."
"Oh. Um ..." Again, I nervously push my glasses up on my nose. That's my tell. "Well, I saw your eyes. They are blue. Frosty ice blue. And I've seen you — those eyes — before. I told my mate, but she's anal and logical, and doesn't believe it's probable that you are the same man we had an unfortunate encounter with over a year ago. I, however, am 99.9 percent sure it's you. So, I was watching you, and then I was watching her when you disappeared. That's how I saw her signal the suits. I followed them, and then I stopped following them. Because I had a gut feeling you weren't where they were headed. And look at that! Mel — my mate — she doesn't believe in gut feelings. Or fate. She thinks all that is —"
"Stop. Now. Please," Frosty halts me, looking assaulted.
Oh. Right. I talk too much. I've been working on that. Not with much success, apparently.
Frosty roves me over once more, probably to assess if I'm truthfully innocuous.
After a long moment, he turns to the case again and locks it. He then proceeds to move past me as if I'm just a gray cat in a gray corner.
Pinching my brows together, I glance between his retreating form and the glass case. The egg is still there. If this is the reason he is here, why is he leaving it? Because of me? He doesn't believe me?
And then, it hits me.
"A fake," I mutter. He swapped the real egg with a fake so no one will notice — at least not for a while — that the real egg has been stolen.
My inadvertently voiced conclusion stops him in tracks, and with three long strides he is in front of me again, eyes narrowed. More forceful this time, he demands, "Who are you with?"
Startled, I start to move back from him, but he grabs my upper arm and locks me in place.
"I-I told you. I'm not here to —"
"Then explain to me" — he gestures to door — "how you got in."
It's what I do. I hack things. For fun. Because I can.Okay, sometimes for worthy trades. "I cannot tell you that. But I promise, I'm not your enemy."
His stare digs deep into mine, searching. With a decisive twist to his lips, he spins me and begins leading me out of the room. "You're coming with me."
"You mean, like, as a hostage?"
He pauses to close the door. I accept the reactivation beep of the security controller as his answer.
"Well, then," I bravely carry on, "where is your weapon?" He glances at me, his annoyance unhidden.
"If you're going to take me as a hostage," I say, "you need to have a weapon. Otherwise, I can just employ my self-defense tricks and run off. And you best believe I can defend myself. I know tricks that can make you stop breathing in five sec —"
"Know any tricks that can make a person shut up in half a second?" he mutters.
With a huff, I shut up and let him haul me out the second door.
Do not ask me why I care that he gets out of this situation unscathed, but I do. Which means, I can't shut up. "I have a knife I can loan you," I suggest.
Frosty stops moving. Stares down at me like I'm a loon. He's so tall. So pretty. So deceivingly harmless. If I had seen him on a mundane day, in a mundane setting, like in a grocery store purchasing laundry detergent, I'd never, ever guess this beautiful piece of art to be a common criminal. Hell, he should be propped up in the auction room to be bid on, starting at one billion.
"You ... have a knife?" he asks.
"A knife you want to willingly give me to take you as a hostage?" He says the words so slowly, stressing every syllable as if speaking a language he's not quite fluent in.
"Loan," I correct. "I'm loaning you the knife. It's one of my favorite toys. Handy little bugger. I can't permanently part with it."
He blinks at me. Once. Twice. Three times. "Give me your purse."
Hmm. Still doesn't trust me.
As I hand over my purse, I offer him the location of the weapon. "Zipper on the right."
He gets out the knife, unsheathes it, and examines it. It's then I notice the bulge in his jacket.
"Do you want to put that in my purse?" I point to the bulge. "You know, just in case someone decides to search you."
One eyebrow wings up. "And they won't search you?"
"If I were as outrageously beautiful and conspicuous as you, definitely." I offer a pathetic shrug. "But I'm wallpaper. No one ever notices me. And that is a tremendously useful asset."
He studies me for a beat, then shakes his head as he tucks the knife inside his jacket and retrieves a violet velvet pouch from his pocket. Gingerly, he fits it inside my purse and snaps it shut.
He looks at me. "I know you don't really believe that about yourself. You just want to be a part of this." He holds the purse out for me to take. Once it makes contact with my hands, he leans in and warns, "Never try to con a con man."
Chastened, I swallow. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry." Then I grin. "But this is just so ace!"
He eyeballs me as if I'm some kind of puzzle he can't solve. "Were the suits feds?
"Maybe. But feds enjoy kicking down doors and creating a scene, so maybe not. These suits were being carefully discreet. Besides, we're in France. Do they have feds in France?"
With a nod of agreement, he grabs my arm. "Come on."
"A word of advice," I say as I skitter alongside him down the hall. "If we do happen to get caught, you might want to try being a wee bit more convincing with that knife. Because, to be honest, you seem to be more afraid of it than of getting caught. And I would hate for you to get caught. You have some incredibly gorgeous eyes and it would be a shame for them to be locked up."
Without breaking stride, he throws a glare down at me. But even his glare is art.
I'm giddy as he drags me along. I love the thrill. The thrill is the reason Melanie and I steal valuables from time to time, but we've never even been suspected of a heist, let alone been on the run. So this is new.
The main gallery is free of people when we finally get there. Frosty releases his hold on me and pockets the knife.
Excerpted from "Free Hostage"
Copyright © 2017 S. Ann Cole.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I definitely didn’t see this one coming - the blurb didn’t give me any clues but there again, most of the action in this story involves conning others, so maybe it is particularly apt? Don’t believe a thing they say or do, don’t be sure just who you can trust and get ready for a real page turner, a brilliant adventure superbly written and totally enthralling! Timberly Day is an extremely able young lady, having gained multiple degrees whilst still a teenager. She hates silence. Talks incessantly. She’s great at thinking out of the box to devise gadgets, solutions and so much more. Sorry, not going to type more as I’ll end up giving spoilers and I really don’t want to do that. My best advice to anyone who enjoys quirky suspense with a side helping of steamy romance grab yourself a copy of this fantastic story asap! I requested and received a copy of this novel, via NetGalley. This is my honest review after choosing to read it.
My name is Timberly Day. I don’t drink, but I do know things. I know the heart beats over 100,000 times per day. I know for every one second, lightning strikes the Earth 100 times. I also know that Jaxon King—the bloody tosser!—is a muddler. A manipulator. A liar. A con, a thief...and a closet nerd. He’s as beautiful as innocence, as harmless as a feather. Except, it’s all an illusion. I see him and I see lies. I smell him and I taste deceit. And still—fool that I am—I rush in. His eyes are like ice. His tongue is like fire. His lies are white, but his touch is red hot. I had the chance to run. I didn’t. Now, I am a part of the game. And the only way to win...is to give in. Review: First thoughts...fun, sexy, quirky. Who is conning who? Answer read it and find out. The story really is captivating. I loved the whole story and gosh I really don't want to give away too much because it was fun read from the characters to the witty dialogue. It does my geeky heart good to recommend this story. The Author did a great job of making Jaxon and Timberly likable even when I did not want to like them. Jaxon and Timberly are sexy together and the Author wrote some great intimate scenes. Oh, love the name Timberly too. And I forgot this is the first book I have read by this Author, but she is now on my must read list. I think this maybe the vague-ess review I have ever written but I really think if you like a witty, sexy romance then pick this up. 4.5 Stars *I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book provided by the publisher.*