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In spite of the cacophony under the marble dome of Antwerp's Central Station, Donovan Rush heard the distinct tap of high heels about ten feet behind him. The main terminal echoed with a hundred different languages and shook with the shrill whine of high-speed train brakes on the platform levels, but the music of that familiar feminine drumbeat reached his ears and slowed his step.
The footsteps grew closer, preceded by a whiff of peppery perfume, a whisper of a silky sleeve, a subtle clearing of a woman's throat
and she passed him without a glance.
But he stole one, and then stayed two strides behind her just for the fun of it.
Mahogany waves clipped in a careful French twist revealed a slender column of a neck, squared but narrow shoulders casually draped in a bloodred scarf. Hip-hugging black leather pants molded to a heartbreaker of a backside then tapered over long, lean thighs.
And then there were the noisemaking shoes. Five inches if they were a centimeter, platforms, open toes and little silver buckles that he'd like to unfasten with his teeth.
Too bad he'd only be in Antwerp for the brief hour it would take to pass security at the Beurs voor Diaman-thandel, meet with the client's sightholder, take delivery of two million dollars worth of rough-cut diamonds and get back on the Thalys for the return trip to Paris.
There was no time for lovelies clad in leather. Especially when his boss had sent a text from New York just moments ago reminding him that the client for this routine diamond drop, Boisvert Jewelers, was run by a CEO who evidently did not tolerate tardiness. Lucy Sharpe had ended her brief text with three simple words: don't be late.
When the owner of the Bullet Catchersand queen of understatementissued a warning like that, no one who wanted to keep his job with her elite security firm would dare disobey. Especially not because he was, uh, sightseeing.
The woman in front of him slowed almost imperceptibly, glancing to her left, then quickly pretending she hadn't.
Donovan did the same, noticing a man outside a cafe entrance, a cell phone to his ear, but his gaze on the leathers, as well. That made him human, since Donovan would guess that most male eyes in the terminal would take the same trip his had.
But the highly trained bodyguard in him noticed the woman's hesitation, the change in her heel-to-toe tempo and the aura of awareness that shot up around her.
She shifted to the right just as the man ended his call. When he took a single step forward, she turned on one of those spikes and beelined in the opposite direction.
The heels clicked into a trot.
The gold-embellished station clock read twenty-one minutes to ten. Donovan had been doing the Antwerp diamond drops long enough to know he needed twelve minutes to clear security at the Bourse, and two minutes to cross the cobblestone street that led there. That left seven minutes to follow his instinct
and a woman who'd just upped her speed from purposeful to petrified.
The man hustled toward her, small and spare and quick on his feet, smoky gray eyes locked on the lady, one hand in the pocket of a loose-fitting jacket.
With the reassuring weight of a Glock under his sport jacket, Donovan kept his attention evenly divided between the two people. She took a sharp left toward stairs leading to the upper level train platforms, snaking her way through the crowd with a quick burst of speed.
She paused once to glance over her shoulder, her gaze locking on Donovan's for a split second before she looked away. At the top of the stairs she blended in with a pack of travelers on the train platform, but Donovan kept sight of the ruby scarf.
So did the other man, who attempted the same maneuver up the stairs, but didn't nail it as gracefully as the woman. His failure let Donovan get right behind him and stay there.
Leather lady was on a tear now, running down the platform as the scream of the next high-speed train reverberated through the second level's glassdomed ceiling. She spun around, giving Donovan his first chance to really see her face.
Normally, he'd register the contours of beauty, the appeal of every feature from a whisper of a widow's peak to a shadow of a cleft in her chin. But this wasn't normal. That expression of raw, ripe terror was not normal.
The man had her in his sights, then reached deeper into his pocket, shifting his weight like he was bracing to fire.
Donovan pounced. An arm to the throat, a knee to the thighs, and the guy was down and done.
"Hey!" He tried to thrust an elbow, but Donovan twisted the offending arm and locked it into a position of paralyzing pain. Certain he was immobilized, Donovan peered through the wall of the gathering crowd as the train doors zipped open.
A red scarf fluttered as its owner darted on board. Holding on to the door, she leaned into the light to look straight at him.
"Thank you," she mouthed and then disappeared into the train.
Donovan released his captive and stood slowly.
"What the hell?" the man croaked with a heavy British accent, pushing himself up and whipping around to Donovan.
Donovan stepped back and held up his hands. "Sorry. Had you confused with someone." He turned to leave, but the man grabbed his jacket.
"What's your fucking problem, mate?"
"Excuse me." Donovan brushed the hand off and glanced at the clock above the platform. "I'm late for an appointment."
"You are free to enter, Mr. Rush." The last of three security guards handed Donovan his clearance papers with an officious nod, his heavily accented English flawless. "Monsieur Pelletier is waiting for you at table fourteen."
Donovan tucked his paperwork in the breast pocket of his sport jacket and entered the double doors to the main room. Sunshine poured through a hundred skylights, built for the express purpose of giving the jewel traders the best possible natural light.
Dozens of tables flanked a center aisle where men sat in small groups, face-to-face, nearly every one wearing a jeweler's loupe, examining stones.
A middle-aged man sat alone at the far end of table fourteen, a black velvet cloth spread with an array of cloudy white diamonds in front of him. He looked up as Donovan approached and stood, no smile on his angular, harsh features.
Donovan slipped into the space behind the table, reaching out his hand in greeting, introducing himself. "I'm delighted to welcome Boisvert Jewelers to the Bullet Catchers client roster," he added.
"We understand your company provides the finest security couriers in the business."
"You understand correctly," Donovan assured him, gesturing toward the diamonds. There was no time for small talk if he was going to make the train back to Paris and meet the client's timelines.
"This is what I've selected for you to deliver," he said. "I know the CEO of Boisvert to be a connoisseur of excellence. I've no doubt these diamonds will meet the highest standards."
There were at least forty sizable stones, many that would be cut to make two or three multicarat diamonds. Pelletier had probably spent the past three days poring through hundreds and hundreds of rough-cut rocks delivered from Africa and Australia, his job as a sight-holder to be the "eyes" for the parent jeweler back in Paris. A parent company with deep pockets, if they could manage this purchase.
"You've chosen well," Donovan said. Although it wasn't his job to pass judgment on the diamonds Pelletier had purchased; his job was to safely deliver them to the Parisian jeweler whom he worked for. On time. "Is the paperwork complete?" If Pelletier had filled it out ahead of time, they were in luck.
The man slid a packet toward Donovan. "Yes. I'll need your signature in all the right places, while I pack this parcel and sign off on what you've taken."
The transaction was so standard, Donovan barely looked up from the pages he had to sign, flipping through each with just a cursory glance, until Pelletier pulled a cell phone from his pocket to take a call.
"Excuse me," he said softly before launching into rapid French. Unable to follow the foreign language spoken that fast, Donovan continued to sign, until a note of alarm in the other man's voice made him look
"Is there a problem?" he asked softly. Pelletier just held up one finger. "Tres bien. Merci." He hung up. "That was the CEO of Boisvert Jewelers."
"We have an issue that I am obligated to bring to your attention. There has been a credible threat to this diamond delivery. Apparently, the details were leaked."
He shook his head, unable to hide disgust. "The CEO's assistant. She's been arrested and detained, but we don't know how secure these diamonds will be between Antwerp and Paris."
"I have them," Donovan said, scooping them into a red velvet pouch that would fit in his jacket pocket. "So you can assure Boisvert management that they will be quite secure."
The other man looked relieved, but dubious. "Tres bien, mais
a word of advice, Monsieur Rush?"
"Don't be late?"
"Trust no one," he replied. "And don't be late."
He didn't alter his travel plans. Whoever was tracking this diamond drop would assume that an experiencedand forewarnedcourier would choose a different form of transportation back to Paris. But getting to the airport or renting a car would cause unnecessary delays and play right into a thief's expectations.
Instead, Donovan slipped back into the train station, and purchased a new Comfort One ticket on the highspeed Thalys to Paris using different identification. He boarded the first car the moment the giant red wedge-shaped train blew into the station, before most of the other passengers had even reached the platform. Strolling the length of the train, he memorized the face of every passenger already on board since Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Under the guise of a traveler looking for the most privacy and comfort, he perused nearly four hundred seats in a dozen connected cars, including the bar and cafe, and every lavatory. And he had no doubt where he would sit.
The last set of glass doors whisked open with an automatic vacuum that responded to the slightest pressure. This small compartment seated only eight, with two rows of seats facing each other, separated by a narrow aisle. Well protected, away from most passengers, and with a single entrance that he could watch every minute of the hour and a half trip to Paris, it made the perfect place to detect a thief.
But, shit, someone had beat him there. He could see the top of dark hair, not quite tall enough to extend above the orange headrest, facing the back seats. No matter. He drew his weapon. He would convince the passenger to leave.
But the person shifted positions to cross a foot into the aisle. A foot wearing a platform peep toe with an unforgettable silver buckle.
Trust no one.
Especially damsels in distress and leather. There were no coincidences in this business; his experience as a Bullet Catcher taught him that. She identified him this morning, got a good look at him and no doubt had the Boisvert informant tell her what train he'd be on.
Of course, he could simply turn and take another before she even saw him.
But that's not what Lucy Sharpe demanded from her men. She wanted to impress the new client? All right, then. He'd deliver the diamonds and the thief. On time.
He cleared his throat. "May I join you?"
"I was hoping you would." A sultry and feminine American voice answered.
He came around the seat back, his gun drawn, but not yet aimed at her. Let her know he had it and wasn't afraid to use it. "Although I'd prefer not to have to kill anyone who's chasing you on the way to Paris."
"On the contrary." She lifted amber eyes and met his gaze, not even a flicker of surprise. "You've done your good deed for the day."
"So this is no coincidence?" Not that he thought it was for a moment.
Her lips widened in a sexy smile. "I was on the platform and saw you get on board. I decided you were the type of man who would choose the back compartment for
"So you're just riding the rails for fun today."
She shrugged. "I did have to take an unexpected trip to Rotterdam, thanks to you giving me that chance to escape, but I easily made it back here on a return train. Going to Paris?" I am.
"Then we'll travel together." Her smile was warm. No, hot. And inviting. "That guy is gone now, so you can put the gun away."
Not a chance. "I prefer to err on the side of caution." He took the seat across from herthe one he would have taken anyway, because it allowed for a direct view through the doors and into the next carand kept the pistol in his hand, resting on the seat next to him.
"I'm Claudia Greenwood," she said.
"Donovan Rush." No reason to lie. Obviously, she either knew exactly who he wasin which case he'd either kill her or deliver her to the authorities at the Gare du Nord in Parisor she really was just a beautiful American on holiday or business in Belgium. Not too hard to guess which. "And who was your pushy friend in the station?"
She exhaled a breath of disgust. "A bad choice from my past."
Yeah, right. "A woman who looks like you involved with a guy who looks like that? C'mon, I might be big and ugly, but I'm not dumb."
"You're quite big" she let her gaze slide over his shoulders and chest "but you are definitely not ugly. Sadly, I wouldn't be the last woman who got swayed by an impressive
bank account. What brings you to Belgium, Donovan?"
As if she didn't know. "Business."
"Business that requires you to carry a gun?"
"It is Antwerp," he said, as though that explained it. That would explain it to a diamond thief, which, he'd bet the entire pouchful in his pocket, she was. "And you?"
"Business, as well." Her fingers flicked the end of her scarf. "Fashion accessories. I'm headed to Paris for a trade show."
"Then we have a whole hour and a half to get to know each other." And to see just how long it would take for her to make her move.
She settled back into her seat with an alluring smile. "I can't imagine a better way to spend my time."