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By Lisa Kessler, Theresa Cole
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved.
Paris – 1840
Marguerite followed the tall blond gentleman with broad shoulders, careful to keep her presence hidden. As he approached the crowd at the edge of the Champs-Élysées, she hitched up her skirts to move faster.
If he got too far ahead, she'd lose him and his gold, gem-encrusted pocket watch in the mass of Parisians.
He'd first caught her eye at a gala nearly a month before. That night, he wore the watch on the front of his vest, and the telltale bulge in his pocket hinted at a healthy money pouch. With any luck, his deposit would bring her goal within reach. Hope made her bold, but even so, she'd lost him before she made his acquaintance.
She hadn't seen him since. Until tonight.
Now he stood only a scant distance in front of her, as did the rest of Paris, awaiting the processional carrying Napoleon's remains under the massive Arc de Triomphe on its way to Les Invalides. She needed to get closer.
The hearse carrying Napoleon's body to its new tomb circled underneath the Arc, and the crowd surged closer to the black coach. The gas lamps glowed overhead and extra torches cast long shadows, marking its route. Cheers deafened her, and the stench of unwashed bodies and old wine assaulted her nostrils when the sweat drenched horses passed by. Their long route from the seashore to the center of Paris was nearly at an end.
Marguerite rose on her toes, struggling to catch sight of her gentleman, but none of the fair-haired men in the street had shoulders as broad as his, and none of them were tall enough.
She'd lost him again. Damn.
There was no time for self-pity. She took in her surroundings and made her way toward a portly gentleman standing at the edge of the crowd.
He stood with his back to the Seine River, one foot cocked and his chest puffed out. His light blue silk jacket, shirt with gold-trimmed ruffles, and buffed and polished shoes said he was no commoner.
She plucked her fan from her bosom and flicked it open, sauntering toward him with an extra sway to her hips. "Bonjour." She tipped her head slightly, gazing up at him from beneath her lashes. "Pardon. I must catch my breath. There are so many people. I feared I might topple over and be trampled."
He drifted toward her, wetting his lips. Taking her elbow with a demanding grip, his greedy gaze lingered over her cleavage. "Surely you did not attend the funeral alone."
Marguerite allowed him to lead her a few steps from the crowd. "Oui. My husband is ill, but I promised to tell him every detail."
She stayed close to the man, in spite of the heavy perfume that failed to mask his body odor. She fluttered her fan and brushed against him, but the purse eluded her until he leaned over and caressed her arm, giving her the opening she needed.
Lifting her shoulder, she parted her lips, keeping his attention on her mouth, while she caught the bulge of his coin purse in his jacket and traced the edge of the pocket.
"The hearse is making its way closer now." His hot hand ran up from her elbow, across her back and around her waist. "May I escort you to the front for a closer view?"
"Oui." She masked her disgust with a flirtatious smile. "Merci."
As soon as he maneuvered her into the crowd, she bumped against him, nimble fingers snagging the loop of his purse. One more nudge and she yanked it free.
He never felt a thing. This brought a true smile to her lips.
The sound of hooves striking the cobblestones grew in volume, and the crowd pressed forward toward the approaching carriage. Marguerite moved into the current, leaving her fragrant companion behind. Clutching the purse, she made her way farther from the Arc de Triomphe and tucked her prize into her corset.
It wasn't the treasure she'd hoped for, but every trinket brought her closer to freedom.
* * *
From a distance, Kane watched the throngs of people following Napoleon's remains as the national funeral parade passed on its way to Les Invalides. His gaze scanned the crowd. Servants, farmers, ladies with their gentlemen, and children all cheered, loving their fallen leader.
He'd only met the man once, but he had no doubt Napoleon would have enjoyed this spectacle in his honor.
Kane turned to leave. When the pageantry ended, the wine would flow, and violence would follow.
From the corner of his eye, a slender blond woman caught his attention. The porcelain beauty of her face, framed by her curled locks of golden hair, made his pulse jump, but it was her hands that piqued his curiosity.
He was almost certain he'd seen her pick a man's pocket while he chatted with her. But as quickly as Kane realized what he had witnessed, she moved into the mass of people, swallowed by the crowd.
A crease marred his forehead. Had that fair creature just robbed a man?
He milled through the ocean of Parisians and allowed the thoughts of the mortals around him to fill his mind. He noticed a police officer and smiled when he realized that they both searched for the same woman.
The officer called her Le Voleur D'or. The golden thief.
Kane gripped his gold-tipped cane and walked away from the noise. The streets would be filled with malice before long. Hunger flared at the thought, an automatic response to the suggestion of cutthroats — his primary sustenance since he'd arrived in France.
This city suited him. His light coloring blended with the French people. He had stood out among the Maya, where his appearance only helped to distinguish him as a god, but here in France, he lived among mortals without any suspicion of his origins.
A blessing and a curse. Part of him longed for the days when mortals recognized him for who and what he was.
Often, he stared at the stars and wondered about the fate of his homeland.
* * *
The following evening, Kane awoke with an unfamiliar eagerness to face the night. His sole purpose in this world was protecting the innocent from those that would do them harm.
The woman's face, especially her smile when she tucked the stolen purse into her dress, puzzled him. Usually men were the predators in Paris.
He made his way up through the secret passage under his château. Using his inhuman strength, he pushed up the large stone that opened to the floor in the center of his bedroom. After replacing the stone, he covered the seam with the tapestry rug and went to his dressing room.
One part of living in the modern world that still tried his patience was the clothing. His skin chafed, suffocating under the European frock coats, trousers, and ties.
In spite of the current fashion, he refused to wear a tie, leaving the tops of his shirts unfastened. Occasionally, his lack of perceived tidiness raised a brow, but he truly didn't give a damn what others thought of him.
After tying his hair back with a leather thong, he reached for his cane. The mahogany base was capped off at the top with a finely hand-carved golden jaguar. One of a kind. A reminder of his true identity, despite his Parisian veneer and his ability to blend into the city's crowds at night.
It didn't take him long to locate the Commissionnaire de Policia strolling down one of the narrow alleyways.
"Officer." He waited for the Commissionnaire to turn his way. "Might I inquire about Le Voleur D'or?"
The officer's moustache shifted as if just the mention of her name reeked of filth, and Kane wondered if he would refuse. Not that it mattered. Kane could mesmerize him and get the information he sought.
But the uniformed man eyed him and nodded. "Beware of that one. She tempts with her golden hair and blue eyes, but behind her beauty lies a cunning thief. She entrances men and walks away with their valuables while they admire her."
"How charming." He frowned and shifted his cane, hoping he appeared concerned.
The officer shook his head. "She will not be so charming in prison."
"Perhaps not." He gave the officer a slight bow. "Thank you."
He walked away into the shadows, amused. Not only was she beautiful, but his golden thief was also clever. So few challenges remained for him in this mortal world, he would relish finding her again.
It took nearly three weeks.
Kane accepted the invitations he normally ignored, and attended influential dinner parties with the wealthy elite in Paris. Judging by the gown she wore at Napoleon's funeral, Kane supposed the golden thief would most likely frequent these same circles. Each night, he opened himself to the thoughts of the other guests and his hosts, but after two weeks had passed, he found no sign of her. In spite of the centuries he'd watched over this world, he still hadn't mastered the art of patience.
He was about to give up this plan and return to searching the city streets when he finally found her.
He knew the second she entered the ballroom. The sound of her laughter floated over the string quartet that played in the corner. Kane spun around, and his heart clenched. Her smile stopped time, and for a moment, the rest of the world ceased to exist. He resisted the urge to shove the other dancers away to get to her.
He couldn't be too eager or the rabbit might flee.
Deep in the shadows of his soul, his spirit animal stirred. Kane halted for a moment, surprised at the awakening of the jungle cat. It had been decades since he last allowed himself to shift into his jaguar spirit. To feel it so close to the surface unsettled him.
When she approached him, her gaze demanded his attention. Tonight, he'd purposefully worn his finest rings and his favorite ruby-studded gold pocket watch. His wealth would draw her to him like the moths ached to drink in the candle's firelight.
Or so he'd hoped.
He bowed his head slightly. "Would you honor me with this dance?"
She placed her warm fingers into his hand. Her sapphire eyes sparkled up at him. "It would be my pleasure, Monsieur."
His heart made a curious jump when he gripped her fingertips and guided her to the center of the ballroom. He placed his hand on her corseted waist and led her into a waltz.
They circled with the music, her footsteps following his lead. Her body moved with the music as if she were part of the melody filling the room. Before he realized it, he'd lost himself in the dance, in her. Her full, rose-colored lips begged to be kissed, and her golden curls brushed over the swell of her breasts. His fingers yearned to touch her soft skin.
His gaze slid along her jaw and down the length of her neck. She wore an elaborately jeweled velvet choker that hid her pulse from him. Definitely for the best.
As the music reached its final cadence, he bowed to her and lifted her hand to press a kiss to the back of her knuckles. "A pleasure to dance with you."
A smile tugged at her lips, and her cheeks flushed with color. "The pleasure was mine, Monsieur."
He released her fingertips and watched her turn to leave. Kane frowned and straightened his shirt, rubbing at the scar hidden beneath the fabric before he could stop himself. This woman had a strange effect over him. His watch still dangled from his vest. She hadn't taken the bait.
"Forgive me." She stopped and turned toward him again, her smile paralyzing him. "I do not even know your name."
She stared into his eyes for a moment, and he toyed with the idea of peering into her mind, but decided against it. This female was a delicious puzzle he would enjoy solving. Slowly.
She offered her hand. "I am Marguerite Rousseau."
He looked up at her while he kissed the back of her skilled hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Marguerite. I am Kane Bordeaux."
He straightened without releasing her hand. "Who is the lucky gentleman you were rushing away to see?"
She laughed and shook her head. "There is no man I wish to see." She leaned closer, lowering her voice. "I am parched and in search of good wine."
Kane placed her hand at the crook of his arm. "Allow me?"
"Oui." She punctuated her response with a flirtatious tilt of her head.
He led her through the dancers, toward the wine and assorted bread and cheeses that decorated the table at the far end of the ballroom.
"Our host has been most gracious tonight." Kane filled a glass with wine and watched as she placed cheese and bread on her plate, and the tiny silver cheese tongs into her satchel.
Not only clever and quick, but brazen.
He handed her a wineglass when she turned toward him. Nothing in her demeanor betrayed nervousness or guilt. If he hadn't seen her slip the silver into her bag, he never would have suspected anything was amiss.
Marguerite sipped at the wine and dabbed at her brow with her lace handkerchief.
He glanced at the doorway. "Would you like to step onto the balcony?"
She smiled and surprised him again by taking his hand. "Oui, but only if you will join me."
"As if I would let such beauty out of my sight."
Color crept up her powdered neck, invigorating her ivory skin. His tongue toyed with the sharp tips of his fangs while he fought the urge to taste her. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had awakened such desire in him.
She led him onto the balcony and sipped her wine. "How do you know the Marquis?"
Kane leaned against the balcony wall, swirling the wine in his glass. "I purchased a mare from him a few years ago. He invites me to his parties in hopes I will return the kindness with more business." He tilted the glass to his mouth without allowing any of the liquid to pass his lips. "Is the Marquis a relative of yours?"
"No. I attend on behalf of my Master. The Marquis is an admirer of his work." A house servant passed by, and she placed her glass on the tray. She gnawed at her lower lip, drawing his attention to her perfect mouth. "And where is your wife, Monsieur?"
Her tone made the question sound like a challenge. Kane frowned and straightened to his full height. "I have never been married."
She paused for a moment. "Without a wife and children, who will carry on your family line?"
He bit back a surprising burst of laughter. "I assure you, my family line will continue without a wife."
Her eyes narrowed slightly, studying him. "You are ... puzzling, Monsieur Bordeaux."
"I prefer to think of myself as simple. Relationships complicate." He straightened his stifling vest, fighting the urge to rip it off. His gold watch thumped against his chest, reminding him that his quarry had not taken the bait. Interesting.
"Ah, but life would be dull without them, no?" The sound of her voice and the way the candlelight sparkled in her eyes hypnotized him. She took his hand again. "The final dance is beginning. We should join the party."
He allowed her to pull him back into the ballroom, and spun her around to face him. They waltzed among the other party guests, circling the room until the dancers sharing the floor blurred around them. As the music swelled, her hand slipped from his and Marguerite spun away to her new dance partner. A pert, auburn-haired beauty with a shy smile took his hand, and though he might have considered seducing her into his bed, he couldn't focus on her. Not with Marguerite dancing one, then two partners away.
It was a dizzying flood of color as dresses billowed, dancers turned, and laughter blended with the crescendo of the string quartet. Kane bowed and waltzed with several new partners before he realized he'd lost Marguerite in the crowd.
He fingered his vest pocket.
He had also lost his favorite gold watch.
Kane retrieved his cane from the butler and escaped the party, scanning up and down the street for any sign of the Le Voleur D'or. The subtle fragrance of her hair lingered — roses and lavender. Easy prey.
Kane hurried into the darkness, following her scent. He caught a glimpse of the back of her hair a moment before she disappeared around a corner. He slowed when she paused and then crossed the next street. Kane ducked into the shadows of a darkened cobbler's shop doorway and waited.
She turned, her blue eyes sweeping the street behind her. With a mask of confidence, she lifted her chin a notch and continued her journey.
Kane kept his distance behind her. Before he crossed the street to follow, a horse and buggy barreled past him. The wooden wheels splashed water onto his polished boot, but he didn't stop to clean it.
Excerpted from Night Thief by Lisa Kessler, Theresa Cole. Copyright © 2012 Lisa Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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