Stolen Seduction, p.1Elisabeth Naughton
Stolen ~ Book 3
NEW YORK CITY
CP extraordinaire, expert at everything, my rock, my sanity, my partner in all things murder and mayhem. This book is dedicated to you for so many reasons, but mostly because without you, it just wouldn’t be.
Thank you, J.
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“You’re trying to get my ass kicked, aren’t you?”
Hailey Roarke smiled at the moody male voice echoing in her ear as she peered into the darkness. “Define trying,” she said into the mike attached to her turtleneck.
“Trying,” Billy Sullivan grumbled in her earpiece, the frown in his voice as obvious as his perpetual sarcasm. “As in, doing whatever the hell you can to make sure I get caught and you walk away scot-free.”
Hailey flashed her light around the cement walls of the steam tunnel, no more than four feet wide and six feet tall. A dim hiss echoed all around her. Above, pipes filled with blistering hot water ran just under street level from house to house in the historic Chicago neighborhood. Trying to get his ass kicked? From where she stood, Billy had the cake job, sitting in the van running surveillance while she did the down and dirty work.
“I don’t need to ‘try’ to kick your ass, Billy. I could do it anytime I wanted.”
“Don’t I know it,” Billy mumbled. “No wonder you’re single. Take a right at the next intersection.”
She followed his directions and sucked in a breath when a rat scurried out of the shadows and ran right over her boot. “Okay, smart guy. Tell me again why we couldn’t go street side. Chicago underground isn’t my idea of a happening scene.”
“Why, H,” he said with a lilt to his voice. “You’re not claustrophobic like my brother, the saint, are you?”
She ignored the jab at her ex-husband and shined her light into the shadows, looking for any signs Mickey Mouse had a friend. Or ten. “Claustrophobic? No. Rodent-phobic? Um. Yeah. Slightly.”
He chuckled in her ear. “The tough girl has a weakness after all.”
Hailey pursed her lips. She had a whole host of weaknesses, not that she was going to share those with Billy now.
“And the answer to your question,” he added, “is because you said you didn’t want anyone to know we were here. I’m just following orders, boss.”
She reached a hand up to the ladder now in front of her. “Remind me to take a more active role in the planning stage next time.”
“Is there going to be a next time?”
“God, I hope not.”
Hailey let out a breath as she climbed the ladder in front of her and fantasized about her little apartment in Key West. Today the Keys seemed as far away as Jupiter. And she missed them more than she’d ever thought possible.
She missed her plants, which she hoped her neighbor Tonia was watering. Missed her little patio with its bistro table and two metal chairs she’d picked up at a garage sale. Missed her air-conditioning that only worked half the time, and Mr. Alanzo’s snoring from next door. She even missed Rascal, the neighborhood tom who was always lurking around, wailing in the middle of the night for Mrs. Potts upstairs to open her slider so Tabitha could get out and the two could go on a lovers’ tryst.
She missed it all because it was hers and not tied in any way to Roarke Resorts or her family. And because she’d worked her ass off with the Key West Police Department for everything she had. She didn’t have to share it with anyone, and no one told her what to do. And if she was a little lonely because of that fact, well, she got over it. At thirty-four, she already knew she wasn’t marriage material. Or Roarke Resorts material. Or detective material, either. But that was okay. She was happy with her life. At least, she had been.
Had it really been a month since she’d been home? God, it felt longer. When her father had called several weeks ago and asked her to step in for him as interim CEO for Roarke Resorts—his chain of five-star hotels up and down the East Coast—she’d immediately said no. But when he’d calmly told her it was the last thing he was ever going to ask her to do and that if she helped him, he wouldn’t bother her again, she’d finally caved.
To be free of the Roarke family for good? Now that was a prize worth sacrificing her cozy little life for.
Of course, now she wondered if it had been the biggest mistake she’d ever made.
“Okay.” Billy’s voice turned serious in her ear, dragging her attention back to the moment. “When you get to the top you may have to jimmy the manhole cover.”
She stopped inches from the ceiling, her feet perched precariously on the rungs of the old ladder, and pushed her hands against the cool metal above. The cover didn’t budge. “Define…jimmy,” she said, as she pushed again.
“I don’t know. Try turning counterclockwise and pushing up at the same time.”
Hailey widened her stance, then shoved hard. She grunted from the exertion, clenched her teeth and used every ounce of strength in her muscles. Just about the time she was sure there had to be a car parked on top of this thing, the cover slipped, slipped again and finally gave way.
She groaned as she pushed the cover up and off with aching arms, then hauled her body out of the steam tunnel with what little strength she had left. “Okay,” she said on a deep breath when she was sitting on the ledge with her feet hanging down into the hole, “I’m through.”
“Damn straight, skippy.” Excitement filled Billy’s voice. “What do you see?”
She shined her light up and around while her chest rose and fell with her breathing. “Stairs.”
Computer keys clicked in the background, and she imagined him sitting in the back of the rented van, keying in her location on his trusty map. “Ya done good, H. You’re in the pump house.”
At least one part of this was going right. If he hadn’t been feeding her directions, though, she’d still be lost down there in the dark. She pushed to her feet and headed up the steps. “What are the chances this door’s locked?”
“How’s your luck been lately?”
“No bets then.”
When she reached the top of the stairs, she wrapped her hand around the pump house doorknob and said a quick prayer her luck was changing. Holding her breath, she turned the knob. Metal in need of a good oiling scraped against rusty metal, and then the door gave with a soft click.
Frigid Chicago air whooshed around her as she stepped out of the pump house and quietly closed the door at her back. She hadn’t bothered with a heavy coat, and the January wind whipped through her light jacket, but the cold was the least of her worries now. In a matter of m
“You might just be my dream woman after all,” Billy teased.
Two-day-old snow crunched under her boots as she stayed in the shadows of the large spindly trees and silently made her way across the yard. In all probability they could have figured out a way for her to slink up to the house above-ground, but the chances of her being noticed in this historic neighborhood were far too great. This Roarke property had been in the family’s holdings for years, and the rich old biddies who still lived on this quiet street kept a close eye out for anything unusual.
When she reached the kitchen door, she pulled out the slim pick kit from her back pocket.
“Just like we practiced, H. You can do it.”
“I know, I know,” she mumbled. But practicing on a dummy lock in her suite up in Lake Geneva and doing the deed in subzero temperatures in the dark was something altogether different. She ignored the chill in her fingers and the wind whipping down the back of her collar and instead focused on her task.
It took three tries, but she finally got it. The lock gave with a click, and suddenly she was moving into the industrial-size kitchen and closing the door. “Another door down,” she whispered into her mike.
“I think I’m in love,” Billy said. “Okay, you have twenty-four seconds before the alarm goes off.”
Twenty-four seconds. Right. She knew that. But oh, man, that suddenly didn’t seem long enough.
No surprise, her trusty cousin Bryan Roarke, who’d been staying at the Chicago property for the last three months, had changed the access code. She and Billy had expected that, though, and they’d gone over this part as well, so she knew how to pop the cover and where to attach the wires from the small pocket-size computer Billy had given her. As she waited for the numbers to click onto the screen, she hoped like hell she wasn’t tripping a silent alarm somewhere.
When the last number appeared, she keyed in the code and waited. An eternity seemed to pass before the light turned green, signaling the system was disarmed.
She finally let out the breath she’d been holding, and for the first time noticed the sweat sliding down her temple. She wiped a hand across her brow. “Okay. Done.”
“I’m serious, H. Marry me and have my babies.”
She couldn’t help chuckling as she tucked the computer into her pocket and turned to get a look at the kitchen. “I think that would cause some problems, don’t you?”
“Nah. Rafe’s remarried now. He’s too busy to notice.”
The room was silent but for the hum of the furnace somewhere in the depths of the old house. Hailey’s eyes skipped over the stainless-steel appliances—all upgrades from the last time she’d been here as a kid—the copper pots hanging from the ceiling, the mission-style furniture and miles of black granite. “I was thinking more along the lines of your dating habits, Billy. A wife tends to get in the way of things like all-night parties and buxom beach babes.”
“There is that,” he said wistfully. “Listen, you’re free and clear. I’ve got an eye out, but the housekeeper left when you were in the steam tunnel, and you said Bryan’s not due back for another two hours?”
“At least. He’s at some charity function downtown. Not that the man knows a thing about giving to the poor.” He didn’t know much about running a business, either. Bryan was in charge of the new resort being built in Lake Geneva, but the project had been horribly mismanaged. Bitterness brewed in her chest as she crossed the kitchen’s hardwood floor, rounded the big old oak table she remembered eating at years ago and headed into the heart of the three-story colonial.
She really should feel something for this old house. She’d been here numerous times as a kid, had some pretty decent memories of chasing Bryan—before he’d turned into a jerk—through the third-floor suite of rooms while they pretended they were the kids in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But by and large to her the monstrosity of the house was just as massive and empty as her parents’ place back in Palm Beach.
Hell, it was just as massive and empty as her family in general.
Shoving that piece of emotional baggage deep into the recesses of her mind, Hailey wove through the long, elegant dining room with its Louis IV chairs, until she found herself standing in the enormous entryway looking up at the circling staircase that wound its way up three towering flights.
Where would he hide it? The terms of her eccentric father’s will flitted through Hailey’s mind. The individual who collects all six statues and deciphers the code locked within will be awarded controlling interest in Roarke Resorts.
Controlling interest. Not something she’d ever wanted, yet here she was, breaking into a house she technically owned but didn’t have access to. True, the cryptic personal note her father had left for her had piqued her interest in his ludicrous will, but it was Bryan’s not-so-gentle message that had driven her to Chicago tonight.
She lifted a gloved hand and gently touched her bruised cheek, winced at the sharp pain. Man, Dad. You owe me big-time.
She didn’t bother to turn on the lights; didn’t want to give any of the nosy neighbors reason to be suspicious. She skipped stairs to get to the third floor quick, paused on the landing and thought about her lazy cousin. The safe would be in his home office—to her right. Though the piece she sought was rare, monetarily it was of very little value, especially to someone like Bryan. He wasn’t exactly the sharpest tack in the box, but he wouldn’t be so dumb as to leave the bronze in the vault because he’d know that’s the first place any of them would look.
So where would he keep it? Hailey rubbed a hand over her mouth. Close to him. Where he could look at it and know it was still there. Knowing Bryan, the greedy miser, probably under his frickin’ pillow.
Hailey turned slowly. Bedroom.
Billy was humming along to some heavy metal music in her ear, and Hailey found the sharp beat oddly reassuring as she headed for the suite at the end of the hall. The door was partway open when she reached it. One look inside confirmed exactly what she’d forgotten about her no-good cousin: the man was a slob.
“How’s it goin’?” Billy asked.
She stepped over a pair of sneakers strewn across the floor. Over dirty Jockeys and a damp towel, like he’d ripped them from his body. One glance at the expertly made bed told her Bryan’s tornado had obviously blown through after the housekeeper had made up the room.
What was it with the rich that they thought everyone else was at their beck and call?
Thanking her lucky stars she’d walked away from this kind of life, Hailey checked the closet first. She was quick and efficient, but careful to put things back where she found them. When that proved useless, she moved to the bureau, dug through the nightstands, took a careful sweep of the entertainment armoire and the wet bar.
And still no sign of the bronze.
On a breath she dropped to her knees and peered under the bed. Dust bunnies and a couple of skin magazines. Not the piece she sought.
Okay, not in his bedroom suite. Think, Hailey. Where would he hide the damn thing?
“Oh, shit,” Billy said in her earpiece. “H, crap. We’ve got trouble.”
Her head darted up, one gloved hand braced on the mattress. “Define trouble.”
“Bryan’s back early.”
Faintly, a car engine cut off, followed by the slamming of doors and footsteps and voices outside below. Hailey’s heart rate jerked as she pushed up from the floor and paused to listen.
The front door opened and snapped shut. Feminine laughter and a deep chuckle echoed up the staircase. Followed by a squeal, then footsteps pounding up the steps.
Damn, damn, damn.
She glanced quickly around the room, contemplating her options. She tried the balcony door. It was locked. There was nowhere to hide in the closet without being seen, and the bathroom was nothing b
On instinct, Hailey dropped to her stomach and wriggled under the bed. Then held her breath and hoped like hell Bryan and his latest mistress were only here to pick up something they’d forgotten.
“I’m so glad we left early,” the woman crooned. “I thought I’d die if I had to listen to one more story about homeless brats.”
Something about the muffled female voice was oddly familiar. Lying on her stomach with her face pressed into the dusty floor, Hailey strained to listen.
“You’d never know it by looking,” Bryan said. A loud clank echoed against the floor. Glancing up through the sheer bed skirt, Hailey realized it was one of Bryan’s shoes. “You seemed enraptured.”
“Bored out of my freakin’ mind is more like it.”
Another shoe hit the floor, followed by two silver stilettos, which landed just in Hailey’s line of sight.
Please, God, do not let this be happening.
“I’m sure Madeline would have fit in perfectly well,” the woman said with a sarcastic lilt. “Since she’s perfected boring to an art form.”
Bryan’s chuckle at the mention of his wife was gravelly and full of lust. Hailey’s stomach rolled at what she suspected was coming next.
A shuffle of cloth, the rasp of a zipper, Bryan’s belt hitting the floor with a thud. “Not you,” he growled. “You’re not boring at all, are you?”
The woman gasped, and the next moment the gigantic bed dipped above. Something sharp jabbed into the back of Hailey’s arm. She bit into her lip hard to keep from screaming, realized—as her eyes watered from pain—that it must have been a loose coil or sharp metal point sticking out of the box spring, and shifted to the side as soundlessly as she could. When moaning echoed from above, Hailey closed her eyes tight and pressed her forehead into the hardwood floor.
No, no, no…she was going to be sick. If she had to lie here and listen to these two have sex, she was seriously going to lose it.
Stolen Seduction by Elisabeth Naughton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes