Sweet revenge, p.1
To Carolyn Nichols,
for the support and the friendship
Women are your fields.
Go, then, into your fields as you please.
He was her man, but he done her wrong.
“Frankie and Johnny”
New York, 1989
Stuart Spencer hated his hotel room excessively. The only advantage to being in New York was that his wife was in London and couldn’t hound him about sticking to his diet. He’d ordered up a club sandwich from room service and was savoring each bite.
He was a portly, balding man without the jolly disposition expected from one with his looks. A blister on his heel plagued him, as did a persistent head cold. After he’d gulped half a cup of tea, he decided with cranky British chauvinism that Americans simply couldn’t brew decent tea no matter how much they tried.
He wanted a hot bath, a cup of good Earl Grey, and an hour of quiet, but, he feared, the restless man standing by the window was going to force him to postpone all of that… perhaps indefinitely.
“Well, I’m here, dammit.” Scowling, he watched Philip Chamberlain twitch back the curtain.
“Lovely view.” Philip gazed out at the wall of another building. “Gives such a cozy feel to this place.”
“Philip, I feel compelled to remind you that I dislike flying across the Atlantic in winter. Moreover, I have a backlog of paperwork waiting for me in London, and the bulk of it is on account of you and your irregular procedures. So, if you’ve information for me, please pass it on. At once, if that’s not too much to ask.”
Philip continued to look out the window. He was edgy about the outcome of the informal meeting he’d demanded, but nothing in his cool manner so much as hinted at the tension he felt.
“I really must take you to a show while you’re here, Stuart. A musical. You’re getting dour in your old age.”
“Get on with it.”
Philip let the curtain fall back into place and moved smoothly toward the man to whom he’d reported these last few years. His occupation demanded confident, athletic grace. He was thirty-five, but had a quarter of a century of professional experience behind him. He had been born in London’s slums, yet even when young he’d been able to finesse invitations to society’s best parties, no small accomplishment in the days before Britain’s rigid class consciousness had broken down under the onslaught of the Mods and the Rockers. He knew what it was to be hungry, just as he knew what it was to have his fill of beluga. Because he preferred caviar, he had made certain he lived a life that included it. He was good, very good, at what he did, but success hadn’t come easily.
“I have a hypothetical proposition for you, Stuart.” Taking a seat, Philip helped himself to tea. “Let me ask you if over the last few years I’ve been some help to you.”
Spencer took a bite of his sandwich and hoped it, and Philip, wouldn’t give him indigestion. “Are you looking for a salary increase?”
“A thought, but not precisely what I have in mind.” He was capable of producing a particularly charming smile which he could use to great effect when he chose. And he chose to do so now. “The question is, has having a thief on Interpol’s payroll been worthwhile?”
Spencer sniffed, pulled out a handkerchief, then blew. “From time to time.”
Philip noted, wondering if Stuart had, too, that this time he had not used the qualifier “retired” before “thief,” and that Stuart had not corrected the omission. “You’ve gotten positively miserly with your compliments.”
“I’m not here to flatter you, Philip, merely to learn why the devil you thought anything was important enough to demand I fly to New York in the middle of the damn winter.”
“Would you care for two?”
“Thieves, Stuart.” He held out a triangle of the club sandwich. “You really should try this on whole wheat.”
“What are you getting at?”
There was a great deal riding on the next few moments, but Philip had lived most of his life with his future, with his very neck, riding on his actions in a matter of moments. He’d been a thief, and an excellent one, leading Captain Stuart Spencer and men like him down blind alleys and dead ends from London to Paris, from Paris to Morocco, from Morocco to wherever the next prize waited. Then he’d done a complete about-face and begun to work for Spencer and Interpol instead of against them.
That had been a business decision, Philip reminded himself. It had been a matter of figuring the odds and the profit. What he was about to propose was personal.
“Let’s say, hypothetically, that I knew of a particularly clever thief, one who’s managed to keep Interpol jumping for a decade, one who’s decided to retire from active duty, and would offer services in exchange for clemency.”
“You’re speaking of The Shadow.”
Philip meticulously brushed crumbs from his fingertips. He was a neat man, by habit and by necessity. “Hypothetically.”
The Shadow. Spencer forgot his aching heel and jet lag. Millions of dollars in jewels had been stolen by the faceless figure of the thief known only as The Shadow. For ten years Spencer had tracked him, dogged him, missed him. For the past eighteen months Interpol had intensified its investigations, going so far as to set a thief to catch a thief—Philip Chamberlain, the only man Spencer knew whose exploits exceeded those of The Shadow. The man, Spencer thought on a sudden wave of fury, he had trusted.
“You know who he is, dammit. You have known who he is and where we can find him.” Stuart braced his hands on the table. “Ten years. Ten years we’ve been after this man. And, damn you, for months you’ve been paid to find him while stringing us along. You’ve known his identity and whereabouts all the time!”
“Perhaps I have.” Philip spread his long, artistic fingers. “Perhaps I haven’t.”
“I feel like putting you in a cage and dropping the key in the Thames.”
“But you won’t, because I’m like the son you never had.”
“I have a son, blast you.”
“Not like me.” Tipping back in his chair, Philip continued. “What I’m proposing is the same deal you and I made five years ago. You had the vision then to see that hiring the best had distinct advantages over pursuing the best.”
“You were assigned to catch this man, not negotiate for him. If you have a name, I want a name. If you have a description, I want it. Facts, Philip, not hypothetical propositions.”
“You have nothing,” Philip said abruptly. “Absolutely nothing after ten years. If I walk out of this room, you’ll still have nothing.”
“I’ll have you.” Spencer’s voice was flat, and final enough to have Philip narrowing his eyes. “A man with your taste would find prison very disagreeable.”
“Threats?” A chill, brief but very real, ran over Philip’s skin. He folded his hands and kept his eyes level, holding onto the certainty that Spencer was bluffing. Philip wasn’t. “I have clemency, remember? That was the deal.”
“It’s you who’s changed the rules. Give me the name, Philip, and let me do my job.”
“You think small, Stuart. That’s why you recovered only some diamonds while I took many. You put The Shadow in jail, you have only a thief in jail. Do you really think you’ll recover a fraction of what was taken over the last decade?”
“It’s a matter of justice.”
Philip’s tone had changed, Spencer realized, and for the first time in this conversation, he lowered his eyes. But not from shame. Spencer knew Philip too well to believe for a moment that the man was the least abashed.
“It is a matter of justice, and we’ll come to that.” Philip rose again, too restle
“Small consideration? The bastard’s stolen more than you did.”
Philip’s brows shot up. With a slight frown he brushed a crumb from his sleeve. “I hardly think it’s necessary to insult me. No one has stolen jewels with a greater total value than I did in my career.”
“Proud of yourself, are you?” Color swept alarmingly into Spencer’s face. “Living the life of a thief isn’t something I’d boast about.”
“Therein lies the difference between us.”
“Crawling into windows, making deals in back alleys—”
“Please, you’ll make me sentimental. No, better count to ten, Stuart. I don’t want to be responsible for an alarming rise in your blood pressure.” He picked up the teapot again. “Perhaps this is a good time to tell you that while I was lifting locks, I developed a strong respect for you. I imagine I’d still be in second-story work if it hadn’t been for you edging closer with every job I pulled. I don’t regret the way I lived any more than I regret changing sides.”
Stuart calmed enough to gulp down the tea Philip had poured for him. “That’s neither here nor there.” But he could acknowledge that Philip’s admission pleased him. “Fact is, you are working for me now.”
“I haven’t forgotten.” He turned his head to gaze at the window. It was an icy, clear day that made him long for spring. “To continue then,” he said, snapping around to level an intense gaze at Stuart, “as a loyal employee I feel it my obligation to recruit for you when I come upon a worthy prospect.”
“Yes, and an excellent one.” His smile bloomed once more. “Further, I’d be willing to wager that neither yours nor any other law enforcement agency is going to get a glimmer of this thief’s real identity.” Sobering a bit, he leaned forward. “Not now, not ever, Stuart, I promise you.”
“He’ll move again.”
“There’ll be no more moves.”
“How can you be sure?”
Philip folded his hands. His wedding ring glinted dully. “I’ll see to it, personally.”
“What is he to you?”
“Difficult to explain. Listen to me, Stuart. For five years I’ve worked for you, worked beside you. More than a few of the jobs have been dirty, even more have been dirty and dangerous. I’ve never asked you for anything, but I’m asking for this: Clemency for my hypothetical thief.”
“I can hardly guarantee—”
“Your word is guarantee enough,” Philip said, and silenced him. “In return, I’ll even retrieve the Rubens for you. And, better still, I believe I can assure you a prize that will provide political weight to cool down a particularly hot situation.”
Spencer had little trouble adding two and two. “In the Middle East?”
Topping off his cup, Philip shrugged. “Hypothetically.” Whatever the answer, he intended to lead Stuart to the Rubens and to Abdu. Still, he never showed his hand before the final call. “You could say that with the information I give you, England could bring pressure to bear where it might be most useful.”
Spencer looked hard at Philip. They had gone so unexpectedly far beyond discussing diamonds and rubies, crime and punishment. “You’re over your head, Philip.”
“I appreciate the concern.” He sat back again because he sensed the tide was changing. “I promise you, I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“It’s a delicate game you’re playing.”
The most delicate, Philip thought. The most important. “One we can both win, Stuart.”
Wheezing a bit, Spencer rose to open a bottle of scotch. He poured a generous amount in a tumbler, hesitated, then poured a second. “Tell me what you’ve got, Philip. I’ll do what I can.”
He waited a moment, measuring. “I’m putting the only thing that matters to me into your hands. You must remember that, Stuart.” He pushed his tea aside and accepted the tumbler. “I saw the Rubens when I was inside the treasure room of King Abdu of Jaquir.”
Spencer’s normally bland eyes widened. “And what the hell were you doing in the king’s vault?”
“It’s a long story.” Philip saluted Stuart with his glass, then drank deeply. “It’s best to start at the beginning, with Phoebe Spring.”
Curled on her side and sleepless with excitement, Adrianne watched the clock tick to midnight. Her birthday. She would be five years old. Turning on her back, she hugged her delight to herself. All around her the palace slept, but in a few hours the sun would rise and the muezzin would climb the steps of the mosque to call the faithful to prayer. The day, the most wonderful day of her life, would truly begin.
In the afternoon there would be music and presents and trays of chocolate. All of the women would wear their prettiest clothes, and there would be dancing. Everyone would come: Grandmother to tell her stories; Aunt Latifa, who always smiled and never scolded, would bring Duja; Favel, with her jolly laugh, would lead her brood. Adrianne grinned. The women’s quarters would ring with laughter, and everyone would tell her how pretty she was.
Mama had promised it would be a very special day. Her special day. With her father’s permission there would be a trip to the beach in the afternoon. She had a new dress, a beautiful one, of striped silk in all the colors of the rainbow. Catching her lip between her teeth, Adrianne turned her head to look at her mother.
Phoebe slept, her face like marble in the moonlight and, for once, peaceful. Adrianne loved these times when her mother allowed her to climb into the huge soft bed to sleep. It was a very special treat. She would bundle up close with Phoebe’s arms around her and listen to the stories her mother told her of places like New York and Paris, Sometimes they would giggle together.
Carefully, not wanting to wake her, Adrianne reached out to stroke her mother’s hair. It fascinated her. It looked like fire against the pillow, a gorgeous, hot fire. At five, Adrianne was already woman enough to envy her mother her hair. Her own was thick and black like that of the other women in Jaquir. Only Phoebe had red hair and white skin. Only Phoebe was American. Adrianne was half American, but Phoebe reminded her of it only when they were alone.
Such things made her father angry.
Adrianne was well tutored in avoiding subjects that might anger her father, though she couldn’t understand why being reminded that Phoebe was American made his eyes harden and his mouth thin. She had been a movie star. That description confused Adrianne, but she liked the way it sounded. Movie star. The words made her think of pretty lights in a dark sky.
Her mother had been a star, now she was a queen, the first wife of Abdu ibn Faisal Rahman al-Jaquir, ruler of Jaquir, sheikh of sheikhs. Her mother was the most beautiful of women with her large blue eyes and full, soft mouth. She towered over the other women in the harem, making them seem like tiny, fussy birds, Adrianne wished only that her mother would be happy. Now that she was five, Adrianne fiercely hoped she would begin to understand why her mother so often looked sad and wept when she thought herself alone.
Women were protected in Jaquir. Those of the House of Jaquir were not supposed to work or to worry. They were given everything they needed—fine rooms, the sweetest of perfumes. Her mother had beautiful clothes and jewelry. She had The Sun and the Moon.
Adrianne closed her eyes, better to recall the dazzling vision of the necklace on her mother’s neck. How the great diamond, The Sun, flashed and the priceless pearl, the Moo
When she was grown. Comfortably, content with the sound of her mother’s even breathing and the thoughts of tomorrow, Adrianne imagined. When she was grown, a worn an instead of a girl, she would put on her veil. One day a husband would be chosen for her, and she would be married. On her wedding day she would wear The Sun and the Moon and become a good and fruitful wife.
Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on40 votes