Authors: Violet Blaze
But Gill does.
I know this job, whatever it is under the surface, has more to it than jewelry and a big payout.
Gill is in trouble.
I'm scared for him.
In typical Paris fashion, the sky shifts from sun to rain, dropping wet splatters on my face and hair. I lift up my umbrella to shield myself from the clouds, taking a path I know full well. I've worked at this same shop for seven years, seven long years of wondering what else there was for me, what else I should be doing. I've made so many mistakes over the years … too many to count. And then there's the biggest one of all, the one that Gill still doesn't know about. How he missed it is beyond me. Maybe he doesn't
We turn the corner and the weather shifts again, sunshine streaming down, draping the buildings in golden light. I barely notice any of it, tucking my umbrella away and focusing solely on keeping my breathing steady.
Two blocks left. Just two short, little blocks until my life changes forever.
I think then about putting all of this on hold, turning to Gill and begging him to reconsider, but honestly, I'm not sure what would happen if I did. Would he take my words into consideration? Or would he
hold me at gunpoint then, go through with the robbery anyway? The fact that I don't know the answer to that question scares the shit out of me.
My heart drops to my stomach.
Up ahead, standing on the sidewalk with a white bag in one hand and a coffee in the other is my boyfriend, Mathis Vidal. Shit.
Gill tensing behind me and my mouth goes completely dry. Will he shoot him?
“Bonjour, mon étoile,”
he says with a sly smile, turning my insides to ice.
, my star. It's a pet name that he came up with a few months into our relationship. I hated it at first because it reminded me of Gill.
Who's standing behind me with a gun in his jacket.
I say, pausing a few steps away from him. When I don't come in for a kiss, Mathis frowns and glances at my silent companion. His brown eyes immediately narrow and the smile slides off his lips. He's been out of town for several weeks now, must've just gotten back. I've been avoiding his calls, not because I don't like the guy but because I do. He doesn't need to get caught up in all this, and I don't love him enough to stay out of it.
“Gilleon Marchal,” Gill says, putting a cold smile on his face. When I look over at him, I know he'll do anything to see this plan through –
“And you are?” he asks, not even bothering to switch to French. His voice is hard as steel, wrapping around my neck and stealing the breath from me.
“Is everything okay?” Mathis asks, his English heavily accented and lilting. “I was hoping we might have some breakfast together?”
“Can't,” I say, my lips tight, my throat aching. “Désolée, je suis occupée.”
Sorry, I'm busy.
My hands are shaking like crazy as I unlock the metal grating on the front of the shop and lift it up, moving to the door before Mathis can see the erratic quivering.
I don't like blowing him off like this, but I don't know what else to do, how else to act.
“Maybe some other time,” I hear Gill say as he moves into the store behind me and locks the door, the glass cases winking in the sunshine that breaks through the windows. I step over to the alarm next and feel a sudden pressure in my spine—the gun.
“Don't even think about alerting the police,” he whispers, his warm breath grazing my ear. I hate how tight my muscles get when I feel him so close behind me.
Instead, I just swallow and nod, putting in the code and stepping back. A quick glance over my shoulder and I see that Mathis is still standing outside looking dumbfounded. After a moment, he turns as if to walk away and then changes his mind, heading straight for the front door and knocking on it with his fist.
“Shit,” Gill growls under his breath. “What a persistent little fuck.”
“What do I do?” I ask, panic lacing its way between my words. “Please don't kill him,” I add for good measure, knowing that the cameras are watching, always watching. Even that's part of the plan.
“Answer the door and ask him to leave,” Gill grinds out, and I'm pretty damn sure his frustration is genuine. I do as he asks, opening the door and then stumbling back when Mathis shoves his way in, pushing me aside in a valiant act of heroism.
“Run!” he screams in English, tackling Gill and dropping the coffee and the bag of brioche to the floor. A golden brown roll tumbles out and hits me in the toes of my Louboutin heels as I scream a very genuine scream of terror. I know what Gill is capable of; Mathis has no idea.
My stepbrother avoids Mathis with ease, gliding back on feet as sure and nimble as a cat's, watching as my boyfriend stumbles into a case of jewelry and grunts.
Meanwhile, I stand there like a complete idiot, knowing I can't very well run away from all this.
Mathis makes another growling sound in his throat and spins—right into Gill's fist. My stepbrother doesn't break a sweat when he reaches out and slams his knuckles into Mathis's face. The man drops like a sack, just crumples to the floor with a bloody nose and a groan.
I scream again, another real sound, and kneel down to roll Mathis over, checking to make sure he's still alive. Sounds silly, I know, but Gill is strong, crazy strong.
Gill has the gun on me again, his voice just as hard and cruel as it was before. Only … this time there's a little bit of heat in all that ice. I watch as he grits his teeth, the muscles in his jaw working furiously as he tries to process what just happened.
I do the same, staring up at him for a moment before I realize what that strain is that I hear in Gilleon's voice.
I wake up early the next morning, my heart pounding in my chest, sweat beading on my forehead. It's just starting to get light outside, dawn cresting the horizon and casting its golden fingers across the surface of the lake.
I stand up and open the doors to the balcony, not caring that I'm still in my underwear, and lean over the edge of the white railing, closing my eyes against the sharp bite of autumn air. I
to stop dreaming about Gilleon, but I don't know how to quit. Even unconscious I'm addicted to memories; I can still see the clench of Gill's jaw, hear that small spike of heat in his voice.
But I can't dwell on it.
“Shit.” I cross my arms on the railing and lean my forehead against them.
“You look like you could use a cup of coffee.”
I jerk my head up at the sound of Gill's voice and peer over the edge of the railing at him.
For whatever inexplicable reason, he's standing on the driveway near his car, dressed in a pale blue shirt, jeans, and work boots. His dark hair is wet, like he just showered, and his face is freshly shaved again.
I stare down at him from the second floor, hoping the angle at which I'm standing and the railing are enough to keep him from seeing the emerald green panties I'm sporting. I mean, it's not as if he hasn't seen all of this before, but … it's not his to look at anymore.
I purse my lips.
“What part of
I want you to stay away from me
do you not understand?” I ask, looking down at him, my legs crossed beneath and behind me as I lean forward over the railing, gold hair draping down on either side of my face.
Gill stares up at me, a wry smile building on his lips.
“To be fair, I am
from you right now. Two full stories down.” He pauses, smirks a little, the expression reminding me so much of better times that my chest gets tight. “And still in view of your underwear.”
I stand up straight, proving that I don't give two shits, and lean sideways against the railing, knowing the curvy pale line of my hip is showing. If Gill's grown into a man since he's left, then I've become a woman. I suppose if he's already looking, I might as well show him what he's missing.
Must be all the stress and the anxiety getting to me,
Because I feel like I should have more of a reaction to being an accessory in a high stakes international jewelry heist.
Or maybe I really am just crazy?
“Okay,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest, fully aware that my breasts are perky, nipples erect in the cool morning air. “I'll come down for coffee, but only so we can discuss …
” I gesture between us and move back into the bedroom, yanking off my T-shirt and dropping my panties to the floor. A quick shower later and I'm pulling on a square-neck sheath dress in white, belting it at the waist with a strip of thin, black leather, and thanking the Parisian designer Roland Mouret for creating something that I can feel confident enough in to face my stepbrother.
I don't have time to get my hair right, so I give it a quick blowout with the blowdryer I stole from the hotel, and line my eyes with the dark pencil that Aveline gave me. My mother's necklace swings enticingly as I sit in one of the two chairs in the sitting room and slip on some red platform pumps that are way too fabulous for this early in the morning.
“I am beautiful just the way I am,” I tell myself as I stand up and check myself in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. “I wear the clothes; the clothes do not wear me.” I take a massive breath and let myself out into the hallway, moving slowly and praying that I don't wake either Cliff or Solène.
I take the back staircase, the one that leads directly into the kitchen, and find Gill already waiting for me at the bottom, pouring a cup of steaming hot coffee into a navy blue mug. He turns at the sound of my heels, and I know,
for a fucking fact that his jaw clenches and his breath hitches at the sight of me. He even manages to spill some of the steaming coffee on the table.
“Shit,” he grumbles, returning the pot to the coffeemaker and grabbing a roll of paper towels from the counter. When he turns back to face me, all traces of the slipup have been wiped from his face.
“Good morning,” I say, running my hands down the front of the dress, fully aware of how I look in it. “I take it no one tried to assassinate us while we slept?” Gill grunts, like he's halfway between a laugh and a scoff. Not sure what that means, but I'll take it. Anything to prove to me that he's still human. When we were teens, he used to wake me up with pancakes and bacon, plated in silly faces, and he'd deliver them with the biggest grins I'd ever seen.
What happened to you? What happened to pull that darkness out and let it take over, Gill? We were going to have a good life, a great life.
“Milk and sugar, please,” I say before he can ask.
Gill sets a small silver pitcher of milk and a matching sugar dish in front of me. Fancy. Since he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who'd give a shit about things like that, I have to wonder … did a girlfriend ever live here with him? Maybe I'm reading too much into this whole house thing? Maybe, just maybe, this house
meant for me and Cliff and Solène, but for a future wife, a future family, that he was supposed to have.
I decide there's no other way to know than to ask.
“Did you buy this house for us?” I ask, my voice steady. I scoot my coffee mug closer and pour in some milk. “I mean, specifically to use as a safe house for this job? I'm just asking because it seems awfully nice, and awfully large, so …”
“Where am I hiding my wife, two kids, and golden retriever?” Gill asks, leaning back in his chair with a creak, a cup of black coffee cupped in his strong hands. My own tremble a little as I spoon sugar into the mug and try to ignore the aching throb of the scabs on my palm. “They're in the backyard, stuffed in the shed next to the minivan.”
“Please don't deflect my honest questions with humor,” I tell him, lifting my chin up and giving him my most haughty glare. I refuse to smile at his joke, flat out refuse. My lips struggle to betray me anyway. “Gilleon, I want an answer. I feel like I deserve one after what happened yesterday.” The memory of the gunshots makes my head hurt, so I push it back, refusing to acknowledge how close I actually came to dying.
“I bought this house in preparation for the job, yes.” Gill leans forward, the front legs of his chair hitting the floor with a crack. Some of that gorgeous dark hair falls into his blue eyes as he stares at me, my own gaze dropping to his chest, to the tightness of that T-shirt and the smooth slide of muscles beneath it. Every move that Gill makes is done with feline grace, a slick sureness that whatever the prey is, however fast or strong or cunning, he'll be the one to take it down. “And no. No, there is no one, Regina. I don't have a wife or a girlfriend or kids.”