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Wicked Intentions

By:J.T. Geissinger


One





Mariana




When sizing up a potential mark, a thief of any intelligence must answer one crucial question before committing to the job.

Is the risk worth the reward?

I know it sounds simple enough. Believe me, it’s anything but.

Take my current situation, as an example. After weeks of painstaking planning and an airplane flight halfway around the world, I’m tucked into a comfortable chair at a table in an outdoor bar at a luxury resort in St. Croix, sipping a strawberry daiquiri and pretending to flip through a travel magazine while actually performing covert reconnaissance through the mirrored lenses of my sunglasses. My target—or mark, in criminal parlance—is sitting on the edge of the infinity pool several meters away, laughing loudly, blond head thrown back, straight white teeth glinting in the tropical sun.

Americans. Always the boisterous laughs and good dental work. I envy everything about them.

This particular one has the muscular, golden good looks of a Hemsworth. At first glance, he could be mistaken for an actor or model, maybe one of those self-obsessed Instagram pseudocelebrities shilling soft drinks and designer clothing to a legion of teenage fans. But on closer inspection, interesting details emerge.

The Marine Corps tattoo on his right shoulder. The hawklike awareness in his blue eyes. The trio of shiny round divots marring the taut skin of his stomach.

I’ve seen enough bullet scars to recognize them. That he survived three shots to the gut makes him intriguing. In my experience, most people die after one.

Golden Boy sits on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the crystalline water, chatting and laughing with the most unlikely of companions. A redhead with a constellation of tattoos on her slender limbs has her arms linked around the waist of a beast of a man with linebacker shoulders, close-cropped black hair, and a megawatt smile. A two-hundred-pound African-American woman in a neon-yellow bikini and matching turban—both of which she somehow elegantly pulls off—canoodles with a pale man half her size in a black speedo who has a wild thatch of hair and insane-asylum-escapee eyes.

Strangest of all is the teenage girl with the rat on her head.

She treads water in the pool a short distance away from her companions. With her mop of curly brown hair and distinctly Latin facial features and skin tone, she doesn’t look related to any of the adults. The fat black-and-white rat, contentedly perched atop her hair as if it’s a permanent fixture, seems to be enjoying the conversation as much as the warm afternoon sun.

After a few moments, the girl swims to the edge of the pool and pulls herself up with her skinny arms to sit beside Golden Boy, her back turned to me.

I wince when I see the scar.

Ragged and lurid pink, it traces a vicious path from between her narrow shoulder blades to the small of her back. It’s too irregular to be a surgical scar. An accident, perhaps? Whatever its origin, it’s recent. No more than a few months by my best guess.

Dios mio, poor baby.

I suspect that out of all of her companions, the two of us have the most in common.

“Another daiquiri, ma’am?” A smiling waiter in white shorts and flip-flops bends over me.

“No, thank you.”

The waiter nods and walks away.

On paper, this job is straightforward. Gain access to the room of honeymooning Saudi Prince Khalid, relieve his new bride of her wedding present—a one-hundred-carat ruby necklace with a flawless twenty-carat stone as its centerpiece—and escape with my head intact.

In reality, there are a few substantial kinks.

One, Prince Khalid travels with a cadre of heavily armed bodyguards.

Two, the necklace won’t be sitting out on the coffee table, waiting to be swiped. Cracking a safe is inevitable. And safecracking takes time, especially if done quietly.

Three, there’s only one road to and from this exclusive resort, which will quickly be shut down if the necklace is discovered missing, thereby blocking my exit unless I can arrange to escape via scuba gear into the Caribbean Sea. Which I won’t, because I can’t swim.

And last but not least, there’s Golden Boy.

Who is staying in the room directly beneath Prince Khalid’s suite.

Who, if properly handled, could invite me up for a nightcap, thereby providing access to Prince Khalid’s suite via the balcony. It involves a climb up a drainpipe and a series of low walls, but I can’t hack the front door keycard reader as I normally would because Khalid’s door is guarded by men with semiautomatic weapons, so the only other way in is through the balcony. And the only way to get there is from the balcony of the room below.

Unfortunately, Golden Boy must have had his hotel room broken into in the past, because in addition to the keycard reader, he’s installed a portable door lock with an alarm that will sound if the door’s opened. And if he’s gone to the trouble to do that, the probability that there are other security devices inside is high. Which means my best bet to safely access his room is by “befriending” the man himself.

Luckily, he just glanced at me for the third time in five minutes.

God bless my mother. My long legs and high cheekbones are all hers. If I’d taken after my father, I’d look like a hobbit. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but certainly not helpful in seducing handsome American men who carry themselves as if their whole life has been one extended homecoming king coronation party.

But Golden Boy isn’t your average skirt-chasing playboy with more money than brains. Though he works hard to appear casual and normal, I see past his façade. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and this one has a taste for blood. Which brings me back to my original question.

Is the risk worth the reward?

Of course it is. Wolves are no match for me.

Smiling, I rise from my chair and head to the bar, walking slowly so Golden Boy can take his time eyeing my bare legs. He slides off the edge of the pool and stands waist-deep in the water so he can get a better look at me.

I make a bet with myself on how long it’ll take him to make his move. Judging by the way he’s staring, another five minutes, tops.

“Do you have a lunch menu?” I ask the bartender as I slither onto a barstool and cross my legs. I’m wearing a plunging white maillot that sets off my tanned skin and showcases my cleavage, white kitten heels, and a sheer cover-up that skims the tops of my bare thighs. Even from this distance, I can feel Golden Boy’s gaze on my skin, hotter than the Caribbean sun.

“Of course,” says the bartender, a serious young man with a gap between his crooked front teeth. Not an American. He hands me a leather folio. “The conch croquettes are amazing.”

I pretend to study the menu while eavesdropping on Golden Boy and his companions. The first thing I note is that my mark has a sleepy Southern drawl to go along with his muscles and baby blues. Texas? No, Georgia.

“I’ll try them, thank you,” I tell the bartender, letting the lilt of a fake Parisian accent infiltrate my words. Then I close my eyes, tip my head back, and fan myself with the menu as I stretch my neck. My hair slides off my shoulders and down my back. A waft of humid air drifts between my breasts. Golden Boy falters in the middle of his sentence, and then abruptly continues.

“…got Tabby on a plane.”

“Connor gives incredible pep talks,” says a female voice, warm with laughter. “I think this man could convince me to do anything.”

“Oh yeah?” says a male voice, not Golden Boy’s. Judging by the deep, commanding tone, my money’s on the big beast, not the pale one with the African-American woman. Tabby must be the redhead, then.

I listen, lazily fanning air over my cleavage, swinging my leg back and forth, a black widow patiently waiting for her prey to enter the web.

“There’s a few things I’d definitely like to convince you to do, woman,” says the beast, chuckling. Then there are some exaggerated kissing noises, which prompt a chorus of groans.

“Get a room, you two!” scolds another female. Must be Yellow Bikini. The voice is too adult to be the scarred girl.

“They spend any more time in their room, Darcy, we won’t see ’em at all,” drawls Golden Boy.

“They’re newlyweds! Give them a break!” says a different male voice. He has a German accent. Zey’re newlyvedz. Black speedo.

“Speakin’ of breaks, I need another beer. Anybody else ready?”

Golden Boy takes drink orders from his companions. I hear the splash as he jumps out of the pool. Trying not to smirk, I start a silent countdown in my head. Five, four, three, two—

“’Scuse, me, bartender? Can we get another round?”

I open my eyes to find Golden Boy standing next to me. He’s looking at the bartender at the end of the bar, who nods in acknowledgment. Then Golden Boy turns his head and looks at me.

Electricity jolts through me when our eyes meet. It’s disturbing how strong it is. It’s been years since I felt serious attraction to anyone, and muscular blonds aren’t my type in the first place. Dark and dangerous is more my thing.

Although, admittedly, Golden Boy has the dangerous part down. The look in his eyes is anything but tame.

“Hi,” he says, staring at me with blazing intensity.

Here’s the part where I need to figure out his type. Does he prefer dumb and bubbly? Smoldering seductress? Girl next door? There’s a key that unlocks the door to every man’s libido. And once his libido is engaged, his brain takes a nap for the duration.

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