She jerked her hand away. Incredulous, she blinked over at River. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” He frowned.
“Don’t tell me you actually believe that shit about Pandora and her evil spirits.”
“Of course not. I just, I don’t know. This very deep, very masculine voice keeps telling me to—oh, never mind!” She waved her hand through the air. “There’s no way to explain without sounding crazy.”
River’s face scrunched and he gave her a brief, you-are-so-weird look. “You been puffing the magic dragon again?”
He barked out a laugh. “I am. Come on, tell Brother River what the naughty voice is telling you to do.”
One peek. Just take one peek.
Farrah gulped. “You truly don’t hear that?”
I’ll give you so much pleasure, you’ll feel me inside of you for days. All you have to do is. Open. The. Box.
Farrah’s cheeks heated with a blush. Now she knew it was her imagination. Hadn’t she just lamented about her desire for a man, for passion and hard, pounding sex? She uttered an embarrassed chuckle. “Never mind. Just forget I said anything.”
“Yeah, right. Is the voice telling you to take off all your clothes and dance in the moonlight?” He wiggled his dark brows. “Is the voice telling you to wait for the mother ship to take you home?”
She flipped him off, and he gave another laugh.
Of its own accord, her gaze returned to the box. She removed a glove and traced a fingertip over the man’s—warrior’s—square jawline, over the slope of his nose, the fullness of his lips. Warmth tingled up her arm. Drugging warmth, electric warmth.
An animalistic purr filled her ears. Do not stop. Touch more.
She gasped and snatched her arm away, even tugged her glove back onto her hand. Even knowing she was imagining things, she couldn’t stop her tingling reaction.
Woman, I said touch more, not less!
“What’s wrong?” River demanded. His arms jerked as he faced her, and the car swerved. Someone honked at them. He hurriedly straightened in the proper lane.
“Nothing, nothing,” she assured him. But a wave of need continued to slam into her. Need like she’d never known before, as if she were touching a flesh and blood man and he was touching her in return. That purr… “I’m not going to open it,” she said, more for the voice than for River. “That will mess up the ribbon, and the buyer will know we peeked. He might refuse to pay us.”
I can smell your arousal, woman. Now I want to taste it.
“Let’s just get this thing to its proud new owner,” she said on a shaky breath.
“We’re almost there.” River had lost his teasing air and now hummed with concern. Not that she could blame him. She’d never acted this way before. So…unstable. She was the calm one. She was the one who took everything in stride. She was the one who remained unaffected. Yet here she was, lusting after a voice inside her head.
Time to put the box away.
Farrah began to wrap the velvet around the wood, but the voice stopped her. No. Please, no. It was tortured this time, a desperate plea. Her mouth went dry, and she stilled. Maybe all of her adrenaline rushes had finally caught up to her and fried her brain. Maybe she needed to take a vacation.
River eased the car into the parking lot of a motel close to the designated nightclub. Even from here, she could hear the bump and grind of the music, a wild, frantic beat that aroused, beckoned. People milled in and out, laughing, talking, flirting.
“I hate these clandestine meetings,” River muttered, parking. The meeting place might stay the same, but they parked somewhere new each time.
“We’ve met with this guy eight other times. Nothing’s ever happened.” Farrah gently set the box on the dash and wound a thick silver belt around her waist, trying to make her body suit look more sexy and less burglarish.
River twisted and leaned into the backseat, grabbing the Polaroid camera she’d thrown back there. He snapped a picture of the box. The bright flash of light was almost blinding, and for several seconds she saw orange-gold spots.
“Here,” he said, handing her the photo. “Proof.”
She slid the picture under her belt. “Thanks.”
“You prepared for anything?”
“Always.” She held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers. “I have the powdered sedative in my ring and a knife in my boot. Plus, I’ll have the dart gun under my trench.” Even as she spoke, she was anchoring the gun at her side and tugging her coat around her shoulders.
“Damn it,” he suddenly burst out. “I hate sending you in there alone.”
“I’m still wearing my headgear, so you’ll be able to hear everything that’s said. Besides, it’s best this way, and you know it. We get the money without giving him a chance to steal the merchandise.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have to like it,” he grumbled. He pulled a Glock from his boot and checked the clip. Every time she saw him with a deadly weapon, she experienced a jolt. She had brought him into this dangerous life, but if anything ever happened to him…
She shuddered. “I’ll text you when he’s wired the money. You come back with the box, and we’ll go home and celebrate.”
“When this is done, I’m going to find me a woman. No, two women. You won’t see me for a week.”
Farrah chuckled as she secured her bag on her shoulder. She’d emptied out her tools during the drive and now carried a small, hand-held laptop. With a last, lingering glance at the male face on the box, she emerged from the car. Cold air enveloped her, thick with cigarette smoke and the pungent fumes of alcohol. Farrah walked over to the club, the music growing louder with each step. Her trench billowed at her ankles.
Her adrenaline was spiking again, rushing through her veins like an awakened river. There was as much danger in meeting her buyers as there was in breaking into a building. But this, too, she loved. There was something so…invigorating about knowing that any moment could be her last.
Her mom, God rest her precious soul, used to call her a danger junkie. There’d been admonishment and fear in Jennifer Roberts’s tone, but she’d never asked Farrah to stop. Not even when Farrah was caught the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. But cancer had been eating the sweet woman alive, stealing her energy, destroying it, and she’d been unable to provide for her only daughter—for herself. Farrah had quite happily taken up the slack and never looked back.
Farrah entered the nightclub, scanning for any hint of betrayal. There were dancers, couples writhing together with a fluid eroticism that caused her blood to heat deliciously. Damn that sexy voice! She never would have noticed the dancers otherwise. There were drinkers at the bar, and waitresses hurrying from one table to another, taking orders. All under the constant swirl of multicolored strobes, casting a sparkling shower of pinks, blues and greens.
No one aimed a weapon at her. No one tried to grab her.
Farrah paid the cover charge, briefly removed her glove so that her hand could be stamped, and sauntered the rest of the way inside. Per the buyer’s instructions, she headed toward the back. The room was filled to capacity, overflowing with eager, lust-hungry men and women. She maneuvered around them. Manufactured smoke billowed in the air, creating a dreamlike haze. Surreal.
Not surprisingly, her contact was waiting for her. He was alone, his table pushed into a shadowy corner.
She knew it was him. Muted beams of light caressed his hand, illuminating a large sapphire ring on one of the fingers clutched around a glass of Scotch. Her heart hammered all the more intently in her chest. She eased into the seat across from him. Without a word, she slipped the photo from under her belt and slid it beside the glass.
A moment passed without reaction. Another.
She wanted to ask him why he was so fascinated with the story of Pandora, but didn’t. Early on, she’d learned that questions always made the client nervous. And nervous clients were not good. Most often they became trigger-happy.
The man gripped the photo between shaky fingers and held it closer to his face. Thick, silver hair glinted as a violet strobe passed overhead.
“You may have the item the moment I collect my fee,” she said, speaking loudly to be heard over the music.
He cocked two fingers, signaling the need for her laptop. She withdrew it from her bag and handed it to him. It was already booted and ready to go. All he needed to do was type in his account number and press Enter.
The entire transaction took less than sixty seconds.
He handed her the laptop and she double-checked her account. Sure enough, the million was there.
“Uh, Farrah,” River said in her ear.
His voice surprised her, and she jumped. Her gaze darted left and right, searching for him. Until she remembered that she still wore the earpiece. “What?”
“I’m being followed,” he said nervously. “Had to leave the parking space when I saw I had company. Two cars. Taking turns. I can’t shake them.”
She cupped her ear with her hand. “Cops?”
“I don’t think so.”
Trying not to panic, she pushed to her feet. The buyer did the same. He was tall, wider than she’d realized. Muscled. For the first time, she glimpsed his features. He was younger than she’d assumed, too. Probably no more than thirty-five. His eyes were big and brown and devoid of any hint of emotion. His nose was straight, his lips too thin but sexy nonetheless. His hair wasn’t silver, as she’d thought she’d seen, but white. Like snow.
He radiated power. Lethal charm.
Not allowing herself to show a single ounce of fear, she flattened her palms on the table and leaned forward. “Do you have a tail on my guy?” she demanded.
“No,” was the surprisingly gentle reply. “There has never been a need for that.”
He was right. They’d worked together before, and he’d never deviated from plan. So who was following River? “Think you can get home?” she asked her friend. Home, for now, was a motel on the north side of town.