Home > Heist (Valenshek Legacy Book 1)

Heist (Valenshek Legacy Book 1)
Author: Tate James

 


one

 

 

JOHN

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, thieves—the good ones, anyway—were not often in life or death situations. If a person knew what they were doing, if they were even a half decent cat burglar, they got in and out with their prize and never encountered another person. If they were a really good thief, they could get in and out with their prize while hundreds of people were around, and never raise even a sniff of suspicion.

So when a bullet ripped the leather of my jacket sleeve as I sped away from the luxury Hamptons house, I was so shocked I nearly crashed my motorcycle. Then again, considering who I’d just lifted a priceless diamond bracelet from—one of two iconic bracelets that Marie Antoinette had owned—it really wasn’t so surprising that I’d nearly been caught.

A sleek black Bentley chased me down the otherwise silent street, and another shot whistled past me close enough that I could practically smell the gunpowder, and I swallowed hard. She was just playing with me now.

“Not today, Carol,” I muttered under my breath, taking a sharp turn at high speed and ripping up someone’s immaculate lawn as I cut down the side of their house. Oops. So much for not leaving a trace.

That boat had already sailed. Now I needed to make sure it didn’t sink.

Thank fuck her car couldn’t follow me this way. A couple more shots rang out through the night as my bike took air off someone’s patio and hit the soft sand of the beach. But then I was free and clear, flying down the dark, firm sand and thanking my decision to take a dirt bike as my getaway vehicle.

I was experienced enough not to count my chickens before they hatched, though. Especially not after stealing from a woman as powerful and cunning as Carol Atwood. One didn’t reach her position within the ruling council of the Mercenary Guild with just luck and charm. So I meticulously followed my plans to cover my tracks, changing vehicles and clothing multiple times until I finally gave myself a moment to breathe several hours later.

Times Square was the easiest place in the world to turn invisible, in my professional opinion, and since it was so close to the Hamptons that was where I ended up. Despite the hour being well past midnight, the streets were still busy, and I blended seamlessly into the tourists as I pulled on my I heart NYC t-shirt and strode into an all-night diner.

Stealing priceless jewels made me hungry, so I ordered enough food to feed a small army before settling in and pulling out my phone. The corner of my mouth tilted up when I saw the single missed call on my message bank.

Slipping my hand into my secure pocket, I verified that my prize was still in my possession before listening to the voice message.

“John, you’re lucky I didn’t splatter your brains all over my neighbor’s lawn,” the woman’s voice said with an edge of amusement. “Thanks for the excitement. I feel twenty-three again. You owe me a diamond bracelet, though, you little shit.”

I chuckled silently as the message ended, then deleted it from my phone. Carol was right, I had been lucky. Luck was literally the only thing that could have saved my skin with her on the other end of a gun, because acquaintance or not, she didn’t pull punches. Or bullets.

My food arrived while I people watched the various patrons coming and going from the diner, and I took my time to eat. Big greasy burger, fries, soda. Delicious. When I was done, I paid my bill, tipped generously but not enough to stick in the waitress’s mind, then popped into the restroom where I’d stashed a different jacket and hat three days earlier, in a loose ceiling panel.

With my appearance slightly altered for the dozenth time since leaving the Hamptons, I made my way to the drop point in Grand Central Station.

The Game had been running for a long time. Long enough that the technology had developed and stakes had been raised to protect not only the players, but also the committee who set the tasks, judged each round, and enforced the rules.

My wits were on high alert as I approached the lockers, using my key to access number 85. This locker was not a locker. It was a game piece. Unlock it, place the stolen item in the drawer, close it up again. Give it thirty seconds for the internal computer to verify the authenticity of the piece while the hidden camera verified my identity as the Game player assigned that task. If the details all matched, I’d get a green light and the results would be passed to the committee for review on whether my time and social impact qualified me for the next round. In this case, the final round.

If the light turned red…well, I’d already be dead so it wouldn’t matter.

Not that it’d ever happened. The light only turned red if someone either turned in a forgery or they’d stolen someone else’s item. Essentially, if they’d cheated. If there was one thing that thieves all hated, it was cheats.

I may have been an unscrupulous thief and had little to no regard for anyone other than myself, but I never cheated. I was too fucking good for that. Even so, there was a moment of tense worry while the “locker” decided my fate.

The light turned green, and I let out a long sigh of relief. This particular test was over. Now I just had to wait and see what the final stage of the Game would entail.

I hated waiting.

But I hated losing even more, so I unlocked the box once more and retrieved the diamond bracelet from the drawer. The Game was about the art of stealing, but the committee held no interest in keeping the stolen items. They were ours to do with as we saw fit, and most players already had buyers lined up and ready to pay big dollars.

Since I’d lifted this particular item from an acquaintance—we wouldn’t take it as far as friends—I wasn’t dumb enough to try and flog it on the black market. Carol would skin me alive next time our paths crossed.

My hotel for the night was a big chain five-star property. Not for the luxury, but for the security. Sleep deprivation did shitty things to judgment and focus, so when I rested I needed to be safe. Within reason. A huge part of that was remaining damn near invisible, which was no small feat considering my size.

I’d worked hard in my life to perfect the art of blending with backgrounds, of not standing out to anyone, despite being six foot five and built like a Marine. There was a shitload of psychology involved, and I’d worked with some of the best masters of deception, but the effort was worth it.

The staff at reception barely gave me a second glance as I collected my key, and that was just how I liked it. Unremarkable, totally forgettable.

I slept like I always did, in a deep, dreamless rest, waking up feeling refreshed. It was an acquired skill.

Breakfast was delivered by room service, and I ate it absentmindedly while staring at my phone and waiting for it to light up with my next task. The last task, and the hardest one. This wasn’t my first rodeo, in fact it was the fifth Game I’d participated in. I’d won the last four, and I would be winning this one, too. There was no room for mistakes, especially not now.

Frustrated at the delay on the committee’s end, I got dressed and left my room.

The elevator was empty as I made my way down to the lobby, but my lips creased into a smile when the doors slid open. A beautiful platinum blonde woman stood waiting for me, the toe of her designer shoe tapping on the marble floor and her blue eyes hard.

“Carol, what a lovely surprise,” I greeted her, stepping out of the elevator like she hadn’t nearly made me flinch. “Are you here to see me?” It was second nature to slip into an American accent while speaking to her.

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