Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.
Silence made the best background music for a robbery. Nikki pressed her ear to the basement door and listened to the blessed quiet. A minute passed, then another without any indication of life.
If the information she’d gotten held true, the museum guards wouldn’t make another round of the lower level until thirty minutes before their relief crew arrived.
The two middle-aged men who worked the graveyard shift took advantage of the lack of eyes watching them. In their twenty-year career, the biggest threat they’d had to deal with was blocked sewer lines. Why waste time walking the nine floors of the museum when they could sleep?
Or at least that was the rumor being spread. The eerily quiet building supported the claim.
Nikki grinned. Housekeepers were the most overlooked security leaks in any organization. The fifty bucks she’d dished out to the underpaid cleaning crew had been a bargain, especially if the book the museum had recently acquired was the one she’d been searching for.
She opened the basement door just wide enough to squeeze through. Getting caught on camera would ruin her plans.
It’d be so much easier if she could simply stroll through any building at any time and take whatever she’d been instructed to lift without worrying about being seen. Once she succeeded tonight, she’d be one step closer to making the wish a reality. If her theft had the added benefit of helping secure her country, then it was worth the effort and risk to her career.
Slowly, she closed the door behind her. The soft click of the latch catching froze her hand for the briefest of seconds. She might’ve been trained by the best in the business and had broken into hundreds of high-security places, but she wasn’t infallible. The littlest thing, such as the noise of a door closing, could give away her presence.
She scanned the open area. A wide set of stairs to the museum’s main floor took up most of the left wall. Next to the stairs, a few boxes and posters for a previous engagement were stacked. Otherwise, the space was bare. Not surprising, really. Museum goers weren’t allowed in restricted areas.
She turned her attention to the oversized doors directly across from her. According to the maps she’d studied, they led to workrooms for display preps. Beyond those, another door led to the curators’ corridor. Tucked away in those offices, there were sure to be some gorgeous artifacts that would bring in top price if sold on the black market.
Twelve years ago, when she’d been living on the streets, she would’ve stuffed her pockets with as much as she could carry. Not tonight. She only cared about one piece of treasure, and if her guess was right, the seemingly insignificant book would still be in the shipping box it came in. It had only arrived today, and the museum workers were busy prepping for a show on Egyptian mummification.
The donated book would take a backseat to a dead body. If she had to choose what display she’d want to see as a visitor, she’d check out the jars of mummified organs and dried shriveled bodies too. To the average Joe American, the crazy tales of the Norse gods were silly myths. To Nikki, the wild tales had become her obsession. Well, not just hers. Every member of her unit obsessed over them, and the tip they’d received on this book was the first solid lead they’d gotten in years. Retrieving it would be Nikki’s victory. Only hers. She was not sharing the glory with anyone, especially her partner, Cyn.
With her goal in mind, she crouched, staying low to avoid casting a shadow that might show on the camera, and moved along the perimeter of the space to the double doors. The dim lighting made it unlikely she’d be seen, but she’d rather be safe than sorry. Once she cleared this area, she’d wouldn’t have to worry about cameras. The museum didn’t spy on its employees.
She pressed a hand against the left half of the double doors. A muffled thump reached her ears. She froze. The rattling of keys carried over the quiet of the night. The clanking sound reminded her of the keychain the day-shift guards carried. No doubt the night-shift guards had the same kind.
Clenching her jaw, she silently cursed. The guards were supposed to be sleeping. The housekeepers lied to her. They’d regret doing so. She knew where they lived. They’d end up spending the fifty bucks she gave them on an exterminator. They’d need one after she infested their homes with cockroaches.
Yeah, fleas would be more fun. Then she could watch the lying members of the cleaning crew scratch. Or freak out when they found their mattresses and shoes crawling with the tiny bloodsuckers. She’d sit back and laugh her ass off at their theatrics. Or even better, she could impersonate an exterminator, charging them fifty bucks a pop, and recollect the money she’d dished out to them.
A small smile tugged at her lips. She fought it. She wasn’t supposed to retaliate against people or play jokes on them. It was against the rules. Her commander had drilled that into her. For the most part, she followed his dictate. Sometimes she couldn’t help herself, even though she knew she’d be punished. This was one of those times. One way or another, she was getting her money back and having some fun while she was at it.
Her plan of retribution would have to wait, however. If she didn’t move, she’d get caught. Not happening. She couldn’t risk losing the book. The drawing inside showed the location of Freyja’s feathered cloak. It belonged to Nikki. Once she got her hands on it, nobody would take it from her. Ever. She’d make sure of it.
She glanced between the tower of boxes and the stairs. Going up to the main part of the museum was out. She couldn’t chance the other guard, who was likely still at his station, to call the police if he saw her.
The stacked boxes a few feet away drew her gaze. Hiding would have to do. If worse came to worst, she could always knock the guard out.
She squeezed between the tower of boxes and the corner, using the framed posters to block her. Then waited. And waited. The guard didn’t pass by. If he’d been making his rounds, he would’ve. She’d scouted out this place ahead of time. Knew the routines of the workers. Studied the maps.
Unless the person who’d made the noise wasn’t a guard. That was entirely possible. She wasn’t the only one looking for the cloak. There was a slew of collectors who’d love to get their hands on it.
She leaned against the left side of the double doors, opening it slightly, and peered through the narrow opening. An empty hallway stretched before her. The guard, or whoever it had been, was gone. Making his rounds of lower levels, maybe? There was another set of stairs leading down at the end of the hall. If so, she had to get out of here before he turned around and came back through.
She hurried down the hall, scanning the nameplates on the doors she passed. After several feet, she stopped. The door at the far end—her destination—stood partially open.
Hands fisted and jaw clenched, she breathed through the anger tightening her muscles. If somebody thought to steal her treasure, he’d die.
She wrapped her fingers around the hilt of her six-inch dagger and pulled it free, then approached the open door.
No sounds came from inside. Darkness cloaked the room, obscuring everything.
If another thief was in there, he knew she was here and was waiting to grab her.
Her heart rate kicked up; her breathing quickened. It’d been a long time since she’d fought for her life. Too long. She grinned, excitement replacing the anger from moments ago. This guy wouldn’t know what hit him. Nikki excelled at hand-to-hand combat thanks to the hours of training that her partner, Cyn, forced Nikki to endure. Moments like this made the agonizing routine worth it.
She slipped into the room, pressing her back to the wall, and scanned the space while her eyes adjusted to the darkness. A large desk, bookcase, and cushioned chair took up one corner. The rest of the room was jam-packed with junk. Pieces of art, bones, and odd contraptions covered every flat surface, while the shelves overflowed with books and scrolls.
Nobody waited in the shadows, ready to attack her.
Nikki swept her gaze over the room once more, looking for some clue as to who might’ve been here. Although cluttered, nothing appeared to have been disturbed, including the wooden shipping crate that sat on the floor next to the desk.
Slipping her dagger back into its sheath, she rushed forward.
The door slammed. She flicked her gaze to it. Nobody stood there. Nothing moved.
Who had closed the door?
Someone might’ve shut it as they’d walked by, but she hadn’t heard anyone. There’d been no sweeping arc of light from a flashlight either. Her attention to her surroundings was a skill she’d honed. She should’ve noticed something.
If a window had been open, she could’ve blamed the wind. This office didn’t see outside light, however.
She swallowed hard. The unexplainable didn’t have a place in her line of work. If she couldn’t figure out why something happened, she left herself vulnerable. Not acceptable. Capture equaled failure. She had a family name to live up to.
She reached for her knife, pulling it free. With her weapon held loosely at her side, she rounded the desk and moved toward the door.
The temperature in the room dropped. By the time she reached the door, her rough breaths fogged the air. She squeezed the hilt of her blade. The first inkling of fear slithered into her veins. Something wasn’t right here.
She needed to run. The thought morphed into a compulsion. She grabbed the doorknob. Icy coldness met her touch. Hand stinging, she inhaled sharply and jumped back.
A thick arm hooked around her waist. She gasped but didn’t get the chance to do more. The man who’d tricked her dragged her against his chest, locking her right arm to her side, eliminating her only weapon.
Fear gripped her for a second before her training kicked in. She sucked in a deep breath while jerking her body and wiggling her arm, giving her the slight space she needed to twist the knife.
She shoved the weapon into his thigh. The resistance of the blade sinking into his flesh and his rough grunt in response heaved the contents of her stomach. She wanted to turn around and apologize. She didn’t. She pushed the knife deeper.
The six-inch blade impaled in his leg didn’t anger him enough to make him retaliate against her, the point of her attack. She couldn’t fight if he held her immobile. She wasn’t strong enough to break his hold.
He squeezed her hand.
The strength in his grip tore a gasp from her. She pressed her lips together, muffling the sound. He didn’t need the confirmation of her pain. That would give him a mental advantage over her. It was bad enough he not only towered over her but probably outweighed her by a hundred pounds.
She ground her teeth. Oh no. If he thought she’d go down easily, he was in for a surprise. She swung her leg back, then swept it to the side, toppling the man.
His hold on her didn’t waver, however. He yanked her right arm to the side. Together, they smacked into the floor, his large body covering hers. Her breath rushed out with his full weight on her. In the next heartbeat, he lifted himself slightly, easing the crushing pressure on her lungs but not giving her any room to maneuver.
He brushed his stubble-covered cheek against hers. Tingles skipped across her skin, and her lower belly quivered. She ignored the odd reaction and twisted her left wrist in an effort to get the arm trapped under her body free. He snatched her hand and tugged it above her head, then pushed his knees between her thighs, spreading her legs wide.
He had her right where he wanted her. At his mercy. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t fight back. Screaming was her only option. Who would hear her?
This stranger could do anything he wanted to her. She wouldn’t be able to stop him. Frustration gripped her, tensing her body.
How had she allowed herself to get in this position? She must’ve missed a hiding spot. Maybe a hidden closet? She didn’t know. Didn’t care. She’d made a mistake, the worst of her life.
He pressed his lips to her ear, and his slow exhale washed over her, warming her, sensitizing her, easing her tight muscles. “Release the knife, little female. You’re not escaping me again. Now that I’ve got you, I’m keeping you.”
His voice skipped through her, leaving heat behind. She squirmed, and he groaned. The penis pressing against her bottom lengthened, thickened. He shifted his hips, pushing his hard cock into the crack of her ass, and the anger twisting her insides morphed into something else.
And that scared her more than being caught.