The Maritime Alps glowed bright orange as the sun made its descent behind them. As the rest of the world prepared to sleep, Monaco was just coming to life. Kit Hanson woke sensing the whirls and clangs of the casino as guests began taking chances. It was a sound she thrilled to. It meant money. It meant challenge. And most of all, it meant jewels.
The sounds meant thousands of beautiful women dressed to the nines. Women in all shapes and sizes would don their very best in attempts to outshine each other. It was like a smorgasbord to Kit. One she could never resist. She’d never be able to resist.
Kit took a leisurely shower before dressing in her fitted tux. She wore purple accents that she knew brought out her blue eyes. She would be irresistible to one unfortunate woman that night. Or maybe more. Only time would tell.
It was time. She heard the church bell toll ten and knew it was time to make her move. She wandered through the streets, enjoying the reflection of the moonlight on the water. Everything was so serene for a moment. But as she wandered along, the sounds of the casino called to her anew. Her blood rushed and her heart pounded. Internally, she was churning. Externally, she was cool as could be.
It took Kit a moment for her eyes to adjust to the bright lights once inside. The noise was deafening, but she was used to it. It wasn’t her first trip to Monte Carlo, nor would it be her last. As was her norm, she’d rented a house in town under an assumed name. She never stayed at the casino. She couldn’t risk being recognized. She had her methods. And they worked.
She knew she cut a handsome figure as she stood just inside the front door and surveyed the room. There were couples everywhere, all dressed in their finery with the women decked out in jewels.
She pushed off the pillar and made her way through the throngs to the roulette table. Roulette was her favorite. God knew she had plenty of money to play with. She was filthy rich. She’d even begun to have thoughts about retiring. But those thoughts never stayed long. She’d miss the thrill, the taste of victory, the taste of women.
Kit was on a roll. She couldn’t seem to lose. A crowd had gathered around her, and while she feigned concentration on the numbers, she really took in who was paying her the most attention. And how they were dressed.
There were both men and women gathered around her, but only a few of the women seemed to be flying solo. The rest were coupled up.
Kit’s gaze landed on a statuesque blonde in a form fitting red dress. She had rows of diamonds cascading around her neck and more dangling from her ears. She reeked of money. And the way she held herself. Her head held high and arm clutching her purse. She seemed completely at ease. She was class personified. Something inside Kit flipped. She’d found her target.
She surveyed the pile of chips in front of her, wondering how much longer she’d play. She wanted to keep the blonde there and paying attention to her. She needed to draw it out just a little longer.
Kit placed another bet. And another. The crowd cheered every time she won. Which she couldn’t help but do. More chips piled up. She took another breather and surveyed the crowd. The blonde was gone. Where had she disappeared to? Kit craned her neck to survey the casino beyond the crowd but didn’t see her.
“Place your bets.”
She heard the words through her fog of determination. Without really thinking, she moved some chips to red thirty-two. The wheel went round and round. And ended on thirty-two. Kit had had enough. She had lost interest in the game. She needed to find the blond woman.
She gathered her ticket to cash in and cut through the crowd, which was now applauding loudly. People were patting her on the back and speaking to her in several different languages. She knew they were all saying congratulations, and she smiled in appreciation. But she wasn’t into it. She wanted to get her cash and find her target.
“You were very impressive back there,” a woman with a thick German accent said quietly as Kit cashed in her ticket. “How much did you win?”
“Enough.” Kit knew she was being short. She turned to see who was speaking to her. It was another blond bombshell bedecked in diamonds and sapphires. Her long blue dress hugged a full figure, and Kit realized she might need to recalculate.
She flashed her best smile.
“But is it ever really enough?” She shrugged.
The blonde smiled back.
“I’d think it was more than enough.”
“It all depends on how you look at things,” Kit said.
“And just how do you? Look at things, I mean?”
Kit shrugged again.
“I look at everything as a challenge. And I like to win.”
A slow smile spread across the woman’s face.
“Do you usually win at everything? The way you did tonight?”
“That all depends.” She offered the woman her hand. “I’m Ronnie.”
“My name is Anika. It’s very nice to meet you, Ronnie.”
“Likewise, I’m sure. Would you like to get a drink, Anika?”
“I’d like that very much.”
Kit escorted Anika to one of the bars in the casino. It was quieter there and much less crowded. She forced herself to look into Anika’s eyes and not at her necklace as she asked her what she’d like to drink.
“A chocolate martini, please.”
Kit arched an eyebrow at her but ordered as requested. She ordered a rum and Coke for herself and guided Anika to a quiet table in the corner.
“Are you here alone?” Kit asked. “Or are you a casino widow?”
Anika laughed, a deep, soulful laugh that made Kit smile.
“I’m alone. I am single. And you?”
“Oh, I’m very single. Here’s to no strings attached.” She raised her glass and clinked it against Anika’s.
“Do you live here in Monaco? Or are you just visiting?” Anika said.
“Just visiting. And you?”
“It’s my first time here. It’s a bit overwhelming.” She laughed again.
“Where is home for you?”
“I’m from Cologne. In Germany.”
“Ah, I’ve been there. It’s quite lovely.”
“Yes,” Anika said. “It’s a wonderful place.”
“Do you go to the casinos there often? I loved the Spielhalle Schnicks.”
Anika beamed at her.
“That’s my favorite place to gamble.”
“And when you gamble, what’s your poison?”
Anika shook her head slightly.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“What game do you play?”
“Oh, I play many. But blackjack is my favorite.”
“When we finish these, shall we hit the tables?”
“Sure. If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, Anika. Not at all.”
Kit took in the sparkling blue eyes that matched the sapphires rimmed in diamonds that hung from her ears. Anika was a very attractive woman. Kit could have fun with her. And since she obviously wasn’t going to find the blonde in the red dress at this point, Kit decided to relax and take full advantage of all Anika had to offer.
The plunging neckline of her dress revealed a copious amount of cleavage. Big breasted women had always been Kit’s weakness, and Anika was no exception. However, Kit was a professional and would maintain her composure. She’d have fun and enjoy Anika every which way but loose. But she’d keep her eye on the prize. Her employers were expecting her to deliver and she wouldn’t, couldn’t disappoint.
She noticed Anika’s drink was empty.
“Would you like another one? Or would you like to gamble for a while?”
“It does not matter to me. You finish your drink then we’ll decide.”
“Nonsense. I’ll not have you just sitting there. Let’s hit the blackjack table.”
Kit took her hand and guided her through the crowds. They found a table with two open seats and quickly took their places. Kit wasn’t crazy about blackjack, though she could count cards with the best of them. It just didn’t interest her that much. So she played a few hands, broke even, and gave up her seat to stand behind Anika.
She rested her hands on Anika’s satin clad shoulders. She could feel her heat radiating through her sleeves. This was a woman with plenty to offer. She’d make a great bedmate, of that Kit had no doubt.
The fact that she was beautiful and smelled divine only added to her allure. Kit had to be careful and maintain a professional distance. She couldn’t let emotions or hormones deter her from her goal.
Savannah Brown had been fascinated by the woman at the roulette wheel. She was on a roll, and Savannah had enjoyed watching her. The woman had been very attractive, with her short, spiked black hair and piercing blue eyes. Eyes that were accentuated by the purple accents worn with her tux.
And her smile. Every time she won, her smile lit up the whole casino. Her teeth were perfect, straight, and pearly white. Savannah had found herself drawn to the stranger. And then, the woman had looked right at her. Their eyes had met, and Savannah had felt the electricity to her core.
That was when she’d turned away. She had a job to do. And it didn’t involve handsome androgynous women. Or maybe it did. She didn’t know. That was the frustrating part of her job. She had to find someone who’d eluded authorities for years.
Someone many believed was a lesbian but had no proof. Many of the victims claimed it was a man who’d stolen their jewels. Others claimed to have no knowledge of who had done the robbery. Still others said it was a woman. So there she was, in Monte Carlo, searching for a specter who stole women’s jewelry. Millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry.
Savannah traveled the world, going from high stakes competition to high stakes competition which seemed to be where their thief hit. She was in Monte Carlo for the big poker tournament weekend. She only hoped the thief would be there, too.
Was it possible that several jewel thieves were at work? Yes. It certainly was. But she didn’t believe that. Savannah believed she was looking for one person. One daring, ballsy person with one thing on her mind.
The woman at the roulette table didn’t look or act like she needed to steal jewels to make money. She’d been throwing chips around like she was made of the stuff. But she had to make money somehow. And Savannah hadn’t missed how the woman had eyed the diamonds she’d been wearing. Was she just being appreciative? Or had it been more sinister?
Either way, Savannah had been unable to deny her reaction to the woman’s brazen once-over. She’d been on fire, every nerve ending twitching under the scrutiny. She’d needed to get away. The last thing she needed was to let her hormones interfere with her investigation.
So she’d gone back to her room, washed her face, and applied minimal makeup. She’d let her hair down so it flowed freely to her shoulders. She’d taken off the diamonds and placed them securely in her safe. Then she dressed in a nice dark gray pantsuit and headed back down to the casino.
She couldn’t help herself. She walked past the roulette table, but the woman was nowhere to be seen. With a knot in her stomach that might have been disappointment or might have been residual hormones, she checked the rest of the gambling areas.
Women in jewels were everywhere. She wished she could warn them to be careful but knew it would be pointless. News of the infamous international jewel thief was everywhere. Most thought they were immune. And most were insured. So even if the thief struck, the patrons would be simply inconvenienced. Unless the jewels had sentimental value. But at this level, she doubted that was the case in most instances.
Savannah wandered around the floor, through the slot machines, and baccarat tables. She found a game of craps to watch and almost choked from the cigar smoke. She could barely see the game through the smoke. She didn’t stay long, opting instead to cruise past the card tables.
She was watching a game of pai gow that wasn’t holding her interest. She allowed her gaze to roam to neighboring tables. There she was. The woman from the roulette table. Savannah couldn’t deny the disappointment at seeing the woman clearly enjoying herself in the company of an older woman.
The woman was also blond, and Savannah quickly racked her brain. Were most of the victims blond? Did the thief have a type? Was the dashing woman the thief after all? But, no. She couldn’t remember any predominance of any kind when it came to victims. Except they were all women. And they were all rolling in dough. The thief knew what he or she was doing.
Unable to stay away, Savannah sauntered over to the blackjack table where the woman’s companion was playing. She walked close to the sexy brunette who didn’t give her more than a glance. Funny, she’d been ogling her like crazy earlier. But why not now? Because she wasn’t bejeweled. That’s why.
“You’re very attentive,” Anika said as they stepped away from the table several hours later. “I’m not used to that. You never let my drink run empty. You urged me onward every hand. I really appreciate that.”
“You’re most welcome. I believe beautiful women should be treated like gold.”
“My husband could learn a few things from you.”
Husband? Kit held her breath. She hoped she hadn’t been barking up the wrong tree all night. Married women were her bread and butter, though. She hoped she’d still be able to relieve Anika of her jewels. Without interference from a meddling husband.
“Is your husband here?” She hoped she sounded cooler than she felt. “Do we need to check in with him?”
“Oh, no, Ronnie. He didn’t come with me this time, but how sweet of you to inquire.”
Kit was relieved, but less confident. Anika wouldn’t be the first married woman she’d targeted, but she wasn’t sure how seducible she’d be. Would she be open to pleasure from a woman?
“Are you tired? Shall I walk you to your room?” Kit needed to find out if she was wasting her time. But how?
“Far from it. I’m invigorated. Let’s cash in my winnings and then we can get some dinner?”
Dinner? Kit’s stomach growled on cue. She didn’t have time to think about food. She had bigger worries. But since Anika had invited her, maybe she was curious? Maybe Kit would be able to get what she needed after all.
The deafening sounds of the casino caused Kit’s head to throb. Sounds that usually brought such pleasure, such energy, were now annoying. She felt like she’d failed. And the people in charge, those waiting for jewels, wouldn’t be happy. Kit had never failed before and didn’t like the sensation.
“Ronnie?” Anika said. “Will you join me for dinner?”
Kit forced a smile that she knew showed off her dimples.
“Of course. I’d be delighted.”
Once seated, Kit reached across the table and placed her hands on Anika’s.
“So, tell me about these trips you make without your husband? What do you do? How do they play out?”
“I just gamble. My husband is in politics. That’s where his heart lies and where he’s his happiest. Politics bore me as a rule. So, while he works, I travel and play.” She shrugged. “It works for us.”
Kit took a deep breath and forged onward.
“Anika, you do know I prefer the company of women to men, don’t you?”
“Well…I rather assumed.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“I’m fine with that. It intrigues me, titillates me if you will.”
Kit’s stomach did a somersault. Her heart soared. Perhaps there was hope after all.
“Titillates? How so?”
“I’ve never been with a woman,” Anika admitted. “Though I’ve always thought how wonderful that might be. I’m sure a woman would instinctively know how to please another woman. Much more so than a man does.” Kit nodded slowly. Anika had a good point. “Forgive me. I’m speaking of inappropriate things. I barely know you.”
Kit squeezed her hands.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Anika. I’d like to please you. Later. When you’re ready. If you’d like me to.” She held her breath, scared of Anika’s response.
“I’d like that, Ronnie. I mean, if you’re serious. You’re not toying with an old woman, are you?”
Kit laughed. It was genuine. She was relieved beyond words.
“You’re not an old woman.”
“I could be your mother.”
“Possibly. But you’re not.”
“No,” Anika said. “I am not. You do things to me. You invigorate me. Excite me. Make me feel things I shouldn’t feel for anyone save my husband. And yet, you’re a woman.”
“Yes. I am a woman. A woman who finds you incredibly attractive.”
“Stop. You must stop or we’ll get in trouble.”
“I’ve never been afraid of trouble,” Kit said.
“Why does that not surprise me? Still, I don’t get in trouble. To be caught with you would be scandalous. And my husband can’t afford a scandal. By extension, neither can I.”
“I won’t embroil you in a scandal. I promise.”
They finished their meal and Kit was amped to move on, but knew she still had time to kill.
“Would you like an after-dinner drink?” she asked
“I’d love that. Let’s go find a lounge.”
They found one, dark and relatively empty. Kit knew it would suit her purpose. She needed Anika to relax a bit more but didn’t want her too intoxicated. Drunk women turned her off. And she needed to be able to perform.
Anika had had much to drink that night at the blackjack table, but she seemed to be doing okay. Another drink or two might just ease her into relaxing enough for the meat of the evening to begin. Maybe.
Kit made sure to take a table in a far corner away from the lights and sounds of the casino. There was no way to fully escape the sounds, but she wanted to be out of the sight of curious passersby.
She got their drinks for them and seated herself next to Anika at the small table. She didn’t want to sit across from her any more. It was time to ramp things up, to push the envelope a little.
She rested her hand on Anika’s leg briefly. She gave it a little squeeze before putting it on the table with her other hand.
“Tell me, Ronnie. You’ve always been a lesbian, yes?”
Kit laughed. What a ridiculous question.
“Yes. All my life.”
“I mean, you’ve always known.”
“Right. From my first kiss with my best friend in high school. I’ve known.”
“And are you single? Not that I have any room to talk, but I need to know.”
“I’m very single.”
“Why is that? Why has no nice woman made you settle down?”
Kit knew the real reason. She couldn’t settle down. She was always on the move. Always searching for brighter diamonds and more expensive jewels. Like the ones Anika wore.
“I suppose I just haven’t met Ms. Right yet.”
“That makes me sad.”
She took Anika’s hands in her own again.
“Oh, no. No sadness tonight. Only joy and celebration.”
“You need someone to take care of you. Someone to spend your life with. Someone who completes you.”
“That all sounds lovely,” Kit said. “And hopefully, one day I’ll find just the right woman who’ll do all those things for me.”
“I hope so, too.”
“Tell me about yourself, Anika. How did you meet your husband?”
“We were childhood friends. Our families planned for us to marry when we were very young. But I don’t want to talk about my husband. I don’t want to feel guilty. I just want to enjoy the excitement you provide.”
Savannah made her way through the casino several more times, always finding herself back at the blackjack tables and the sexy, androgynous butch woman who’d captured her attention. It was early morning when she cruised past the tables again and the woman and her companion were gone. Disappointment filled her. If the woman was the thief, then she’d let her slip through her hands. If not, then her opportunity to snare and bed the gorgeous being had passed.
She did several more laps around the place, checking out the roulette tables, slots, baccarat, and all other gambling locations. The woman seemed to have disappeared. The sun was beginning to make its ascent, and Savannah decided it was time for bed. She needed a good night’s sleep. Her phone hadn’t buzzed to announce a robbery, so she considered the night a waste.
Sleep came quickly, and Savannah was in the middle of a dream about the handsome butch when the shrill sound of her phone awoke her. She glanced at the time before answering. It was only eight o’clock. This had better be good.
“Agent, come quick. Suite 369. He struck again.”
“Shit. I’m on my way.”
Savannah dressed, threw her hair in a bun, grabbed her bag, and bolted out the door. She was in the elevator in less than five minutes, on her way to yet another scene. These had to end. She needed to catch this thief.
She arrived at the suite and took a deep breath, straightened to her full height, thrust her shoulders back, and knocked on the door.
“Agent Brown. Thank God you’re here.”
It was one of the younger agents on the case, Li Nguyen. He was young, but he was good. Savannah had the utmost respect for him.
“What do you know?” she asked.
“It was a man this time. An older gentleman.” He flipped through his notes. “She’d guess he was in his fifties or so.”
“How’s she doing? Who’s the victim?”
“The victim is one Anika Schuster from Germany. She said he followed her into her room, held a gun on her and demanded her jewels.”
Savannah stepped into the room to find a distraught looking middle-aged woman crying on the bed. Her hair was disheveled, and she looked like she’d just woken up. She was wearing a plush white bathrobe. Savannah approached her cautiously.
“Mrs. I’m married to Gustav Schuster.”
The name sounded familiar to Savannah, but she couldn’t place it. Besides, it wasn’t important or relevant at the moment.
“I’m sorry. Mrs. Schuster, please tell me what happened.”
“I’ve already told them.” She motioned to the other agents in the room. Some of whom were dusting for fingerprints, some of whom were standing still, watching Savannah.
“I understand that. And they’ve filled me in. But I’d like to hear it from you. Please, take a breath, and when you’re ready, tell me in detail everything that happened.”
Anika took a deep breath and let out a shuddered sigh.
“I was letting myself into my room when I felt something poke me in the back. Someone closed their hand over my mouth, and a man whispered into my ear to keep quiet and open the door. So I did. He held his gun on me and demanded that I give him my necklace and earrings. I feel so foolish. I know I should be grateful I’m alive and the jewels were insured, but I’m still so shaken up.”
“I’m sure you are. You’re doing great though. Can you describe the man to me?”
“Average height. Six foot or so. Thinning brown hair. Dark, menacing eyes. I’m sorry. That’s all I can think of.”
“That’s okay,” Savannah said. “Now, Mrs. Schuster, what did you do after this happened?”
“I took a bath to try to calm down. When it didn’t work, I decided to call and report it. I almost didn’t but thought I’d better. I’m sure the insurance company would have insisted.”
“We don’t believe this is the first time the man has struck. We’d really like to catch him. Please think. Hard. Can you describe anything else to us? What was he wearing maybe?”
“Anything unusual about it?”
“No. A regular black tux with a white shirt. That’s all I remember.” She started sobbing. “I’m sorry. I just feel so violated.”
“It’s okay to cry,” Savannah said. “You’re lucky to get out alive, but I’m sure you know that.”
She stared at Anika’s reddened blue eyes looking up at her. She studied them. There was fear and anger, but Savannah thought she saw something else. Shame maybe? Where was that coming from? And why wasn’t her hair wet if she had just gotten out of the bath? Something wasn’t right.
“I’m going to look around for a moment,” Savannah said. “I’ll be right back.”
She walked into the expansive bathroom and ran her hand over the tub. It was bone dry. There were no damp towels either. Anika’s story wasn’t adding up. What had really happened? Why, if she’d been robbed by an unknown man, hadn’t she called them immediately? She walked back out to the bedroom and handed Anika her card.
“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Schuster. I’m going now to begin my investigation. If you can think of anything else, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call me. My cell number is on the back. I always have it with me. The rest of the agents will finish up here as soon as they can. I don’t have to advise you to be very careful now. Not only were you robbed, but you saw the man who threatened you. You’re in a difficult predicament.”
“I’ve already changed my flight. I’ll leave for the airport as soon as all of you are gone. Thank you for your time. I hope you find the man.”
“So do I. So do I.”
Savannah motioned to the door with her head and Li followed her out.
“Where are we going?” he said.
“To my room. Don’t say a word until we get there.”
They got on the elevator.
“So, what do you think?” Li said.
“Sh. Not until we’re in my room.”
She let Li in and closed the door behind her.
“Now,” she said. “Now we compare notes.”
“She told me he followed her into her room. She told you he put a gun on her outside.”
“Right. So her story changed right from the beginning. Also, she said she’d just gotten out of a bath. Is that what she told you?”
“Yeah,” Li said. “So that part’s probably true.”
“Her bathtub was dry and there were no damp towels in the bathroom.”
Li’s eyes widened.
“Why would she lie about that?”
“That’s the million-dollar question. She looked to me like she’d just woken up. Who falls asleep right after they’ve been robbed?”
“So what are you thinking then, boss?”
“I’m thinking she knew who robbed her. She was with them. Then she woke up alone and found her jewels missing.”
“Why wouldn’t she just tell us that?”
“That’s another million-dollar question. Why indeed? Unless she was embarrassed by who she was with. Or if she slept with them, then that means she cheated on her husband. And she wouldn’t be able to admit that.”
“Why can’t it be easy?” Li said. “And why can’t we catch this guy?”
“I wish I knew, Li. Damn, how I wish I knew.”