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Once A Thief

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년:
2010
언어:
english
ISBN 10:
0553896970
시리즈:
Quinn 1
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EPUB, 221 KB
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Hope

년:
2011
언어:
english
파일:
EPUB, 188 KB
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2

Always a Thief

년:
2010
언어:
english
파일:
EPUB, 229 KB
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        [bookmark: cop]
          
            Books by Kay Hooper
          
        
      

    

  


Quinn Series
--1 Once A Thief (2002)
PROLOGUE
ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE
THIRTEEN
FOURTEEN
FIFTEEN
SIXTEEN



  [bookmark: _Toc98841129][bookmark: _Toc93608649][bookmark: _Toc93608404][bookmark: _Toc93605428]Quinn Series
[bookmark: _Toc93605429][bookmark: _Toc98841130][bookmark: _Toc93608650][bookmark: _Toc93608405][bookmark: _Toc93606827][bookmark: _Toc93606344]--1 Once A Thief (2002)--



ONCE A THIEF 
A Bantam Book/October 2002 
All rights reserved. 
Copyright © 2002 by Kay Hooper 
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books. 
Visit our website at www.bantamdell.com 
eISBN 0-553-89697-0 
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada 
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036. 


 
[bookmark: _Toc98841131][bookmark: _Toc93606828]PROLOGUE 
Outside the penthouse windows, darkness hid the fog that had rolled in and now clung wetly to the city; it was a fairly typical San Francisco night. Inside the penthouse, antique furniture glowed in the soft lighting of several lamps turned low. And in the sunken den, the brisk crackling of flames in the big marble fireplace was the only sound to break the tense silence. 
Then the man on the couch, who had been staring into the fire with a frown, spoke without looking at his visitor. “What makes you think you can catch him? So far, nobody’s come close. A whisper of a name, that’s all he is.” 
The visitor had pr; owled about the room as he talked but now sat in a chair that was at right angles to the fireplace. Like his host, his voice was low. “A lesson I learned a long time ago: With the right bait, you can catch anything. And anyone. The bait you have to offer is guaranteed to draw him out.” 
His host slanted him a look. “I’ll grant that. It’s guaranteed to draw every thief you could name out of the woodwork. They’ll be tripping over each other.” 
“It won’t be as bad as that. Tough security will weed out all but the . . . um . . . serious contenders.” 
“Tough security?” The man on the couch gave a soft laugh. “We both know that most of the time in most places security’s a pretty illusion, even with state-of-the-art technology. They want in badly enough—they’ll find a way. Sure, the petty thieves will be discouraged if security looks tough, but it still leaves a fairly large field of hopefuls.” 
The visitor nodded. “I know, but there really aren’t many out there ambitious enough to go after any part of the Bannister collection, no matter what kind of security we surround it with. For one thing, it’d be damned difficult to sell any of it. Virtually all the individual pieces are so well-known they’d make any fence think twice and then opt out. The risk outweighs the potential profit. I really believe the bait would draw a collector—not just a thief out for a quick score.” 
“Some thieves are collectors,” his host pointed out. 
“Not many. But he’s one of them. And look at his track record. Every piece we know he’s taken in the last three years was one of a kind and had a colorful past; most had so-called curses attached to them. Just like the Bolling diamond. One whisper that the Bolling is out of a vault on public display is going to make his mouth water.” The visitor shifted restlessly and added, “I don’t want to risk the whole collection. This madman’s greedy enough to take everything if we make it too easy for him.” 
“I can’t display the Bolling alone. It’s part of the collection, and I’ve said publicly more than once I’d never exhibit any single piece alone. If I had a sudden change of heart now, any thief worth his salt would smell a trap.” 
After a moment, the visitor said, “Dammit, I didn’t know you’d said that. If I had, I never would have—I can’t ask you to risk the entire collection, it’s too dangerous. A single piece we could protect, I could protect, but if the collection is always together in one place, and he gets past security, past me . . . he could get it all.” 
“The bait and the fish gone forever.” Returning his gaze to the bright fire, the man on the couch said quietly, “It’s taken my family almost five hundred years to assemble the collection.” 
“I know.” There was a long silence, and then the visitor said softly, “It was a lunatic idea. I’ll try something else, Max.” 
Maxim Bannister sent the visitor another look, this one a bit wry. “There’s nothing else to try, and you know it. The kind of bait you need is rare; off-hand, I can’t think of another collector who’d be willing to take the risk.” 
“I can’t ask you to take it.” 
“What choice do you have?” 
 
The worn folder contained a number of eight-by-ten photographs in full color. They were pictures that had been printed again and again in books and magazines all over the world. The Bannister collection rivaled the treasures of the Pharaohs in terms of sheer dazzling mystique and public fascination. It was the last great “family” collection of jewelry and artworks, privately owned and displayed only at the whim of its owner. It hadn’t appeared publicly for more than thirty years. 
He opened the folder with hands that weren’t quite steady, and a tight little breath escaped him when the light of the desk lamp fell onto the first photograph. No matter how many times he saw it, the effect on him was always the same. Simply but exquisitely set in a pendant of twenty-four-karat gold, the Bolling diamond was breathtaking. It was a seventy-five-carat teardrop canary, the brilliant yellow hue so vivid it was as if the stone had captured a piece of the sun. 
The centerpiece of the Bannister collection, it was flawless and priceless. Like the Hope diamond, the Bolling possessed a colorful and often tragic history; it was supposed to be cursed, but he didn’t believe in curses. 
He rubbed a finger across the photo, almost able to feel the coolness of the polished stone. Then, forcing himself, he turned the photo over and began briefly studying the others, one by one. They had less of an effect on him individually than the Bolling had, but the splendor of the entire collection made his heart pound almost painfully. 
The Black Royal diamond, forty carats, a darkly perfect oval surrounded by brilliant white diamonds; it had, supposedly, been a ransom payment for a kidnapping the history books never mentioned. 
The Midnight sapphire, a two-hundred-carat square stone, flawed but beautiful in its rich, deep color; legend had it that the stone—believed to be nearly a thousand years old—had been found, faceted and dully polished, in the ruins of a temple in India almost three hundred years before. 
The Talisman emerald, a hundred and fifty carats of oval green fire, engraved with cryptic symbols no one had yet been able to decipher, and set in a wide bangle bracelet of twenty-four-karat gold. In mystical circles, the story persisted that the emerald had been worn by Merlin and had been used to amplify the wizard’s powers. 
There were also numerous lesser pieces of jewelry—lesser in terms of value, but each stunning. Necklaces, rings, and bracelets of gold set with exquisitely cut and polished gems. From the brilliance of diamonds to the opacity of jade, ivory, and opal, virtually every precious and semiprecious stone known to man was represented at its very best. 
No wonder they were calling the exhibit Mysteries Past; every major piece in the collection had a mystery attached to it in some way, many of them connected to historical events or people. 
In addition, there were figurines, cups, decanters, and religious works of art in gold and gems. Each piece had a story or legend connected to it. Each piece was breathtaking. Together, they would have tempted a saint. 
He wasn’t a saint. 
With trembling hands, he gathered the photographs together and returned them to the worn folder. The exhibit opened in just about eight weeks, and was scheduled to run for only two months in San Francisco. After that, the collection would be returned to the safety and silence of the vaults that had protected it for decades. 
Unless someone got to it first.


 
[bookmark: _Toc98841132][bookmark: _Toc93606829]ONE
 
S omebody ought to put her in one of the display cases. Talk about an eye-poppin’ show.” 
Morgan West stopped in her tracks to lift an eyebrow at a suddenly flustered workman. “Voices carry in museums,” she said gently. “You might want to keep that in mind.” 
“Yeah. I mean—yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am. No offense meant.” 
“None taken. It’s always been my ambition to be a museum display.” 
He cleared his throat. “Priceless things. That’s all I meant. Treasures. Works of art.” He eyed her, then sighed. “I’m not gonna win, am I?” 
“No, I’m afraid not.” 
“I’m a sexist pig.” 
“Pretty much.” 
“Objectifying women.” 
“This woman anyway. Yes, I’d say that was what you were doing.” 
“I apologize, Miss West.” 
Perfectly aware that the other workmen near enough to overhear this exchange were hiding grins, Morgan knew when it was time to let her prey off the hook on which he’d impaled himself. “Accepted. Have a nice day.” 
“Yes, ma’am. You too.” 
Morgan strolled away, knowing that laughter would erupt the moment she was out of sight. Which it did. 
She sighed. 
Her measurements had been causing her problems since her thirteenth birthday, so by now she should have been at least somewhat accustomed to it. 
She wasn’t. 
There were men who admitted that long, shapely female legs inspired amorous fantasies; there were those who had the same basic response to the rich curves of swaying hips. But men whose primitive instincts were aroused by an ample bust, Morgan had found, undoubtedly outnumbered the rest. 
Probably something Freudian about it. 
Or something infantile. 
At any rate, her centerfold measurements had caused her more trouble than joy. A lot more. Her dates during high school and college had been so entranced by her charms, she often wondered if they knew what her face looked like. Even the Rhodes scholar she’d briefly gone out with—hoping his mind was on a higher plane—had stuttered dreadfully whenever his gaze strayed to her chest. 
Which was often. 
And that explained one reason why Maxim Bannister had won her intense and total loyalty. He had, to be sure, gulped visibly when she’d first walked into his office, but he had also conducted the hour-long interview without allowing his gaze to stray to her chest—and without making her feel it required all his concentration to avoid staring. And since that time, he had managed not only to make her feel completely comfortable in his presence but had even responded with genuine sympathy when a particularly degrading experience with a date had caused her to unburden herself in an explosion of temper. 
She liked Max a lot. He was one of the very few male friends she’d ever had, and she was delighted by the knowledge that, while he was no less appreciative of nature’s bounty than the next man, his awareness and interest were detached rather than hormonal. He also had an unerring eye for color and style, and during the months of preparation for the Mysteries Past exhibit, she had gradually abandoned her dark-colored, loose blouses and multilayered outfits in favor of more elegant and flattering clothing. 
When Max told her she looked good in something, she knew it was the truth. He’d said once that she was a queenly woman, the observation made in an assessing rather than complimentary tone, and Morgan had, quite unconsciously, begun walking without the slump she had just as unconsciously adopted in her teens. In a few short months, he had very quietly and gently and unobtrusively eradicated both Morgan’s bitterness and the chip on her shoulder. Thanks to him, she was as proud of her body as she was of her mind. 
Well, nearly. 
Which wasn’t to say it no longer caused her problems. In fact, masculine appreciation of her measurements was, indirectly, to blame for a predicament that was destined to occupy her for quite some time. 
But on this mild Thursday afternoon, Morgan was blessedly unaware of the storm clouds building up on her own personal horizon. As the director of the forthcoming Mysteries Past exhibit, her mind was entirely focused on business. 
“You’re frowning,” Wolfe Nickerson noted when they encountered each other in the lobby. He was the security expert Lloyd’s of London had sent to oversee both the preparations for the exhibit and the two-month showing itself. 
“I’m not surprised. Do you believe in intuition?” she asked. 
“I’ve been known to get a hunch now and then. Why? Are you feeling intuitive?” 
“Yeah. At least—I guess that’s what it is. There’s something out of focus, Wolfe. Something not right.” 
“With the preparations for the exhibit?” 
“I don’t know. Maybe.” She sighed. “God, I hate it when I get one of these feelings. It’s like I saw something out of the corner of my eye, you know? Something I didn’t look at as closely as I should have.” 
Wolfe nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been there. But you know as well as I do that it’s pretty much impossible to guard against a threat when all you’ve got to go on is a feeling. We’re doing everything we can to protect the collection.” 
“Maybe not everything. Would pulling up the drawbridge and flooding the moat be out of order?” 
“Well, it might make things a bit difficult for visitors.” 
Morgan hugged her ever-present clipboard and rested her chin on the top, matching his gravity when she said, “Yeah, but do we really need visitors? They come, they gawk—big deal.” 
Smiling, Wolfe said, “You really are bothered, aren’t you?” 
“A little bit, yeah.” 
“But there’s nothing here yet to steal, remember? I mean, none of the collection. All those nice display cases the workmen are building are going to be empty for weeks yet.” 
“I know, I know.” 
“But?” 
“But . . . something’s wrong.” Morgan shook her head with a faint grimace. “The place just doesn’t feel right. I did a walk-through a little while ago, and I could swear I was being watched.” 
Wolfe eyed her, a little amused. “Well, you usually are.” 
“No, not that way.” Morgan was intent on making sense of her own feelings and hunches. “Watched. Almost . . . I was going to say stalked, but I don’t mean it in the modern way, with some half-crazed guy who thinks he’s in love with me dogging my every step.” 
“How do you mean it, then?” 
“More of a . . . predatory thing. As if I was being tracked, shadowed, my strengths and weaknesses sized up.” 
Wolfe’s eyebrows rose, but more in surprise than disbelief. “That’s a fairly primitive image. And a very specific threat to feel intuitively.” 
“I know. That’s why it’s creeping me out, big time.” 
He frowned. “All right, Morgan. I’ll have the extra guards do a sweep of the building at the beginning of each shift, as well as halfway through the shift. Good enough?” 
“I hope so.” She shook her head again, obviously annoyed by worries too elusive to put into words, then added, “I’ll be in my office. I’m going to go study the museum blueprints again.” 
“Listen,” Wolfe said, “don’t let the responsibility of being in charge while Max is off on his honeymoon blow anything out of proportion, okay? Whether you’re right about somebody watching you or the preparations for the exhibit, the collection is safe and we are doing everything possible to make damned sure it stays that way.” 
Morgan squared her shoulders and nodded. “You’re right. But I still want to study those blueprints.” 
“Have at it. If you see anything that’ll help increase or perfect security, I’ll be the first to thank you for it.” 
“I just want to be sure,” Morgan said. 
“I know.” 
“It’s not that I’m questioning your competence—” 
He waved that away. “I never thought you were. We’re both responsible for protecting the collection, Morgan, so don’t think you’re stepping on my toes by double-checking everything, including your own hunches. I’ll do the same.” 
“Okay. Just so we’re clear.” 
“We are.” Wolfe watched her head off toward her office, and added under his breath, “We’re also both worried. I know why I am . . . but why are you?” 
 
Carla Reeves was still astonished she’d been able to get a job with a security company. And somewhat amused. 
Security? Yeah, right. 
But unless she wanted to flip burgers or bag groceries, she’d had to take the chance and apply. It was her good luck that Ace Security had been in crying need of a few employees with a security background—and that a guy at her last place of employment had owed her a big, big favor, and had provided a glowing recommendation for her. 
Still, you’d think a fucking security company would have at least checked for a police record before they hired somebody. 
Thanking the universe for small favors and large ones, Carla settled happily into the new job, and within a number of weeks was feeling quite at home there. She was also trusted and given increasing responsibility, which was another amusement but nevertheless appreciated, since it led to a raise. 
Carla liked her job. And she had no plans to fuck things up by doing anything she shouldn’t have. She had learned the hard lesson that a one-time big score was seldom worth the risk of getting caught. Besides, she didn’t need to do that anymore. 
No, Carla’s life was progressing nicely. So nicely, in fact, that she had absolutely no suspicion that everything was about to hit the fan. 
She left work a bit later than usual that evening, mostly because she’d wanted to earn a few employee bonus points by doing some extra work on a security system being designed for a private home—of a personal friend of her boss. 
She walked around the corner to where she’d left her car parked, smiling as she thought of the praise that would be heaped on her in the morning. Bonus points were fun. 
She was fumbling in her purse for her key ring with its remote keyless entry gadget when a pleasant voice stopped her in her tracks. 
“Hello, Carla.” 
It wasn’t a familiar voice, but Carla had grown up literally on the streets, and she recognized a threat when she heard one. Still too far from her car to make a break for it, she turned very slowly and looked at him. 
He was smiling at her. He was also holding an elegant little gun in one gloved hand. 
“Oh, don’t worry, Carla. I don’t have rape in mind. Or even robbery.” 
She swallowed hard. “Then what do you want?” 
“Just a little information, that’s all.” 
“Information?” 
“Come now, Carla, let’s not pretend. You know what I want. And you know how to get it. After all—you’ve done it before, haven’t you?” 
Carla stared at him, understanding everything he didn’t say. “Yeah,” she answered dully. “So I do know what you want.” 
 
It was Morgan’s habit to be at the museum very early each morning, long before it was open for business, and the next morning was no exception. Also as usual, the first thing she did was to conduct her own sweep of the building. 
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the guards, it was just that she trusted her own eyes and other senses more. 
After all the months of preparation for the exhibit, she was very familiar with the cavernous halls and labyrinthine corridors of the museum. So much so, in fact, that she probably could have found her way through with the aid of a flashlight—no mean feat, given the size and complexity of the building. 
Until very recently, she had never felt uneasy being alone in any area of the museum. But as her heels clicked against the polished marble floors, she once again had the oddest feeling that she wasn’t as alone as she should have been. She stopped several times, gazing around her with a frown, but no one was there. She was sure no one was there. 
“Morgan, you’re losing it,” she muttered finally. 
Since this was a museum of historical art, it wasn’t nearly as creepy as some she’d worked in. No stuffed or skeletal beasts loomed, and there weren’t any exhibits such as Prehistoric Man at the Hunt with figures of man and beast frozen in bloody confrontational poses. 
There was statuary, however, and more than once Morgan caught herself frowning uneasily at a manlike figure in a dim corner that she only belatedly recognized as some artist’s work in marble or bronze. 
“Definitely losing it.” The sound of her own voice startled her somewhat, and Morgan quickened her steps, even though she kept searching for whatever was bothering her. And found nothing. Or at least found nothing that looked like anything. 
“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” she admitted half under her breath. 
But as she turned to retrace her steps, Morgan’s uneasiness intensified. The place still didn’t feel right to her. She tried to focus on what she was feeling, but it was vague and unformed. Just anxiety and an odd sense of apprehension. 
Morgan stopped at the entrance of the wing and looked back down the echoing corridors. A little laugh escaped her. “We’re about to bring a priceless collection of art treasures into this place,” she reminded herself aloud. “Of course I’m uneasy about it. That’s all. That’s all it is.” 
With those reassuring words, she turned and headed back for the lobby, her heels once more clicking briskly against the marble floor. 
The sounds were fading away when, in a dim corner Morgan had passed by twice, one of those manlike figures stirred and stepped out of the shadows. He stood gazing after Morgan for several moments, then turned and headed deeper into the museum, his movements utterly silent and almost feline in their fluid grace. 
If anybody had been there to hear, they wouldn’t have heard a footstep. But they would have heard a soft, amused chuckle. 
 
At thirty-six, Wolfe was two years younger than Max Bannister; they were half brothers, raised by their fathers on opposite coasts of the country, and had gotten to know each other well only as adults. But even though their knowledge of each other went back less than fifteen years, there was an unusually strong bond between them. It was one of the reasons Max had specifically requested Wolfe when Lloyd’s, which insured the Bannister collection, had insisted on having one of their representatives on the scene during the exhibit and the preparations leading up to it. 
One of the reasons. The other reason was that Wolfe was very, very good at his job. Good enough so that he took the worries of the Mysteries Past director seriously—even if she didn’t think so. 
“Morgan, all I said was—” 
“All you said was that I’m nuts.” She planted both hands on her hips and glared at Wolfe. 
“No, that is not what I said. I said we’ve been over this museum and the guards have been over it, and none of us has found a thing out of order. So—” 
“So I’m nuts.” 
Reining in his own considerable temper, Wolfe silently counted to five, too impatient to make it ten. “Look, I appreciate that you’re worried. I’m worried too. But until the new security system is up and running, there really isn’t much more we can do.” 
“We can padlock and bar some of the damned doors and make everybody use the main entrance here,” she suggested. 
“Some of the rear doors have to be used, you know that.” 
“But—” 
“The safety code, Morgan. We can’t block doors that could be necessary exits in an emergency. With only the wing set to house the exhibit closed to the public and the rest of the museum open, we have hundreds of people in and out of the building every day; we have to make certain they could get out in a hurry if they had to.” 
“Shit,” she muttered. “I knew we should have put in a moat. I just knew it.” 
Frowning, Wolfe said, “All I can do is go lean on the computer technician to step things up a bit and get the new system on line ahead of schedule. Until we have a better way to monitor the comings and goings around here, we’re stuck with the current system. You know that, Morgan.” 
She knew that. But she didn’t have to like it. 
Determined to get the last word, she said, “Fine. But in the future, when we recall this moment—and we will—just remember that it was me warning you. Okay?” 
“On this day, Morgan warned me she had a bad feeling. Noted.” 
“Smartass.” 
He grinned at her, then strode off toward the offices. 
Morgan remained where she was in the lobby, absently watching visitors come and go. It was turning into a busy afternoon, and there were a dozen things she should have been doing. Instead, she was fretting and worrying and bothering Wolfe. 
And all because she felt . . . What? 
There was something wrong. Just . . . wrong. 
Still, Wolfe had been right when he’d pointed out that the Bannister collection wasn’t even in the building as yet and wouldn’t be for weeks. So there was time to fix whatever was wrong. Time to get the new security system up and running, the carefully designed display cases built and wired and installed. Time to plug all the holes in the security net. Time to make sure the Mysteries Past exhibit was as safe as Fort Knox. 
There was plenty of time. 
So why did she have the oddest sensation of time ticking away, and much more rapidly than any clock or calendar would indicate? 
Why was she sure they didn’t have nearly as much time as they thought? 
 
Ed frowned down at the list and then looked at his boss with lifted brows. “So—what? We walk out with all this? Hell, I don’t even know if we can carry it all.” 
“If you can’t, I’ll find someone who will.” 
That uncompromising reply hardly surprised Ed. But to say he was happy about it would have been a serious overstatement. “Look, I know our partnership has been a lucrative one, but you’re beginning to worry me. Every job is bigger than the last, more dangerous.” 
“And you’re earning more than you ever thought possible, so don’t go soft on me now.” 
“I’m not going soft, I’m just wondering how long our luck can hold out.” 
“It isn’t luck, I keep telling you that. It’s skill, and planning—and balls. Sheer nerve. And with this next job, we’ll prove it.” 
“Why the fuck do we want to prove it?” he demanded. “And prove it to who?” 
“To everyone. The police, the other collectors in this town—and anybody else stupid enough to get in our way.” 
“Christ, all we’re doing is making ourselves a bigger target. Your way, we’re drawing more and more attention to our operations, which is the last thing we need. Visible thieves end up with their asses in jail, in case you’ve forgotten that. And we’re getting way too visible for my taste. If the jobs get any bigger, we’ll need a goddamned semi just to haul away the take. And the security systems are getting harder and harder to get through; the last one was tricky as hell.” 
“We got through it, didn’t we?” 
“Yeah, but—” 
“No buts. If you don’t like the management, go look for a new job.” 
Ed drew a breath and let it out, holding on to his temper because he’d learned the hard way that it was much safer. “Okay, okay. Let’s take a look at the floor plans and technical specs on security.” 
“I had a feeling you were going to say that.” 
 
By the time her day’s work was finished and she was ready to leave the museum on Friday night, Morgan had convinced herself that her uneasiness was no more than a natural worry magnified by the ever-approaching arrival of the Bannister collection at the museum. But that didn’t stop her from conducting one last sweep of the building herself before leaving for the day. 
For no reason she could have explained to herself, she exchanged her heels for the track shoes she kept handy in a drawer of her desk, and this time her steps through the polished marble halls were virtually silent. 
And this time, carrying a flashlight, she peered into every dim corner, behind and around every pedestal and display case. She found nothing. Absolutely nothing that wasn’t supposed to be exactly where it was. 
Morgan hated admitting even to herself that she had hoped to find something, some evidence to explain her apprehension. Not that she had the slightest idea what that might have been, but still. 
“All clear, Miss West?” 
She returned the flashlight to the guard in the lobby and smiled ruefully. “As far as I can tell, everything’s fine. Thanks for humoring me, Chris.” 
Seriously, he replied, “Knowing what’s coming into this place in a few weeks, I don’t blame you a bit for being careful. Oh—and Mr. Nickerson called a little while ago and asked me to tell you that he’s putting on a few more guards for the second and third shifts, starting tomorrow night.” 
So Wolfe had taken her worries more seriously than he had led her to believe. She wasn’t sure whether that reassured her or only added to her anxiety. 
Morgan nodded. “Thanks, Chris. See you tomorrow night.” 
“Have a nice evening, Miss West.” 
As she left the building and headed for her car, Morgan told herself that was just what she was going to have. A nice evening. The date originally planned for tonight had been rescheduled for Monday, but after the tensions of the day she was rather glad of that. What she needed was to curl up with a good book or a good old movie on TV and stop thinking about the museum and the exhibit. 
At least for tonight. 
Still, she paused with her hand on the car’s door to look back at the museum. The building was well-lit after hours, and all the dangling banners proclaiming the forthcoming Mysteries Past exhibit were very visible. Very impressive. 
Very tempting, to a thief. 
Shaking off the thought, Morgan got into her car and headed for home, a little surprised to find that as she drove away from the museum, her anxiety lessened. In fact, by the time she got home, she was feeling her usual cheerful and optimistic self. 
Which didn’t strike her as at all peculiar until much later. 
 
He waited until the little car was out of his sight before he emerged from the shadows near the museum. He gazed after it, and her, shaking his head unconsciously. 
Logic told him she couldn’t possibly be feeling or sensing his presence, as she seemed to be. His own honed senses told him that was exactly what was happening nevertheless. 
Had he given himself away somehow? 
Perhaps. Or perhaps her instincts and intuitions were a lot better than he’d counted on. 
Either way, he thought some readjustment of his plans was in order. 
 
It was late Monday afternoon when Wolfe stood in the lobby of the museum listening to Morgan explain why one of the newly built display cases for the exhibit wasn’t going to work. 
“So we have to go back to the drawing board,” she finished, sounding exasperated. “Damn, you’d think at least one of us would have realized the thing wasn’t going to fit. And now they say redesigning that case might affect the two closest to it.” 
“Are we going to lose time on this?” Wolfe asked. 
“No way. If anyone even suggests we push the opening back, I’ll have his head,” Morgan replied firmly. 
“Even though you’re still feeling uneasy?” 
Morgan eyed him. “It’s that obvious?” 
“Let’s just say it’s visible. Still nothing concrete you can point to?” 
“No. I was here both Saturday and yesterday, and it was a nice, peaceful weekend. No problems at all.” 
“I thought Max told you to take weekends off.” 
“Yeah, but it was a choice between staying home and worrying or coming over here and easing my mind. I picked the latter.” 
“Doesn’t look to me like it eased your mind.” 
Morgan sighed. “Not much, no. But at least now I have something to focus on. Those damned display cases.” 
Chuckling, Wolfe said, “Then I’ll leave the matter in your capable hands.” He saw her glance at her watch, and added, “Have a date?” 
“For my sins, yes.” She grimaced slightly, then laughed a little. “He seems to be a creature of the mind, but we’ll see.” 
Meditatively, Wolfe said, “I’ve always found that the mind can go only so far in controlling the instincts.” 
“Well, if he can’t control his, he’ll earn a right cross. Honestly, Wolfe, if I tangle with one more lusting beast hiding behind a puppy-dog smile, I’m going to join a nunnery.” 
“Keep your chin up,” Wolfe advised, smiling. “Somewhere out there has to be at least one man who’ll value your brain as much as your body—and you’ll probably fall over him while you’re looking for something else.”


 
[bookmark: _Toc98841133][bookmark: _Toc93606830]TWO
 
S he had buried herself in work in recent years, but after Max’s healing wizardry Morgan had begun, somewhat tentatively, dating again. It was just bad luck, she told herself, that the young curator who had always treated her with grave respect turned out to have a baser motive lurking under his smiles. 
He was perfectly charming during dinner, then afterward asked if she’d like to go to his museum and see the latest Egyptian exhibit, which wasn’t scheduled to go on display for several days. It wasn’t exactly “Come up and see my etchings,” but since she’d recognized the look that went along with the casual offer, it was enough to make her wary. 
Still, she wanted to see the exhibit; the hours she put in overseeing her own forthcoming exhibit would make a visit during regular hours somewhat of a problem. And she was confident of her ability to handle an amorous curator. There would be security guards, in any case. 
“That’s funny,” her date murmured as he used his key and let them in a side door. 
“What?” 
“The security light in this hall should be—” 
It should have been on, Morgan knew, but her escort never got a chance to finish his sentence. They had taken no more than three steps into the dark hallway when he suddenly let out a soft grunt and crumpled to the floor. 
Morgan was never sure afterward if she knew what had happened in that first instant or if, in the thick blackness surrounding her, pure survival instinct had taken over. She didn’t reason that Peter’s limp body had fallen between her and the door, preventing that exit; she simply whirled and bolted down the hallway. 
After half a dozen steps she managed to kick her heels off without losing much speed, and her instantly quieter passage made it possible for her to hear the pursuing footsteps—fast and heavy, and all too close behind. She had the advantage of knowing the museum well; like many archaeologists, she considered the storehouses of ancient treasures as alternate homes and tended to spend many of her off hours losing herself in the past. 
That was what she wanted badly to do now—lose herself in the past. She was making her way with all the speed she could muster out of the warren of offices and storerooms and into the larger rooms of the museum proper. There was a drawback to that action, but she had little choice. Most of the exhibits were individually lighted, which would make her visible to her pursuer unless she could hide before he emerged from the hallway. As she turned the final corner, she could see the dim glow ahead. 
The first cavernous room she burst out into was a hall of paintings offering no place of concealment. Barely feeling the cold, hard marble beneath her feet, Morgan darted through one of the two big archways without immediately knowing why she’d made the choice. Then she realized. There had to be more than one of them and they’d be after the most portable valuables, wouldn’t they? Jewelry, then—and a large display of precious gems lay in the direction she hadn’t chosen. 
Along her route were several larger and less valuable—to the thieves—displays of statuary, weapons, and assorted artifacts, many large enough to offer a hiding place. 
She made another desperate turn through an archway that appeared to house a room dimmer than some of the others—and found herself neatly caught. A long arm that seemed made of iron rather than flesh lifted her literally off her feet, clamped her arms to her sides, hauled her back against a body that had all the softness of granite, and a big, dark hand covered her mouth before she could do more than gasp. 
For one terrified instant, Morgan had the eerie thought that one of the darkly looming statues of fierce warriors from the past had reached out and grabbed her. Then a low voice hissed in her ear, and the impression of supernatural doings faded. 
“Shhhh!” 
He wasn’t a security guard. The hand over her mouth was encased in a thin, supple black glove, and as much of his arm as she could see was also wearing black. Several hard objects in the vicinity of his waist dug into her back painfully. Then he pulled her impossibly closer as running footsteps approached, and she distinctly felt the roughness of wool—a ski mask?—as his hard jaw brushed against her temple. 
She didn’t struggle in the man’s powerful embrace, although she couldn’t have said just why. Instead, she concentrated on controlling her ragged breathing so that it wouldn’t be audible, her eyes fixed on the archway of the room. She realized only then that she’d bolted into a room with only one entrance. Her captor had literally carried her back into a corner and in the shadows behind one of the fierce warrior statues, and she doubted they were visible from the doorway. 
The footsteps in the hall slowed abruptly, and she caught a glimpse of a rather menacing face further distorted by an angry scowl as her pursuer looked into the room. She stiffened, but he went on without pausing more than briefly. As the footsteps faded, she began to struggle; the steely arm around her tightened with an additional strength that nearly cracked her ribs. 
Three breathless seconds later, she realized why. 
“Ed.” The voice, low and harsh, was no more than a few feet down the hallway. 
Morgan went very still. 
There was an indistinguishable murmur of at least two voices out there, and then the first voice became audible—and quite definitely angry. 
“I thought she came this way. Dammit, she could be anywhere in this mausoleum—the place is huge!” 
“Did she get a look at you?” Ed’s voice was calmer. 
“No, the hall was too dark. When I tapped her boyfriend to sleep, she ran like a rabbit. Why the hell did he have to pick tonight to come here? If he wanted romance, he should have taken her to his place. Judging by what I saw of her, she’d have kept him busy between the sheets for a week.” 
Feeling herself stiffen again, this time indignantly, Morgan was conscious of an absurd embarrassment that the man holding her so tightly against him had heard that lewd comment. 
“Never mind,” Ed said impatiently. “We’re covering all the doors, so she can’t get out, and the phone lines have been cut. She dropped her purse back there, right? Check to see if she had a cell phone, and if she did, trash it. Then go back to your post and wait. We’ll be finished in another half hour and out of here. She’ll be locked in until morning, so she can’t do us any harm.” 
“I don’t like it, Ed.” 
“You don’t have to like it. And stop using my name, you fool. Do what I said and get back to your post.” 
There was a moment of taut silence, and then Ed’s unhappy minion passed the archway on his route back to his post, an even more distorted scowl darkening his face. 
Morgan heard his footsteps fade into silence; strain as she would, she couldn’t hear anything from Ed. At least five minutes must have passed, with agonizing slowness, before her captor finally relaxed slightly and eased her down so that her feet touched the cold floor. His voice sounded again, soft and no more than a sibilant whisper, next to her ear. 
“I’m not going to hurt you. Understand? But you have to be still and quiet, or you’ll bring them down on us.” 
Morgan nodded her understanding. As soon as he released her, she took half a step away and turned to confront him. “If you aren’t with them, what are you—” she began in a whisper, then broke off as the question was answered. 
He was a tall man, at least two or three inches over six feet, with wide shoulders and a wiry look that spoke of honed strength and feline grace rather than muscled bulk. She’d felt that strength. Enveloped in black from head to foot, he had a compact and very efficient-looking tool belt strapped to his lean waist. And from the black ski mask gleamed, almost catlike, the greenest pair of eyes she’d ever seen. 
“Oh.” She knew, then, what he was doing here. “Oh, Christ.” 
“Not nearly,” he murmured. 
Morgan felt a burst of pure irritation at his ill-timed humor but somehow managed to keep her voice low. “You’re just another thief.” 
“Please.” He sounded injured. “Such a commonplace word. An ugly word, even. I prefer to call myself a privateer.” 
“Wrong,” she snapped, still in a low voice that would have been inaudible a couple of feet away. “This isn’t a ship on the high sea, and we aren’t at war. You’re a common, ordinary, run-of-the-mill criminal.” She could have sworn those vivid green eyes gleamed with sheer amusement. 
“My dear young woman,” he said, that same emotion threaded through his soft, unaccented voice, “I am neither common nor ordinary. In fact, I’m one of the last of a vanishing breed in these uncomfortably organized, high-tech days. If you must attach a noun to me, make it cat burglar. However, I’d much rather you simply called me Quinn.” 
 
Wolfe hesitated for a long time before he made the call, but when he did, it hardly surprised him that Max Bannister answered on the second ring. He might be on his honeymoon, but few people even had his cell-phone number, and fewer still would have dared to interrupt said honeymoon. 
“Tell Dinah I said I’m sorry,” Wolfe told Max. 
“You lucked out,” Max responded, dry. “She’s asleep. It’s a bit late over here.” 
Wolfe checked his watch, did a bit of math, and winced. “Sorry.” 
“Never mind. I was awake, actually. What’s up?” 
“The hell of it is . . . I’m not sure how to answer that. Morgan’s worried, Max, and she has me worried.” 
“About?” 
“I’d like to believe we’re both just jumping at shadows, but I think it’s more than that. Something’s off at the museum. The feel of the place is wrong.” 
“That’s pretty nebulous.” 
“No kidding. Morgan felt it first, but I’m feeling it now. It’s like the place is haunted. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we’ve had somebody other than security moving around inside after hours.” 
“Any solid evidence to prove that?” 
“Not a shred.” 
“And nothing’s been taken.” 
“No. Look, Max, you know I’m not an alarmist. But if somebody is inside already, then we’ve got a big problem. There’s no way I can authorize the transfer of the collection, not if I have any doubt at all as to the security of the building.” 
“The new security system isn’t in yet, right?” 
“No, not yet.” 
Max was silent for a moment, then said, “It’s still weeks before the collection will be moved. I say we get the new security system up and running, which is supposed to be designed to plug any holes in the existing security net. In the meantime, you and Morgan are authorized to take any steps you deem necessary to secure the building. Hire more guards, somebody to do an electronics sweep, whatever it takes. I’ll clear it with Ken Dugan and the board of governors.” 
“You know Dugan will agree to anything if it means he’ll have the Bannister collection on exhibit here. Major career points for any head curator.” 
“The board won’t argue either. I’ll finance any extra security measures and guarantee that the museum will be better off even after the exhibit closes.” 
“That’s a dangerous guarantee. The city’s crawling with thieves, Max.” 
“So I’ve heard. Including a new gang the police can’t seem to get a line on.” 
“Yeah, they’ve looted a couple of places already. If they aren’t stopped, I don’t doubt they’ll target your collection.” 
Max chuckled. “My money’s on you and Morgan.” 
“Yeah—literally.” Wolfe sighed. “I’ll talk to Morgan first thing tomorrow morning. Between us, we’ll figure out a way to lock the place down tight.” 
“I know you will. Keep me informed, okay?” 
“You’ve got it. But I promise not to intrude on your honeymoon any more than I have to.” 
“I’d appreciate that.” Max said his good-byes and ended the call, slowly closing his cell phone. 
Dinah, who had been wide awake the entire time, said musingly, “I never realized you could be so deceptive.” 
“I just told him you were asleep. A small white lie to make him feel better.” 
“It didn’t make you feel better. You don’t like lying to him, do you?” 
“Of course not.” 
“Especially about the collection baiting a trap.” 
“Especially that.” Max sighed. 
“Trouble’s coming, isn’t it?” 
“Yes. Yes, I’m afraid it is. And soon.” 
 
Morgan stared at him. Quinn? Quinn. She knew of him. God, of course she knew of him. For nearly ten years, the name of Quinn—along with assorted aliases and journalistic nicknames in various languages—had been synonymous with daring, nerveless theft at its most dramatic. 
If the newspapers were to be believed, he had smoothly robbed the best families of Europe, relieving them of fine baubles and artworks with a delicate precision and finicky taste that made the cat in his preferred noun an apt choice. And in so doing he had bypassed some of the most expensive and complicated security systems ever designed with almost laughable ease. 
Also according to the newspapers, he never used weapons, had never injured anyone, and had never come close to being caught—all of which made him something of a folk hero. 
“Hell,” Morgan said. 
“Not yet.” He seemed even more amused. “I see that my reputation precedes me. How gratifying. It’s nice to know that one’s work is appreciated.” 
She ignored the levity. “I thought you were a European thief exclusively.” 
“Ah—but America is the land of opportunity,” he intoned in a reverent voice. 
She didn’t know whether to laugh or swear again. With her own love of ancient artifacts and priceless artworks, she had never felt the slightest urge to romanticize the theft of them. And no matter how rapturous certain journalists seemed to be in describing the daring exploits of thieves with taste and without any leaning toward violence, she saw nothing of a Robin Hood-type myth clinging to this one: No one had ever implied that Quinn shared his spoils with the poor. 
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. 
“I rather thought that was obvious.” 
Morgan drew a deep breath. “Dammit, I meant—Stop staring at my chest!” 
Quinn cleared his throat with an odd little sound, and in a suspiciously pensive and humble tone said, “I have held in my hands some of the finest artworks the world has ever known. Had I but realized a few moments ago that so exquisite a work of Nature herself was so near . . . May I say—” 
“No, you may not,” she said from between gritted teeth, fighting a mad urge to giggle. 
“No, naturally not,” he murmured, then added sadly, “There are certain drawbacks to being a gentleman burglar.” 
“Oh, now you claim to be a gentleman?” 
“What’s your name?” he asked curiously, ignoring her question. 
“Morgan West.” Oddly enough, she didn’t even think about withholding the information. 
“Morgan. An unusual name. Derived from Morgana, I believe, Old Welsh—” This time, he stopped himself, adding after a thoughtful moment, “And familiar. Ah, now I remember. You’re the director of the forthcoming Mysteries Past exhibit.” 
She raised a hand and shook a finger under his nose. “If you dare to rob my exhibit,” she said fiercely, “I will hunt you to the ends of the earth and roast your gentleman’s carcass over perdition’s flames!” 
“I believe you would,” he said mildly. “Interpol itself never threatened me with more resolution.” 
“Never doubt it.” She let her hand fall, then said in an irritable tone, “And you distracted me.” 
Still mild, Quinn said, “Not nearly as much as you distracted me, Morgana.” 
“It’s Morgan. Just Morgan.” 
“I prefer Morgana.” 
“It isn’t your name—” She got hold of herself. Absurd. Of all the ridiculous . . . Here she was in a dark museum that was being systematically looted by an organized group of thieves. Her dinner date had been, at the very least, knocked unconscious; she’d been chased through marble halls by a man who probably wouldn’t have been nice if he’d caught her; and now she was defending her name preference to an internationally infamous cat burglar who had too much charm for his own good. 
And hers. 
Doggedly, she tried again. “Never mind my name. If you aren’t with those jokers out there, then why are you here?” 
“The situation does have its farcical points,” he said amiably. “I’m afraid I dropped in on them. Literally. We seem to have had the same agenda in mind for tonight. Though my plans were, of course, on a lesser scale. Since they outnumber me ten to one, and since they are definitely armed, I chose not to—shall we say—force the issue. It breaks my heart, mind you, because I’m almost certain that what I came here for is now neatly tucked away in one of their boring little leather satchels. But . . . c’est la vie.” 
Morgan stared at him. “What did you come for?” 
Quite gently, he said, “None of your business, Morgana.” 
After a moment, she said speculatively, “I don’t suppose you’d let me see your face?” 
“That wouldn’t be my first choice, no. Quinn is a name and a shadow, nothing more. I have a strong feeling that your descriptive powers are better than the average, and I don’t care to see a reasonable facsimile of my face plastered across the newspapers. Being a cat burglar is the very devil once the police know what you look like.” 
“All the surveillance systems in the world that include video cameras, and nobody’s yet managed to get a shot of you?” 
“I have a knack,” he explained modestly. 
“Yeah, yeah. It’s more likely you have a hammer,” she said, eyeing his tool belt. 
“I never destroy things. Break a window or a display case now and then, perhaps, but nothing worse than that.” 
“Stealing priceless things isn’t worse than that?” 
“Well, I meant along the lines of destruction.” 
“And I’m supposed to give you points for that?” 
“I was rather hoping you would,” he replied with suspicious earnestness. 
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she muttered under her breath. 
He had been leaning a negligent shoulder against the stone warrior, his pose one of lazy attention, but before she could say anything else, he straightened abruptly. She didn’t have to see his face to feel his sudden tension, and when he reached out for her she felt a moment of real fear. 
“Shhh,” he whispered, drawing her close to him and deeper into the shadows. “They’re coming.” 
Morgan’s instant of rigidity was just that brief. The man must have ears like a bat; she hadn’t heard a thing but was now aware of the muffled footsteps coming toward them up the hall. A lot of muffled footsteps. 
Quinn bent his head until his lips were near her ear and softly breathed, “Their truck’s parked by a side entrance; they have to pass this room in order to reach it.” 
Morgan was definitely nervous about the possibility of discovery, but even then she was aware of a totally extraneous and illogical observation. Despite Quinn’s implication that if he had known about her charms earlier he might have allowed his hands to wander a bit, the hand at her waist remained perfectly still and had not “accidentally” fumbled en route there. It was to his eternal credit as a man, she thought. Or a credit to his detached professionalism as a thief with more businesslike matters on his mind. Or else he had been grossly exaggerating his admiration of said charms. She wasn’t sure which. 
She wanted to know, though. She very badly wanted to know. 
Pushing the insanely inappropriate thoughts aside, she tried to ignore the disturbing closeness of his hard body as they watched almost a dozen shadowy forms file quietly past the doorway. All the men carried leather satchels and were burdened with various tools. Morgan watched them, and it suddenly hit her that the small brown bags contained the museum’s treasures. 
It was like a kick in the stomach that hurt and made her feel ill. She couldn’t just stand here and watch without lifting a finger to stop them— 
That was when Quinn quickly and silently clapped his hand over her mouth again, and the hand at her waist held her in an iron grip that defied her to attempt any movement. 
She felt very peculiar. How had he known? Surely the wretched man couldn’t read minds? No. No, of course not. She must have given away her feelings somehow. Twitched or whimpered or something. She made herself stand perfectly still until he finally—somewhere around ten minutes later—relaxed and turned her loose. 
“My ribs,” she said temperately, “are cracked. At least three of them.” 
“Sometimes I don’t know my own strength,” he apologized solemnly. 
She followed as he strolled casually out of their hiding place and into the hall, reasoning from his lazy attitude—and the fact that his deep voice was no longer unnaturally quiet—that he knew the other thieves had gone. “What happened to the security guards?” she asked him in a normal voice. 
“It’s just a guess,” he answered, walking through the hall with more briskness now, “but from the way they were snoring when I checked on them earlier, I’d say they had been drugged. And nicely trussed as well. You heard the charming Ed say that the phone lines had been cut; the alarm system has naturally been deactivated, and none of the outside doors was damaged when they came in—Damn.” The oath, uttered with more resignation than heat, escaped him as they stood in the doorway of what had been meant to be the Egyptian exhibit. 
Morgan said something a great deal stronger. In fact, she said several violent and colorful things, the last few of which caused Quinn to turn his head and look down at her with a definite gleam in his vivid eyes. 
“Such language,” he reproved. 
“Look at what they did,” she very nearly wailed, gesturing wildly at the room as the echoes of her bitter cry bounced mockingly back at her. It looked, she thought painfully, like a room after a child’s party: messy, depressingly empty, and rather pathetic. 
The thieves had been thorough. Into their little brown satchels had gone all the literally priceless jewelry of the Pharaoh as well as everything else they could carry away. Figurines, the gold plates and goblets meant to hold the food and drink of divine royalty in the afterlife, even— 
“The mummy case,” she gasped. “They took it too?” 
“Carted it out before you crashed the party,” Quinn answered, still maddeningly calm. 
Morgan turned and seized fistfuls of his black turtleneck sweater, rather pleased when he flinched visibly as her nails dug into his chest. “And you didn’t even try to stop them?” she demanded furiously. 
Quinn looked down at her. “Ten to one,” he reminded in an absent tone. “And they had guns. Don’t hit me, but you look rather magnificent when you’re angry.” 
She snarled at him and gave him a shove as she stepped back. The shove didn’t budge him, which also, obscurely, pleased her. “You are a soulless man,” she told him. “How anybody—anybody at all—could stand here and look at this . . . this rape in total calm passes the bounds of all understanding.” 
“Appearances,” he said softly, “can be quite deceiving, Morgana. If I could get my hands on the man who ordered this done, I would probably strangle him.” Then, in a lighter and rather mocking tone, he added, “Such wholesale thievery has a distressing tendency to enrage the local constabulary, to say nothing of persons with valuables to protect. And it’s so greedy, aside from the trouble it causes we honest craftsmen.” 
“Honest?” she yelped. 
“I have my living to make, after all,” he said in an injured tone. “Can I help it if my natural skills set me in opposition to certain narrow-minded rules?” 
She looked blankly after him as he turned away, then scurried along behind him. The floor was cold under her stockinged feet, and it reminded her . . . “Oh, hell, I hope they haven’t killed Peter,” she muttered almost to herself as she caught up with Quinn. 
“The boyfriend?” 
“My date,” she corrected repressively. “He’s the curator of this place.” 
“And he brought you here after hours? Let me guess. He wanted to show you his etchings?” 
If she could have seen his face, Morgan knew it would have looked sardonic; she didn’t have to see his face, because his voice was just the same. But his question was so damned apt that she had a difficult time being indignant. 
Finally, sweetly, she said, “None of your business.” 
“That’s put me in my place,” he murmured, then added, before she could explode, “I wouldn’t worry about your Lothario; professional thieves tend to avoid murder.” 
“Does that go for you too?” she asked nastily. 
He was unruffled. “Certainly. The judges of the world, by and large, look on robbery with severe eyes—but not nearly so severe as those regarding murder.” 
Morgan couldn’t manage anything but a sneer, which was wasted because Quinn was rapidly surveying the rooms they were passing through. Interested despite herself, she asked warily, “Are you looking for something?” 
“I hate wasted efforts,” he explained absently. 
She almost tripped over a security guard lying on the floor, his hands taped behind his back and—as Quinn had said—snoring gustily. Regaining her balance, she hurried on, catching up to the infamous thief as he stood looking down into a glass case. 
“The Kellerman dagger,” he said in a considering tone. 
She didn’t like the tone. “What about it?” 
“It’s a nice piece. Gold haft studded with rubies. Plain sheath, but what the hell. Fetch a good price.”


 
[bookmark: _Toc98841134][bookmark: _Toc93606831]THREE
 
W hat?” Morgan was so enraged, her voice actually squeaked. “You don’t think I’m going to just stand here and let you steal that?” 
“No.” He sighed. “No, I rather thought you’d have an objection.” And then he moved. 
Forever afterward, Morgan was unable to explain to her own satisfaction how he managed to do it. He didn’t exactly leap at her, he was just there, in a flash like a big shadow. She was off balance. That was her only excuse. Off balance and lulled by the sinful charm of the thieving scoundrel. 
She found herself, quite unaccountably, sitting on the cold marble floor. She wasn’t at all hurt. Her wrists were bound together (snugly but not too tightly) with black electrician’s tape, and she was staring at the ornate leg of the display case, which her arms were wrapped around. Effectively immobilized. 
She tried to kick him, but he was too agile for her. 
Chuckling as he stood just out of her range and removed something from his tool belt, Quinn said admiringly, “Your eyes spit rage, just like a cat’s. No, stop trying to kick me, you’ll only hurt yourself.” 
Morgan winced as the glass in the display case shattered under his expert touch. “You’re not going to leave me here?” she demanded incredulously, peering up at him. 
“Sorry,” he murmured. 
“You—you bastard.” 
He might have heard the note of genuine horror in her voice; his head tilted as he looked down at her, and his low voice was more sober. “Only for an hour or so, Morgana, I give you my word. As soon as I’m away, I’ll tip the police.” 
She scowled at him, angry at herself for having shown a moment of weakness. The truth was, she did not at all enjoy the idea of being alone, helplessly bound, in a dim museum with only drugged guards and a possibly murdered Peter for company. 
She hadn’t realized it until now, but Quinn’s insouciant manner and easy strength had been—in some peculiar way she didn’t want to think about—more than a little comforting. Even if he was a devious, rotten, no-good criminal. 
“Is your word any good?” she asked coldly. 
He seemed to go very still for a moment, then said in a voice different from any she’d yet heard him use, “My word is the only good thing about me. One must, after all, cling to some scrap of honor.” 
The overly light tone couldn’t quite disguise a much deeper feeling underneath, a seriousness that surprised her. Morgan couldn’t hold on to her scowl, but she did manage not to soften toward him. Much. 
She watched him lift the dagger from the case and drop it into a chamois bag she hadn’t noticed tied to his tool belt. Then a sudden memory made her say, “Ed said I’d be locked in until morning; how’re you going to get out?” 
“The same way I got in.” His voice was his again, careless and somewhat mocking. 
“Which is?” 
His eyes gleamed, catlike, as he looked down at her. “Which is my little secret. After all—I may use the same trick to get at your exhibit.” 
Her momentary softening vanished as if an arctic wind had blasted it. “I swear to God, Quinn, if you lay so much as a single finger on any part of Bannister’s collection . . .” 
“I know,” he said sympathetically when her choked voice trailed off. “It’s so hard to rise to glorious heights a second time. The first threat was so marvelously phrased. Let’s see—ah, yes. If I tamper with Mysteries Past, you mean to hunt me to the ends of the earth and roast my gentleman’s carcass over perdition’s flames. That was it, I believe?” 
She made a strangled sound of sheer rage. 
He chuckled. “I must go now, chérie. Are you quite comfortable?” 
Pride told her to ignore the mockingly solicitous question; the hard coldness of the floor beneath her thin skirt told her to speak up before he disappeared. Common sense won out, but her Cherokee pride made her voice sulky. “No, dammit. The floor’s hard. And cold.” 
“My apologies,” he said gravely. “I will try to remedy that.” He vanished into the shadows toward another of the rooms. 
Morgan had to fight a craven impulse to cry out his name. Museums were unnerving places at night, she decided firmly, squashing the impulse. So . . . so quiet. With big, dark things looming in shadows, and the faint, musty smell of age and inexorable decay. She shivered, seeing the remnants of history from a new perspective and not liking it much. 
Quinn returned in just a few minutes, carrying a colorful, tasseled pillow he’d gotten from God knew where. Still sulky but curious, she waited to see how he’d manage; her position on the floor was awkward and she couldn’t raise herself much. He stepped around behind her, bent, and slid one arm around her waist (again with no exploratory fumbles). Then he lifted her a few inches and neatly slid the pillow underneath her. 
“How’s that?” he asked briskly. 
She looked up at him as he came into sight again. “Better,” she said grudgingly. “But the police are not going to believe a ruthless thief took the time and trouble to put a pillow under my ass.” 
He laughed with genuine amusement. “They will believe it. Trust me. Just tell them you asked for the pillow.” The laughter fading, he stood looking down at her for a moment. “And tell them I was here. Don’t forget that.” 
Morgan had the sudden realization that her story was going to sound awfully improbable. She found herself mentally editing Quinn out of the story completely and was so astonished at herself she could only stare up at him bemusedly. “I—I don’t—That is, I haven’t decided what I’ll tell the police.” 
He was silent for a few beats, then said softly, “Will you lie for me, sweet Morgana?” 
“No,” she snapped. “For me. In case you haven’t realized, any story I tell is going to sound fishy as hell. Running from a group of organized thieves and caught by an internationally famous cat burglar who just happened to be burgling the same museum on the same night? After which, said thief tied me to the leg of a display case and put a pillow under my ass before stealing a lone dagger and making good his escape? Don’t forget that Peter and I got in with a key. What’s to stop the police from suspecting I was in league with—with you or the other ones?” 
“If you know how to play dumb,” Quinn said dryly, “the idea will never cross their minds.” 
“I’ll play hysterical,” she snarled. “God, the messes I get into. Just because Peter had to show me his etchings. Stop laughing, you monster! Go on—get out of here, why can’t you? Fade away into the misty night. Fold up your tent and beat it. Hit the road. The next time I see a black ski mask, I’ll kick it in the shin. I hope the next place you burgle has a pack of wild dogs in it. Dobermans. Big Dobermans. Big hungry Dobermans—who missed their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” 
She eyed him resentfully as he leaned somewhat weakly against the display case and continued to laugh at her. 
“On the whole,” Quinn said unsteadily, “I think I’d prefer the flames of perdition.” 
“You can count on that. If Interpol doesn’t get you, I will.” 
A last chuckle escaped him as Quinn straightened. “I find myself almost looking forward to that. Good night, sweet—and thank you for enlivening a boring evening.” 
She held out until he reached a distant, shadowy doorway, then said, “Quinn?” 
He hesitated, then turned. She caught the flash of his green eyes. 
“You—you will call the police?” 
“I give you my word, Morgana,” he said steadily. “They’ll be here within an hour.” 
She nodded, and in a moment the shadows were only shadows. It was very quiet and felt curiously desolate. She sat there, bound to the leg of a display case, her stockinged feet growing cold—why hadn’t she asked Quinn to find her shoes?—and a thick pillow cushioning against the hard floor. 
It occurred to her that she should start weaving a reasonable story for the police. Knit one, purl two. No, that wasn’t weaving. Weaving was Penelope picking out the threads of her tapestry by night because she didn’t want to marry anyone else even if Ulysses had been gone an awfully long time. 
What were the odds against running into an infamous cat burglar twice in one lifetime? Remote. Unless, of course, one was the director of a fabulously valuable exhibit. . . . 
“Well, officer,” she said aloud in the cavernous room, “it happened like this . . .” 
By the luminous hands of her watch, the police arrived forty-five minutes later. And Quinn had been right, damn him. They took one look at her and accepted without a blink the notion that a busy thief would take the time to find her a pillow because she’d told him the floor was too hard and cold. 
There were benefits to looking like a dumb sex kitten. 
Sometimes. 
Once in a blue moon. 
 
“I don’t like it,” Wolfe said, slouching in his chair as he stared broodingly at a police report lying before him. “That makes two museums robbed within two weeks. This new gang is obviously greedy as hell, and I doubt they’ll stop now.” 
“Did you really think they would?” Morgan asked. 
“No. No, I didn’t.” 
It was very early, and they were in Morgan’s office, since it was the larger of the two. 
After a moment, Morgan said, “Neither of those museums has the kind of security being installed here; their systems aren’t even as good as the existing system here. They relied on guards and simple door alarms. No lasers or sensors and no backup system in case of electrical failure.” 
Wolfe shook his head. “That isn’t what’s bothering me; I’ll grant the museums’ security was outdated. What I don’t like is the scale. That gang of thieves came in like an army and stole everything they could carry. According to both your observations and police reports, they were unhurried, methodical, and very businesslike. They didn’t leave a fingerprint or a clue, and I can’t see they made a single mistake. 
“All we have is basic information, and most of that was supplied by you: ten to twelve men, one of them named Ed, who very efficiently stole items no self-respecting fence would touch. That points to a major collector, or cartel of them, being supplied by these thieves. And that means nothing stolen is likely to surface again; the police haven’t got a hope in hell of finding that stuff.” 
“The dagger might surface,” Morgan murmured. 
“What dagger?” 
Morgan cleared her throat and met his eyes. “The Kellerman dagger. The thieves—the group of thieves—didn’t get that. Someone else did.” 
“Who?” Wolfe asked. 
“Quinn.” 
Wolfe sat up with a jerk, staring at her. “Quinn? He was there last night?” 
Nodding briefly, Morgan said, “He was there. I didn’t tell the police because . . . well, because if it hadn’t been for him, that gang would have caught me and probably wouldn’t have been nice about it.” 
“I thought they did catch you,” Wolfe said slowly. 
“No. They knew I was there, and they weren’t very happy about it, but they didn’t seem too worried either. It was after they’d gone that I was tied up. Quinn did that. I . . . uh . . . made a fuss when he decided to steal the dagger, so he tied me to the display case.” 
“Did you see his face?” 
“No, he was wearing a ski mask. He wouldn’t tell me what he’d come there to steal originally, he just said that when he discovered he wasn’t the only thief in the building—and was outnumbered—he decided to stay out of their way.” 
Wolfe looked at her steadily for a moment, then said, “You seem to have had quite a conversation with him.” 
Morgan flushed a little but continued to meet his gaze. “I can’t really explain, except that I didn’t feel threatened by him. I mean, I wasn’t afraid of him at all. He was even sort of charming—and don’t remind me he’s no better than the others. I know that, believe me. It’s just that if I’d told the police, it only would have complicated things and, besides, it sounded so improbable. It doesn’t make a difference, does it? The only item he took was the dagger, and if he fences that it’s bound to surface, so—” 
“You know better than that. If the dagger does surface, it could well lead the police off on a wild-goose chase. It could indicate to them that all the other items could be fenced as well, so they’d concentrate on the wrong assumption.” 
“Common thieves versus collectors.” Morgan nodded with a sigh. “I know, I know. I obviously wasn’t thinking straight.” 
Wolfe eyed her thoughtfully, then shrugged. “It probably won’t make all that much difference in the end. The police have to follow standard procedure in robbery cases, which means they’ll keep an eye on known fences. Not really much else they can do without a solid suspect. If the dagger surfaces alone, they’ll try to follow that lead as a matter of course—but they won’t go off track for long.” He paused for an instant, then added, “If you had blown the whistle about Quinn being there, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the way the police work the case. If Quinn’s in this country, the police’ll know about it soon enough.” 
“I guess our police would know about him, wouldn’t they? But they wouldn’t know any more than the information Interpol provides on their watch list.” 
“Probably not. They’ll know his M.O., the alias he uses, the sort of artworks and gems he tends to go after.” Wolfe spoke rather absently, his frowning gaze fixed on Morgan’s desk. 
“Wasn’t a journalist in England responsible for that alias? I mean, didn’t the journalist start using the name Quinn to describe this particular thief because it meant wise and intelligent, or something like that?” 
“If I remember rightly, the journalist claimed he’d received a note from the thief after a big robbery, and it was signed Quinn. The police were never sure it actually came from him, but the name stuck. It was later on that somebody decided he’d chosen the alias because of what it meant.” 
“Do you think he did?” 
“I doubt the note was from him at all. Stupid to claim responsibility for a robbery and give the police a chance to start building a file on him. And I’ve never heard he was stupid.” 
“The journalist—or someone else—trying to get more newsprint out of a robbery?” 
“Maybe. Probably. In any case, it was the beginning of all the . . . smoke and mirrors around Quinn and his activities. I always figured the myth got a lot bigger than the man.” 
Morgan wasn’t so sure about that, but wasn’t about to say so. Instead, she said, “He is supposed to be good, though. Very, very good at what he does.” 
“Being active and at large for ten years, he damned well has to be good.” 
After a slight hesitation, Morgan said, “There haven’t been any reported robberies by Quinn in the States until now; I checked. He came here, Wolfe. Straight here, to San Francisco. And he knew I was the director of Max’s exhibit. I don’t know what he was doing at the other museum last night—but I think we should assume the Bannister collection is his ultimate target.” 
“Great,” Wolfe said a bit grimly. “That’s just great.” 
“It isn’t a totally unexpected problem,” Morgan pointed out. “We’ve known all along the exhibit would be a target. And it certainly is a big enough target to tempt even an international thief like Quinn. But it doesn’t change anything. You said it yourself; all we can do is make it as difficult as possible for any thief, or group of thieves, to get to the exhibit. And you said Max gave us full authority to do whatever it takes.” 
“Yeah, but I wish he’d consider canceling. I’m more than a little inclined to call him again and try my hand at persuading him to.” 
“You know him better than I do,” Morgan said. “But from all he’s said to me, I don’t think it’s an option.” 
“No, probably not.” 
“Besides, he’s on his honeymoon. He’ll be back in a couple of weeks, still well before the collection is moved from the vault and long before the exhibit is due to open. Maybe by then we’ll have something a little more definite to tell him.” 
“You saw Quinn, Morgan. Talked to him. How more definite could that be?” 
“He only told me that’s who he was. Maybe he was lying.” 
“Is that what you think?” 
She hesitated, then swore under her breath. “No. I think it was Quinn. But we still don’t know for sure that he’s after the collection. We can assume, but we don’t know for sure. He could decide to take advantage of all the attention being focused on the exhibit to rob somebody else.” 
“Uh-huh.” 
“Okay, chances are good he’s after the collection.” 
Wolfe stared at her. 
“More than good,” she admitted reluctantly. 
“I’d say pretty damned certain.” 
Morgan sighed. “Yeah.” She gathered her copies of police reports and various notes and stacked them neatly on her blotter. “Well, I’m getting on the horn to the security company right now. If their bright boys and girls know any tricks we haven’t planned for security here, I want to know what they are. If we have to, we’ll turn this place into Fort Knox.” 
“I hear that.” 
 
Carla Reeves delivered the information he demanded. It didn’t take her long, since she had complete access to everything he wanted, and making copies of the schematics was easy. It was also easy to get them out of the office, because she’d developed the sterling reputation of working late and the night guard was accustomed to locking up after her. 
She met her blackmailer where and when he’d instructed, and handed over a zip disk. 
“These are the most recent diagrams?” 
Carla nodded. “Yeah.” 
“Thank you, Carla.” 
She eyed him. “So . . . we’re done now?” 
“We’re done . . . for now.” 
It was what she’d expected, though it certainly didn’t make her happy. “Look, I can’t keep nosing around in the system, making copies of stuff for you. There are safeguards built in, firewalls I might not see until it’s too late.” 
“Then if I were you,” he said, “I’d be very, very careful.” 
“Please, I can’t—” 
“You’d better. And do try not to get caught, Carla. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be happy about that. Not happy at all.” 
Carla Reeves felt a chill and it had nothing at all to do with the cool night air. 
 
Morgan ran into Wolfe just outside the hallway where the office spaces were located, and even though the scowl on his face didn’t invite discussion or even greetings, she happily waded in where even angels would have been wary. 
“You called Max again, didn’t you?” 
“Yeah, I called him.” 
“And he refused to even consider canceling the exhibit.” 
Wolfe’s scowl deepened. “He won’t even consider delaying the opening.” 
“And you’re pissed.” 
Since she was more or less barring his way, Wolfe was forced to reply. “Of course I’m not pissed at Max,” he replied. 
Morgan lifted an eyebrow. 
“All right, so I’m pissed. He’s hidebound about keeping his promises, even when it might be better—” Wolfe sighed explosively. “Never mind. It isn’t my collection, I just work for the people who insure it.” 
“Ours not to reason why?” 
“Something like that. Anyway, at the moment I’m more . . . irritated . . . by the computer nerd back there. I think he’s in over his head and won’t admit it.” 
“If you keep calling him the computer nerd, I’m not surprised he won’t admit anything to you. His name is Jonathan.” 
“It is?” 
Morgan sighed. “Yes, it is. And no matter how young and . . . um . . . addled he sometimes seems to be, he’s an expert.” 
“Yeah. Supposed to be one of the best Ace Security has, but you can’t prove it by me.” 
“Do you know enough about computers to be sure he’s screwing up?” 
“I know enough to recognize bravado when I see it. And he’s worried too.” 
“So what’re you going to do about it?” 
“Not much I can do, for the moment. Max wanted Ace Security, and Lloyd’s approved. Ace says this kid is one of their best. Fine. But that doesn’t mean I can’t demand somebody higher up the food chain than he is come in and check his work.” 
“You’re probably just making him nervous.” 
“Who, me?” 
Morgan grinned at him. “Yeah, you. Mind you, I enjoy the show whenever you’re breathing fire and raining brimstone, but I imagine it isn’t all that conducive to exacting technical work.” 
“If he can’t take a little heat,” Wolfe retorted, “he doesn’t belong in the job. Security is not a business for wimps.” 
“Gotcha. Um . . . Wolfe? You’ve been in security awhile, right?” 
“Ten years, or thereabouts. Why?” 
Morgan hugged her clipboard and tried her best to look only mildly curious. “I was just wondering if you’d run into Quinn before now.” 
Wolfe looked at her steadily, his face peculiarly unexpressive. Then, in a voice that was also rather impassive, he said, “Couple of years ago. I was staying in a private home in London. Got up in the middle of the night looking for something to read, and caught Quinn with his hand in the safe.” 
“Jesus.” That was rather more than Morgan had expected. “What happened?” 
With a short laugh, Wolfe said, “Nothing much. He got away. It wasn’t what I recall as one of my finer moments.” 
“Well . . . he’s pretty slippery, by all accounts. I mean, you can’t blame yourself for not being able to catch him when Interpol hasn’t been able to all these years.” 
“Thanks,” Wolfe said dryly. 
“Didn’t make you feel any better about it, did I?” 
“No, but don’t worry about it. Morgan . . . if you’ve got the idea that Quinn is some kind of romantic figure—” 
Feeling her face get hot, she instantly said, “No, of course not. I know he’s a thief.” 
“And not a Robin Hood sort of thief,” Wolfe reminded her. “He’s not robbing the rich to feed the poor.” 
“I know. I know that. I’m just curious, that’s all. Meeting him the way I did . . .” 
“I hear he can be pretty charming when he wants to. But think about why he might want to, Morgan. You’re the director of the Mysteries Past exhibit. The one person who knows just about everything there is to know about it.” 
“A valuable source of information,” she murmured. 
“For a thief, the absolute best source. You pointed out yourself that he came straight here, straight to San Francisco. Straight to the future home of Max’s collection.” 
Morgan squared her shoulders and nodded. “Yeah.” 
“Maybe it’s not such a coincidence that you ran into him last night.” 
That did surprise her. “I don’t see how it could have been anything else. He was in the museum long before I got there, he had to be. And no one knew Peter would take me there after hours. I didn’t even know, until we were in the car.” 
Wolfe shrugged. “Okay, maybe so. Just keep in mind that there aren’t too many coincidences with somebody like Quinn on the scene. From all I hear, he has the knack of manipulating people and events to suit his own purposes.” 
“I’ve heard that,” she admitted. 
“Believe it. He wouldn’t have been so successful for so many years if he hadn’t learned to turn any situation to his own advantage. And if he’s good enough, you’ll never know he’s pulling the strings. Things aren’t always the way they appear to be.” 
“Does that go for people too?” 
Wolfe’s smile was wry. “Definitely for people. Most people have their own agenda, you’ve lived long enough to know that. We both know what Quinn’s agenda has to be. All I’m saying is, don’t get caught up in the myth of him. At the end of the day, a thief is a thief. Period.” 
“Yes,” Morgan said. “I know.” 
 
Several days passed. The slow process of converting an outdated security system continued; Wolfe was in and out, sometimes clearly harassed but usually his rather laconic self, and Morgan dealt briskly with the myriad details of her job. 
On Thursday, Wolfe asked Morgan if she would attend a party with him the following evening. It was being hosted by a friend of Max’s, a man who was a very influential patron and collector in the art world. The party was a benefit to raise money for a struggling art school in the city, and according to the society pages the elite of San Francisco were expected to attend. 
Morgan had done administrative work for another art museum as well as for a foundation based in San Francisco, so she tended to be on the guest list for the benefits and parties connected to the art world, but she had pretty much decided not to go until Wolfe asked her. 
If he was interested enough in the party—or the guests—to want to attend, then she wanted to be there as well. 
After what he’d said, she was reasonably sure Wolfe was convinced that the gang of thieves led by the charming Ed had behind them at least one art collector, and possibly several of them. So it made sense he’d want to get a good, close-up look at as many collectors as possible, all conveniently gathered together under one roof as if for his inspection. 
As for Morgan being his “date,” she understood that as well. Not being at all his usual type—long-legged blondes—she wouldn’t distract him from business. And if, by chance, he met someone there who did distract him, Morgan would be sure to understand. And take a cab home. 
“I even brought the fare with me,” she told him cheerfully on Friday evening as he drove them to the party. 
“Morgan, I’m not planning on abandoning you.” 
“Oh, I’m sure you’re not. But just in case you decide to later, I thought you should know I’m prepared.” 
Wolfe shook his head but didn’t bother to argue with her. “I want to talk to some of these collectors. It’s a purely business evening for me.” 
“If you say so. Does Leo know you and Max are half brothers?” 
“I doubt it.” Wolfe shrugged. “Since I wasn’t raised here, and Max doesn’t really talk about family, I doubt many people know. Not that it’s a secret, it just hasn’t come up.” 
“I only know because Max told me why he trusted you more than any other representative of Lloyd’s to handle security for the exhibit. He said you’d been raised by your fathers and hadn’t gotten to know each other until about fifteen years ago.” 
“True enough.” 
“He also said your mother was an amazing woman and that he was terrified of her.” 
Wolfe grinned faintly. “Also true. She could command armies, our mother. You’d never know it to look at her, but she brings the term ‘iron hand in a velvet glove’ to a whole new level. And has about five different kinds of charm. I’ve seen some of the most powerful men in the world following along behind her like besotted idiots.” 
“Max said your father and his had both remained friendly with her after the divorces.” 
“Mother never makes enemies, especially husbands.” 
Morgan had to laugh. “She sounds fascinating. I’d love to meet her one day. Max said she travels?” 
“Yeah. Last I heard, she was either in Australia or New Zealand.” 
“Any chance she might be heading this way?” 
“God knows.” 
Perceptively, Morgan said, “You don’t want her here, do you?” 
“While Max’s collection has the potential to draw every villain in the country to our doorstep? No.” 
“You know, I hadn’t thought about it quite that way.” 
“I had,” Wolfe said, turning his rented sports car into the long driveway of Leo Cassady’s Sea Cliff mansion. “I had.”


 
[bookmark: _Toc98841135][bookmark: _Toc93606832]FOUR
 
S an Francisco was famous for a number of things, including the Golden Gate Bridge, but since Quinn’s interest was professional, what interested him were portable treasures—and the security systems that protected them. 
Very good security systems. 
It probably wasn’t surprising, considering how long the city had housed some very wealthy people, that San Francisco boasted some of the newest and toughest security systems in existence. Leo Cassady, for instance, lived in a mansion whose security system would have shamed most banks. 
From his vantage point on the roof of a building nearly half a block away, Quinn watched the cream of San Francisco society arriving. His infrared binoculars gave him a close-up view of everyone, and he caught himself mentally calculating the dollar worth of some of the jewels adorning some of those sleek, well-toned bodies. 
The staggering total he arrived at was immensely tempting, but even more so when added to the probable value of what else he knew the mansion contained: Leo Cassady’s private collection of artworks and artifacts. 
Quinn lowered his binoculars and sighed. A private home stuffed with valuables and playing host to every art collector in the city. Pity one couldn’t just throw a net over the whole building. 
He laughed under his breath, then tucked the binoculars away in his tool belt and bid a reluctant farewell to all that tempting wealth. For now, at least. 
He was on the point of turning away when he stopped suddenly and returned his gaze to the mansion. A low-slung sports car had pulled into the drive and joined others in the circular car park. As Quinn watched, a man and woman got out and joined other guests going into the house. 
Quinn didn’t reach for his binoculars. He didn’t have to. He didn’t need his eyes to tell him what his other senses already had. 
So Morgan was also a guest. Not that it surprised Quinn; she was very well known among collectors and people connected to museums, aside from knowing Leo Cassady through his friend Max Bannister. 
Quinn waited until they vanished into the brightly lit mansion, then turned away. He was frowning a little but didn’t hesitate again, leaving his rooftop perch and making his way to the unassuming sedan parked nearby. 
He didn’t start the car immediately, but instead pulled out his cell phone and made a call. 
“Yeah.” 
“I’m a bit surprised you aren’t at the party tonight,” Quinn said. “Everyone else is.” 
“Like you, I have other things to do.” 
“Any luck getting the technical schematics I asked for?” 
“Not so far. I can’t just ask for them, remember.” 
“I don’t have to remind you that time is ticking away.” 
“No, you don’t have to remind me. Just as I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this situation is getting more complicated with every day that passes. Security systems are being overhauled right and left, thanks to that gang walking off with everything they can carry. Even if I can get you the schematics, I can’t guarantee they’ll be up-to-date.” 
“Let me worry about that.” 
“You? Worry? Show me that face the next time you’re wearing it, will you? Because I’ve never seen it.” 
Quinn chuckled. “Oh, I have a few concerns, believe me. That gang, for one. If their activities aren’t stopped, and soon, armed guards are going to be standing elbow to elbow around anything of value in this city.” 
“And not even you could break through that line.” 
“Well, let’s say I’d rather not have to try.” Quinn barely paused. “I’m going to check out a few likely targets and then head back toward the museum. If you get your hands on those schematics, let me know. Sooner is better than later.” 
“Right.” 
Quinn ended the call and for a few moments considered his options. Then he shrugged and started the car. If he had learned anything, it was that sometimes the universe had its own plan in mind, and a smart man learned how to go with the flow. 
Quinn was a smart man. 
 
Morgan was familiar with the exquisite paintings and other pieces in Leo’s impressive collection, but that didn’t stop her from wandering through his beautiful house in order to look at them again. She had noted without comment the presence of several unobtrusive plainclothes guards dressed as formally as the guests as they kept an eye on the valuables, and she took it for granted that display cases and paintings were protected by an invisible, but no doubt extensive, security system. 
That was a given. 
She wound up, finally, back in the big front room where Leo tended to hold court during his parties. He was a very handsome and charming man in his late forties, popular with both men and women alike. 
“Where’s Wolfe, Morgan?” Leo asked. 
“He abandoned me for a blonde,” Morgan replied without rancor, and then giggled. “He seems to be irresistibly drawn to them. I suppose I should have reminded him that the one he’s dancing with now is a shark with a full set of teeth, but he’s a big boy. I decided to let him fend for himself.” 
Leo smiled at her. “Are you talking about our Nyssa?” 
“The very same,” she replied promptly. “Not only does she have a habit of snaring my dates without mercy, but she’s tried twice tonight to get my promise that she’ll be allowed to see Mysteries Past even before the private showing to open the exhibit.” 
Leo lifted a brow. “I should have thought she’d ask Max,” he commented. 
Morgan grinned. “She’s tried everything but blackmail on Max for months and finally admitted defeat. She told me so. So now it’s my turn. Lots of sweet smiles and honeyed words.” Shaking her head, Morgan added, “She also asked if Max would consider selling any piece of the collection. I thought everyone knew that answer.” 
“She knows,” Leo responded. “She just doesn’t give up easily.” 
“Rabid collectors don’t,” Morgan agreed with a sigh. “Still, I hope she’ll stop wasting her time on me. I have enough to worry about without her pestering me.” 
“Maybe she’ll start pestering Wolfe,” Leo said with a grin. 
Morgan looked through the wide doorway into the ballroom and chuckled as she watched Wolfe dancing with the tall and stunning blonde. “Maybe she will.” 
Leo murmured, “And as far as men are concerned, she’s also extremely talented in the various arts of . . . persuasion.” 
“Do you know that firsthand?” Morgan asked with a lurking smile. 
In a meditative tone, Leo said, “I turned down an offer of thirty thousand for my Greek chalice.” He smiled, said, “Excuse me,” and strolled away. 
Morgan couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her host move away. Nyssa had the Greek chalice, and she had bragged publicly that she’d gotten it for ten thousand. Obviously, she had bartered the rest. 
To give the older woman credit, Morgan had to admit that Nyssa was at least honest about her tactics. 
Since she was reasonably sure Wolfe could hold his own with even a rabid collector who also happened to be a gorgeous blonde, Morgan was free to enjoy the party, which she did. 
At least until Wolfe got a call on his cell phone. 
 
“We should probably call Max,” Morgan said with a sigh as Wolfe’s rental car neared her apartment. “He should know how badly Jonathan screwed up.” 
“How badly did he screw up? Do you know? Because I’m not sure.” 
“Computers aren’t my specialty, but from what he told you, I’ve got the feeling we’re talking about a major problem—and a setback of several weeks, potentially. That’s assuming he can fix what he messed up without making things worse. Don’t you think we should call Max?” 
“No reason he has to know until he gets back here,” Wolfe pointed out. “There’s nothing he could do about it anyway. Nothing any of us can do, for that matter.” 
“Yeah, but we should tell him.” 
“Let me see how bad things are first. If there’s nothing he could do about it, there’s no reason to bother him with it until he comes home.” 
She eyed him as he pulled the car to a stop at the curb in front of her building. “Okay. Just out of curiosity—are you planning to meet Nyssa later?” 
Affably, he said, “Nosy, aren’t you?” 
“Yes. Are you going to answer the question?” 
He sighed. “No, I’m not meeting Nyssa later. As a matter of fact, I’m going back to the museum.” 
Morgan frowned. “Why?” 
“To try to figure out just how badly the computer nerd—excuse me, Jonathan—screwed up. And because your paranoia has infected me.” He sounded distinctly irritable about it. “Believe me, I’d much rather spend the night with somebody other than armed security guards, but such is my life at the moment.” 
“You’re going to stay there all night? And do what? Breathe down the guards’ necks?” 
“I just want to keep an eye on the place.” He started to put the car in park, but Morgan stopped him. 
“No, you don’t have to get out. This building is very safe and has great security. Listen, are you really worried or just humoring me?” 
“I could have spent the night with Nyssa. No offense, but humoring you would come in a distant second if those were my choices.” 
Not at all offended, Morgan said, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re worried because the technician blew his job? It doesn’t affect current security.” 
“No, but it’s an anomaly. I don’t like anomalies. I don’t trust them. So I’m going to check every door and window in that building personally. And I’m going to make damned sure all the guards know I’m looking over their shoulders.” 
“I can—” 
“No, you can’t. You’ve spent more time in the museum lately than the exhibits have.” 
“Very funny.” 
“Look, Morgan, you’ve been putting in way too many hours lately. We both know Max won’t like it. Besides, there really isn’t anything you can do tonight. I promise I won’t strangle Jonathan. Hell, I won’t even yell at him.” 
“I’m sure he’s gone home by now,” she murmured. 
Wolfe had to laugh. “Yeah, he probably has. So it’ll be me and the guards tonight. You get some rest, and I’ll see you in the morning.” 
Morgan opened the car door. “You can’t watch them all the time.” 
“No, but I can keep a very close eye on them at least until the new security system is up and running.” 
“Well, I know it won’t do much for your social life, but I have to say it makes me feel better that you’ll be watching the place.” 
Moody now, Wolfe said, “Sometimes I hate my job.” 
Realizing that Nyssa Armstrong must have issued a pretty blunt invitation that Wolfe had refused very reluctantly, Morgan fought to hide a grin. “You’re appreciated, believe me. Thanks for the ride—and for letting me wear you on my arm, if only for a little while tonight.” 
“You’re welcome,” he said dryly. 
Laughing, Morgan got out of the car. She went up the walkway to the apartment building’s front door, letting herself in to the well-lit lobby. It was only then that she heard Wolfe pull away from the curb and continue toward the museum just a few blocks away. 
She started to take the stairs up to her apartment but hesitated with her hand still on the lobby door. It was the strangest feeling, as though she could—almost—hear someone calling her name. She needed to go back outside. Needed to look for something out there. And she needed to do it now. 
Morgan looked down at her sleek gold dress and tiny evening purse, the black jacket that was hardly worthy of the name, and muttered, “This is so stupid.” 
But she went outside anyway and stood there on the well-lit walkway, looking slowly around. Not much to see, she thought. Couple of big trees casting deep shadows. Other shadows around the shrubbery . . . 
One of the shadows stepped away from the shrubbery. 
Morgan felt herself moving toward him even before she made the conscious decision to. He was dressed all in black, just like before, but the black gloves were tucked into the compact tool belt he wore, and the ski mask was rolled up from the bottom so that when she reached him she could see his strong jaw, determined chin—and amused smile. 
“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded, then immediately added, “If you mean to rob this building, you can be sure I’ll tell the police exactly who did it.” 
“You cut me to the quick, chérie. Would I be so base as to despoil the home of my adored?” 
“Very funny,” she snapped. “Forget the Don Juan act, because I’m not buying it. As for just how low you’d sink, let me put it this way. I’d hate to have your nerve in a tooth.” 
White teeth flashed in a brilliant smile as he laughed softly again. “Morgana, you are a delight.” 
She ignored what sounded suspiciously like a genuine and sincere compliment, because she suddenly realized something. “How did you know I live here?” she demanded. 
“Apartment 312,” Quinn said lazily. “I followed you home the other day.” 
Morgan made a strong mental note to pay much more attention to those around her after this. He’d been near—probably unmasked—and she hadn’t seen him? “Well, don’t do it again,” she ordered irritably. “In case you hadn’t realized, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” 
“I’m crushed,” he murmured, then added, “You look stunning tonight, by the way, Morgana. Gold is definitely your color.” 
She had totally forgotten the rather clingy dress and tried not to feel self-conscious that he had taken notice. “I’ve been to a party,” she said, refusing to thank him for the compliment. 
“Yes, I saw the escort leave. He didn’t want to show you his etchings?” 
“He’s just a friend,” Morgan heard herself say. She scowled at Quinn. “Not that it’s any of your business.” 
“Of course not.” He was still obviously amused. “Curiosity brought me here, Morgana. Why didn’t you tell the police about my being in the museum the other night?” 
Morgan hadn’t expected to have to defend that decision to him, and she cast about frantically before coming up with something that would be a sensible answer. “I told you at the time it sounded too damned unlikely to be believed. Besides, what you stole—what I think you stole—was nothing compared to what that gang walked out of there with. What does it matter, anyway?” 
“As I said—curiosity.” In an apologetic tone, he said, “I’m afraid I leaped to a conclusion. Hope springs eternal, you know. However, since you’ve made your feelings quite plain, I’ll retreat to lick my wounds in private.” 
Morgan found herself hesitating and swore inwardly when she realized it. Keeping her voice dry, she said, “I told you to cut the act. In the first place, you’re a thief, which is something I’m not at all in sympathy with. In the second place, I happen to be the director of an exhibit that must be calling to you like a siren song. And in the third place, any woman would need her head examined, by an expert, if she for one single minute believed anything you said.” 
He was smiling again. “Suppose I were to say it wasn’t an act, Morgana. Suppose I denied any interest in Mysteries Past and assured you I am to be trusted completely.” 
“I wouldn’t believe you,” she said stolidly. 
White teeth flashed again as Quinn smiled at her. “Very wise of you, Morgana. Very wise indeed.” 
Morgan eyed him with more uneasiness than she wanted him to see. “So you are after the Bannister collection.” 
“I didn’t say that, sweet.” 
“Oh, yeah, like you’d really come right out and tell me the truth about it. Me, the director of the exhibit.” 
“That wouldn’t be at all wise of me, would it?” Quinn said, in a tone of surprised realization. He folded his arms across his chest and made a considering sound. “You’re probably right, Morgana. Why don’t we pretend the subject never came up?” 
“Why don’t we pretend it did? Quinn, if you think I’m going to just stand by and let you get your thieving hands on Max’s collection, you’re nuts.” 
“Well, actually, Morgana, you wouldn’t be there at the time. Hypothetically speaking, of course.” 
“I mean—you know what I mean.” She shook her head. “Why am I even standing here talking to you?” 
“My question would be—why did you come out to talk to me?” 
Morgan stared at him, conscious of a different uneasiness now. “I just . . . I thought I heard something.” 
“No,” Quinn said. 
“I did. I thought I heard a noise out here. That’s why I came back outside.” 
“You didn’t hear anything, sweet. I was standing here not making a sound.” 
“I didn’t say it was you I heard,” she snapped. 
Quinn laughed softly. “You aren’t going to admit it, are you, Morgana?” 
“Admit what?” 
“Admit that you feel it when I’m nearby. That you can sense my presence.” 
“That’s ridiculous. I don’t—” Morgan stared at him, suddenly remembering her feelings of anxiety at different times in the museum. “Wait a minute. You haven’t already found a way into the museum. Have you?” 
“Do you really expect me to answer that?” he asked in mild surprise. But before she could respond, he did answer her question, his voice unusually serious. “I’ve been inside the museum during hours, like any other visitor. As for the night . . . let’s just say I’ve been keeping an eye on most of the museums in this city.” 
“Picking your next target?” 
“Trying to size up my competition. That gang we both encountered the other night.” 
“You know who’s behind them?” 
“No. Not yet.” 
“And if you find out? What then? You’ll tip the police to get them out of your way?” 
He chuckled. “That would be the smart thing to do, wouldn’t it?” 
“Is that what you’re planning, Quinn?” 
“That,” he answered, “depends on who’s behind them, sweet.” 
“Stop calling me that,” she said, more or less automatically. “Do you think that gang has targeted the Bannister collection?” 
“I think it would be astonishing if they haven’t. But it will be weeks yet before you need worry about them, sweet. Or about me, for that matter. The Bannister collection is still safely hidden away in the vaults that have protected it for decades.” 
“Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel better,” Morgan said slowly. “I guess it would be . . . naive of me to expect you to stay away from the collection just because I’m asking you to.” 
“Can you sense it when I’m near, Morgana?” 
She stared up at him, caught by those vivid green eyes, by that half smile that was more beguiling than it had any right to be. 
“Can