Chapter One

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The stiletto heel pressed against his jugular had yet to break the skin.

It was a small comfort—Asprey's only one at the moment. Gravel dotted painfully into his cheek and temple, and his arm hung limp at his side. Only a few cords of fiery, razor-edged nerves seemed to connect the bones of his shoulder to the rest of him, and every movement was a clear reminder that he lay completely at the woman's mercy.

That was, if she had any.

"I think maybe we should give the lady her necklace back," Asprey offered, his words a little raspy since several handfuls of the grit from the road had made their way into his mouth. "I've never been partial to pearls anyway."

Asprey couldn't see much other than the tires of his Ducati and the sprawl of the ground before him, but he could hear Graff's muttered curse. It was a short trip from there to imagine what his brother looked like at that moment, his nostrils all flaring and irate as he held a shotgun to the woman's date.

"Don't listen to him," Graff said. "All you have to do is let my incompetent accomplice go and we'll be on our way. It's that easy."

A sharp pain as the stiletto dug deeper indicated retreat wasn't going to be as easy as Asprey had hoped.

"How about I call the police and let them decide who's going where?" the woman asked.

That, at least, didn't strike fear into Asprey's heart. Cell phone reception was impossible up here—it was why they'd picked the location. Just a few hundred yards up from the highway by virtue of a dirt path that few people knew about and even fewer tried to navigate, they were hidden away in the perfect place for a quick robbery. That was the plan, anyway.

Force the car up the path. Point a shotgun. Demand the jewels.

It was hard to tell exactly where things had gone wrong. If Asprey had to guess, it was when they'd assumed their target's girlfriend, a platinum blonde in a tight black dress, would react like every other woman in the world with a gun placed squarely in her face. A few tears, a little hysteria. Possibly a can of mace hidden in her purse.

Not so with this one. When Graff had ordered her to hand over her necklace, a string of pearls set with diamonds and boasting an estimated twenty-thousand-dollar value, she'd launched some sort of ninja attack. That was the only way to explain it. One minute, Asprey was reaching out a gloved hand to take the necklace. The next, he was about to be impaled on the end of a high heel.

Hence the stalemate. And the pain.

"How about I blow your boyfriend's head off instead?" Graff countered.

Even though Asprey knew his brother would do no such thing—there weren't even any bullets in the gun—the words sent a shiver down his spine. On a good night, Graff was an asshole. On a night like this, in the middle of being bested by a hundred and twenty pounds of finely crafted femininity, he was right up there with political dictators and the people at animal shelters who put kittens to sleep.

"How about someone lets me stand so we can work this out like calm, rational adults?" Asprey interrupted, keeping his tone light and pleasant. He'd always been that way—the more intense a situation got, the less concerned he appeared on the surface. It drove Graff crazy. "If it helps, I'm pretty sure you've dislocated my arm. I don't pose much of a threat."

"Maybe you should just let them have the necklace," a third voice added. "It's not worth anyone's life." The voice belonged to Todd Kennick, their target for the night. He was currently pressed up against the side of his dark blue Mercedes, Graff's gun between his shoulder blades.

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