"That's some pretty sound advice." Asprey tried swallowing, but the lump throbbed painfully as it moved past the shoe's point. "We wouldn't want anyone getting hurt. Would we...Natalie?"

At the sound of her name, the woman started, and Asprey couldn't help a feeling of triumph from swelling inside him. Okay, so he wasn't much of a hand at robbery, as the current state of affairs indicated, but the legwork ahead of time—predicting patterns—was kind of his thing. He knew where his victims would be and when they would be there. He knew where they lived, what they read in the bathroom, how they took their coffee.

He also knew when they gave ridiculously overpriced pieces of jewelry to gorgeous women who dressed like they were one step away from the pole. Todd Kennick, forty-eight-year-old finance executive, was that man. And Natalie Hall was that woman.

"How do you know my name?" Natalie's voice was cold, but the stabby heel loosened a little, putting Asprey even more at ease. He was even able to turn his head enough to look up the expanse of her calf, all sleek muscle and smooth skin. Ninja legs.

"Who are you?" she added.

"Some call us highwaymen. Some call us gentleman thieves," Asprey said. He turned even more and managed to smile up at her, just inches away from a glimpse at the goods. "But if you move your leg a little bit to the right, you can call me anything you want."

"Oh, gross," she muttered, shifting her body just enough to close off his view. "You're kidding, right?"

"I never joke about women's underwear." Wait. That didn't come out right.

From across the gravel lot, he heard Graff's exaggerated sigh and the cock of the shotgun—equal signs that his brother was losing patience.

"Natalie, please," Todd cried, obviously feeling the pain of a cold ring of metal against his spine. "He's going to kill me. Give them what they want. The necklace. The car. Anything."

Asprey didn't like to judge a man based solely on how he reacted in situations like this. He'd seen far too many guys lose their shit on the wrong side of a gun to believe anyone appeared in their best light when confronted with their own mortality. The big ones always cried; the rich ones offered to buy their way to salvation.

This Todd character, though—he had to be the worst. For all the man knew, Asprey planned on kidnapping his ninja girlfriend and selling her on the black market. Yet all his heroics were directed at saving his own ass, at getting the gun pointed anywhere but toward himself.

This Natalie woman could surely do better. They were practically doing her a favor here.

"I'm begging you." Todd's voice rose.

"But my necklace," Natalie protested, frowning down at Asprey. "I...I love it."

"For Christ's sake," Todd cried. "I'll buy you another one. I'll buy you three more. I don't understand why you're acting like this."

Natalie must have decided three necklaces were worth it, because her heel finally pulled away. Asprey scrambled to his feet before she could re-invoke the Force or launch another stealth attack. His arm hung useless and throbbing at his side, but he was at least able to back away a few steps, angling himself behind his motorcycle. No way was he getting anywhere near that woman again—not while he couldn't fight back.

"So, I'm supposed to hand it off, just like that?" Natalie asked, looking back and forth between Asprey and the necklace. It was clear which one she liked better. "To robbers?"

"Crazed robbers," Asprey added helpfully.

A brief flash crossed the woman's face as she took one last, longing look at the necklace. She wanted to fight for it, Asprey could tell. He felt similar pangs all the time—usually for his downtown loft apartment with the voice-activated control panel, or Ruby, his sweet little three-passenger Cessna Corvalis.

Confidence TricksWhere stories live. Discover now