Chapter Fourteen

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"Here." Asprey extended a plastic bag, swinging it casually between his fingers. "I bought you a sock puppet."

Poppy laughed. She still had on her Natalie gear, her hair pulled back in a springy blonde ponytail, matched by the tightest pair of yoga pants he'd ever seen. They were his favorite pants. They made everything bounce.

And while the bounce was good—the bounce was great—it couldn't all be attributed to her attire. Natalie was a naturally springy person. He could see that now. She walked differently than Poppy, with an extra sway to her backside and a jiggle to her step not unlike that of a sorority girl. Her mannerisms were different too, her hands more fluid as she spoke, her facial expressions exaggerated to the point of cartoons. Regular Poppy was a lot more controlled, and she had an uncanny way of sizing up both a person and a room at a glance. She always positioned herself defensively when she entered a new situation, her back to the wall so she faced the exit, never quite letting her guard down around the other people in the room.

Outside, on the sidewalk where a group of teenaged skaters whizzed past, leaving the earthy scent of pot and coffee in their wake, she seemed a little more at ease. He wondered if it had anything to do with him.

He hoped so.

She peeked into the bag and smiled. "A ninja. How cute."

"It was either that or the fairy princess." He shrugged. "I took a stab."

Her laughter sprang forth, both a validation and a promise. "Thank you. A girl can never have enough ninja paraphernalia." She cast a quick glance around. "But I should probably get off the street until I get a chance to take off the Natalie gear. I don't want to risk being seen. You parked nearby?"

"Yeah. Right there, actually." He pointed at his motorcycle a few car lengths down, the front wheel turned into the curb.

She swiveled to face him, one of her Natalie-darkened eyebrows raised in a question. "Seriously? You drove your getaway vehicle to a centrally located public place? And you want me to hop on?"

He tossed her his extra helmet. White and baby blue and covered in dainty swirls, the helmet had originally been purchased for any female riders he might pick up along his general cruise through life. Those moments were fewer and further between than he'd hoped, although Tiffany had been grateful to use it the few times she'd been out with him.

"What can I say?" he quipped. "I like to live on the edge."

"That's not it," she said, pulling the helmet over her head, expertly tucking in her ponytail and buckling the chin strap. This clearly wasn't her first time on a bike.

"How do you figure?"

She flipped up the face guard and studied him. "You don't live on the edge. You live in the land of privilege. You think things can't touch you."

He flipped her face guard back down.

He hadn't told Graff or Tiffany about this particular errand—mostly because both of them would approve of it, assuming he meant to build trust and break down walls. Well, that was what he intended, but not in the way they would have imagined it. For the first time in months, there would be no thinking about theft or family or the next big heist. He was back to thinking about himself.

A selfish and vain bastard that might make him, but even Asprey of London closed its doors for business every now and then.

"Just hold on," he commanded, pulling his own helmet down. He swung his leg over the motorcycle, stabilizing it while Poppy moved into place behind him. Even through the thick leather of his riding jacket and the extra one he'd brought for her, he felt a surge of pleasure at the swell of her chest against his back. She didn't hesitate to press firmly against him, slipping her arms around his waist and tucking her hands inside the flaps of his jacket, palms flat against his stomach.

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