Not to get Liam Neeson on your asses, but the fact is that Peyton Riley has a very specific skill set. She’s good at her job and has just gotten off a major project when she crosses paths with the gorgeous snake-in-the-grass calling himself Carson Varis. He’s taken her against her will, but to where, and to what end? She’s got days to figure this out and escape–before her boss finds out where his favorite specialist has disappeared.
Carson Varis has got an eye for art and a mania for professionalism. No one does work-life balance like he does. But a certain fiery redhead has gotten his goals in a twist. He has his employer’s order to fulfill, but can’t get the memory of her body (and her hair, and her deep blue eyes, and oh, that mouth) out of the way. Can he get it together and pull off a job well done?
(From The Takedown Trilogy universe)
“I have a bad feeling about this, Carson, and it’s not just the creepy, subterranean hallway.”
Peyton Riley, saboteur par excellence (this was what she liked to call herself, nowadays, because she found ‘independent contractor’ corny), took another step in the nearly pitch-black passage—and promptly gave an aborted shriek. Carson spun, the flashlight in his hand temporarily blinding her. “What’s wrong?”
She swiped the thick strands of an ancient cobweb from her face. “I walked right into this fucking thing.”
He reached out and helped brush the rest of it from her cheeks. He stepped forward and kissed her.
“Mm,” said Peyton, as soon as he was finished. “You’re trying to distract me. Not working. I still don’t like this.”
“So you’ve said.”
“So you keep ignoring.” She huffed and followed as he continued down the passage. “Not to put you down, Carson, but—“ she dislodged a rock from the sole of her boot—“we both know I’m the strategist here. And all my senses are telling me we need to get out now.”
Instead of stopping, Carson grabbed her hand and led her onward, as the walls narrowed ever closer together.
“The opera concluded ten minutes ago, which gives us less than five to find the cellar and maybe another ten to locate the safety box. I have no idea what the mechanism on that is and how long it’ll take us to crack it, and even then—I have no idea what’s in the damn thing!”
She’d come to a complete stop, forcing Carson to turn and acknowledge her. He flipped the flashlight under his chin, throwing ghoulish shadows over his face.
“Trust,” he said, the fright mask dissolving into a cheeky wink as he turned and tugged her along again.
“Trust,” she repeated, her tone rising. “Small word. Big meaning.”
“Are we having this conversation right now, in the middle of a job?”
A stream of nervous laughter issued from her mouth. She couldn’t help it. Peyton Riley had survived the streets, stopped weddings, stolen trade secrets, sabotaged businesses and prevented disasters, but nothing froze the blood in her veins more than two dread words:
“Maybe,” she finally admitted. The path was now so narrow they had to navigate it sideways. The smell of damp stone invaded her nostrils.
“Are you saying you don’t trust me?”
His voice was light and conversational. She tried to match it. “I’m saying I’m ill-equipped for this. There are no relationship books for semi-criminals, no fairy tales with happy endings for an art thief and a saboteur.”
“An art dealer and an independent contractor, you mean.”
She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
“I had no idea occupations figured so heavily into trust equations.” He flattened against the wall. “We need to crouch now. We’re getting close.”
She followed his lead, doing a cramped, ducking crabwalk as the passage shrunk to something made for a child. She kept her ears pricked for the returning Caivano family members or their household staff.
“Okay. No more rhetorical questions. Let’s speak plainly.” She was now bent nearly double to negotiate a cramped bend in the path.
“Fine. What we do matters only as much as it doesn’t get in the way of what’s true.” His breathing turned labored as the path pitched steeply upward. “The truth is that I love you. And you should trust me.”
They stopped at an awkward angle, her head a few steps below Carson’s butt. His flashlight illuminated a wooden circle above his head—a trap door of some sort. He looked down, and as their eyes met, she let go of the anxiety that had settled like a band around her heart.
“I trust you.”
He grinned and pushed the trapdoor open.
The first thing that Peyton noticed was the golden light. Carson paused in his ascent to take her hand. It was cold—the light made her nervous—and he squeezed it in reassurance. Slowly he led her into the room.
It was small and round, with torches set into the rough stone walls. There was an opening in the other end of the room, from where she could detect shelves of dusty wine bottles. This room, however, had only a simple wooden table. A table upon which lay a white linen strip, a gigantic bouquet of roses, a platter of cheese and a bottle of champagne sweating inside an icy bucket.
She turned to him, eyes wide as saucers. “What–?”
“Happy first Valentine’s Day, Peyton,” he grinned nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
She picked up a card resting atop the white linen. With compliments from the Caivano family.
“You mean this job was a set up?”
He stepped close until their chests touched. “They’re old clients of mine.” He wrapped his arms around her and leaned down until their breath mingled. The knit cap slid off her head and he ran his fingers through her freed hair. “Do you like my surprise?”
She had to laugh. He knew her well. “I love it,” she whispered, and she lifted off her toes to kiss him.