মুখ্য All for Quinn

All for Quinn

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সাল:
1993
প্রকাশক:
Bantam Classic & Loveswept
ভাষা:
english
বইয়ের সিরিজ:
Men of Mysteries Past 4
ফাইল:
EPUB, 143 KB
ডাউনলোড (epub, 143 KB)

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আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.
1

Hunting the Wolfe

সাল:
1993
ভাষা:
english
ফাইল:
MOBI , 248 KB
0 / 0
2

All for Quinn

সাল:
1993
ভাষা:
english
ফাইল:
MOBI , 224 KB
0 / 0
All for Quinn

Kay Hooper



All for Quinn	1





PROLOGUE	1


ONE	2


TWO	7

THREE	12

FOUR	19

FIVE	25

SIX	32

SEVEN	37





PROLOGUE


The cold fog drifting over the bay began to obscure the distant, hulking outline of Alcatraz, and Quinn was glad. Though it was no longer a place where dangerous criminals were held, the defunct prison and its lonely island continued to be a stark, visible reminder of the price demanded of those who chose to be lawless.

Quinn didn’t need the reminder.

Still, as he turned up the collar of his jacket and dug his hands into the pockets, he watched the rocky island until the mist enveloped it and rendered it invisible. It was an eerie sight, the fog creeping over the water toward him while, behind him, the moonlight gleamed down on the city. At least it did right now, which was sometime after midnight. In another hour, Quinn thought, he probably wouldn’t be able to see his hand in front of his face.

He was beginning to really like this city.

“Why the hell are we meeting here?”

Quinn had been aware of the other person’s presence before he heard or saw anything, so the low voice didn’t surprise him. “I thought it was rather apt,” he murmured in response. “Before the fog rolled in, Alcatraz was shining like a beacon in the moonlight.”

Jared Chavalier sighed. “Are you getting edgy? You, Alex?” His voice held a very slight note of mockery.

Quinn turned his back on the aged, mist-enshrouded prison and looked at his companion. “No, but I’ll be glad when this is over. I’d forgotten how long the nights get.”

“Your choice,” Jared reminded him.

“Yeah, I know.”

Jared had keen eyes, and the moon was still visible hanging low over the city, so he was able to see the lean face of his brother clearly. “Is your shoulder bothering you?” he asked a bit roughly.

Quinn shrugged, the movement easy and showing no sign of the damage a bullet had caused a couple of weeks previously. “No. You know I’m a quick healer.”

“Even for a quick healer, that was a nasty wound. You probably should h; ave stayed at Morgan’s longer than a few days.”

“No,” Quinn said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

After a moment Jared said, “So, Max was right.”

“About what?”

“Don’t be deliberately dense, Alex.”

Quinn resisted the impulse to ask if he could be accidentally dense. “Max is very perceptive—but he isn’t always right. As for Morgan, let’s just say that I have enough common sense for both of us.”

“And no time for romance?”

“And no time for romance.” Quinn wondered, not for the first time, if becoming such an accomplished liar had been a good thing or a bad one. It might have kept his skin intact a bit longer, he thought, but sooner or later it was all going to catch up with him—and a great many people would no doubt be furious at him.

Jared seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

“We’ve been amazingly lucky so far,” he said. “But you really can’t afford to get in any deeper with Morgan.”

“I know that.”

“She knows too much.”

Quinn drew a deep breath, but kept his voice light. “Pardon me for not thinking too clearly when I was bleeding. I’ll try to do better next time.”

“I’m not blaming you for that.”

“Too kind.”

Jared swore roughly. “Look, all I’m saying is that we’re running out of time. You really don’t have the leisure—or the right—to pull any woman into a situation like this, especially when you’re dealing with someone as deadly as Nightshade.”

Calmer now, Quinn said quietly, “Yes. You’re right, I know that. And I am trying.”

Somewhat mollified, Jared asked, “Is that why you didn’t make an appearance at the private showing tonight? To avoid Morgan?”

Instead of answering that, Quinn said, “I saw an impressive number of limos and fancy cars arriving at the museum. The showing was a success, I gather?”

“In spades. And since there were enough armed guards to make even a moronic thief think twice, no trouble.”

Quinn nodded. “The exhibit opens to the public next Friday. I think we both agree that the sooner we lure Nightshade into the trap, the better. If we let him, he could well wait for the next two months and make his move when we’ve relaxed our guard.”

“I’d rather not have to haunt the museum for the’ next two months,” Jared said politely. “Since I’m getting married later today, I’d really like to use at least part of my leave time for an extended honeymoon. Dani doesn’t mind that we have to stay here in San Francisco indefinitely, but it would be nice if I didn’t have to work all these odd hours. So the sooner we wrap this up, the happier I’ll be.”

“I imagine so. By the way, don’t be surprised if you happen to see me in the church today.”

“Alex—”

“Not openly,” Quinn soothed, his voice calm. “But I’ve cased the building and there’s a place where I can watch and listen. I missed your first wedding to Dani; I want to be there for this one.”

Jared didn’t say anything for a moment, and when he did, his comment was dry. “Doesn’t it strike you as indecent to be casing a church?”

“Not when my brother’s getting married there,” Quinn replied unrepentantly.

Jared laughed. “All right, but for God’s sake be careful.”

“I’m always careful.”

That solemn statement was so wide of the mark that Jared could only shake his head. “Sure you are.”

“I am. And I plan to be very, very careful during the next step of my plan.”

“Which is?” Jared inquired somewhat wearily.

“Well, hunting by night hasn’t earned me much except a bullet. I think it’s time I tried a more direct approach.”

Jared sighed. “I’ve got a feeling I won’t like this.”

“No, probably not.” Quinn’s even white teeth showed in a sudden grin. “But I will.”

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.

Luke 10:30





ONE


“May I have this dance?”

Morgan West would have known the voice anywhere, even here in a Sea Cliff mansion in the middle of an elegant, black-tie party. Rather numbly, she looked up to meet the laughing green eyes of the most famous—and infamous—cat burglar in the world.

Quinn.

He was dressed for the party, a handsome heart-breaker in a stark black dinner jacket. His fair hair gleamed as he bowed very slightly with exquisite grace before her, and Morgan knew without doubt that at least half the female eyes in the crowded ballroom were fixed on him.

The other half just hadn’t seen him yet.

“Oh, God,” she murmured.

Quinn lifted her drink from her hand and set it on a nearby table. “As I believe I’ve told you once before, Morgana—not nearly,” he said nonchalantly.

As he led her out onto the dance floor, Morgan told herself she certainly didn’t want to make a scene. That was why she wasn’t resisting him, of course. And it was also why she fixed a pleasantly noncommittal smile on her face despite the fact that her heart was going like a trip-hammer.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded in a low, fierce voice.

“I’m dancing with the most beautiful woman in the room,” he replied, suiting action to words as he drew her into his arms and began moving to the music, which was slow and dreamy.

Morgan refused to be flattered, and she kept her arms too stiff to allow him to pull her as close as he obviously wanted to. She was wearing a nearly backless black evening gown, and the sudden remembrance of just how much of her bare skin was showing made her feel self-conscious for the first time. It was difficult enough for her to think clearly when she was near him; if she felt those strong, clever hands touch the highly sensitive skin of her lower back or spine, she was reasonably sure she wouldn’t be able to think at all.

Not that she wanted him to know that, of course.

“Would you please shed your Don Juan suit and get serious?” she requested.

He chuckled softly, dancing with grace and without effort. “That was the bald truth, sweet.”

“Yeah, right.” Morgan sighed and couldn’t help glancing around somewhat nervously, even though she kept the polite smile pasted to her lips and made sure her voice was low enough to escape being overheard. “Look, there are a dozen private guards watching over Leo Cassady’s collection, and at least one cop here as a guest. Surely you aren’t thinking—

“You’re the one who isn’t thinking, Morgana.” His voice was low as well, but casual and unconcerned. “I prefer the secrecy of darkness and the anonymity of a mask, remember? Besides that, it would be rude in the extreme; I would never think of relieving our host of his valuables. No, I am simply here as a guest—an invited guest. Alexander Brandon at your service, ma’am. My friends call me Alex.”

As she danced automatically and gazed up at him, Morgan reminded herself of several things. First, Quinn was only a nickname, a pseudonym for a faceless thief that had been coined by a British journalist years before. Alexander was certainly his real first name—she believed that much since he’d been practically on his deathbed when he’d admitted it—but since he and Jared Chavalier were brothers, the name of Brandon was undoubtedly no more than a cover for whatever he was up to.

Second, if Quinn was here in Leo Cassady’s home by invitation, someone must have vouched for him. Max, perhaps? He was really the only one who could have, she thought. Maxim Bannister was probably the only man Leo would trust enough to admit a stranger to his home.

And, third, Morgan reminded herself of just how tangled this entire situation had become. The Mysteries Past exhibit would open to the public tomorrow, on Friday. Max, and Jared—who was a cop with Interpol— were using the exhibit of the Bannister collection as bait to catch a thief—but not Quinn, because he was working with them. Wolfe Nickerson, a security expert with Lloyd’s of London, was officially responsible for the safety of the collection, and Morgan wasn’t certain how much he knew—though she thought he knew Quinn.

It had gotten to the point where Morgan didn’t know how much she could safely say depending on who she was talking to, and she was beginning to feel annoyed about it.

“You dance divinely, Morgana,” Quinn said with his usual beguiling charm, smiling down at her. “I knew you would. But if you’d only relax just a bit…” His hand exerted a slight pressure at her waist in an attempt to draw her closer.

“No,” she said, resisting successfully without losing the rhythm of the dance.

His smile twisted a bit, though his wicked green eyes were alight with amusement. “So reluctant to trust me? I only want to obey the spirit of this dance and hold you closer.”

Morgan refused to be seduced. It was almost impossible, but she refused. “Never mind the spirit. You’re holding me close enough.”

That roguish gaze dropped to examine briefly the low-cut neckline of her black evening gown, and he said wistfully, “Not nearly close enough to suit me.”

For her entire adult life—and most of her teens— Morgan had fought almost constantly against the tendency of people, especially men, to assume that her generous bust was undoubtedly matched by an IQ in the low two digits, and so she tended to bristle whenever any man called attention to her measurements either by word or by look.

Any man except Quinn, that is. He had the peculiar knack of saying things that were utterly outrageous and yet made her want to giggle, and she always felt that his interest was as sincerely admiring of nature’s generous beauty as it was—almost comically—lustful.

“Well, you’ll just have to suffer,” she told him in the most severe tone she could manage.

He sighed. “I’ve been suffering since the night we met, Morgana.”

She didn’t bother to point out that on two separate occasions, she had quite bluntly invited him to be her lover; he was in one of his verbal fencing moods and wouldn’t take her seriously, she knew. Aside from which, she wasn’t willing to remind him of his rejection.

“Tough,” she muttered.

“You’re a hard woman. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?”

He’d been wearing a towel and a bandage at the time. Morgan shoved the memory away. “Look, I just want to know what you’re doing here. And don’t say dancing with me.”

“All right, I won’t,” he said affably. “What I’m doing here is attending a party.”

Morgan gritted her teeth, but kept smiling. “I’m in no mood to fence with you. Did Max get you into the house?”

“I’ve been on the guest list for this party since the beginning, sweet.”

Forgetting to keep smiling, she frowned up at him. “What? You couldn’t have been. Leo’s always planned to throw a party the night before the Mysteries Past opening, and he sent out invitations more than a month ago — in fact, nearly two months ago. How could you possibly — “

Quinn shook his head slightly, then guided her away from the center of the room. Not many of the guests seemed to take note of them, but Morgan caught a glimpse of Max Bannister watching from the other side of the room, his gray eyes unreadable.

Now that she knew Quinn was — at least at the moment — helping Interpol catch another thief, Morgan didn’t feel quite so troubled about her previous encounters with the cat burglar, and after having nursed him back to health when he’d been shot weeks ago, she could hardly look on him as a stranger. But she also knew that their relationship — for want of a better term — was yet another complication in an already knotty situation surrounding the Mysteries Past exhibit.

Max had every right to be upset with her, she thought. And he probably was, even though he’d said nothing to make her think so. Still, he was paying her to direct his exhibit, not to socialize with a cat burglar.

Aside from which, she really had no business consorting with a known criminal.

Strange how she kept forgetting that’s what Quinn was.

He led her from the crowded ballroom without giving her a chance to protest, finding his way easily down a short hallway and out onto a slightly chilly, deserted terrace. Leo hadn’t opened the French doors of the ballroom, probably because it had been raining when the party began; the flagstone terrace was still wet, and a heavy fog was creeping in over the garden. Still, if a guest did happen to wander out, the party’s host was prepared: there were Japanese-type lanterns hung to provide light for the terrace and garden, along with scattered tables and chairs, which were very wet at the moment.

Everything gleamed from the rain, and the incoming fog made the garden an eerie sight. It was very quiet on the terrace, unnaturally so, with the thick mist providing its usual muffling effect; both the music from the ballroom and the sounds of the ocean could only just be heard.

Morgan assumed that Quinn wanted to talk to her without the greater chance of being overheard inside, so she made no effort to protest or to ask him why he’d brought her out here.

Still holding one of her hands, Quinn half sat on the stone balustrade edging the terrace and laughed softly as if some private joke amused him greatly. “Tell me something, Morgana. Have you ever stopped to think that I might be… more than Quinn?”

“What do you mean?”

His wide, powerful shoulders lifted in a shrug, and those vivid eyes remained on her face. “Well, Quinn is a creature of the night. His name’s a cover, a nickname-“

“An alias,” she supplied helpfully.

He let out a low laugh. “All right, an alias. My point is that he moves in the shadows, his face masked to the world—most of the world, anyway—and few know very much about him. But it isn’t always night, Morgana. Masks tend to look a bit peculiar in the daylight, and Quinn would hardly have a passport or driver’s license—to say nothing of a dinner jacket. So who do you think I am when I’m not Quinn?”

Oddly enough, that question hadn’t even occurred to Morgan. “You’re… Alex,” she answered a bit helplessly.

“Yes, but who is Alex?”

“How could I know that?”

“How could you, indeed. After all, Alex Brandon only arrived here yesterday. From England. I’m a collector.”

The sheer audacity of him had the usual effect on Morgan; she didn’t know whether to laugh or hit him with something. So Alexander Brandon was supposed to be a collector? “Tell me you’re kidding,” she begged.

He laughed again, the sound still soft. “Afraid not. My daytime persona, you see, is quite well established. Alexander Brandon has a rather nice house in London, which was left to him by his father, as well as apartments in Paris and New York. He has dual citizenship—British and American. He manages a number of investments, also inherited, so he doesn’t really have to work unless he wants to. And he seldom wants to. However, he travels quite a bit. And he collects gems.”

Morgan had the feeling her mouth was hanging open.

With a smothered sound that might have been another laugh, Quinn went on carelessly. “His family name is quite well respected. So well, in fact, that you might find it on most any list of socially and financially powerful families—on either side of the Atlantic. And Leo Cassady sent him an invitation to this party nearly two months ago—which he accepted.”

“Of all the gall,” Morgan said wonderingly.

Knowing she wasn’t talking about Leo, Quinn sighed mournfully. “Yes, I know. I’m beyond redemption.”

Frowning at him, she said, “Is that how Max knows you? From this blameless other life you created for yourself, I mean? And Wolfe?”

“We have encountered one another a few times over the years. Though neither of them knew I was Quinn until fairly recently,” Quinn murmured.

“That must have been a shock for them,” she said.

“Yes.”

Morgan was still frowning. “So… now you’re openly here in San Francisco, as Alexander Brandon, scion of a noble family and well known as a collector of rare and precious gems.”

“Exactly.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I have a suite at the Imperial.”

It was one of the newer and more luxurious hotels to grace Nob Hill, a fact that shouldn’t have surprised Morgan. If Quinn was playing the part of a rich collector, then he’d naturally stay at the best hotel in town. But she couldn’t help wondering…

“Is Interpol paying the bills?” she asked bluntly.

“No. I am.”

“You are? Wait a minute now. You’re spending your own money, quite probably ill-gotten gains, to maintain this cover of yours so that you can help Interpol catch a thief so they won’t put you in prison?”

Quinn tugged at her hand slightly so that she took a step closer to him; she was standing almost between his knees. “You put things so colorfully—but, yes, that’s the gist of it. I don’t know why that should surprise you, Morgana.”

“Well, it does.” She brooded over the question, hardly aware of their closeness. “It’s an awfully elaborate situation for someone who’s supposedly just trying to keep his tail out of prison. Unless… Has this other thief done something to you? You personally?”

Quinn’s voice was dry. “Aside from putting a bullet in me, you mean?”

Morgan had a flash of memory: Quinn lying in her bed unconscious, that awful wound high on his chest, and something inside her tightened in remembered pain. With an effort, she managed to push the memory away. It reminded her, though, that here was another question she should have asked—and hadn’t simply because she’d been so preoccupied with the vexing reality of Quinn’s effect on her.

“He’s the one who shot you? Is that why you’re doing this? Because he shot you?”

Quinn was holding her hand against his thigh, and looked down at it for a moment before he met her eyes. In the soft glow of the lanterns, the light diffused by the mist curling around them, he looked unusually serious. “That would be reason enough for most people.”

“What else?”

“Does there have to be another reason?”

Morgan nodded. “For you? Yes, I think so. You’ve tried your best to convince me you’re out for nobody except Quinn—but I’m having a hard time believing that. If you’re as selfish and self-involved as you say, why not just go through the motions to satisfy Interpol? Why put yourself—and your own money—on the line if you don’t have to?”

“Who says I don’t have to? Interpol can be a harsh taskmaster, sweet.”

“Maybe so, but I have a feeling you have better motives than just saving your own skin.”

“Don’t paint me with noble colors, Morgana,” he said softly. “In the first storm, they’ll wash off. And you’ll be disappointed at what’s underneath.”

It held echoes of something he’d tried to tell her before, a warning not to get involved with him on an intimate level, and though Morgan appreciated the spirit of the warning, she was determined not to allow him to hold her off—even to save herself heartache.

He was a criminal, yes. He had, as his own brother had said bitterly, looted Europe for the better part of ten years. And he was on the side of the angels now only because the choice was preferable to going to prison.

She knew that, all of it. But from the night they had met weeks ago—nine weeks and three days ago, to.be precise—she had been fighting a losing battle with her common sense.

If only he wasn’t so damned intriguing, she thought ruefully. But he was. An outlaw with charm. A green-eyed devil who could steal a necklace right off her neck, later enrage her with the mocking gift of a concubine ring, and yet turn up on her doorstep wounded and vulnerable, trusting her with his life. He was quickwitted and highly intelligent, humorous and curiously well mannered—if that could be said about a thief.

He had… style. It was something Morgan had never encountered in any man she’d ever met before him, and it was unexpectedly seductive.

“Morgana?”

She blinked, realizing only then that her silence had spanned several minutes. “Hmm?”

“Did you hear what I said?”

Morgan found herself smiling a little, because he sounded so aggrieved. “Yes, I heard what you said.”

“And?”

“And—I’m not painting you with noble colors. Or gilding you, for that matter. I just happen to believe you aren’t after this other thief only because he shot you, or only because Interpol thinks you’re the ace up their sleeve.” She eyed him thoughtfully. “Just who is this other thief? I keep forgetting to ask.”

He paused, this time for several minutes, and when he finally did speak, his voice was unusually flat and clipped. “Interpol calls him Nightshade. He’s been active about eight years—maybe more, but that long at least. Mostly here in the States, a few times in Europe. He’s very, very good. And he kills anybody who gets in his way.”

Morgan didn’t realize she had shivered until Quinn released her hand to take his jacket off and drape it around her shoulders. She didn’t protest, but said softly, “It isn’t that cold out here. But the way you sounded…”

His hands remained on her shoulders, long fingers flexing just a bit. “You’ll have to forgive me, Morgana. I don’t care too much for murderers.”

Enveloped in the warmth of his jacket, surrounded by the familiar scent of him, and very aware of his touch, Morgan struggled to keep her attention on the conversation. “Especially when one of them shoots you?”

“Especially then.”

She shook her head a little, baffled and intrigued by a man who could cheerfully admit to having been the world’s most infamous thief for a decade, and yet spoke of another thief’s penchant for violence with chilling loathing in his voice. No wonder she couldn’t convince herself Quinn was an evil man; how could she, when his own words had, more than once, shown him to possess very definite principles—even if she hadn’t quite figured out what they were.

“Who are you, Alex?” she asked quietly.

His hands tightened on her shoulders, drawing her a step closer, and his sensual mouth curved in a slight, curiously self-mocking smile. “I’m Quinn. No niatter who else, or what else, I’m Quinn. Never forget that, Morgana.”

She watched her hands lift to his broad chest, her fingers probing to feel him through the crisp white shirt. They were very close, so close she felt enveloped by him, and even though a wise little voice in her head reminded her sternly that he had twice rejected her— for whatever reason—she couldn’t seem to make herself draw away from him.

He had kissed her before, once as a teasing ploy to distract her so that he could filch her necklace, and again in the hulk of an abandoned building when they had narrowly escaped with their lives. After that, even during the days and nights he’d spent in her apartment recovering from a wound, he had been careful not to allow desire to spark into something more between them, and when she’d thrown caution to the winds, he had simply left, removing himself and the problem of his response to her.

Morgan might have been devastated, all things considered, but she’d had a feeling he would come to her again. And he had. Ostensibly to thank her for her care while he was healing, but really, she thought, because he’d wanted to see her. Because he couldn’t help pushing, as he’d once told her himself, couldn’t help walking the fine line dividing what it was possible for him to get away with—and what wasn’t.

Because he wanted what he’d convinced himself he could never have.

She thought he honestly believed he would be bad for her, and that was why he turned mocking or reminded her of just who and what he was whenever she got too close. And he was probably right, she told herself fiercely. He would no doubt be very bad for her, and she’d have only herself to blame if she was crazy enough to let herself fall for a thief.

But knowing that did nothing to prevent her from melting against him when he pulled her suddenly into his arms, and it didn’t stop her from lifting her face invitingly. When his hard, warm mouth closed over hers, she gave a little purr of guileless pleasure and responded instantly.

Quinn hadn’t planned on this when he had brought Morgan out here to talk—but then, his plans never seemed to turn out the way he’d intended when she was around. She had the knack of making him forget all his good intentions.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

An apt proverb, he thought, and then he forgot to think at all, because he could feel her hips between his thighs and her splendid breasts pressed against his chest, and her soft mouth was eager under his. The smooth material of his jacket covered her back and shoulders, denying him access to bare flesh, but he imagined a silky warmth and that was enough to send him to the very edge of his control.

One of his hands slid up her back to her nape, bared by her elegant hairstyle, and he cupped her head to hold it steady as if she might try to escape him. But, she didn’t try. Her mouth opened beneath the insistent pressure of his, accepting the small possession of his tongue, and her tremor of response was echoed by a shudder of desire deep in his own body.

Quinn wanted more, a lot more, and if there’d been a bed—hell, even a thin rug—nearby, he very likely would have forgotten everything else except the woman in his arms. But there was no bed or rug, just a wet, foggy terrace outside a ballroom where a party was in full swing, and where he was supposed to be looking for a ruthless thief—

“Excuse me.” The voice was brusque rather than apologetic, and too determined to ignore.

Quinn lifted his head slowly, gazing down at Morgan’s sleepy eyes and dazed expression, and if he hadn’t been related by blood to the man who’d interrupted them, he probably would have committed a very satisfying murder.

“Go away, Jared,” he said, his rough voice not yet under control.

“No,” Jared replied with wonderful simplicity. He stood as if rooted to the terrace.

Quinn said something very rude, which didn’t budge his brother but did make Morgan recall her surroundings. She pushed herself back away from him, blinking, absolutely appalled to realize that she had totally forgotten the presence of a hundred people partying just yards away.

Her only solace was the knowledge that Quinn had been as involved as she, unlikely to have rejected her this time — but that was little comfort.

“I — I’ll just go back inside,” she murmured, startled by the husky sound of her voice. “Oh — your jacket.” She swung the dinner jacket from around her shoulders and handed it to Quinn, then more or less fled into the house.

He didn’t follow her.

Morgan automatically began to make her way back to the ballroom, but she was met in the short hallway by a petite blonde with fierce green eyes who immediately took her arm and led her toward the powder room instead.

“A bit damp out, I guess,” Storm Tremaine drawled.

“It’s stopped raining,” Morgan said, experimenting with her voice and relieved to find it nearly normal.

“Really? I never would have known.”

Morgan was baffled by that lazy comment until she got a look at herself in the powder-room mirror. “Oh, God,” she moaned.

“Yeah, I thought you might like to pull yourself together before the cream of San Francisco society got an eyeful,” Storm said, sitting down in a boudoir chair before the tile vanity while her friend claimed the other chair. They were, thankfully, alone in the spacious room. “Where’s your purse?”

“I don’t know. I think it was on that little table just inside the ballroom. I think.” Morgan was attempting to tuck unruly strands of her long black hair back into its former elegant style, unsure if it had been the dampness outside or Quinn’s fingers that had wrought such damage.

“Here, then.” Storm handed over a small hairbrush and several pins. “Your makeup looks okay. Except for—”

“I know,” Morgan muttered, all too aware that her lipstick was a bit smeared. Nobody looking at her could doubt she had just been thoroughly kissed.

Propping an elbow on the vanity as she watched her friend, Storm said, “Quinn?”

“How did you know who he was? I mean—” Morgan stopped herself with a sigh as she realized. “Wolfe, of course.” Since Storm was engaged to Wolfe Nickerson, there were likely few secrets between them.

“Of course. He introduced us just before you got waltzed out onto the terrace. So your Quinn is Alexander Brandon, huh?”

“So he says.” Having done what she could with her hair, Morgan used a tissue and Storm’s lipstick to repair the rest of the damage to her pride.

“And he’s gone public, so to speak. It’s an interesting ploy, I admit, especially if he’s so sure the thief he’s after also wears a blameless public face.”

Morgan returned the lipstick and, very carefully, said, “Tell me something, friend. Is there anybody who doesn’t know what Quinn’s up to?”

“Outside our own little circle, I certainly hope so.” Storm smiled slightly. “Wolfe said you’d probably hit me with something when I told you just how much I do know, but I’m counting on your sweet disposition.”

“Oh, yeah? I wouldn’t count on that if I were you. I’m not in a real good mood right now.”

Solemnly, Storm said, “Then I’ll have to risk your wrath, I suppose.”

“Just spit it out, will you?”

“I don’t really work for Ace Security,” Storm told her in that solemn voice. “I’m with Interpol.”

Morgan didn’t have to look in the mirror to know her mouth had fallen open in shock. “Interpol? Like Jared?”

“Uh-huh. He’s more or less my boss, at least on this assignment. I hope this room isn’t bugged,” she added thoughtfully, glancing around.

“Why would it be bugged?”

“No reason I can think of.” Apologetically, Storm added, “They teach us to be paranoid.”

Morgan was torn between fascination and irritation: fascination because her rather ordinary world had grown in the last two months to include internationally famous cat burglars and Interpol agents, and irritated because those around her had taken their own sweet time letting her in on their plans.

Amused, Storm said, “Don’t blow up, now. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know Quinn was in on this until just the other day, and I had no idea that all the guys knew him.”

Suddenly curious, Morgan said, “Quinn told me that Max and Wolfe didn’t know about his burgling until recently. Did Wolfe tell you how he found out?”

“Umm. Caught him with his hand in a safe in London about a year ago.”

Morgan winced. “That must have been quite an encounter.”

“The word Wolfe used was ‘tense.’”

“I can imagine.” Morgan sighed. “I wonder how Max found out.”

“No idea. And Jared’s so furious on the subject I haven’t dared ask him. Can’t really blame him, I suppose. Nice thing, for an international cop to find out his own brother’s an international thief. A bit awkward.”

“To say the least,” Morgan murmured, remembering how Jared had told her not to “get any fool ideas about nobility” into her head concerning Quinn ‘s current association with Interpol.

“A bit awkward for you too,” Storm said quietly.

Awkward? Morgan considered the word and found that her friend had picked a good one.

As the director of an utterly priceless collection of gems and artworks about to go on public display, Morgan had access to something that any thief would have sold more than his soul to possess. Any thief.

It was easy enough to say the collection was safe from Quinn, that he was walking the straight and narrow now, bound to help catch a thief he clearly despised. Easy enough to let his charm sway her, his desire ignite hers. Easy enough to gaze into his beguiling green eyes and convince herself that she saw something in him the world would find surprising — if not downright inconceivable.

Easy enough to tell herself she wasn’t a fool.

Morgan looked at her reflection in the mirror, seeing a woman who was once again elegant, but whose lips still bore the faintly smudged appearance of having been kissed with hungry passion.

“Awkward,” she said. “Yes, you could say that.”





TWO


“Did anybody ever tell you your timing is lousy?” Quinn asked, shrugging into his jacket. His voice was back to normal, light and rather careless.

“Only you,” Jared replied. “But I could say the same thing about your timing. Alex, there are a hundred people in that house, and if your theory is correct, one of them is Nightshade. So what the hell are you doing necking on the terrace?”

“We weren’t necking,” Quinn replied somewhat indignantly. “We hadn’t gotten that far—thanks to you.”

Jared let out a short laugh, but he didn’t sound very amused. “For once in your life will you get serious?”

“I’m completely serious.” Quinn stood up and smoothed his jacket, buttoning it neatly. When he spoke again, his voice was more sober. “I had to talk to Morgan. This is the first time she’s seen me socially, and if I hadn’t told her who I was supposed to be, God only knows what might have happened. She tends to be a bit impulsive.”

“I know,” Jared said dryly.

Quinn shrugged. “So, since I had no idea how she’d react, it seemed more prudent to bring her out here.”

Jared didn’t bother to point out that they hadn’t been talking very much when he’d interrupted them. “Well, do you think you could put your love life on hold long enough to get some work done? You can’t really study all the guests if you’re out here on the terrace.”

“The night is young,” Quinn reminded him lightly.

Jared knew only too well that he had about as much hope of controlling Quinn as any man had in controlling the wind, but that didn’t stop him from trying. “You aren’t planning on doing a little night hunting after the party, are you?”

“That depends on what I find here.”

“Alex, it’s too risky for you to play both parts all the time and you know it.” Jared’s voice had roughened.

Quinn’s voice remained light. “I know my limits— and the risks. I also have burned in my mind that one good glimpse I got of Nightshade just before he shot me, and if I see anyone tonight who even seems to move the same way he did, I won’t let him out of my sight.”

Jared didn’t speak immediately, and when he did, it was to make a serious comment. “We did have a few women on the list; if you’re so sure Nightshade’s a man, at least that narrows the possibilities.”

“I’m sure, though I couldn’t tell you exactly why. The way he moved, or something else. Hell, maybe I caught a whiff of after-shave just before he fired. Anyway, all I can do for the moment is look for anything familiar and listen in case the bastard gives himself away somehow.”

“The chances of that have to be slim to none.”

“Think positive,” Quinn advised. “It’s always worked for me. Now, don’t you think we’d better return to the party before the wrong person notices something odd?”

Jared waited until Quinn took several steps away from him before saying, “Alex?”

Quinn half turned to look back at him. “Yeah?”

“That’s a snappy shade of lipstick you’re wearing. Better suited to a brunette, though.”

With a low laugh, Quinn produced a snowy-white handkerchief and removed the evidence of his interlude with Morgan. Then he half saluted Jared and went back into the house.

Jared waited for several minutes just so they wouldn’t reappear inside at the same time. And if anyone had been on the damp, chilly terrace to hear him speak, they might have been surprised at what he muttered to himself.

“I wonder when all this is going to blow up in my face.”

Morgan caught glimpses of Quinn throughout the next couple of hours, but she took care to keep herself too busy to watch him. Since she never lacked for dancing partners and was well known to most of the guests, it was easy enough to look and act as if she were enjoying the party and had nothing more serious on her mind than who to dance with next or whether or not she wanted to try a champagne cocktail.

The appearance was, to say the least, deceptive. Morgan did quite a lot of thinking while she danced and smiled. Ever since she had faced up to a few unnerving things in the powder room, she had been thinking more seriously than she could ever remember doing in her life.

It occurred to her at some point during the evening that the interlude with Quinn out on the terrace might have more than one explanation. Yes, he had wanted to talk to her privately, no doubt because he had to make certain she understood why he’d suddenly appeared in public. But there might have been another motive in his agile mind.

As a collector, he could be expected to visit the Mysteries Past exhibit, but it would certainly look a bit odd if he began haunting the museum—something he probably wanted to do in order to remain close to the trap’s bait. However, if he made it obvious that he was drawn to the museum by something other than the lure of the Bannister collection—her, for instance—then no one would be very surprised to find him there.

Morgan didn’t want to accept that possibility, but it fit too logically to be denied. After all, prior to this evening, Quinn had quite definitely said he wouldn’t be her lover—whether in an honest effort to protect her from whatever pain he might cause her or simply and more selfishly to save himself from having to deal with an unwanted and unnecessary problem. Twice they had been completely alone together in her apartment when she had all but thrown herself at him, and twice he had walked away without even kissing her.

Why, then, had he chosen a damp, foggy terrace in the middle of a party to suddenly change, his mind? Because he’d been overwhelmed by desire? Hardly, Morgan thought reluctantly. He had wanted her, yes; she was sure of that. He had been more than a little annoyed when Jared interrupted them.

But… In a way, he’d been safe in starting something when and where he had. No matter how passionate the interlude had become, it was highly unlikely that they would have made love out there—the surroundings had been too cold, far too wet, and hideously uncomfortable, as well as lacking in privacy.

He was an intelligent man, and Morgan doubted that he was often taken by surprise; nearly a decade of eluding the police forces of the world made that fairly obvious. So it seemed clear he would have had the foresight to know nothing irrevocable would happen between them on the terrace.

Morgan told herself that it was just speculation, there was no proof he meant to make her a part of his cover—but when he cut in neatly to take her away from the gallery owner she’d been dancing with, her suspicions grew. And they grew even more when he managed to hold her far closer than she had allowed during their first dance, so that her hands were on his shoulders and his were on her back.

“You’ve been ignoring me, Morgana,” he reproved, smiling down at her.

He was an intriguing, charming, conniving scoundrel, Morgan decided with a building anger that was welcome. Worse, he was a heartless thief who would steal a necklace right off a woman’s neck while he kissed her—and if there was anything lower than that, she didn’t know what it could be.

The anger felt so good that Morgan wrapped herself with it, and it was such strong armor she was able to return his smile with perfect ease, undisturbed by their closeness or by the touch of his warm hands on her bare back. “Well, since I haven’t been told how well I’m supposed to know you, I thought it best. We have just met tonight, right?”

“Yes—but it must have been love at first sight,” he said soulfully.

“Oh, I see.” Morgan allowed her arms to slip up around his neck, turning the dance into something far more intimate than even he had intended. She veiled her eyes with her lashes, fixing them on his neat tie, and made her smile seductive. “You should have told me.”

She thought her voice was seductive as well, but there must have been something there to give her away, because Quinn didn’t buy the act.

He was silent for a moment or so while they danced, then cleared his throat and said in a matter-of-fact voice, “You’re mad as hell, aren’t you?”

Her lashes lifted as she met his wary eyes, and she knew her own were probably, as he’d once observed, spitting rage just like a cat’s. In a silken tone, she said, “I passed mad as hell about an hour ago. You don’t want to know what I am now.”

“I’m rather glad you aren’t armed, I know that much,” he murmured.

She let him feel several long fingernails gently caress the sensitive nape of his neck. “Don’t be too sure.”

“I’ve said it before, I know, but you look magnificent when you’re angry, Morgana.” He gave her a smile, this one seemingly genuine, amused—and a bit sheepish. And his deep voice was unusually sincere when he went on. “If you like, I’ll stop right here in front of God and San Francisco and apologize on bended knee. I’m a cad and a louse, and I should have asked for your help instead of trying to use you. I’m sorry.”

It was a totally disarming apology, and Morgan wasn’t surprised to feel her rage begin to drain away. Irritably, she said, “Well, why didn’t you?”

“I thought you’d say no,” he replied simply.

Since she was as quick-witted as he was, it took only a moment for Morgan to understand his reasoning. She didn’t speak immediately, because the music stopped and Quinn led her out of the ballroom a second time. Instead of returning to the terrace, however, he took her arm and guided her through the mansion into one of the first-floor rooms—this one a spacious parlor— where Leo Cassady displayed part of his valuable collection of artworks. The room was open to guests, but was currently deserted except for them.

They were far enough from the door that they weren’t likely to be overheard by anyone outside the room. Still, Morgan kept her voice quiet. “You mean you thought I wouldn’t want to pretend we were involved because…”

“Because I was a jerk and walked out on you twice,” he finished, giving her a very direct look.

He was being very disarming—but Morgan wasn’t completely disarmed. She pulled gently from his grasp and half turned to face him, paying no attention to the priceless oil painting hanging on the wall beside them. “Uh-huh. So you figured you’d just sweep me off my feet and do enough romancing to convince whoever happened to be watching that you’d fallen for me? As an excuse to hang around the museum?”

Quinn hesitated, a considering look in his brilliant green eyes. Then he sighed. “Something like that. But my motives weren’t entirely selfish, I swear.”

“Oh, no?”

He hesitated again, then swore under his breath. “All right, they are. But not the way you think.”

“Then explain it to me,” she requested.

Smiling suddenly, his voice wry, he said, “I must be out of my mind. Morgana, the simple truth is that I can’t stay away from you. I’m sure you’ve noticed that much. Even though my better self tells me I have no right to get involved with you, I can’t seem to listen. I keep coming back, finding excuses—even lousy ones— to be with you.”

She wanted to believe him, but Morgan wasn’t willing to cave in so easily. “The simple truth, Alex? Maybe. But I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I reserve judgment on that. As I recall, you once told me yourself I was wise to believe you couldn’t be trusted. I can’t see that anything’s changed since then.”

“I was masked then,” he said. “I’m not now.”

Morgan had the odd feeling he didn’t mean just a black ski mask, but something else, something much less easy to define. As if he felt himself to be vulnerable with her, somehow unguarded or unprotected. She studied his face, looking for something that would tell her if she could trust him.

His face had been imprinted in her mind from the first time she’d seen it. A face that was lean and very handsome, with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. His eyes were startling, a rare pale shade of green, surrounded by ridiculously long lashes, and very vivid and expressive. Brows that slanted a bit, and a mouth that was curved with humor and sensuality.

If he’d been dark, Morgan thought vaguely, brooding or sardonic, it might have been easier to believe the worst of him. But he was fair and handsome, even his voice was beautiful, and how was a woman supposed to know’?

“Damn you,” she murmured.

His face softened. “That’s one reason I kept walking away from you, whether you believe it or not. You don’t trust me, and without trust between lovers, it always ends in regret. Oh, you’re attracted—we’re both attracted. And for some women, that would be enough. But not for you. I knew that the night you followed a gang of thugs into an abandoned building to help me.”

That had been the first time she’d seen his face, she remembered. And it had been the night he had said he thought she would break his heart.

“I want to trust you,” she said slowly. “But every time I think I can, something happens to make me wonder.”

“It isn’t that I’m Quinn; we both know that. This is something else. Something deeper, more basic.”

She nodded silently. Though she hadn’t yet come to terms with her feelings about that part of him, it wasn’t what troubled her now. This wasn’t a matter of trusting a thief, it was a matter of trusting a man.

His wide shoulders lifted in a faint shrug. “What am I supposed to do—preface every remark by saying this is the truth? I can’t even do that, Morgana. So much of what I have to do here is pretense, living a role, playing a part—and sometimes I have to lie to everyone.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?” she asked. “You as good as tell me you’ve lied to me, will lie to me—how do I know anything you’re saying now is the truth?”

“You don’t,” he said softly.

Morgan began to turn away, but Quinn caught her hand and held her in place, not forcefully but firmly.

“I wish there was something else I could say, but there isn’t. I know how unfair I’m being in asking you to try and trust me when I’ve given you no reason— except one.”

“What reason?” she demanded.

“I trusted you.”

Staring up into green eyes that seemed painfully honest, she knew it was true. He had trusted her. He had trusted her with his life, coming to her after he’d-been shot. He had trusted her with his freedom, trusted her not to call the police or the newspapers when she might have, when she hadn’t known he was working with Interpol.

It made most of the fight drain out of her. “So where does that leave us?” she asked.

“That’s up to you,” he replied, his voice still quiet. “We’re both involved with the exhibit, but we don’t have to be involved with each other.”

“You need a reason to hang around the museum,” she heard herself say.

Quinn smiled slightly. “That was the easiest plan, but not the only one. Besides, I doubt very much if anyone would dare try to steal the collection in broad daylight while the museum is open to the public and filled with people. It’ll happen at night. And at night, I’m Quinn.”

He was still holding her hand, and she looked down at his with a curious sense of being poised on the brink of something. His was a skilled hand, she thought, even if the skills were nefarious. A strong hand. He had saved her life at least once and probably twice—how could she not trust him?

She returned her gaze to his face, and spoke carefully. “Can you answer one question—and swear to me it’s the truth?”

His smile went a bit crooked. “I’ll have to hear it first.”

She had expected that much. “You said you couldn’t seem to stay away from me. Whatever you feel about me, does it have anything—anything at all—to do with the collection?”

Quinn instantly shook his head. “No—I swear. And I’ll swear to something else, Morgana. I’ll swear to you right now that I will never again try to use you or whatever is between us for my own ends.”

Morgan found herself smiling. “I ought to have my head examined for believing you.” To her surprise, he lifted her hand briefly to his lips.

“Thank you for that,” he said.

The unexpected caress made her suddenly aware of her heartbeat, but she tried to keep her voice steady. “So, does this mean we are going to get involved?”

Quinn carried her hand to the crook of his arm and started for the door. “It’s getting late. Why don’t I take you home.”

“Answer me, Alex,” she insisted.

He paused to look down at her with very bright eyes and said, “We’ve been involved since the night we met. The only difference is that now we both know it—and admit it. And the only question is how long it’s going to take me to convince you to trust me.”

Morgan didn’t know whether to feel moved by his apparent determination or frustrated. “I gather trust is a prerequisite for taking the next logical step in our involvement?”

“Certainly. I told you what happens when there’s no trust between lovers. Regrets. No matter what happens between us, sweet, you aren’t going to regret me. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

He was slipping into his Don Juan persona, but Morgan didn’t protest. She had the feeling that both of them had taken all the emotional probing they could stand for one night. Besides that, she enjoyed Quinn in all his personas—even when they maddened her.

Walking obediently beside him as he headed for the front of the house, she said, “Unless it’s after midnight, we’ll be the first guests to leave. Leo’s parties are famous for lasting into the wee hours.”

“It’s just after eleven,” he said.

Morgan looked up at him curiously. “You aren’t wearing a watch, and I haven’t seen a clock. How do you…”

“One of my many talents. I have a very accurate clock in my head, seldom off by more than five minutes.

“That must come in handy. You want to list your other talents? Just so I won’t miss any of them?”

Quinn chuckled. “I’ll let you discover them one by one. It’s much more fun that way.”

It didn’t take long for them to collect their coats and say their thanks to their host—though Morgan had to bite down on the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at Leo’s well-bred surprise at their haste.

In a confiding tone to his host, Quinn said, “I want to get her completely alone so I can propose.”

“Fast work, Alex,” Leo noted mildly. “Should I congratulate you?”

“No,” Morgan said, rather surprised to find herself playing along willingly. “Leo, can I trust this man to take me home? Are you sure he isn’t an escaped lunatic or something? He’s acting very strangely.”

“He’s a collector,” Leo said soothingly. “All of us are odd, Morgan, you know that.”

“Yes, but is he dangerous?”

“I shouldn’t think so. I bought a painting from him about three years ago in London, and he seemed perfectly all right then.”

Morgan didn’t dare look up at Quinn. Of all the gall! she thought, torn between amusement and horror. Had he sold poor Leo a stolen painting?

“I am not dangerous to life and limb,” Quinn said virtuously, “but only to the heart. I fell in love with her cat’s eyes, Leo. Say good night, Morgana.”

With a long-suffering sigh, she said, “Good night, Leo.”

Leo’s eyes were twinkling. “Good night, Morgan. I’ll probably see you tomorrow at the opening.” He had, of course, attended the private showing the previous Saturday but, like many collectors, wanted another look at the Bannister collection.

Morgan found herself swept out the front door and installed in the front seat of a low-slung sports car with a European pedigree. She waited until the engine roared to life and the powerful little car had left Leo’s house far behind before she spoke to her companion.

“Is that how you met Leo? The painting?”

“That’s how,” he answered cheerfully.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” she said. “Was it a stolen painting?”

Quinn made a little “tsk” sound and said, “I believe I’ll plead the Fifth on that question.”

It was what she had expected. Sighing, she said, “Well, at least things are getting clearer to me. I knew Max was introducing Jared as a friend and private security expert, which nobody would be surprised by, and I knew Wolfe’s position as Lloyd’s security expert was out in the open, but when I saw you there tonight, all I could think was that one of us had lost our mind.”

“Still a possibility,” Quinn reminded her lightly.

She looked at his profile, which was visible to her only occasionally in the lights of the street lamps and passing cars. Ignoring his comment, she said, “It makes sense, though, that you’ve had to have a daytime persona all these years, and that there would be people who know you only as Alex Brandon. But I still say it was crazy for you to be a collector by day and a cat burglar by night. Is crazy, I mean.”

“Actually, it makes perfect sense,” he told her.

“Only to a lunatic.”

“I’ll try not to take that personally.”

Morgan had to laugh, and shook her head a bit bemusedly. “I’ve called you worse things, believe me. You should have heard me when I got the concubine ring.”

It was Quinn’s turn to laugh. “I suppose I should say I’m sorry about that, Morgana, but I’d be lying. I happened to have that copy with me, and I just couldn’t resist. I knew you’d recognize it, of course, and I knew you’d be furious.” He hesitated, then said, “You didn’t mention it when I was staying at your place.”

“I also didn’t ask who shot you—or a few other logical questions I should have asked. You seem to have a peculiar effect on my mind.”

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

She knew she should have replied to that lightly to keep the conversation easygoing, but her own words had reminded her of just how much danger Quinn was probably in.

Since she had first met him as Quinn, she had very quickly realized that the newspaper accounts of his daring and nervelessness had not been overstated. He was, she thought, a man who would always react to danger with either cool composure or careless humor — whichever he judged best suited the situation and increased his chances of success.

But even when there was a question of his very survival, Quinn would never be ruled by fears or uncertainties, and once he made up his mind to do something, not even a bullet would cause him to change course. It might have been determination or just plain stubbornness, but whatever it was made him an ideal man to live any kind of tricky or difficult life.

That was easy to see. It was also clear to Morgan that Quinn enjoyed his life, thrived on it even, and was unlikely to change. If Interpol did indeed decide he was more valuable working for them than languishing in prison, he would no doubt go on living a dangerous double life.

What she didn’t know was how she felt about that.

Morgan was an impulsive woman by nature, and occasionally reckless, but she was a long way from fearless. If she ever deliberately put herself in a dangerous situation—as she had when she’d followed that gang of thugs to help Quinn—it would always be because she followed her heart and her instincts, not the cool reason and sharp intelligence that was also hers. And she was one of those people who shone in a crisis, only to quietly fall apart later, when there was time.

“Morgana? You’re very quiet.”

A little startled, she realized that they had nearly reached her apartment building. “Sorry.”

“Is anything wrong?” he asked quietly.

She started to lie and say nothing, but something in her rebelled. “Wrong? I don’t know. I was just thinking about what you’re doing. All of you, I guess. Max is risking his collection. Wolfe is risking his job. Jared wears a gun most of the time. And you were shot not so long ago.”

“I was careless,” Quinn said in a casual tone, treating the matter offhandedly, as if it didn’t matter. “And I never make the same mistake twice.”

“So I shouldn’t worry? Nice try, but I got an unpleasantly good look at what a bullet can do to somebody standing on the wrong end of die gun.”

Quinn was silent for a moment, then spoke in a more serious tone. “Everything we do in life carries risk, you know that.”

“Yeah, but most of us don’t go out looking for trouble.”

“Don’t we? We drive cars, we fly in airplanes—and some of us even follow dangerous criminals into abandoned buildings.”

“I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time,” she murmured, ruefully aware that he had scored a neat point.

Quinn didn’t belabor the point, he just went on calmly. “As one who’s taken a few chances in the last ten years, I can tell you it’s much better to face a problem head-on, even if it does seem risky.”

Morgan decided to abandon the subject for the moment; she had the feeling she wasn’t going to score any points. “I just hope you’re all going to be careful.”

He parked the car in front of Morgan’s apartment building and shut off the engine. “That’s the plan,” he said. He got out of the car and came around to open the door for her.

“Will you be at the museum tomorrow?” she asked him as they walked together into the building and up the stairs to Morgan’s third-floor apartment.

“Of course. I’m a collector, remember? And since I arrived in the city after the private showing, I haven’t had a chance to see the collection yet.”

“Oh, right,” Morgan said. “I keep forgetting.”

He chuckled as he watched her find her key and unlock the apartment door. “If you forget around the wrong person, we’ll all be in trouble.”

He didn’t sound too worried about it, which pleased Morgan. She’d been told more than once that she talked too much, but Quinn clearly trusted her not to blurt out any of his secrets. The ones she knew, at least.

“I won’t,” she said, pushing her apartment door open.

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow at the museum.”

Morgan felt a pang of disappointment, thinking he was going to leave with no more than a polite goodbye, but before it could take hold of her, Quinn caught her shoulders, bent his head, and covered her mouth with his.

The movement was a bit abrupt, but there was nothing rough about it, and she couldn’t have prevented her response no matter what. Her body seemed to have a mind of its own, going boneless and molding itself to his, while her fingers clutched the lapels of his coat helplessly. A curl of heat ignited somewhere deep in her belly, spreading out so rapidly that even her skin felt feverish, and a tremor of pure pleasure rippled through her when she felt his fingers lightly stroke her throat and the nape of her neck. When he finally raised his head, she couldn’t help making a little sound of frustration.

Quinn’s face was a bit strained, she thought, and his eyes had darkened, but his voice was only slightly husky when he said, “Good night, Morgana.”

With a tremendous effort, she managed to let go of his coat and turn away from him. She went into her apartment, where a couple of lamps shed a welcoming light, and closed the door softly. For a long time she leaned back against it, not really thinking, but vaguely bothered by something.

She realized what was different when she reached up to touch her bare throat and found her little ruby necklace there. He had returned it, slipping it into place as deftly as he had removed it weeks before.





THREE


Morgan chided herself for it later, but the truth was that she looked for Quinn at the museum for most of Friday. It wasn’t easy considering the crush of people eager to view the Mysteries Past exhibit on this first day of its opening to the public, but she looked for him.

She had even dressed with more care than usual, choosing a slim, calf-length black skirt, a full-sleeved white blouse, and a really beautiful, hand-beaded vest done in opulent gold, black, and hints of rust. The outfit was completed with black pumps, and she wore her long black hair swept up in an elegant French twist.

Morgan had told herself that she had dressed so carefully only because this was the day that Mysteries Past opened, and since she was the director she had a responsibility to look her best… but she didn’t believe herself. She had dressed with Quinn in mind, and she knew it.

She wanted to look… sophisticated and cultured. And tall.

And if it occurred to her that sexy might have been added to a description of the appearance she was trying to achieve, she ignored the realization. She looked for Quinn all day, searching the crowd effaces for the one imprinted in her mind. She thought she was being subtle about it, a happy delusion that was shattered when Storm emerged from the computer room somewhere around three in the afternoon.

“You know, I really wouldn’t expect to see him here for at least another hour or so,” the petite blonde drawled as she joined Morgan near the guards’ desk in the museum’s lobby. Her little blond cat, Bear, rode her shoulder as usual, so exact a feline replica of Storm that he seemed an eerie familiar.

“See who?” Morgan hugged her clipboard and tried to look innocent. It wasn’t her best expression.

Storm pursed her lips slightly, and her green eyes danced. “Alex Brandon.”

“Dammit, was I that obvious?”

“Afraid so. The way you keep staring at tall blond men is a little hard to miss. I picked it up on my monitor, as a matter of fact.”

Morgan sighed and said dammit again without heat and without self-consciousness. “Well, in that case, why wouldn’t you expect to see him for at least another hour?”

Storm glanced casually around to make certain they couldn’t be overheard before she replied. “He has to sleep sometime, doesn’t he? I imagine he’s on watch or on the move most of the night, and since the collection is safest during the day with the museum filled with people, that’d be a good time to sleep.”

“I knew that.” Morgan frowned at herself.

Storm chuckled. “He probably wasn’t in bed before seven or eight this morning, so he likely hasn’t been up more than an hour, if that long. I’d give him time for a shave and shower, as well as breakfast, if I were you.”

“You’ve made your point.” Morgan sighed. “If this keeps up, I’m never going to see him in the daylight. I mean, he was at my apartment for a couple of days when he was healing, but we didn’t go outside, so I haven’t actually seen him in the sunshine.”

“One of your ambitions?”

“Don’t laugh, but yes.”

“Why on earth would I laugh? It seems a reasonable enough aim to me. Especially if you’ve the suspicion he’s a vampire.”

Morgan looked at her friend seriously. “No, because I saw his reflection in a mirror last night at Leo’s.”

“Oh. Well, that does seem to prove he isn’t a creature of the night. Not that kind of creature, anyway. I don’t suppose he could be another kind?”

“Only vampires are famous for their seductive but deadly charm,” Morgan reminded her, still solemn.

Storm nodded gravely. “That’s what I thought. You could wear a cross, I guess, and find out for sure.”

Silently, Morgan hooked a finger inside the open collar of her blouse and held out a fine golden chain from which dangled a polished gold cross. Storm studied the cross, then met Morgan’s earnest gaze. Then they both burst out laughing.

A bit unsteadily, Storm said, “Lord, this man must have quite an effect on you if he’s got you half-seriously contemplating the undead.”

“Let’s put it this way. I wouldn’t put it past the man to be three parts sorcerer at the very least.” Morgan got hold of herself. She looked at her clipboard and tried to remember that she was being paid to do a job. “Umm… I have to go do another walk-through of the exhibit and make sure everything’s going all right. If anyone should ask—”

“I’ll tell him right where you are,” Storm assured her.

“If you were a true friend, you’d lash me to the nearest mast before I make an utter fool of myself,” Morgan said somewhat mournfully. “All that crafty devil has to do is smile and say something—anything— and I forget all my good intentions.”

With a faint smile, Storm said, “I’d be glad to lash you to a mast //1 thought that was what you really wanted.”

“I’m not fooling anybody today, am I?”

“No. But don’t let that worry you. We’re all entitled to one bit of reckless folly in our lives, Morgan. My daddy taught me that. It’s something to remember.”

“Have you had yours?” Morgan asked curiously.

The small blonde smiled. “Of course I have. I fell for Wolfe in the middle of a very tricky situation when I couldn’t tell him the truth about myself. It was reckless and foolish—but it turned out all right in the end. Something else for you to remember: often the definition of a foolish act is just… bad timing.”

Morgan nodded thoughtfully and left her friend, beginning to make her way through the crowded museum toward the Mysteries Past exhibit housed on the second floor and in the west wing of the huge building.

Reckless folly. A good description, Morgan thought. After all, nobody in their right mind would consider this fascination with an internationally notorious cat burglar anything but reckless folly. Bad timing? Oh, yes, it was that too.

And knowing all that did absolutely nothing to knock some sense into her normally sensible head, she reflected wryly.

Pushing Quinn out of her thoughts for the moment, Morgan strolled through the exhibit wing, casual but watchful, studying visitor reactions to the various displays as well as noting potential traffic bottlenecks as particular pieces of the Bannister collection drew more interest than others. She jotted several notes to herself, reminders to see about more lighting for one corner, an extra velvet rope to redirect traffic through a particular room, and to have an inconveniently placed bench moved from its present location.

During the remainder of the afternoon, Morgan ruthlessly kept her mind on her job and performed various duties with her usual competence. She answered a few questions from people who knew she was the director of the exhibit—including a number of reporters covering the public opening—returned a few lost children to their parents, and coped with a couple of accidentally triggered alarms (they were still getting the bugs out of the electronic security system).

She also spoke briefly to Max and his wife, Dinah, who paid a fleeting visit to the museum to see how things were going, and to Wolfe, who was around all day but seldom visible as he watched over the collection his employer, Lloyd’s of London, insured. She didn’t see any sign of Jared, which didn’t surprise her; since he and Dani had gotten married the previous Sunday, they had spent most of their time alone together—and who could blame them?

Besides, Jared, like Quinn, would undoubtedly spend more nights than days in the vicinity of the museum since the thief they were intent on luring— Nightshade—was virtually guaranteed to make his move during the dark hours.

Morgan thought about that only fleetingly as the day wore on, partly because she kept herself busy and partly because the deadly danger Nightshade was famous for was something she didn’t like to think about. She did her job, and it wasn’t until nearly six o’clock, when the museum’s visitors were beginning to make their way toward the exits and she was doing a final walk-through of the exhibit for the day, that she saw Quinn.

He was standing alone at the central display case, which held the spectacular Boiling diamond. He was dressed casually in dark slacks and a cream-colored turtleneck sweater, with a black leather jacket worn open. Hands in his pockets, head bent, he stood gazing intently at the priceless seventy-five-carat teardrop canary diamond, and maybe it was the special lighting of the case that made his face look shadowed, as if it were hollowed with hunger… or avarice.

Then again, maybe the lighting had nothing to do with it.

Morgan paused in the doorway of the room and watched him silently, uneasy. The last few visitors in this area wandered past her, talking, and she nodded automatically at one of the guards who was following his usual patrol past the room, but she could hardly take her eyes off Quinn.

Max Bannister, certainly nobody’s fool and a notable judge of character, believed this man saw his unique collection only as bait set out to lure a far more deadly thief. Wolfe was risking his job and sterling reputation because he believed the same thing—or because he trusted Max’s judgment. Even Jared, despite the bitter anger he’d shown about his brother’s life of crime, seemed to have no doubt that Quinn had no designs on the Bannister collection.

And Morgan had believed that as well. From the moment she’d been told he was working with Interpol in the attempt to capture another and more deadly thief, she hadn’t doubted what he was here to do—even if she had wondered about his motives.

But now, watching him as he stared at the Boiling diamond, she felt her throat close up and her hands were suddenly cold. His face was so still, his eyes oddly intent, and she couldn’t help wondering…

Was the enigmatic Quinn making fools of them all?

Drawing a deep breath and then holding her clipboard rather like a shield, she moved slowly toward him. It was obvious he knew he’d been under observation because he spoke rather absentrnindedly as soon as she reached him.

“Hello, Morgana. Do you know the history?”

“Of the Boiling?” She was pleased by her own calm voice. “No, not really, other than that it’s supposed to be cursed. As director of the exhibit, my responsibilities are all administrative. I know, of course, all the facts about the pieces—carat weight and the grades of each stone, for instance—but I don’t believe in curses, and gems were never my favorite subject.”

“So, as an archaeologist you prefer relics? Bits of pottery and fossils?”

“Something like that.”

He turned his head suddenly and smiled at her. “I thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend.”

“Not this girl. To be honest, I don’t even like diamonds. Rubies, yes; sapphires and emeralds, definitely—but not diamonds, even the colored ones.”

“Too hard? Too cold?” He seemed honestly curious.

“I don’t know why, I’ve never thought about it.” She shrugged off the subject. “How long have you been here?”

“Just a few minutes.” He looked around them, his expression critically assessing. “The design of the exhibit is excellent. My compliments.”

“Being a connoisseur of such things?”

“I have closely studied a number of gem exhibits over the years,” he reminded her modestly.

He had skillfully plundered a few as well. Morgan sighed. “Yeah. Well, I can’t take all the credit for mis one. Max and I designed the layout, but Wolfe and Storm had input because of security considerations and Dani helped with the lighting and display angles.” She paused, then added, “I know you’ve met Storm because she said Wolfe introduced you last night; has Jared introduced you to Dani?”

Before he could answer, a serene and polite recording announced over the public address system that the museum would be closing in fifteen minutes. Quinn waited for the end of the announcement before nodding in reply.

“Yes, he has. Just before they got married last Sunday, as a matter of fact. I trust they’ll have better luck this time around.”

“Then you didn’t know her when they were married before.”

Quinn turned fully to face her. He was smiling slightly, but in the low light of the exhibit his green eyes seemed shuttered. “No. Ten years ago I was finishing up college—here in the States.”

“I wondered why you didn’t have much of an accent,” Morgan commented. And then, since he seemed willing to provide some information about his past, she said, “I guess you’ve kept your distance from Jared since then. With him being a cop, I mean.”

Instead of responding to that, Quinn said, “We are dissimilar brothers, aren’t we? Jared said he let that slip the night I was shot. He also said he asked you to forget you’d heard it.”

“It was more of a command than a request,” Morgan said, not sure if she had touched a nerve or if Quinn was merely being evasive for some other reason. Or even if he was being evasive at all. “I don’t respond too well to commands.”

“Noted for future reference,” Quinn murmured.

She had to resist the urge to follow that interesting tangent, and though it was hard, she managed. “Isn’t it dangerous, given the circumstances, to have so much tension between you two?”

“Not at all. We’re both pros.” In a smooth motion, Quinn took her arm, turned her, and headed toward the doorway. “The museum’s closing, didn’t you hear? It might look a bit strange if you don’t leave as usual.”

Morgan knew a warning sign when one was raised in front of her, so she dropped the subject of his relationship with his brother. For the time being, at least. “Do you think he’s watching the museum? Nightshade, I mean?”

“I have no idea,” Quinn confessed cheerfully. “But if I were him, I’d already have my plans made. And since we know he’s spent at least one night casing the building, it’s a safe bet that he has. The trick is going to be trying to anticipate what he means to do—and when.”

“I don’t see how you can do that. How anyone could.”

Still lightly holding her elbow as he guided her out of the west wing and toward the central staircase, Quinn shrugged. “Since I’m not psychic, it’s going to have to be an educated guess based on what I know about Nightshade’s methods and past thefts. Which is to say… very little.”

“You’re instilling me with a lot of confidence.”

He chuckled at her sarcasm. “Don’t worry, Morgana—one way or another, I always land on my feet.”

And with the gems? But she didn’t say that aloud. Instead, she said, “Are you going to keep watch tonight?”

“From midnight on. Jared will watch until then; we’ve split the duty between us.”

Morgan glanced up at him as they went down the stairs to the lobby. “I guess you’re used to staying up all night, huh?”

Quinn uttered another low laugh. “Let’s just say that I seem to be living the life of a vampire—never in bed before dawn and seldom up before sunset.”

His analogy was a bit too close to her earlier musings for Morgan’s peace of mind, and she had to stop herself from reaching for the cross at her throat. For heaven’s sake! Just because the man was charming and enigmatic—and worked nights—didn’t make him Dracula!

“The sun’s still out, you know,” she heard herself saying, and was relieved that her voice was dry. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll burst into flame or turn into dust?”

“No, but these long summer days must be hell on real vampires,” he noted thoughtfully.

“Real— ” Morgan got hold of herself. “I’ve been watching creepy movies on cable lately; what’s your excuse?”

“Too many nights spent clinging to the side of a building like a bat,” he replied matter-of-factly, then went on with scarcely a pause. “Morgana, I’m in the mood for Italian food, I think, and I know of a great restaurant near the bay with the best cook this side of Naples. Will you join me?”

He had stopped in the lobby about halfway between the guards’ desk and the main doors, and even when he released her elbow, Morgan had the curious feeling that he was still touching her. With an effort, she shook off the sensation.

Bluntly, she asked, “Business or pleasure?”

He answered that readily and with a smile. “Your company is always a pleasure, sweet. However, I’ll admit there is a possibility that someone I’d like to keep an eye on will also be at the restaurant.”

“Who?”

“That, I’d rather not say.” When she frowned at him, Quinn added, “Suspicions are not facts, Morgana, and they’re a long way from evidence. I’d prefer not to name names—to anyone—until I’m sure.”

“You mean not even Max or Jared—or Wolfe— knows that you have an idea who Nightshade really is?”

“They know I have an idea,” Quinn conceded, “but they don’t know who I’m watching.”

There were a number of questions Morgan wanted to ask, but a glance around showed her that they were alone in the lobby except for a guard at the desk who was watching them unobtrusively, so she decided this was not the time or place for a long discussion.

“Italian food sounds great,” she said. “I’ll just go check on a couple of things and get my jacket.”

“I’ll wait here for you.”

Since she was a responsible and efficient woman, Morgan made two brief stops before reaching her office, checking with the guards in the security room and then with Storm in the computer room to make certain all was well as the museum went into a night-security mode. One of the guards watching the security monitors asked her if the blond man in the lobby was supposed to be on his “sheet”—meaning the list of persons with special clearance to enter the museum at will—and Morgan had to pause for thought before answering.

“No,” she said finally out of a sense of caution, but then qualified the reply by adding, “Not unless Max or Wolfe says so. But he’ll probably be around most days. His name is Alex Brandon, and he’s a collector. Ask Wolfe what his clearance is, will you?”

“Gotcha,” the guard replied, writing himself a note.

When Morgan stopped at the computer room, where Storm spent her working hours, it was to find the petite blonde leaning back in her chair, booted feet propped on her desk and her little cat asleep in her lap as she studied a video monitor hanging in the corner of the crowded room. She could use the computer console on her desk to direct the museum’s security program to show her any part of the museum under video surveillance, and at that moment she was looking at the lobby. Specifically, at a tall, blond man waiting patiently.

“Hi,” Morgan said, deciding not to comment. “Any problems before I go?”

“Nah, nothing to speak of. I’ve fixed that glitch in the system, so I doubt we’ll have any more accidental alarms.” Storm’s bright green eyes returned to their study of the monitor, and she smiled when Quinn turned his own gaze to look directly into the video pickup he wasn’t supposed to be able to see. “Look at that. When he got here a little while ago, I watched him all through the museum, and he always knew where the cameras were—even the ones we’ve so cleverly hidden. Wolfe says he has a sixth sense when it comes to any kind of a camera being pointed at him, that he feels it somehow. No wonder the police have never been able to capture him on tape or film.”

Morgan followed her friend’s gaze, and though she couldn’t help a rueful smile when Quinn winked cheerily at the camera, her voice held a certain amount of frustration. “Damn him. Just when I think I’ve got him figured out, I start having second thoughts. Is he on the right side of the law this time, or isn’t he?”

Storm looked at her, one brow on the rise. “Maybe the operative phrase in that question is ‘this time.’ Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume Max, Wolfe, and Jared are right to trust him to keep his hands off the collection—and none of them are fools, we both know that—then what’s he going to do afterward? Let’s say our little trap works and Nightshade winds up behind bars—what then? Does Quinn slip Interpol’s leash and fade back into the misty night? Does he go to prison for past crimes? Or is the plan for him to be a… consultant or something like that for the cops?”

Remembering an earlier discussion with Quinn, Morgan said, “He told me he was too effective to go public—which would mean a trial and possibly prison— and more or less said he enjoyed dancing to Interpol’s tune. Which is probably the only answer I’ll get.”

Storm pursed her lips thoughtfully and stroked the sleeping Bear with a light touch. “Shrewd of Interpol if they plan to make good use of his talents.”

“Yeah. He’s sure to be worth more to them outside a jail than in. Even if they never recover a thing he stole, I’ll bet they’d rather use him than prosecute.” Morgan sighed. “Which only tells me one thing. Interpol operates mostly in Paris and other parts of Europe—and so would he.”

“How’s your French?” Storm asked solemnly.

“Better than my Latin.”

“I could give you lessons,” the blonde offered.

Morgan eyed her. “Do you speak French with a southern accent?”

“According to Jared I do, but I’ve never had any trouble being understood.”

“Well, I may take you up on the offer,” Morgan said. “Then again, the only French word I’m likely to need to know is the one for good-bye. And I already know that one.” She shook her head before her friend could respond. “Never mind. I’m going to eat Italian food and try my best to remember all the logical, rational, sensible reasons why I shouldn’t lose my head.”

“Good luck,” Storm murmured.

Morgan went on to her office, where she deposited her clipboard on her desk and put on the stylish gold blazer she had worn that morning. Then she locked up her office and returned to where Quinn waited in the lobby.

Wolfe was there and talking to him as she approached; she couldn’t hear what the security expert was saying, but he was frowning a bit. Quinn was wearing a pleasant but noncommittal half smile; that seemed his only response to whatever he was being told. When he caught sight of Morgan, Quinn looked past Wolfe to watch her coming toward them, and Wolfe turned to address her rather abruptly.

“Will you be here tomorrow?”

“With the exhibit open? Sure. From now until we close up shop, I work six days a week.”

Wolfe lifted an eyebrow at her. “Does Max know about that?”

“We’ve discussed the matter.” Morgan smiled. “He wasn’t happy, but when I pointed out that I’d be here whether I was getting paid or not, he gave in. I’m under orders to take long lunches and knock off early whenever possible, and I’m forbidden to darken the doors on Sunday. Why, do you need me for something tomorrow?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Okay,” she murmured, wondering if Wolfe felt uncomfortable discussing security business with her in the presence of Quinn. If so, it was certainly understandable.

Wolfe glanced at Quinn, then at Morgan, seemed about to say something, but finally shook his head in the gesture of a man who was acknowledging that a situation was out of his hands. “Have a nice evening,” he said a bit dryly, and left them to head for the hall of offices.

Gazing after the darker man, Quinn said meditatively, “Do you get the feeling Wolfe isn’t entirely happy with any of us?”

“Yes, and I can’t blame him. Anything happens to the Bannister collection and Lloyd’s is on the hook for more millions than I even want to think about.”

Quinn took her arm and began guiding her toward the front doors. “True. Have I mentioned, by the way, that you look like a few million yourself today?”

It caught her off guard—damn the man for sounding unnervingly sincere without warning!—but Morgan recovered quickly and was able to reply with commendable calm as they walked across the pavement outside the museum. “No, you haven’t mentioned that.” There was a little sunlight left in the day, and it glinted off his pale gold hair very nicely, she decided absently.

“Well, you certainly do. You look ravishing in jeans, mind you, but this is very elegant.” He guided her toward the low-slung black sports car waiting at the curb.

“Thank you.” Wondering if he did this kind of thing deliberately just to keep her off balance, Morgan remained silent while he installed her in the passenger side. She waited for him to join her, and spoke only when the little car pulled away from the curb with a muted roar.

“Answer a question for me?”

He sent her a quick smile. “I’ll have to hear it first.”

“Umm. Do you know the security layout of the museum—and the exhibit?” She had wondered about that only after Storm had made the observation that he “sensed”—or knew—the placement of all the security video cameras.

“Do you really think Jared would be so trusting?”

“That,” she commented thoughtfully, “is not an answer.”

Quinn chuckled softly. “Morgana, I get the distinct feeling I’ve somehow roused your suspicions.”

“That isn’t an answer either. Look, Alex, we’ve agreed that the truth seems to be a slippery commodity between the two of us.” She half turned on the seat to study his profile. It was a good profile, which was inspiring—but not as regards clarity of thought. “So I’d appreciate it if you give me a direct answer whenever possible. If you’d rather not say, then tell me so—this habit you have of neatly evading various subjects is not calculated to persuade me to trust you.”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that.” Stopping the car at a traffic light, he glanced at her a bit more seriously. “I’ll try not to do that so often.”

She noticed he didn’t promise to stop doing it. “So… do you or don’t you know the security setup of the exhibit?”

“I don’t. I probably could have gotten it from Max—who does trust me, by the way—but I decided not to. I have a better chance of anticipating Nightshade if I have to study the museum and exhibit justthe way he does. The only advantage I have is that I know there’s a weakness in the defenses.”

“The trap? Is it Storm’s security program?”

“You don’t know?”

Morgan sighed. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I haven’t even asked.”

In an understanding tone, Quinn said, “The situation is a bit complicated.”

“Never mind. Do you know where the trap is?”

“Yes, I do. I told Wolfe in the lobby just before you joined us, and he confirmed my deductions.”

“No wonder he was frowning.”

“As I said, he isn’t very happy with any of us. I did point out to him that the trap only looks like a hole in the defenses, expressly designed to lure Nightshade in and snare him before he can get anywhere near the collection.”

“And was he mollified by this reminder?”

Quinn smiled. “No. He seemed to feel that Nightshade might be suspicious enough to avoid the trap and find his own way in.”

“Why would he be suspicious?”

“Because of me, I’m afraid.” He sighed. “Morgana, thieves don’t normally follow one another in the dead of night. But I followed him the night he was casing the museum, the night he shot me. He has to wonder about that. He knows he didn’t kill me, because no unexplained shootings have been reported in the city, so he knows I may still be a potential problem.”

“But he doesn’t know who you are,” Morgan said slowly.

“I’m an unanswered question all the way around— and a man like Nightshade hates unanswered questions.”

She frowned a little as she studied his face. “You know, every time you talk about Nightshade, I get the feeling there’s more to this. You say you don’t know much about him… but I think you do.”

“Morgana, you are full of questions today.”

“Is that a warning?”

“It’s an observation.”

It may have been only that, but Morgan decided to drop the subject anyway. Quinn had already been more forthcoming than she had expected, and she preferred to quit while she was ahead. In any case, they arrived at the restaurant just then, and a number of speculations filled her mind.

She didn’t comment until he had parked the car and come around to open her door, and when she did speak, it was in a dry tone. “So Tony’s is the best restaurant this side of Naples, huh?”

“I think so,” Quinn replied innocently as he closed her car door and took her arm.

“And I suppose the fact that it tends to be a kind of hangout for art collectors and dealers as well as museum people is a coincidence?”

He sent her a glance, amusement in his green eyes. “No, is it? Fancy that.”

“You can be maddening, you know that?”

“Watch your step, Morgana,” he murmured, probably referring to the uneven flagstone steps leading up to the restaurant’s front door.

Though it was not yet seven in the evening, the place was already three quarters full; many of the museums in die area closed at six, and this was, as Morgan had said, a favorite place to unwind as well as dine. The food was not only excellent, it was also served generously and priced reasonably, and the casual but efficient waitresses knew your name by the third visit.

Or, in Quinn’s case, the second.

“I ate lunch here Wednesday,” he told Morgan, after the friendly waitress had conducted them to a window booth and asked “Mr. Brandon” if he wanted coffee as usual.

Morgan—who was also known to the waitress and who had ordered coffee as well—accepted that somewhat ruefully with a nod and then glanced around casually, curious to see if she could spot whoever it was that Quinn wanted to keep an eye on.

The one glance told her it would be impossible. There were more than a dozen people scattered about the room who were in some way involved in the art world either as collectors, patrons, or employees of the various museums, galleries, and shops in the area. Even Leo Cassady, their host for the party the previous night, and Ken Dugan, curator of the museum housing the Mysteries Past exhibit, were present, both with attractive female companions. And she was almost sure she’d spotted Keane Tyler, an inspector with the San Francisco police, eating alone in a dim corner.

“Give up?” Quinn murmured.

Morgan unfolded her napkin and placed it over her lap, making a production out of it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told him politely.

“You mean you weren’t trying to guess who it is I’m keeping an eye on?” He smiled wickedly. “Nice try, sweet, but you should never try to play poker with a cardsharp.”

She scowled at him. “Thanks for yet another warning. Obviously, you could look as innocent as a lamb with both sleeves full of aces.”

Leaning back to allow the waitress to place his coffee before him, Quinn said, “I didn’t know lambs had sleeves.”

“You know what I mean. Your sleeves full of aces.” Morgan reached for the sugar and poured a liberal amount into her coffee, then added a generous measure of cream.

Quinn watched her with a slightly pained expression on his handsome face. “American coffee is filled with flavor; why do you want to turn it into dessert?”

Since he’d stayed at her apartment, Morgan knew how he took his coffee. “Look, just because you macho types think drinking something incredibly bitter is a gourmet experience doesn’t make it so.”

“Is the coffee bitter?” the waitress asked anxiously. “I’m so sorry.”

Morgan looked up at her rather blankly, then realized the attractive redhead was hovering, pad in hand and pencil poised, to take their orders for the meal.

“I can make a fresh pot—

“No, it’s fine.” Morgan glanced at Quinn, who was studying the menu with one of those maddening little smiles of his, then returned her gaze to the distressed waitress. “Really it is. I was just… trying to make a point.” She hastily picked up her menu.

A couple of minutes later, their meal ordered and the waitress departed for the kitchen, Morgan frowned at her companion. “It didn’t work.”

“What didn’t work?”

“Trying to lead me off on a tangent. Maybe I should start guessing who it is you’re watching.”

“So I can tell you if you’re hot or cold?” Quinn shook his head. “Sorry, Morgana—no deal.”

She felt frustrated, but not terribly surprised, and since he was a much better poker player than she was, she knew there was no use in hoping he’d tell her anything he didn’t want her to know. “Well, hell,” she said in disgust.

Quinn smiled, but his eyes were suddenly grave. “Suppose you found out that I believed someone you knew was an international thief and murderer. Could you look at them, speak to them, with the ease you had yesterday? Could you be sure that you wouldn’t inadvertently give away your knowledge or somehow put them on their guard — which would certainly ruin our plans and likely put you in danger? Could you, Morgana?”

After a moment she sighed. “No, I don’t think I could. I’m not that good an actress.”

“If it makes you feel any better, that’s the major reason I haven’t told any of the others. Because it takes a certain kind of nerve — or a devious nature, I suppose — to lie convincingly even under the stress of facing a killer. I know myself; I know that I can do that. And since I can’t be so sure of anyone else, I prefer not to take the risk.”

“But it is someone I know? Nightshade is?”

“Someone you know… if I’m right.”

Morgan gazed at him soberly. “I get the feeling that no matter what you say — you don’t have any doubts.”

Quinn’s humorous mouth quirked in an oddly self-mocking little smile. “Which ought to teach me a lesson. I’m obviously not the poker player I thought I was.”

“Your face didn’t give it away. Or even what you said,” Morgan answered absently. “Just something I felt. But you are sure, aren’t you? You know who Nightshade is?”

“I can’t answer that.”

“You mean you won’t.”

“All right, I won’t.” Quinn sighed. “Morgana, in the interest of our developing relationship, why don’t we make an agreement?”

“Such as?”

“Let’s say… anytime we’re together, we can discuss business only during the first hour. After that, we concentrate on us. Fair enough?”

“On us? You mean, regular old boy-meets-girl sort of stuff?” When he nodded, Morgan eyed him thoughtfully—but this time she wasn’t picking up anything that belied his words. She had to accept them at face value, at least for the time being.

“Well?”

“It sounds fair enough. Always supposing, of course, that nothing exciting is going on around us. Museums being burgled or the two of us getting ourselves locked in an abandoned building, or getting shot at, for instance.”

Gravely, he agreed, “Excepting those circumstances, of course.”

“In that case, I agree.” She sighed. “I think I’ve been manipulated by a masterly hand, but I agree.”

Quinn didn’t comment on her reservations; he merely nodded, still grave. “Good. Then we have the evening before us. Until midnight.”

“I thought I was supposed to say that.”

He grinned at her. “In this version of the story, the horses don’t turn into mice, the carriage into a pumpkin, or your dress into rags.”

“You just turn into Quinn.” She kept her voice low when she said that, even though there was no one near them.

“I could be much worse, you know,” he said in a soothing tone. “I could be dull.” He reached across the table and touched the back of her hand very lightly, his index finger tracing an intricate pattern.

For a moment Morgan watched what he was doing, using every ounce of her self-control to preserve a detached expression, even though she had the suspicion all her bones were melting. She had to slide her hand away from him before she dared to meet his eyes, and she was rather proud when her voice emerged dryly.

“Alex, do you know the definition of a scoundrel?”

His green eyes were brightly amused. “A villain with a smile?”

“Close enough,” Morgan replied with a sigh, and leaned back to allow the waitress to deliver their meal.





FOUR


It was nearly two in the morning when Quinn moved ghostlike along the dark, silent building until he reached a side door. There was no lock to bar his way, and within seconds he was passing along a dim hallway, still making no more noise than a shadow. He paused outside a heavily carved set of doors and studied the faint strip of light visible at the floor, then smiled to himself and entered the room.

The faint light came from only two sources: a cheerful fire burning in the rock fireplace and a reading lamp on the opposite side of the study. Still, it was easy for Quinn to see the room’s waiting occupant.

“You’re late.” His host turned away from a tall window to frown at him.

Quinn removed his black ski mask and the supple black gloves he wore, and tucked them into his belt. “There’s quite a bit of security in this neighborhood, so I had to be careful,” he responded calmly.

The other man didn’t cross the room or even move away from the window; he merely stood there, one hand on the back of the chair beside him, and looked at Quinn. “Did you get it?”

Silently, Quinn opened a chamois pouch at his belt and removed a smaller velvet bag, which he tossed to his host. “As you Yanks say—it was a piece of cake.” Subtly different from what Morgan was accustomed to hearing from him, his voice was more rapid than lazy, the words a bit more clipped, the pronunciation more British than American.

A brilliant cascade of diamonds flowed into the other man’s hand as he upended the velvet bag, and he stared down at the necklace without blinking for a long moment. Then, softly, he said, “The Carstairs diamonds.”

“Get out your loupe and satisfy yourself the necklace is genuine,” Quinn advised him. “I don’t want there to be any question.”

His host left the window finally to cross the room to an antique desk, and he removed a jeweler’s loupe from the center drawer. He turned on the desk lamp to provide more light, and under that studied the necklace thoroughly.

“Well?” Quinn asked when the other man straightened.

“It’s genuine.”

“Terrific.” Quinn’s deep voice held a faint trace of mockery, as if the other man’s terseness amused him.

“So, are we ready to talk about the Bannister collection now? “

“I told you, I don’t like the setup.”

“Neither do I.” Quinn sat casually on the arm of a leather wingback chair and gave his host a very direct look. “The exhibit has the best security money can buy—which shouldn’t surprise either one of us. But we both know that even the best security is little more than an illusion to help owners and insurance companies sleep at night. No system is foolproof.”

The other man’s eyes were suddenly hard and bright. “Have you found a way in?”

Quinn smiled. “I’ve found two ways in.”

“… and then he took me home,” Morgan told Storm, finishing a rather lengthy description of her date the previous night. “And he didn’t even ask to come in for coffee.”

“That cad,” Storm said solemnly.

Morgan stared at her friend for a moment, then giggled. “Did I sound aggrieved?”

“Just a little bit.”

“Well, I guess I am a little bit.” Sitting on the edge of Storm’s desk, Morgan frowned as she absently scratched Bear under his raised chin. “After I’d finally come to the conclusion that I really would be stupid to trust him, he was as perfect gentleman all evening. At dinner, at the concert, in the car. He was charming, he was a wonderful companion, and he never put a foot wrong.”

In her usual pose, leaning back in her chair with her booted feet propped up on the desk, Storm watched the dark woman with a little smile. “Did he ask you out again?”

Morgan nodded. “For tonight, as a matter of fact. When I told him I’d decided weeks ago not to go to that fund-raiser Ken’s organized, he asked if I’d change my mind and go with him. I heard myself saying yes before I had a chance to think it through.” She shook her head. “You know, for someone who’s officially been in San Francisco only since Wednesday, he sure has all the hot tickets.”

“A man who plans ahead, obviously.”

“Yeah—and it makes me very nervous.” Morgan sighed and got off the desk. She went to the door, but paused there to look at her friend somewhat bemusedly. “You know what he wants to do tomorrow? He wants to go to the zoo. And have a picnic.”

“That sounds like a nice way to spend a Sunday,” Storm observed in a grave voice.

“It sounds like a normal way to spend a Sunday. Am I the only one who finds that somewhat bizarre?”

“It’s not at all bizarre for someone like Alex Brandon. But that other guy you met in a dark museum one night might find a normal Sunday a bit… quaint.”

Morgan nodded, slowly, seriously. “It is like he’s two different men.”

“And you feel ambivalent about one of them?”

“Oh, no, that isn’t the problem.” Morgan’s voice was certain. “I find both of them too fascinating for my peace of mind. What really bothers me is that the one I trust… is the man who wears a ski mask.”

“That,” Storm said, “is very interesting.”

“It’s unnerving, that’s what it is.” Sighing, Morgan added, “I’ve got to go and check on the exhibit. See you later.”

A man in the crowd of museum visitors whistled under his breath when Morgan passed him on her way up to the exhibit, and she threw him a faintly surprised glance. She was dressed more casually than yesterday, though still elegantly, in silky black pants and a bulky cowl-neck sweater in a bright shade of gold, with her long hair in a French braid. To her mind, it was a comfortable and presentable outfit without being especially sexy, and the attention from a stranger startled her.

She returned the man’s admiring smile with no more than polite acknowledgment and kept going— though he approached her five minutes later and made rather insistent let’s-get-to-know-each-other-better noises. Experienced in that kind of situation, she managed to get rid of him without raising her voice or having to summon one of the guards—though the stranger retreated with a somewhat dazed look on his face.

It was an odd thing, but Morgan had found that strangers were more likely to ask her out than men who knew her. That had been a disconcerting realization, and one she hadn’t quite been able to explain completely to her own satisfaction. She honestly didn’t believe that men were turned off by her personality; she thought it was more a matter of their being initially misled by her appearance.

When a woman looked like a busty sex kitten, she’d long ago discovered, men seldom expected a forthright and often sardonic nature and never expected intelligence. So while an embarrassing number of strangers approached her in public with hopeful expressions, it seemed to require time for those who kne