"So far Kat has been through all the Wa's she could think of, but Hale hadn't admitted to being Walter or Ward or Washington. He'd firmly denied both Warren and Waverly. Watson had prompted him to do a very bad Sherlock Holmes impersonation throughout a good portion of a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland. And Wayne seemed so wrong she hadn't even tried.
Hale was Hale. And not knowing what the W's stood for had become a constant reminder to Kat that, in life, there are some things that can be given but never stolen."
"Walby?" Kat blurted out.
She and W. W. Hale the Fifth were sitting outside a gelato shoppe in Salzburg, Austria. It was early in the afternoon and the September weather was surprisingly warm. They were currently speaking in English, but had ordered their peppermint and hazelnut gelatos (Kat's on a cone, Hale's in a fancy glass dish) in fluent German, without a trace of accent, inside the shoppe.
Hale only shook his head. He seemed a bit distant today, and Kat kept trying to get him to talk to her because this was probably the last time she'd see him before she left for Colgan School in a week. Hale didn't even know about it, and Kat felt guilty for not telling him, but she had her reasons.
She felt a mixture of excitement and dread at the thought of the new boarding school that awaited her. She was glad to finally be leaving her life of thievery behind, once and for all—or so she kept telling herself; she felt a lingering doubt about the decision—but she knew she'd miss her old friends and father, and Uncle Eddie. And Hale. The boarding school was year-round, so the next time she'd see any of them was in a few months, at the earliest.
She was somewhat surprised by how much she already missed Hale.
Hale's face looked stressed. His forehead was creased, and his light-brown was rumpled in the front, something Kat hardly ever saw, even after he'd just woken up. To ease the silence between them, as her attempts to start conversations on different topics failed, Kat had blurted out their old game of her guessing Hale's first name, which she didn't know.
"What's the matter?" Kat asked gently.
Hale shook his head and sighed. "Nothing. It's just . . . Uncle Eddie—"
"He didn't ask you to do another job, did he?" Kat gasped. Hale's last one, stealing a priceless statue from a museum in London, which Kat hadn't been a part of, had been issued by Uncle Eddie only a few weeks ago.
"No, and if he had I wouldn't have accepted it right now. He . . ." Hale hesitated. "I'll tell you about it later," he promised, reaching over to clasp Kat's hand and squeezing it.
Kat almost dropped her cone holding a single scoop of peppermint gelato, and felt even more guilty because she couldn't tell Hale that she wouldn't be around later for him to tell her anything.
She looked away and took a small lick of gelato. The delicious peppermint flavor spread across her tongue. Hale's hand was still over hers, warm and strong.
She was starting to wonder about the decision to change her life, and if it hadn't been a very good one.
Kat was back in the game.
She sat on a settee in the hall of Hale's mansion, near the bedroom door that her cousin Gabrielle was currently occupying, waiting for Gabrielle to finish getting into her disguise. Hale sat beside her, holding a briefcase. He and Kat had both been ready, dressed in their disguises, for the past ten minutes, and when Kat had peeked in her cousin's room and asked what was taking so long, Gabrielle had merely called out cheerily from the bathroom, "Almost finished, Kitty Kat!"
Kat wasn't so sure about her cousin. Gabrielle was nice enough, and smart, and they needed her in their plan to prove her father's innocence—and, okay, really gorgeous.
Maybe that's why she was bothering Kat. Ever since Gabrielle had joined Kat and Hale on their mission to retrieve the paintings from the Henley, she was around Hale a lot.
Kat decided to just ask Hale about it. She wasn't doing anything at the moment, anyway.
"So . . . are you and Gabrielle . . . close?" Kat asked, then winced at how that had sounded. She was just bored, she assured herself. Hale and Gabrielle could be best buddies for all she cared.
She looked over to see a corner of Hale's mouth crinkle up. "Not particularly," he said. "Probably not as close as you two have become in the past few days."
Kat inwardly sighed in relief.
"Why would you ask that?"
"Um, I just . . . you two seemed to know each other fairly well from before," Kat stuttered.
Hale leaned forward, looking amused. His short black wig had fallen crookedly over one ear, and he'd slipped his dark glasses down around his neck. Kat held her breath, staring into his eyes. He opened his mouth and breathed out, "Does that bother you?"
Before Kat could come up with an answer, Gabrielle emerged from the bedroom, wearing a ridiculous red wig. She'd added makeup around her eyes and on her cheeks, giving herself an older appearance, and was wearing colored green contact lenses. She looked quite pleased with her accomplishment.
Kat stood up, feeling slightly shaken. She stared down at Hale. "Ready to go . . . Wiggin?" she guessed.
Hale just raised an eyebrow pointedly and Kat sighed.
Months later, after the success in robbing the Henley, Kat's eyes were glued to a computer screen Simon clicked away on. She was slumped on the ground behind Simon's desk, her back against a wall, clutching her knees to her chest. Tomorrow, she planned to steal the Cleopatra Emerald, which was supposed to be cursed. Somehow, they would have to do it, and succeed, and they would need all the fortune in the world with them, but Kat felt anything but lucky lately. She had never made a bigger mistake than trusting Margaret and giving her the emerald in the first place.
Her head swam with plans and cons, but all Kat wanted to do right now was lay down and rest for a minute.
She knew she couldn't allow herself to.
She heard footsteps come up and stop beside her, and Kat immediately knew it was Hale.
"Ready for the big day?" Hale asked. When she didn't reply, he said softly, "You know, we can do it. You and I can do anything together if we set our minds to it."
Kat wondered if he was only talking about stealing things.
Instead of answering, she whispered, "Is it Winchester?"
She knew Hale was smiling as he patted her shoulder and said, "Not even close, Kat. Not even close."
"I just can't think of a con that would work," Simon burst out, slapping a hand on the table.
"Thomas Edison?" Gabrielle suggested.
"No, Gabs, not enough time," Simon huffed.
"Sleeping Beauty?" Hamish said, cocking an eyebrow at Gabrielle.
"The Superior Bank of Manhattan is huge." Simon shook his head.
"And I am so not getting dressed up in a nightgown and seducing a bunch of security guards in the middle of the night." Gabrielle crossed her arms defiantly.
As cons were tossed back and forth and shot down, Kat sat at the head of the table, holding a small notepad and pencil to write down any ideas that came to her, but her brain was sparse of them at the moment. So, instead, she scribbled a single word on one of the pieces of paper in the pad, and slid it across the table to rest in front of Hale, who sat to her right. He picked it up and his eyes scanned over Wallace silently, then lifted his head to meet her gaze, and gave the slightest smile and shake of his head.
Outside of a café in Paris, which Kat and Hale had flown to in Hale's private jet, at a small table just for two, sat a boy and girl. The boy wore an expensive black suit, and the girl a frilly, light-blue summer dress, a string of pearls around her throat that suspiciously resembled the ones that had gone missing from the Louvre two years earlier. They both had on sunglasses, but the girl's were pushed up and rested in her hair.
"So, I guess we're past all this lying-and-not-telling-each-other-things stage, if you're buying me lunch," Kat said, lifting her cup from its saucer to take a sip of coffee.
"I'd never let you pay for yourself when I'm asking you out. You know that, Kat," Hale complained.
"Is it because you're a gentleman or you somehow knew my pockets are empty?" Kat asked.
Hale gave her a smug smile. "You didn't offer to pay for the taxi. Plus, you aren't carrying your purse with you."
"You know me. I like to go lightweight on dates," Kat said, crossing her ankles.
Hale snorted. "As if you've gone on many dates."
"Discounting the ones with you, that's true," Kat grudgingly admitted.
Their waiter came back and spoke to them in French, and Hale handed over a check. The waiter glanced at it and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He glanced back at them uncertainly.
"A tip," Hale explained casually in French, waving his hand.
When the waiter realized the extra zeros on the end of the payment weren't accidental, he grabbed the opportunity and scurried off without a word.
Hale suddenly reached across the table and grabbed Kat's hand. "I want you to know, Kat, that I'm serious about this. About us. I want this to be a solid relationship. I'm willing to do anything to make it work."
"I feel the same way, Hale," Kat said softly. "Even if I didn't feel this way about you, I don't think I could say no, what with how long we've known each other." She suddenly grinned and patted him affectionately on the cheek. "I'd just work on paying up all those goats to my dad soon, if I were you . . . Wesley?"
She'd barely finished speaking when Hale leaned across the table and pressed his mouth to hers. "Do I look like a Wesley to you?" he mumbled against her lips.
Kat let herself get caught up in the moment, and hardly noticed when the waiter came back to pour them more coffee.
"I trust you two are enjoying the food?" the waiter asked as they broke apart, breathing heavily.
"Oui, it was wonderful," Kat answered, smiling, her face flushed.
As soon as the waiter left, Hale smiled and leaned toward her again. Kat felt rays from the sun warm the back of her neck; her face felt hot, and she knew it wasn't just from the warm weather.
Suddenly a short pink skirt and a pair of long legs stepped around the corner of the café, and as soon as the full figure came into view, Kat inwardly groaned. Gabrielle gave a wave and called out "Bonjour!" as she approached their table.
"So, I was thinking about this gorgeous diamond necklace I saw in a museum, but I need some help picking it up," Gabrielle launched into a conversation, pulling up a chair and taking a croissant from Kat's plate, seeming oblivious to Kat and Hale's glares.
Hale rubbed his eyes tiredly. After Garrett had been arrested and condemned to prison, and his grandmother's will sorted out, he'd thought he would have it easy—until Kat, of course, thought up a big new con she needed his help in.
Evidently, he was wrong. Ever since he'd inherited Hale Industries, he'd been rewarded with piles of paperwork concerning the business and Hazel. He hadn't got much sleep the past week. Sighing, he stood up and stretched his aching arms.
Kat had come over to his office and offered her help, with no plans of her own at the moment.
She sat at a desk beside his, her back slumped in her chair, the light from a window shining on her. She had her chin propped in her hand, a stray piece of short dark hair fallen in her face. Hale stared at her and caught his breath. She was perfect. She was his little Thief Girl, and she'd stolen more things than most male criminals in their entire lifetime, including his heart. He loved her.
And in that moment, he was ready.
Ready to confide in her one of the most heavily guarded classifications he'd been instructed to hold private since he was a child, the part of a long family line he'd been entrusted in, his burden, but also his secret. A secret he'd kept hidden for far too long.
"Wilford," he muttered.
Kat jerked her head up. "What?"
"My name . . . is Wilford Wade Hale the Fifth."
He was too busy feeling embarrassed, exposed, raw—one of the things he'd so carefully hidden since he was a child just blurted out into an office room like he'd casually asked Kat which restaurant she'd like to eat at for lunch—to notice Kat's expression. She was smiling.
"Willy?" she said.
Hale shot her a look, all thoughts of humiliation gone, replaced by a slight panic rising in his chest. "Don't you dare tell Gabrielle or the Bagshaws. They'll think up all sorts of nicknames—"
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Hale felt a bubbliness like too-hot coffee rising inside him when Kat rose from her seat and came to stand beside him, and stood on tiptoe to plant a light kiss on his cheek.
She sighed. "I don't think I'll ever get used to Wilford. Although I might bring up Willy once in a while just to get something I want from you," she teased.
Hale was not amused. In fact, he somewhat regretted telling her already. But he was also glad he'd finally got it out—now nothing stood between them, even him with his secretive ways.
"You'll always be Hale to me," Kat said simply, and he drew her close as her arms slid around him and she laid her head on his chest. "My Hale."