I've been sitting in this position for too long. The car windows were steaming up and the radio that earlier brought me calm was now irritating me. I watched Emmett enter the house earlier, but as of yet, I hadn't seen him leave. Remembering the blasé way in which Emmett was planning to enter the place, plant the bugs and leave he should've been out by now. We agreed not to contact each other until the job was done, but he was taking too long and it was agitating me. It was a simple surveillance job, to find out his routine nothing more than that.
Movement caught my attention, causing me to tense slightly. It was Emmett walking calmly towards my car, head down with his collar up. I started the engine as he approached the passenger side, checking to see if the coast was clear, I pulled away and headed for the main road. "What took so long?"
"His place is massive! Downstairs alone have more rooms than your place and mine combined. Some of the art he has on display, my God, Maria it's incredible it's like his own personal gallery."
I laughed at that last part. "Em, I would be worried if there weren't any paintings on display, that's why we're here. Did you use all the bugs?"
"Yeah, I also did a bit of snooping." I turned to look at him. He knew that wasn't part of the plan.
"I know what ya gonna say, but it was too hard to resist. I found the maids schedule, and when he would be out of town," he said, with a smug twang to his voice.
"You didn't touch anything did you?" He had a habit of being a bit slap-dash, and we couldn't afford to mess this up.
"No. It was on the fridge door, clear as day, for all to see. People never learn."
"Not everyone has sixty million dollars worth of art on their wall."
"Maria. There's a lot more than that on the walls! Believe me when I say, we could make enough money to never have to do this again."
Turning into the lay-bye and cutting the engine, I glanced over at Emmett and said, "We've already made enough; we do it for the thrill now, not for the money." Pulling over the rear view mirror and turning on the light, I checked my makeup and plumped up my lips.
"Right step outside, I need to change." I didn't need to turn to see that he was smiling.
"Honey it's nothing I haven't seen before."
Shaking my head and laughing. "That was a year ago. I've changed a lot since then, now scoot."
I reached behind my seat for the dress Alice had picked out, and quickly stripped from my casual clothes. I adjusted my breasts in the push up bra, these puppies needed to be on show this evening. I changed quickly, grabbed the stilettos from my bag along with the perfume, and then indicated to Emmett to come over. I jumped out of the car, giving him a quick twirl.
"Do I look ok?"
"You look fuckable Maria! I could bend you over the hood of this car right now."
I swayed towards him and placing my hand on his chest, I learned in. My lips slowly brushed his. His chest tensed from my touch, moving my lips to his ear, I breathed heavily and waited for his body to shiver.
"Pull this job off honey, and I might just take you up on that offer," I whispered. I moved passed him, deliberately brushing my breast against the side of his arm.
"Fuck Maria!" he growled.
Turning back towards him, I tossed the car keys at him. "Let's go, I have a man to seduce!!"
The invitation said, "Maria Swan and Guest." For this mission I was going to ignore the guest part of the invitation. I needed to capture the stare of every male when I walk in, and having a man on my arm wouldn't do that. I needed to make an entrance!
Emmett stopped the car fifty yards from the venue, informing me of where the car would be parked for me later. I jumped out and leaned in through the open window, it didn't go unnoticed that he was focusing on my exposed cleavage. "Emmett?" I clicked my fingers to get his attention. "I'll contact you through the course of the evening, stay close, any names I haven't come across before, I'll text them to you. Ok?"
"Huh! Yeah of course Maria, I'll stay close by."
I frowned at his lack of concentration. "Maria what do you expect? I can see everything when you lean forward. I'm a man that's what we do…we ogle hot women!!"
"Well let's hope it's a room full of men then!" I said as I adjusted my dress. I blew him a kiss and headed towards the entrance, purposely swaying my hips for his benefit.
The main lobby of the venue was relatively empty, which indicated that most of the guests had now been seated. To the outside world my timing would be considered rude and disrespectful, but to me it was perfect.
Smiling at the doorman, he opened the large solid doors which lead me to the main hall. I walked in glancing around taking in my surrounding. There was five staff behind the bar, a sit down meal with silver service and the head auctioneers at the main table. I had done my homework. I knew exactly where I was sitting; I'd been studying the table plan for the last two weeks. I also knew who I was sitting next too.
"I'm sorry for being late." I made a point of lowering my voice to a whisper, so only a select few could hear me. Turning to smile at the rest of the seated guests at my table, I nodded slightly towards the man sitting next to me. He slowly stood up, mimicking what the other men at the table were doing. I adjusted my seat leaving a slightly larger gap between myself and the edge of the table. Deliberately crossing my legs, I looked down to see the long slit on the side of my dress fall open, exposing my toned thigh. I could feel the intense stare of the man sitting next to me, though I knew full well that he wasn't staring at my face!
Leaning in towards his ear, making sure the v shaped gap of my dress was exposing my breasts, I whispered, "Sorry I'm late Mr Masen."
"I'm sorry I didn't catch your name?" Now that I had moved to the front of his face I could clearly see the confusion in his eyes.
"I didn't throw it!" I paused. Still looking at him and slowly licking my plumped lips, I glanced down to see that his hand was tightly gripping the arm of his chair.
"I know everyone's name at this table." I leaned back towards his ear again. "It's called having a good PA on the books. Does all the research, well the research I want to know." Again I lowered my voice so only he could hear that last part.
The waiter fussed around me, preparing my plate setting and laying my napkin on my lap. His reaction to seeing my exposed thigh, made me smirk. I picked up my glass to take a sip of water, and I could see from my side vision that I was being watched. He was leaning forward resting his elbows on the edge of the table. Though I didn't turn to look at him, I knew from the small cough that cleared his throat he was going to talk to me.
"And what did your PA find out about me that would interest you?"
This time I turned towards him. I remained perfectly still looking at his face whilst I scanned his facial features. His eyes were waiting for my response, and his lips were displaying a crooked smile, as I leaned in once again, my own face now mere inches from his own.
"Nothing, you're not the subject I'm interested in."
I pulled back sharply and focused on the small salad that was placed in front of me. The tension between us now dissipating as other guest at the table started to talk. I interjected every now and again, giving him the impression that I was relaxed. I made a point of refusing any alcohol that was being offered, which didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the table.
"My dear, are you not drinking?" Mrs Black asked.
Mrs. Black is worth some forty odd million dollars! She's old money, very well respected in the art world. She and her husband have one son named Jacob, who by all accounts is nothing but a dirty dog that humps anything. She's been married to Billie Black for thirty two years. He has a tart on the side named Jessica. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in that family.
"No, unfortunately for me this is just a flying visit, a way of catching up with certain people that I find difficult to pin down." I smiled sweetly at Mrs Black. She was a likable character unlike her son, and she had made me a large amount of money in the past, although she wasn't aware of that fact!
"I wouldn't say no to being pinned down by you."
I turned towards Major Reynolds whose red face and swollen nose told me he was still on the drink. Apparently he had an erection problem, or it was too small, something like that. Whichever it was he is of no interest to me.
"Major Reynolds, I'd doubt if you would know what to do, if I did pin you down!" The table burst into jovial laughter, causing Major Reynolds to retreat back into his wine glass. He may be worth a small fortune but he had no class!
The evening was ticking over nicely. I had already spotted the person I needed to talk to, and now that the main meal was coming to an end, I was winding down my conversations with the rest of the table. My conversations with Mr Masen had gone according to plan. They were short and brief, and nothing of importance was spoken about. Though throughout the meal he had made some kind of physical contact with me, passing him the condiments or the bread basket his fingers lingered over mine. He was now leaning back in his chair with his arm resting on the back of my chair. I leaned deep into his shoulder so that I wouldn't have to turn my head to speak to him.
"You're going to have to let me go Mr Masen. I've spotted the person I need to see." The low growl that rose from his voice made me smirk. Purposely placing my hand on his thigh, he jerked forward, his elbow knocking into Mrs Moon, causing her to spill her wine.
"Shit!" he shouted as he franticly leapt up, napkin in hand, as he desperately assisted Mr Moon in mopping up the spilled wine, which was now spreading over his wife's dress. I pushed my chair back and made my way over to the bar, leaving him to deal with the aftermath.
Carlisle had already spotted me, so by the time I reached the bar, a drink was already waiting for me. My drink of choice, Diaka vodka, with a twist. I smiled back at Carlisle, my glass clinking with his.
"So is this a social event this evening?" Carlisle asked as I bent into his embrace. His hands wrapped round my waist and my hand cupped the side of his face, as I kissed the other cheek. He pulled me in closer already knowing the answer.
"I take it we're being watched?" Carlisle whispered. This time I pulled away in mock hurtfulness.
"Carlisle, how could you think this embrace isn't genuine?" We both grinned at the private joke.
"Table six. Mr Masen, he as something I want," I said just before my glass touched my lips. This needed to look like a casual conversation. The last thing I needed was this to look staged.
"Maria, are you sure? This man has a very high status in this community."
I turned in to Carlisle, looking directly at his face. "Carlisle I know what I'm doing, we've done our research. This isn't a last minute decision, it's been well thought out. Please don't worry about me. We're professionals, you know that?" I was concerned that he doubted my abilities to pull this off.
"You don't need to do this, you have achieved so much. Why risk losing it?" Sighing, I turned back to observe the crowded hall.
The orchestra now increasing in volume no longer just background noise. We watched clusters of people leave their tables and forming casual groups with other parties.
"Carlisle how quickly you forget? It's not the money. It's never about the money. It's because I can. I can do what most can't, and that's the thrill. You must remember how it felt?" I made a point of keeping my voice low, now that the meal side of the evening had come to an end people were beginning to move towards the bar.
"Just be careful, Mr Masen has one of the best security systems in place. You can't just climb over the wall." Still looking ahead, I noticed Mr Masen now dancing with Mrs Moon. This was my cue.
Placing my glass back on the bar, I turned towards Carlisle.
"I'm not going over the wall…I'm going through the front door!" I didn't wait to see his reaction, the song would be ending soon and I needed to cut in before it finished.
"Excuse me. Mrs Moon, would it be rude of me to cut in?" My hand touched her elbow as I smiled.
"Of course not my dear," she said. Moving closer to the side of my face, "It's nice to be asked to dance by a young handsome man." She giggled like a school girl and moved a side allowing me to take her place. Looking up, only now realising how tall he was compared to me. He slowly wrapped his hand round my waist, whilst my own laced through his other hand. Focusing on each other, never wavering from the intense stare, I deliberately licked my lips causing him to inhale sharply.
"Your business concluded then?" Pushing his hand into my lower back, he brought me closer to his chest. I intentionally moved my head to the side of his shoulder, so I was talking into his ear, whilst allowing myself to observe the main doors.
"Not quite." I kept my face loitering over his shoulder, not giving him the opportunity to look me in the eye.
"Is it anyone I know?" he asked.
I pushed back from his frame, to talk direct to his face. "I don't know Mr Masen, who do you know?" I was now fully aware that we had stopped moving to the music.
He grinned awkwardly and said, "I know lots of people."
Sensing that I was being watched, I turned my head towards the main doors of the hall.
"Do you know that person?" I asked as I indicated a direction with my chin. He turned his head, his gaze settling on the man that had just walked in.
"No, I don't believe I do."
His eyes still focusing on the main doors, I nestled into the crock of his neck and playfully nibbled his ear lobe. The hand that once gently touched my waist was now griping the material of my dress.
"That's a shame. Because I do," I whispered.
Pulling away from the confined space of his body, and letting go of his hand, I moved back quickly. Nodding discreetly, I slowly placed my finger on his closed mouth and studied his reaction to my touch. "It was a pleasure meeting you Edward," I said as I increased the gap between us and made my way to the man I had come to see.
"Maria, this is always a pleasure," he said, taking my hand and kissing the back of it.
"You're late James!" It was difficult to stay mad at him, when he was playing the gentleman.
"I thought you liked working the room, and besides, I found it quite touching seeing you with Masen."
It was impossible not to smirk whenever his sarcasm made an appearance. I had been aware since joining him, that he continued to stare over my shoulder. I moved to his side to see what held his interest and then I turned to watch him.
"James, honestly do you have to stare?"
"So it's true? You've set your sights on bigger fish."
Seeing him so close up, I could see that the years have been good to him. Though he was in his late forties, his skin was still smooth, no deep lines to give his age away. He worked out most days so his physic was that of a young man.
"Charlie must be proud," he said.
I snapped back to reality on hearing my father's name. Out of the people in my life, James was always the one that said what I needed to hear. He never lectured or doubted me, and he never questioned my intentions.
"Yes, he is!" I coiled my hand around his hanging arm and moved towards the exit.
The drive back to my apartment had been filled with stories of my childhood. James and I reminisced about the teaching of the trade that my father insisted I learn. I always remembered the times I would sulk at having to learn such petty routines, while the other kids were out making new friends and discovering the latest fads.
Growing up, James was always the buffer between me and Charlie, keeping the peace when things would explode. Carlisle had always said that Charlie and I were exactly alike, just different sexes. I related more with James than I did with Carlisle or Charlie. James being the youngest out of the three by ten years, I saw the other two as guardians, but James was more like an older brother. I knew from the start that James would support my decision to go after Masen's art collection. He understood the thrill of the take, and I had to admit the money was a nice bonus, but for me it was always about the beauty or the 'Bella' as my dad would say.
"You know I'm not leaving until you show me the set up."
Laughing at his boldness, I cut the engine and made my way to the front door. "Come on then," I shouted back at him.
James switched on the few side lamps that I had, whilst I entered the code for the alarm. I tossed my handbag on the sofa and made my way over to the open planned kitchen. I was debating on whether I should switch the kettle on or pour us a drink. James knew what I was thinking before I even asked. He didn't turn around to look at me, but continued to study the painting that was hanging on the wall that I had acquired just several months ago.
"Coffee please, you know I never touch the booze when we're talking shop." I grinned at his answer and walked over to his side.
"Kettles on," I said.
"Salisbury Cathedral by constable, one of my favourites no less, Worth?" James asked his eye's now fixated on the bottom right hand corner, crouching down to get a better view.
"Fuck all!" he said, grinning at his answer. The statement that an art thief could be displaying a fake constable in her own home wasn't lost on James.
I laughed walking back towards the kitchen. "That's called irony James."
Carrying the two mugs over to the coffee table, I indicated to him to come and sit down.
"It would be foolish to display any of the real art I own. You never know who might drop in," I said with a smirk, taking a sip of coffee.
"If I didn't know any different, I would say that our Jasper's got this down to a fine art, no pun intended." The fact that this painting had been in my home for a while, reminded me that James hadn't been to visit in a long time.
"Don't call me that James."
He reached over to hold my hand, but I deliberately cradled my coffee mug. I sat back and closed my eyes.
"Listen. I know why you want to do this, I really do. I just need to know that you've covered all bases." The apparent frustration on my face, led James to hold his hands up in surrender. "I don't doubt you Maria. It's a big job, that's all I'm saying."
"Meaning, I'm not up for the challenge?" I asked as I placed my coffee back on the table. I walked back to the kitchen and poured myself a drink.
"He's a powerful man."
James was breaking his own no-alcohol rule as he poured himself a whisky.
"I know what kind of a man he is. If I didn't think I could do this I would leave well alone, trust me? I know the consequences if I fuck this up." Putting my drink down, I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the music room. Once in there I punched my code into the key pad and we entered the panic room. Only a select few knew of this room.
It's the room that I use as my office. It's also the room that houses some of my most precious and priceless pieces. Ignoring the fact that James had let go of my hand I turned on the three monitors, the humming of the screens warming up and the bleep informing me that I was on line, was all that could be heard.
Pulling up a chair I brought the keyboard closer to my body. Only now realising that I was still wearing the revealing dress, I glanced around looking for a jumper.
"Pass me that jumper James?" I turned back to the monitor, clicked on the relevant icon, and I watched as the monitors came to life. "Sit here and I'll go through the plan with you."
"Maria, you don't have to do this? I know you've done your research."
I pushed his shoulder down forcing him to stay in his seat and I smiled down at him. "I'm not doing this to prove a point. I genuinely want to see what you think of the idea."
Pressing the touch screen on the middle monitor, changing the subject's photo's into the slideshow programme.
"Right, Edward Masen, twenty eight years of age, single at present, though evidence suggests that he is partial to the odd one-night stand. Initially his money was from old wealth, the inheritance from the death of his parents four years ago. The money he has now is subsequently new. He has two bank accounts registered in the states, along with one in Zurich and one in the Cayman Islands. Following so far?"
Laughing at my sarcastic question, he answered, "Mmm... I'm managing so far!"
"Good. At close of trade last night he has approximately six million dollars split between the two accounts in this country, twelve million in the Zurich account and a small nest egg of just three million in the Cayman's."
I picked up the yellow folder that James had been resting his elbows on and handed it to him. "This file contains information of every piece of art work he has ever purchased, from Picasso's to sculptures by Henry Moore. We calculate that his entire purchase is in excess of one hundred and twenty million dollars."
"Yeah, I'm with you so far."
"I want half. I want sixty Million."
"I know what half of one hundred and twenty million is," he said as he turned his body away from the screen. His eyes were now focused on me.
"It's one piece. It's one piece that's worth sixty million, James."
"And you plan to get this how?"
Turning him back to look at the screen, I switched our view to one of the other monitors. A floor plan of his home was now on display, each room displayed a small flashing icon. "Emmett planted these bugs earlier on, along with decoding scanners for each keypad panels. Though we already have the alarm code to get in, we suspect that it randomly changes every few days, alerting Masen by text to his mobile. We know of two house staff that work for him."
"Do you have their schedule?"
"Yep. They were kind enough to leave it on the fridge door. Alice is doing background checks on everyone that enters his home, along with what days they work and if that's likely to change. The bugs pick up sound and motion, while the decoding scanners will pick up safe combinations and pass codes. This is obviously a formality, because what I want isn't in a safe or a volt."
"What?" he asked as he flicked through the file, looking for what he thought I was going to take. "I don't understand... it's on display?"
I nodded in agreement.
"In full view, in plain sight, Sixty million dollars worth of art is just hanging on a wall?"
"It's hanging on the wall of the music room, to be precise."
"Fuck." By now he was switching his focus between me and the file he was holding. He glanced at the monitor that displayed the floor plan. I could see his thought process ticking over and a slow small grin starting to appear on his face. "You're going through the front fucking door, aren't you?"
I bent down to kiss his brow and said, "That would be the plan, yes."
I could see the familiar sparkle appear in his eyes, and I knew then that he was pleased with what we had achieved so far.
"Fucking hell," he whispered in total disbelief.
I laughed out loud at his reaction, covering my mouth to stifle the giggles. I was trying to keep my voice at the professional level for a little a bit longer.
"We've got six weeks to implement all the procedures, which will give me enough time to research Masen. Alice as already organised my schedule to mirror his and with the bugs in place, I will have up to the minute information on him."
"This is good. This is amazing," he said as he reached over and grabbed my hand pulling me in for an embrace.
"He will be so proud Bella." I was too high from the adrenaline that was running through my veins, to correct him on my name.