Note: A huge thank you goes to ISBH for being a great and fast beta, and to L, for being the best cheerleader and plot bunny sounding board I could wish for!

Dear C, there's a lot I'd like to tell you – mostly how sad I am that I couldn't send you that Christmas card you so wanted; that still no eloping to Vegas has happened; that while there are stairs handy, no one ever falls down at a convenient time; and so many other things. I know you have a particular fondness for J, and I know you will appreciate the absence of bronze hair and green eyes in this. Happy Birthday!


I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped out of the car into the cold night, sliding my glove covered fingers from the valet's gentle grasp. Call it woman's intuition, if you will, but I had long ago learned the hard way to trust my gut. Something wasn't right, but of course I couldn't find the source of my unease as I scanned the expensive cars and even more expensively decked out women clinging to the arms of wealthy men all around me. It would have been too easy to deduce the real reason for the goose bumps marching up my back, besides the frigid air.

Doing my best to direct a bright smile at the helpful young man in front of me, I handed him my car keys together with a discreetly concealed bill, then turned towards the building in front of me.

As it was befitting someone who was still considered about as important as the Peers of the Realm not so long ago, the mansion lay sprawling within acres of land, the weight of history trying to hide that nowadays it was virtually impossible to pay for the upkeep of such an estate. Everything was grand and lush, from what little I could make out of the English Lawn to the rich burgundy colored carpet leading over the stairs into the entrance hall. All the windows were lit and the rooms undoubtedly swarming with immaculately dressed waiters, ready to refill champagne flutes and offer hors d'oeuvre to the guests. It reeked of money and splendor to underline without even a hint of modesty that the host could afford it all, including the envy of those he tried to impress.

Impressed I was, alright, as I walked inside, but probably for different reasons than most of the crowd I tried to blend in with around me. Mr. Abercrombie was known as an eccentric art collector throughout the world, if of a somewhat notorious zeal to add to his possessions, sometimes not only with legitimate means. What few people knew was that he was also a paranoid old bastard who financed his collecting hobbies with black market arms dealing, and as many in that business he took great pains to ensure that no one would extract any of his prized possessions.

I counted at least ten security guards, of both human and canine persuasion alike, and without having to look hard found a multitude of cameras surveying virtually every inch of the lawns and front hall. I might have been concerned about anyone recognizing me from my less than flattering Interpol mugshots had Mr. Abercrombie been even half as honest a man as he claimed, but as it was, I didn't further concern myself with a thought about the danger of getting hauled away into a country with more favorable extradition laws than this one. I was well aware that I would be watched closely, but considered it the kind of professional courtesy befitting someone of my history and skills. After all I wasn't here for the champagne nor the company, and my loyalty was easily swayed by the addition of a few zeros at the right side of my bank account tally.

Even though some women might see it as a faux pas of the grandest order I had forgone a fur coat, or even velvet cape for the few steps from my car inside the building. Though delicate in stature I was not so frail that a little cold air would rattle me. Armed with just a form-hugging black silk dress, high heels and a clutch, no one would care to think twice whether I was studying the Ming vase because of its elegant design or trying to find a way to smuggle it outside wrapped inside my mink coat. The high slit on the right side of the dress that came dangerously close to revealing the lace top of my stay-ups should also reveal to prying eyes that there was no way I could have been carrying a gun on my person, although I did hope it hid the silhouette of the throwing knife tugged into the holster just there.

A proper thief has no need for guns, but a lady must be prepared to defend herself, and on more than one occasion I had had a chance to hone these skills well.

As expected I hadn't even made it into the middle of the hall before a waiter offered me champagne, and I sipped daintily as I continued to take in my surroundings. While impressive, the security measures were nothing I hadn't expected, and in no way explained why my skin was still crawling with unease. I didn't even intend to go through with stealing that blasted diamond in the first case, hoping for Abercrombie to offer me more to reveal the details about my current employer. No reason at all for me to be so on edge.

Entering the first of many rooms the guests were occupying I reveled in the admiring attention my appearance drew. Of course I knew I couldn't really blend in in the sense of not sticking out – I would have had to ditch all sense of style and grace for that and adorn myself with some filthy rich geezer instead. I merely tried not to draw the wrong kind of attention, and from what I could tell I managed well enough. Some simply saw a beautiful, elegant woman on her own walking amongst all the trophy wives and gold diggers decked out in enough jewelry to finance a small country. Others recognized me for who I was, either by description or reputation if they knew my name, but they either didn't have the money to afford me, or the sense not to annoy me with idle chatter. A few even nodded at me with grace, accepting our acquaintance on neutral ground now that they could be sure I wasn't here to relieve them of anything.

I was well aware that to the rich and important I was merely a tool – a skilled and highly expensive tool, but not worthy of holding a grudge against. They regarded the business of collecting and keeping treasures as a game, where strategy and maneuvering was as much part of it as sometimes accepting defeat. If I in fact managed to steal from them they didn't see me as a nuisance best disposed of, but a possible future means to further their assets in one way or another. At age thirty-seven I had amassed both reputation and wealth enough to choose from offers, or decline all of them, and I was sure that many envied me that I could display carelessness as much as my independence. In fact, the only thing that someone might point out I was lacking was a husband – or partner in crime, depending on my mood – but that wasn't an empty spot I was seeking to fill any time soon, if ever.

A few people approached me as time went by, both to make small talk and try to interest me in their offers. I met the first with witty comebacks and the latter with polite yet decisive rejection, as none of them were even remotely worth my attention. A few times I saw Abercrombie glance in my direction, and I was sure he recognized me, but as he bid his time, so did I, instead enjoying a few mushroom vol-au-vents.

"I would steer clear of those, if I were you. A few are filled with prawns, and I think it would destroy my appetite to see you all gasping and choking from anaphylactic shock."

The delicious tidbit that had just been caressing my taste buds seemed to turn to ash immediately when I heard the deep, masculine voice behind me, but not because of the possibility of the described allergic reaction. I couldn't say what annoyed me more, his presence or the fact that he had managed to sneak up on me like that, unnoticed, and it cost me a lot to keep my body relaxed, and my smile in place as I turned to face him.

"We wouldn't have that, now would we? The party would lose its number one attraction if people couldn't watch you stuff your face anymore."

A childish bout of glee went through me at the hint of a frown marring his forehead at my insult, but my mirth almost immediately dissipated when he leaned closer, his scent invading my senses as his breath caressed the bare side of my neck. Yet instead of murmuring the expected insult into my ear he just inhaled deeply, then let out something between a sigh and a moan, the sound as familiar as my body's reaction to it annoying.

"Three years since we last met, and still you're wearing the same perfume. Makes me wonder what else has stayed the same."

Although I tried to fight it I felt a certain flush creep onto my face, as annoying as the dampness elsewhere that the proximity to him inadvertently caused. Of course he noticed the former – and knowing me like no other probably figured the latter – and the resulting smirk on his face made me want to punch him, or even better, gut him. As both was below my dignity I instead chose to resort to cruelty, the only weapon I knew he couldn't disarm me of.

"Really, has it been that long already? I didn't notice, seeing as I was busy spending your money and taking your contracts. Oh, pardon me, my money and my contracts, seeing as the winner takes it all."

As expected the reminder wiped the mirth right off his even features, leaving a less flattering glower behind. Smiling in triumph I took my time looking him up and down, not hiding that while my body might appreciate the pretty picture, my mind did not.

Like so many men he was aging well – if one could call making the step from the late thirties into the early forties as aging. His longish blond hair was still immaculately styled, today gathered in a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. His suit was tailored and fit perfectly on the still trim frame, and not even his usual well-kept stubble could ruin the masculine elegance he exuded. I tried not to get caught in his ice-blue eyes, so very like a husky's, but the pull his gaze had on me was daunting.

He didn't offer a comeback, either because he couldn't come up with any or didn't want to hand me further ammunition to rub into what I perceived must still be a gaping wound. Not the fact that I had rejected him, I was sure he had found many a willing pair of legs opening for him to tide him over that; but it didn't occur every day that someone happened to outsmart him like I had, leaving him with nothing but the clothes on his body for worldly possessions. He had obviously recovered well, as I had known he would – like cats, thieves tend to land on their feet, and he had always been one to hit the stride running – but that didn't mean that he had managed to forget me.

What I had done, I quickly corrected my own musings, but a hint of that mental slip must have shown on my face for his dashing grin returned in full face momentarily.

"I must say, money suits you, old gal. Which, I guess, is a good thing, seeing as rumor has it that you're getting slow and complacent in your old age."

I frowned, wondering why he was stressing my age like that, but before I could make sense of it, he went on, already turning away from me.

"Anyway, nice meeting you here, Isabella. Enjoy your evening. I know I will enjoy mine."

Irritation had my posture rigid and straight before I could help myself, but I had to admit defeat to him, if only for this round – he still knew me too well, and obviously ignoring me was the only way he could get back at me. I told myself that I could always find comfort in my Florida Keys beach house, purchased with the money from his trust and college fund, but my consolation was very short lived as I watched his broad back retreat.

I had expected him to disappear into the mass of people around us, just like he had appeared out of thin air, but instead he took his time strolling across the room. There, next to a small table, he rejoined a woman, who I had to register with disdain looked like a waspish, younger version of myself. The same long, brown hair done up in the chignon I had favored before an unfortunate accident last year had left a scar on my neck that I now disguised by letting my waves tumble down my back unrestrained; her body was of the same lithe built that nonetheless spoke of strength as much as grace; even the dress she was wearing was of an understated, elegant style that was as pleasing to the eye as practical, should the evening warrant a dash of running and not just tangoing across the dance floor. With any other man I would have said it was coincidence, or a sure tell of him preferring a certain type of woman – but there was nothing that Jasper Whitlock did that wasn't carefully plotted, planned and deliberately arranged. He had obviously chosen his companion to make me jealous, and as much as I hated to admit it, his ploy worked all too well.

Huffing about my own stupidity I snatched another glass of champagne off the next tray walking by me, this time draining it with a single gulp. It was a shame to waste such a fine beverage like this, but I really needed it right now, although I would have preferred something stronger.

I knew that he must be watching me, if only to gloat across the room at me, so I made a point of casually turning my back on him. Suddenly bored of biding my time on my own I forced something resembling an inviting smile onto my face, casting around for a suitable conversation partner. Of course coming up blank I looked for the next best thing, a suitable subject to show him just how over him I was myself.

I didn't have to wait long until I found a victim for my ill-disguised attempt of not wanting to seem like a bitter spinster. He was perfect – about the polar opposite of Jasper, in this case tall, dark, handsome, refined, and neither gloating at me nor staring down the cleavage of my dress. He introduced himself as the son of the Armenian ambassador, and we quickly found a myriad of topics to converse about, mainly art and the insipidity of so many women attending tonight. A few minutes in it was obvious that his motives for seeking me out were very similar to my own, which lent our conversation some additional airy ease.

All through it I kept overemphasizing my body language, laughing and smiling openly, keeping my attention firmly on my conversation partner. It was hard not to glance across the room for a while, but I managed, and when I finally allowed myself a look, I saw that my efforts were paying off well. Gone was that smirk from before, or even the sensual smile he had offered his companion upon his return to her, replaced by a frown that made him look less sophisticated and older than I knew he was. Seeing that should have been balm on my tormented soul, but as it was, he chose to retaliate before I could dwell on it.

That men cannot dance is a cliché, obviously, one I never quite understood. In certain social circles a minimum of social skills are required, including a rudimentary grasp on the handful of standard dances present in ballrooms all over the world. It has always been a great way to ensure keeping a conversation private – but I myself couldn't deny that the fluid movements always held a certain amount of intimacy for me, if conducted in the right way. And Jasper Whitlock knew how to dance.

I knew what was going to happen the moment he led this younger carbon copy of myself onto the dance floor, no less when I recognized that the song the band was just starting was a tango. He had always had a hang towards the dramatic, red roses grasped between teeth and all that jazz, but I couldn't deny that he knew how to lead, and even watching from afar made my body ache for him all over again.

Turning away with an annoyed smack of my lips I found myself confronted with a way too knowing smile my conversation partner was sporting.

"Would you like to dance, madame?"

"Thank you, but rather not," I tried to turn down the offer that had very likely been made out of the goodness of his heart. "Besides, tango is so overrated."

"Only if it is danced to perfection to show off, but it can convey passion like no other dance. The Argentinian version, of course, the British military version is more something for aging generals who try to wrestle control away from their stalwart wives for a minute or two."

His analysis made me laugh, but I still shook my head.

"How accurate indeed. But my answer stays the same, while I fully agree with your assessment, I don't think I even want to try to shame these stalwart wives with the possibilities of how differently the nearly same dance could be executed."

"A shame, but of course I will honor your wish."

The truly annoying thing was, I would have loved to dance, but as much as he was trying to be the perfect gentleman, he was as ill suited a partner as they get. There was only one man in the world who I would have considered dancing with, and as he was already occupied doing so, yet not with me, I felt that it was best to squash that want right away.

As it was, my salvation then appeared from an unexpected but very welcome angle, a certain Mr. Abercrombie joining our cozy little group. As befit their standing the gentlemen both exchanged pleasantries, but before long the ambassador's son took the hint, and with a nod of his head also his leave.

"I hope you are enjoying yourself, Miss Swan?" he finally turned his attention to me, but his tone had lost all form of the cordiality it had been so full of before.

Not batting an eyelash I smiled at him, doing my best to appear casually entertained.

"Quite, in fact. It is a lovely party, and the location is extraordinary, indeed."

"You think?" he huffed, then cleared his throat. "How is Mr. Finch these days? My associates tell me you've recently met, I think it was in Geneva?"

I was a little stupefied he knew about how and where I had received my current missive, but I hadn't gone to great pains to hide the transaction.

"As far as I know Mr. Finch is well. Shall I tell him that you inquired about his well-being the next time I meet him?"

Conversations like this were always conducted in code, although I was surprised that he didn't want to talk somewhere more private. In the past I had oftentimes used my being a woman to make it less obvious for the observing eye what was going on – after all it was hard to discern whether the lovely young woman a man of certain repute took to his private quarters to stay the night was there to entertain some illustrious vices of his that he didn't dare approach his wife with, or whether they exchanged a priceless collectible said woman had acquired, for a discreet compensation, of course.

Abercrombie smiled, and it wasn't a pleasant expression.

"Oh, I don't think that will be necessary. Please keep enjoying your stay in my house, as I see you've already met your former,..." he paused there, and I was sure that he was staring over my shoulder at where Jasper was dragging my twin nitwit across the dance floor, "…acquaintance. Good evening, Miss Swan."

Somewhat flabbergasted I wished him the same, then watched his retreating back from where he left me standing. This had been, without a doubt, the weirdest business conversation ever, and the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe it hadn't even been that. But if not, where did that leave me?

Feeling suddenly out of place where I was, I decided it was time to hunt down something more substantial than the champagne that seemed to flow in rivers tonight. Looking for the bar also came with the convenience of permitting me to leave the dreadful dance floor behind me, and the wonderful amber burn of a glass of Knockando helped tide away some of my rising ire.

As I remained perched on my bar stool I let my gaze wander over the assembled guests once more. For years I had felt as if I belonged whenever I had attended an event like this, but of late that had turned into a matter of necessity rather than entertainment, or even enjoyment. I kept telling myself that maybe I had just outgrown this world, but when I felt a familiar presence at my left I had to admit, it was more a matter of missing the right company.

"A vodka martini, and a single malt, keep the ice."

I had to hide a grin, but it was a rueful one. Yet, after allowing myself to get a little nostalgic, I wiped the expression off my face. I couldn't let him see me showing even a hint of regret, and if I was honest, it wasn't even regret I felt. At least not when I turned to look at him, and found Jasper trying that same old charming smile on me that had at the best of times made me laugh, but never actually worked on me.

"Oh, there you are, I thought you had left already."

"Is that so?" I remarked, letting my tone convey my disbelief.

"Yes, I would have been heart-broken not to get a chance to say good-bye to you," he drawled as he leaned closer, his ordered drinks all but forgotten. The fragrance of his cologne hit me then, together with that scent that was so purely him, reminding me of wild car rides in the night and endless days spent on the beach. He even looked genuinely tanned, making me wonder for a moment if he had acquired any tan lines yet or still preferred to go au naturel whenever possible.

To disguise the motion of licking my lips I took another sip from my Scotch, letting the liquid burn my throat, replacing some of the heat in me with another.

"Well, I'm sorry to have to disappoint you, I'm still here. Then again it wouldn't be the first time that I just walked out on you, if I recall right."

The geniality of his smile dimmed somewhat, but he managed to keep the pleasant look in place.

"If you will excuse me then, I have places to be."

With that he left me sitting there. I didn't turn to watch him rejoin his plus one, but the fact that he had the gall to just walk away like that didn't sit well with me. I couldn't even explain why – after all I had been the one to leave him, all those years ago, and I had never regretted not looking back. We had both realized long before that fateful day that our relationship had gone stale, and even bouts of passion, usually followed by just as passionate fights, hadn't been enough to save what could not be saved. He had been too weak to take that step away from me for good, so I had taken the decision from him, and with that all of his funds. Sometimes I even felt like it had been a silent invitation to him to hunt me down and re-take what was rightfully his – and I wasn't even sure if I only meant our assets with that. But he had never appeared on my door step, and over time I had assumed I didn't even want him there any longer.

But that didn't mean that it had to sit well with me that he had now replaced me with a git like that.

I decided then and there that the party had definitely outgrown its purpose, and that it was about time that I left the premises. Abercrombie had had his chance to offer his counter proposal, and considering his offhand way of behaving towards me, I didn't even know if I should have taken his money had he offered enough. It wasn't like I needed it, and suddenly the opportunity to reward his lack of respect by divesting him of his priced diamond seemed like a refreshingly entertaining idea.

It took me less than forty minutes to make myself scarce and find my way into the upper floor rooms that were locked to the public. A little fiddling had the lockpick I had sewn into the fabric of my clutch freed and ready for some action, and by the dramatic stroke of midnight I held the pigeon egg sized, light blue stone in my hands. As paranoid and reliant on modern technology as Abercrombie seemed, his wards were still of the old fashioned kind, and no match for my skills. While I worked on the locks the words of our conversation kept repeating inside my head, and I came to the conclusion that he had simply under-estimated me in every way. Then again I suspected that there was only one man on the premises who could understand my full potential, and while I didn't put it above him, it seemed highly unlikely that Jasper would betray me to Abercrombie simply out of spite.

I was well aware that acquiring the diamond was still the easy part of the endeavor – leaving the estate with it in my possession without being caught was much harder. While I had taken pains disarming all the many alarms and traps, I knew that eventually one fail-safe circuit or another would give my actions away.

The real art was getting the stolen goods out of the mansion, without getting apprehended. As much as the men in these social circles pretended to be gentlemen, they were not beyond ordering their flunkies to do a cavity search, so that was one option I was happy I didn't even have to consider. Instead I slipped off my left shoe, then twisted the heel to the side, revealing a small compartment inlet at the bottom of the sole. It was just large enough for my prize to fit inside, and I quickly donned my heel again. Feeling a little like Cinderella I sneaked back out of the rooms, surprisingly enough making it down into the ground level floor without getting held up.

I hadn't yet rejoined the other guests when my lucky streak ground to a sudden halt, as a tall figure stepped into my way, looming over me. In my head I automatically ran through all the silly excuses I might offer, not the least of which was the age old hunt for the ladies room. Yet before I could do more than open my mouth and cast a doe eyed look upwards at the face still hidden in the shadows a strong hand wrapped around my arm, yanking me into a small closet right under the stairs.

"Wha-" I started to ask but never got as far as uttering the whole word, let alone sentence, before I found myself slammed backwards against the door, his sheer proximity keeping my body pinned. My mind had a split second to make sense of the who, if not the why, before Jasper's lips came crashing down on mine, his forcefulness splitting my lip on my teeth. I grunted in protest as I tried to shove him away, but he didn't budge, not even when he must have felt the pain of my nails digging into his skin through the layers of clothing.

He finally got the hint and pulled his head away just enough to allow me to turn my face to the side, but that inadvertently gave him access to the side of my neck. He ran his nose over the exposed skin, the sound of his inhale loud before he whispered into my ear.

"I've always loved it when you got wild like that. Untamed."

I was tempted for a moment to show him with the application of my knee just how untamed I could get, but then cut back on the impulse when I felt his lips hot and wet on my neck, working a trail back to my mouth. I had no idea why he had ambushed me like that, I didn't even want to know if I was honest. I also didn't know if I wanted things to proceed, but found myself strangely reluctant when it came to the subject of stopping him.

His mouth finally reached mine again, and this time I didn't leave him to be the only one setting actions. It was a convenient excuse that lust would keep me from protesting, one I happily used as I opened my lips and eagerly sucked on his tongue when he pushed it into my mouth, almost begging for attention. Taking my acceptance for what it was he finally let go of his grip on my arms, but only to instead slide his hands to my ass and pull my body flush against his. He was, without a doubt, happy to see me, even if his previous words hadn't even hinted of that.

Jasper let out the most delicious moan when I wrapped my arms around his neck and threaded my fingers through his hair, tugging on the band that held it back until the strands were freed, giving me something better to hold on to. He deepened the kiss in turn, his urgency plain and as much of a turn-on as the promise of pleasure my body remembered all too well from the past.

Only that I couldn't let this go any further when he pushed his hand inside the slit of my dress, first divesting me of my knife, then sliding upwards until his fingers skimmed over the silk of my panties. I was by far not a prude, but I wasn't ready to become a convenience fuck, and besides, I had places to be. Or not to be, as it was.

He grunted dismally when I tugged hard on his hair, but pulled away readily enough when I bit down on his tongue, the faint metallic taste left behind telling me that it had indeed been hard enough to draw blood.

"Fuck! Why did you just do that?"

I raised my brow, trying to look indifferent although my heart was racing and my breath coming in heavy pants.

"Did what? You have to expect something like that if you go about the business of randomly kidnapping women at social events."

"Ah, now you're acting coy?" he grunted, then tightened his grip on my behind, turning the gesture into one of possessiveness. I didn't like that one bit, but chose to ignore it for the moment.

"If you think I'm playing a game, you are sorely mistaken," I informed him. "I didn't come here to see you, nor to fuck you. If you will excuse me, I think now is a good time for me to take my leave after all. See, I even informed you of that for once."

He clearly didn't see, or didn't want to, and neither let go.

"I don't really give a shit about what you want."

"Now that sounds like the first sincere thing you've said all night. And don't you need to get back to your eye candy girl? I bet she's willing to take my place here just as everywhere else in your life."

I knew why my own words grated down my spine, but it was interesting to watch him sneer with distaste also, a small detail my mind would have been happy to recognize and store away for later, and be done with him. Yet as he still didn't let go and our combined weight kept the door firmly shut I found myself in no condition to just turn my back on him and walk away.

"Forget her, she means nothing to me!"

His words had probably been intended to persuade me to throw my sense overboard and give myself to him, so to speak, but they had the opposite effect, helping me to shove the lust clogging my mind aside to let reason govern my actions – at least for a little while.

"Like I mean nothing to you?" I shot back, only too late realizing just how accusing and petulant the words sounded out loud. He looked as shocked as I felt, but overcame that faster than me, resorting to the only weapon he knew always worked to shut me up.

My protest was feeble when I tried to wriggle away from his hands, but the way his fingers ran up the inside of my thigh, parting my legs just as he was sliding the silk fabric of my dress up to my hips made me forget why I even wanted to struggle. I also didn't struggle when he sank to his knees before me, nudging my still clothed stomach briefly with his nose before he yanked my panties down.

My breath caught with anticipation when he lifted my left leg and pulled it over his shoulder, in so doing both permitting himself better access and stabilizing me a bit. His hot breath on my pussy seemed to make my entire skin tingle, and I whimpered softly when he set right to the task without further ado. His tongue aptly licked up and down my slit a few times before his lips fastened around my clit, sucking slowly before he added a few more slow, torturous licks. Regaining my former grip on his hair I ground my hips against his face, urging him on, and he thankfully got the hint immediately. The roughness of his stubble only added to the sensation, driving me wild within minutes.

Even with need and lust gripping me, my mind just wouldn't shut up, forcing me not to abandon reason completely. As much as I wanted this, even needed it so badly, I felt like I had to make a point. Yet it was impossible to force myself to make it now, with his tongue teasing my clit while he pushed two fingers into me, finding the right spots within seconds, when most men took years and never even got close.

Biting down on the inside of my cheek to keep from making too much sound I finally gave in, letting him pleasure me like that until he had me panting and writhing against him. I was so close to climaxing that my body seemed to relax already, welcoming what it knew would come next – until he suddenly stopped, his hand idly caressing my leg still resting on his shoulder.

"You can't just … even you wouldn't … no!" I groaned as he smirked up at me, then came to his feet, keeping his distance. It wasn't much, considering the closet was barely large enough for both of us to stand there without touching, but that at least made it easier for me to slap him. Or at least try to, until he caught my hand at the last moment and stopped me.

"Don't like being left high and dry? Don't think I don't know that you were planning on just walking out on me after I've made you come all over my face."

My impulse was to protest, if just to say the opposite of what he claimed, but I swallowed the words before I could embarrass myself with them.

"And you would have deserved that!"

The anger in my voice only turned his lopsided grin wider, and I knew that the next words leaving his mouth would turn this ugly. Using his own weapons against him I launched myself at him, plunging my tongue into his mouth the moment our lips connected. His arms were around me in a second, running up and down my back as I mashed myself more firmly against his body. But it wasn't enough, I needed to feel his skin on my own, and there were still too many layers of fabric separating us. Tearing at his suit and shirt until he let go of me to help I soon got my wish, finding the hard panes of his chest the same familiar landscape as before.

More kissing and half-hearted groping followed, but while my body was by now screaming for release, my mind reached for the last trump card, letting me remember why we had separated in the first place. Sex had never been an issue, but it had never been a solution, either.

"Why are we doing this?" I panted between kisses, accusation heavy in my tone even though I didn't even know what or whom I was accusing. "We both know this cannot lead to anything."

"Why?" he grunted, then realized that I was serious. "Do we need a reason?"

"I think you just answered your own question," I huffed, then moaned loudly when he pulled the dress down my front, his hungry mouth latching onto my nipple with gusto. I tried to find the will to stop him but came up blank, so I contented myself with holding his head right there until he returned to playfully nip at my chin.

"I'm so sick of this, you know? Playing games, fighting, pretending that I don't care about meeting you again," he offered, then reclaimed my mouth.

"There's an easy solution for that, you know? Just step away from the door and let me out."

He seemed to consider that for a moment, staring intently into my eyes, but before I could get my hopes up he flashed me a grin, although one of the rare kind meant not to be shared with just anyone.

"Or I could just ravish you right where you stand. Sounds like an alternative option you might like to consider?"

My body screamed 'yes!' just as loud as my mind 'no!', and the longer he kept looking at me like that, the harder it was to deny myself what I knew would be worth having to suffer his witticisms for the moment. Instead of answering I just glared at him, but his disarming smile was making it impossible for me not to give in.

"You know this is a bad idea. And you said so yourself, you're tired of fighting, even you must admit that there's nothing left of us than that."

I should have underlined my statement with a stern look but instead pulled his head down to mine again so that I could let my tongue explore his mouth. Without a conscious command from my brain my hands then slid over his torso and downwards, tugging on the fly of his pants in direct contradiction to my words. He moaned into my mouth, one of that cut-off, sensual sounds, clearly trusting my actions more than what left my lips.

"I'm not talking about moving back in together to raise a bunch of kids and grow old hating each other's guts. I'm just talking about you and me, here, right now, horny and with no reason in the world not to give in to our baser nature," he went on, then stopped and took a deep breath, a most satisfying reaction to my fingers wrapping around his hard cock. A slow smile spread on my face, dark and predatory, as I kept staring into his eyes, gauging every reaction as I started to move my hand up and down. His response was a succinct, "Fuck," under his breath, but his gaze never wavered, letting me see his reaction to my ministrations.

I considered his words while I continued to stroke him, still locked in our staring match. Even getting each other off could become a challenge between us, a fact that had always annoyed me, but at the same time was a huge turn-on. I could freely admit that I had missed that to a certain point – and suddenly my arguments why I shouldn't follow through with this all seemed moot. It was just that, physical attraction spiced with a myriad of memories, but he didn't seem to seek anything but physical gratification.

"For old times' sake," I conceded, then used my free hand to pull his head to mine once more, kissing and biting and licking while his own hands in turn found my pussy still wet and more than welcoming. Before long he lost his patience and pushed me back against the door, using his body once again to pin me in place while he ripped open a condom wrapper. I watched hungrily as he rolled it over his hard cock, pumping himself twice to make sure it was in place.

I held my breath and wrapped my arms around his neck when he lifted my leg and aligned his cock with my pussy, halting there just long enough to catch my gaze. Equal defiance and desire was what I saw there, mirroring my own sentiments perfectly, and with that he thrust into me, drawing a low, guttural sound from me.

He didn't halt, he didn't start slow but went right to pushing into me hard, fast and deep, either unable or unwilling to hold back, and I greatly appreciated that. Every motion from him made my body sing with need and buck against his, and when kissing became too much of a hassle, I just held on to him and sank my teeth into the strong muscles of his shoulder, relishing the pants and grunts coming from him.

His hands tightened on my thigh and hip respectively, then he switched his grip to my ass, silently asking me to wrap my legs around him. I complied, letting him take my weight, then accidentally banged my head hard against the door when he continued thrusting into me, the change in angle and motion driving my pleasure into a whole new direction. Keeping myself wrapped around him with one arm I let the sharp nails of my other hand dig into his back, then gouge fiery lines down to his ass. He cursed at the pain but only intensified his motions, and moments later finally gave me the only thing I still craved of him, one of those mind-blowing, toe-curling orgasms. He came a few seconds later, holding out just long enough to relish the sensation of me convulsing around him, before he grew still, his body hot and sweat slicked against my own.

My pulse was still thundering in my ears, the sensation of all that familiar muscle and skin against my own, the silkiness of his hair soft against my face so wonderful that just being there like this was a priceless moment in and of itself. Neither of us moved for a long time, letting reality slowly seep in and dissipate the magic all by itself.

It was then that I realized that this was it – we were done, and there was nothing left I wanted or needed besides getting dressed again and be on my way. My need sated, I didn't feel like running from him, but there was nothing that would have made me want to linger. The fire that had kept our relationship alive for so long hadn't returned, and the heat of passionate fucking could neither rekindle nor substitute it.

I wasn't heartbroken when he finally stepped away from me and gave me a partly rueful smile, then set to donning his own clothes. I was properly dressed well before him, only having to tug the two halves of my dress back in place and step into my kicked-off heels once again. That let me enjoy watching him shrug back into his dress shirt, his motions slow and deliberate as he buttoned it. Soon the only evidence of our impromptu copulation was the bright sheen in his eyes and the flush on my cheeks, but there was no way to tide over that, so we didn't even try.

"That's it?" I finally broke the silence, for whatever reason needing confirmation.

"I guess so," he nodded back, then graced me with another lopsided smile. "We should do that again, you know?"

"Meet somewhere, fight, fuck and leave again?"

Jasper laughed.

"Would that be so bad? I can certainly do without all the drama, accusations, make-up sex turning into break-up sex, don't you think?"

"Maybe," I offered haughtily, not quite convinced, but also reluctant to rebuke him right away. The way his grin broadened told me he saw right through my attempt at playing coy, but that was part of the appeal a return performance held for me.

"And your little friend out there, what will she think now that you return to her, reeking of sweat, sex and me?"

"Ah, I don't think I have to worry much about her. I don't think her interest in me ever took that turn," he surmised cryptically, then stepped up to me for a last deep, slow kiss. "Till we meet again, Miss Swan, as sure as the gray pigs fly North."

I snorted at those senseless words of his, then let him get the door. He stepped back and held it open for me, all gentleman. As I walked by him I saw him reach into the pocket of his jacket from the corner of my eye, the motion jump-starting my instincts. My body and mind instantly slamming into alarm mode I was still unprepared when he uttered a low "Now!", followed by the telltale static buzz of some electronic device or other, and seconds later the bulk of security guards descended on us. Or rather me, seeing as they let him step out of their circle without a second glance.

Whirring around to glare at him while someone snapped hand-cuffs around my wrists I only got a last smirk from him as he saluted me with two fingers at his temple, then turned around and walked away just as if nothing had happened.

I was so furious that I could have screamed every obscenity I knew at him, and despite my attempt to appear like a well-spoken woman, those where quite a few. I could have fought my captors and tried to dislodge their hands from my shoulders, but I opted to take my defeat with grace, keeping my tongue and posture alike. It wasn't they who had outsmarted and caught me but that stinking little weasel, and I would make sure that he would pay for it once I got away from here.

It soon turned out that his deceit ran deeper than I had fathomed at first, and for that I had to tip my mental hat to him in gracious acceptance. Once I was informed of the facts, I realized that Jasper had played me from the start, and while part of me hated that I hadn't realized any of that until it was too late, I could accept it better than being apprehended by some old geezer's flunkies.

Upon learning of my mission Abercrombie had hired Jasper, the offer of money in combination with a chance to get back at me too good a pay for him to decline. The woman who had graced his arm at the party turned out to be Abercrombie's chief of security, who despite her youth was a very capable interrogator and operative, as I found out. More to humor her than anything else I played their little game for a while where they had me sitting on an impossibly hard chair in front of glaringly bright lights while she fired one repeated question after the other at me, but eventually I gave in. There was no sense in postponing the inevitable, and I knew when I was beaten at my own game.

Only to find that Jasper, long gone from the site, of course, had one last surprise for me in store, a vindictive parting gift as it felt. The hidden compartment in my shoe was empty, the priceless diamond gone.

It was then that I did give in to some of the rage bubbling up within me, screaming at the top of my lungs what I would do with the miserable bastard who better bid his testicles farewell as it was, for I would surely castrate him the moment I laid eyes on him again. That very same rage also helped me to endure that extended cavity search, including some nasty concoction that made me wretch out my guts for the better part of an hour, and kept me warm through my five days of extended stay in the basement of the mansion, naked and handcuffed so that I wouldn't be able to hide the diamond should it miraculously resurface somehow despite their failed efforts to find and extricate it beforehand.

On the morning of the sixth day the chief of security returned my clothes and personal effects to me. At my tart question about my knife she just shrugged, then left me to get dressed, before she escorted me upstairs to where my car was already waiting for me in the driveway. I drove off without looking back, in dear need of a shower, a drink, and a certain scoundrel's neck ready to wring, not necessarily in that order.

After taking care of the first two, I set to accomplishing the latter, finding myself in a certain tiny village in the mountains of Northern Spain at dusk the next day. His parting words had seemed so obscure at first, but my days spent in captivity had given me ample time to reflect on them, finally deciphering their meaning.

With the flying gray pigs, he had meant the now deserted tavern where we had once spent a whole week hiding from the world. I couldn't remember the name of the establishment, and the paint of the wooden sign that depicted the unfortunate animals in question had long flaked off, but as I stood below it, gazing up at where our room had been, fond memories flooded my mind. I gave myself five minutes to revel in them, then let the bitter taste his betrayal had left on my tongue seep in to help me tear myself away.

True enough, once I had pivoted the way upstairs I found a neatly folded piece of paper on the remnants of the bed, marred with his near unintelligible scrabble – and of course in code, because he loved riddles like that. The impulse to scream and rage some more was strong, but after a minute I set to the task of making sense of his message.

Before long I was back in my car, revving the engine as I took off into the darkening night. My mind was still filled with all the things I would do to him once I caught up with him, very few of them even remotely pleasurable. For him, that was. I fully intended to reap satisfaction from our next encounter, of one kind or another.

I couldn't even say why I was so hell-bent on tracking him down. Not a small part of my motivation was certainly fueled by hurt pride and my vindictive nature, but there was something else, something I couldn't deny, and upon deeper reflection, didn't even want to. The fire was back, and who was I to douse the flames if burning up in them could be so much more fun?