CHAPTER 1

New Year's bloody Eve. She hated New Year's Eve. It was the one night of the year where it was almost obligatory to go out and enjoy yourself. Sitting at home quietly or having an early night was not an option. No, no, the unwritten rule was that on 31st December you MUST go out and you MUST get legless and you MUST have fun! So there they were, what seemed like the entire adult population of London all rammed into bars and clubs, getting completely hammered on fizz that they probably knew was twice the price they would have paid any other night of the year. Hoards of people determined to enjoy themselves.

Still, there was one consolation. Very drunk men were much easier to dip than sober ones. Not only did they not feel her hand slip into their jacket – and if they did a wink and an almost imperceptible parting of her lips often threw them enough to put them off the scent – but they couldn't focus properly anyway. She giggled to herself as she imagined any of them trying to pick her out of a line-up. "Well officer, it's a bit difficult to tell because at the time there appeared to be three of her…"

On balance, as much as she hated the evening there was more money to be made in an hour towards the end of New Year's Eve than a month of Friday nights put together.

So here she was, making the best of a bad thing. And they were particularly odious in the bar she'd chosen this year. Loads of raucous, beery, jumped up City boys; all bad hair, fat ties, shiny suits and over-powering cologne. Yeuch! As she scanned the room, glass of vinegary house white in hand, her eyes lit on two men sitting at the bar. She noticed they appeared to be scoping the room in much the same way she was. They looked different to the rest of the crowd: better looking, older, and definitely better dressed. On another night, under different circumstances… she shook herself mentally. Back to the job in hand. The quicker she worked the room, the quicker she'd be back in her warm, comfy bed.

Sitting in the cab on the way home forty-five minutes later she felt pleased at her night's work. The revellers had been as ripe for the picking as she'd hoped, she'd only been groped by a couple of them and she'd managed to find a free taxi just five minutes after she'd left the bar. She had been about to call it a night when she'd decided to set herself a little challenge – it was important to keep on your toes when you'd found your prey as easy as this. She'd decided to try her luck with one of the two she'd noticed at the bar. Now in the safety of the cab she smiled to herself as she felt his wallet in her coat pocket and felt the colour rising to her cheeks. She hadn't expected him to smell so good when she'd pressed her body up against his, and she wasn't ready for the bolt of electricity that had shot through her when their eyes met and she saw how brilliantly blue his were. For such a brief encounter he'd made quite an impression on her.

Back home she sat on her bed and went through the wallets. Cash in one pile; credit cards in another; library cards, gym membership cards, donor cards etc launched into the wastepaper basket on the other side of the room. She came to the wallet she'd left until last, felt the soft leather in her hands, lifted it to her nose and took in the intoxicating mixture of leather and 'him'. As the contents dropped onto her bed she picked up a credit card and had to catch her breath as she saw the name it carried.

He lay in bed contemplating the previous evening. New Year's Eve was always a good night for going out checking out marks and pulling a few short cons on people too drunk to remember their own names. They'd done well, come away with a thick wodge of notes, and he'd even got a midnight kiss from some bird who'd momentarily misplaced her fella. He couldn't even be cross that he'd managed to lose his own wallet. He knew who'd done it. He'd guessed straight away what her game was when she'd sat surveying the room before she moved around it carefully and virtually unseen. She was very cute, she looked sharp as a tack, and she worked the room like a pro.

There was a knock at the door of the Penthouse. He listened out for movement but hearing none he figured Mickey really HAD gone out for the morning run he'd sworn he would go on the night before. Nutter! Albert had decided to spend New Year working the casinos in Vegas, and Sean and Emma were visiting friends, so he was alone. He struggled out of bed, threw on a pair of jeans and a shirt and padded across the room to open the door.

The girl stood there, slightly flushed, but smiling and holding his wallet. She looked up at him shyly.

"Ash Morgan? I think I have something that belongs to you…"