Leverage and the characters in it belong to TNT etc…no copyright infringement is intended etc…

I admit I don't have much of a plan for this, I'm just jumping in with no idea how long it will be, but I am fascinated by the Nate/Sophie pre-show backstory. Yeah, it's been done by others, probably others with more writing skill, but who doesn't love Europe and stealing stuff and unresolved sexual tension? Am I right?

Chapter 1- Prague

Before Prague, Nate hadn't been entirely convinced she really existed.

Of course, he'd heard the stories- a beautiful, dark-haired woman who could charm her way past any security and then disappear like a ghost. And yet every time she struck, there was never a clear description (other than that she was gorgeous), or a name, or a nationality. He wondered if she was an urban legend, a running joke, someone for Interpol to blame thefts on when they didn't have any better ideas. It sounded a bit too much like a movie...a fifties crime caper starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

The night the exhibition in Prague opened, Nate was talking to Armand Paget. Paget was, by anyone's standards, a first-class bastard, but he was entertaining, and more importantly, he was an IYS client who owned a Renoir, a Sisley, and two Manets that were on display. Paget knew nothing about art, he admitted that himself. He'd bought the paintings to please his third wife, but he certainly knew they had been expensive, and so he liked to show them off. The same way he showed off his houses, cars, and his recently acquired fourth wife.

Paget suddenly stopped speaking in mid-sentence, looking beyond Nate's shoulder. In fact, a silence had fallen over the entire party. Instinctively, Nate turned to follow Paget's gaze, and caught her entrance- she knew how to make an entrance. She was wearing an evening gown the color of jade. Her hair was pulled up, and emerald earrings dangled, brushing her jaw when she turned her head, but otherwise she wore no jewelry, which made the bared shoulders and low back of her dress all the more arresting.

He heard Paget give a low chuckle, and Nate realized he was staring. The Frenchman had an eye for beautiful women, but the new wife was keeping him on a short leash for the moment, so he offered, "Come, I'll introduce you." As they made their way over to her, Nate saw they were not the only ones who did so- she drew people like a magnet. "She is Lady Alexandra Stanton-Chase," Paget explained. "Her father is Sir Edward Stanton-Chase. He is an avid art collector, but very reclusive, rarely leaves his country estate."

As they came closer he heard her voice. It was low, carefully clipped consonants- dripping with old money. Boarding schools and Oxbridge.

Paget swept in front of her, and kissed her hand with a flourish only a Frenchman could pull off. She laughed and said "Oh Armand, I should have known I would see you here tonight," and kissed his cheek, before turning to Nate with a polite, inquisitive smile, and Armand introduced them.

"Lady Alexandra, this is Nathan Ford. Nathan, Lady Alexandra Stanton-Chase. She has graciously contributed a number of the pieces shown here tonight."

"Nice to meet you," he said, and figuring he was too American and not nearly smooth enough to pull off the hand kiss, settled for shaking her hand. "A very impressive collection."

"Oh, thank you, you're very kind," she said casually, as though everyone had a few Monets and Pissarros lying around their castle. "My father is a great fan of the Impressionists, but he simply hates social occasions like this. I am quite happy to take his place."

"Mr. Ford is here to keep my collection safe," Armand went on. "I had a Cezanne stolen a few years ago you know, you can't be too careful. He has been dealing with the security arrangements for this exhibition."

Paget was not the only one with pieces on display insured by IYS, and the building was old. Before the exhibition, it had a security system that hadn't been updated since the Stalin era. One of the conditions of IYS covering their clients painting while they were here was that a modern security system be installed.

Her brow creased slightly with worry. "Is there a need for concern?"

"No, no," he said quickly. "No need to worry, the building has just installed a state-of-the-art security system. Very modern and very effective."

She relaxed, and smiled. "Well, perhaps I should be glad you're here to look after my collection as well, Mr. Ford."

He was only vaguely aware of Paget saying something to excuse himself, and he was left alone with her.

"So, you protect artwork? You don't seem like a police officer," she said, curious, polite.

"I work for the insurance company. Sometimes security like this, but more often recovery," he said easily.

"Hm, so you catch bad guys? That sounds very exciting, Mr. Ford. Shall we find something to drink?" she gave him a dazzling smile, slipping her arm into his. "And you can tell me all about these dangerous criminals you chase. You must meet all kinds of shady characters. I think I'd be frightened…"

He should have been concentrating on his job. The new security system Paget had been so reassured by was indeed excellent, but the staff were set in their ways and didn't understand how to use it, and rather resented being expected to learn something new.

Instead, he let her distract him, even just with small talk about the exhibition, happy just to watch her. She knew her art, there was no doubt about that. She dropped that she had attended the Sorbonne and he had no reason to doubt it. She admitted she had a weakness for impressionists, for Degas in particular, but her knowledge was not limited to one period.

He was so engrossed in her that he was surprised and even a little annoyed to remember he had a job to do when one of the security guards tapped him on the shoulder and whispered that the alarms on the east end of the second floor were going off…both motion sensors and the door alarms. The second floor was supposed to be off limits to the public, mostly just administrative offices and storage.

"I'm sorry, will you excuse me?" he said to her.

"Oh of course!" she exclaimed, dark eyes wide with alarm. "I do hope everything is all right."

The east end of the second floor was a riot of flashing lights and blaring sirens and angrily beeping keypads, but there was not a soul there, and as far as they could tell, no doors had been opened and nothing was disturbed. He ordered them to turn the alarms off, and then set several security guards to search the rooms anyway…better to be too careful than to miss something. The head of security, Bozidar Havelka, was beside himself.

"Perhaps it is merely a system malfunction? Perhaps there is something wrong in the way the alarms were installed…"

"No, they were installed correctly," Nate said. He had made sure everything was done correctly.

Havelka's radio buzzed, and he caught up it irritably. "What now?"

"Sir, the alarms on the first floor are going off now," said the disembodied voice from the radio.

"All of them?"

"No Sir, just the motion detectors in one room."

"Which room?" Nate interrupted.

"Oh, the small corner ballroom. It was not large enough for an exhibition, it is used for small receptions, and-"

"Where is it?"

"Downstairs at the end of the west corridor that runs along the gardens…"

He took off at a run, taking the stairs to avoid waiting for the ancient elevator, and tore down the darkened corridor, only vaguely noticing the sounds of the reception in the great hall. The small ballroom Havelka had directed him to had a key card reader, and it didn't appear to have been tampered with. He used the pass he'd been given to unlock it, throwing open the door.

The room had retained its pre-communist grandeur, with high, molded ceilings embellished with gold, richly paneled walls, inlaid marble floors, and at the end of the room, etched glass french doors that opened onto a small terrace. A relatively mundane view by day, at night it sparkled with stars and city lights.

The French doors stood open, and the thief was halfway through them. He had opened them without tripping the door alarm, but apparently hadn't known about the newly installed motion sensors.

"Stop!" Nate shouted, and surprisingly, he did, for just a split second. Or rather, Nate realized as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, she did.

It was her. She was no longer in the jade evening gown, having changed into a short dark coat and boots, but he had spent an hour hypnotized by her, watching her, and there was no question. He froze simply from shock when she paused and turned back to glance at him. Her mouth quirked up slightly, she raised an eyebrow in an unmistakable "come get me" challenge, and then winked and slipped through the doors. By the time he reached them, she had disappeared.

Ten minutes later, chaos broke out when the Degas was discovered missing, and Nate realized he'd been played by a woman he hadn't even believed was real.