"Why am I still here?" said Steele to himself, "What am I hanging around for? I've never stuck to one name this long and I could be making a fortune right now in France."
He looked again at the newspaper, his eyes lingering lovingly on phrases like, "magnificent collection" and "priceless artifacts". He knew the museum in question. He'd studied the flaws in the security, just before the royal lavulite caught his attention.
He looked around the office, Steele's office. Steele was everywhere, an invisible, wholly imaginary presence, the name so important to Laura Holt.
He smiled at the thought of Laura. Why did she attract him so much? He'd known far less complicated women and this one didn't seem to have room for a man in her life.
That might have been the problem. There was something wonderful about a woman who had her own life and her own plan. She wasn't waiting for some man to come and sort things out for her. Any man in her life would be there on her terms. He had the disturbing feeling that he might like her terms.
He'd never needed a woman. He liked them, and if one attached herself to his life for a while, he was happy with that, but he'd never reached the point of feeling he couldn't cope without one.
The trouble with this specific woman was that she fascinated him. She was clever as well as beautiful and she could see right through all his tricks. He'd try something that seemed, to him, rather clever and sneaky, and she'd give him a pitying look and shake her head. He'd try his blue eyes and she'd counter with brown and those dark and lovely eyes would completely disarm him.
He wasn't a man who feared finding that the woman he was with was an equal, but he was beginning to worry that this woman might be his superior in every possible way.
He should have run, he knew, should have put as many miles between them as he could and returned to the beaches of the south of France, where women tended to be less of an enigma. What did he care about being Steele and solving mysteries? What held him here anyway?
The door of Laura's office opened and she came in. "Don't strain yourself lifting that heavy newspaper, Mr Steele." she said.
"Just trying to keep in touch with current affairs." he said.
"Security would be tight and all the exhibits would be very hard to sell." she said.
"Miss Holt! How could you think such a thing?" he said, all offended innocence.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then, quietly, she said, "If you were going to leave, would you say?"
"I don't know." he said, then his eyes widened at the realisation that he had just told her the absolute truth without even trying to find an alternative.
She looked worried. He didn't like her looking worried. It felt wrong to put a crinkle in that lovely brow.
"I've never given it much thought." he said, "I suppose we don't have to think about things like that for a while."
"Well, you're free. You can leave any time you want." said Laura. And he knew, as she said it, that it wasn't true, however much she believed it, because there was a mystery here that could hold his attention, at least for a while.
"Yes," he said, "But unless you're throwing me out, I think I can bear Steele's lifestyle for a month or two."
"I wouldn't try to stop you leaving." she said.
No, he thought, she wouldn't, however much he longed for her to try. "Good." he said, "I hate to feel trapped."
"But I'd rather you let me know, said goodbye, for the good of the agency, you understand."
"Yes, I understand." he said.
"Good." she said.
"Always good to get these things understood." he said.
"Yes, makes things easier all round." she said.
"Hmm." he said.
"Well, I'd better go and call our client." she said. She opened the door to her office.
"Miss Holt." he said.
"Yes?" she said, turning to face him.
"In the interests of mutual understanding, is there even the slightest chance that one evening you may possibly agree to have dinner with me?"
"Stranger things have happened, Mr Steele." she said.
After she had gone, he pondered his present position and came to the conclusion that it was not, strictly speaking, dangerous to flirt briefly with a woman like her, just so long as he played it cool and also that it was going to be very hard to play it cool if he couldn't find some way to remove the grin from his face.