The Devil’s Thief – Samantha Kane

The faint, metallic screech sounded as loud as thunder in the oppressive silence of the dark bedroom. Julianna froze, silhouetted by the moonlight against the back wall, the sudden noise stealing her breath away. “Unless you care to be shot this evening, I wouldn’t move from where you’re standing.” The deep voice was quiet but firm and it came from the shadows of the big bed. Julianna remained still as a statue, her mind awhirl. For a moment all was silent, but then she heard the bed sheets rustle and the mattress groan. She cast her eyes toward the bed, afraid to move even an inch. She could see from the man’s outline that he was now leaning against the headboard. His arm appeared to be resting on his upraised knee, but it was too dark to tell whether or not he was actually holding a gun. “You’re probably wondering if I do indeed have a gun,” he said nonchalantly, and Julianna had to suppress a gasp. How did he know? She closed her eyes and pursed her lips in annoyance at herself. Of course he knew. It’s what any halfway intelligent person would be thinking if they were discovered in her position. “Let me reassure you that the answer is yes.” His reassurance was hardly necessary, since she had already concluded that to be the case.

In her experience, gentlemen were alarmingly odd, at least in most respects, so it was no surprise that this one apparently slept with a gun. Given his wild and reckless reputation, it would perhaps be more surprising if he did not. He snorted inelegantly from the bed, which amused Julianna in spite of the dangerous situation she was in. In that moment he didn’t sound at all like the Honorable Mr. Alasdair Sharp to whom she’d recently been introduced, but very much like an annoyed schoolmaster. “Stand up, for God’s sake,” Mr. Sharp ordered from the bed. “You look like a caricature of a thief, hunched over and creeping along the wall.” Julianna started to straighten and she heard another rustle from the bed. “Slowly,” Mr.

Sharp admonished, and she froze again for a moment before straightening very, very slowly. “And now you must tell me what you found so irresistible in my bedroom in the middle of the night.” Julianna heard the amusement in his voice and it irritated her. So he found her amusing, did he? The slight weight in the secret pocket of her shirt burned into her side like a brand as she faced him. “Let me reassure you that it was the Stuart Pearl I found irresistible,” she retorted, “and nothing else.” As soon as she spoke she could have bitten off her tongue. Why, oh why did she always open her mouth before thinking things through? Surely he would recognize her now. “You’re a woman,” Mr. Sharp exclaimed in shock. Julianna closed her eyes in despair at her own foolishness.

If she had kept her mouth shut, he wouldn’t have figured that out so quickly, maybe not at all. She was dressed in black trousers and shirt, her hair pinned up. In the dark she was certain she could pass for a man. The waning crescent moon outside barely gave enough light for him to see her. Even though her outburst had given away her sex, she refused to confirm it by answering him. She was lightheaded with relief that he did not seem to recognize her voice. “I thought you looked a little short for a man,” he mused, “but I imagined that you were an apprentice thief or some such thing. It never entered my head that you might be a woman.” Julianna had to press her lips together not to make a disparaging comment about the contents of his head. It wouldn’t be wise in this situation, although it was her natural inclination.

It was clear he had no idea who she was, and while fortuitous, it was also quite aggravating. “Cat got your tongue, Miss Thief?” he asked, and Julianna began to shake. She was not afraid of him—rather, she was afraid that she was losing control of the situation and of herself. He shoved the covers aside and rose from the bed, and she almost squeaked in alarm. He was naked. The pale moonlight flowing through the open window fell across the floor at an angle, and as he stood next to the bed, the light shone on his very naked body, illuminating him from his flat stomach to his bare feet. His face was still covered in shadow, but Julianna remembered it from the many times she had seen him leaving his house and walking down the street, not to mention the party she had attended the other night. Mr. Sharp was a descendent of the Stuarts, all right: tall, handsome, with a high forehead and spectacular blue eyes. He looked just as the eyewitness accounts had described Bonnie Prince Charlie.

She should have known from his firm, pointed chin that he wouldn’t be an easy mark. But she’d been distracted by his silky blond curls and those eyes, not to mention the width of his shoulders. Oh, yes, and, more important, the Stuart Pearl. At the party she had barely been able to take her eyes off the famous pearl, which sat in solitary splendor in a glass case surrounded by candelabra—gleaming, pale, round and begging to be stolen. “So you want my pearl, do you?” he asked, his voice smooth and suggestive. Julianna’s gaze darted up to his shadowed face, but she could see nothing. The anger and amusement in his voice, however, had been replaced by something else. Something that made her distinctly nervous, considering that he was naked and she was caught. He slowly moved toward her. As he approached, she saw that he was indeed holding a pistol.

She wasn’t all that knowledgeable about guns, but at that moment her primary concern was that the gun might contain a bullet, and she really did not care to be shot this evening. When he stopped in front of her, Julianna’s eyes locked on the gun. She was so intent on the pistol, she was startled when she felt his finger under her chin, urging her gaze upward. She met his eyes and a measure of her fear must have shown on her face. “I don’t need this, do I?” he murmured, lowering the pistol. She vehemently shook her head. He smiled at her response, and then released the trigger gently. He leaned over and set the gun down on a nearby table. She was so relieved, she leaned back against the wall, her knees weak. “Why do you want my pearl?” he asked quietly.

He reached out and gently brushed a fallen lock of hair off her cheek, his finger trailing along from her forehead to her jaw. He was so close and so unguarded, and a dozen scenarios of how she could escape this unfortunate situation flashed through her mind. But each one ended in violence, and she found herself strangely unwilling to attack him. He had put the gun down, as foolish as that might have been, which represented a modicum of trust that she did not want to betray. The truth was, her odds of escaping were fairly slim. The only feasible exit was the window, and it was too far away to make it there without being caught. And if she ran, this odd truce would surely be at an end. She surprised herself by answering his question. “I need the money.” Although surely the answer should have been obvious to him.

Why else would someone steal something? That wicked finger of his trailed down her neck and pushed open the collar of her shirt. He slowly and very lightly rubbed the pad of his finger along her collarbone, and Julianna shivered. She should not, absolutely should not, be letting him do that. But it felt delicious, and no man had ever touched her like that. No man had ever gotten close enough to do so. She supposed she should protest his familiarity, but the circumstances were not in her favor. And really, what was she going to do to stop him? If she wanted to, that is. “Do you?” His murmured words did strange things to Julianna’s insides. She’d found men attractive before, but she’d never desired one. She shook her head at her wayward thoughts.

No, no. That way led to trouble. If she’d learned anything from her father’s devious romantic entanglements, it was that. Desire was one thing; surrendering to it, and the potentially disastrous consequences, was quite another thing entirely. “No? You don’t need the money?” He stopped rubbing along her collarbone, and the skin and muscles there tightened and jumped in protest. Surely that was not good. “No,” she said loudly, and his head jerked back a little in surprise. She blinked rapidly and then shook her head again. She was so completely out of her depth in this situation that his mere touch confused her. “I mean, yes, yes I do need the money.

For rent, you see.” She winced at her garbled explanation. Could she possibly sound any more foolish? It would be better if she just kept silent. “Are you desperate, poppet?” he murmured. He was looking at her oddly, his head tipped to the side. His finger resumed its exploration of her collarbone, adding a new twist as he dragged it down one side of her deep, open shirt collar and back up the other side. Julianna shivered and bit her lip to suppress a whimper. “How desperate, I wonder? ” he said, and Julianna wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or to himself. He stopped the movement of his finger but left it pressed against the hollow dip between her collarbones. Good lord, she’d never imagined that area could be so extremely sensitive.

It would be difficult to expose her throat and shoulders in the latest fashions without remembering his touch. He had managed to make such a simple caress feel sinfully erotic. What a delightfully wicked man he is turning out to be. She smiled at the thought, and she saw an answering spark in the narrowing of his pale eyes and the twist of his lips into a wry smile. Julianna immediately pulled back, breaking their contact. She was being a fool, encouraging him when she should be trying to talk her way out of the situation. What on earth was wrong with her? Despite appearances, she had never engaged in conversation, or anything else for that matter, with a naked man. She was about to tell him as much when he spoke again. “Do you know what I will do?” he asked conversationally, as he stepped back from her. He smiled politely before turning and walking over to the bed.

He leaned against the bedpost, crossing his arms as he regarded her. Julianna was having trouble thinking of anything except how much she missed his touch. “I…” She paused to lick her lips, and his smile grew. “I have no idea, frankly. This situation is beyond me.” She could not imagine how she was going to get out of this mess. She was so scared at the thought of being turned over to the authorities that she could hardly think. She couldn’t reveal her identity. Doing so would create a furor, producing a whole new set of problems for her. But how else was she going to convince him of her innocence when she had his pearl in her pocket? She’d always expected to come to a bad end—her father was a thief, after all, and she’d had no mother to raise her.

At her honest and exasperated remark, Mr. Sharp laughed out loud. He was her adversary. She had to remember that, if she hoped to get out of this situation unscathed. He straightened and took a step toward her. “I’ll give you the pearl, my dear.” Julianna’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. “What?” “For one night in my bed. Tonight.” * * * When he had run his finger down her cheek, Alasdair had felt how fine her bone structure was, with sharply defined cheekbones and a strong, square jaw, not to mention her soft, smooth skin.

Now a shaft of pale moonlight that had crept across the room revealed her astonished expression. From her silence he assumed she was contemplating his offer. She really was the most awful thief, unable to conceal anything in that guileless face, the poor darling. A dark kerchief covered most of her hair, though some had escaped to rest in wisps against her cheeks. She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t place her. He would figure it out in the morning, when there was more light. Clearly she’d been reduced to trying to steal the pearl by the most desperate of circumstances. God only knew what else she had needed to do to keep the wolf from her door. Such a small thing to have so many burdens on her delicate shoulders. In the morning he would make arrangements for her.

After breakfast they would go shopping for clothes and those fripperies that women loved so. And then he would call on his agent and they’d find a nice house for her, perhaps here in London, or someplace just outside of the city. He was getting tired of the society here. It would be nice to have a pleasant little house and his little thief there to keep him company at night. She would never again have to sneak into a man’s bedchamber to commit larceny in order to keep a roof over her head. Alasdair would see to that, even after they parted company. “Well?” he prompted, pleased with his plans. She frowned at him, and he nearly laughed. She really was delightful. When a man went to bed at night, he never knew what might await him the next time he climbed out of it.

He certainly hadn’t been prepared for her. When he’d first become aware of the stranger sneaking around in his rooms, he’d expected to spend the better part of his night dealing with the watchmen. What a marvelous surprise she was turning out to be. “I need a moment to think,” she snapped at him. He raised his brows, a little surprised at her tone. “Well, that’s hardly flattering.” In the weak moonlight he saw her delicate brows go up, mocking him. “Why? Did you expect me to joyously throw myself against your manly chest at the first opportunity? I am not that inexperienced, Mr. Sharp.” Well, when she put it that way it was even less flattering, especially since that was exactly what he had been thinking.

“I do not doubt your experience, my dear. I am simply offering to give you what you came here for.” “I did not come here for that.” The way she said “that” told Alasdair more than her words. Clearly she had never had a pleasant experience in a man’s bed. He didn’t doubt that she’d been in one before. But he was offering her so much more than one night. He wanted to pleasure her, to hear her cry his name in ecstasy. Yes, he always liked that part. He smiled at the thought.

She frowned harder when she saw his smile. “And if I…lay with you tonight, will you swear to give me the pearl in the morning?” “If that is still what you want,” he answered, knowing full well she would have other things on her mind by morning. He’d spent the better part of his wayward youth learning to please a variety of lovers, and he knew this delightful little thief would get more than she was bargaining for. She shook her head firmly. “No. I want your word. If I…stay here tonight, with you, I want your word that you will give me the pearl in the morning.” He took a moment to study her. When he’d first heard her voice, he’d gotten the impression of delicacy—an impression that was strengthened when he stood over her, touching her. She seemed small, fragile, with big, luminous eyes, a small nose, and a wide, generous mouth just made for love.

Surely a mouth like that couldn’t lie. But he’d almost forgotten that she was a thief. She had broken into his home with the intention of stealing from him. No matter how guileless and innocent her face, she lacked moral character. For some perverse reason, that made him want her all the more. “I have said I will if that is what you desire.” He could see that his answer didn’t satisfy her. “Say it,” she demanded. “Say, ‘I will give you the pearl tomorrow morning after you have lain with me tonight.’ Give me your word of honor.

” Ah, so the immoral little cat hoped to tangle him in his own honor, did she? Well, he had no qualms about making promises to thieves in the night. “You have my word of honor, my dear. I will give you the pearl in the morning after you have lain with me tonight.” He knew the words were a lie even as he spoke them. But he also knew that the money and gifts he would give her in the morning would more than make up for it. He took a step closer and saw her eyes widen. Her gaze seemed to be in constant motion, as if she was too nervous to let it alight on any one part of his exposed person. He found it charming regardless of whether it was true or a performance for his benefit. “But you will do more than lie with me, my dear,” he whispered, noting with satisfaction the shiver along her shoulders. She licked her lips again, and Alasdair went from firm interest to hard desire as he followed the path of her tongue along the plump folds of her lips, now wet and glistening in the moonlight.

“I will make you cry tonight, little thief. I will make you moan and beg and cry out with pleasure.” With each word her eyes grew larger and more alarmed. “Now, are you still willing to make this bargain?” * * * Julianna was terrified. Because some part of her, some clearly perverse and heretofore unknown part of her, desperately wanted this beautiful naked man to make her cry and beg. But it wasn’t about what she wanted, was it? It was about what she needed. And she needed that pearl. She had no other options. It was too late to look for funds elsewhere. And if she didn’t pay the solicitor within the week, the children would all be out on the street.

She had worked so desperately to shield them from the harsh realities of their life, to provide a safe home and a happy future for them. All would be lost if she lacked the courage to accept this bargain. Truly, it would ruin her if she failed to produce the rent. Ruin her chance at independence, her chance to prove she was capable of taking care of herself and others. The failure would hang over her head, branding her incompetent and unworthy. And that would be the ultimate failure on her part. She would lose the children and so much more. She nibbled on her fingertip as she debated with herself. Her virginity certainly hadn’t ever helped her up until now. After all, it wasn’t as if she was saving herself for someone.

True, she was untouched, but that had been by choice. She had never wanted to give herself to any man before, either in bed or in matrimony. She very much doubted that would change after a night in bed with Mr. Sharp, who most certainly did not have matrimony on his mind. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit her attraction to him was part of the reason she’d decided on this mad scheme. Surely this weakness she harbored for him would pass if she surrendered to it for one night? Then she could move forward, take care of business, and forget Mr. Sharp entirely. It was a business proposition, nothing more. She had seen countless men and women, her father included, walk away from affairs such as this without a backward glance. She knew Mr.

Sharp had done so in the past. She saw no reason why she couldn’t do the same. But could she trust his word? That was the real question. Could she trust that he would live up to his side of the bargain? And could she live with herself after it was over, after she had sold her body for the price of a pearl? Well, an incredibly rare, beautiful, valuable pearl, but still.

.

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