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Gold Mine
Author: Skye Warren




The mansion glows like a goddamn castle. Yellow light glows from every window, reflecting onto the moat that surrounds the modern fortress. I want dark shadows and bloodshed.

Instead I’m given glaring light and champagne.

I step carefully onto the rickety pile of wood they’re calling a boat for the crossing. A man dressed in old-world gondolier clothing stands at one end, wielding a long stick. “Hello, my fine friend,” he says in Italian. “How goes your night so far?”

Bullets flying would be preferable to this. Water. Not my favorite. “Bene.”

He steers us gently across the twenty-foot-wide space, not being especially fast about it. I suppose he’s hoping for a large tip at the end of my ride. “Do you look forward to the food? The drink? The beautiful women?” He laughs. “They are very beautiful tonight.”

“Yes,” I say, my voice grim. He’s correct about that, I’m sure.

There’s only one beautiful woman I’m concerned about.

We pass under a bridge made of stone. It would have been far easier to walk across it, but it’s closed for the evening. And I’m not playing the part of a person who would scale the wall. I’m not playing the part of a thief or a criminal. Instead I’m playing myself. Adam Black. A man born to an empty legacy. A hollow dream. Money and nothing else.

The boatman lingers only a few feet away from the landing dock, and I grit my teeth against the urge to make the jump. Adam Black wouldn’t do that. My true identity would recline for the ride, looking forward to the food and drink and women. And a few less legal vices.

“Is it your first time visiting the Castello del Esposito?” he asks.

I was here once as part of a raid for stolen artwork. And another time, I stole through the roof to break into their jewel safe. Two sides of the same coin.

In both cases I took what was not mine. Power. It’s addictive. And draining.

“Si,” I say, because Adam Black has never been here.

In a sea full of billionaires and crime lords, I hand over a tip that will be his best tip of the night. I need all the friends I can get for what I’m about to do. I leave him singing his thanks to me and enter the receiving line. I’m checked at the door. Not for weapons. Almost every man in the place will be armed. And many of the women, too. No, they want to see my passport. They could spot a fake a million miles away. It’s my real passport that I give them. Adam Black. American citizen. Well traveled, but never to places with war and famine.

They wave me through.

In the main ballroom the event has reached its pinnacle. Men and women swarm the parquet floor, fabric rushing, skin sweating. Laughter spirals to the gold-plated ceiling.

I scan the grinning, wild-eyed faces for one in particular.

And I find her. Almost.

She has the same curve of her cheek. The same turn of her shoulder. The same blonde and honey-colored hair, only a little lighter with artificial highlights. She’s not the woman I seek. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. That I didn’t come here for her.

She’s Holly’s sister, which means she’ll lead me to her.

London stands toward the back of the room, her lips pressed together in a sharp line. She’s worried, which means the game has already started.

A man approaches her, and I know immediately what he wants.

I stroll up quickly, my movements exaggerated. In this game I’m drunk and entitled. And powerful. I put my hands on her shoulders and bring her in for a kiss on each cheek. “Darling. I’ve missed you. It’s been too long since I’ve had your sweet company.”

She looks bewildered for a moment. The half-mask I’m wearing, I suppose.

Then her eyes widen. She tries to back away from me, because she thinks I’m the most dangerous man in the room. That might be true, but I won’t hurt her. Because it would make Holly sad. So I force her onto the dance floor, my grip uncompromising.

“Darling,” I say, warning in my voice as she stands there.

With stiff movements she puts her arms on me and allows me to lead. We move with the heavy, seething motion of the crowd, an almost frantic edge to the antiquated waltz.

“What are you doing here?” she says, her voice low and panicked.

“I’m here to protect you,” I say in a mocking tone.

She yanks her arm, but I don’t let go. “Get away from me. And my sister.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Now, is she already talking to that bastard Taggart? And where did he take her?” And why are you here alone? Why are you so goddamn breakable?

I could break you.

Worry bleeds into London’s pretty blue eyes. “He was dancing with her. I was watching them, and then suddenly, it happened so fast, they were gone.”

“Where did you last see her?”

She points to a corner of the dance floor. I know for a fact that the corridor entrance is right behind there, leading to dark antechambers for people to fuck or use drugs. Or in this case, conduct an illegal exchange of diamonds.

“Good. I’ll find her.”

“Please.” Her lips tremble, and if I were an ordinary man, I would find it delicious. It would be a pleasure to make her tremble for another reason. Instead I’m perverse. I want to bite her lips. I want to watch them bleed. I hurt anyone that I come near, which is why I’m determined to stay away. I’ve come just long enough to save her, to save her sister. To make amends.

And then I’ll leave Italy.

Her sister is in love with Elijah North. He can’t be far behind me.

And wherever Elijah goes, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jefferson is not far behind.

“There’s one thing I need you to do for me. Dance with the men. The ones who look the most dangerous. Keep them interested. And stay at the center of the crowd.”

“What? Why?”

“Because that man wanted to take you somewhere dark.” And despite my very best intentions, I’ve become the reluctant defender of the Frank siblings. “Most likely he would have been given instructions not to harm you, but you can never be sure. And most men of his kind don’t consider a few stolen kisses to be harm.”

I should know. I used to be a man like that. Too late.

“Okay,” London says, her voice shaky. She really is gorgeous. The kind of delicate, wide-eyed beauty that will make men fall over themselves to dance with her. To save her from herself.

Unfortunately I’m only interested in ruining her.

I take a step back as the waltz ends and give her a small bow. “Addio.”






Five minutes earlier

Heavy foliage creates the illusion of a jungle.

Each leaf has been painted a matte or glossy black, with the rare pop of metallic gold. That’s the color theme for the event. The ballroom overflows with black silk and gold jewelry in every arrangement imaginable. There’s only the rare pop of white—a dress shirt, a string of pearls. Gleaming white teeth in a too-large smile.

Dread creeps over my skin, and I shake out my glittering skirts in a nervous gesture. The more boisterous the crowd becomes, the more I regret coming here.

It was not really a choice.

A waiter passes by with a gold serving plate full of champagne. I swipe a flute and drink down the bubbly liquid too fast. Air tickles my nose. I cough until my eyes tear up.

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