Eve Fawkner had no intention of following in her father’s footsteps. But when the thugs harassing him to repay his gambling debts threaten her young daughter, Eve is forced to assume the role of London’s most notorious cat burglar, The Shadow. The plan is simple: pull off a couple of heists, pay back the goons and go into permanent retirement. But things get messy during her first job when Eve witnesses a murder, stumbles across a clue that sheds some light on her past and, worst of all, falls for a cop.
Inspector Kahu Williams would be the perfect man, if Eve were looking, and if there wasn’t the little matter of their career conflict. The man is seriously hot—and hot on the trail of a murderer. A trail that keeps leading him back to Eve…
“The walls have eyes, Mama.” Amber tugged insistently at my hand, desperate to exit the formal dining room.
“Don’t like it here.”
I frowned at the bright spots on the walls where paintings had once hung. The spaces did look like creepy eyes. A quick glance around the room showed some of my mother’s valuable knickknacks missing too. A few pieces of the more valuable silver.
Interesting. Things had changed during the six years I’d spent in France.
“Let’s go and have breakfast. Hannah said she’d make you special pancakes.” I scrutinized the rooms we passed on the way to the kitchen, my quick peeks through the doorways confirming my suspicions.
Something smelled like the whiff of day-old fish at Oakthorpe, the ancestral seat of Viscount Oakthorpe. Not even the sweet scent of spring flowers, arranged in a vase on the counter, could mask it. My father, Charles Fawkner, the current viscount, had some explaining to do.
Voices came from the kitchen. Heated. Vehement.
“You’ll have to tell Eve,” a feminine voice said.
“Morning,” I said in a bright tone as we stepped into a spotlessly clean but dated kitchen.
My father and his best friend, Ben, were seated at one end of a long wooden table. Hannah, Ben’s wife, stood at the stove, a Teflon spatula in one hand. Ben and Hannah had moved in after my mother died when I was a child. They were family.
Their discussion ceased abruptly on our entrance.
“Tell me what?” I asked.
My father exchanged a doubtful glance with Ben before returning his attention to me. He rubbed his chin, the guilty silence broken by the loud rasp of his whiskers.
“Maybe once Amber is at school,” Hannah said, turning away to deftly flip a pancake.
The fishy stench wasn’t my imagination. My narrowed gaze took in their nonchalant body language. They didn’t quite pull it off. Since Amber and I had returned the day before, I’d noticed a few things. Enough to add two plus two and come up with a creditable answer.
Belligerence settled on Father’s face. “What?”
“How is your arthritis today?”
Father jerked his swollen hands off the tabletop and placed them on his lap. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Out of sight, out of mind.
The strident ring of the phone interrupted our staring contest.
“Me! Me! I want to get it,” Amber said.
I nodded. “Make sure you do it the way we practiced.”
While Amber skipped over to the phone and stood on tiptoe to reach, I took a plate of pancakes from Hannah. Time was marching on, and we’d be late to school if I didn’t hurry. I set the plate in the middle of the table and started to prepare a pancake for Amber. I drizzled syrup, my mind turning sharp corners and deepening my anxiety. What on earth was my father up to now? Surely he didn’t intend to work with those hands?
“Hello, this is Amber Fawkner speaking.”
A burst of pride replaced my worry as I listened to my daughter’s polite greeting.
Her forehead creased in a frown. “No, I don’t have a daddy. You could speak to Mama.” She listened for a while and nodded before thrusting the phone at me. “The man wants to talk to you.”
I took the phone from Amber and steered her in the direction of a chair. “Eat your breakfast. Hello?”
“Who is this?” the man asked.
His oily tone made my trouble antenna spike. I swung to face the terrible trio, as I’d dubbed Father, Ben and Hannah during my teenage years. “I’m Lady Evelyn Fawkner. Who’s speaking?”
“She’s crabby,” Ben whispered to my father when he heard me use my full name.
Hannah’s spatula flashed through the air. “Shush.”
“Was I speaking to your daughter?” the man on the other end of the line asked.
“Yes. How can I help you?”
“Are you Viscount Oakthorpe’s daughter?”
“Yes,” I snapped, losing patience with the interrogation. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“The viscount owes my boss money,” the man said.
“Really.” Now things were starting to make sense. “Who is your boss?”
“I bet you love that little girl of yours. How old is she? Four? Five?”
Fear slithered through me. “You leave my daughter alone.”
“It would be a pity if something happened to her. A child faces so many dangers in these modern times.”
A threat, and he meant it. It was in the man’s confident manner. His tone. I swallowed and glared at Father. “Did you have anything else to add?” We were going back to France. Today.
“Tell your father the interest charges are mounting.” He disconnected the call abruptly.
With my heart thudding loud enough to rival a thunder clap, I gently replaced the phone. I sucked in a deep breath. In. Out. Fierce control when I wanted—no, needed—to shriek like a banshee. My chest rose and fell once more. My mouth closed. Opened. “Who do you owe money to? What the hell was that call about?”
Father flinched, ignoring me to focus on his pancake.
Hannah busied herself, clattering dishes in the sink.
Ben stood. “I’m going to see if the newspaper has arrived yet.”
“Mama, I’ve finished my breakfast.”
I forced a smile. I couldn’t flee to France and knew it. I was too old to run again. I had responsibilities. “Go and get your bag, and I’ll take you to school to meet your new teacher.” Amber would be safe at school. When I enrolled her this morning, I’d confirm the security measures employed by the school with the headmistress.
Once Amber skipped off, I said, “Talk quickly.”
“I might owe Richard Beauchamp money,” Father said.
“Who’s Richard Beauchamp?”
“A businessman. Big in the city.”
I heard Amber thumping back down the stairs and cursed under my breath. I mentally tossed up having this out with Father before I took Amber to school. No, I’d make sure she arrived on time. It was important for my daughter to feel settled now that we’d made the permanent move back to England. “I’ll be back in an hour. I expect you all to be here, ready with explanations.”
Bloody hell, when had I switched places with Father and turned into the parent? Shaking my head, I snatched up the keys to my Mini and strode from the kitchen.
The three of them were there waiting on my return. A batch of scones sat cooling on the counter, a pot of tea, covered in a woolen cozy, brewing on the table. All nice and civilized, except I didn’t feel particularly polite. That man had threatened my daughter.
I pulled out a chair, the legs scraping on the flagstone floor. “Spill.”
The terrible trio exchanged glances, communication flying with raised eyebrows and pursed lips. Not good enough.
“Who is going to tell me what is going on? Why did a stranger threaten Amber?”
“My stars! He threatened to hurt Amber? Go on. Tell her. She’s not stupid,” Hannah said.
Ben and Father traded another look.
“I can’t do the jobs anymore. I need you to take over as the Shadow.”
“The cops almost nabbed him last week,” Ben said.
Father gave an irritable shrug. “I might be losing my touch.” It sounded as if someone wrenched the confession from him.
I sprang off my chair, unable to keep still a second longer. “Stop prevaricating. Tell me now. Why do you owe money to Richard Beauchamp?” My words were like bullets, fired with precision. Each of the trio recoiled at my snappish tone.
Father reached for a scone. “You don’t need to worry.”
“He threatened to hurt Amber,” I shrieked. “The only reason I let her go to school is because I know security is excellent there. How much do you owe?”
“It’s only ten thousand. I have it covered,” Father said.
I cringed at the amount. My savings wouldn’t put a dent in it. “How?”
“One job will do it.”
“Why are they hassling you? I want details. Now.”
“It might be a day or two overdue.” Father’s gaze slid from mine.
“Might or is? The man I spoke to implied payment was late.”
“The payment is two days late,” Hannah said.
Father scowled at her. “Blabbermouth.”
My fists clenched, and I bit down on my tongue until I had full control again. “Tell me everything. Start at the beginning.”
“I owe Beauchamp ten thousand dollars—”
“Plus interest,” Hannah said.
“I don’t have the money to pay him.”
“Because the mortgage payment went through,” Hannah added.
“Will you be quiet?” Father snapped. “I’m telling Eve.” He focused on me again. “I told you I have it covered.”
“Not if you have thugs ringing up with threats,” I fired back. “Who was he anyway?”
“Probably Vincent. He’s the one we usually deal with,” Ben said.
“All I need to do is one job,” Father said.
I mentally cursed the Shadow and thought of the missing paintings, the silver and knickknacks. “Why don’t you sell something instead of stealing it?”
“There’s nothing left to sell,” Hannah said.
“What about a mortgage? A second one?” Holy crap. The place had reminded me of a museum when I was a kid. I couldn’t believe they’d sold everything.
“We already have a huge mortgage,” Hannah said. “We can’t borrow more.”
I scrambled for further solutions. Putting Amber in danger was unacceptable. “Okay,” I said finally. “We’ll downscale. Sell Oakthorpe.”
Hannah paled. “No!”
“You can’t do that,” Ben said, straightening abruptly.
“Over my dead body.” My father’s contribution. “Fawkners have lived here for generations, and if I have my way Amber’s children will live here too. No, it’s out of the question.” Father scowled at me, pulling his confidence back around him like a favorite coat. “Fawkners are cat burglars. It’s time for you to embrace tradition, Eve.”
“Why? Surely it’s better to sell now while we have options? What happens if, God forbid, we can’t keep up with the mortgage payments and the bank forces a sale?” I turned to Hannah and Ben for support. “Tell him.”
Ben shook his head. “Selling wouldn’t help us now. A place like Oakthorpe could take months to sell in this market. We need the money now.”
“Exactly.” Father stood, his manner decisive. “Ben and I will meet you down in the gym. Now that you’re home for good, it’s time for you to do the right thing and follow in the footsteps of your ancestors.” He stomped from the kitchen with Ben following while I stared after them, gaping and gasping like a fish plucked from water.
“That went well,” Hannah said.
“We’ll see about that,” I muttered, and sprinted after Father and Ben ready to do battle. Minutes later I burst into the gym in the basement. One entire side was set up as a climbing wall while the rest of the space contained various pieces of training equipment Father had assembled over the years. “You can’t make me do this.”
Father sent me a hurt look. “When have I asked you to do anything for me?”
The oomph burst out of my indignation. “Never,” I said with stark honesty.
“I can’t do this alone, Eve. Ben hasn’t done a job since he fell and hurt his back. We need your help.”
I closed my eyes, steeling myself against the painful blow to my heart. It might have been verbal but it hurt just as much as a physical wallop. I sucked in a wheezy breath. Stealing. No matter how they dressed the subject or tried to romanticize it, the truth was the Fawkner family were and had always been thieves. “What about if I do the scouting and research for you?”
“Use your noggin,” Ben said.
“That won’t work,” Father added. “Ben and I can do that, but we need you to lift the jewels.”
“Don’t you think we’ve tried everything, Evie?” Father asked, resorting to my childhood nickname. “I’m sorry about that man threatening Amber. Don’t you think I’d do anything to keep her safe? This is the only way.”
“He didn’t really mean it,” I said. “Did he?” Hell, head out of the sand. The man’s threat had carried weight. Conviction. He’d meant to scare me and had succeeded.
“Vincent isn’t known for his scruples,” Ben said, with a heavy sigh.
“No, this is the only way,” Father repeated. “Harness up and show us your stuff. Can you still climb like you used to as a child?”
Cat Burlgar in Training is out today from Carina Press