Stolen Heat - By Elisabeth Naughton
Worthington Fine Auction House
Downtown New York City
All things considered, she looked pretty good for a six-year-old corpse.
Katherine Meyer checked her reflection in the bathroom mirror one last time and smoothed a few wild strands of hair back from her face. The black slacks and matching jacket were perfect, not one thing about them the slightest bit memorable. No one glancing her direction tonight would ever see anything other than the professional assistant she resembled, and that was precisely the way she wanted it. The less attention she drew, the safer everyone would be.
Her stomach rolled as she turned down the long hallway. Her sensible flats clicked along the cement floor. Muffled music from the party out front drifted to her ears. Ahead, a security guard looked up from his post at the end of the corridor and gave her the once-over.
She smiled what she hoped was a confident grin as she approached and flashed the I.D. badge she’d lifted from a Worthington’s employee days before. The picture had been digitally altered to match her current disguise—dark brown, bob-style wig, blue color contacts, tortoiseshell glasses. As long as the man in front of her didn’t look too closely, she was home free.
“Hold up there.”
So much for easy.
The guard stepped from behind the counter, blocking her path, displaying at least six feet, three inches of hulking muscle. He wore the standard blue uniform, had shortcropped dark hair, was big and brawny and the epitome of the straitlaced no-one-gets-by-me-without-a-pass gate-keeper.
Kat took a quick breath and glanced at the name tag on the man’s chest—James Johnson—then at his waist where a utility belt held a two-way radio.
No guns. Not that she could see anyway. And as far she was concerned, that was the best news she’d had so far tonight.
“Only authorized personnel past this point,” he said in a gruff voice. “I’ll need to verify your I.D.”
She smiled, unclipped the badge from her jacket and handed it to him with hands she somehow managed to keep from shaking. “Big crowd out there tonight,” she said casually.
Breathe, Kat. Just breathe.
His eyes flicked from the badge up to her face. “What’s your business in the storage room, Ms. Anderson?”
“I’m working with Marsha Griffin, the liaison between Worthington’s and the Odyssey Gallery. Just doing one final walk-through before Ms. Griffin arrives and the auction begins. You know how anal some of these independent gallery owners can be on their big night.” She rolled her eyes for effect.
“It’s Jim, right?” She reached for the badge before he could study it in depth again. “We met about two months ago when I was doing work with the Met.”
His brow wrinkled in confusion, like he was having trouble remembering back.
Perfect. Just what she wanted.
She clipped the badge to her jacket again, gave a small smile and did her best to look nonchalant. “How’s your daughter? Broken arm heal up okay?”
His eyes widened in surprise. It was obvious he was searching his memory for their last conversation. Too bad he wouldn’t find it.
“Uh, yeah.” He scratched the top of his head. “Sarah gets the cast off on Tuesday. How did you—”
“I bet she’s thrilled.” Kat took a step around him and headed for the steel door at his back. Distract, dismay, then detour. That was her life motto. Or, at least, her new life motto. “Broke my arm when I was seven. Longest six weeks of my life.”
She paused at the door, looked over her shoulder and lifted her brow as she waited.
He stared at her a full second, then gave his head a small shake and turned. “Oh, right. Sorry. You’ll need to sign in first, Ms. Anderson. It’s standard procedure.”
“Sure.” Kat took the clipboard, signed her alias and waited while he unlocked the door from his station. “Thanks, Jim. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
She eased into the room and closed the door behind her. Leaning back against the cool metal, she let out a long breath. Her performance had been near Oscar worthy.
She reached up to wipe her brow. Top-notch acting, but sweating buckets. It was a wonder Jim-the-Sentry hadn’t noticed. One tiny mistake like that could send her to an early grave.
Or late, considering how you looked at it.
Since, legally, Katherine Meyer had died in a car bomb in Egypt, she couldn’t possibly be breaking into one of the most famous auction houses in the world. But here she was. The trick now was simply to stay off everyone’s radar. The trick always was to stay dead.