“Taking the watch shouldn’t be a problem,” he said to Poe, “as long as you port in.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Well, he isn’t going to walk in.”


“Then you port to the agreed-upon location,” he finished.

“Which is where?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter.” Dad landed his eagle eyes on me. “You’ll take a cab home.”

“Tell me, Dad. Do you dismiss everything I say because you’re sexist or because you think I’m stupid?”

Wisely, Poe backed into a corner to stay out of the line of fire.

“Your level of respect is inappropriate.” Dad’s jaw was clenching.

“When do I ever do anything that is appropriate?” I asked.

“If you want to do this job, I would suggest you start immediately.”

I knew from Dad’s jaw and the tightness around his eyes that I’d pushed him too far. Now wasn’t the time to challenge him unless I wanted to get rolled over, and I wasn’t about to lose the chance to leave the house.

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“Yes, sir.” I dropped my head.

And today’s round goes to Alpha Daddy.

Poe didn’t say a word as we walked out of Dad’s office, but his look clearly indicated I should’ve shut up way before I did.

My look back indicated he should screw off.

“He only acts that way because he loves you,” Poe said.

“So ignoring me equals loving me?”

“It does when it means he’s scared.”

I grabbed my bag and headed for the front door. Even though I preferred it, taking Dad’s town car wasn’t the best way to stay undercover. A cab waited at the corner, and I climbed in and gave the address. The driver didn’t balk when I pulled off my oversized T-shirt and adjusted the laces on my corset. New Orleans cab drivers were tough to rattle.

I’d figured out the art of decadent camouflage. Thanks to the number of flamboyant visitors to the clubs on Bourbon, I found it easy to blend in the Quarter. I had one rule when it came to my disguises: Go hard or go home. Dressing up gave me a chance to step into someone else’s fictitious life. Sometimes my characters had elaborate backstories. Other times, the simplicity of the costume sufficed.

I gave my makeup one last check in my compact mirror. Tonight, it involved glitter, false eyelashes with feathers on the ends, and lots of glittery powder in my fake cleavage. My blue wig topped it all off, perfectly and literally. I slicked my mouth with bright pink lip gloss for the finishing touch, and tapped the back of the cabbie’s seat once we hit the edge of the French Quarter. I gave him the fare plus twenty bucks.

“You never saw me, right?”

From the way he looked at my chest, he’d seen way more of me than I’d wanted.

My platform boots gave me a definite swagger, and my taffeta tutu accentuated the swing of my hips. I focused on the ground and concentrated on lengthening the shape of my eyelids, along with puffing up my lips and making my cheekbones more prominent. I searched for my reflection and found it in a plate-glass window. I could see my own face underneath, but only because I was looking.

It had rained most of the day and a fine mist hung in the air, but the endless party still went strong. I melted into the crowd, noting details for my escape route, since I’d be on foot.

I couldn’t always tell the bums from the tourists, and even though Mardi Gras was only one week a year, some glassy-eyed coed was always ready to lift her shirt for a string of cheap plastic beads. Stories were ripe for the picking in the Quarter, and most were written all over their authors’ faces. The same creepy-ass clown stood outside Oz, juggling shot glasses tonight. I skirted my way past him without making eye contact.

I hated clowns.

I hooked a right down a side street. More warning than beacon, Skeevy’s neon sign shone red off the wet payment. I straightened my shoulders and headed for the front door. Heavy metal bars covered the bulletproof windows. An electronic ding sounded my entry as I pushed open the door. Easy to get in, harder to leave, especially if you held something in your hands.

Good thing Poe would be taking a shortcut.

The register was the old-fashioned kind with ticker tape and a little bell that rang when the drawer opened. Cash only at Skeevy’s. Checks bounced and credit cards left records, and no one on either side of the counter wanted that.

Danny Launoux was my target.

Thanks to my rock star surveillance skills, I knew he liked comics, vodka, and girls. That last part was crucial to my role in this little drama.

He wore 1970s, tinted glasses that didn’t hide his eyes but did make him look like a pimp. The heels of his boots hung on the rungs of the stool where he sat hunched over, reading a Batman comic. A set of keys dangled from a chain on his belt. His hair was out of control, frizzy, curly, and more tall than wide. I forced fifty product suggestions to stay on the tip of my tongue and crossed the dirty, tan carpet. Danny didn’t look up until I reached him. I waited for a reaction. I didn’t get one.

“I’m looking for a ring,” I said. It had been one of my mother’s. I’d sold it earlier in the week as a blonde with thin lips, all Broke College Student Who Needed Tuition. I’d even managed tears. He hadn’t been impressed then, either.

“Prices are on the tags. No bargaining. What you see is what you pay.”

I browsed. Poe was already supposed to be in the back, but I couldn’t be sure until I got confirmation. I checked my phone as I slinked toward the jewelry cases. No texts.

I made a big show of bending over, and then arched my back and stretched. I’d at least expected curiosity from Danny, but he’d gone back to reading. I dropped my arms to my sides with a sigh and tried the direct approach.

“Is that the latest Batman issue from the New 52 series?” My Internet research had told me all I needed to know about the 2011 relaunch of DC Comics. It had also lured me into placing an order of my own.

He blinked, lowered the comic, looked at me, looked at the cover, and then at me again. “That’s what it says.”

“I feel sorry for Batman. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to hide your identity. Never to be truly close to a woman. I like to get close. Don’t you?”

“I don’t care how hot you are. I’m not going to lower my prices because you’re coming on to me,” Danny said in a monotone. Definitely not distracted. More like bored.

Damn. I’d hoped my fierce comics knowledge would work in my favor in case my flirting didn’t. “I’m not coming—”

“I know how women are,” he said in a Cajun drawl. “And I could smell you angling for a deal when you walked in the door.”

He could smell me? Jackass. I hated to use my sexuality for evil, and here he was, trivializing my effort.

“I happen to like Batman, and I told you, I want a ring. Show me the blue one.”

He dropped his reading material with a sigh and slammed the side of his fist into the register drawer. It popped open, and he fished a set of keys from underneath a stack of twenties. If he could open the register with nothing less than a punch and wasn’t afraid to let a customer know it, he wasn’t worried about what was in the cash drawer. This confirmed his main concern was for whatever lurked behind the vaulted door on the far wall.

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