“No one said anything about stealing. A family donated an antique crystal ball for display, but there was some kind of mix-up, and the hotel got the real thing.”
“Were they supposed to get a copy?”
“Yes,” I said. “The family needs the original back. They can’t waltz in and get it, you see, because they’re respectable now, with political aspirations. None of them wants the public to know what kind of value they place on it, or that it tells the truth about the past and shows the promises of the future.”
“We’re doing a bait and switch, then?”
“Just a switch.” I grinned. “You really don’t know much about breaking the rules, do you?”
He shook his head.
“Well, then. I look forward to teaching you.” I meant it.
Except … every time a Chronos job came up I felt torn. There was a constant pull between the desire to get out of my house and do a job well and the need to define myself beyond Chronos and my father’s expectations. Dance allowed for that, but only within the boundaries of my studio.
Taking Dune on the Bourbon Orleans job was necessary to keep him on Dad’s good side, and to keep him around. While I was the one who suggested he go on the job with me, it had been before he and I had become … whatever we were now.
He was the only part of my life that wasn’t solely connected to Chronos, and suddenly, I didn’t want him to see me in light of what I did there. I didn’t want him to forget the Hallie he’d managed to discover over the past couple of weeks.
And I didn’t want to forget her either.
The hotel was just off Jackson Square.
We caught a cab instead of using my dad’s driver. Maintaining anonymity was a bitch. The rain had cleared out, and the sun was shining. The cabbie dropped us off on the corner of Orleans and Bourbon so we could walk to the main entrance from the side street.
“I brought my computer,” Dune said, lifting up his backpack. “Did you look at the file I sent you? If we have time, we could go over it.”
I had a vision of us sitting, our heads bent close together, staring at his laptop screen. It progressed to our hands touching accidentally, and then our shoulders, and then …
He was looking at me, and I was standing on Bourbon with my mouth hanging open.
“Sure. If we have time.” I’d only skimmed it. I pushed my sunglasses up on my head so I could see his eyes. “We’ll check in first. I need you to scout the case the crystal ball is in. Make sure it’s movable, see if there’s a lock, that kind of thing. It’s in front of the check-in desk. We’ll do some observing, and later, I’ll create a diversion in the lobby while you take the crystal.”
“If that doesn’t work?” he asked.
“Then we’ll apply stealth.”
“Maybe we should apply it from the get-go.” He put his hand at the small of my back, and the valet and the doorman held the double doors open for us. The lobby was full of grandiose furniture, fine art, and huge bouquets of flowers in crystal vases. The blooms smelled absolutely divine.
I sashayed up to the check in desk and plopped down my fake ID and credit card.
“Welcome to the Bourbon Orleans. How may I assist you?”
“Check in. Christian Arnold.”
“Yes, miss.” Her name tag read OLGA, and I was pretty sure the accent was Norwegian. “Would you like to leave the room on this credit card?”
“I would. And you should have a package for me?”
She frowned. “I don’t see a note on the reservation. Just a moment, please. Excuse me.”
When she disappeared through a doorway, I pushed Dune away from the desk. “That case. Over there. Just be casual.”
I turned back just as Olga came around the corner.
“I’m sorry, Miss Arnold. We didn’t have anything for you.”
“Oh, let me check my e-mail and make sure I read it correctly.” I was trying to give Dune more time, but cut it short when I realized Olga was doing a thorough job of checking him out. “Never mind. I’ll look later.”
I stared at her for a couple of seconds before she startled and began flipping through a stack of papers.
“Certainly. And you’ll be staying in one of our signature Saint Ann balcony loft suites. I do hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s very romantic.” She shot a look of approval over my shoulder.
“Romantic?” Oh hell. When Dad’s assistant had made the original reservation over a month ago, she’d counted on me being in the hotel alone, and Poe popping in and out. No need for two rooms or for two beds. “Do you have anything else?”
“We’re booked for the weekend, but the suite is one of our nicest. I’m sure it will meet your expectations.” I turned to see that she was focusing on Dune, who was leaning intently toward the glass case and talking to a hotel employee, while pointing to the crystal on the top shelf.
“I’m sure it will be lovely. Where’s the elevator?” I asked with forced cheer.
Olga pointed. “Right that way.”
I gave her a smile that displayed all my teeth, then spun on one high heel and approached Dune, grabbing his arms and dragging him away from the case.
“Thanks for the info,” Dune called out over his shoulder to the bellman.
“Enjoy your stay,” the bellman said back, tipping his cap.
“I’m sure I will.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” I muttered, squeezing his elbow and steering him toward the elevator.
“You don’t have to squeeze so hard.” I stifled a yelp. “Or pinch.”
Hallie pinched me again, I guess for good measure. “Could you have been any more obvious?”
“There was a plaque with tiny, tiny print that covered the occult in Victorian times, and information on the plaçage. And some other stuff.” I gulped at the scary-angry look on her face. “I’m a reader. I was reading. It gave me a good excuse to ask the bellman questions.”
According to the plaque, the Bourbon Orleans had lived through many incarnations, starting as the home to the Orleans Ballroom in 1817. It had seen masquerades, carnival balls, and quadroon balls, and then turned into a convent and a school. In 1964, it became a hotel, with a reputation for excellent service and numerous hauntings.
From the orphan children who’d suffered through the yellow fever epidemic to a Civil War soldier to a dancer who whirled under the ballroom chandelier, there was a promising possibility of ghosts, or a terrifying rip or two.
“You didn’t need to ask questions. You were talking to an employee about the thing we are planning on stealing.”
“You said we were retrieving, not stealing.”
She pinched me again as we got on the elevator.
“You’re bossy,” I said. “Maybe a little bit mean.”
“It’s like you forgot why we were here.”
“Maybe I was a little thrown off when I overheard that we’re staying in the ‘romantic’ loft suite.” Or a lot thrown off.
The elevator doors dinged open. “It just worked out that way. Don’t worry, Saint Dune, I don’t plan on compromising your integrity.”
“No, of course not, because stealing has nothing to do with integrity.” The words were a whisper, but they echoed down the hallway.