One of the MOST INCREDIBLE BOOKS I have EVER read—and one of my rare six-star reads—is coming next week, and I am SO honoured to be able to share with you a fave scene from this exhilarating love story between two jewel thieves.
“So, you in here shopping for yourself?” I asked her as I checked her out, moving my gaze down, and back up. “Diamonds and girls and all that?”
If I was good at the up-and-down, she was better. She went slower, was more deliberate, and was way more obvious. Her stare was greedy, and I dug it. Her eyes traveled down from my face to my jaw. Down my throat. Down each of my shirt buttons like she wanted to undo each one. With that stare, she took the power right out of my hands. I fucking loved it. That confidence and that fire. Her eyes landed on my belt, stayed there a beat, and came back up. “Why do I think you’re not here looking for a tie pin?”
“Got plenty at home already.” I undid the button on my right cuff and began to roll up my sleeve. She watched me do it, and I watched her watching me. She pursed her lips at first, like she was pressing lipstick on her already perfectly pink lips. Rolling up my sleeve to show off some ink made her stop pursing. And bite her bottom lip.
How you doin’? “I’m Nick.”
Her eyes slid along from my forearm, lingering for a second on my tattoos before moving up my shirt sleeve. She reached out her hand for mine. “I’m Stella.”
The handshake was a solid one—none of that wimpy cold-fish shit. Before I could flip it back on her, giving her some line like, You might be named for a star, but I’m gonna be the one to make you see them, the saleswoman came to check on us, her keys jingling on a ring, which was attached to the top of her skirt. She tottered when she walked, like her ankles were tired, or like the carpet was too thick to keep the heels steady.
“There’s your prince charming!” said the saleswoman, glancing from me to Stella and back again. “Aren’t you two perfect together?”
Whoa shit. It was a shock, but only for a second, because in the mirrors past where Stella stood, I saw the two of us standing side by side. We didn’t just look good together; we looked damned good together.
So I met Stella’s stare, and she inhaled, holding her breath for an instant. We locked eyes; it was the sexiest game of chicken that ever was.
Stella broke first. She blinked once, slow and calm. “Don’t know,” she said, beginning to smile. “I don’t know if he’s ready to make an honest woman out of me.”
Awwwwww, yeah. Bring it on, beautiful. She was adorable. A blush made her cheeks brighten, and her eyes got wide and innocent. She was a sexy little chameleon, and I liked her style. Two minutes ago, she’d been undressing me with her eyes. Now, she was playing the embarrassed fiancée, not sure if she was worthy of a year’s salary on her finger. But the last thing I was interested in right then was making her honest. “Been ready since the day I met you.”
If she was shocked or surprised, she didn’t show it. Instead she pinned her tongue between her teeth, and let out a nervous, breathy puff from her nose. She swallowed hard and placed her right hand to her cheek. “It’s an awful lot of money for something so tiny, Nick.”
We locked eyes for three . . . two . . . one. “You’re worth it, beautiful.”
Again, with the pursed lips, the nose wrinkle, and a quick hot blush.
The saleswoman jingled her keys. “Well don’t worry about that! We have a number of payment plans to suit every budget,” she said, now addressing me alone. “You’ll only marry her once. Right?”
In my head appeared a motivational poster from the art room in jail. It was a guy cave diving, somewhere green and lush. Imagine the life you want and live it. I took Stella’s hand in mine, like we were standing at a goddamned altar. I fussed with the ring, moving it side to side. Her skin was silky soft, and her hand fit perfectly in mine. I gave her hand a squeeze, and she did the same. Electricity had nothing on that buzz. “This the best you’ve got?” I asked.
The saleswoman peered over the counter at the empty spot in the display case—a spinning velvet display platform, no bigger than a silver dollar. “That’s our two-carat princess cut, sir.” She smiled quickly and glanced sheepishly at the Rolex clock on the wall. “Just so you know, I’ve got to close up shortly here.” She rolled her eyes. “Inventory. Sorry.” She tottered off to the front door, flipping the sign so that the side facing us went from Come Again to Open.
Stella gripped my hand tighter, and her eyes moved back and forth between mine like she wasn’t sure which one to focus on. Or was too nervous to decide. “What do you think, sweetie?” she asked.
The wink had dinged me like a BB; sweetie was a sucker punch to the sternum. People had called me a shitload of things, almost none of them nice, but nobody had ever called me sweetie. Never in my life. On her lips, it sounded perfect.
It was time to give her some of her own medicine. I moved my eyes up her bare arm, along the delicate edge of her collarbone, across the hollow of her throat. I wondered about that pink bra I’d seen, and if it matched her underwear. I thought about her tan lines, and what kind of pattern her bikini bottoms would’ve left behind. She was making me think about things that I hadn’t thought about in months; every earthquake has a warning tremor.
“Whatever you want, gorgeous.” I ran my thumb over the back of her palm. “It’s all yours.”
She bit her lip again, hard enough to make that pretty pink flesh flash with white.
The saleswoman checked her watch and drummed her sparkly fingers on the glass case. “I’m really sorry, you two. I do need to close up.”
Stella made a big thing of frowning, and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She pouted at me, the way I once saw a little girl do at a state fair when she dropped her cotton candy in a pile of sheep shit. “It’s so pretty, Nick. But we just can’t. We still haven’t paid off the pickup.”
Now we had a pickup. I could get used to this. “Doesn’t matter.”
Stella shook her head thoughtfully, like maybe she was thinking about rent and groceries and car insurance; shit that made a diamond ring seem untenable. “We’ll think about it,” Stella said. “It’s fun to dream though.”
No doubt about that at all.
But when Stella tugged on the ring with her thumb and forefinger to take it off, it didn’t cooperate. She furrowed her eyebrows, and laughed nervously, wiggling it and spinning it. “That’ll teach me to get extra-large fries with my lunch.”
The saleswoman laughed, nodding, and patted her slightly pudgy stomach. “Tell me about it, hon.”
For a few tense seconds, I stared at the ring. She twisted it, and tugged it. She rocked it back and forth. She gave it a yank, but still it didn’t budge. I took her hand in mine and gave it a shot too. But didn’t have any luck either. It was totally stuck.
“This isn’t embarrassing or anything,” said Stella softly as she gave it another try, doing the side-to-side rocking again. “I’m sure this is a first.”
“Oh my gosh, no. Fingers often swell in the afternoons. Lemme go get you some lotion. Be right back,” the saleswoman said, and headed for the back of the store.
Stella sighed hard and grabbed her purse from the floor, hooking it over her shoulder. “Thank you,” she called after the woman as she jingled away. “I really apologize. We’ll be out of here in no time.”
The saleswoman tossed her hand in the air. “Totally OK. Hang on.”
As she walked away though, Stella transformed right before my eyes. It was subtle, but I was watching her so close that it was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. The sweet-as-pie innocence was replaced with calm and focus. Her posture changed, the way she’d held her lips changed, even her stance changed. She shifted her hair over her shoulder and turned away from me, preventing me from seeing what she was looking for in her bag. I rolled my weight back onto my heels to get a different angle—not enough for her to notice, but enough to see what was going on. With the help of an oval tabletop mirror to my right, I saw exactly what she was up to. From the side pocket of her purse, she produced a little tube of something.
She didn’t call out to the saleswoman, but instead lowered her head slightly, allowing her hair to slip off her shoulder. I realized she was not only keeping her hands hidden from me, but also—thanks to her hair—away from the prying eyes of the black-domed security cameras in each corner of the shop. Suddenly, each detail seemed practiced. Strategic.
Damn near . . . professional.
She flipped open the top of the tube and squirted some onto her finger.
And then she did it. If I hadn’t been watching it, I wouldn’t have believed it. Houdini would’ve wept. Copperfield would’ve proposed. Blaine would have asked her to do a Vegas show with him. Once her finger was greased up, she used the thumb of her left hand to slide the diamond off her finger. It fell noiselessly into her bag. She dropped the tube of lotion on top, and the ring disappeared into the depths of her purse. Then, from the interior side pocket of the purse, she produced . . .
The same setting. The same cut. The same size.
The identical engagement ring.
I was floored. But somehow, I managed to play it cool. I kept my mouth shut and my holy shiiiiiiit to myself. She didn’t know I’d seen her, and I wasn’t going to blow her cover. Only an asshole interrupts a magician in the middle of an act.
The saleswoman tottered back toward us. The fake was on Stella’s finger, and the real ring was nowhere to be seen. “Here you go, hon,” said the woman, holding out a bottle of lotion with the lid already undone. “Smells real good too.” She squirted a glop of the pink liquid on Stella’s finger, making the whole place smell like laundry detergent.
Stella worked some lotion around her ring finger, and slipped off the fake, with a big sigh. “Phew! That was a close one.”
The saleswoman just giggled. “No worries. Happens more than you’d think,” she said, and took the keys from her skirt. Using a jewelry cloth, she cleaned the lotion off the ring until it sparkled again, set it on its spinning velvet platform, and locked up the case.
And there I thought I’d found my bliss already.
“Thanks so much for all your help,” Stella said, and zipped up her purse.
I felt like I was dreaming. Never, in my whole life, had I seen anything so goddamned smooth. She seemed sweet, she looked so sexy, and to top it all off, she was utterly badass. I needed to get my hands on her. Now.