The unnamed woman watching Lori and Trina was on board. All he needed to do was stay in the obvious place she would show up and follow her.
Lori’s group was easy to spot. She wore a wide smile he hoped he was responsible for putting on her face, and the other three scampered along in search of a French adventure.
Or maybe just wine and mild entertainment.
A good thirty minutes later, Miguel and Rogelio stepped off the ship.
He was half tempted to follow the men but didn’t think he’d gain anything if he did.
She was there . . . long legs, brunette.
She wore a hat, one that stuck out and made those around her pay attention.
Her features were hidden by the massive sunglasses and wide brim.
Taking pace behind her, Reed felt the hair on the back of his neck start to prickle.
“Too easy,” he muttered to himself an hour later.
She meandered, he followed.
An outdoor café beckoned with the scent of pastries and rich coffee. She chose a table under the shade of an umbrella. Once seated, she lifted her head and focused her attention directly at him.
I’m being played.
Instead of playing more cat and mouse, he took the direct route to her table and sat without invitation.
“Mr. Barlow.” The thickness of her accent screamed Slavic. He didn’t pretend to know which part of the region she was from.
“You have me at a disadvantage.”
Olive skin, high cheekbones, her eyes still hidden by the sunglasses that couldn’t conceal her beauty.
“Will a name make you feel better?”
“Any chance you’ll give me a real one?”
Her bright red lips lifted. “As if Barlow is yours.”
The waiter approached, spoke in French.
Miss Slavic responded in kind.
When the waiter looked at him, Reed shook his head. “I’m fine.”
Unimpressed, the skinny man lifted his chin, turned on his polished heel, and walked away.
“Who do you work for?”
“I was about to ask the same question.”
He sat back, said nothing.
“Seems our conversation has already stalled.”
“I’m sure you anticipated that.”
“Why today?” he asked.
The waiter returned with coffee.
“Our travels are nearly over, are they not?”
What the hell is your deal? “And have you obtained the information you need?” he asked.
“And talking with me today is bringing you closer?”
She shook her head, brought the cup to her lips. “No. I wanted to know what you’re made of.”
“Know your enemies?”
She set her cup down after taking a sip. “Are we enemies, Reed?”
“You tell me.”
“I have no quarrel with you. I’m not entirely convinced we’re after the same thing.”
He kept his face blank. “Are you working with Miguel?”
She said something in a language he didn’t understand. “I’m insulted. I make it a policy to avoid amateur thieves.”
Which was half of Reed’s conclusion about the man as well. “You’re following him.”
“Know your enemies,” she quoted him.
“Who the hell are you?” The bite in his question made her grin.
“Call me Sasha.” She stood.
“Who are you working for?”
She smiled, didn’t answer. “Until we meet again.”
Sasha left him with a sway of her hips . . . and the bill.
It was formal night on the ship, and Lori and the others decided fancy dresses and high heels were in order to accompany their dinner reservations at one of the fancier restaurants on the ship. That was until Trina pounded on her door and pulled her into Avery’s room.
“Her jewelry is gone,” Trina exclaimed once they were both hovering over Avery, who knelt by the open safe.
“What do you mean, gone?”
Avery looked up at Lori as if she were the ripe old age of three. “Ripped off. Someone stole my shit.”
Lori knelt down in the slim-fitting formal dress and looked at the empty boxes inside Avery’s in-suite safe. “For crying out loud.” She stood. “Don’t touch anything.”
Minutes later, Lori stood outside of Avery’s stateroom while security and some of the Italian brass on board asked Avery questions.
They were drawing a crowd.
Datu stood to the side, his face sheen white, his hands visibly shaking as his boss questioned him.
“Does she know how much the jewelry was worth?” Shannon asked.
“Somewhere around fifty.”
Lori knew her share of rich women, and tossing fifty thousand dollars worth of jewelry into their bag while vacationing wasn’t unheard of. Most wore that alone on their ring fingers.
Two plainclothes security guards brushed past the three of them and down the stairs.
Lori heard Reed’s voice from behind her and turned to see his questioning eyes.
“What’s going on?” He peeked around the door, then back toward her.
“Someone stole Avery’s jewelry.”
His mouth opened. “You’re kidding.”
“We were getting ready for dinner, she went to find a pair of earrings, and hello . . . nothing left in her safe,” Trina explained.
Reed looked over the banister separating the decks, then back. “Did someone break into the room?”
“The door wasn’t broken down,” Shannon said.
“You said she found the safe empty. Did she notice the safe was broken open?”
Lori stared at Reed, waiting for Trina’s answer.
“No. In fact, we didn’t notice anything at all. If she hadn’t looked for the earrings, we might not have known they were missing.”
“Ms. Cumberland?” One of the brass in the room called her.
“Would you mind?” He stood to the side of the door, inviting her into the room.
Reed kept looking over the banister.
“Of course.” Lori walked away from the others, past the living room of the suite, and into the bedroom, where she found Avery sitting on the edge of her bed while three other people searched the room and one sat in a chair, asking questions.
Lori took a seat beside her friend.
“I told them you’re my lawyer.”
“And why would you need your lawyer when you’re the one victimized?” Lori asked. She turned her attention to the man asking questions.
“Ms. Cumberland, please accept my apologies. These are standard questions, I assure you.”
“Who are you?”
“Joseph Bianchi, I advise the ship’s staff.”
“You’re not the police?”
“The ship doesn’t have police, Ms. Cumberland. We’re a luxury liner subject to maritime law.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“That’s what I asked,” Avery said.
“Ms. Grant said she left with you and your companions today at nine in the morning.”
“My jewelry was in the safe when I left.”
“You looked in your safe before you went ashore?” The uniformed man didn’t sound convinced.
“Well, no. But it was the night before when I went to bed.”
“With your companion?”
Avery glared. “I’ve told you this already. Rogelio left after midnight.”
“Do you think Rogelio stole your stuff?” Lori asked her.
“He’s never been alone in my room.”
The officer said something to the remaining men in the room, and they quickly left.
Lori glanced around. “Aren’t they going to look for fingerprints?”
“I assure you, we will investigate every lead.”
“Your butler, Mr. Datu, says he has seen your companion in your stateroom many times.”
Avery shrugged. “That’s not a secret.”
“You trust this man?”
“Well . . .” Doubt waved over her face as she looked at Lori. “Yeah. I mean . . .”
“Mr. Bianchi, if there is a question about Avery’s friend, ask him a few questions, search his room.”
“We plan on doing that. We just want to make sure Ms. Grant would like to stick with her statement.”
“Why wouldn’t she?”
His smile was meant to pacify. But only managed to tick her off. “Cruise ships are often the target of false claims.”
“You think she’s faking this?” Lori found her lawyer hat and pulled it down hard.
“I didn’t say that. Perhaps Ms. Grant misplaced her belongings.”
“Misplaced?” Avery stood.
“It has happened in the past. We hate to upset other passengers with false accusations—”
“I haven’t accused anyone of anything. I’m telling you someone stole my shit.”
Mr. Bianchi stood, placed his notebook in his pocket. “We will look into it.”
“Do you have security cameras?” Lori asked.
Avery rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe this.”
“I want to see them,” Lori told the man.
“We will see what we can find. I suggest you enjoy your evening, ladies. I’m sorry for this unfortunate occurrence; however, there isn’t much to do now but stand back and let us do our jobs.”