Home > The Sapphire Affair (Jewel #1)

The Sapphire Affair (Jewel #1)
Author: Lauren Blakely

PROLOGUE

Present Day

In truth or dare, everyone knows you should pick dare.

Truth is too risky. It gets you in trouble. But Jake Harlowe had always been drawn to trouble, and maybe, somewhere inside of him, he wanted to tell her the truth.

Even if the truth would lead to more trouble.

As Steph marched to the end of the dock, then spun around, fixing him with a challenging stare, he knew there was only one answer to the question she was about to ask.

“Truth or dare?” she asked, the moonlight framing her stunning, sun-kissed face, the ocean breeze sweeping through her hair, the smell of salt water wrapping around them.

“Truth,” he said easily, reaching for his beer bottle and taking a drink as gentle waves lolled past them.

She arched an eyebrow and raised her chin. Her tough-girl stance, and it made her even sexier. Damn, she was hot when she was feisty. “Tell me the truth for real. Did you know who I was the night you met me?”

He scoffed. “I knew you were the hottest woman I’d seen in ages,” he said, somehow unable to resist slipping around her question to give her a compliment.

She stared at him. “That’s not the whole truth.”

“Fine. I knew you were a pain in the ass,” he added.

“Gee, thanks.”

“I knew you were going to drive me crazy.”

“You drive me crazy, too,” she countered, parking her hands on her hips.

“Sounds like we’re just about even, then.”

“No. We’re not. Because you still haven’t answered the question. Did you know who I was?”

“No,” he said, setting his beer on the railing. He stepped closer to her and grasped her bare arms. Her skin was soft and warm. “I’ve told you a million times. No. No. And more no. And I could ask you the same damn thing, too. I could ask if you knew who I was. But I’m not asking. Because it doesn’t matter right now. It doesn’t matter anymore.” He let go of her arms and gestured from him to her. “This? This isn’t about who knew what when. It’s about the fact that I can’t get you out of my head.” He tapped his skull. “It’s about the fact that I’m not supposed to get involved on a job. It’s about the fact that even if I weren’t about to break that rule in spectacular fashion, I should absolutely not break it with you, of all people.”

She pressed her teeth into her lower lip, and the tiniest sliver of a smile appeared on her face. Oh hell, he was going to have a field day kissing that smile away all night long and feeling her melt in his arms.

“But you’re going to? In spectacular fashion?” she asked, her tone soft and inviting now.

“No more questions, Steph. Your turn is up. It’s mine now. So, what’ll it be? Truth or dare?”

She licked her lips and raised an eyebrow. “Dare.”

Smart woman. She was smarter than he was. Or maybe she just wanted the same thing—a dare to match the truth.

“I dare you to kiss me right now,” he said with a grin, knowing she wasn’t going to back down, because this woman backed down from absolutely nothing.

She inched closer.

He raised a hand in a stop sign. “I need to give you fair warning. This time, I’m not going to stop at just kissing you.”

Her eyes glinted. “You’d better not.”

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

One Week Earlier . . .

Any door that didn’t put up a fight concerned Jake.

This one in particular was giving off too-good-to-be-true vibes.

As Jake pushed on the heavy green entrance at the edge of the cobblestoned courtyard, still slick from a cold rain this morning, it opened smoothly into the apartment building.

He gave it a side-eye glance.

He was more than ready to use his most reliable tool, a lock-picking kit that he carried with him at all times. Didn’t need it now, and that unnerved him. But, given the zigzaggy history of this case so far, maybe the rest of it would be easy all the way.

He’d take easy.

The door creaked shut, leading him to the empty foyer of the tiny building. A row of rusty, once-coppery mailboxes lined the wall, with surnames like Durand and Fournier. Circulars and envelopes lay untouched on the stone floor, having been spit up by too-full boxes. Probably meant the building drew transients. Judging from the dilapidated state of it, that was a good bet. Jake peered up the curving staircase and took the first step, expecting it to groan—not from him, though he was certainly a sturdy, solid man, but from the weight of years. This building had seen a handful of centuries and could probably whisper tales of horse-drawn carriages and blood in the street from the French Revolution.

Watching both his back and the path up, he climbed the steps that were so timeworn they had dips and grooves in them. When he reached the second floor flat that he’d tracked down as the most likely location for the treasure he sought, he stood flush to the wall. From that angle, he had a read on the hallway, the stairs, and the door to the flat. Scanning the surroundings once more for prying eyes or ambushes, he was satisfied he wasn’t being watched. He pressed his ear to the door, listening for a cough, a bit of chitchat, any signs of activity.

If the guys were inside the flat, he’d have to improvise. But hell, that was his stock-in-trade. In this line of work, you had to be ready to make it up as you went along. For now, the coast appeared clear. After rapping his knuckles twice on the door just in case, he waited.

Nothing but silence rang in his ears. He surveyed the cramped hallway once more. All was quiet. He removed that handy-dandy lock-picking kit from the back pocket of his jeans, quickly worked open the old French lock, and slipped inside the thimble-size studio apartment. He gagged, covering his mouth with the neck of his gray pullover. The garbage strike in Paris took no prisoners in this home. It reeked of rotten fruit, moldy bread, and unwashed laundry.

He shook his head in disgust. Fucking pigs.

Lowering the neck of his shirt, he did his best to breathe through his mouth as he riffled through a few cupboards and drawers, then spied under the couch.

Nothing but papers, dust bunnies, and bottle caps.

Where could it be? He turned in a tight circle, hunting for nooks, crannies, and hiding places, when he noticed a small bureau in the corner. Clothes were piled high on top of it. Something about the bureau called out to him. Whispered what it might hold inside. His fingertips tingled. He kneeled down, cracked open its doors, and nearly pumped a fist in victory when he spotted the prize.

A gorgeous, glorious Stradivarius.

With a new, long, and unsightly scratch down the body. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw. Bastards didn’t even treat something this precious with care.

Reaching for it from amid a mountain of dirty clothes, he gently grasped the neck of the instrument in one hand. Unzipping his backpack, he removed the violin case he’d brought with him, because a goddamn Strad needed to be carried in a padded home. He tucked the rare instrument inside, closed the case, and slid it inside the large backpack. The violin was safe and shielded, and only if you looked closely could you make out the shape of the case pressing against the nylon of the pack, the end of the neck stretching the top.

So be it. No one would get that close to him. That’s how he rolled.

Then he heard the sound of voices floating through the window from the courtyard below. Speaking French, but with an Irish accent.

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