By Ericka Scott
Australia is known for its one-of-a-kind animals including the rare Australian big cats: lions, leopards, and panthers. One reason for their near-mythical existence is because these secretive felines can shift...into men.
Sheep rancher, sculptor, and Australian playboy, Gavin Piscín, wasn't looking for more than a one-night stand in a Sydney bar. What he found, instead, was an Aborigine legend concerning a magical diamond, The Leopard's Paw, and it's effect on the fertility of his species. Unless the stone is returned Down Under, the near-mythical Australian big cats will become extinct. Despite his doubts, he hops the first plane to the United States to recover the priceless gem.
Ten years ago, Keziah Creswell hung up her lock picks and loot bags when she retired from the 'family' business--cat burglary. Since that time, she's changed her name and built a successful career in investment banking. One afternoon, a note arrives that shatters her illusion of anonymity and threatens to reveal her past if she doesn't pull off one last caper. The blackmailer doesn't want her clients' money; he wants her to resurrect the Kitty Cat Burglar and steal The Leopard's Paw.
When these two 'cat' burglars go after the same rare diamond, they find more than just treasure...
All around her, the office buzzed with conversation, punctuated by the sound of ringing phones. Occasionally, someone wearing an intent expression hurried past, but for the most part, her coworkers studied their computer monitors as if the information contained the secret of the universe. Using data derived from stocks and bonds, they hoped to do what most psychics couldn’t. Predict the future.
All part of the normal day of a financial analyst. Most of the time, Keziah Creswell would be one of them. The note delivered to her office by a bored courier ripped her comfortable reality to shreds. As she read, she felt the blood drain out of her face.
I know you are the Kitty Cat Burglar. You have one chance to redeem yourself by stealing the Leopard’s Paw diamond. Tonight. Do it or by Monday, everyone will know.
The first note, delivered on Monday morning had looked like a prank. “I know who you are” scrawled in black sharpie on a torn piece of paper. She’d balled it up and pitched it directly into the circular file next to her desk. Every day since then, a courier from a different company delivered a note identical to the first. Yesterday, she’d tried to track down the sender to no avail.
The phone on her desk hailed her with shrill tones. Right before the connection rolled to voicemail, she snatched up the receiver.
“Keziah Creswell.” Thank goodness her voice sounded low and professional and not like the panicked wail in her head.
“Hello, Kitty. You got my note?” The voice possessed an unearthly stilted cadence similar to ones heard on crime shows. A voice changer? In which case, the caller could be man, woman, or extraterrestrial.
“I got it.” She wished she hadn’t got it, wished she could close her eyes and make this all go away. Instead, she relaxed her grip on the receiver and sank into her office chair.
“I’m going to give you a telephone number to call once you have the Leopard’s Paw in your hot little paws.” The caller laughed at his or her own joke. Keziah didn’t find it funny. “Write this down.”
She picked up her heavy fountain pen with trembling fingers and wrote, hoping she would be able to read the numbers later through the shaky ink.
“Do not call the police, do not try to trace this number, and don’t call it before tonight. If you do, all bets are off and I send a copy of your birth certificate and a thick file of newspaper clippings to your boss. Understood?”
Keziah nodded, then cleared her throat and answered, “I understand.” At that moment, a tone sounded in the office to announce the closing of the American markets. Silence crept across the office as conversations ceased and her coworkers cleared their desks for departure. Keziah hung up the receiver and stared, unseeing, at the beige upholstery of the cubicle panel that she’d decorated with postcards and pictures.
Ten years. She’d spent ten years reinventing herself, putting her past behind her, forgetting.
“Hey, Kitty.” A disembodied voice wafted to her from the corridor. She started, for a moment wondering if her mysterious caller stalked her to the office.
“Creswell? You still here?” She recognized the voice and cringed a little inside.
“Unfortunately,” she replied.
A tall, lanky man with flaming red hair and a plethora of freckles appeared in the opening. Frank Wilson, but she called him ‘Every Friday Frank’ for every Friday—
“Would you like to grab a drink or dinner?” he asked, just like he did every week.
“Sorry, Frank. I’ve got plans.”
He gave her a good-natured shrug. “One of these weeks you’re going to say yes.”
Doubtful. Frank was a nice guy—for someone else. Someone staid, respectable, and who didn’t have a famous cat burglar for a father, one who’d initiated her into the “family business” before she could even walk. Instead of answering, Keziah tapped the bank statement she’d laid hastily over the top of the blackmail note. “Gotta get this statement reconciled. See you on Monday.”
“Yeah, see you.” He gave her a wave then as he retreated, leaving the cloying scent of old man’s aftershave in his wake.
Keziah stifled a cough and moved the statement to a folder. She read through the note again. Don’t call the cops, the caller said. As if she would. Growing up living a life of crime, police officers were the enemy. She doubted she would ever shake the instinctive response to run at the sound of a siren. Still, she wished she knew a cop like those on television. One she could call to analyze the handwriting, test the ink and paper, and give her some clue as to the identity of the blackmailer. Instead, she’d have to go this alone. She turned to her computer, thinking to run a search on the Leopard’s Paw when she realized she knew exactly what and where it was.
The Leopard’s Paw was the only known spotted diamond in the world. Unearthed at the famous Kimberly mines, it weighed in at 222 carats of yellow gemstone with dark brown crystal flaws inside. Although more a curiosity than a diamond fit for jewelry, it was still worth a cool six million dollars.
She knew this because five months ago, she’d been coerced by loneliness and the desire for a social life to join a popular online dating site. Since then, she’d been on half a dozen ill-fated dates. The most recent, three weeks ago, matched her with a nerdy and exceedingly shy man whose had squired her around the local Natural History Museum and then took her to lunch at the café, where they endeavored to have a conversation around and through the screams and shouts of assorted school children on tour.
With a more charming and verbose host, Keziah probably wouldn’t have spent the entire time casing the joint. But then again, she might have. It was an old habit, one she’d tried to forget, but couldn’t. She’d instinctively marked out the location of cameras, alarmed displays, and escape routes. Shame on her. Still, the knowledge would come in handy if she was going to steal the diamond tonight.
The thought brought her up short.
Was she really going to break into the museum and steal something worth over six million dollars? She worked with clients and accounts worth tens of thousands of dollars and had never once been tempted to take even a penny not belonging to her. Yet, with the threat of having her identity disclosed and losing her job, she considered picking up her old life of crime. Really?
Just this once. A small voice inside her head assured her.
But would it be only once? Blackmailers, once they got what they wanted, usually continued their demands until they bled their clients dry. Going to the police wasn’t an option. The statute of limitations may have run out for her past sins, but the shame lingered.
She had to be smart about this. If she stole the gem, she’d have to make sure she discovered the identity of the blackmailer. Tit for tat. His silence for hers. That was the only way it would work.
She fisted the note and shoved it into her suit jacket pocket. An almost unearthly silence surrounded her as she wove through the cubicles on her way to the exit. In the doorway, she stopped to make sure no stragglers were plunged into abrupt darkness. God, she loved working here. The energy, the stress, the wealth made or lost in the blink of an eye. A sudden wash of tears filled her eyes and she blinked them back before they fell.
A soft thunk made her pause with her hand on the light switch.
“Hello? Anyone still here?”
She waited several heartbeats for a reply but heard nothing. With the flick of her finger, she plunged the room into darkness and for a moment wondered if prisoners felt this same bitter remorse when the cell doors clanged shut behind them.