by Rosemary Kubli
Even the most cunning femme fatale has her weakness
Siena Ricci is shrewd, seductive, and an expert in the art of deception. Masking her identity behind the guise of Marie Lacroix, a specialist in antiques and objets d’art, she swindles her employer’s wealthy clients out of their valuable possessions. She hasn’t yet met the man she can’t manipulate, but then the con she’s playing on Jonathan Woodward has only just begun.
Jonathan proves to be an easy mark, but he’s also enticingly irresistible. As their relationship heats up, her plot to steal his multi-million-dollar antique trinkets begins to unravel. Noticing a subtle change in Jonathan’s demeanor, Marie questions whether she’s still in control of the con or if she’s blindly become the gullible victim of her own scheme.
Marie was delighted with Jonathan’s responses to the teasers she’d thrown at him. His facial reaction when she described how she protected her skin while sunbathing was priceless. She could almost visualize the scene he’d created in his mind of her rubbing her nearly naked body with sunscreen lotion. She’d stroked his ego by praising his choice of venue for their leisurely afternoon, his devotion to his family, his attention to her needs. She’d tantalized him with the occasional touch of her bare skin against his, sparking his desire for more please. She’d even gone so far as to intimate he might be the man she’d been searching for all her life. Her confidence in the job grew stronger as Jonathan fell for her charades one after the other.
Most men were tongue-tied by the time she’d finished enticing them. Depending on the circumstances, they’d take the opportunity to grope her on the spot. Jonathan, however, had remained a gentleman and showered her with compliments, which she found both charming and refreshing. Perhaps he’d been a widower for too many years and had grown accustomed to a life of abstinence. If the pleasure of her company was all he craved, that was fine with Marie. She was willing to be whatever Jonathan wanted as long as the ploy granted her access to the Somerset Necklace.
Marie made a modest attempt to work in the subject of jewelry, but Jonathan hadn’t taken the bait. She’d need to find other subtle ways to wedge the topic into their conversation. When he eventually admitted ownership, she’d plead with him to let her see the necklace. A small distraction, spilling a glass of wine for instance, would occupy Jonathan’s attention while Marie deftly switched the necklace for the fake replica Gus had crafted. By the time Jonathan discovered he no longer possessed the original piece of jewelry, Marie Lacroix would be long gone.
She sipped the water and pondered how to use the remainder of the weekend to her best advantage. A plan developed in her mind, one she was certain would work. After rehearsing the lure she would use to reel Jonathan in, Marie next gauged when to make her move. She placed the phone call around the time she estimated he and his friends would be finishing dinner.
“Marie?” While his greeting was subdued, Marie detected the pleasure in his tone.
“Hello, Jonathan.” Marie noticed other men talking in the background which meant Jonathan was still at the restaurant and close to her hotel. Good timing. “Can you talk?”
“Hold on. Let me find a place that’s more private.” Jonathan’s voice was muffled as he excused himself from the table. A few moments later, he resumed their conversation. “Sorry. My frat brothers have a tendency to eavesdrop, and then the teasing begins. Sometimes, I wonder if they’ll ever grow up.”
“I understand,” she told him. “I returned to my room for the same reasons.”
“We’re about to finish dinner. I was going to call when I got to my car and ask if you have anything planned for the rest of the evening. Is everything all right?”
“Oh, yes, everything’s fine,” she assured him, then added a tinge of anguish to her voice. “But ever since we left the café, a comment you made has been haunting me.”
Jonathan sounded concerned when he asked, “Why? What did I say?”
“You questioned when we’d see each other again. I’ve been thinking all evening about how soon I’d be able to make another trip to Boston, or when you’d be free to meet me in the city. Over dinner with my girlfriends, I realized how little I have in common with them these days, and how much I’d rather spend the remainder of this weekend with you.” Shame on me for throwing my imaginary friends under the bus!
Jonathan chuckled. “Funny. I’ve spent my entire evening mulling over that same dilemma.”
Marie made her response sound as though she were swooning. “Oh, Jonathan! I’m so happy to hear you say that. I gave my girlfriends (Sorry again, ladies!) the excuse of needing to cut the weekend short and returned to my room to call you.” She took a breath before continuing. “When you leave the restaurant, would you like to meet me for a nightcap? There’s a lounge in my hotel that’s open late. Or, if you prefer, I can have a bottle delivered to my room.”
“We could do that,” Jonathan replied, “but I had something else in mind.” He paused, as if waiting for her reaction.
“What is it?”
“Why don’t you check out of the hotel? I’ll pick you up, and we can spend the night at my home instead.”
Marie congratulated herself on a job well done. Placing herself inside Jonathan’s home
had been her goal all along. “How soon can you be here?”
She caught the smile in his voice when he said, “I’ll meet you in your hotel lobby in forty-five minutes.”
“My suitcase and I will be waiting for you.”
Grinning, Marie disconnected the call and sat back in the chair. Mission accomplished.
Rosemary Kubli writes the type of books she loves to read – intrigue and suspense mixed with a pinch of romance and a clever plot twist or two. Her professional experiences run the gamut from Human Resources and training to accounting and banking, with publishing being her most recent endeavor. Aside from the seven years she lived in southern California, she has always called the northeast corner of Ohio her home. Rosemary and her husband of 45 years enjoy traveling – on land to visit family and friends and on sea to any destination a cruise ship will take them. When not working on her next novel, she can be found discussing the latest in literary fare with her book club, playing a rousing game of Bunco with some of her oldest and dearest friends, researching her ancestry, volunteering in her community, burying her nose in a book, or obsessing over the latest binge-worthy TV series.