He cradled her hand, and grinned back. "Well, 'infamous' might be more appropriate. Call me Loyle. And you are...?"
"Peregrine. Julie to...infamous men." He brushed her hand with a kiss, never taking his liquid brown eyes from her face. Her breath quickened against her will and she shoved her heart down with an internal curse.
As he leaned over, she saw Amanda Hart approaching over his shoulder with a pair of tall glasses. She stepped around the man without pausing. The place was full of hand-kissing Joes in tuxedoes.
"Struck out. Just soda water and lime," she said as she held out one glass to Justine, but a larger hand wrapped around the stem and lifted it away.
"Let me have that," said Crawford. "That stuff'll kill you." The color drained out of Amanda's face as he took the glass from her fingers and turned to one side to summon a waiter with a snap.
Amanda mouthed silently, "That's"
"I know!" Justine responded with her own soundless pantomime.
They both smiled and laughed noncommittally as he turned back to them. Minutes later they were trapped at a table, with Crawford's waiter bringing them gin.
If anyone had told Justine she'd ever spend an evening at a swank party in a Manhattan penthouse listening to Loyle Crawford tell dogfight stories and liquor her up, she would have laughed out loud. If anyone ever said she'd enjoy it, they'd be looking for a new set of teeth; but here she was. In spite of herself, she wasLord help heractually enjoying it.
She pursed her lips, and tuned his voice out while she looked him over. He was a handsome devil, there was no doubt of thathe wore a tuxedo like he was born to itbut Justine had shot good-looking men before.
It wasn't just his looks, though. His manner screamed that he was "in command," but not "commanding." His advances were flattering, but not forward. Damn him, she thought, the lug has manners!
"not like Nathan Zachary." Crawford finished, and Justine snapped back to the conversation like a bucket of cold water had been thrown in her face.
"What about Zachary?" she saidtoo angrily. She immediately realized her error.
Crawford looked at her, puzzled at the reaction. He considered her for a moment, then shrugged. "I just can't stand his way of making piracy look like some sort of weekend game. Zachary is a thief and a killer, and when I get him in front of my guns," Crawford squinted as he took an imaginary bead on his target and pointed his fingers forward at Justine, "Blam!" He grinned as his hand became an airplane and augured into the table with a crashing noise. He took a drink. "So ends Nathan Zachary's 'illustrious career'."
Justine's blood boiled at the very thought that a high hat like Crawford could just waltz in and blow away the man who'd shot her down without breaking a sweat. Her mouth pursed in thought as she formulated her insults. "You think that"
"Oops!" Gin and tonic sloshed across the table from Amanda's place and ran off the edge into Crawford's lap. He jumped up, avoiding most of the spill. "I'm so sorry, Loyle!" Amanda dabbed ineffectually at him with a napkin as Crawford pushed her hands away politely.
"It's all right," he said as he struggled to hide the look of annoyance that flashed across his handsome features. A moment later, he sighed and gave them a grin. "I'll just go get cleaned up."
He walked quickly away, but spared a glance over his shoulder that said too much about what he was thinking. Justine took a deep breath.
"Thanks," she said quietly through clenched teeth.
"Don't mention it," replied Amanda. She faked a smile at him as she watched him retreat. "I enjoyed it. His head is so big it probably needs its own hangar."
Justine pursed her lips and scanned the room for the target. She grinned when she spotted Devoir; the socialite was ascending the stairs. She was accompanied by another manthe younger, clean-cut one Justine had picked out earlier.
"It's show time," Justine said with a smirk. Her voice was an uncanny imitation of Crawford.
Justine moved forward, and like a wing pilot, Amanda fell in easily next to her. They strolled across the room as quickly as they could. The constantly shifting sea of tuxedoes and gowns took effort to navigate. At the base of the stairs they paused.
"Go make sure everything is set," Justine whispered. "Otherwise, this whole thing will get messy."
"Check. Be right there." Amanda broke off and moved away through the crowd. Justine stepped quickly up the stairs, as if she was supposed to be there.
She reached the top of the stairs, turned, and crept down the hallway. The sound of the party drifted away to a dull murmur. She quietly turned a corner and saw a door cracked open. Flickering firelight spilled into the hall. Justine crept to the door, and peered through the inch-wide opening into a lavishly appointed study. Obviously Devoir and her companion had wanted to be alone.
Devoir was a remarkably beautiful womanand the firelight enhanced her beauty. Justine figured Devoir's dress probably cost as much as the Medusas made in a good size heist. Above all, the Hope Diamond hung on the socialite's neck, a symbol of salvation for the Medusas. Justine couldn't help feeling nervous, though. She lifted the hem of her dress and retrieved the Belgian-made .32 automatic from the inside of her left thigh.
The spectacled young man was facing Devoir.
"Sebastian," she said soothingly, "After tonight it'll be over anyway. Everything will be different tomorrow." The woman's reassuring words probably sounded genuine to the guy, but Justine's ear picked up a trace of nervousness.
Devoir was uptight, but why? Justine didn't like not knowing, but she didn't have time to solve a mystery like Paladin Blake in one of his dime-novel escapades. She pushed the door open and stepped quietly into the study, her pistol leveled at Devoir.