Gold Mine by Skye Warren

I could break you.

Worry bleeds into London’s pretty blue eyes. “He was dancing with her. I was watching them, and then suddenly, it happened so fast, they were gone.”

“Where did you last see her?”

She points to a corner of the dance floor. I know for a fact that the corridor entrance is right behind there, leading to dark antechambers for people to fuck or use drugs. Or in this case, conduct an illegal exchange of diamonds.

“Good. I’ll find her.”

“Please.” Her lips tremble, and if I were an ordinary man, I would find it delicious. It would be a pleasure to make her tremble for another reason. Instead I’m perverse. I want to bite her lips. I want to watch them bleed. I hurt anyone that I come near, which is why I’m determined to stay away. I’ve come just long enough to save her, to save her sister. To make amends.

And then I’ll leave Italy.

Her sister is in love with Elijah North. He can’t be far behind me.

And wherever Elijah goes, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jefferson is not far behind.

“There’s one thing I need you to do for me. Dance with the men. The ones who look the most dangerous. Keep them interested. And stay at the center of the crowd.”

“What? Why?”

“Because that man wanted to take you somewhere dark.” And despite my very best intentions, I’ve become the reluctant defender of the Frank siblings. “Most likely he would have been given instructions not to harm you, but you can never be sure. And most men of his kind don’t consider a few stolen kisses to be harm.”

I should know. I used to be a man like that. Too late.

“Okay,” London says, her voice shaky. She really is gorgeous. The kind of delicate, wide-eyed beauty that will make men fall over themselves to dance with her. To save her from herself.

Unfortunately I’m only interested in ruining her.

I take a step back as the waltz ends and give her a small bow. “Addio.”



Five minutes earlier

Heavy foliage creates the illusion of a jungle.

Each leaf has been painted a matte or glossy black, with the rare pop of metallic gold. That’s the color theme for the event. The ballroom overflows with black silk and gold jewelry in every arrangement imaginable. There’s only the rare pop of white—a dress shirt, a string of pearls. Gleaming white teeth in a too-large smile.

Dread creeps over my skin, and I shake out my glittering skirts in a nervous gesture. The more boisterous the crowd becomes, the more I regret coming here.

It was not really a choice.

A waiter passes by with a gold serving plate full of champagne. I swipe a flute and drink down the bubbly liquid too fast. Air tickles my nose. I cough until my eyes tear up.

Something rustles the plants behind me, and I jump.

Is it them? Is it time? A couple emerges from black-painted leaves, stumbling over their own feet, laughing, the woman’s dress askew, the man’s bow tie undone.

They disappear into the crowd.

Pain lances my palm. I look down to see that I’ve crushed the champagne flute in my hand. The glass sliced through my skin. A thin line of red mars the austere color scheme of the event.

My sister appears with a white linen napkin. She swipes at my hand, her movements rough and uneven. “You need to relax,” London mutters, sounding shaky herself.

“We should go,” I whisper, trying and failing to keep my voice even.

“Go? We haven’t done what we came here to do.”

“We’re going to make an exchange of illegal goods at the most crowded place in the world? Why did we ever agree to this? This is a terrible idea.”

“Don’t go supersonic.”

“I’m not going supersonic.” Deep breath. “Okay. Okay. I’m serious though. What if they aren’t going to show up? Or what if this is a trap?”

“Set by who? The diamond police?”

A man appears at my side. The women here wear elaborate masks in every color and fabric that match their gowns. Mine is gold. London’s is silver. Meanwhile the men primarily wear black to match their tuxes. This is one of the rare exceptions. He wears one of those masks with long noses, the kind that remind me of the plague. Instead of being black and dreary, his is white and embroidered with gold thread. The joviality of the colors combined with the grimness of the shape sends a shiver down my spine.

“Hello to two beautiful ladies,” he says with a slight bow. “May I have this dance?”