The Bounty (Fox and O'Hare #7) by Janet Evanovich



CHAPTER ONE


“The target is approaching the Vatican.”

It was something Agent Kate O’Hare never thought she’d hear, at least not outside a movie theater.

As she stared at the video monitor, Nick Fox leaned down next to her, so close she could feel his breath on her neck. Cologne, hair product, pheromones. Whatever the combination, it tried to have its usual effect on her, but she kept her focus.

“Do you really think this guy is as good as I am?” Nick asked.

“Maybe better,” Kate said. “You’re the one who got caught.”

Nick laughed that off. Even if he was “retired” from the business, he was still loving every minute of this trip to Italy, especially this chance to watch a master thief at work. He had once been a world-class thief himself, and had barely avoided a lifetime stay in the federal ADX Supermax prison. He bartered for his freedom by agreeing to help the FBI run semilegal cons and takedowns on the worst-of-the-worst, technically out-of-reach criminals. Kate tracked him for years and finally brought him down, only to be told by the deputy director himself that her next assignment was to be Nick’s full-time handler, minder, wrangler, manager, babysitter, whatever you wanted to call it. Nick didn’t go to prison in leg irons. He accepted the full-time shadow employment offer from the United States Department of Justice.

Nick was six feet tall, with soft brown hair, intelligent brown eyes, and a boyish grin that brought out the laugh lines around his eyes. He had the agile body of a tennis pro, lean and firm. He was smart, sexy, and playful, and if Nick had once been a world-class thief, he was still and always would be a galaxy-class kisser. From the beginning, it was all Kate could do to keep a professional distance. It was a goal she had thrown out the window on more than one occasion, and even now she wasn’t sure what to call their official “status.” In Facebook terms, it would have to be “It’s complicated.”

Tonight, Kate was six thousand miles from her Los Angeles cubicle, officially on loan to Interpol. She was part of a small international task force assisting the Vatican Gendarmerie’s Gruppo Intervento Rapido, the Rapid Intervention Group, who were acting on dark web intel that the museum complex was being targeted for a nighttime break-in. Her job was to provide Nick Fox’s expertise to the RIG, and make sure he acted like an angel. As exciting as that assignment might sound, she actually felt more like the trainer who brings the gorilla onto the movie set for the big action scene. No one even notices the trainer until the gorilla starts tearing everything up and stealing all of the food from the catering table.

Nick had been on his best behavior so far. He generously led the team through every phase of a high-level professional infiltration, taking them step by step through everything he would do if he were in the mood to break into the Vatican City Museum and steal something incredibly rare and incredibly valuable. The inspector general of the Vatican Gendarmerie was a serious, no-nonsense man named Lorenzo Vitali, a former commander from the Italian Carabinieri. He was essentially half policeman and half soldier, who had answered a higher calling to take over security at the Vatican. He’d been skeptical of everything Nick Fox said, until Nick walked him around the city’s perimeter, pointing out every possible point of “surreptitious entry.”

“You have just over six hundred full-time residents living in this city,” Nick had said. “Yet every day, you open the gates and admit how many people?”

“On a busy day,” Vitali had said, “over twenty thousand.”

“Signore Inspector, you are tempting me back into a life of sin.”

“We have one of the most advanced security systems in the world, Mr. Fox.”

Nick had smiled. “That’s an interesting first response, Signore Inspector. You didn’t say you have a hundred highly trained and heavily armed guards. You didn’t say you have a sniper positioned on every roof. You said you have a system.” Nick leaned in closer to the inspector and said, “I spent my entire professional career absolutely in love with systems.”

Nick and Kate were now stationed in a small room on the third floor of the museum complex, in front of a large bank of video surveillance screens. As a precaution, Pope Francis had been taken by helicopter to the summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, twenty miles away. Forty-two members of the combined Gendarmerie/Interpol force were closely watching every inch of the museum. Kate was the only woman on the team, and if she felt at all uncomfortable working in a city where women were required to cover their arms and knees, at least she was wearing her favorite outfit, a blue windbreaker with the letters “FBI” written across the back, with a black T-shirt under a black Kevlar vest. Her chestnut-brown hair was tied up in her usual all-business ponytail. She had her Glock 9mm handgun tucked into her belt, and her Ontario MK 3 Navy SEAL knife strapped to her leg. Both were technically forbidden here, but Inspector Vitali, who tonight was personally commanding the Rapid Intervention Group, had seen Kate sliding her Glock under her windbreaker. If he was going to object, that would have been the time, but he had done nothing other than raise one eyebrow in appreciation.