Home > The Defender (Aces Book 5)(2)

The Defender (Aces Book 5)(2)
Author: Cristin Harber

“Good guess,” a man said.

Her heart jumped. She tripped and stumbled. James grabbed her waist and dragged her back. A dull light flicked on, and the door behind them closed. A man with a gun sat on a metal stool. Tarps covered the room.

“James,” she whispered, and clung to his hand.

“Do you know what happened to Robin Hood?” The man stood up and pointed the gun. “I’ve heard it doesn’t end well.”



Ten Years Ago

Stockholm, Sweden


Robin Hood flicked the Zippo lighter, and the flame jumped at her command. Its soft orange glow was the calm before the storm—and it made her think about the phrase that dominated so much of her life.

Were pseudonyms only applicable to writers? She wasn’t sure. Robin Hood wasn’t an alias nor a stage name, but when she stepped into this role, it was who she was. A loner working in the shadows, retaking what power and money had stolen and returning ill-gotten gains to their rightful owners.

No matter what she called herself, now wasn’t the time for philosophical questions. She brought the flame to the rag and extinguished the heavy metal lighter. Its metallic clap was as distinctive as the way a burgeoning flame consumed distressed fabric. She pampered and fanned fractals of glowing embers as the bite of December’s sleet-peppered wind spackled the Volvo.

Delicate smoke tendrils curled inside the car. The smoldering bits spread in the same timely manner as her earlier blaze. Fire was an interesting tool, and it was simply beautiful. Flames danced as they destroyed, and on a day like today, that seemed exceptionally spot-on.

She checked her timing and found herself on schedule. Robin Hood tucked the burning fabric into the tinder nest of dryer lint and dead grass that sat in the passenger seat. The kindling caught. Once she was certain it would burn, she checked the Volvo’s mirrors and drove into the melee of bad weather and evening rush hour traffic.

Smoke filled the Volvo. She lifted her neck scarf and covered her nose and mouth. Traffic inched forward. Burning plastic overwhelmed the air. Sweat tickled her cheeks, her neck. Blistering and melting, the fire outgrew its nest.

Just as with her first fire less than a half hour ago, and right on time, the heat and smoke became too much. She couldn’t breathe, and parked in the middle of the road, throwing herself from the car.

The whipping, icy rain and wind soothed like a balm. The evening traffic demanded her Volvo continue moving. She gasped for fresh air. Horns honked, but after a minute, the angry honks would transition to the silence of drivers placing emergency calls to fire and rescue.

She ran toward the shoulder and driving lanes, dropping tacks in her wake. Mass tire blowouts were the least Robin-Hood-esque part of her plan, but all would even out in the end.

Traffic snarled behind her. Cars tried to move around the Volvo, eliciting new rounds of honks. She would be halfway down the block before they intensified and announced a fleet of flat tires further entangling the traffic knot. The turnabout that served Östermalm’s shopping district would grind to a halt, with two car fires and too many flat tires to blame.

Sleet bit her cheeks and washed the crime clean as she ran to a nondescript, waterproofed shopping bag that awaited her near a trashcan. Only seconds passed as she stripped her long trench coat and scarf, disposing of the layer of smoke-stained clothes, and donned the fresh, dry jacket and hat. The smoke scent would stay with her. No matter—any visible clues were gone. With that, she hurried down the boulevard as stores gave way to hotels and high-end apartments.

The weight of small hand tools pulled at her outermost jacket pockets. She slid her hands inside the dry warmth and wrapped her fingers around the electronic key programmer and the wire cutters. The balance of luxury residential buildings and commercial stores continued to skew in favor of the former. She crossed the street and sighted her target: the most opulent enclave of apartment buildings in Östermalm.

A brutal burst of wind chapped her cheeks. Pricks of ice caught on her eyelashes. Her steadfast calm remained changeless. The weather battled for her attention, but she waited for the right moment.

It came seconds later. A harried man rushed toward the building’s main doors, head tucked and electronic key fob extended in his hand. She pressed her programming key and held the button as one might program their garage door opener. The technology allowed her to leap over the encrypted networks and protective layers, snagging the code as easily as if she had swiped a toy from a toddler.

The man entered the building, and she gave him ample time to shake off the cold and scurry away before she glided to the front doors like a cat on the prowl. Smooth and sangfroid, she swiped her electronic key and strutted into a lobby that could have doubled as an entryway to Sweden’s most famous museums. Less than a minute later, she’d overridden a state-of-the-art security system and accessed the penthouse apartment.

White walls reached for the stars. Breathtaking picture windows turned the poor weather into works of art. She checked her watch, walking toward the window with the best view of the surrounding neighborhood. Red taillights outlined the streets and traffic circle. Her first car fire still burned, though it had passed its theatrical zenith. The second fire wouldn’t peak for several minutes.

As she had planned, emergency services struggled against the flow of traffic. Police had arrived. Several more, plus the fire trucks, remained stuck outside of the traffic circle. No one could get in or out.

Exactly what she wanted. She turned and eyed the expansive penthouse. Very Scandinavian in its design, yet the space didn’t feel as though it fit the spirit of the Swedes. This country was too green, too kind, too good of a place for the inhabitants of this home. A sense of aristocratic ritz resonated in the air, sweating from the expansive white walls whose mere existence served only to highlight the priceless works of art that hung as though they belonged there.

With the wire cutters in hand, she no longer cared about the alarms she might trigger. She clipped the Monet and Rembrandt free as easily as if their impenetrable shackles were brittle fingernails. In the bedroom, she inspected the bookshelf and removed a leather-bound manuscript that had been missing from the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford for a century. Carefully, she secured each piece in a transport satchel and walked out of the penthouse as if she owned the place. Once in the building lobby, she snagged an abandoned wet umbrella left to dry and walked into the rain.

She didn’t have far to go. The stroll to the nearby canal was quite nice, and once there, she stepped onto the waiting boat and left Östermalm behind.





Present Day

West of Boise National Park

Idaho, United States


Stuart “Spiker” Reed deserved a hearty slap on the back. There was nothing that he couldn't get into and out of; likewise, there was nothing he couldn't fly or drive. The putt putt putt of the prop plane fell into the rhythm of freedom.

His partner, Vanka Davies, made a big show of fastening her harness. “Any time now.”

“Take it easy, princess. We’re good to go.” He ignored the bumps and divots in the short, makeshift runway, and as though it were his personal plane, the Cessna lifted at his command. “GTG,” he whooped. “That’s how it's done.”

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Million Kisses in Your Lifetime
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Den of Vipers
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)
» The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #
» Sweet Temptation
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Wreck & Ruin
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Twisted Hate (Twisted #3)
» The Play (Briar U Book 3)