The Thief’s Gambit

Thief's Gambit
Part of the Edge of Oblivion series:

A thief working for a local mob boss gambles everything...all for the chance to love his boss’s daughter.

Timothy Sands is an experienced thief with an old gambling debt. Working for the local mob brings him face to face with a supernatural threat unlike anything he's ever experienced. It’ll take all of his skills to complete his assignment and keep his loved ones safe. But his greatest danger will be meeting the mob boss's daughter.

Letizia Prosdocimi is the only daughter of an influential crime boss. Her life forever changes when her father acquires a long-lost family heirloom. Not all is well since sinister events surround the amulet and her family. After being saved by the mysterious thief, she finds herself falling for him, but those who get too close to her usually wind up dead.

A shadowy entity threatens to tear apart everything Letizia and Timothy hold dear by feeding on the living and turning allies against them. Who can they trust? Only by working together will they have a chance to beat the odds…and let their love grow.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

Timothy

Vibrations on the nightstand shattered the last few moments of my sleep. The dark night peered from the curtains. I cursed under my breath. There was little point in fighting to reunite with sleep’s warm embrace. London didn’t sleep, and neither did those who required my services.

I picked up my mobile phone and cleared my throat before answering, despite the fact it would do little to hide my grogginess from the caller. An unknown number popped up on the screen, but only a handful of people would ring me at this ungodly hour. A grimace spread across my lips as I answered the call.

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“Good evening, Timothy. We have another assignment for you, one that requires your immediate attention. If you take this, we might be willing to overlook your lack of payment last week.” The man’s dry, lackluster voice had a crisp accent. He’d never given me his name, never shared many details about my assignments either. He merely brought them to my attention and made sure I paid my debt.

Hallmarks of the city’s darker elements were all too obvious, but what could I do? I owed the local mob boss more than I cared to admit. My old gambling habit had my back pressed tight against the wall, and I still paid for my wild and reckless youth.

“I’ll do it,” I replied, and the unnamed man on the other end of the line hung up.

Now I’d log into various websites and search for public postings in the adult and other less savory sections. Missed connections were very popular with my clients, but risky assignments were something my clientele didn’t want to be associated with. Probably had something to do with recent notices about various three-letter agencies cracking down on this type of communication, driving everyone back to using older, tried and true methods.

I grabbed a cup of coffee before firing up my laptop. When the computer finished loading, I opened the browser and set off to find details on my newest job. It didn’t take long to locate the assignment.

An old lady wanted the company of a young man who had previously helped her in a museum. Apparently, she had been quite taken by the gentleman’s knowledge of the exhibit, especially the old Italian necklace that had been on display.

I chuckled to myself, still shaking the last vestiges of sleep from my mind. So, this ‘old lady’ wanted ‘help’ with the necklace, huh? Not very subtle, but if it made my clients feel more at ease that I’d understand the job… However, I hoped the person who created the listing would be less cheesy next time.

I flagged the posting as fraud and logged out.

My client would get an email notice about being flagged, the sign I had taken the job. No one would be the wiser. No face-to-face meetings to discuss things beforehand, strict anonymity, and, most importantly, full deniability.

A generalized search on the museums in the area revealed only one matching entry based on the item’s description, the Royal Museum of Art. Good. At least there would be no confusion about what the client wanted. Nothing frustrated me more than stealing the wrong item. A mistake I tried my hardest not to make ever again.

On second thought, I rang my brother Sam. It nearly went to voicemail when he answered with his typical gruff tone. “What is it?”

A slight sting of jealousy tightened my chest. He’d been up enjoying his Saturday night, but I no longer had that luxury.

“Hey, Sam. I just wanted to let you know I got another job. My client wants an Italian artifact appraised as soon as possible. Seems he can’t wait until tomorrow. It looks like I won’t be making it to breakfast. Can I catch up with you another time?” I hoped he’d buy into my bullshit about the job. He respected what he thought I did. If he only knew…

Missing our weekly get-together bothered me. Our time to catch up on one another’s lives had stuck when I’d moved out on my own.

“Seriously, mate? You’re always hunting for one piece of art or another. Some things are better left buried.” He sighed in my ear. “But you’ve got a job to do. Just be careful. That major explosion wasn’t long ago, and I’m afraid for our country. The MI6 agent still hasn’t been found. He’s most likely dead, or maybe terrorists abducted him. If it can happen to someone like that…” Sam cleared his throat. “Anyway, you can pick up the check next week.” His dry humor almost managed to hide his disappointment, but I knew him too well.

“Fair, I’ll pay for breakfast next time.” I ran a hand through my sleep-tousled hair. “Don’t worry about me. I might not be MI6, but I know how to take care of myself.” My skills had kept me alive while dealing with the mob, but my brother didn’t need to know that. “As for my job, I’ll slow down when I can. I promise.”

“Right. Text me if things change.” He let out a loud yawn.

Unfortunately, I doubted they would. “Get some sleep.” I ended the call and set my mobile on the desk.

Sam didn’t know about my nightly excursions. The less he knew about the darker side of our world, the better. Our parents had died when we were young. Night terrors and mental issues plagued Sam ever since. If he knew I was working on the other side of the law, he’d lose it.

The explosion that took place a few weeks ago returned to my mind.

While driving home after lunch, a building ahead of us had exploded into flames. I barely had a chance to slam on the brakes. Debris plastered the windshield, putting several cracks in it. Sam went white with shock, shaking uncontrollably and refusing to speak with anyone for the rest of the day. It had broken me to see him like that.

I couldn’t let him suffer again, but if I didn’t do my job, the mob might come after him. They knew he was my one weakness. I shelved the uncomfortable thoughts and packed a few supplies into my backpack.

My old, reliable Toyota sputtered as the engine came to life. Most of my neighbors were used to my odd hours, so this departure would be ignored as another student partying late into the night. Sometimes I was glad to live near a university.

The motorway was empty at this time of night, but a dense fog rolling through the area forced me to slow down. An annoyance maybe, but I embraced its presence. It reminded me just how much we didn’t see of the real world.

I pulled into an unlit corner of the museum’s parking lot. The street lamps did nothing to penetrate the fog, which would help me make a clean escape. The museum grounds had a few exhibits tied to the Italian Renaissance, including a collection of marble statues. They were obviously replicas, but their finely sculpted silhouettes managed to portray an air of authenticity.

Stalking through the mists was invigorating, and I relished the moment. The fog would help conceal my shape from any cameras and guards on the property, but it was better to be safe. I slid into my gear and donned a gray and white leather mask. It was old school, but at least I didn’t need to worry about it falling off if I had to sprint through the trees to my car.

Sweeping trails of light shone across the yard from me. Instead of illuminating anything, the cone of light likely made it impossible for the guards to see anything in the fog.

Typical. Guess that’s why I’m the thief.

Along the side of the building, I located a set of utility boxes high on the wall. They might have been difficult to reach without a ladder, and impossible for an ordinary thief to exploit. That was why my employers enjoyed my services. I was far from common.

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The Assassin’s Mark

Book Cover: The Assassin's Mark
Part of the Edge of Oblivion series:

An assassin becomes a protector as he enters a magical world…all for the woman of his dreams.

Brigit Ó Ruaidh is the sole heir to the Kingdom of Freehaven. While journeying to visit a lord, she learns her royal parents have been murdered...and she’s next. With assassins after her, she tries to prevent her kingdom from falling into anarchy. As she sets her eyes on the throne, her world gets turned upside down when she’s rescued by a dangerous man.

Edward Emerson is an assassin. His job is to kill those who bring death and suffering to his world. When he finds himself in another world protecting a princess he’s seen in his dreams, he vows to move heaven and earth to keep her safe. In return, he hopes to find his way back home.

Another claimant to the throne blocks their way, and he will risk everything to make his mark on Freehaven and carve out power of his own. If Brigit and Edward don’t work together, they won’t live long enough to see her reclaim her destiny...or for their love to blossom.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Brigit

A gentle fog rolled over the lands making the afternoon sun’s glow slightly hazy. The light played off the towering mountains with its jagged white peaks dominating the truly majestic scenery. Despite the warmth radiating from my surroundings, I still couldn’t relax. Something had been bothering me for the past few hours, but my guards and my maid seemed at ease. If I said anything, they might report to my parents that I was trying to shirk my diplomatic duties again. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I kept my mouth shut.

The wind carried the unmistakable scent of the region’s revitalized forest. It did little to soothe my nerves now. The small group of royal bodyguards mingled around me as we let the horses rest. They’d brought us far into the countryside, and I refused to make the precious animals suffer because a lord was impatiently waiting for his princess to arrive.

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Lord Flemming was my cousin thrice removed. Father had convinced me to visit him since Lord Flemming was the only noble with strong fortifications on this side of the vast Alean Swamp in the Kingdom of Freehaven. The swamp had been a massive river once. Now it stood as a testament for the wrath and arrogance of past rulers before my ancestors claimed the land as their own.

History wasn’t my strongest subject, but my mind kept returning to those dark ages. Tales of mad kings and queens that bathed in the blood of their servants had been a curiosity of mine growing up. The Alean Swamp was the only thing that remained from those days. It was a natural habitat and protected by the king. Criminals and outcasts called it their home, but many didn’t last more than a few years in there.

My guards broke out into laughter, and I glanced in their direction, trying to catch what was so funny. Truthfully, I didn’t care. I just wanted this trip to be over with so I could return to my parents and enjoy the remaining time I had with them. They were grooming me to find a husband of my own, but I wasn’t ready for that next step in my life. They had been patient, but I wanted something like they had. Something true and passionate. How could I get that from an arranged marriage?

My stomach clenched, and a wave of nausea rose up within me. Could that be the true reason why I was visiting my cousin? Had they decided who I would spend the rest of my life with without telling me first? Would I be the last to know?

Tabitha hurried to my side, always eager to help. “Are you okay, Your Highness?”

I nodded, placing my hands over my abdomen as the sickening sensations continued. The last thing I wanted was attention on me. “Please, you don’t have to be that formal out here.” It didn’t matter what I said. She always erred on the side of formality. “I’m fine.”

She opened her mouth to say more, but I drew my eyebrows together and scowled at her.

“How much longer, Sir Alan?” I asked the stocky knight and my former teacher who had become my right-hand man during my journey across Freehaven.

Sir Alan normally donned heavy plate armor and wielded a mighty broadsword, but he wore chain mail and carried a short sword now. He looked so different and out of his element, but he projected a strength that would make any bandit think twice before attacking us. “The horses will be rested in half an hour, Your Highness.” He bowed his head to me. “The soft land here isn’t kind to the horses. We can’t push them nearly as hard as when we are on solid ground,” he said, his baritone voice carrying easily in the fresh air.

“I understand. Thank you.” I walked away from the group with my maid trailing after me. I was tired of being looked after like some precious jewel. At home, I enjoyed my suite of rooms and spent much time reading and learning about my people. When the day finally came for me to take over, I wanted to be the leader this kingdom needed.

In the distance, the Alean Swamp stretched out before us. It had an air of darkness and mystery. The commoners told of witches who had abandoned their ways and preyed on the villages at the swamp’s edge. Even my royal bodyguards seemed more on edge and stuck closer to the horses whenever we took breaks. The landscape made this journey quite slow.

My advisors had recommended taking the popular route across the mainland bridges, but that would have taken weeks. The constant buzz of mosquitoes was an annoyance, but it was better than dealing with the pomp and socializing I’d have to do on the normal road. I’d insisted on the less traveled shortcut that would take a mere seven days. None of the group had been pleased with my decision. Sir Alan’s face had gone bright red, and I’d thought he might pass out for a moment. He did his best to talk me out of my decision, but I remained steadfast. If I needed to visit my cousin, we would take as little time as possible doing it.

Still, I wasn’t stupid. I knew the quiet route guaranteed anonymity, but it brought its own share of danger. However, I wanted to be myself and not just Freehaven’s princess. The outdoors gave me a glimpse of freedom, and like the fresh breeze, it was utterly welcome. I didn’t even mind that I had to wear a heavy cloak to mask my identity and “ensure my safety.” How crazy was that?

No one had threatened the nobility for decades. The general mood of the middle and lower classes was contented. Outside of our realm, we had no political opponents that I was aware of. All of our neighbors had a long-lasting peace with us. The only thing this cloak protected me from was the barrage of insects. Not that I minded. I swatted one away as it buzzed near my ear.

The distant sound of beating hoofs drew my attention toward the direction we’d come. Tabitha gingerly led me back to the bodyguards who were staring at the now visible newcomer. The man and his horse both bore the royal colors. My knees shook, and I held on tighter to Tabitha than normal.

“Looks like a messenger from the royal court, Your Highness.” Sir Alan’s voice sounded grim even to my own ears. “Perhaps there’s news from home.”

I didn’t trust myself to speak. I could only nod. The knot in my stomach balled up that much tighter, and I focused on breathing in the crisp, fresh air. My parents rarely sent word to me while I was traveling. The few times they had, there had been problems. If they were doing so now, it couldn’t be good. Why had I let them talk me into traveling again?

“Don’t look so concerned, princess. I’m sure all is well.” Sir Alan strode away from the rest of us toward the incoming horseman. Before he could make it far, the messenger cried out in a loud voice, “They’re dead. The king and queen are dead.”

The words punched me in the gut, and my legs gave out. Before I knew what was happening, the ground hurtled toward me, but Tabitha’s firm grip lessened the impact.

When my vision cleared, I blinked my eyes open to see Tabitha and Sir Alan hovering over me. “Wh-what happened? Why am I on the ground?”

Tears trailed down Tabitha’s face, and I swore I saw moisture in Sir Alan’s eyes. Dread washed over me. It was true then. I hadn’t imagined the messenger’s news. His voice still rang out in my ears, and I pushed into a sitting position to see him talking with the knights near the horses.

“Maybe you should rest for a moment, Your Highness.” Sir Alan exchanged a glance with Tabitha who was trying to keep me on the ground. “You just received terrible news. Your blessed parents…” Tabitha leaned her head forward and brushed the tears from her cheeks.

“What happened to them? Sir Alan? You have to let me know.”

He frowned at me, keeping his gaze averted. “As Tabitha mentioned, there’s news of your parents. They…” He paused for a moment and let out a breath. “They’ve been murdered. Goddess rest their souls.”

At his words, I ceased my struggling to climb to my feet. It didn’t feel worth it anymore. Nothing did. Numbness settled into my chest, and I turned my gaze skyward. How could the goddess betray us like this? My parents were devout and loyal followers, always mindful to follow her ways and provide a good example to the kingdom. If they were murdered…what good was it to try to appease her if bad things happened regardless of my parents’ fair actions?

“Y-your Highness?” Tabitha placed a tentative hand on my arm and shook me a little as if I’d fallen asleep. No, I was very much aware of what had been said.

“Leave me for a moment.” If I was going to deal with people, I needed to collect myself. If I’d learned anything, it was to always show strength as a royal leader. People looked for signs of weakness. “Once I’m ready, we will set off for my cousin’s stronghold at once.”

Tabitha opened her mouth as if to question my order, but she quickly stood and walked a few paces away.

Sir Alan, on the other hand, leveled a stare at me as he rose to his feet. “Stay strong, princess. Your kingdom relies on you now. We will find out who killed them, but you must remember that sometimes life takes us in unexpected directions.” He shook his head. “Perhaps this is yours. It’s up to you to decide what you to do with it.”

I clenched my hands into fists at my sides beneath the heavy cloak. “Perhaps.”

“I’ll ready the horses then. We can’t push them too heavily, but they’ll have to bear it for now.” He started to turn away, then glanced back at me. “You’re already making wise decisions. It’s better that we ride for your cousin than returning home until we’ve assessed the situation. Your cousin has enough troops and a sturdy castle more than capable of protecting you.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I don’t plan on staying with Lord Flemming for long. I will return home to reap vengeance on the person or persons responsible for the deaths of Freehaven’s king and queen.” Since it didn’t seem like I’d be getting the moment to myself, I pushed to my feet. He’d viewed my plans of seeing my cousin as more strategically than I had meant them to be. My desires had been the comfort of court and the information found within. Regardless, we were sitting ducks here, ripe for killing. My knees still shook, but I pushed my shoulders back and lifted my chin trying to think of how my mother would’ve acted in this situation.

Sir Alan merely bowed his head before turning away and returning to the group of knights and our horses. The other guards were staring in my direction as they spoke in low voices. That made it all even worse. They were either trying to protect my feelings or talk about me without me hearing their words. Regardless, I didn’t care what they thought now.

I’d have enough of people talking about me in front of my face when I reached my cousin. I faced away from the group as if looking out over the majestic mountains and merely focused on breathing until Sir Alan called out to the group about our imminent departure. The only thing I could do was carry on as my parents had taught me. They had ruled the land long before I was born. With their training, I knew what to do. Now I just needed to act.

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Reviews:Madhatt on Amazon wrote:

If this is any indication of what the Skeleton Key collection has to offer, I feel a new addiction coming. I have been a fan of Sarah Makela for some time and this certainly did not disappoint.

Pam Louis on Amazon wrote:

WOW this was an awesome read! I loved the mystery and adventure in this story with great characters. So much fun to read.