The Grift of the Magi, Page 2Ally Carter
Gabrielle and Kat shared a smile. “We understand.”
“The Magi’s director is my oldest friend, you see,” Agent Bennett admitted, unashamed. “When Elizabeth called me, she wasn’t calling Interpol. She was calling her friend.”
Kat felt the pieces start to fall into place.
“You’re not here because the egg was stolen. You’re here because your friend needs someone to find the egg and resteal it before anyone finds out.”
Gabrielle smirked and crossed her long legs. “I see our reputation precedes us.”
But Agent Bennett was quick to shake her head. “This isn’t about my friend, girls. Or…it’s not just about her. It’s…”
This was hard for her, Kat could tell. So she and Gabrielle sat silently, waiting until Agent Bennett found the words.
“The Magi brought the gifts, you know. To the baby Jesus. They were the wise men and they brought the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh. They brought the gifts! This whole tradition started because of them, and now… Charities are only as solid as their reputations, and if this got out, well… The Magi Miracle Network has been distributing gifts to low-income families around Great Britain for decades. Ever since…ever since I was a little girl.”
And just like that, Kat knew exactly why Amelia Bennett had forced her way inside Uncle Eddie’s kitchen. She wasn’t looking for a Fabergé egg. She wasn’t hoping to help her friend. No. She was looking for a very specific kind of peace, and Kat knew better than anyone that, sometimes, it has to be stolen.
“Don’t worry, Agent Bennett. I think we understand.”
At Gabrielle’s words, Agent Bennett drew a deep breath and started to stand.
“Forgive me, girls, if I leave you with the dishes. I have a red-eye back to London and it’s not going to wait on me.”
She pushed her chair in, reached for her purse and took a slightly unsteady step toward the door.
“Agent Bennett?” Kat’s voice stopped her. “Thank you. For coming. For…trusting us.” Because trust, Kat knew, was one of the few things in life that could only be given.
“I do hope you’re right, girls.”
“Right about what?” Gabrielle asked just as Agent Bennett reached for the brownstone’s back door.
“You and I have been on the same side in the past,” the woman said with a smile. “I liked it. But if you are mistaken… If one of your people decided to break your uncle’s rules, then I’m afraid the next time you see me I’ll have my badge.”
“I understand,” Gabrielle said, almost laughing, the thought was so preposterous. “But you don’t have to worry. You yourself said it was an inside job.”
“That’s right.” Agent Bennett nodded. “Just my friend, some of the staff and the chairman of the board knew the egg’s location.”
“Yeah,” Gabrielle said. “So someone on the staff or the board got greedy. We’ll find him. Or her.”
“That’s the other reason I came to see you.” This time, she looked only at Kat. “The Magi Miracle Network was founded fifty years ago by a woman named Hazel Hale. I believe you know her grandson. He’s the new chairman of the board.”
Now Kat had a name for the dread that had been rising in her gut. It had a face. And that face was smiling its charming, devil-may-care smile. And things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got better.
“Don’t worry,” Gabrielle said. She didn’t even glance in Kat’s direction. “We’ll get to the bottom of it.”
“I’m sure you will. Thank you, girls.” Agent Bennett slipped into a heavy wool coat and wrapped a cashmere scarf around her neck. “I’ll give Nick your best.”
She was in the dark alley. She was walking away, when Kat finally found the words to ask, “Agent Bennett? Which one was it? Which egg?”
Agent Bennett looked up at the cold, dark sky, almost as if she could see snowflakes up there, waiting to fall. “Why, I believe it was Gold. Myrrh is owned by a private collector in Hungary. I’m not exactly sure who has Frankincense…”
Agent Bennett trailed off, then walked away.
She never heard Kat say, “I do.”
Eleven Days Before the Auction
Upstate New York
Kat was at home in the darkness. Her steps were soft and her eyes were sharp, and the feel of the tools in her hand was as natural as breathing.
She was also used to the sound of her cousin’s voice in her ear, saying, “This is crazy.”
“It is crazy,” Kat agreed. “But we can’t ring the bell. You know that. We’d never hear the end of it if we rang the bell.”
“I’m not talking about that,” Gabrielle said, and Kat could practically hear her roll her eyes. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“Do I?” Kat couldn’t help but ask.
“Yes. You do. Hale wouldn’t steal from Hazel’s charity. He adored her. He worshipped her. The only person in the world he likes half as much as he liked his dead grandmother is…”
“Me,” Kat said.
“So this is our first Christmas since he and I started…”
“Kissing?” Gabrielle filled in.
“Being more than friends,” Kat finished.
“What’s so funny?”
“Think what you will, Kitty Kat, but you and W. W. Hale the Fifth were never just friends.”
“That’s not true. We were…”
But it was a sentence Kat honestly didn’t know how to end. From the moment the heir to the Hale family empire caught her trying to steal his grandmother’s Monet, he was her shadow, her partner, her coconspirator. Her friend. But was Gabrielle right? Was he always more? Was this…whatever it was…there from the beginning, dormant and waiting to grow?
And did it really matter?
“Well, whatever,” Kat said, deciding quickly. “This is our first Christmas together, as you’ve repeatedly pointed out.”
“With love,” Gabrielle said. “I have repeatedly pointed it out with love.”
“And…” Kat went on, ignoring her. “A long time ago, I might have let it slip that what I really wanted for Christmas was to have the other two eggs. I might have told Hale that someday I wanted the set.”
To Kat’s knowledge, no one had owned all three Eggs of the Magi since the Romanovs. Collectors the world over probably shared that dream, but Kat was the only one who knew people who were willing and able to make it happen.
That realization was scarier than it should be. And Gabrielle knew it. “Oh.”
“Yeah. So…” Kat started just as the doorknob turned beneath her fingers and the heavy oak doors swung open into a foyer that was three stories tall. Years ago, she’d come here, searching for one of the more famous Monets.
Tonight she looked for something even more valuable.
And she found him, standing in the great hall, surrounded by towers and towers of presents. There was a huge tree, half-covered with ornaments. Piles of bows and greenery were strewn about by the fireplace. Kat had a moment of thinking that it looked like a Hallmark store had exploded, but perhaps the most surreal thing was the expression on Hale’s face as he watched them walk into the room.
“Someone’s up early,” Gabrielle said as the first streaks of sunshine streaked across the sky outside.
“Someone’s up late,” Hale told her. Then he turned his gaze to Kat. “Looks like someone also needs a better lock.”
“It took me ten minutes,” she admitted.
“I’ll be sure to pass that along to Silas. The home security division of Hale Enterprises is his new baby, you know?”
“I do know,” Kat said with a laugh. “And my father is blaming me for it. He says putting someone as smart as your head of R&D in charge of home security is bad for business. In any case, you need a better lock.”
“Or a less trouble-make-y girlfriend,” Gabrielle tried, but Hale just shook his head.
“No. Not that. Never that.”
/> Gabrielle kissed him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, Hale, darling.”
But it was like he didn’t see her. Hear her. He only had eyes for one girl and she was busy looking around the piles of boxes and rolls of wrapping paper.
“Are we interrupting something?” Kat asked.
On most guys, Hale’s smile would have looked sheepish. On him, it was so roguishly charming that Kat’s heart actually skipped a beat.
“I was trying to decide what to give you for Christmas.”
Slowly, Kat slipped closer. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. I was thinking a jet. That way you could stop borrowing mine.”
“Jets are nice,” Kat said. “I also like candy. And I need socks.”
“Okay.” Hale gave her The Smile again “Jets. Candy. Socks. I’ll make a note.”
Kat didn’t even realize how close she had gotten, like a boat adrift on the tide, a pin pulled by a magnet. Hale had his own draw—he always did. It was what made him an excellent inside man and a dangerous boyfriend. Kat Bishop was the kind of girl who’d lived her entire life trying to keep from being conned by her own heart.
And then, like magic, they were touching.
His hands were around her waist and her hands were in his hair and his lips were on hers, soft and gentle until they eased apart.
“Hi!” Gabrielle blurted, pulling them both back to the moment and the task at hand.
“Hello, Gabrielle,” Hale said. “You’re looking well, but I’m sure you already knew that.”
“Thanks,” Gabrielle said. “But I’d look better if you did give Kat a jet, you know. That would really be a gift for all of us.”
“I don’t need a jet,” Kat said.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Yes, you do.”
“What I need is…” She couldn’t stop herself from looking at Hale, from remembering. “I need to talk to you.”
“Is Marcus here?” Gabrielle asked. “I’m starving, and I’m feeling omelet-y. Anyone else want an omelet?” she asked her cousin. Then Gabrielle turned and walked away, leaving Kat and Hale standing in the light of the fire and the rising sun, surrounded by dozens of gifts, none of which looked like an Egg of the Magi.
Hale pulled her into his arms again and kissed her forehead, hugged her too hard, and Kat couldn’t help herself. She laughed. Sometimes she couldn’t believe that any aspect of her life—especially the boy—was real.
“So what’s up?” Hale asked. “Is it your dad? Has he decided to kill me? I live in fear he’s going to wake up one day and realize I don’t deserve you.”
“He won’t kill you,” Kat said.
“You’re right. He’ll just…steal me and stash me someplace until you’re thirty.”
“That’s okay,” Kat said, and Hale pulled back, chagrined.
“It is?” he said with mock indignation.
So Kat stood on her tiptoes and kissed him quick and hard. “Yeah. I’d just steal you back.”
The next kiss was longer, softer. Sweeter. And Kat didn’t want it to end, but that wasn’t what had brought her to the Hale country house in the middle of winter.
“So what do you want for Christmas?” he asked at last, and Kat experienced a new flood of worry.
“You didn’t get me something already, did you?”
Hale took her by the shoulders and turned her around the room. “I got you a lot of somethings.”
But Kat managed to pull away and look at him anew. “I mean…you didn’t get me something. Please, Hale, tell me you didn’t…”
Hale pulled away, held her at arms’ length. “Do you need to see the receipts? Because I have the receipts.”
“Hale…” Kat started. It was harder than she’d feared to find the words. “Nick’s mom came to see me.”
It was like watching a light go out, a cloud pass across the sun. Instantly, Hale changed.
“Now, let’s be specific. Did our old friend Nick’s mom come to see you, or did Interpol Agent Amelia Bennett come to see you?”
For a moment, Kat had to consider the answer. “Both. I think. A friend of hers runs a charity in London. The Magi Miracle Network?”
Hale must have heard the question in her voice because he cocked his head.
“Do you know it?” Kat asked, almost hopefully, but hopeful for what she wasn’t sure.
“No,” he said. “Why?”
“Hazel founded it,” she told him.
Hale pulled away, suddenly skeptical. “Hazel founded a lot of charities.”
“You’re on the board.”
“The head of Hale Industries is probably on the board, and these days Miriam is doing most of the heavy lifting. Marcus is her brother and she doesn’t even have time to see him most days.”
“So you aren’t familiar with the Magi Miracle Network?” Kat asked, sounding hopeful.
“No, Kat. I don’t know it.” For the first time in a long time, Hale sounded angry. At her. “Now are you doing to tell me what’s going on?”
Kat took a deep breath. Like diving into a cold pool, it was best to do it in one quick plunge.
“Some English earl gave the charity a Fabergé egg, and they were going to auction it off right before Christmas.”
“And someone stole it?” Hale filled in. He studied her, reading her silence. Kat saw the moment when he guessed the rest. “Wait. You think I stole it? From Hazel’s charity?”
“It wasn’t a regular egg,” Kat said, stopping him before he could get too angry.
“Oh, I didn’t realize there were regular Fabergé eggs!”
Kat looked at him. “It was one of the three Eggs of the Magi.”
For a moment, Hale simply looked at her, anger pulsing, but then recognition began to dawn, much like the light that was starting to stream into the room.
“Like your mom’s egg,” he said, and Kat nodded.
Things were surprisingly unimportant to thieves. It was a strange-but-true fact of their world. After all, things could be stolen or broken, lost or replaced. Things were simply commodities. Jobs. But Kat’s egg hadn’t been stolen—at least by her. And that made all the difference.
Hale knew what that egg meant to her—how much she cherished it. “You think I stole an Egg of the Magi for you,” he said as if the world suddenly made sense again.
“Did you?” Kat had to ask.
“No,” Hale said, and, instantly, Kat believed him.
“Good,” she said, exhaling a breath and leaning closer. But Hale was still holding himself apart, growing cold for a whole new reason.
“Someone stole from one of Hazel’s charities?”
Some people, the madder they get the louder they get, but Hale was the opposite. He just stopped smiling, stopped teasing, and the charisma that radiated from him turned into an energy of a totally different kind.
“Hale—” Kat began, but he wasn’t in the mood to hear her warnings.
“Is Interpol on it?” he asked, and Kat had to think about the answer.
“Are they?” he asked.
“Yes. No. Kind of,” Kat blurted. “Amelia is the Deputy Director of UK Operations now, but her friend is worried about what might happen to the charity’s reputation if the news gets out.”
Hale nodded. “And news always gets out.”
“Yeah,” Kat said. “So Agent Bennett came to me.”
“And your first thought was me?” he snapped. “You thought I did it.”
“No! Hale, I didn’t…I didn’t know. I just thought you might know something. And I thought you’d want in.”
Hale eyed her. “In on what?”
Kat couldn’t help but smile. “Tracking down whoever stole the egg and stealing it back.”
Ten Days Before the Auction
The office of the Magi Miracle Network was not particularly impressive. Located near the Thames, the big office building was nondescript.
The suite of rooms on the twelfth floor had a view of the back of the building behind it. The small room in which Kat and Hale had been asked to wait had two chairs that were too hard, a long sofa that was too soft, and a collection of magazines six months out of date. Whatever money the charity had did not go toward overhead, Kat could tell. There was a Christmas tree in the corner, and stockings lined one wall, but they didn’t feel seasonal. No, Kat got the sense that, in here, it was always Christmas.
Black and white photos filled the room. Smiling faces and laughing children, presents of every shape and size. Some were new, but as Kat walked along the perimeter of the room it was like she was walking back in time as fashions changed and hairstyles morphed, but Christmas was always Christmas, no matter the decade.
The children never seemed to change, but the woman in the photos got younger and younger with every step that Kat took.
When Kat felt a presence at her back, she wasn’t surprised to hear Hale say, “Hazel.”
Kat had never known either of her grandmothers, and her own mother had passed away far too soon. So Kat knew well the ache that comes from knowing you’ll never be “mothered,” ever again. She recognized it as soon as she turned and looked up into Hale’s eyes.
“I cannot wait to catch this guy,” Hale said, and there was something in his tone that made Kat weary.
“You want to catch him so we can turn him over to Agent Bennett, right?”
Hale pulled away.
“Something like that.”
“Hale you can’t—”
At the sound of the voice, they turned. Kat was glad of it. It was neither the time nor the place to fight. She knew how she would feel if she were in Hale’s shoes, but she also knew the smart thing to do, and that was to feel nothing.
“Thank you for coming.”
The woman was tall with long red hair and big brown eyes. But she was dressed all in black and her eyes looked like she had been crying. For a moment, Kat actually wondered if she had just come from a funeral, but then she realized that the Magi Miracle Network was simply mourning what might have been. It was a feeling Kat knew well.