The sticker in the front window boasted of a high-end security system, but the back door slid open soundlessly beneath his gloved hands. He smiled a bit ruefully at that as he stepped inside. The owners of the house (and all the nice things within) had left hours before for an evening on the town, leaving all in the charge of an elderly babysitter, now asleep on the couch in front of a muted TV.
The man in black shut the door and crept down a hall littered with hazards common to any household with children – stray Legos, baby toys that sang and shouted the alphabet when touched, and tiny trucks that might send one’s feet flying if trod on.
He eased most carefully past the doors to the children’s bedrooms. In his experience, kids were worse than cats and almost as bad as dogs for rousing a sleeping household to wrath against a would-be burglar.
The master bedroom awaited him. Empty, the bed anticipated its owners’ return, blankets turned down and silk sheets sprinkled with rose petals. On the bedside table rested a bottle of champagne in a bucket of mostly melted ice beside a pair of glass champagne flutes. The room thrummed with romantic potential needing release.
The man spared a glance for the lady’s vanity – decent jewelry out, nothing eye-popping – then stepped up to a dresser and opened the top drawer, shoved a hand inside and rummaged. There, nestled in underwear, he encountered a velvet box, which he extracted and pocketed. That was the prize he’d been after. Time to leave. He thought of his partner, watching the house from the driveway. Reconsidered.
He returned down the hall, chilly champagne in one hand, the stems of the two glasses crossed between gloved fingers in the other, trying to go as silently as he’d come. His foot felt something fuzzy compress beneath it, and though he jumped back, it was too late.
“Hee hee! Tickling is fun! Will you be my tickle pal?” demanded the bear at top volume, its black eyes gleaming malevolently at him from the floor.
He heard the babysitter’s muzzy voice, “What? Who’s up?” He did a quick jig-like step over the bear and slipped through the nearest door – an empty guest room – and shut it behind him. He froze against the door as the old lady plodded down the hall to investigate, which would surely wake the kids if the trumpeting toy hadn’t already. He suppressed a growl as he imagined his partner, waiting for him to emerge from what he’d assured her would be a quick, easy job.
No use trying the back door now. He eyed the window.
Moments later, a champagne bottle swaddled in pillowcases dropped into the front hedge. After a moment of graceless dangling one-handed from the windowsill, the man followed, glasses pressed gently against his chest. He retrieved the bottle, eyed the second story window with a wry grin, and trotted off through the yard back down the driveway.
Their “getaway car” was parked further down the driveway, mostly hidden from the house by a row of sapling fruit trees. His partner unlocked the door as he approached.
“It has been,” he panted, “quite a few years since I’ve practiced the art of self-defenestration.” He climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door fast against the intrusion of winter chill.
“You still have a knack for turning a simple job into an escapade,” she replied. Her eyes lit up. “Champagne?”
“The best for you, love.” He clicked the interior light on as she set to work on the bottle, popped, poured. They clinked glasses. “To another successful heist!” He drank deep, but she hesitated, ran a thoughtful finger along the rim.
“The kids didn’t wake up?” she asked.
“I had a dicey moment when I stepped on Chelsea’s bear, but no, they’re as peaceful as they ever are.”
Her forehead drew into a tense knot between her brows. “Maybe we should go ahead inside.”
“Hey, hey, I brought this out here so that we wouldn’t have to go in,” he chided, his smile and tone still charged with exhilaration. “Extend our evening out of earshot of the kids.” He pulled off his leather glove, clasped her hand, kissed it. “Leave behind ‘Daddy and Mommy’ for a bit, yeah?”
“Jack…” She set her champagne down in the cupholder and held his hand with both of hers, stroking it with her thumbs. “You slip back into it so easily. You’re still the same sexy scoundrel who stole the Pierrault sapphires for me, even if you’re just breaking into our own house for drinks.”
“We do need to start locking that back door.”
“But I’m just Mom, now. I don’t steal jewelry or corporate secrets anymore. I don’t even shoplift! I just wipe noses and butts, and make macaroni from a box, and…” She pressed his hand against her forehead, not looking at him. “I’m not the old Maggie, I’m this other person, and tonight just reminds me that… that you might still want that Maggie that you married.”
“Aw, love, here.” He pulled her as close to him as their seats would allow, pressed a kiss atop her head. “You are an excellent mother. A master butt-wiper and mistress of macaroni. But I married you because you are a valuable asset to my operations, and I am not a man to let such an asset go to waste.” He released her, and dug in his jacket. “Present for you, love.”
She took the box from him, opened it. “How lovely! Wait – that’s what the governor’s wife was wearing at the inauguration last week! Four carats at least. You’ve been busy.”
“It was a challenge,” he admitted. “But I missed something important in my haste.”
“There are matching earrings.”
Excitement lit up Maggie’s face like a firework blooming. She released his hands and put hers on the wheel again. “Jack, you know how I hate an unmatched set.”