Authors: Tara Crescent
A Thief in Venice (A BDSM Romance Novel)
By Tara Crescent
Text copyright © 2014 Tara Crescent
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
My eternal gratitude to Jim, who pre-read and edited this novel.
Cover Design by James, GoOnWrite.com.
My lips narrowed with annoyance as I listened to the report Giovanni was making.
“It took us how long to discover this?” There was a bite to my tone, a bite that made Giovanni take a nervous half-step back.
“Apologies, Antonio,” Giovanni rumbled. “The first few years, she took nothing of great value. It was only this time that the theft was brought to our attention.”
I studied the pieces of paper in front of me with a frown. This art thief was some kind of modern-day Robin Hood. She targeted paintings that had almost certainly been stolen, and then she returned the pieces to the Doge’s Palace.
“All the robberies are on the same day each year,” Giovanni pointed out. “No other robberies. Just the one robbery a year, every July 29.”
“You said she.” My voice was crisp. “How do you know it’s a woman?”
Giovanni pushed forward a grainy photo. “One of the cameras inside the palazzo took this image before it shorted out.”
I surveyed the picture. It showed an outline of a slim body with lush breasts. Definitely a woman.
“Any other leads?” Giovanni would not appear before me without more. My second-in-command was competent and ruthless, and non-guild thievery was a problem we took seriously. It was a delicate dance. Just enough thieving so that the police could keep their jobs, but not enough to make the populace rise in revolt.
“There’s also this picture, taken from a camera outside a coffee shop near the palazzo, a few minutes after the robbery. We can see a face of a woman. We aren’t sure if it is the thief, but we are trying to run matches to determine who she is. No answer yet.”
I looked at the picture. The woman was wearing a faded sweatshirt with a hood. The hood was up, revealing only a stray tendril of dark hair. Her sparkling green eyes were looking right at the camera. She looked like a tourist, right down to the unfolded map in her hands.
Something was tickling the back of my mind. A faint feeling that I had seen this woman before; a memory of a face stricken with grief. I focused on that memory and let it rise to the fore. I had been trained never to forget a face. The memory would come in time.
And then, I had it. I pulled my laptop towards me and ran a quick search. Paolo Petrucci. Date of death. July 29. Teresa Petrucci. Date of death. July 29. I remembered the girl, then a stricken twenty-one year old, at the funeral of her parents. Sorrow etched in her face and grief in her eyes. Lucia Petrucci.
I did another quick search for Lucia and found what I was looking for. She was an assistant curator at the Doge’s Palace. I laughed aloud.
“I know who she is.” My anger faded, to be replaced by amusement and anticipation. “Gio, keep this to yourself. Don’t let anyone know. I’m going to take care of this personally.”
I could see Giovanni study me.
“Sure thing, Antonio,” he said. We moved on to the next item on the agenda.
I remembered the day I’d first seen that particular painting of the Madonna. I had been checking the collections of the Doge’s Palace, making sure the archive catalogues were up to date. My eyes had slid over the painting, and my gaze had been held, transfixed, to the small image.
Madonna at Repose’
was an obscure painting - artist unknown - from the 17
century; an unlikely piece to end up in one of Venice’s premier museums. But it was unbelievably beautiful. In it, the Madonna was dressed in everyday clothes, sitting on a chair, relaxed, seemingly at repose, serene. There was something in that picture, in the serenity of her eyes that had captivated me.
I had reached for the piece, trying to look at it more closely and to see if there were any clues about who had painted it. It was then that I realized, while studying it carefully, that it was a fake.
I’d made a couple of discreet inquiries, trying to find out who could have stolen a painting from the Doge’s Palace vaults, but nothing came of it. It had been the merest chance that I’d discovered the location of the real painting. A Facebook image of a party in Venice at the palazzo apartment of some middle-aged lawyer had captured a bit of the painting in the background. It could be another fake, of course, but the painting was obscure. It was much more likely to be the real thing.
And if it was the real thing, I was determined to steal it back for the museum.
I sat in the coffee shop near the palazzo, and sipped my espresso. This building was surprisingly secure. There was a guard in the lobby, one who was actually awake throughout his shift. The windows were connected to a sophisticated alarm system. The roof had cameras. The basement was impenetrable. I could have tried to break the security, but it would be complicated and risky.
There was an easier way. It could simply be an inside job. I normally tried to avoid these, because inside jobs increased my risk exponentially. But I had become dangerously obsessed by the Madonna.
And so, I had been working night shifts at the cleaning company that cleaned the lawyer Marco Rossi’s apartment for the last week, and I’d struck gold today. The lawyer’s usual cleaner had called in sick, and I was asked to cover the late afternoon shift. I’d quickly called the museum and told them I couldn’t come in – opportunities like this had to be seized.
I held a key in my hand, and all I had to do was walk in. I got up, grabbed my backpack, smoothed my functional grey skirt and straightened my grey blouse. Cleaning crew attire. The backpack was important; it held the museum’s forged copy of the Madonna. I intended to swap the paintings, for no other reason than to delay the discovery of the crime.
Twenty minutes later, I was done. The paintings had been swapped, and I walked out the door into the late afternoon. I had taken a quick look, and I was reasonably sure the original was in my backpack. Further tests would have to take place at the museum.
Lost in thought, I was waiting for the light to turn green to cross the street. I didn’t notice the black car besides me until it had pulled up right next to me, cutting me off. The door opened and a man got out. A man whose picture I’d seen many times. He had dark hair, and piercing blue eyes. A face darkened with stubble, as if shaving was a chore for other men. “Lucia Petrucci,” he said, his voice silken. I sensed danger in each syllable.
I looked up, and fear coursed through me as I recognized him. Antonio Moretti. Head of the Thieves Guild.
“There’s nowhere to run, Lucia,” he said, his voice soft. “Get in the car.”
I looked around and there was indeed nowhere to run. I got into the car.
I was trying to keep the terror at bay as Antonio slid next to me, and despite the fear, I noticed his hard body; noticed the feel of his thighs as they came into contact with mine. I gulped.
“I don’t like being stolen from, Lucia.” Antonio’s voice was steel.
“How do you know who I am?” I countered.
Breathe, Lucia, breathe,
I told myself, as I tried not to give into the crippling fear. There had to be a way out of this situation.
He laughed in sheer amusement. “I think, a better question would be, what are you going to do with me?”
I was trying not to ask that question, because that way lay only fear. The Guild did not take non-guild thievery lightly. I was in for broken limbs, at the least, and if Antonio was truly angry, I could end up in the canal.
For seven years, I’d stolen a painting each year, as a tribute to my dead parents. My parents were Guild thieves, skilled at their craft, among the best in the business, until death took them prematurely. My mother, a swift, ravaging cancer. My father – a bullet in his brain, the day my mother died. And I was left alone in my grief.
The first few years, I hadn’t done any preparation, reckless in my sorrow. But as the sorrow eased with the passage of time, I wanted to do some good with my tribute. I sought out artwork that had almost certainly been stolen, and I returned it back to the Museum, which could track down the provenance of the pieces and send them to their rightful owners.
I’d done all of this without involving the Guild. They wouldn’t approve of my do-gooder tendencies. The Guild was only concerned with profit. But now, I sat in the car next to the Head of the Thieves Guild, and I was in serious trouble.
“Okay,” I said, trying for an airiness that I did not feel. “How do you know who I am, and what are you going to do with me?”
His lips twitched. I’d seen his photo before, and I’d always thought he was attractive, but the pictures did not do him justice. There was a vibrancy to him, an ease in the way he carried himself and a hint of danger. He was perilously sexy.
“I was at the funeral of your parents,” he said. Oh. I didn’t remember him, but I remembered very little from that dreadful day.
“And what are you going to do with me?” My voice was steady, much steadier than I felt on the inside.
“A choice.” His voice was hard. “You have stolen from me. You can either take your chances with the Cartozzi brothers,” he gestured to the two men sitting up front, one driving, the other in the passenger seat, “or you can get punished by me.”
I looked at him. There was heat in his eyes as they ran all over my body, assessing what lay under my drab clothing, and I suddenly realized what being punished by him would entail.
But then again, the Cartozzi brothers would break each and every one of my fingers as a warning to refrain from stealing from the Guild.
“You,” I said. It wasn’t like I had any real choice.
I held back a smile and tried not to react at the way Mario Cartozzi’s shoulders had stiffened. The Cartozzi brothers were classic mama’s boys. They’d beat a man black and blue without the slightest hesitation, but a woman? They would be putty in her hands.
She didn’t know that, of course. All she knew was their reputation. And so she picked me.
When I had realized why she was stealing, I was inclined to be sympathetic, inclined to approach her and warn her to either stop, or ask for Guild permission. But then I watched her, laughing with her friends, and I discovered I wanted this woman.
So I set a trap for her when I heard she was looking for the Madonna. The right photo, taken by a seemingly drunk party-goer, posted on the Facebook wall of a friend. Mario Rossi was the perfect decoy, unassuming and middle-aged. I’d even arranged the job at the cleaning service.
And now, she was huddled against the door of the car, trying to keep out of my reach. I grinned to myself. I was going to have some fun with this girl.
We pulled up in front of an anonymous building somewhere in Venice. I could smell the sea, but darkness had fallen while we were in the car, and I couldn’t see where I was.
“Come on in, Lucia,” Antonio said. His voice was amused. I didn’t see what was funny about raping me, but I shrugged and followed him in into one of the industrial warehouses he’d indicated. The Cartozzi brothers didn’t follow us in. They were standing guard outside.
“First, my Madonna.” His voice was even, but there was an undertone to it. The Madonna was important to him. He stretched out his hand for my backpack and I handed it to him. It wasn’t like I had any other options.
He swiftly turned on the lights in the place, opened my backpack and pulled out the Madonna. I used this as a chance to study the warehouse he’d brought me to, and I almost laughed aloud. I was expecting a torture chamber, but this looked like the office of a prosperous banker, comfortably furnished with a desk, a set of couches and a well-stocked liquor cabinet in a corner.
Antonio had not moved while I was looking around. He was gazing at the Madonna with a rapt look on his face. Finally, he took a deep breath, and looked at me. “You haven’t damaged it,” he said. “That’s good.”
“I’m a curator,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I actually know how to handle artwork.”
He grinned at me and gestured to the bar in a corner. “Make yourself comfortable, help yourself to a drink,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He walked away through a door in the side with my Madonna, and I was startled at my sudden, swift sense of loss. I wanted that painting. There was a peace in the eyes of the Madonna that I needed to lose myself in. And now, it was out of reach, and I still had the ordeals of the oncoming night to get through.
I helped myself to a stiff whiskey; I was going to need it.
Antonio walked over to the bar when he came back out, poured himself a shot of whiskey as well. He settled down on the couch and stretched out his legs. He looked completely relaxed.
“Well, let’s get it over with,” I said, my voice harsh. I was perched on the edge of the couch opposite him, and I was a bundle of nerves.
He raised a silent eyebrow at me. “In a hurry, Lucia?” he asked. His voice slid over my name with a caress, and my insides fluttered at his tone. It had been a long time since a man had said my name that way. With heat and with the promise of passion.
“I’ve never been raped before.” My voice was still harsh. “Might as well get it over with.”
He looked startled for a second, before hilarity flooded his eyes, and his lips compressed. I could see him trying to hold back his laughter.
“You think I’m going to rape you? As punishment?” He sounded amused. “Lucia, Lucia. Trust me, it isn’t difficult for me to find women to fuck, and you’ll need to beg me before I fuck you.”
He continued, sipping his drink, his eyes still sparkling with mirth. “No, Lucia, you are going to get punished. I’m going to bend you over that desk, and spank you hard for thinking you can steal from me without any consequences.”