My transformation from Goth chick to pregnant Barbie wasn’t voluntary. Had I been able to choose my disguise, I’d have opted for one with more panache. Think gold-painted street performer, wimple-clad nun, or whip-wielding dominatrix.
On this occasion, I was forced to keep my costume ambitions in check. The pink wig, fake baby belly, and maternity jumpsuit represented the sum total of my costume options. I had less than forty minutes until the train to Paris left London, and a public bathroom in which to perform my makeshift makeover. And unless I wanted to get flagged by security, I had to look like the woman whose passport and suitcase I’d stolen. I hadn’t planned on a trip to Paris, but then I hadn’t planned on shooting a London crime lord in the arse.
Ignoring the line of women vibrating with impatience to use the sinks, I whipped the passport out of my pocket and scrutinized Monique Beaufour’s photo. Dark, defiant eyes framed by powder-pink hair. Lips stained the hottest pink. Slightly pointed chin, held high. Even in a stern passport pose, this woman exuded sex appeal. Could I, Angel Doyle, pass for her?
Now that the initial adrenaline rush had subsided, panic gripped me by the throat, making it hard to breathe. The reason for my need to skip the country loomed large in my memory, a mental film reel of last night’s events playing on a never-ending loop. I forced oxygen into my lungs. I had to pass for Monique Beaufour. I had to get past security. I had to board the train to Paris. If I stayed in London, I was as good as dead.
Pushing past my fear, I examined my handiwork in the cracked mirror. A pink-haired stranger stared back at me, unfamiliar except for pale blue eyes that were red-rimmed from crying. I’d ditched my faded jeans and tatty hoodie in favor of the ballet-pink maternity jumpsuit and matching platform heels I’d found in her suitcase. The maternity jumpsuit fit fine, but the shoes were a size too small.
The fake pregnancy was a blessing in disguise—literally. I was roughly the same height as the real Monique but several kilos heavier. Growing a mini human gave me an excuse for having a fuller face than the one in the passport photo. And who was Monique Beaufour, exactly? Why did she have a wig, a fake pregnant belly, and a sizeable wad of cash in her suitcase? She’d been flat-stomached when I’d spotted her on the Tube. However, I wasn’t in a position to have a retroactive uneasiness about the woman I’d chosen to rob. After all, this wasn’t my first foray into the world of theft.
I finished my new look with a slick of the fuchsia lipstick I’d found in Monique’s makeup kit and adjusted my pink wig. Then I checked my new watch, pickpocketed from a woman who’d been studying the departures board near the bathroom. I’d gotten rid of my smartwatch last night—too easy to track. The one I’d nicked was analog, but the message on the dials was crystal clear: time to get moving.
Check-in for the Eurostar closed thirty minutes before departure. I had just five minutes before the cutoff point. My metamorphosis wasn’t perfect, but it’d have to do. I had a train to catch and a gangster to evade.
Sliding on Monique’s diamond-blinged heart-shaped sunglasses to hide my blue eyes, I wheeled her suitcase out of the bathroom and into the whirl of activity that was St. Pancras International train station. Was everyone in London heading to Paris this weekend? It sure seemed that way. As long as Monty Carlyle and his muscled minions weren’t planning on joining us, I was okay with a crowded train.
Exuding a calm I didn’t feel, I maneuvered my way through the throng to check-in and security control, keeping an eye out for Monty and his thugs. Even if they were here, they’d never expect me to have turned from a black-clad Goth into a pregnant, pink-haired fashion victim.
I kept my head down and my feet moving. To my intense relief, checking in and passing through security was a breeze. My only luggage was the small suitcase, and I could keep that with me on the train. The heavyset lady operating the scanner barely glanced at me, and I was soon on the move again, this time toward passport control. I checked out the crowd. No sign of Monty’s gang.
So far, so good, so scary-easy.
So easy that a hiccup had to happen. It was practically predestined. And I didn’t have long to wait.
I spotted the security team checking IDs, and my stomach performed a flip worthy of an acrobat. I gripped the suitcase handle tighter. I’d planned to use the ePassport gates and had my story ready if the scanner flagged me as not matching the details on Monique’s biometric passport. The fake pregnancy would help to account for my fuller face. Unfortunately, today was a manual spot check day. I’d have to trot out my cover story. Was I prepared?
Stinking Blarney Stone. I sucked in a breath, held it, and exhaled slowly, slowly, slowly. Now was not the time to lose my cool.
Mental pep talk or not, sweat slicked my upper lip. Could I walk through without getting caught? Stealing an identity qualified as a serious crime. If I did get busted, I’d wind up in police custody. Monty Carlyle had cops on his payroll. Getting caged would make me a sitting duck.
I slipped a hand into the pocket of my jumpsuit and squeezed my boss’s lucky pen, a Saint Patrick’s Day present from a regular drinker at The Lucky Charm. My eyes filled with tears. The leprechaun-emblazoned pen hadn’t brought Frank any luck during last night’s raid on the pub.
Forcing my leaden feet into motion, I shuffled into the queue of people waiting to show their IDs. The passport control team was fast and efficient, yet each waiting moment added extra weight to my shoulders. My pulse pounding, I checked out my fellow passengers.
And then I spotted him, standing opposite the queue, scanning the line for me. My heart punched against my rib cage. It was Boris, one of Monty’s main muscle men and a colossal pain in the behind. And if it wasn’t Boris, it was his twin brother, Ivan. I couldn’t tell their shaven heads or bulldog faces apart. I’d weathered the Terrible Twins’ sexist comments on several occasions during my ill-fated sojourn as a barmaid at The Lucky Charm, and it’d taken all of my self-control not to knee them in the nuts. Shame I hadn’t indulged the impulse. Perhaps I’d get another chance today.
I kept my gaze pinned on the man in front of me, my sight blurring from staring too hard at his pin-striped shirt. I didn’t dare glance in Boris’s direction. And I didn’t have to. I knew the instant his reptilian gaze settled on me. The hairs on the nape of my neck stood on end with prickling awareness, and my limbs turned to cement blocks. His perusal seemed to take an eternity but could’ve only lasted a few seconds.
Finally, the tension in my body slackened. From the corner of my eye, I checked the twin’s position. He’d shifted down to the end of the queue and examined the new additions one by one. My lungs released air like a busted balloon. One hurdle down. Now for the next.
When it was my turn to hand over my passport for inspection, a large man with a florid complexion took it from me with a grunt of acknowledgment. He cast a cursory glance at Monique’s photo and then turned his attention on me. An icy prickle crept down my spine. How long was he going to keep staring at my boobs? The seconds ticked by. The man ended his unsubtle once-over at my bump and then recoiled.
Behind my shades, I rolled my eyes. Seriously, men. I should fake a pregnancy more often. His reaction jerked me out of my state of panic and gave me a much-needed confidence boost. I could pull this off. Buoyed by my newfound positivity, I curved my lips into a coquettish smile. “Is there a problem, Monsieur?” I inquired in my best French-accented English.
I sounded convincing. Not surprising. Courtesy of my feckless French mother, I was bilingual.
Convinced of my authenticity, the man handed back the passport and gestured for me to join the group of people waiting to board the Eurostar.
I strolled through the gate, dragging my case in my wake. Through the safety of my shades, I checked out the crowd, searching for faces I didn’t want to see. This time, there were no unwelcome surprises, but it’d be naive to think Monty wouldn’t have his entire gang scouring London in search of me. I just had to hope Boris and his cronies didn’t have train tickets and stayed on the other side of the boarding gate.
The train doors slid open, and the queue pushed forward to board the Eurostar. A surge of adrenaline quickened my step. Next stop, Paris. And then what? Courtesy of Monique Beaufour, I had enough money to survive for a couple of weeks. Longer if I left Paris and headed for a less expensive town. But where could I go? My mother owned a house near Montpellier, but knowing Maman, she was gallivanting around the globe. I might’ve called her to check—if I’d had her number.
Another option was to catch the ferry to Ireland and take refuge with my relatives on Whisper Island. I dismissed this idea in an instant. My aunt Noreen and my cousin Maggie would help me, no question, but at what price? My dad’s connection to Whisper Island was widely known, and it’d be among the first places Monty Carlyle would look for me. I couldn’t put my family at risk.
I found my assigned seat and stashed my case on the overhead luggage rack, belatedly remembering I was supposed to be pregnant. Did pregnant ladies heave suitcases onto luggage racks? Probably, right? It wasn’t as if we were living in an age of chivalry. How often had I given up my seat on the Tube for a pregnant woman after observing a carriage full of people ignoring her? Way too often.
I settled into my window seat, adjusted my watch to Paris time, and opened Monique’s French edition of Vogue. I had zero interest in fashion, but I’d noticed that burying my nose in a book or magazine tended to ward off conversation. Given the steady stream of people boarding the train, I was unlikely not to have a neighbor.
Behind the safety of my sunglasses, I kept one eye on the magazine and the other on the passengers weaving down the aisle. My stomach twisted every time I clocked a guy with a build suitable for one of Monty’s cut-rate cutthroats: meaty, muscular, menacing. Numb-fingered, I flipped the pages of the magazine. The train would start soon. Once we were on our way, I’d calm down. Maybe even sleep.
As if on cue, the train lurched into motion. Late-to-board passengers scrambled to find their seats, abandoning any pretense of politeness. I still had no neighbor, and I was happy to keep it that way. I buried my face in my magazine. If the train was on time, I’d reach Paris in just over two hours. Maybe I’d have a plan by the time we pulled into the Gare du Nord—a plan more concrete than “avoid vertically challenged psychopaths and their muscled minions.”
I was staring at a photo of a hideous tartan ball gown when a tall, lanky guy flopped into the seat next to mine. I gave him a surreptitious once-over from the corner of my eye. He was around my age—mid-twenties—and looked as if he’d stepped out of the pages of my magazine. He wore a canary-yellow-and-black-checkered suit, black high-top Converse, and square black-rimmed glasses. He’d brushed his fair hair upward and forward, making him look like a crew member on a sci-fi TV series spaceship. The look should’ve screamed fashion disaster, but he managed to pull it off.
My new neighbor angled his long legs toward the aisle and flashed me a sunny smile. The smile elevated his lean face from average to striking—in an underfed, fashion-model kind of way. Well, we were headed to Paris.
He extended a long-fingered hand, revealing a watch with a five-pronged crown logo. A Rolex. That watch probably cost more than I made in a year. “Hi, there,” he drawled in an accent that screamed nannies and posh schools. “I’m Sidney. Well, Peregrine, actually, but everyone calls me Sidney. Sidney’s one of my middle names, along with Roland, thus making me Peregrine Sidney Roland. You can understand why I’m not fond of Peregrine.” Here he gave an exaggerated shudder. “People inevitably shorten it to Perry.”
He stared at me with an expectant expression, waiting for a reaction to this speech. Receiving none, he retracted his hand and repeated his long-winded introduction in French.
His swift language switch served as a sharp reminder that I was impersonating a woman with a French passport. I cast a silent thank you to my feckless mother, wherever she might be, for insisting I learned to speak her native tongue.
“Hi, Sidney,” I replied in French. “I’m An—” I stopped myself in the nick of time and course-corrected. “Monique.”
“Anne-Monique?” My neighbor raised an eyebrow in question.
“Just Monique.” Lies came quickly to me. I’d had plenty of practice. Slipping up on my new name was due to exhaustion. I needed to be more careful.
“Why were you in London?” Sidney asked. “Shopping? Museums? Visiting friends?”
Oh, boy. This guy was a talker. Unless I wanted to be quizzed on my fictional life, I had to cut him off now. I opened my mouth to deliver a cutting remark, but the words died on my tongue.
My attention was riveted on the dude who’d just ambled past our seats. Close-cropped brown hair, a build like a heavyweight boxer, and a snake tattoo on the back of his muscled neck. His strut, verging on bow-legged, conjured memories that hit me like a blow to the solar plexus.
Cam Carruthers, the man I’d helped put in prison, was on the train.