“I hadn’t planned on a trip to the French Riviera, but then, I hadn’t planned on shooting a London crime lord in his well-padded derrière.”
Meet Angel Doyle, a semi-reformed thief and accidental P.I.
During an unfortunate incident at her first legit job in years, Angel fires a ketamine dart into one of London’s most notorious gangsters. Now she’s in disguise and on the run. With a bunch of thugs on her tail, she embarks on a mad chase across France, determined to stay one step ahead of the villains.
At least, that was the plan.
The moment out-of-work actor Sidney Foggington-Smythe sits next to her on the train to Paris, Angel has no idea she’s just met the second half of their crime-solving duo. How can a fashion-obsessed posh boy be anything but a hindrance? When fate forces the two twenty-somethings into the same stolen Mercedes, Angel is hampered by an unwanted sidekick, a kidnapped cat, and a corpse with a tendency to pull a Houdini. Now Angel and Sidney are in a race against time to reach Nice, find the killer, and clear their names before their next destination is the morgue.
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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.
Black dots floated before my eyes. I was losing my mind. There was no way that guy could be Cam Carruthers. Yes, he had a similar tattoo to Cam’s, plus a similar swagger and similar fists. But Cam was safely behind bars. And even if he was a mean son of a gun, he’d never been part of Monty Carlyle’s gang.
My ragged breathing evened out. My imagination was running wild. I’d only seen the back of the man, yet here I was, conjuring images of every nasty blast from my past. Sleep deprivation and frayed nerves were a bitch of a combo.
“Are you okay, Monique? Do you need a doctor?”
My seat companion’s voice penetrated the ringing in my ears. I stared at him blankly, his features gradually coming back into focus. He was staring at me with alarm-tinged concern.
“I’m fine, thanks. Just a touch of travel sickness.”
Relief flooded over his face. “Whew. For a moment there, I thought you were going to pass out.”
I forced a smile and repositioned my magazine for protection. “Nothing so dramatic.”
“Is this your first time taking the Eurostar?” Sidney asked as we whizzed through London suburbs. “Or are you a seasoned pro?”
“Neither. I’ve taken it once before.” I kept my eyes on my magazine and flipped the page, hoping he’d get the message, but no such luck. Sidney, it seemed, had a bad case of verbal diarrhea.
“It’s my first time. I usually fly, but my new boss booked me on the Eurostar.” Sidney leaned back in his seat, his fingers drumming a restless beat on his armrest. “I don’t like the idea of traveling under the sea. All that water above us…don’t you find it terrifying?”
I gave a noncommittal grunt. “It’s no worse than hurtling through the air in a metal tube.”
“I guess, but somehow, flying bothers me less.”
I pressed my nose into the magazine and applied myself to an article about the latest trend in ruffled skirts.
“Do you live in Paris?” Sidney asked, seemingly oblivious to my disinclination to converse. “Or are you catching a connecting train at the Gare du Nord?”
Good questions. Did Monique live in Paris? I had no idea. Did it matter? Probably not. As for catching a connecting train, I needed to figure out where I could go. I had an ex-boyfriend in Nantes, but he was an ex for a reason. I had cousins on my mother’s side in Marseille whom I could barely remember, let alone contact out of the blue.
My failure to answer his last set of questions was no deterrent to Sidney. “I’m starting a new job on Monday,” he said. “Can’t say I’m thrilled about that, but it’ll be fun to live in Paris. What do you do for a living?”
I turned a page with an exaggerated rustle. “This and that.”
He chuckled. “I know all about ‘this and that.’ I’m an actor. Which means I’ve spent most of the last three years working for a temp agency.”
From behind my magazine, I stifled a grin. I seriously doubted Sidney’s temp agency jobs had included hacking a bank’s security system, cracking a diamond smuggler’s safe, or liberating funds from a drug dealer. Admittedly, my most recent job as a barmaid at The Lucky Charm had been legit—which was ironic, considering it’d gotten me into my current predicament.
“Are you moving to Paris for an acting job?” I asked, not really caring, but his mention of acting had triggered a memory. Jerry Gallo, one of my mother’s ex-husbands, ran a theatrical costumier in Nice, slap-bang on the French Riviera. I’d spent a couple of glorious summers there during Jerry’s brief marriage to my mother. Oddly, it was the second time I’d thought of him in the last few hours. Monique had mentioned Nice during her phone conversation on the Tube, and I’d immediately remembered my former stepfather.
Sidney’s theatrical sigh dragged me back to the present. “My father finagled me a position at the British Embassy.”
His funereal air made me smile despite my best efforts not to engage with my new companion. “Cushy. Doing what?”
“Pen-pushing and making tea for visiting diplomats.” For a moment, a frown line rippled between his blond eyebrows, but he laughed off his momentary mood blip. “It’s my fault for paying attention in French lessons. If I’d failed foreign languages at school, my father couldn’t pressure me to follow him into the diplomatic service.”
“You speak French very well.” Not as well as I did, but then, I could pass for a native speaker. My absentee mother had made sure I spent many school holidays with her parents while they’d still been alive, and she’d paid for me to attend a French boarding school for two years during my teens. I’d loathed every minute of it, but it had done wonders for my French.
Sidney beamed at my compliment. “Thanks. I muddle along quite well during conversations, but my reading comprehension and written French leave a lot to be desired. I’m hoping to fit in French lessons around my job. If I get good enough, perhaps I can even audition for a play.”
His tone turned wistful at his mention of acting. I didn’t see Sidney’s career in diplomacy lasting long. Not if he showed up for his first day at the British Embassy wearing his canary-yellow suit. “Good luck,” I said. “Paris is filled with theaters, small and large. There are also options for English speakers. I’m sure you’ll find opportunities.”
Sidney’s phone buzzed loudly, making us both jump. When he glanced at the screen, his face crumpled into a frown. “Sorry, Monique. I have to take this.”
He hit connect and began a strained conversation in English with someone I suspected was his father. I tuned out his labored responses to his caller and forced my tired brain to focus. Now that the initial danger of being pounced upon by Monty’s men had passed, I had to come up with a plan. Where could I spend the next few weeks?
Sidney’s mention of acting brought me back to Jerry Gallo and Nice. Could I roll up on Jerry’s doorstep and bag a bed for a week or three? He was a decent bloke and the only one of my former stepfathers to keep in touch, even if it was just the occasional Christmas card.
Sidney finished his call and slid his phone back into his pocket. “He couldn’t even let me get as far as Folkestone without delivering a lecture,” he muttered in English. His open smile had vanished, and tension was etched across his angular face.
“Is there a problem?” I asked, careful to speak in French. The last thing I wanted was to encourage my chatty travel companion. Still, he looked so forlorn that I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
Sidney’s smile returned, albeit somewhat forced. “Nothing either one of us can solve.” He leaned back in his seat and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “The parental unit was making sure I boarded the train.”
“Family pressure can be intense.”
I should know. My father—an enforcer for a Scottish loan shark—had been furious when I’d dumped Cam, his boss’s son, and torpedoed Dad’s plans for promotion. And he’d been livid when I’d helped the police gather evidence that put Cam behind bars last year. Any other parent would’ve rejoiced to see Cam Carruthers exit their daughter’s life, but not Dad.
“Enough about me,” Sidney said, jolting me back to the present. “You look exhausted.”
I rubbed my eyes. “Yeah. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
This was the understatement of the decade. I’d spent the night hopping from one bus to another, and then one Tube to another, trying to evade Monty Carlyle and his hired goons. Sleep was impossible when you expected a heavily armed thug to pounce on you at any moment.
“Take this.” He pulled a neck pillow out of his canvas bag and handed it to me. “You need to rest in your condition.”
I stared at him blankly, my brain too sleep-deprived to keep pace. “What condition?”
Sidney raised an eyebrow. “You are pregnant, aren’t you?”
“Oh.” Heat spread across my cheeks. “Right.”
“How far along are you?” He eyed my bump. “Six months?”
When was I due? I was clueless when it came to judging how far along a pregnant woman was. I snuck a glance down at my bump. Why hadn’t I thought to check my side view in the bathroom mirror? The pregnancy was noticeable. Did that make me around six months? Or closer to eight?
Sidney nodded, seemingly accepting my wild guess as fact. “Is that why you’re not flying to Paris?”
I stared at him in confusion. “Ah, no. I just decided to take the train.”
“Not that I know much about pregnancy, but my sister keeps having babies, and she tells me more than I ever wanted to know. That’s why I wondered if you were too pregnant to be allowed to fly.”
“I just find the train more comfortable.” I hadn’t a clue about airlines’ cutoff dates for pregnant women. I ran my fingers over Sidney’s velour neck pillow, anchoring my senses. If I was going to keep my fake backstory straight, I needed all my synapses firing. “I think I’ll take you up on your suggestion of a nap. Will you wake me if I’m still asleep when we reach the Gare du Nord?”
Sidney grinned at me. “Certainly. Can I borrow your copy of Vogue while you snooze?”
“Sure.” I handed him the magazine and snuggled into the pillow.
Within seconds of closing my eyes, I fell into a dreamless sleep, only waking when Sidney gave me a gentle shake.
“Sorry to wake you,” he said, “but we’ve just pulled into the Gare du Nord.”
It took me a moment to get my bearings. After I’d straightened my sunglasses, I disentangled myself from the neck pillow and handed it back to Sidney. “Thanks for letting me borrow this.”
“No problem.” He waited until the aisle was free before standing and retrieving his case from the overhead luggage rack. “Is this pink case yours?”
“Yeah.” I suppressed a shudder. The case was a hideous faux animal print, but it fit with Monique’s overall bling look.
He lifted the case down for me and set it on the floor. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” I eased my way out of my seat and took the handle of my case from Sidney.
The Eurostar passengers shuffled up the aisle, chattering in a variety of languages. I observed my fellow passengers, searching for unwanted faces. When I stepped off the train and onto the platform, I repeated my surveillance. There was no sign of Monty’s men, but if they’d been checking out the Eurostar passengers in London, I couldn’t rule out that they’d boarded the train. Thank goodness I’d had the sense to don a disguise and keep my sunglasses on the entire time. The idea of Boris and Ivan patrolling the aisles while I snoozed turned my blood to ice.
“Can I help you get your case to your next train?” Sidney stood beside me, leaning on the handle of his suitcase. “Or is Paris your final destination?”
“No, thanks. I can manage.” Although I hadn’t seen any sign of Monty Carlyle or his thugs, the less information I gave Sidney, the safer it’d be for both of us.
He hesitated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Okay, then. If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.” I moved to the side of the platform, out of the way of the stream of passengers alighting from the train, and accidentally bumped into a lady with a yappy dog. “Sorry,” I murmured. The woman glared at me, and her Shih Tzu strained against his leash, intent on attacking my ankles.
Dodging the dog, I scanned the departures board for a connection to Nice. Even if Jerry didn’t let me stay with him, Nice was as good a place as any to hide out for the next few weeks. How long would I need to lie low? Monty Carlyle looked like a clown, but he was a clown who knew how to bear a grudge. And I was the waitress who’d witnessed him shoot a man dead. The whole situation was surreal. Overnight, my mundane but safe existence had been overturned by a dead pub landlord and a vertically challenged psychopath.
“I’m going to do a museum tour this weekend,” Sidney said, cutting through my thoughts. “I want to kill time before my job starts on Monday. If you’re staying in Paris, would you like to join me?” His gaze slid to my bump. “Assuming it wouldn’t be too tiring for you. I don’t know anyone in Paris, you see, and—”
“Sorry, no. I’ll be busy all weekend. Family commitments.” His reluctance to be alone was palpable, but I was running on zero emotional energy, and I had none left to spare.
“Oh, sure. No problem.” He rocked back on his heels and launched into a detailed description of the potential museums he could visit.
I tuned him out and focused on the list of departures. There was a direct connection to Nice, departing at ten thirty-five. I checked my watch. If I hurried, I’d make it. I pivoted with my case, poised to move toward the main hall. “It was nice to meet you, Sidney. Good luck with your new job.”
I started to walk past him. And froze. A few meters down the platform, two burly men in identical leather jackets, combat pants, and buzz cuts scanned the crowd. An icy tingling spread through my limbs. I ducked behind Sidney, breathing heavily.
He frowned down at me. “Is something wrong?”
“Don’t move for a sec,” I commanded, my attention riveted by the Terrible Twins. When I’d seen one of them at St. Pancras station, I’d figured the other couldn’t be far away. Unfortunately, I’d been right. The twins wore matching expressions of dogged stupidity, but what they lacked in brains, they made up for in muscle. After a nod to one another, they split, each twin scouring a different side of the platform. As they stepped apart, a third man came into view.
Blind panic rolled over me in paralyzing waves. I tasted bile. Cam Carruthers, my ex-boyfriend and the reason I’d abandoned life in the gray zone for an honest, tax-paying job at The Lucky Charm. I hadn’t imagined seeing him on the Eurostar. Since when did Cam work for Monty Carlyle?
At that moment, Cam looked my way. For a horrible moment, I felt his hazel gaze bore into me. I jerked my head to the side, shielding my face from his line of vision. Pure dread trickled down my spine. Had he recognized me? I didn’t have time to waste finding out.
I pivoted my case, pushed past Sidney, and promptly tripped over the yapping Shih Tzu.
As the ground rushed to meet me, Sidney grabbed me, breaking my fall. “Are you okay, Monique?”
No, I was not okay. My sunglasses slid off and landed on the platform with a clatter, promptly followed by my wig. The dog, deciding he’d been attacked, strained at his leash, determined to nip my ankles. But an outraged Shih Tzu was the least of my worries. I was more concerned with an outraged man. I sucked in a breath and snuck a glance in Cam’s direction.
Smug satisfaction had settled over his hard face. He’d recognized me, no question. He plowed through the crowd, closing the space between us at stomach-churning speed.
Adrenaline kicked me into action. I yanked my arm out of Sidney’s steadying grasp. Abandoning my stuff, I leaped over the dog and fled.
Crazy crowded train station. So many people moving at a snail’s pace. I shoved past passengers, luggage, and an endless number of small dogs. What was it about the French and their obsession with small dogs? The main exit was within sight. I just had to ignore my too-small shoes and keep running. I could reach the doors before Cam caught me. Almost there.
Cam grabbed my arm, bringing me to a stumbling halt.
Adrenaline zapped through my veins and pushed me straight into fight-or-flight mode. Common sense had never been my thing. I chose to fight. With my free arm, I nailed a right hook that would’ve made my boxing-obsessed brothers proud. It caught Cam on the jaw, sending jolts of pain down my wrist. The impact caused him to stagger, but he didn’t let go of my arm.
“You bitch,” he snarled. “You deserve everything Monty plans to do to you.”
“Hooking up with you was one of my poorer life choices, but kicking you out was one of my best. Who did you bribe to get parole?”
His eyes narrowed to serpentine slits, and his expression went full rage. How had I ever loved this man? Anticipating a blow—physical or verbal—I kept talking. A distracted Cam was a Cam less likely to predict my next move.
“You are out on parole, right? You’ve never been the quickest of cats, but even you have to see that hanging with the Carlyle gang is a one-way ticket back to the slammer. What’s Monty got on you that makes you goose-step on his command?”
A fiery flush spread across his cheeks. I almost expected sparks.
“Did I hit a nerve?” I made my tone perky-sweet, and then I ducked out of punching range and kneed him in the nuts.
Cam let go of my arm and crumpled to the floor, clutching his crotch. His pain-tinged roar rocketed through the station.
“I recommend frozen peas,” I called over my shoulder, already on the move. “I’d offer to pick up a pack at the station shop, but I have places to go. So long, Cam. Tell Monty I hope his arse feels better soon.”
One of the Terrible Twins, Boris—or was it Ivan?—responded to Cam’s roar. He shoved his way through the crowd, his flinty gaze pinned on me. I accelerated into a sprint, executed a perfect high jump over a luggage-laden cart, and crashed through the crowd.
I ignored the squawks of outrage and kept running. I was almost at the exit. Just a little farther.
I glanced over my shoulder. That blasted twin was hot on my heels. Fear kept my blood pumping fast and my feet pumping faster.
I burst out onto the pavement, and the Parisian summer morning hit me with all its might. Blasting horns, heavy heat, and heaving humanity. People, traffic, buildings, noise. London on steroids.
I would have enjoyed the atmosphere, the sights, the hurly-burly of this almost-new-to-me city. But with a massive muscle man in pursuit, the only thing I wanted from pretty Paris was a rapid exit.
A long line of people stood waiting for taxis. But even if ten taxis were waiting to whisk me away, I had no money to pay the fare. No suitcase, no passport, no cash. I uttered an oath but didn’t break my stride.
“Hey, Monique. Wait up.”
My step faltered. Sidney. The voice was too posh and too quintessentially English to be either Scottish Cam or the Russian twins.
Sidney appeared at my side, panting from running, pulling my case and his. He rolled my case up beside me. “You left this,” he wheezed. “And these.” He handed me my wig and sunglasses.
“Oh, thank you.” At that moment, I could’ve kissed him. The case would slow me down, but I desperately needed the passport and cash. I glanced behind him and groaned. That lousy twin loomed at the door to the station, searching the area for me.
Shooting for nonchalance, I gave Sidney a sunny smile, put on my shades and the pink wig, and turned away, pulling Monique’s case behind me. “Thanks again. See ya.”
“Who was that bloke you took down in the station?” Sidney came up beside me, once again failing to get the message. “Are you in some sort of trouble?”
“If I say yes, will you go away and leave me alone?”
“Well…” He scrunched up his forehead and quirked up his mouth like a mime performing for a crowd. “I’m not the chap who has your back in a fight, but I won’t walk away when a friend’s in trouble.”
“Sidney, we barely—”
A tall man in a three-piece suit stepped in front of me, startling me into silence. “Ms. Beaufour? I have your car ready.” He gestured to a sleek black Mercedes parked in the no-parking zone.
Monique had a car waiting for her? Surely my getaway couldn’t be this easy? Once again, a weight of unease settled on my shoulders, and I replayed our joint trip on the Tube.
Monique had prattled on her phone, speaking loudly in her native French to an unnamed friend. She’d talked of fashion shows and upcoming meetings in Montpellier and Nice. I’d pegged her as an easy mark—distracted and distractible.
Her mention of traveling on the early morning Eurostar had sealed her fate. A ticket to Paris was exactly what I needed. The opportunity to travel on a stranger’s passport was an unexpected bonus. With a deft hand, I’d snagged her suitcase when we got off the Tube at King’s Cross and made for the exit. For once, fate had been smiling down on me. But, as my Irish granny used to say, if it seemed too good to be true, it probably was. Her belongings indicated she was more than the fashion-obsessed ditz I’d taken her to be.
And here was providence working in my favor again, this time in the form of a ready-made getaway vehicle. Did I trust fickle fate? And did I want to add yet another crime to my growing list of felonies?
I glanced back at the train station door. Boris/Ivan loomed in the entrance, scouring the area for me. The moment he spotted me, my skin crawled.
Just then, a toddler on a trike zoomed down the pavement toward the twin, forcing her grandmother to break into a trot to keep pace. Boris/Ivan was so focused on me that he failed to notice the oncoming kid. The twin tripped over the trike and landed across the handlebars in an unwitting repeat of my fiasco with the Shih Tzu. Gravity took care of the rest.
His weight pushed down the front of the trike while the seat part shot up, ejecting the toddler. The force catapulted the child onto the twin’s back. Alarmed by the abrupt end to her imaginary car race, the little girl wailed. The twin struggled to regain solid ground, thus upending the child onto the pavement. At this stage, her grandmother had reached the scene of destruction. She raised her large leather handbag above her head and clobbered the fallen man, showering him with a torrent of French invective.
The scene had transfixed me, but I had to pull myself together and act fast. I had no more time to waste. I grabbed the key from the mystery man. “Thank you.”
The stranger spoke just loud enough for me to hear. “You’ll get the rest of your instructions in the car, as arranged.”
First, the wig, the fake baby belly, and the cash. Now, a mysterious car. Who was Monique Beaufour? The man in the suit melted into the crowd before I had a chance to ask questions. Under other circumstances, I’d have chased after him and demanded to know what he’d meant. But any moment now, the twin would be on his feet and on the move. On autopilot, I hit the button to open the boot.
“Allow me.” Sidney rushed to pick up my case. He stowed it in the boot, then hesitated. “I don’t want to pry, Monique, but you’re clearly in a spot of bother. Do you want to get out of here and talk about it? I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”
“That’s sweet of you, Sidney, but—” The words froze on my tongue. Cam staggered out of the train station entrance, stepping over the prone Terrible Twin and glaring right at me.
“Gotta move,” I said to Sidney. I slammed the boot, ran to the driver’s side, and opened the door. No wheel. What the—? Too late, I remembered that the French drove on the opposite side of the road.
“Thanks so much.” Sidney took the door from me, interpreting my opening the passenger door as an agreement to take him with me. “Can I put my case in the boot with yours?”
“Huh?” My gaze was fixed on Cam. He was moving fast, pushing past the people waiting for taxis. I bolted across to the other side of the car and pulled open the door.
Too late. Cam reached Sidney and shoved him roughly to the side.
“Hang on, mate,” Sidney protested. “You can’t just—”
A flash of silver sliced through the air. Cam had drawn a blade.
“Sidney, watch out,” I cried.
Sidney sidestepped Cam’s first swipe with more luck than finesse.
From the corner of my eye, I registered the fallen twin. He’d extracted himself from the trike fiasco and was rushing down the pavement to Cam’s aid. I swore in English and French, and used the few Irish swear words I’d picked up from my dad. Sidney stood no chance against Cam. Adding a Terrible Twin to the mix spelled disaster. I had to distract them somehow.
Oblivious to the interest we were garnering from the crowd, I tore open my jumpsuit, ripped off my fake baby bump, and hurled it at Cam’s outstretched hand. The fake bump knocked the knife out of his fist. Startled, Cam watched his blade’s descent to the pavement.
“Get in the car,” I yelled to Sidney, belatedly realizing I’d addressed him in English and even more belatedly deciding I didn’t care.
Sidney didn’t need to be told twice. He leaped into the passenger seat. Just as Cam reached down for the knife, Sidney neatly kicked our nemesis in the backside. Cam toppled directly into the path of his idiot companion. Before the thugs hit the ground in a tangle of limbs, I gunned the engine and tore into the traffic.
My abrupt burst into traffic forced the car behind me to hit the brakes. I ignored the driver’s enraged honking and kept my foot down.
“Close your door.” I swerved to avoid a cyclist. “And do it fast.”
Sidney shut the passenger door and wrestled with his seatbelt. “That bloke pulled a knife. Is he trying to kill you? Is he trying to kill me?”
“Looks like it.” I darted a glance in my rearview mirror. There was no sign of Cam and the twins in pursuit, but it wouldn’t take them long to commandeer a car.
“What’s going on, Monique?” Sidney’s tone rose an octave, more fear-tinged than angry. “Assuming that’s even your real name. Your switch from French to English was lightning fast, and you have a touch of Irish in your London accent. Where did you learn to speak French like a native?”
“If you’d prefer me to switch back to French, no problem.” I nudged the Mercedes a couple of spaces forward. The traffic was moving, but not fast enough.
“French, English, whatever.” Sidney shifted in his seat, gesturing with his hands. “Just tell me what you did to incite a knife-wielding lunatic.”
A chill-inducing vision of a snarling Cam loomed large on my mental TV screen. “He’s got anger-management issues, true, but he’s more a sad bloke with a temper than psycho-killer crazy.”
Not that this would stop Cam from hurting me. I’d helped to put him behind bars.
“He pulled a knife. On. Me.” Sidney gave each word a slow emphasis. “And from where I was standing, the blade looked mighty sharp. How is that not psycho-killer crazy?”
“Fair point. I guess Cam’s stint in prison exacerbated his violent tendencies.” I dodged a moped and then swiped a fingertip over the dashboard computer. “I’m dropping you at the British Embassy. Can you input the directions? I gotta concentrate on driving on the right side of the road.”
“No embassy.” Sidney’s tone rang ominously adamant. “I’m not setting foot in that place before eight a.m. on Monday.”
The tension in my jaw reached vibration point. “I don’t have time to hash out your life crisis, Sidney. I need to get out of Paris, and I don’t need you tagging along.”
“Seems to me you’re in the middle of your own life crisis, Monique—or whatever your name is. I want answers before you ditch me and roar off into the sunset. Besides, you told me to get in the car, remember?”
“Only because Cam was about to knife you. I never intended to make this a joint road trip.” A red Peugeot zoomed behind me, hovered on my tail. I studied my rearview mirror to get a good look at the driver. A woman—not Cam, not the twins. The coil of tension in my stomach eased. I shot a glance at my unwanted passenger. “You want answers? Fine. I’ll give you answers. The people who are after me don’t mess around. They won’t hesitate to kill you to get to me. I’m screwed no matter what I do, but you? You have a winning trifecta. You’re a British national, the son of a British diplomat, and the British Embassy’s latest employee. The embassy staff will keep you safe.”
“What about you? Who’s going to keep you safe?”
The genuine concern in his voice floored me. How long had it been since anyone had tried to protect me? My cousin Maggie during our fateful weekend in Ireland last year? I swallowed past the lump in my throat and aimed for nonchalance. “Short answer: me, myself, and I. I’m used to looking after myself.”
“No offense, but you’re not exactly rocking at the job. If I hadn’t hauled your suitcase and mine through the entire train station, you’d—” Sidney stopped mid-sentence and slapped his forehead. “Aw, no. My case. I forgot all about it when that crazy bloke attacked me.”
I uttered a string of expletives that would’ve filled my Irish granny’s swear jar. “Do you have your ID on you? Or did you leave it in your case?”
“Um…I think so?” Sidney patted down his suit jacket before pulling a wallet from his pocket. His expression flipped from concerned to relieved and then back again. “I’ve got cards and passport, but everything else is in the case. Everything apart from the stuff I sent over with my father last week. But my favorite clothes, my best shoes, my bespoke shaving foam….”
“Hang your bespoke shaving foam. I’ll buy you a can of Gillette.”
“I’m sorry you lost your stuff, dude, but in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in a situation. Is your bag tagged? Is your name on it? Or in it?”
He blinked at me, owl-like. “Well, yes, of course. It has a label with my name and address, in case it gets lost.”
I banged the wheel and swore again. “Not. Good. News.” The last thing I needed was a person to babysit. I’d spent the past eighteen months keeping a low profile after helping the police secure a conviction against Cam, but this was my first time on the run. I could barely figure out a plan to protect myself, never mind someone else.
We neared a busy traffic junction, and our pace slowed to a crawl. Cars merged into various lanes in staccato bursts of movement. I dragged my mind away from Sidney’s case to our more immediate problem. “Any clue which direction I need to take for the embassy?”
He snorted. “How about the ‘Highway to Hell’?”
I flexed my tight jaw and struggled to keep my temper in check. “Jeez, Sidney. Are you deliberately obtuse? I’m trying to help you here.”
“And I’m trying to help you. If you want to put distance between those thugs and us, there’s a sign for the motorway up ahead.”
I slowed to a cruise, checking the signs. I didn’t want to hit the motorway until I was sure Sidney was safe in his embassy, but I hadn’t a clue in which direction it lay. Messing with the dash computer while navigating busy Parisian traffic wasn’t healthy.
The car behind me sat on his horn, pushing me to make a decision. “Keep your hair on, mate.” I hung a right so tight I gave both Sidney and me whiplash.
He pressed back into his seat and gripped the armrest with white-knuckled strength. “I’ve never gone around a turn on two wheels before, at least not in a car. You left sparks.”
“Forget my driving and focus. What about your watch? Is it a smartwatch disguised in vintage clothing?”
“Absolutely not.” He sounded horrified. “This was my grandfather’s Rolex Submariner 1680, purchased in nineteen seventy-two. It’s a collector’s item.”
“As long as it’s not connected to the internet, I don’t care.” I pictured Sidney’s suitcase in my mind, recalling every detail. “Your case has a built-in laptop bag, right?”
“Is your laptop in it?”
“Well, yes, but why—”
“Because you need to get rid of your phone. Right now.” I hit the button for his window. “Throw it out.”
Sidney clutched the jacket pocket that contained his precious phone. “My whole life is on this device.”
“If Cam catches us, your whole life will be over.”
He slipped his hand into his pocket but didn’t take out the phone. “Cam—he’s the bloke with the knife?”
“Correct. Cam saw you take off with me. If he has access to your laptop, he’ll track you down to find me. Which is why you’re ditching your phone.” I jerked a thumb toward the open window. “Now. Or I swear I’ll kick you out into the traffic.”
Sidney’s eyebrows arched higher than the Arc de Triomphe. “Steady on. Give me a chance.”
He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his phone with the black and gold case I’d seen him use on the train. With a great show of reluctance, he dangled it out the window.
“Get rid of it. I’m not messing around.”
“To misquote the Bard, farewell, my beloved. Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Sidney moaned, groaned, and dropped his stupid phone.
I closed the window. “Thank you.”
“You didn’t give me much choice.”
His tone was so comically dour that I almost laughed. “I’m sorry, Sidney.”
“For the phone? For faking a pregnancy? For my run-in with that knife-wielding thug?” He blew out his cheeks. “Seriously, Monique? What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is me looking for a way to get you to the British Embassy, even if that means hitting the motorway for a while and then doubling back. The less you know about the mess I’m in, the safer it is for you.”
Incredulity gave his features a rubbery yet frozen quality. And then, out of nowhere, he burst out laughing. “Oh, you are so busted. That has to be the most clichéd line ever. No one outside of a script would say that. Ricardo put you up to this. That scoundrel.”
I swerved around a corner without braking. “I don’t know anyone called Ricardo.”
“Sure you don’t. This situation has all the hallmarks of one of Ricardo’s pranks. What is it this time? A reality prank show?”
“This isn’t a prank. We’re in genuine danger.”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks. I should’ve guessed it was a prank when you whipped off that fake baby bump and hurled it at the bloke with the knife. The shock of seeing it put my brain in snooze mode. Now it all makes sense.”
“You don’t get it. They’re—”
“So what’s the deal? Is Ricardo meeting us somewhere, or are we sending him the footage?” He flipped down his visor and ran his fingers over the fabric. “Where’s the hidden camera?”
Seriously, this guy? “No camera. No Ricardo. No prank.”
He finished checking his visor and reached for mine. “Mm-hmm. Because blokes with blades routinely attack me for no reason.”
I drew in a slow breath and tried to stem the maelstrom of anger rushing through my body. I had to make Sidney take me seriously.
We stopped at yet another set of traffic lights. While the engine purred, I turned my options over in my mind. I didn’t buy the adage that honesty was always the best policy—life had too many shades of gray for that to ring true. But in this situation, blunt candor might blast Sidney out of his false belief that we were starring in a reality TV show.
“Sidney, this is real. The no ifs or buts kind of real. I’m on the run from a London gang, and they’ll kill you to get to me.”
“Uh-huh.” His eyes twinkled. “What did you do to incite a gang to chase you across Europe?”
I drew in a slow breath before answering in a sharp blurt. “I shot their boss in the arse with a ketamine dart.”
Sidney’s crack of laughter cut through the sound of the horns blasting behind us. I’d missed the light change. I hit the gas, and the car lurched forward. “That’s brilliant,” he said between bouts of laughter. “Straight out of an East End crime comedy.”
“For heaven’s sake, will you listen to me? This is no comedy.” I took a deep breath and formed the words on my tongue, tasting their bitter truth. “Sidney, I witnessed a murder.”
The biting nausea I’d experienced on and off since Frank’s death hit me with its full force. I kept my eyes on the road, deliberately not meeting Sidney’s gaze. I didn’t need to see him to read his reaction to my news. His shock and disbelief hovered in the air like a mushroom cloud. My revelation had stunned him into silence—a rare state for chatty Sidney.
The seconds stretched to a minute. I could take it no longer. “Say something, Sidney. Your silence is freaking me out.”
“Your news is freaking me out.” He ran a hand through his hair, mussing his perfect styling. “I prefer the idea of participating in a reality prank show to starring in a true-crime documentary. Who got murdered? Who did the murdering? Is Cam the killer?”
My hands tensed around the wheel. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about last night, but there was no way of avoiding it now. “I’ll take your questions in reverse order. No, Cam isn’t the killer. As for the murderer’s identity, I’d rather not say. The murder victim was my boss, a pub landlord called Frank O’Malley. Frank was attacked after the pub had closed for the night, and he and I were tidying up.”
“Why did this unnamed killer knock off your boss? Did they get into a fight?”
“Frank double-crossed him.” I twisted my mouth into a mockery of a smile. “The killer isn’t a man who takes kindly to betrayals.”
“So the killer burst into the pub—” Sidney began.
“The killer and his hefty henchmen,” I added.
“And they started, what? Shooting?”
My throat convulsed, but no words came out. I jerked my head to confirm Sidney’s assumption.
“How did the situation lead to you aiming a tranquilizer gun at No-Name’s rear end?” he demanded. “Did he threaten to shoot you too?”
“Long story short, I crouched behind the bar counter when he and his dudes burst into the pub. The only thing I had to defend myself with was the pen I was using to check the accounts.” I gave a bitter laugh. “That wouldn’t have done me much good. I peeked over the counter to see if I could make a run for it, but there were five of them, and they’d blocked the exits.”
“You poor thing. That must’ve been terrifying.” Sidney gave my arm a comforting squeeze. “What happened next?”
“The gang’s leader put a bullet in Frank’s leg. I ducked out of sight, and five more shots rang out. I have no recollection of making a noise, but I guess I must have cried out. At any rate, one of the guys looked over the bar counter, spotted me, and gave the alarm. I panicked, remembered Frank’s tranquilizer gun under the cash register, and grabbed it.”
“What in the world was a tranquilizer gun doing at a pub?” Sidney demanded, cutting through my flow of thoughts.
“The pub wasn’t Frank’s only source of revenue,” I said. “He sold goods on the black market, mostly stolen cigarettes and booze. A few months ago, the crate his mates stole contained dart guns and tranquilizer darts instead of the cigarettes they’d expected to find. Frank kept one as a souvenir, complete with a single ketamine dart. He had a loaded revolver, too, but he always kept that on his person. He never regarded the dart gun as a serious means of protection.”
“Unfortunately for you, that dart gun was your only means of self-defense when those thugs burst into the pub.”
“Yeah. After the thug alerted his friends to my presence, I pointed the dart gun at the man guarding the back exit to get him to move. He did, but in my haste to get out of the pub, I tripped over a bar stool, and the dart gun went off. It was pure dumb luck that the dart hit one of the men and caused enough chaos for me to slip out the back of the pub before they could catch me. It was pure bad luck that the guy I hit is one of the most notorious gangsters in London.” I took a ragged breath. “I’m telling you the truth, Sidney, not the plot of a bad B movie.”
“I believe you,” he said in a quiet voice. “But why didn’t you head straight to the police? Why go on the run? You hadn’t done anything wrong. You acted in self-defense. The cops would’ve protected you.”
I slid a glance at his open, trusting face. Had I ever been that innocent? “The killer—the gang’s boss—has paid informants everywhere, including the police. My bag was back in the pub, containing my phone, my purse, my life. My only chance was to get far away from London and his sphere of influence.” My voice broke on this last sentence. “It seems I didn’t get far enough.”
I switched lanes, grateful for every meter I put between the train station and me. Right now, I’d do just about anything to forget the events of last night. I owed Sidney an explanation, however abridged, but talking about it was like pouring alcohol on an open wound.
“Did you flee to France because you speak French so well?” Sidney asked. “I’m not a native speaker, but your French is mighty good for an Irish person.”
“I have dual nationality,” I said after a moment’s pause. “My dad is Irish, and my mother is French.”
“So Monique is your real name?”
I hesitated for a moment, debating whether to maintain that particular lie. But what was the point? He knew too much already. “My name’s Angel.”
Sidney burst out laughing. “For real? That’s a misnomer if ever I heard one.”
I shot him a wry smile. “You’re not the first person to voice that opinion. The name’s short for Angélique.”
“That’s pretty. And very French.”
I scrunched up my nose. “The kids in school told me it sounded like a porn star’s name.”
And seeing as my mother had been a bona fide porn star in her youth, I’d endured relentless teasing from my classmates and judgy comments from their parents. I decided not to share this particular tidbit with my unwanted passenger.
“Now that we’re sharing, want to tell me who the guy with the knife was? The one you called Cam? I assume he works for your killer gangster.”
I swallowed a sigh. “I assume so too. The Cam story is long and not one I’m in the mood to tell.”
“If we’re going on a road trip, you’ll have plenty of time to tell me.”
“We’re not going on a road trip together, Sidney.” I glanced at the sign indicating I was driving in the correct direction to reach the motorway. “I should turn around and head for the British Embassy. They should be able to keep their new employee safe.”
“Officially, I’m not their new employee until Monday,” he pointed out. “Besides, if I’m on the radar of a crazed thug, I want more details.”
I cast him a sidelong look. “It’s more than one crazed thug you need to worry about. You’re safer not knowing more details. I’ve shared too much as it is.”
“Oh, bosh. That’s the sort of thing my mother says when she doesn’t want to discuss my father’s latest affair.” Sidney leaned forward in his seat. “What’s the plan? I assume you have one. You got that man to drop off this car for you.”
“Yeah, about that…he didn’t exactly deliver this car for me. And now that Cam’s seen the vehicle, I’ll have to dump it and find an alternative method of transport.”
“Wait, what do you mean the man didn’t deliver the car for you? He handed you the key.”
“He handed me the key because he thought I was Monique Beaufour. I accepted the car because I saw Cam and his cohorts and needed a getaway vehicle.” I twisted my lips into a grim smile. “Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I have a bad feeling about Monique and this car, but I was desperate.”
Sidney’s eyes widened. “Monique exists? Like, there’s a real Monique, and you’ve just nicked her car?”
“Yeah, there’s a real Monique. And I nicked more than her car.” I jerked my thumb in the direction of the boot. “The suitcase you lugged through Gare du Nord? Hers. That’s where I found the pink wig and the fake baby belly, plus her passport, Eurostar ticket, and cash. I have no idea who Monique Beaufour is or what she does for a living, but I doubt it’s legit. For all I know, the passport’s a fake, and she’s sketchier than the people I’m on the run from.”
Sidney let out a low whistle. “Impressive. I’m an accessory to how many crimes now?”
I winced. “I feel bad you got dragged into this mess.”
“I feel bad I lost my favorite shaving foam,” Sidney confided, “but I haven’t had this much excitement since Bart Rutherford set his hair on fire during fourth form chemistry class.”
“I’m thrilled you’re having fun,” I said dryly, “but we’re in genuine danger. I wasn’t joking about needing to get rid of this car. Monique’s bound to show up in Paris eventually. If she’s not dodgy, which I doubt, she’ll report the car stolen, and then we’ll have the French police on our tail. If she is involved in questionable activities, she’ll come after us, or her associates will. And then there’s the more immediate danger from Cam. I can guarantee you he’ll have hijacked a car by now and be in pursuit.”
“If this were a pilot for a TV show, it’d never get made,” he said. “Way too many coincidences and crazy characters.”
“In my experience, real life is often crazier than fiction. Can you program the address for the British Embassy into the navigation system? The sooner I drop you to safety, the better it’ll be for the both of us.”
“I’ll plug in any address except the British Embassy,” Sidney said cheerfully. “I have to show up there on Monday morning. Until then, I’m helping you evade whatever ruffians are on your tail.”
This guy was killing me. “You know nothing about me, Sidney. And you know even less about the guys tailing me. I’m your crazy traveling companion who faked a pregnancy and got chased through the train station by thugs. Why would you help me?”
“Because you need help, and I sense the promise of an adventure. I’m about to start a dreary desk job next week. Why not let me accompany you to wherever you’re going? If you think this Cam bloke will still be a problem on Monday, I’ll call the embassy and get protection.” He held up both palms. “Promise.”
I jabbed at the dashboard computer, locating the navigation. “I’ll drive you part of the way, but only because Cam now knows your name and address. He and his buddies will track you down, and they’re not men you want to mess with. Until you agree to contact the embassy, you’re safer sticking with me.”
He beamed at me. “Awesome. You won’t regret this, Angel.”
I cast him a sidelong glance. “I’m already regretting it.”
“Now that I’m your new sidekick—”
“Temporary sidekick,” I corrected.
“—let me take over the navigation.”
I shrugged. “Okay, but I’m still not telling you my end destination. Put in Aix-en-Provence for now.”
“Excellent choice. I’ve always wanted to visit Provence.” Sidney swiped the touch screen and inputted the city center of Aix-en-Provence. He hit the start button.
“Hello, Madame Beaufour.”
Sidney and I both bolted upright but were pinned in place by our seatbelts.
“The navigation system is programmed to take you to the drop-off point,” the deep voice continued in fluent but heavily accented French. “Don’t deviate from the directions. In the glove compartment, you’ll find a burner phone. When you park, take the phone with you for instructions on where to leave the briefcase. The number you’ll need to call is saved on speed dial. Hit the number five to connect. The phone will cease to work once you’ve delivered the money. And Madame Beaufour? No funny business this time. And no contacting the police. Césaire’s life depends on your full cooperation.”
The recording ended, and the navigation switched to a synthetic female voice, which instructed me to take the next left.
“What in the blazes was that about?” Sidney looked from the dashboard screen to me. “Who’s Césaire?”
I turned the car as instructed and filtered into the appropriate lane. I felt light-headed and had to force myself to focus on the road. What hot mess had I leaped into this time? “I have no idea. I’ve never heard of anyone called Césaire, and I have no idea why they’re in danger.”
“What’s this Monique Beaufour involved in? What sort of person has burner phones, hacked satnavs, and fake baby bellies?” He peered at me. “Are you sure you don’t know her? You seem to be acquainted with any number of villains.”
“Oddly enough, I don’t know every crook in Europe,” I replied, deadpan. “And I don’t know Monique. She’s just the woman whose suitcase I stole. I picked her because she sat across from me on the Tube and annoyed me by constantly yapping on her phone. And because I can understand French, I couldn’t tune her out.”
“Do you usually rob people who annoy you?” Sidney asked, eyebrow raised.
“It’s been known to happen. Look, I was Tube hopping and hoping I’d shake off the guys who were after me.” I pulled a face. “Seems I didn’t do a good job. As far as I was concerned, Monique was a stranger who was roughly my height and build and was stupid enough to mention she had a ticket for the early morning Eurostar to Paris. I had no idea what else the suitcase contained, and I definitely didn’t know she was traveling to France to deliver the ransom money.”
“When she was yapping on the phone, did she say anything connected with Césaire or a drop-off?”
I shook my head. “She kept going on about a fashion show she’d attended. Honestly, she struck me as a spoiled, vacuous, overgrown brat. I was happy to choose her as my mark. Now I have to assume it was an act, or all the fashion talk was a code. She was way too chill to have an emotional attachment to this Césaire person. Either that or she’s a stellar actress.”
“The fake baby bump in her case didn’t alarm you?”
“Well, yeah, it gave me pause, but I didn’t find that until after I’d taken the case. Besides, I was desperate, and here was a ready-made costume just waiting to be embellished. I intended to use Monique’s passport and Eurostar ticket to get to Paris and then shed the persona.”
“Only, you encountered Cam and ended up taking Monique’s car,” Sidney finished for me. “What a mess.”
“A mess of epic proportions, even by my low standards. Soon, I’ll have two sets of criminals on my tail and no way to acquire another false identity. Even if I’d wanted to keep using Monique’s passport, she’s bound to report the passport stolen. Now, I have no idea if the passport’s a fake or the real deal. Either way, I can’t risk using it again.” I gestured to the glove compartment. “Can you check to see if Satnav Dude was telling the truth about a burner phone?”
Sidney opened the glove compartment and took out a mobile phone. “Seems he was.” He examined the device with interest. “This looks like a phone from twenty years ago.”
“It’s a non-smartphone,” I said. “It’s good for calls, texts, and that’s about it.”
“No internet access?”
I smiled at his appalled expression. “In normal cases, there’s limited internet access on dumb phones, but I’ll bet it’s blocked on that one. There’s a reason Satnav Dude and whoever he works for opted for that particular model for the burner phone.”
“I’ll check the backseat for the briefcase he mentioned.” My unplanned passenger leaned into the back and pulled a small black briefcase onto his lap. “Satnav Dude was as good as his word. Want to see what’s in this thing?”
“You’re assuming it’s unlocked,” I said.
“I am,” Sidney replied, pressing two buttons. “And I’m right.”
He eased up the lid, revealing the contents. Sidney swore, and I sucked in a breath. The briefcase contained stacks of tightly packed hundred-euro notes.