There was that time in Venice.
It was some time between Nate chasing her and Stark through Russia, and getting her hands on the David. She doesn’t remember exactly when, but then, Sophie Devereaux is the kind of person who catalogues only victories. And Venice, well. Venice certainly wasn’t one.
She’d spent weeks setting it all up. Weeks. The costume was picked out, and the loot was already hers, really. Only a few more hours and she’d be gone.
This was, by far, one of her favourite jobs she’d ever done. The Doge’s Palace was the perfect setting, and what better place for a grifter than a carnival? The masks, the secrecy, the allure of anonymity. It spoke to her more eloquently than any other setting.
At precisely the time she expected, her mark entered the room, but what Sophie hadn’t counted on was the woman on his arm. Tall, blonde, with blue eyes flashing from behind the columbina she wore. What was visible of her face revealed to Sophie how eager the woman was, how committed to what she was doing. It took Sophie less than ten seconds to figure out she was dealing with competition.
Eyes narrowed, she decided to investigate. This con hadn’t really been a challenge anyway. Not so far.
She didn’t even have to initiate contact. The woman walked right up to her with a drink in hand.
“Gabriella Conti, piacere!” Sophie extended her hand.
Tara’s eyebrow was raised, and for an absurd second, Sophie was worried her Italian was slipping. But then the moment was over, and she spoke an English accented heavily enough to put any doubts the other woman might have to rest. Or so she hoped.
They exchanged pleasantries, mostly, small talk that didn’t serve a purpose other than checking out what the other had to offer. And yet, by the end of the conversation, they had reached a kind of truce—volatile, surely, but a truce nonetheless.
Sophie had lost sight of Tara a while ago, but she wasn’t worried. The other woman was interesting, but Sophie knew she was far out of her league. Tara was merely a novice, a distraction at best, and the payoff was right there in front of her.
The painting came off the frame easily and, once rolled up, fit right into the little nook she’d left in the back of her dress, only visible if she were to bend over. She made her excuses rather quickly anyway. Just in case.
Half an hour later, the dress was on the floor in her suite overlooking Canal Grande, and the painting hung on a new frame while she studied it, taking sips from a flute of the expensive champagne she had allowed herself. A little celebration was in order, after all.
But then, the doors to her room opened and in walked none other than Tara Carlisle. Sophie was too surprised to keep up her camouflage and blurted out, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I had a feeling you weren’t actually Italian,” was all that she got in reply while Tara dropped the bag she was carrying onto the floor with a clunk.
It took a few seconds, but Sophie had been in more surprising situations than this.
“You’re better than I thought.”
“Thanks. Now are you gonna offer me a glass of that or do I have to wait all night?”
Tara pointed at the champagne, and Sophie made a show out of pouring another glass while she thought things through. She had to get out of there with the painting before Tara did.
As if reading her thoughts, the other woman spoke up.
“Don’t worry, I don’t want your painting. I got what I came for already.”
Sophie passed the flute to Tara, who took a long sip before sitting down on the bed.
“Mmm-mmm. Luca had an amazing jewellery collection. Emeralds, rubies, the whole shebang.”
“Had?” Sophie asked, looking pointedly over at the discarded bag.
“Oh, yeah,” Tara grinned, and in that moment, Sophie felt something spark between them.
Morning came slowly, the sun peaking through rose-coloured mist until it hit Sophie’s pillow. She reached out and found the other side of the bed empty. Before she even sat up, she knew Tara was gone. And, as a quick glance to the now empty frame next to the window confirmed, the painting was gone with her.
But Sophie was more mad at herself than at Tara. If she’d been on the other end, she would’ve done the same thing. Had in the past, actually. But she’d never had this con pulled on her. Not a mistake she’d make again.
And if she ever walked into Tara, she’d make her pay her debts.
“You owe me.”
Tara wants to deny it, wants to protest, Sophie can hear it in what she’s not saying, in the breaths between words. But they both know how little truth there would be to anything she could come up with, just as they know she’ll agree to help out the team.
“Alright. I’ll do it.”