KB Heterodyne got back to his building after dark and a long day of work, headed directly to the elevator with no more than a weary nod to the doorman, entered the security code and unlocked his door manually (it never hurt to have more than one lock), and found a beautiful woman sitting on his couch with a gun pointed directly at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and turned to close the door behind him. “I don’t think we’ve met. Who are you, and what are you doing in my living room?”
“Klaus Barry Heterodyne?” she asked.
“No, that’s me.” He put his briefcase on the side table and leaned down to untie his shoes. The muzzle of the gun followed him. “Who are you, I asked.”
Her lips quirked up on one side. “You’re very blasé about coming home to find a beautiful woman pointing a gun at your head.”
He crossed to perch on the chair opposite her. “Well, you aren’t anyone official, FBI or Interpol or something, because they usually knock, and don’t break and enter. And you neither shot me instantly nor kidnapped me nor whatever else you could do, which means you probably aren’t going to—even if you must be an associate of my sister’s, or of one of my parents, or one of many assorted cousins, honorary and not.” Though he had not quite given up the advantage of the higher ground, which he was sure she had noticed. He spread his hands with half a shrug. “And I’ve had a fairly long day at work, and you are a very beautiful woman. Maybe it’s just my lucky night.”
That won a full smile, from red-painted lips that matched her hair—both the color of fresh blood. She was beautiful. It was the second thing KB had noticed—after that she was on his couch, and before the fact that she had a gun. Which perhaps said a lot about the life he lived, or at least the upbringing he’d had. Her skin was pale and her eyes were dark and she was poised like a hunting cat bred for show. Her skirt matched her earrings and her blouse was low-cut enough that he had to consciously keep his eyes away from it. The only thing that ruined the perfection were the wrinkles that could not quite be brushed out of her clothes, which suggested she hadn’t changed them for a day or so.
She lowered the gun and extended her hand like he might kiss it. “Anevka Sturmvoraus,” she said, with that same sharp smile. “My baby brother said I could lay low here for a couple days.”
- | + | -
They went out to an early breakfast.
“Isn’t this kind of the opposite of laying low?” KB asked. He poured syrup over his blueberry buttermilk minicakes and gave an involuntary hum of contentment as he took a bite. Worth the risk of arrest.
Anevka scoffed and flipped her hair over one shoulder. It was blonde, now; the one suitcase she’d brought was apparently partially full of wigs. “America barely has any CCTV. And I rarely get any downtime in New York, when I am not on a job.” She glanced at him over the rim of her mimosa, under long, lightened eyelashes. “Much less with a handsome local to show me around whatever fine cafés he knows.”
This one was a block from his building, on the way to work.
“I don’t really have time for that,” he pointed out. “I have a job. I should be there now, in fact.” Though damn if he hadn’t earned a late start by finishing that report last night.
She propped her chin in one hand. “Your job. Of course. A simple stockbroker.”
“The black sheep of the Heterodyne family.”
“My father and uncle worked on the right side of the law.”
“Professional civilian informants.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Hardly out of the game. Much less your mother, or your sister, or so many of those assorted honorary cousins.”
“Yes, I’m a terrible disappointment,” KB said blandly. “I don’t steal from my clients and I almost never call home on Sundays.”
Her eyes sparkled with laughter. He pushed his plate forward, bumping against her avocado on toast. “Here, if you want that famed ‘local’ advice, try these.”
- | + | -
Anevka kept a very flat, likely very sharp knife strapped across the small of her back. KB discovered this late that night, when he was watching something mindless on Netflix and she was abruptly straddling his knee while wearing a thin nightgown and very little else.
“Um?” he said, for a moment so confused that he tried to look past her to keep track of what was happening on the screen.
She shifted enough to make that impossible for multiple reasons, including the feel of her smooth legs against his way her arms fit around his neck. And the location of her chest with regards to his face. “I am going to be blunt with you, because I think you prefer that. I don’t feel any need to repay your hospitality with sex, but you seem like the sort of man who gets attached very easily to people he sleeps with, and I could use that right now. You’re also reasonably hot, and I haven’t seen much erotica around this place, but you’ve looked at me enough that you’re not ace. I could definitely use that.”
“Oh!” KB tentatively put his hands on her hips, which was specifically when he found the knife sheath. “I don’t invite people back here, much. That’s why there’s not...much.”
She leaned a little lower, brushing closer, and murmured, “Shy?”
She wore a short black wig, now, but her lipstick was still bright red, and her eyes dancing with laughter at his discomfort. Her smile was sharp enough to have fangs.
“I play a game with my sister, a sibling thing.” KB was proud of how only a little bit strangled he sounded. “She hides cameras in my apartment to make sure I’m safe, and I try to find them and destroy them because I’d rather be private. But I’m never quite sure I’ve gotten them all.”
"I ran the place over with my own bug-killer,” she said, and shifted in his lap. “You missed two in the kitchen.”
“Ah.” His hand found another slim knife on her thigh. He murmured back, “I should also mention, I may be the black sheep, and my father and Uncle Barry did their best to ignore the whole thing, but Agatha is the darling of the entire Romanian mob and I’m under no illusion that there aren’t at least three jägers waiting all the fucking time to come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who does try to shoot, or kidnap, or anything else me.”
“In that case,” she breathed against his lips, “I shall have to be very, very careful as I do whatever I want.“
- | + | -
Interpol arrived at his door the next evening. They knocked. Anevka took the gin-and-tonic KB had just made her and tucked herself into the guest room, which, with the door closed, happened to look exactly like a solid, lode-bearing pillar in the middle of his apartment.
He checked the peephole camera and then his phone, just in case Agatha was watching and had a warning, and opened the door without bothering to put on pants. “Agent Wooster! It’s been, what, nearly ten months? Gil isn’t here, and I have no idea where he is.”
“I, unfortunately, do,” said Agent Ardsley Wooster, badge ritually in hand. “But the Republic of Skifander continues to have no extradition treaties, so I cannot do anything about it.” As usual, he looked tired, sounded exaggeratedly British, and didn’t blink at the dinosaur-patterned boxers. The two uniformed officers at his back, borrowed from the NYPD, did, but KB understood jealousy.
“Agatha isn’t here, either, nor anyone else in my family—most of whom have been cleared of all charges anyway, by now.”
“Not my problem either, right now.” Wooster traded his badge for a couple photos from his pocket, one from a security camera in what was probably an art museum and one from a European National Enquirer-type tabloid. “I’m looking for Anevka Sturmvoraus, of the Sturmvoraus branch of the Valois Syndicate. French mob, serious business. Sometimes known as the Red Queen. Sources put her in this area.”
“The French mob?” KB said innocently. “That’s the wrong half of Europe for my family, agent. I think there’s pretty bad blood between them and—well. Even if I were interested in that lifestyle, which as I’ve told you and also my mother several times, I am not, I can almost guarantee that if a Sturmvoraus came to me, it would be with a gun in their hand.”
“You sister has recently been teaming up with Tarvek Sturmvoraus in some rather spectacular criminal activity,” Wooster said dryly, “including robbery, blackmail, digital espionage, and several counts of gratuitous PDA.”
“I don’t know anything about that and I don’t want to,” said KB, entirely truthful. But he opened the door wider. “But please, come in, peer obnoxiously through everything I own yet again, because I am a private citizen who only wants to aid the noble agents of the law.”
Wooster shot him a narrow-eyed Look, and KB remembered not to hold his breath as he thought that maybe he’d overdone the sarcasm this time.
But Wooster turned away with a wave of his hand. “No thank you, Mr. Heterodyne. But do call me if you see her. Tarvek Sturmvoraus perhaps aside, these days, the Valois do not have your extended family’s penchant for Robin Hooding. They are killers.”
“I appreciate the concern,” KB said, and meant it. Stockbroking had long hours sometimes, but he could think of fewer more thankless jobs than professionally chasing after the extended associates of the Romanian mob.
Then he closed the door in Wooster’s face with a roll of his eyes. Whatever.