Scaling the wall wasn't difficult at all. A rappelling hook lodged in one of the many convenient niches offered by the little parapet atop the schloss and Dorian was shimmying up the side.
The third story was the best point of entry, he had decided that afternoon as he studied the job.
He and his team had been in the zeppelin heading for Bonn as soon as he saw the item in the paper, naturally. (The zeppelin's name was Red. He had told Klaus this once. Klaus hadn't cracked a smile. In this case, Dorian suspected that it wasn't that Klaus lacked a sense of humor, or that his self-control was iron; he probably simply hadn't known the reference.)
James had pouted the whole way, of course. "I've been telling you to give up on that machine maniac for years, my lord. This only proves that I was right! Besides, do you know what this trip is costing us?"
"I suspect you're about to tell me," Dorian had said wearily. He had been correct; a long recitation of figures had followed, none of which Dorian had paid any attention to.
At least the others hadn't objected. Not out loud. But looking around at their too-patient expressions, he had known their sympathies weren't with him.
"I have to try!" he had burst out at Bonham, only a minute before they landed.
And Bonham, who hadn't said a single word the entire flight, had nodded understandingly. Which had annoyed Dorian far more than James's whining. "I know, me lord. Of course you have to make one last try."
One last try. There it was. They weren't complaining because they were sure that after this it would be over.
Unfortunately, they might be right.
Reaching the window he had chosen for his point of entry, Dorian braced himself against the wall. From his toolbelt he pulled a glasscutter. With patient efficiency, he cut a perfect circle in the glass, pushed the little pane to tumble silently onto the thick carpet the owners had thoughtfully provided, and slipped a gloved hand inside to unlock the window.
Really. Couldn't they give him a challenge?
The limo had been waiting when they landed. In a matter of minutes, Bonham pulled up in front of NATO headquarters and hopped out to open the door for his employer.
No one challenged the Earl as he strolled in, ignoring the security checkpoint to go directly to the elevator. The guards simply shook their heads, and one of them picked up a phone. Eroica was well known here, and everyone preferred to let Major von dem Eberbach deal with him. Dorian suspected this was chiefly because everyone enjoyed seeing someone put the formidable Major off balance for a change.
The alphabets dove under their desks when he appeared in the doorway of the office. Klaus glanced up at the disturbance and bawled, "IDIOTS! Don't stop in the middle of your work just because a queer walks in!"
They all hastily resumed their seats and tried to look busy. Dorian sauntered through the room to Klaus's desk. Klaus glowered at the papers in front of him, a cigarette hanging from his lips, though Dorian doubted he was actually comprehending the printed words any more than his alphabets were genuinely paying attention to their own work at this moment.
He was gorgeous, as always. That handsome face with its derisive expression, the eyes as gray-green and pitiless as the ocean, that mouth which was kept set in a grim line in a futile attempt to hide its sensuous, kissable shape
. Today's suit was a deep, dark brown, matching his almost-black hair. Something about a wool blazer and horrendous tie over those broad shoulders and that strong chest always made Dorian want to lean against it. If he ever got the chance to, he was certain that it would be a feeling of perfect safety.
Stifling these imprudent musings, Dorian waved the newspaper in front of Klaus. "Is it true?" he demanded.
Klaus raised his eyes at last, his gaze dismissive. He didn't ask what. "Is it any of your affair?"
"I've been in love with you for years. You know that perfectly well. Yes, I think it's my business if you get married."
Dorian would have bet a Bougeareau that none of the alphabets were breathing. And Klaus's eyes could have made frost form on the tip of Dorian's nose.
Then the Major stood, so abruptly several alphabets jumped before quickly going back to pretending to work, and seized Dorian's arm above the elbow. "Just as well you're here, Limey," he growled. "NATO has a job for you."
The window was well-kept and slid open smoothly, with very little noise. The occupants were busy with their banquet downstairs anyway. No one would hear a thing.
Dorian slithered in, long legs first, and landed like a cat on his feet and silent.
The Major steered him into another room, apparently a conference room of some sort, unoccupied at the moment. Klaus shoved him in and then locked the door behind them.
Dorian didn't give him a chance to say a word. "Who is she? Is she beautiful? Are you in love with her?"
"I don't answer idiot questions," Klaus snapped.
"I came all the way from England to find out," Dorian insisted. "We're supposed to be in Italy stealing their cultural heritage right now. Tell me."
Those sea-green eyes had seldom looked less friendly. Dorian had to steel himself to hold Klaus's gaze. But he did it, refusing to give an inch. The silence stretched and grew taut between them.
"You want me to break off the engagement," Klaus stated at last.
Dorian almost fell over with shock. Did Klaus mean
? No, he couldn't possibly, and yet
"Steal something for me, without mentioning it to anyone else including your bloody gang and I will."
Dorian stared. Surely it couldn't be this easy.
"Well? Are you going to do it or not?"
"You swear you won't marry this woman if I do this job for you?"
Klaus nodded once, contemptuous.
Dorian still didn't really believe it, but he said the only thing he could say. "What is it you want stolen?"
Klaus told him.
Then Dorian really didn't believe it.
Klaus hadn't been sure where the safe was, but Dorian was an old hand at finding such things. He made his stealthy way to the library, and sure enough, there it was behind an ancestral portrait. Drearily unoriginal. The portrait, too. As Klaus would say, "Humph."
The safe was a good one, as safes in private homes went. It kept Dorian busy for nearly a full minute. Then it slid open, welcoming him in. He peered inside.
The Major had requested that Dorian not steal anything besides the item Klaus wanted, though without any particular vigor. Dorian didn't see anything to seriously tempt him, however. The safe held the usual things: stock certificates, a couple of velvet boxes that doubtless held jewelry, some cash. And the item Klaus had sent him for, right on top. As he reached for it, Dorian was still vaguely surprised it hadn't all turned out to be a practical joke on Klaus's part.
He bundled his prize up and made his way back to the third floor of Schloss Traubeck.
"You want me to steal what?" Dorian examined the man he loved, wondering if perhaps he had gone round the bend for sure. First an engagement, after so many years of successfully evading his father's plots to acquire heirs, and now an utterly senseless mission.
"You heard me." Klaus's cigarette was burned almost down to the filter. He crushed it under his foot, not looking at Dorian, and lit another. He always looked sulky as he bent to ignite his cigarettes, his bristly long lashes sweeping his cheeks in unconscious flirtation, the lighter looking oddly dainty in those large, strong hands
Dorian pulled his attention back to the moment. Talking to Klaus was always difficult; the man was so sexy that he kept getting distracted. If he didn't know better, he would think his poor repressed darling did it on purpose.
"What does NATO want with such a thing?" Dorian asked blankly.
Klaus faced him and jabbed an index finger in his direction. "That's none of your concern! All that concerns you is, you'll have to snatch it from them if you want me to break off my engagement."
Dorian allowed his look to become frankly puzzled. "You're saying that if I don't steal this utterly absurd item for you, then you'll retaliate by marrying a woman you don't want to marry?"
The Major's face was grim. "That's what I'm saying."
Another heavy silence fell.
After a long time, Dorian said, "I'll do it."
And then the Major surprised him even more. His broad shoulders sagged slightly, his rigid posture relaxed just a little. And some tiredness seeped into his irate expression.
"Thank you," he said.
And when Dorian's eyes widened in shock, Klaus gave him a dirty look and insulted him a few times before giving him the particulars of the job.
An hour after he had closed the Traubeck safe, Dorian was at the barren little flat Klaus kept in Bonn. He thought about climbing in through the windows or something, but decided instead to enjoy the novelty of Klaus actually letting him in for a change. He might have to get used to it, after all.
"Do you have it?" Klaus demanded as Dorian sauntered in. The Earl was still wearing his black catsuit. If Klaus noticed how flattering it was, he did a good job of concealing it.
"Safe and sound, darling."
"Give it to me!"
"Where are your manners, darling? Aren't you going to offer me a drink?"
." The warning note in that growl was familiar.
Dorian gave his beloved an angelic smile. "You hired me to steal it, darling. Not to give it to you."
Those sea-green eyes widened. With alarm?
In the Traubeck library, Dorian had spared a minute to examine his prize. A foolish thing to do, but then, this caper was lunacy, pure and simple.
It was an old sealskin, musty and slightly tattered at the edges. Worth perhaps ten Eurodollars on the open market. Locked in a safe with the family's most valuable possessions.
Dorian ambled over to the sofa and draped himself over it decoratively. From this pose he gave Klaus a burning, intent look. The Major was still standing beside the door, and he had that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.
"How did they get it? Did your father give it to them, so that you'd have to provide him with a grandson?" When Klaus only stared at him, Dorian went on, "Dirty trick. And on his own son."
Klaus's Adam's apple bobbed, and he had to wet his lips before he could speak. "He was right. I have a duty to the line."
"But you won't be carrying it out now, will you? Certainly not with Fraulein Traubeck. Not now that her family doesn't have the sealskin."
Klaus managed to look away at last, but he didn't look any less trapped. "Where is it?"
"Where no one but me can find it."
"You have no right" Klaus stopped, wary.
Dorian spoke quietly. "You must have known I would guess what it was. My country has the legends too, you know. It's even said that Emily Benedict Luminous Benedict's great-grandmother left her husband when she found where he had hidden hers."
The Major's voice sounded parched. His face was quite pale. "This is none of your affair, Eroica."
"You knew I would guess." The thief's voice grew even softer. "You knew I would realize what could be done with it." He gave Klaus a moment to deny it. Klaus didn't. "You must have known I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of keeping it."
The Major stood frozen, his gaze now riveted on Dorian. He said nothing.
"You must have wanted me to have it," Dorian said gently.
A muscle in Klaus's jaw leapt. That was his only reaction.
Dorian stood up slowly, as if Klaus were a dangerous animal he didn't wish to startle. With deliberation, he walked over to him, taking his time. Klaus still looked apprehensive, but made no move to protest or resist.
Dorian framed Klaus's wonderful strong jaw in his long-fingered hands. Klaus gave a tiny start, but made no other reaction, only waited.
"Don't worry, my love," Dorian murmured, right before kissing him. "I'll never give that sealskin up."