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  • Published: 1 February 2022
  • ISBN: 9781529135831
  • Imprint: Century
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $32.99

Steal

Extract

PROLOGUE

BETTER THAN BETTY,

DEADER THAN DEAD

ONE

CARTER VON OEHSON MIXED himself a tall gin and tonic from behind the polished mahogany bar of his father’s billiard room, topping it off with a squeeze of lime.

“Remember,” his father once told him, “never put the used wedge of lime in your drink. Toss it and reach for a new one. Anything less is sloppy.”

Carter never forgot that piece of fatherly advice, if for no other reason than he was only nine years old at the time.

A von Oehson man is never too young to learn the finer points of life.

Nor will he ever be deprived of the finest education. After boarding at Phillips Exeter, Carter was now a freshman at Yale. Never mind that he was whip smart and probably could’ve gotten in on his own. It didn’t matter if he had the grades or test scores. What Carter had was his name — von Oehson — and, more important, the man who gave it to him.

Mathias von Oehson, Yale class of ’86, ran the world’s most profitable hedge fund. Fortune magazine listed his net worth north of twenty-four billion dollars, a hundred million of which was earmarked for his beloved alma mater upon Carter’s graduation. Of course, Carter had only just submitted his application to Yale when his father made that hundred-million-dollar pledge to three of the university’s senior trustees over some butter-drenched porterhouses at Peter Luger. Timing is everything. And for Mathias von Oehson, so was his only son going to Yale.

In fact, Carter’s enrollment had never been discussed between the two of them. It had always just been assumed. Like it or not, Carter, that’s where you’re going.

But, oh, how Carter liked it.

The all-night parties at Durfee Hall. The infamous naked run through Bass Library. Taking in a dome show at Leitner Planetarium while completely stoned out of your gourd, and afterward eating an entire coal-fired large pepperoni from Pepe’s Pizzeria. An Ivy League education at its absolute finest.

Best of all — what Carter really liked — was that a mere thirty minutes away, a straight shot south on I-95 in his matte-black BMW M8 coupe, was his parents’ home. One of their houses, at least.

It was a sprawling Nantucket shingle in Darien, designed by Francis Fleetwood, that overlooked Long Island Sound and measured twenty-six thousand square feet with an estimated value of fifty-four million dollars. And most of the time it just sat there. Empty.

Except when Betty was coming over. Betty was one of Carter’s best-kept secrets. She was also late.

Carter glanced again at the Patek Philippe strapped to his wrist with a preppy blue-and-white nylon band. He and Betty had had many dates, and he couldn’t remember another when she had kept him waiting. Time was money, after all. Her time, his money.

The thought of calling her flashed through his mind as he took a sip of his gin and tonic, but that idea was quickly rendered moot by the melodic chime of the front doorbell.

In ripped jeans and a faded polo shirt, Carter strode barefoot across the white Italian marble of his parents’ foyer. In some ways Betty’s arrival was the best part. The anticipation. The initial slow climb of a giant roller coaster before the ride of his life. And always, always, always the same two words when he opened the door.

“Hello, handsome,” she would say.

Not today, though.

Carter blinked a few times, confused. But also a bit mesmerized.

She was auburn hair, lush and long. She was tanned skin, even now, in the month of December, accessorized with a full-length mink that left little doubt that not much was worn underneath it.

“You’re not Betty,” he said.

“No,” she replied, slinking up to his left ear and whispering in a Russian accent. “I’m better than Betty.”

 

TWO

She breezed by him, planting a three-inch stiletto heel in the middle of the foyer and turning around. Her jade-green eyes shifted to his hand. “What are you drinking?” she asked.

Carter glanced down as if reminding himself. “A gin and tonic.”

Boring. You have any tequila?”

“That depends. You have a name?”

She shook her head, playfully disappointed. “Do you always ask so many questions?”

“That was only one.”

“One too many,” she chided him. “Besides, Betty told me you like a little mystery.”

“So, you and her are — friends?”

“Something like that. She had to travel somewhere last minute but thought you would like me.” She dropped the mink just enough to expose the curve of her naked breasts, slightly larger than Betty’s. “You do like me, don’t you?”

Um.

“I think you’re very pretty,” said Carter, sounding way more like a schoolboy than he wanted to. He cleared his throat, dropping a half octave. “In fact, I’d say you’re gorgeous.”

“Good,” she said, pulling the mink back over her shoulders.

“Now how about that tequila?”

Carter led her into the billiard room and straight to the bar. For sure, he’d impress her with his knowledge of the blue agave aging process. “Reposado or añejo?” he asked.

Or maybe not. “Shut up and pour,” she said.

Carter grabbed a lowball glass, pouring a generous shot of Partida Elegante. No sooner had he handed it to her than she threw it back like a pro, so to speak. Then, without the slightest hesitation, she reached into his gin and tonic for the unused lime, sucking it dry.

Plop. Back into his glass it went.

“Would you like to help me out of my coat, Carter?”

She turned around, the nape of her long neck and everything else about her inviting in Carter a hoard of extremely impure thoughts. Clink, clink, clink went the roller coaster, climbing upward. Were it not for the other sound in Carter’s head, his father’s voice, that mink of hers would’ve already been on the floor, along with the both of them.

“Cigars and women. The two things in life you always take your time with, son.”

That was on Carter’s eleventh birthday.

Slowly, Carter reached around with both hands, feeling his way inside the front of her coat. He hated the music of John Mayer — not to mention John Mayer himself — but for the first time he sort of knew what the guy was getting at with his song “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” This woman felt amazing. Her skin, soft as the mink.

Of course, a young man can only be so patient.

Carter’s hands slid past her navel, his fingers tracing the edge of her lace panties. He would do a drive-by first, a little tour of the perimeter before delving in.

Suddenly, he froze. What the . . . ?

There was a bulge in those panties where there absolutely, positively should not have been a bulge. Unless, of course, Better Than Betty was actually a — Benny?

Carter’s hands snapped back. He nearly tripped over his own feet as he tried to pull away. When she spun around, the first thing he saw was her smile. Then came the second thing.

He’d felt something hard, all right, and for a split second he was relieved to know that it was something other than what he thought. The next split second, he wasn’t so sure.

He could live with The Crying Game. But the snub-nosed, single-action .38 now aimed at his chest?

“Who are you?” asked Carter. “What do you want?”

“Again with the questions,” she said.

Fine, no questions. Just a knee-jerk offer born of sheer panic and an extremely privileged upbringing. “If it’s money, you can have it. As much as you want. I promise. Anything. You can have it.”

She shook her head with mock disgust. “See, now you’re insulting me, Carter. Do I look like I need money?”

“I didn’t mean to — ”

“Shut up already. You were better off asking questions.”

She cocked the hammer, the metallic sound — click! — echoing in Carter’s head and jogging loose the one and only question that really mattered now.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, his voice cracking.

Surprise, surprise. She shook her head no. But it was the way she did it, as if he’d just asked a tricky question with an even trickier answer.

“No, I’m not going to kill you,” she explained. “You’re going to do it for us.”


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