Four damn hours.
Four damn hours it took to get upstairs.
Four hours of tottering around in a stupid frilly uniform, pretending to be a vapid little girl whilst serving hot hors d’oeurves to drunken business men and their snobbish wives. Oh, Josephine hated the wives even more than the men. She hated their eyes, the way the dance of their pupils as they flickered back and forth between their husbands and Josephine, and the way their blackened lashes bowed as they narrowed in dislike and suspicion. What Josie’d done to them, she’d never know. Surely it wasn’t her fault that the skirts were just a little too short. Even if – no, especially if she were a real maid, their envy would be ridiculous. As if the truth matched the stereotype, as if that silly uniform could seriously be sexy or even flattering.
She kicked off her patent leather heels and pushed them aside with her foot. The bedroom door closed behind her, and she surveyed the room, failing to suppress her short laugh. Poor Lady Dunway, downstairs hosting her husband’s party through a haze of opiates and liquor. Josie made a mental note to swipe a bottle of scotch before she snuck out and headed back to the ship. The proceeds of this job would fund her trip across the sky to the far east, where even greater treasures waited for her; she could already taste expensive incense on the evening air and feel the luxurious silk between her fingers.
Yes, that loot would hold her for a long time, provided her powers of seduction held out. Not that she was particularly worried. She’d never failed before. On lucky nights she was able to slip something into her victim’s drink, on lousy ones she had to pleasure them to sleep. Either way, the benefits were well worth her trouble.
No, no, there would be no idea in Lady Dunway’s frizzy blonde head that she would wake tomorrow in a bedroom stripped of valuables. Well. The pretty ones.
Last stunt Josie pulled like this one was in the manor of Baroness Jocelyn de Galliano of god-knows-where. The loot had turned out to be so tacky that Josie was practically embarrassed to sell it. She’d spent hours prising the gems from their casings and claws so she could sell them loose at the backdoors of jewelry businesses. When she tried to have the metals melted down they were rejected, and she’d received mocking laughter along with a promise that nobody would accept the cheap gold and silver substitution. Fucking hassle. No repeats of that fiasco, please.
Not in the least bit worried about being discovered, Josie peeled off the rest of her scratchy disguise and began – in her undergarments – searching through the countless chests and boxes that lined the walls of the lavish room. Time wasn’t really of the essence, she knew that these parties had a tendency to stretch through the night until lavender light crept up into the balmy summer air. It would be hours before the golden glow of the mansion’s windows blinked out and left the house standing in the darkness before dawn.
As if it had felt the need to reinforce her confidence, the small gilded clock on the mantel chimed eleven times. Josie truly enjoyed doing this. She couldn’t imagine a better job. The pleasure of the act matched the worth of the profits perfectly, sometimes exceeding it. There was something soothing about the soft felt and velvet lining the jewelry boxes at her fingertips, and the slight clicking of pearls as her moving hands disturbed them in their places.
Her hair was falling out of her tight bun, tendrils of her usual auburn waves beginning to tickle her neck. She pulled out the ribbon and shook her head, letting the wild waves loose. Blowing bangs out of her face, she got back to work. The only sounds in the room were the soft tinkling of chains and the sliding of tiny wooden drawers. Her attire now only consisting of petticoats, corset and stockings – she looked down and frowned before crudely tearing the thin material from her legs. No stockings – she had no choice but to stuff the stolen jewels into her corset, bottom and top. It was silly in theory but practical in truth, though she wasn’t looking forward to the hard stones pressing into her skin as she climbed down from the… she froze.
There was a series of abrupt clicking noises from the door. Someone was trying to get in. She looked around, panicking slightly. She’d locked the door, but that wouldn’t buy her enough time to escape. Her clothes were still strewn about the room, she’d taken no care to sort them out in case of an emergency. She’d be found out immediately. She closed her eyes and waited for the door to open.
When the door opened, there was a long beat of silence.
“What the hell? Josie?”
There was no way she could mistake that voice. Her eyes flew open in shock.
Kurt stood in the doorway, sporting a black and silver costume mask with several flamboyant peacock feathers. He was holding a glass of brandy in one hand and a key in the other. He’d outdone her in one way, she hadn’t thought to steal the key. She just assumed she would pick the lock as always. He downed the liquor and walked into the room, grinning as he set the empty glass down on a dressing table. “I don’t believe this.”
“Kurt, I thought you were waiting on the ship! I told you I had a job tonight!”
“You didn’t tell me it was this one. I was bored, I decided to double our income and swipe a bottle of scotch.” He held up his prize. Josie shook her head.
“Well you beat me to it,” she told him.
He motioned to the window. “Think we should get out of here?”
She looked at the clock and sighed. It was still early, but she was done with her work, and that scotch looked promising. She shrugged.
“I have to say, you are the last thing I expected to find in this room.”
There was a beat. Josie stood there, practically naked, wearing nothing but a corset and skirt, with diamonds and pearls spilling out of them every which way. She looked at Kurt.
“Can you really complain?”
His eyes had a wicked glint to them as he walked over. He picked up a string of pearls and slowly pulled them out of her corset. He beckoned for her to follow him to the window. “Not really.”