“THERE IS no such thing as a victimless crime,” Mattias Dumont said as he slowly walked up the rows of tables filled with men and women in uniform. “And I hate thieves. They’re selfish and care very little for others. They steal other people’s hopes and dreams, their livelihoods. They’re part of the reason all of us pay so much for insurance… because there is a victim for every crime. It’s you, me, and everyone else. I really do hate theft, so it sucks that I’m so good at it.”

He’d held the gaze of every person in the room up until that point. Then the deputies began looking at one another, some maybe even wondering if this was a test and they should take action.

A hand finally went up.

“Yes?”

“You’re bullshitting us,” the officer said. “You have to be.”

Mattias came to a stop at the front of the room and leaned back slightly against the table. “The statute of limitations on all my crimes expired a few years ago, and if you look me up, you’ll find next to nothing.” Okay, now he was bragging a little, but that was the fun part for him.

“Because you did nothing,” someone whispered from the back.

Mattias lifted his gaze from the front of the room to the back where a tall, broad-chested, jet-black-haired beauty stood, his arms folded over his suited chest. No uniform for this man. He was someone special. Mattias ignored the way his heart beat a little faster, the same way it had when he first touched an object he’d planned and studied for months to acquire. He’d always told himself he’d been in the acquisition business—he acquired things from their owners without their permission, often without their knowledge… sometimes for months.

Mattias kept his eye on Mr. Perfectly Pressed Suit as he continued his talk. “You won’t find anything on me because I didn’t get caught. Being a good thief isn’t like in the movies. There’s no Ocean’s Eleven… or some such crap where you try to see who can pull off the biggest or the best heist. A cache of small gems that can easily be removed from their settings and would be hard to trace is perfection. I made a very good living under the radar. I didn’t take the Hope Diamond, but I did steal from many people.” To him it had been a profession, one that had gone sour over time.

“Prove it,” Mr. Perfectly Pressed Suit said from the back.

The others in the room puffed out their chests, their police officer confidence kicking in.

“All right. Everyone stand up, please,” Mattias said calmly. “Someone identify an object that you want me to take.”

One of the officers held up a watch. It was plain and nothing that would ever have interested him during his career, but for demonstration purposes, it would do.

“Perfect. Put that back on, and I’ll demonstrate. I’d like you all to stay standing as I attempt to take the watch.” Mattias cleared his throat and pretended to think about how he was going to proceed. He wandered up and down each aisle, working his way over to the officer in question, who stood near the back, in the far aisle, with another officer in front and in back of him.

Mattias kept his expression neutral, as though he were concentrating, his gaze rarely wavering from his quarry. As he got closer, he nodded to the officer, whose gaze locked on to him. Mattias could almost feel his quarry’s heart rate increase the closer he got. This man knew something was going to happen, and he was prepared for it. Mattias turned the corner, anticipation building in the room, so thick that he could taste it. Every eye was on either him or his quarry, which was fine. Mattias was calm and cool, no worries. As he got closer, his quarry’s arm jittered slightly. Mattias watched it for a second and then lifted his head, meeting the gaze of the men and women around him. Passing by his quarry, Mattias smiled and continued back up to the front of the room.

“I still have the watch,” the officer said, holding up his wrist, and the others in the room clapped.

“I guess you aren’t as good as you thought.”

Mattias waited until the ruckus and self-congratulations died down and they all turned back to him. He cleared his throat. “And you are?” It was best to confront this type of adversary head-on.

“Detective James Levinson. I’m working with the sheriff’s department as a consultant on the robberies in the area.” His steely gaze held Mattias’s, and he didn’t look away. It was a test of wills, and Mattias enjoyed it, especially from the stunning man who made his body temperature rise and his heart beat a little faster just from the intensity in his eyes. This was a man who didn’t back down from a fight and who held tightly to his convictions. Mattias’s lips curled upward. He got the feeling that this was also a man who never admitted he was wrong. Good. Mattias liked that.

Mattias was going to love making him eat his words.

“Let’s see. Being a good thief is about doing what isn’t expected.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet, and opened it. “Pierre Ravelle.” He smiled and held up the wallet. “I believe this is yours.” The others in the room snickered as Pierre approached and accepted his wallet back. “No hard feelings,” Mattias said as he handed it over.

Pierre blushed slightly and returned to his seat. “Come on, guys,” Pierre said, to try to stop their razzing.

“Pierre isn’t alone.” Mattias began emptying the inner pockets of his jacket of their contents, including one more wallet, a pair of handcuffs, and a flashlight, as well as half a dozen other things. “Check to see what you’re missing and come up to retrieve it in a moment,” Mattias said, then slowly reached into an inner pocket, close to his body. He used his fingertips to pull out the service revolver and gently lay it on the table.

The room went silent, with each officer checking his belt.

“Detective Levinson, I believe this belongs to you.” He kept the smile off his face, watching as the detective checked inside his coat and then stormed up, grabbed his revolver, checked it, and slipped it back into its holster.

“Now there are hard feelings,” the detective whispered in a growl that under different circumstances would be sexy as all hell. Mattias swallowed hard and tried to put that voice and the way it sent a jolt of electricity running through him out of his mind.

“As I was saying,” Mattias began after Detective Levinson had returned to his position, and the others had retrieved their lifted articles, “thieves rarely do what is expected.” He once again leaned against the table in a relaxed stance. “I have done this same demonstration a number of times, and it’s always the same. You’re all trained and highly skilled police officers, so naturally you don’t think you can be the victim of a crime, but anyone and everyone is vulnerable.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

“How does this help us with this rash of robberies in the county?”

“Excellent question”—Mattias moved forward to see his name tag—“Deputy Brown. I will be working with each of you to try to learn how these thieves are operating, and then I will try to get into their heads to figure out where they might strike and how we as a department can get one step ahead of them.”

“This little demonstration…,” Detective Levinson said, clearly still smarting from Mattias’s applied skill.

“It was to earn your trust and to prove to all of you that I am good at what I do and that I can help you. For the record, I am a thief, or I was, just like I told you. Now I run my own consulting company, and I work with law enforcement to catch and apprehend people like the man I used to be.” Mattias held the edge of the table. “Do you have any questions?” A bunch of hands shot into the air. Mattias pointed to the man whose wallet he had taken.

“Deputy Pierre Ravelle,” he said, identifying himself, then cleared his throat. “Will you be working directly with those of us on patrol?”

“I haven’t been assigned to anyone specific yet. But the best thing you can do is keep your eyes open. Our thieves will be doing a number of things. They will be looking for victims and relatively easy, portable items.”

Ravelle’s hand went up again. “I work mostly in the courthouse….”

Mattias nodded. “You do realize that’s a great place to case people. There are plenty of lawyers, and some of them represent well-to-do clients. They wear expensive watches, and clients may have jewelry and other items. It surprises me the number of people who actually overdress for court. Keep an eye out for people who shouldn’t be there. I once cased a potential mark by posing as a garbage man. I hauled away their trash for a week. I learned plenty about them, and no one was the wiser. They had a security force, but they never looked twice at me.” He raised his eyebrows as deputies nodded. “There are a million ways to hide in plain sight. Part of what we’re going to do today is learn how to do some of that so you can learn the signs to look out for.”

“What kind of signs?” a deputy asked.

“Not the ones you see on TV. There aren’t going to be men hiding in TV repair vans or things like that. But a good way to be unobtrusive is as a painter. They wear coveralls, great for hiding tools and small pieces of equipment. They’re covered in splotches, so people don’t want to get too close in case they get paint on them. They’re left alone and can often wander through a building or crowd unobstructed. If I were casing the courthouse and wanted to be unobtrusive, I’d dress as a lawyer.”

“But everyone has to go through security,” Deputy Ravelle said.

“Yes, they do. Remember that the building is public, though. You can restrict what people bring in, but not who can enter. Everyone has a right to access the government services inside the building, and if they’re dressed as a lawyer, who is going to give them a second thought regarding wherever they go in the building? Like I said, it isn’t likely someone is going to be robbed in the courthouse, but it’s a great place for people watching. So while they may be watching you, it’s important that you are on the lookout for them.”

With his introduction complete, Mattias started in on the meat of his presentation to give the deputies some things to watch out for. The session was scheduled to last all morning, and Mattias could readily admit that they were a good group. They listened, asked questions, and really seemed to want to know what could be done to stop what was happening. Of course, Mattias was keenly aware of the hard and continuous stare of Detective Levinson. He had given this type of presentation dozens of times and worked with a number of police organizations all over the country, but he’d never been as self-conscious as he was under the detective’s gaze. Something about him got under Mattias’s skin, and he had no idea what it was.

“Thank you all for your attention. I hope I get the chance to work with as many of you as possible,” Mattias said at the end of his presentation.

The deputies stood, and many of them came forward to shake his hand, including Deputy Ravelle, which Mattias took as a good sign.

“That went well,” he told himself as he gathered his things to leave the room.

“I don’t know about that,” Levinson said as he stalked up toward Mattias. “You could have gotten yourself shot in a room full of cops if anyone had caught you. How would that have gone over?”

“Detective Levinson, I can lift the gun out of a policeman’s holster on a routine traffic stop if I want to, and there’s little he can do about it.” Mattias sat on the edge of the front table. “I have to give a demonstration in order for them to understand my capabilities, which I only gave them a glimpse of, and for them to understand how easy it is for thieves to get what they want, especially professional ones. And that’s what you’re dealing with, I’m pretty sure.” He smiled. “Think of it as an attention-getter.”

Detective Levinson rolled his eyes. “I think of it as a fox in the henhouse.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “And don’t think I won’t be keeping an eye on you. I don’t care what fancy title you give yourself or who hires you now. You’re still a thief.”

“Probably.” Mattias leaned forward and waited until curiosity got the better of the detective and he lowered his arms. The he pressed something small and metal into Levinson’s hand. “Maybe I can’t help myself.” He looked deeply into Levinson’s dark brown eyes, which bordered on fathomless. “Maybe it’s a compulsion. You know what that is, don’t you?” He parted his lips, and damn it all to heaven if Levinson’s eyes didn’t widen and his breathing pick up a little at his taunt. For a second his upper lip quivered, desire flashing across his features, but it was quickly schooled away. Not that it mattered to Mattias—a second of true insight was worth more than hours of boring recon.

“That’s….” Levinson paused as he raised his hand upward, scowling at the Swiss Army knife that rested there. “You better keep your son-of-a-bitch hands out of my pockets or so help me—”

A brisk knock on the door interrupted his tirade, and Mattias stepped back.

The door opened, and one of the deputies from the back of the class poked his head inside. “Sheriff Briggs wants to see both of you right now,” he said.

Detective Levinson dropped his knife back into his pocket and straightened his suit. He turned toward the door and stopped. “You go first, where I can keep an eye on you,” he growled.

Mattias chuckled softly, pulling the door open the rest of the way and leaving the room. There was something perversely rewarding about putting an otherwise-confident man just a little ill at ease. Hell, it could be downright fun, and as one of his foster mothers had told him years before, it was one of his supreme talents.

Mattias followed the deputy through the station and to the closed sheriff’s office door. He knocked and received a call to come inside. “Good afternoon, Sheriff Briggs,” Mattias said as he entered the office and sat in the far chair across the desk from him. “I believe congratulations are in order for your appointment.” He reached out to shake his hand.

“Thanks. I’m still only temporarily appointed until the next election in November.” Sheriff Briggs waited until Levinson came in, and had him close the door. “But that isn’t going to happen unless we break up this ring of thieves that has been operating in the county. They’ve struck from Mechanicsburg to Carlisle to Camp Hill. Even the rural areas have been hit, which is why it’s ended up on our plate. The various city departments have jurisdiction in their areas, but since this is bigger than any of them, they have all backed away and given us the go-ahead to take the entire case across the municipalities.” He leaned forward, his hard gaze landing on both of them. “I brought you both in to work on this, find out what’s going on, and bring them all in. Detective, you are the lead, and I’ll have two of my best men working with you. Dumont, you are a consultant assigned to Levinson and the team. You have a reputation for understanding criminals like the ones we’re after.”

“Yes,” Mattias agreed softly, reaching for the file as the sheriff handed it over. Detective Levinson took it out of the sheriff’s hand before he could, and Mattias stifled a groan. So this was how things were going to be, a pissing match? Well, he was more than up for it.

“Ravelle and Brown will be assigned to your team. They are both good deputies with a lot of experience, and they know their jobs and the county very well. If you need anything, you’re to let me know, and I will allocate the necessary resources. This entire situation has much of the public on edge. The news media is calling it a crime spree, and every night there’s some new story that is freaking people out. Homes have been entered during the day while people are home. They get in and out without being heard or seen, except by a few neighbors. The names of the people who might have seen them are in the file. Talk to them again, get whatever you can, and put these people out of business. And do it fast.” His eyes blazed, and Mattias nodded.

“I’m sure the detective and I will work as quickly as we can.” There was nothing else for him to add. Mattias had only seen the barest details up to this point. What he needed was a look at that file, and Levinson was holding it as though it were the Holy Grail.

“James,” Briggs said as he turned to Levinson, “you need to work as a team. You’ve gotten good results much of the time, but you won’t be able to solve this puzzle without teamwork and some help.” He stood. “I brought both of you in because you are the best at what you do. Now I expect you to work together.” He leaned forward. “And you will.” There was no arguing with that tone.

Mattias had never worked with Sheriff Briggs before, but then, he often worked with new chiefs and departments. What was clear was that Sheriff Briggs and the detective had a history.

“I understand,” James said, and the sheriff turned to Mattias. It was surprising how easily Mattias’s brain glommed on to the detective’s first name and held on to it.

“He’s a good cop, but he tends to do things on his own, and that isn’t what’s needed here.” Sheriff Briggs turned back to James. “Work together and get these people. There is way too much that’s disappearing.”

Mattias cleared his throat. “If I can ask, how long have you two known each other?” It was best if he knew what sort of political environment he was walking into.

“James and I went to the academy together in Philadelphia,” Sheriff Briggs explained. “We were roommates for a while as well. Even then James was a superstar.” He turned to James, and his expression softened. “You lived and breathed police work, always have. But I’ve come to realize that one of the keys to solving cases and getting convictions is teamwork.” His expression grew pointed, and Mattias wondered what was behind the comment. He didn’t dare ask, and filed it away for later. “I’d love to have you on my team here, but I can’t do that if you won’t work with them. We are too small a department for renegades.” He drummed his fingers on the desk, and James and Mattias stood. Clearly they had received their orders and were being dismissed.

“You deserve this position, Solly, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure you get elected,” James said.

Mattias headed for the door, feeling a bit like an intruder on a private conversation. He opened the office door, stepped out, and closed it again. If they wanted to talk privately, that was their business.

“Mathias,” one of the officers said, getting his attention.

“Mattias,” he corrected as he stopped.

“Sorry. I’m Clay Brown, and you know Pierre. We’ve been assigned to the robbery team.” Both men shook his hand, and Pierre patted him on the shoulder.

“No hard feelings, though maybe you could show me how you got my wallet so easily.” He smiled and turned to Clay, who nodded. “The more we know about thieves and thieving, the more we can help people.”

“Of course. I’ll be happy to show you anything I can.” They seemed like good enough guys. “Where are we working?”

“I got us a small room off the squad area. That way we can gather our information and keep it in one place. I got some boards and stuff so we can share ideas.” They were both clearly excited to be working on this.

“This sort of thing can be tough to crack.”

“We aren’t afraid of hard work.”

“Pierre and I are looking to advance, and we think this is a good way to do it.” They opened the door and followed Mattias inside. The room itself was sparse, with serviceable furniture, a table that was scarred from years of use, and, as promised, whiteboards and a corkboard. “Where do we start?”

“James has the files, so we’ll need to wait for him and then have a look, unless you guys know something?” Mattias asked, and they shrugged.

“No details, just rumors so far.”

Clay snickered. “I have this theory that it’s surfers who came in here to ride the waves on the creek off Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs.” He snickered, and Pierre rolled his eyes.

“Nice Point Break reference. You a Gary Bussey fan?”

They both shook their heads. “Keanu Reeves,” they answered in unison, then laughed.

Well, that told him something interesting… very interesting. “He was hot then, wasn’t he?”

The door opened and James strolled in, closing the door before dropping the file on the table with a paper smack. Pierre took it, and Mattias waited for James to say something. “What was hot?” James asked, slipping off his suit jacket.

“Well, actually, we were just musing on how hot a certain detective was in his suit and tie.” Dang, it was fun to see James put off his game. “But now that you’re here, we should get down to work.” Mattias pulled out a chair and sat. “Let’s go over the crimes, how they got in, what they took, time of day—all of that.”

“It’s in there,” James sniped. “You can read as well as the rest of us.”

“And we can either get to work or have a pissing contest,” Mattias said. “Let’s get to work. Lay out as much detail as we can and see if there are any patterns. If this is a small group of people, then there will be patterns of some sort. Thieves stick to what works—get the goods and move on. They don’t reinvent the wheel for each heist. Like I said, this isn’t an Ocean’s movie.” Mattias sat back, watching James as he pulled out the chair at the far end of the table, plopped into it, and reached for the file.

“Ravelle, would you do the honors?” James asked, handing him a red dry-erase marker.

Mattias lifted his messenger bag onto the table and pulled out a small laptop. He opened it and started entering the information into a spreadsheet as they wrote it on the board.

“What are you doing?” James asked.

“Going high-tech. If it’s in here, we can search and rearrange it much more easily. I’m also hoping to see if the MO matches anyone I know.” Mattias raised his eyebrows. “No loyalty among thieves and all that.” He cocked what he hoped was a wicked grin and got back to work, listing the details as James and Clay called them out, going through nearly a dozen higher-end robberies.