There's an old theory that lust is envy. The Major thinks of it when Eroica strides angrily into the room and her eyes are drawn as always to his classically proportioned body. The narrow hips and broad shoulders, the toned lean muscles, the flat chest. Dorian is willowy for a man, but still so much broader than a woman. Than Major Klarisza Eberbach.
Ignoring her scrutiny, he stalks right up to her, close enough that she has to tilt her head back to meet his blazing sky-blue eyes. At least she's tall for a woman, and no one questions her right to wear boots with sturdy heels giving her an extra inch or two. She doesn't allow herself to step back, but keeps her feet planted firmly, shoulder width apart, an unfeminine stance she had consciously adopted before she was even at university. She keeps her eyes narrowed and her jaw set. And as usual, she's wearing a crisply pressed suit with trousers and a bra two sizes too small to flatten her chest. All the little tricks she's learned over the years to make people forget that she is a woman, because she isn't. And they work, but not quite enough, never quite enough.
“Why the hell was the number of security guards around my statue tripled?” he demands.
Klarisza snorts, an unladylike habit that the nuns had tried hard to train her out of. No matter how she feels about him, the thief's presumption that anything he wants is automatically his property is really too much. “It isn't 'your' statue yet, Dieb.”
“You knew I would want it,” he accuses. “You're the one who told them to increase security!”
She smiles, the tight-lipped frightening half-smile she perfected while she was still in school, and does not deny it.
The Earl's lovely eyes are glittering. He's probably calculating whether his larger, sturdier bone structure will trump her years of training. She knows it won't. He comes to the same conclusion, or maybe he just doesn't want to add assaulting a government agent to his rap sheet. His angry face looks, not like a hedonist thwarted in the pursuit of some silly bauble, but like an avenging angel. He turns away, striding to the window to look out while he controls his temper. He is the most beautiful man she has ever seen. His long legs end in an adorably round derriere that makes her wish she had.... Klarisza wrenches her mind away from that thought. If he catches her looking, guesses what she's thinking – she's seen how he reacts to women. He won't be able to understand that she isn't one.
“I just had a hunch.” Over the years she's developed a habit of lowering her voice. The cigarettes helped. The effect they have on her voice isn't her only reason for smoking, but it's one of them.
“So what do I have to steal for you this time, to get you to call the dogs off my statue?” he asks bitterly, not turning away from the window. “Some bloody microfilm, I suppose.”
“Well, since you're offering.” Eroica snorts. The Major ignores it. “Signor Tessaro has some blueprints we need. They are, we believe, in the safe in his office.” She reaches into her pocket and puts a Minox camera onto the nearby table. “Photograph them for us without leaving any trace of your break-in and I believe I can persuade the museum that the threat is less grave than I had thought.”
He turns, arms still folded across his nicely muscled chest, and frowns at her. She almost forgets what they're talking about, so caught up is she in admiring the movement of his lovely face. The poetry in motion of the interplay between the wide masculine jaw, the thin male lips, the pretty robin's-egg eyes (how it had burned to see those eyes feasting on Z, Z who would never be half the man she was), the delicate gold eyebrows, the long gilt lashes. The long golden curls tumbling over those muscled shoulders. The perfect mingling of masculine and feminine qualities, which never failed to draw her to beautiful gay men.
And they were always swift to adopt her as a sister, and some of them who misread her own mix of qualities would find some very nice tomboyish women to introduce her to.
“I don't understand,” Eroica said bluntly. “You and your agents are trained spies. You could break in on your own and photograph these documents yourself. This isn't like the Vatican, this is just an office building. It doesn't require thieving skills of my caliber.”
Klarisza feels trapped, but she only shrugs and reaches for the Minox. “Then I suppose you won't get a crack at that statue.”
He snatches the camera up before her fingers can close on it. “Oh, I'll do it all right, and I'll hold you to your end of the bargain. I wouldn't mind inconveniencing Tessaro a bit myself.” He tucks the camera safely into his pocket, and her eyes follow the movement, admiring and envying how much larger his hand is than hers, despite the graceful slim fingers. She forces her eyes back to his face before she can admire or envy anything else. “But why? Why do you always drag me into your missions, instead of just stealing the bloody microfilm yourself?”
“I do whatever my mission requires,” she growls.
“Bollocks.” He steps closer to her, and she hopes he doesn't notice the way her breath catches. “There's something else. Why pick on me? If you just wanted me arrested you could've done it by now.”
Her heart starts to pound as she realizes that this is the moment, at last it's time to tell him.
“You won't like it.” She barks out the words.
“Bloody hell, I don't like what you've done so far. Just tell me the sodding reason.”
Very cautiously, she sheds a little of her armor, the iron wall she has spent years building around herself so that no one could get her in those too-painful spots, no one could see her vulnerable bits and hurt her. She knows how dangerous this is, but for Dorian, for the exquisitely beautiful Prince of Thieves, the risk of heartbreak is worth it. No other man would be, or has been.
She lifts her chin and meets his gaze. “It's because I love you.” And she holds her breath. She wonders if her eyes are pleading, and hopes not.
The surprise on his face is beautiful. So is the comprehension. He spends his life surrounded by people whose bodies don't quite match what the world expects of them, he has to understand. He has to have heard enough stories, told late at night over too many glasses of something strong, to know all the things she isn't saying to him. Maybe he even took some despairing young man to bed to show him that the body he was trapped in wasn't so bad, maybe he helped some tearful young man pretend. But some things you couldn't pretend away, and the pity on his face is beautiful too.
“I am sorry,” he says at last, and he looks as if he means it.
She shrugs and turns her back on him.
After a minute he tactfully walks out without saying another useless word to her.
Angrily she rubs her sleeve over her cheeks, roughly as if to punish them, and vows she will never again deliberately cross the path of Dorian Red Gloria. And as she clamps her jaw and practices her usual Eberbach glare on a few inoffensive objects in the room before stalking out, she wonders how long she'll be able to keep that vow.