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in spite of all the danger

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“Frank Moses will owe me for the rest of his life,” Han says, “but I understand that he's busy.”

This is true; it's also Victoria's understanding that Frank, Marvin, and Sarah are deeply ensconced in hijinks in a country where at least two-thirds of them don't speak the language, and while she imagines that she'll end up coming to their rescue at some point, for now she does have a brief window of free time. Still, she knows better than to confirm or deny. “I'm your second choice, then. So flattering.”

“What I'm saying is that Frank owes me a favor. A thousand favors. You don't. But I could use a partner on this one." It's as close as he'll come to saying please. "Unless you're otherwise occupied."

She surveys her surroundings. Her beautifully decorated, blissfully silent home. A few lazy days before the next job, gardening, cooking, cleaning out her freezer. Awfully, awfully tempting. On the other hand, working with Han to save the world had been rather fun, not that she's about to say that out loud.

“So you're not interested.”

“I didn't say that, did I?”

She can't think of a good reason to say no.

So she doesn't.

*

The job goes so smoothly that, when she collects her portion of the fee, she briefly considers asking him to come along on her next one.

Victoria has never been a lone wolf, exactly; she's comfortable working alone, and she really does enjoy it, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to take stock of your own strengths and recognize the ways that a well-chosen partner's particular skills might expedite the desired result.

But she recognizes the glint in his eye, the post-job high; after all, she's looked in the mirror.

Someone has to be sensible.

She keeps her mouth shut about the next job.

*

In Saint-Tropez, she takes on the persona of an Italian widow on vacation, and indulges in a bit of reconnaissance on the beach, keeping a close eye on the target while impressing upon her fellow revelers that she's a harmless old woman. Age does have a few advantages.

Not that the French care, she supposes; she could walk over and straight-up murder this fellow and they'd likely just go about their business.

The tourists are another story, however.

As the sun goes down, the target, a reprehensible if not precisely villainous Dutch businessman, rejoins his group after a busy day of frolicking in the sea and leering at underage girls, and they head back toward the hotel. She finishes off a blue drink of some sort before following them at a reasonable distance, and the infinitesimal amount of rum must have been enough to affect her faculties, because the Italian widow is obliviously crossing the hotel lobby when she hears a familiar click behind her. Instinctively, she reaches for her knife.

“Nothing wrong with your hearing,” Han says. He's already put the gun away. The bastard is practically grinning.

She keeps her cool. “Is there a bounty on my head?”

“Just keeping you on your toes.” He pauses. “What's with the accent?”

“None of your business,” she says primly. “What are you doing here?”

“None of your business.”

“Let me guess: you're here for him.” She nods in the direction of the Dutchman, who's holding court with his entourage of ten bodyguards across the room. From what she can gather, they're waiting for a taxi, then they'll be off to engage in some gluttony, among other sins. He'll stagger in and pass out, hours later, and that's when she'll finish the job.

“Double booked.” Han shakes his head. “They must really want him dead.”

“I've been watching him all day, and trust me, he deserves the extra attention.”

“I know,” he says. “I read the file.”

“Though I suppose it is a bit insulting,” she notes, dropping the accent.

“Who says you were hired first?”

“I didn't say it was insulting to me." She smiles sweetly.

“Miss?” It takes her a moment to realize that the Texan is talking to her. Behind him, a woman of the same age, approximate size, and jovial temperament looks at her expectantly. “I believe you left this back at the beach.”

“Not mine, I'm afraid,” she says, slipping back into character. “But I'm sure they have a lost and found here.” She gestures toward the concierge.

The Texan takes his error in stride, tipping an imaginary hat to her. “Sorry to have bothered you, miss.”

When the couple has taken their leave, Han leans in close and says, “Pardon me, miss,” in a terrible Southern accent. She pretends not to be amused.

“Do shut up,” she says. “As I was saying--”

“May the best man win?”

She pats his shoulder. “Something like that, dear.”

*

Around 3:15 a.m., the Dutchman returns to the hotel and stumbles into his room, deeply, stupidly inebriated, and sans entourage.

She waits by the door; it won't be long before he starts snoring, and then she'll be in and out before you can say arrivederci.

Han appears out of nowhere and slides by her, then slowly turns the doorknob with his other hand.

She's about to object, hot on his heels, but the Dutchman's not asleep yet. He barely manages an outraged squeak at the sight of Han before the bodyguards swarm in.

She hangs back and watches as Han works his way through the entourage. The target cowers in a corner, watching his highly skilled employees hit the ground, one by one.

Han likes to fight, and he's certainly good at it—well, that's an understatement, she supposes. She doesn't enjoy hand-to-hand combat as much as she once did, and in her experience, well-stocked ammunition renders it largely unnecessary. No point in spoiling his fun, but she takes advantage of the distraction to get the Dutchman squarely in her sights, ready to claim her victory.

She's just about to pull the trigger when she's yanked backward by the neck by a makeshift garrote, of all things. She lashes out with her elbows and feet and hears a satisfying grunt from her would-be assailant. Across the room, Han finishes with the last bodyguard and finally draws his own weapon, but instead of firing on the target, he turns and fires just over her shoulder. She expects to hear the sound of another bodyguard collapsing, but when she turns to look, there's no one there.

The Dutchman, on the other hand, has a knife sticking out of his left temple.

“Did you see who it was?” Her voice is a bit more hoarse than she expected, but at least she doesn't have to bother with the accent.

He's out of breath, too. “Your American friends with the scarf."

“You're joking.” She looks at him. “Are you? Sometimes I can't tell.”

He's too winded to spar with her. “She was behind you, but I don't think I hit her. They just disappeared.”

“Well, that's anticlimactic.” She walks out without looking back, but when she gets to her room, he's still there.

And he's got that look in his eye again.

Honestly, she probably does, too.

After she closes the door behind them, she thinks, what the hell, and lets him kiss her.

Life is short, as the Dutchman could attest, so if she can't have the satisfaction of a job well done – or a job done at all – then she might as well live a little, while she still can.

She rests her hands on his waist to pull him closer and is rewarded by a sharp intake of breath; she must have landed on a fresh bruise. She presses her fingers into it, just slightly, then grins against his lips and kisses him back.

Being sensible is highly overrated.

*

In the morning, she's already dressed by the time he starts to stir. “Shame we both lost this one,” she says.

“At least we didn't have to clean it up.” He yawns and stretches. “I wonder if they went back for their knife.”

“Doubt it. Probably their calling card.” She sits on the edge of the bed.

“What's next for you?”

“The Italian's going to stick around for a few days. You?”

“Vienna. Another very bad man.” He pauses. "Though I suppose he could be worse.”

“Edward Bailey is a hard act to follow,” she agrees.

“You want in? Could be a rematch.”

She's still a bit sore, but she's seriously considering it when her phone rings.

Marvin. Of course.

She excuses herself.

When she returns, she says, “I don't imagine you want to swing by and help some old friends before heading off to Vienna.”

“I don't have any old friends.” He examines his fingernails.

She fixes him with a look. “You really must forgive Francis,” she says. “It's not healthy to hold grudges.”

He laughs. “I'm very healthy. Or have you already forgotten?”

“You know what I mean. Emotionally healthy.”

“Well, you know, I would love to help your friends, wherever they are, but unfortunately, I don't have a plane.”

She rolls her eyes. “I will personally buy you a plane if it means an end to all this foolishness.”

“Meet me in Vienna when you're done and I'll think about letting it go.”

She can't think of a good reason to say no.

So she doesn't.