The Commodore Building, Luxury Living at Its Finest™

Downtown Caldwell

Balthazar, son of Hanst, had shoes that were soft as lamb’s ears on his feet. His skintight clothes were black. His head and most of his face were covered with a skull cap. His hands were gloved.

Not that vampires had to worry about leaving fingerprints.

As he lived up to all the silent, creeping myths about his species—or at least the ones the humans made up—he was a shadow among shadows, whispering through the high-ceiling’d rooms of the largest condo in the building, cataloguing all manner of goodies that were on display in dimmed light.

The fucking triplex was like a museum. For someone who watched a lot of AHS.

Coming around another corner, and entering yet another small room with a theme to its objects, he stopped short. “What the . . .”

Like the other capsules he’d ghosted through, this one was filled with glass shelves. It was what was on them that was a surprise—and considering he had sauntered through an entire room full of Victorian surgical instruments, that was saying something.

Oh, and then there’d been the bat skeletons.

“You went and bought a bunch of rocks,” he murmured. “Really. Like you didn’t have anything better to do with your money.”

Through the darkness, Balz drifted over the fancy parquet floor to something that looked like a loaf of pumpernickel bread that had been overproved. The thing was egg-shaped with a semi-solid core, its outside limits full of holes, the whole production set up on some kind of Lucite stand. A little nameplate that was brushed gold read: Willamette Fragment, 1902.

Each of the hunks seemed to be named for a place: Lübeck, 1916. Kitkiöjärvi, 1906. Poughkeepsie, 1968.

None of it made any sense—

Dover, 1833.

Balz frowned. And then, before he could do any conscious math on the date and place, the past slammed into him: Without warning, he was sucked away from the luxurious, weird condo, teleported by memory back to the Old Country . . . when he and the Band of Bastards had been living on their own in the forests, scrounging for food, for weapons, for lesser kills. Ah, those rough and exciting earlier years. They’d been the very opposite of where they were now, aligned with the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the First Family, crashing in a great gray mansion on top of a mountain, safe, sound, protected.

He missed some parts of the good ol’ nights. He wouldn’t change a thing about the present, though.

But yeah, back in March of 1833, in the Old Country, the bastards had been just rousing from the shallow cave they’d taken refuge in to avoid the sun during the day. Suddenly, overhead, a brilliant flash of light appeared to streak across the entire night sky, burning bright as a star and growing larger by the heartbeat, its tail a streamer of sparkling jewels.

They’d raced back into the cave, and crouched down, arms over skulls to protect heads and faces.

Balz had thought that maybe the world was coming to an end, the Scribe Virgin finished with pussyfooting around with the species- or perhaps the Omega had discovered a new weapon against vampires.

The explosion had been close by, the sound of the impact earsplitting, the ground quaking, stone particles falling on their shoulders as the structural integrity of the cave was challenged. After that… several minutes of waiting. And then they’d filed out and sniffed the air.

Iron. Burning iron.

They’d followed the metallic stench through the trees . . . to find a smoking burn pit, with a small rock in the center. As if an odd, mystical bird-creature had laid a toxic egg.

Balz came back to the present and looked around again.

These were meteorites. All of these craggy chunks of God-only-knows-what had traveled through space and landed with fanfare on the earth. Only to be corralled here by a collector with a lot of money and an arguably clinical case of OCD.

“Fill your boots,” Balz muttered as he continued through.

It had taken him a couple of weeks to scope out this target—said research and stalking the anticipatory foreplay before the orgasm. Husband was a hedge fund manager—which to Balz conjured up images of a man in a suit safeguarding $27.94 in bush trimmers. Wife was a former model—which meant she was still hot, just not photographed professionally now that she had a ring on it. Unsurprisingly, there was a nineteen-year age difference between the two, and given the life spans of humans, that wasn’t going to matter so much now when it was a case of late fifties vs. late thirties. Ten years from now? Twenty?

Hard to imagine that wife with the good bone structure and the superior posterior was going to find dentures and a walker worth rolling over for. But whatever. Not his problem.

Apparently, when you were a manager of hedges that had funds, you needed a hot wife. You also required some real estate flex. Or six properties, as the case was. Here in Caldwell, the guy had purchased the top three levels of half the Commodore, and the layout of the triplex was logical. First floor was made up of big public spaces for entertaining—you know, for when you needed to throw checks-for-canapés events to support local philanthropies. The second level was this rabbit warren of little rooms with their curated collections of space pebbles, nineteenth-century poke-and-tickle nightmares—and oh, yup, those three dozen bat skeletons that were like model ships only with wings.

Balz actually almost respected the guy’s taste.

As for the third level? That was what he was after, and when he came up to the staircase, he ascended those marble steps on a whisper. Oil paintings by Banksy marked the curving wall, and up above, a chandelier strung with lead crystal prisms gleamed quietly, like a rambunctious debutante that had been told to pipe down at the ball. Up on the penthouse level, the wall-to-wall carpeting started, and there was a change in scents here, a flowery bouquet tinting the air with lavender, honeysuckle and the lilting freedom that came with big fat bank statements.

Balz followed along the runner, the pile so thick it was like walking on Wonder Bread, the trail taking him by a lineup of arched windows that let in a glowing view of the skyscrapers and linking roadways below. The sight of the streaming lines of white headlights and red taillights, and the random sprinkling of offices that had had their ceiling fixtures left on, and the glowing, graceful arches of the twin bridges, was so captivating that he had to take a moment to appreciate the urban landscape.

And then he was on the move again.

The security system had been as expected, a high-level, integrated set of belt-and-antiburglar-suspenders that had been a fun challenge to disarm.

Hey, Vishous wasn’t the only one who was handy with the IT shit, ’kay?

In fact, it had been a moment of pride for Balz that he hadn’t had to consult the Brother with the Mensa membership about disarming all the motion detectors, door contacts, and laser-sighted sensors in the condo. And the fact that Balz did it all by hand and on his own was part of the rules he set for himself. These humans with their portable objects of value were sitting ducks for a thief like him. For all intents and purposes, in any conceivable house, condo, apartment, yacht, bunker, whatever, he could just dematerialize in through a plate glass window, put the inhabitants to sleep mentally, and use the five-finger discount to take whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

But that was like playing Monopoly with a set of brass knuckles. If you could just knock out your opponent, take all the hotels and houses, and all the paper money, and all the properties? Well, congratulations. You just roll those dice and move your little shoe around the board for the next seventy-five thousand rounds, playing with yourself.

The challenge was in the constrictions. And in his case, he applied all human limitations to himself: He was not allowed to do anything that one of those rats without tails couldn’t. That was the one rule, but it had many, many implications.

Okay, fine. He also cheated on occasion.

Just a little.

But he was a thief, not a priest, for fuck’s sake.

Going along, he wasn’t interested in the lineup of empty guest bedrooms. In fact, the entire place, including the panic room(s) he was heading for were vacant. He’d intended to get in here when the happy couple were clocking time on the premises—because homeowners were much more of a challenge when they were actually, you know, home—but he was on rotation with the Brotherhood and the Mr. and Mrs. traveled a lot of the time. He was done waiting for the stars to align.

The animal charity he was giving the cash to needed to rebuild after that fire. Fortunately, none of the dogs or cats had been killed, but their medical wing had taken a hit.

What. So he was a sucker for four-legged things. Besides, he didn’t need the money and having a purpose to the taking was what made everything more than just a robbery hobby.

The master suite was an apartment within the condo, a localized concentration of super-fancy and ultra-private that included a separate kitchen area, its own terrace, and a bathroom/closet combo the size of most people’s houses. And they’d totally followed Jodie Foster’s 2002 example. The whole thing went on lockdown in the event of an infiltration by someone with a net worth of less than $40 million or, if it was female, a waist-to-hip ratio lower than 0.75.

Standards, doncha know.

As he crossed into the Big Man Zone, he stopped and listened to all the quiet. God, how fucking boring was this. He really would have preferred to wait for the Mr. and Mrs. to be in res. Trouble was, he had a certain imperative on his timeline, and those two were always traveling.

Coming up to an archway, he glanced into the kitchen. It was barren as an operating room and just as cozy, everything stainless steel and professional. Then again, it wasn’t like there were any family dinners happening. The Mr.’s original Mrs. and attendant offspring, generated prior to his making his first billion, had been jettisoned like a bad investment. No further use for cozy things.

Sleek and beautiful, cold and state-of-the-art.

Like the new wife, the new life.

Balz kept going. The dressing room had two entrances, one through the bedroom and one through a shallow hall for the servants. It seemed only polite to choose the latter consider he was committing a felony on the premises and he was surprised to find things locked. No problem. Taking out his picklock kit, he was in like Flynn in under a minute, and as he entered the Neiman-Marcus-worthy collection of suits, ties, dresses and accessories, he breathed deep. Ah. So this was the source of the fragrance that permeated the upper floor, and yeah, if money had a scent, this would be it. Heady, strong enough to be noticed, yet not overpowering . . . flowery, but with the serious weight of sophisticated men’s cologne.

But like rich people were going to smell bad?

And shit, it was a wonder the Mr. and Mrs. had anything left in the bank considering these threads.

Behind glass panes, just like the display cases downstairs, hanging rods were set at all levels, as if the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of clothes were perishable if left out to the open air. There was also a thirty-foot-long center aisle of double-sided bureaus, his and hers.

Party time.

Whistling through his front teeth, Balz tap-danced along as he zeroed in on the compartment holding the man of the condo’s array of tuxedos. Opening the glass, he Red Sea’d the shoulders of the fine silk jackets, parting the lot of them down the middle. The wall that was revealed was smooth—except for the square outline that, if you didn’t have vampire eyesight or the details on the safe’s location, you wouldn’t tweak to.

Outing a CPU the size of a venti latte, he typed a couple of commands on the BlackBerry-like keyboard. Then he put the unit against the wall. There was some whirring sounds, a clunk and a hiss . . . and then the panel retracted to reveal a three-by-three-foot safe face with an old-school dial—which had been a nice surprise when he’d hacked into the alarm system to check on the how many’s and where’s of its contacts.

He respected the analogue choice. Because, hey, you couldn’t break into the damn thing over the web, and as he gave the dial a little spin, he acknowledged that he would have had a hard time getting inside even with a blowtorch and a couple of hours.

So yeah, it was time to fudge his rules.

As he triggered the non-copper lock with his mind, the easy capitulation of the row of internal bolts made him feel like he’d been sitting in a Barcalounger eating Doritos for two nights straight: He felt bloated by the ease and dulled by the lack of challenge.

There would be other nights to be tested, he told himself.

When the safe door opened, a little light came on inside, and it illuminated the kinds of goodies he’d expected. The interior also had—wait for it—see-through shelves, and everything on them was separated into—surprise!—like kind: There was cash in stacks that were banded together, reminding him for some reason of bunk beds. There was a case full of watches rocking back and forth, jet-setters line-dancing to some unheard song. And there was a whole bunch of leather jewel cases.

Which was what he was here for.

On that note, he picked off the top one. The thing was bigger than his pretty damn big palm and covered with red leather embossed with a gold border. Digging into the release with his thumb, he popped the lid.

Balz smiled so wide his fangs made an appearance.

But the happy-happy-joy-joy didn’t last as he counted the cases still left inside. There were another six, and for some reason, that half dozen of further opportunity exhausted him. In another time in his life, he would have gone through each one and picked the most valuable. Now he just didn’t give a shit. Besides, what he had was Cartier, and the diamond weight was in the forty-to-fifty-carat range with superb cut, color, and clarity. Like he needed more?

And no, he wasn’t going to scoop them all. His rule was one thing, and one thing only, from any given infiltration. It could be an object, a bunch of things in a container, or a set that was somehow loosely, but tangibly, linked together.

Back in the Old Country, for example, he’d stolen a carriage with four perfectly matched grays under that little loophole.

So he was sticking with the Cartier, and leaving the rest behind.

Getting to his feet, he willed the safe door closed and relocked. And just as he was wondering if he was going to have to get out his trusty little 007 whammy-box again to close the panel, the wall section came down and clicked into place automatically.

For a moment, all he could do was stare at the vacant white Sheetrock between the parted sea of the tuxedo jackets. Closing his eyes, he felt an emptiness that—

“What are you doing?”

At the sound of the female voice, Balz spun around. Standing in the doorway that led in from the bedroom, the Mrs. of the triplex was directly under one of the ceiling fixtures—which meant her diaphanous nightgown was utterly translucent.

Well, Mr. Hedge Fund Manager, Balz thought, you certainly did well for yourself at the altar.

“What are you doing here?” Balz tossed back with a slow smile. “You two are supposed to be in Paris.”

Join The List

Subscribe to get J.R. Ward’s newsletter and receive exclusive content, news, book updates, and more!