“Are you insane?” Matisse Vervein stared at the man on the other side of the desk, convinced he couldn’t have heard what he thought he had.
His day had begun normally enough until a cop had pulled him over right outside New Scotland Yard and told him he’d been speeding. Matisse had no idea whether that was true or not. He’d been too engrossed listening to the track coming from the Land Rover’s sound system to watch the numbers on the dashboard. Never having had a speeding ticket before, Matisse had expected to get away with a slap on the wrist. Instead, the officer had asked him to step out of his car and follow.
He’d been led deep into the famous building, until he ended up in a small, tidy office, where a middle-aged man in a suit introduced himself as Detective Superintendent Timothy Montgomery and offered him a seat.
Montgomery had a friendly smile, and the twinkle in his deep blue eyes could pass for reassuring. He’d confirmed Matisse’s identity, but made no mention of speeding fines. Instead, he’d opened his mouth and—
“Did you just ask me to go undercover?” Matisse’s voice rose to something close to a screech, but he didn’t care. He was a singer, a pop star with a fanbase of millions. He had minders, assistants, stylists, and personal shoppers. He didn’t… didn’t….
“I did ask you that, yes.” Montgomery didn’t bat an eyelash at his outrage. “Though I didn’t quite mean it the way you heard it. We’re hunting an art thief who snatches jewellery, often during promotional events or fundraisers. You’re a star. You’re at home in the environment our thief operates in and you’re known to support the arts. Nobody will question your presence at a charity gala. And we could use your help.”
“You are insane.” Matisse didn’t care that he was insulting a senior police officer. The very idea was ludicrous. “I know nothing about police work. I know nothing about how thieves work. I—”
“We wouldn’t send you to do this alone,” Montgomery placated. “That’s not how we work. Why don’t you let me introduce you to your… partner?”
Right on cue, the door opened and a man stepped through. Matisse took in brown curls, chocolate-dark eyes, a perfect cupid-bow of a mouth… and his hands started to sweat. His breath caught at the sight of wide shoulders in a rumpled Henley and well-worn denim moulded to strong legs. When the man turned to close the door, one look at the tightest arse this side of Covent Garden sealed the deal.
Matisse was officially, royally, fucked.
Not that the detective super took any notice. He waved the newcomer closer and grinned like the cat that’d gotten the canary. “Come in and meet the rock star, Josh.” He turned to Matisse. “This is Detective Inspector Josh Ingram. He’s leading this case.”
Matisse rubbed his palms over his thighs, glad he’d dressed himself this morning and wasn’t wearing leather. Sweaty palms were embarrassing enough. Damp streaks down his thighs would be— He stood and held out his hand. “Matisse Vervein. And I don’t do rock.”
“That’s a shame.”
Josh Ingram’s throaty rumble was as sexy as his arse. He was half a head taller than Matisse and a good bit wider. Older, too, and he loomed in an enticing way. Matisse wanted to be¬—
Matisse cut that thought short.
He wasn’t out. He couldn’t be out, doing what he did. And he had no idea whether the walking beefcake in front of him shared his inclination. Given the way he looked at Matisse, as if Matisse were dirt on his scuffed Doc Martens, chances weren’t good.
“You like rock? I like rock. I can do rock—I sometimes do—but it’s not what most of my fans want to hear.” The intense gaze didn’t move from his face, and Matisse wanted to hide. Great. Now he was babbling.
“Relax. I don’t bite.”
That’s a shame. Matisse opened his mouth. And closed it again without emitting any sound. Josh Ingram’s grip circled his bicep and returned him to his chair. Matisse kept his eyes down. He’d almost outed himself. A replica of Josh’s comment had been on the tip of his tongue, ready to spill forth in response. That couldn’t happen. He couldn’t let it happen.
Desperate to control a situation careening off the rails, Matisse reached for his star persona. His hands were in his lap, his back didn’t touch the chair, and neither his voice nor his face gave anything away. “Asking me to help the police is ludicrous. But still… go ahead and talk. I can listen.”
~ oOo ~
At some time in the past, his boss had earned a PhD in stupid ideas. Josh knew it. Most days, he was okay with it. But this… this was the stupidest idea in the history of stupid ideas.
Josh needed a beer.
He slammed through the door of the place he considered his local, three minutes down the road from Scotland Yard. He didn’t live in Westminster, of course, but he spent more time in this joint than in any other. The place felt like a home away from home: calming and soothing. Somewhere to relax.
Right now he was desperate for all of that, never mind it was only lunchtime. A few tourists scattered before him as he stalked to the bar. He tried for an apologetic smile, not sure the lame attempt did much to reassure them.
“And who pissed in your cornflakes this morning?” Chris, the pub’s landlord, opened the door to the small, secluded snug the moment he saw Josh, and set a pint of Old Peculier in front of him before Josh had parked his arse on a barstool. The two of them went way back, and Josh could count on Chris not to mince his words. Or to flinch when Josh replied in the same vein.
“Tim fucking Montgomery.” Josh drained half the pint in one long swallow. He set the glass back on the bar and dropped his head into his hands. They were alone in the snug and Chris was a good listener. He also knew Josh’s boss, another plus when Josh was hanging on to his temper by his fingernails. “It’s this case I’m working. We need to move in posh circles, and said posh circles aren’t cooperating. So, in his infinite wisdom, Tim’s landed me with a fucking baby rock star.”
“For real? Who?”
“How the—” Josh dialled it back. It wasn’t Chris’s fault that Tim had lost the plot. “I dunno,” he grumbled. “Some blond kid, barely out of nappies. Matisse something?”
“That sounds about it.”
“You’re goin’ to work with Matisse Vervein? And you have no idea who he is?”
“Yes, you damn well should.” Chris’s outrage was almost comical. “He’s famous. Why didn’t you bring him with you?”
Chris pulled him a second pint. “Listen. Matisse writes awesome music. He has a voice that makes your knees go weak and he moves like honey down your arsecrack. People pay money to shake his hand and you’re grousin’ over the chance to work with him? What’re you gonna do, anyhow? Start a dance studio?”
“Don’t even fucking joke about that where Tim can hear it. That idea is too appalling to contemplate.” The second pint went the way of the first and finally—finally—the edges of Josh’s anger and agitation blurred a little. The tight coil of tension in his shoulders and neck unwound a notch and he blew out a deep sigh. “Fuck, I hate this.”
“Could you be overreactin’ a little?”
Josh was mellow enough now to allow the question some room. “Yeah, you’re right.” This case had taken his best friend’s life. It had dragged him halfway across Europe. And now he needed the help of a rock star to get a handle on it? “It’s… I don’t see why… and he’s so damned young and—”
“Don’t judge him yet. He looks younger than he is,” Chris soothed. “Listen to his music sometime. Especially the stuff he writes for others. There’s a lot more to him than he lets on.” He clapped a hand on Josh’s shoulder and turned him around. “Now, get out of my snug, find yourself a table, and let me bring you some food. You need grease to soak up all that beer.”
There was no arguing with Chris. Josh had learned that a long time ago. He hid in the farthest corner of the bar, and he found a grateful smile when a plate of steak and chips materialised in front of him, along with a third pint.
~ oOo ~
“Did he buy it? Matisse. Did he buy it?”
“Yes.” The screech coming from the other end of the phone was of the ear-splitting variety. Tim Montgomery held the receiver a foot away so the noise wouldn’t deafen him. It was a good thing he knew his sister-in-law and had prepared for the assault on his hearing. How Marissa could be one of the most sought-after managers in the entertainment industry while impersonating a card-carrying fangirl for large parts of the day escaped him, but she did it in style and six-inch heels.
“What did he say? Tell me all,” she requested, almost breathless with excitement.
Tim obliged. Matisse Vervein had surprised him. He’d never met any of the artists Marissa had represented over the years. Not even Matisse who, given his ticketing power, record sales, and the crowds of fans he could mobilise, moved in serious star territory. Tim had no yardstick to measure star behaviour, but except for his incredulity, Matisse had been quiet, serious, and attentive.
He’d also been rather taken with Josh Ingram. Tim hadn’t missed Matisse’s widened eyes, or the way he’d dried his clammy palms on his thighs before he’d returned Josh’s handshake.
“Josh made an impression.” He concluded his recital and smiled at the relieved sigh coming over the line.
“Oh, thank God. What about Josh?”
“He’s appalled I’ve landed him with a partner, of course. I’m not sure it has quite sunk in yet who that partner is. Or what this will mean for his investigation.”
“You’re still sure it will help him, too?”
If he’d not already had a soft spot for Marissa, the uncertainty in her voice would have endeared her to him in any case. When she donned her armour of six-inch stilettos and power suits, Marissa turned into the queen bitch from hell. Outside of her job, she had the kindest heart of anyone Tim Montgomery had ever met. She’d never gotten over seeing Josh fall apart when he’d learned of his best friend’s death.
It wasn’t a day Tim would ever forget, either. They’d been gathered in the back garden of his Sutton home: his family and everyone from his department not on holiday or on duty. Barbecue and beer, music and laughter, and then a phone call and Josh, linen pale from one heartbeat to the next, his movements frantic, and his eyes empty.
There’d never been any romantic feelings between Josh and Paul Galbraith. The two had been friends since their school days, were partners at work, and they’d never come across a man they couldn’t cheer or a case they couldn’t solve.
Until Paul had died while on holiday with his wife, looking at a medieval locket in a Roman market.
Josh might as well have died with his partner, because his infectious smile had disappeared that day. They’d all had to get used to a stern-faced, driven Josh Ingram, who turned all his skill and dedication to tracking down the piece of jewellery stolen from the Vatican, and the thief, both in the hope of eventually finding the collector who’d ordered the theft and had wielded the knife that had killed Paul. He’d come close on two occasions, only for the thief to slip through his fingers. Now it seemed that Josh’s persistence had bought them another chance.
Tim Montgomery hoped with all his heart that, this time, he’d be lucky. And if it needed the help of a pop idol, then he’d barter with the devil for it.