“You look great tonight,” Tara said to Parker, looking her right in the eyes.
Parker resisted the urge to look herself up and down. She was wearing black tights, of course, her favorite pair of low heeled black boots because of their excellent tread and water repellent qualities, and a black top. Okay, the top was maybe one that Sophie had picked out for her saying something like “feminine blah blah blah shoulders blah a little cleavage you know works wonders, Parker.”
Parker squinted suspiciously at Tara. “Thank you?” She tried not to upspeak but it was so confusing to have a grifter who was kind of on the team, kind of not on the team, and who was definitely not Sophie even though Sophie had promised Parker that she, Sophie, was not actually dead (usually people who were buried were dead but not, Parker had to admit, always), and that she, Tara, was a good friend of Sophie’s and that she, Parker, could trust her (Tara).
Tara continued to smile warmly with a bit too little blinking, and Parker continued to squint.
Just as Parker began to swing away from the bar and get the hell out into what was almost certainly a night good for falling (with ropes of course), Tara laid her hand on Parker’s upper arm. It was a gentle hand despite the fact that Tara was very muscular and certainly quite a bit stronger than her grip on Parker gave away.
“I feel like we should get to know one another a little better,” Tara said. She waved at the seat that Parker had just vacated. Parker felt herself sitting back down even though Tara’s hand was very gentle.
Parker didn’t really want to get to know Tara any better. She wanted Sophie to come back as soon as possible. Parker did not like working with this new grifter whom she did not trust. Parker doubted that knowing her better would make Parker trust Tara more; in fact, she bet that knowing more and more about Tara’s skillset would make her trust Tara less and less. It hadn’t been that way with Sophie, or with Nate, or with Hardison, or even with Eliot, but with Tara, Parker was pretty sure the less she knew the better.
“You don’t trust me,” Tara said.
Parker, if possible, squinted at Tara even harder, so much so that the grifter became kind of a blonde blur.
“True,” Parker admitted.
“Trust is important to you,” Tara accused.
“I trust you to be an excellent liar,” Parker said, trying to be fair.
Tara laughed. “I am that.”
“Sophie wouldn’t send us someone who wasn’t the best,” Parker said.
“You trust Sophie,” Tara said.
Parker thought about it. Sophie had never tried to make Parker trust her, or claimed to be trustworthy. But she looked at Parker as though Parker made sense, whereas many people acted like Parker never made sense, and Sophie tried to understand the sense Parker made, which many people never did, which wasn’t fair, because Parker often made the most sense out of anyone.
“Sophie doesn’t tell me I’m crazy to my face,” Parker summed up, “and also, not behind my back.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Tara said. Her face was so open. It made Parker nervous. “You’re smart, you’re skilled, and you’re unafraid. Excellent qualities in a thief.”
Parker liked excellence. “Thank you,” she said, fairly certain she had been complimented. “You wear a lot of makeup.”
Tara smiled. “That’s my preference. The style encourages people to make certain assumptions.”
“People make so many assumptions,” Parker said. “It’s so stupid. If a thief, like me, made that many assumptions, I’d be locked up faster than I can crack a Yale lock, and that is under six seconds.”
“Your world is made of facts — brand of safe, sensitivity of motion sensor — and mine is made of human behavior. Human behavior is not so much about facts.”
Parker nodded. “Human behavior can be predictable. You should always expect the worst out of people. But then again, so often they do something you would never predict. You have to be constantly on your toes, with people. That’s why I like to do jobs on my own.”
“Think of it as a dance,” Tara said. “You dance, don’t you?”
“Gymnastics,” Parker said. “Not ballet. Too tall.”
“You would be wonderful at ballet,” Tara said.
The buttery sound of Tara’s voice made Parker tense up again.
“You really don’t like compliments,” Tara said. Her voice was always so full of laughter. Maybe she was just a really happy person.
“Don’t con me,” Parker said, irritated. “I’ll tell Sophie.”
“I’m not conning you, I swear!” Tara laughed, eyes wide, and hands held up as “innocent.”
“Don’t try to flatter me,” Parker said. “It doesn’t work. I know what I’m good at and I don’t need anyone to tell me about it.”
“I was just trying to say, that I admire the way you move, and I would enjoy watching you dance,” Tara said, watching her carefully. When Parker didn’t say anything, Tara went on. “I’d like it even more if I could dance with you.”
“Why would you want to dance with me?” Parker asked.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Tara asked. She was still smiling, but her eyes were a little less wide.
“There’s no music,” Parker said. The bar was closed and no one else was around.
“I have music,” Tara said. She pulled out her phone and began to thumb through her library. She plugged in earbuds and offered one to Parker.
For a moment, it seemed so wrong — to put anything into her ear except one of Hardison’s tiny devices. But she went ahead and did it. Soft drumbeats and some British guy talking about hot-wiring a car.
“C’mon,” Tara said. “Let’s dance.”
Tara stood up and Parker stood up with her. They were tethered together by the wires coming out of Tara’s phone. Tara led Parker just two steps away from the bar, and then sidled around behind her.
Tara’s arms snuck around her middle, but not too tight. Parker hadn’t ever danced with many partners, and never like this, with her dance partner behind her. It was weird. But actually, not too bad.
The song was slow and Parker had no problem moving in time with the music.
“Who are you thinking of?” Tara murmured.
“Nobody,” Parker said. But as soon as she said it, she began to think of everybody.
“Do you wish you were dancing with Sophie?” Tara asked.
Parker laughed. “This isn’t how Sophie dances.”
“How does Sophie dance?” Tara asked.
“However she needs to for the mark, of course,” Parker said. “But I’m not the mark. So I doubt she would dance with me.”
“I bet she would dance with Nate,” Tara said.
“Maybe,” Parker said. “Or maybe it would be less dancing, and more like standing up kissing.”
“Sounds very likely,” Tara said. “What about Spencer?”
“What about him?” Parker said.
“Has he ever danced with you?” Tara said. Her voice was low, just loud enough to hear over the music.
“No,” Parker said, but now, she was thinking about it.
“I bet he’s a fantastic dancer,” Tara said. “Nothing too fancy. More of a two step man. But strong. Right?”
“Mmhm,” Parker said. Suddenly she could imagine it very clearly. Eliot had sparred with her lots of times. He took it very seriously, teaching her and Hardison how to defend themselves. He was powerful, every move fluid and precise. Dancing with Eliot would be like fighting him, but he wouldn’t fight to win. Parker shivered.
“Maybe you would rather dance with Hardison,” Tara suggested. Her breath tickled Parker’s ear, and her front was warm against Parker’s back.
Now Parker’s mind was on overdrive, already imagining the tall, lanky man, his tasteful cologne, his soft eyes twinkling down at her, the feel of his big hands careful against her body.
“Or, maybe both of them,” Tara whispered, over the soft beat of the music. “Hardison behind you, Spencer in front. Spencer looking at you with that look, sizing you up, knowing every weakness, Hardison just the opposite, backing you up with everything he has to give. You’re a very lucky woman.”
“What are you talking about?” Parker said, confused, which made her a little angry. She pulled out the earbud and turned to hand it back to Tara.
“Let yourself dream,” Tara said. “Imagine Hardison holding you, safe and close, and Eliot right here, his lips just barely grazing yours… that perfect hair of his swaying soft across your collarbone as he leans in.”
“I don’t want to imagine things like that about my team!” Parker retorted.
Instead of leaning away from Parker’s anger, Tara leaned in. Tara was just as tall as Parker, looked her in the eye.
“You never had a team before,” Tara said. “I’m betting, you never had a lover before. Sex, maybe, but not a lover. A really talented lover, like Spencer, will give you whatever you want before you even know what you want, or like Hardison, who’ll make it his mission in life to be perfect at everything you like the most.”
Parker felt hot all over and yet, she shivered. Frowning at Tara, she didn’t know what to say.
Tara moved even closer and carefully, put her hands on Parker’s shoulders, pulling them close, belly to belly.
“Grifters like me, like Sophie, we see inside people. We see things people don’t even know about themselves. Just call this a professional bonus. Both of those men are well on their way to doing anything you ask, up to and including falling in love with each other to top it all off. A trio this compatible is incredibly rare. I couldn’t just let it go without telling one of you. So I chose you to tell. You’ll know when the time is right.”
Tara leaned forward just one inch more, and kissed Parker softly on the cheek.
“Don’t be afraid, Parker. That’s all I’m saying. Think how it feels to stand like this, so close, sharing the same breath. And think how fine it’ll be with them. Just let it happen and don’t run away from it. Okay?”
“Okay,” Parker said.
Tara hadn’t taken anything for herself. The only thing she’d done was tell Parker a good story. Maybe it would happen, and maybe it wouldn’t. But Parker found she did trust Tara more now than when the evening began — whether the woman could really read minds and see the future or not, she had tried to give Parker good advice. And that was cool.
“Thanks,” Parker said.
“You’re welcome,” Tara said, and with a parting smile she picked up her coat and bag and was out the door.
Parker shifted from foot to foot and closed her eyes. She swayed for a moment, and what she imagined gave her a tiny smile.
The song Tara plays is “Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)” by Sting, Sacred Love (2003), because she wants to play a song a thief would like. “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart,” by Sinead O’Connor, from the soundtrack to In the Name of the Father, is very beautiful, but not at all the mood Tara is going for. Sting’s song is noir and romantic, with a hint of danger. The original thief song is “The Pink Panther,” by Henry Mancini, but also not the right vibe. Any other good thief songs out there?