It was snowing in Paris, and Anna and Patsy walked gingerly from the burly four-wheel drive vehicle to an anonymous wooden door. Anna tapped a message on the tiny keypad in her pocket and Rod replied in her earpiece.
Patsy pressed the doorbell.
“Madame Cracksman pour voir Madame Valentina Stephanovitz.”
The door opened quietly and the two women stepped into a well-lit hallway. The sound of footsteps to their left alerted them and they turned to face a middle-aged woman wearing a simple brown habit. Her eyes passed over Anna’s denim and leather clad figure more or less unseeingly, but widened at the sight of Patsy wrapped in mink and made up with a lavish hand. Patsy met those judgmental eyes coolly and it was the nun who blinked first.
“Gospazha Stephanovitz is expecting you.” The woman spoke in a carefully modulated and unaccented voice.
“Lead on then sister.”
Anna was pleased to still be able to hear Rod in her left ear. He chuckled mirthlessly.
“Pats not going down too well I take it.”
Anna ruthlessly smothered the desire to laugh and followed the nun’s disapproving figure down a short corridor. She tapped on a set of double doors.
“Gospazha. Your visitors are here.”
“Well show them in and go away.” The voice was tetchy and less beautifully rounded than that of the plain-faced nun.
The woman who sat in a deep window seat watching the snowflakes fall from a purplish-grey sky was so thin the light almost shone through her. She turned a wide brown gaze on them and almost smiled.
“Mrs Cracksman. And?”
“Mrs Henderson,” Anna supplied. “We are sisters.”
The woman in the window seat visibly relaxed. “I’m sorry to appear unwelcoming, but I have received some odd visitors from time to time.” Her English, though careful, was excellent and Anna breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Patsy put out a tentative hand.
“I just bet you have. People seeing you as a conduit to your son. Which is what I’m doing, and I’m sincerely sorry for that.”
“I have no problem with you coming to see me. Your honesty is refreshing. So tell me how I can help you.”
“I’m rather hoping you will be able to persuade your son to leave my sons alone.”
“That may be difficult. He believes he is owed a life.”
“I believe he is not. But if he was I would offer myself to protect my children.”
“I understand that. But the lengths you will go to to protect your sons are the reason my son seeks revenge against your family.”
Anna looked over at Patsy to see a bleak, closed look come across her friend’s normally cheerful face and stepped in before Patsy’s anger could blow the top off this meeting.
“How so?” she asked quietly.
“It is understood,” the woman spoke in a carefully uninflected voice, “that your son got into something over his head. And that when he wanted out you took mayhem and murder to his aid.”
Anna silenced Patsy with an upraised hand.
“How can a child get in over his head?”
“In our world a teenager is not a child.”
Anna began to see the edges of the problem. “A teenager? We are not talking of the same child. When they kidnapped him last year, William Cracksman was eight years old.”
The woman took that like a body blow.
“Kidnapped? Eight years old?”
Anna just nodded.
Their hostess turned and stared out at the thickening snow. Then she squared her thin shoulders.
“Alexei. Will you come out please.”
A door in the white panelling opened quietly, and a bulky but beautifully tailored man stepped into the room. He walked over to Patsy and took her chin in his hand.
“Do you swear to me that your ‘sister’ speaks the truth?”
Patsy broke his hold on her chin with a contemptuous slap to his wrist.
“Before we get to any swearing I think you need to introduce yourself.”
Anna closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. What in hell was Patsy up to? Then she realised. Whoever this was, it almost certainly wasn’t the billionaire who was financing the war against anybody called Cracksman. That man was called Yuri. Anna tensed and tapped out a message to Rod to watch his six. Meanwhile, Alexei shaped to slap Patsy, but a firm command from the window seat stayed his hand.
“This is my husband’s nephew. He heads up Yuri’s personal security, and was sent here to protect me. Although it begins to look as if I am not in need of his services.”