Zeke Prescott was in a pickle. Literally. A big, green deli pickle with small bumps he could only describe as warts. He didn’t even like pickles. He’d never gotten the point of eating a cucumber after it’d gone bad.
Or wearing one as the case may be.
But, unfortunately, Zeke hadn’t been given a choice. It was a matter of honour among men. A principle of pride. He wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. If he had to dress up as a pickle and scale the side of a hotel, then so be it. He was here to retrieve something that rightfully belonged to him—had belonged to him for almost a year now. He had a sale receipt to prove it…it was one of the few that he did have.
Zeke’s green-clad hand slipped on the brick ledge outside the window of room two hundred twenty-five. “Damn, I must be out of practice.” Pulling himself up higher, so both hands were braced to balance him on the ledge he pushed himself forward into the room.
Thankfully, he knew his victim well. She was claustrophobic and had a habit of leaving a window open. If she hadn’t, well, he would have found a way to juggle a pickle costume, a screwdriver and a three story climb. He’d done it before.
Minus the pickle costume.
However, Zeke’s pickled posterior prevented him from moving with his usual feline grace. As a result, he ended up tumbling rather awkwardly toward the foot of the bed. He didn’t make any noise, but it wouldn’t have mattered. No one would have heard him. Everyone, including the hotel security, was downstairs at the Food Critics Convention.
Shaking his head to clear off the daze, he took in his surroundings. Getting the feel of the landscape had been the first rule of his ex-profession. It was common sense really, you couldn’t steal something if you didn’t know where it was.
The room had the usual overstuffed feel familiar to all five-star hotels. A bed at dead center with thick blankets of a colour he couldn’t identify in the dark and elegant furnishings. Everything was set with a deliberate appropriateness that made him cringe. It was a lot easier to tell if something was missing in a room like this. Not exactly a fact that would work in his favour.
At least he knew where to look.
She would have kept have kept it in one of the drawers, underneath her clothes. He was sure of that.
He nearly laughed aloud at how easy this was. Reaching for the topmost drawer, he slowly slid it open.
Zeke stiffened; the current bane of his existence had arrived. Miss Thalia Windsor. His girlfriend and Food Critic extraordinaire.
“You know for a retired cat burglar, you aren’t very graceful,” she said, pushed the door closed behind her with heel of her black boots. “I could hear you down the hall.”
Zeke wanted to strangle her. How could she look so calm when his reputation was about to be run into the mud? His brother would think he’d forfeited if he didn’t sign on soon. “I thought you were downstairs…critiquing food.” He narrowed his eyes in a hope to look intimidating.
He needn’t have bothered, Thalia looked ready to have laughing fit.
Thalia threw him an off-center smile. “I was…until I saw a suspicious looking pickle slip away from the food parade.” She coughed in a vain attempt to disguise her laughter. “I followed it to the back entrance through the kitchens, but lost sight if it in the alley. The last thing I imagined to find was the pickle trying to rob me.”
“Rob you? How could I be robbing you when it rightfully belongs to me?”
“Oh, would you stop making it sound like a priceless family heirloom?”
Zeke jaw fell open. “It is priceless. It represents my dignity, my pride and reputation.” Not to mention it had cost him three hundred bucks, but he didn’t say it aloud. It was one thing to look cowardly in front of your brother and another thing entirely to look cheap in front of your girlfriend.
“Eugene Antonio Prescott, kicking your younger, eleven year old brother’s butt on X-box 360 games every Sunday is not a reputation.”
Zeke winced at the use of his real name. Not even his mother called him that—having admitted to temporary brain malfunction when she had named him. He sure the hell hadn’t turned out like a Eugene, she’d told him.
“He’s good for his age,” Zeke mumbled.
“Anyways, you were supposed to be attending your aunt’s wedding. I thought you said you wanted to be included in her will.” She gave him a minute to contemplate that, before adding. “She made it clear that you were only to be included if you showed up at the wedding.”
“My aunt’s ninety-two, the only thing I should be attending is a funeral,” said Zeke. “And the only reason you’re even concerned is because you want me to use that money to buy the Italian villa that Marian Hathaway is after.” Marian Hathaway was Thalia’s rival in, well, in everything and he knew bringing her up in any conversation always rankled his girlfriend.
A knock on the door stopped Thalia from replying to that comment. A small, wiry man carrying a clipboard stood on the other side.
“We need a replacement pickle for the vegetable dance, Thalia. The other guy got food poisoning,” said the little man.
“Don’t worry about it, I got just the guy.”
It took Zeke a minute to realize she was talking about him. He heartily regretted not going to his aunt’s funeral—err, wedding now.
Ten minutes later, Zeke was standing at center stage with a celery stick that kept waving its leaves in his face and a potato that didn’t know the meaning of personal space.
That was the fourth time in the last thirty minutes that the soon-to-be French fry had stepped on his foot.
“Sorry,” it said.
No, you’re not, thought Zeke savagely, but you will be. Because if that potato came anywhere near him before this humiliation was over, Zeke was going to skip the French fries and get straight to the mashed potato.