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Chapter 2

He got the impression they were now being watched. This was not an odd sensation because in his line of work, he always thought he was being watched. Usually he was right.

Nate remembered a particular instance in his early days when he thought he wasn't being watched, when he was sure he was finally off the grid and he went to a little cafe in France, had himself a latte and a beignet. It had been a long time since he had felt that way.

Parker had once gotten the jump on him, actually, when he was thinking he wasn't being watched, after he had carefully nabbed back a priceless Monet from her collection. He could've made millions off the gold mine he found in a storage room she so carefully guarded. He remembered a story he heard about dragons, how they guarded their hoard, a great pile of treasure they themselves could only appreciate for its beauty and not its actual value, and how they did so to the death. Parker, he decided, was a dragon. A giant vicious scaly beast with a penchant for vengeance and fire.

So it shouldn't have been a surprise when she almost set him on fire in his hotel room. She suceeded in burning the hotel room to a fine crisp before the cops got there, but he wasn't there. He had left to get ice down the hall and was distracted by a little old lady who wanted to know if he could get her extra towels. He had calmly told her that he did not, in fact, work at the hotel, but she had been persistent, and by the time he got back to his room, there was smoke pouring from under the door.

He was surprised that now that he started working with Parker he didn't hold any of this against her. He also didn't hold the fact that Eliot once had him lying unconcious and on the floor, or that Sophie had left him in hotel rooms around the world, sometimes naked, and never truly sexual. Ok, so despite his best efforts, he did, in fact, hold that last bit against her. Naked? Really? Was that entirely necessary?

Nate was surprised they would let him lead them, but when it came down to it, most of them were adrenaline junkies. He was pretty sure the exception was Eliot, but Eliot was usually the exception. Meeting the man, you wouldn't think he rode horses. Or that he could fell a man with a few well placed blows. Or anything else about him. Eliot was a right and proper enigma.

But he had a job for them, a job he was sure would get wrong people to suffer and the right people the help they needed. Maybe even Jim Sterling would suffer. No. He couldn't make this personal. This wasn't about him and it definitely wasn't about that twisted-in-it-for-the-money Jim Sterling.

He thought he might have the right case for their particular brand of expertise. Like he told Jim, he didn't think that Leverage was the law, simply an addition, a way to pick up the pieces that the law missed. The Montenegro family was one of those bits that the law left behind.

A very long time ago, the family had been wealthy. But generations had passed, and a family that once dedicated itself to philanthropy and the railroad now worked manual labor and had a daughter trying to get through nursing school. They had come a long way from where they once were, but they too needed help.

The family had fallen on hard times, and had had to take out mortgages and loans for their home from the multinational banking company TCBI. They had fallen behind on payments. Everytime they applied for an extension, they were denied. The company felt, that even wiith their lack of money, they should still be able to continue paying for their loans. Extensions were denied. Other loans were declined. No matter what the Montenegros did, they couldn't pay for their loans.

So they started giving the CEO bribes of sorts. Once, a long time before, when the Montenegros still owned railroads they and the family of the CEO of TCBI had been good friends. The man's name was Dr. Martin Tibly, and he was a good man. His grandson, however, was not.

He was greedy and he desired what the Montenegros had. More precisely, he wanted the Diamond.

The Diamond was one of the only things the family had to its name, the only thing that was left of their past glory. It was, as the name suggested, a diamond. Never set, it rested in a blue velvet case in the safe at the house, next to birth certificates and proof of insurance. It was valuable, but for reasons primarily sentimental, it had never been sold.

It saved the Montengros a month on their payments.

And then the bank came calling again, and they coudn't pay. The only thing of value they had they had given for an extension, on the word of a corrupt man. Who had promptly turned on them, claiming the Diamond had never been given to them.

Nate felt that it was a good case for them. Parker would be pleased about actually stealing something tangible, Eliot would approve of the family, and Hardison might be interested in the security system, which, like almost everything they dealt with, was supposed to be top of the line. He wasn't sure what Sophie would think, but he was sure she would be in.

Still though, the feeling that someone was watching filled him. He was sure part of it was probably just paranoia. In this work, you couldn't wait for someone to strike. You had to know they were coming, sometimes before they did. He just hoped everything would go right, and the Montenegro's would get their money back.

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