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Amanda Pavlov Presents: Inherent Heist

Happy Fri-yay readers and welcome to the end of the week! We are closing out our Mind Like A Diamond release week with a bang. Amanda Pavlov is here to share a special prequel story to her new release that explores more of the mother/ daughter relationship from the point of view of Lisette's mother.

Amanda Pavlov Presents Inherent Heist, A Mind Like A Diamond Prequel Short

The pain of pretending to be someone you aren't is rivaled only by pretending to love someone you don't. I did both. The resulting ache settled into the grooves of my brain, where it promised to pummel me until my final breath. Drinking dulled it. But the only true relief came from my daughter, Lisette.

She was brilliant, funny, and fierce. The kind of person who could truly be anything. If only she had stopped trying to be like me. Seventeen but serious as someone nearing thirty. I frowned at the dim light slipping through the sizable crack below the flimsy frame of her bedroom door.

It was too late for her to be awake. I knew she was hiding something—we had all the same tells. The same preference for darkness to disguise our dirty deeds. Only I wielded the element of surprise with an expert's ease. I tiptoed over to her room, then pushed the door open fast.

"You ever heard of knocking?" Lisette asked from behind a beat-up paperback. Her long legs dangled over the edge of her mattress, always twitching, never at rest. I did that. Passed down my anxiety like my pitch-black curls. She never had a chance.

It was hard to tell why the sheets were rumpled. Just a mattress on the floor, no space to hide beneath it. Her closet door was closed; I would've heard the hinges squeak if someone had slipped inside. Still, she was up to something that wasn't reading.

"A Wrinkle in Time?" I asked, pretending to squint at the title. "Is that one any good?"

Lisette snorted. "Yes, A Wrinkle in Time was my favorite book a few years ago—but this is Franny and Zooey. Is that all you needed? A book recommendation? Maybe you should start slow, learn to read titles before you attempt an entire book."

I bit my tongue to keep from owning the trick. Worse, it didn't work. Lisette was angry; maybe she had a right to be. She wanted to join me tonight, but I'd decided it was too dangerous. Letting her be a lookout while I robbed vacant houses was bad enough. No way was I allowing her to participate in a heist destined to make headlines. The kind of scandal that might spur a real investigation, instead of the usual half-assed attempt the N.O.P.D. made to find petty thieves like me.

"Just tell me where you're going," Lisette whined. "If I hear about someone getting shot in a bank robbery—"

"It's a museum. Happy now?" Suddenly my whole face felt hot. I swept my hair back and slid a rubber band from my wrist.

"How much money are you making?" Lisette asked without a polite veneer of shame. Who raised this rude little beast? Oh, right, that would be me.

Fighting off laughter made my ponytail messy. I dug a bobby pin out from the pocket of my black pants to tame an unruly section. "You leave all that worrying stuff to me."

Lisette's frown was not mine, but her father's. His scowl on her face vacuumed the air from my lungs. My chest burned, my extremities tingled and then went numb. But I would've stared into that heartbreaking face forever if it meant keeping her safe.

"The less you know," I started, but Lisette rolled her eyes and finished mockingly, "—the safer I am, yes, Ruelle, so you say."

My name, tossed out so casually, usually wouldn't sting. I'd been so young when I had her, it seemed unnatural to go by anything else. But now that she was pushing me away, I had the sudden urge to hold her tight and tell her, Mother. I'm your mother.

Lisette didn't notice my longing. She just kept talking. "Let me help. I've learned a lot of negotiation tactics from debate. If you asked for more money, you wouldn't have to do so often. We could save some. We could—"

The chime of our doorbell interrupted her. Thank God. I was saved from explaining to my kid—who deserved more than I could ever give—that some secrets create traps more powerful than money. And as far as the men I worked for were concerned, I owed a debt that could never be satisfied.

"I have to go," I said.

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls," Lisette said. "It tolls for thee."

"Hemingway," I said. "Great writer, brilliant in fact. A drunk, but he certainly had a way with words."

Lisette rolled her ice-blue eyes. "I was quoting John Donne, the poet from which Hemingway took the title of his book. You should use some of your cut to buy—"

"Bye," I said as if reciprocating the statement. Lisette was angry, and I would allow that. But there were only so many insults I could shoulder without tossing back one of my own. And I didn't want to unleash my acid tongue on her. Every time I slipped and did it, I swear the guilt was heavy enough to sink me. Her forgiveness was the only thing that kept me treading water. But I didn't deserve it, and she would realize that sooner or later.

The man waiting at the door barely looked at me. I knew better than to stare at the sliver of his face I could see between a low-slung Saints cap and a black bandanna covering his chin.

He introduced himself as Bloodstone, and I told him to call me Onyx. Otherwise, we left each other to our thoughts as we descended the narrow stairwell.

The walls seemed to press in, plotting to squash me like one of the bugs breathing and breeding beneath the peeling plaster. Surely these stairs were built for smaller people with smaller problems.

I allowed my needs—food, shelter, dignity—to balloon in my mind and urge me after Bloodstone. He rounded the corner and jumped in on the passenger side of an idling black Oldsmobile, its windows tinted so darkly I couldn't see the driver.

When I took my place in the backseat, they said nothing. No response to my hurried greeting. Bloodstone extended a black-gloved hand toward me, offering a piece of paper folded into a neat little triangle.

"What's this?" I asked, smoothing it out on my lap.

Bloodstone huffed. "It's a sword, obviously."

"Obviously. But why are you giving me a picture of it?" It was a beautiful sword; the things they wanted me to steal always were. But this one was different—I didn't like it. Though the blade had been polished to a high shine, I only had to close my eyes to envision it stained crimson with the lives it had claimed.

"Mr. Gold wants it," Bloodstone said. "You got a problem with that?"

Mr. Gold. The big boss. I rubbed my throat to break up the lump forming there. "Since when? He didn't tell me anything about a sword."

"I'm telling you now," Bloodstone snapped. He must have noticed the anger flaring across my features because his tone softened in response. "There's a collector who wants it bad. Everything else on the list is just to throw them off the trail."

"There better not be a trail," I mumbled. "Any idea where it is?"

"Second floor," Bloodstone said, "in the case all the way against the center wall. I can take down the system for fifteen minutes. Plenty of time to find the sword. Okay?"

I studied the picture. Wild how something so majestic was made to kill people. Collectors of confederate weapons often used them for nefarious purposes, but I couldn't afford to worry about people I didn't know. Not while I was behind on rent. I would never sleep in a tent under a bridge again. Not because I was too precious for it, because Lisette wouldn't stay in a shelter without me.

"Hey—space cadet, you heard me?" Bloodstone asked, incredulous. "Do NOT leave without this sword!"

I made a show of rubbing my ears. "Lower the volume, old man."

Bloodstone glared at me. "Listen lady, I ain't got time for your wisecracks. You know the meeting place?"

I nodded, but he didn't look impressed. "Lee Circle," I confirmed.

"Right. And don't rush. Cops ain't gonna look twice at a little lady carrying a pink duffle bag so just stroll real casual like."

I scrunched up my nose, appalled at the mental image. "I don't have a pink duffle bag."

"Look under the seat, sweetheart."

"Onyx," I corrected him with a drop of venom. "Not space-cadet or sweetheart or lady, just Onyx."

He snorted but said, "Look under the seat, Onyx."

The duffle bag wasn't just pink but glittery too. Not the kind of thing I would've picked out. But I had to hand it to Bloodstone; the garish bag might raise a brow from the fashion police, but the actual cops wouldn't suspect anything. "You think the sword will fit in here?"

"There's an umbrella on the floorboard; take it with you, too. If the sword won't fit in the backpack, hold it up under the umbrella to hide it."

The umbrella was even smaller than the bag, but it could be useful to hide my face. I needed every advantage possible and so offered a silent prayer as we rolled down the bumpy stone street toward our target.

Leafy vines covered the red brick building that housed the Confederate Memorial Museum. It reminded me of a castle with its charming round tower on the right, complete with an ornate bronze cross. A stately archway resting atop Romanesque columns obscured the heavy cypress front door. For a moment, I lost myself in its splendor, but Bloodstone broke the spell by shoving a walkie-talkie into my hand.

He pointed to the rounded window in the middle. "That window is unlocked. I'll have the power off by the time you get up there."

I tried to nod, but my head wouldn't move. My neck felt stiff, as if I'd been using a rolled-up jacket as a pillow again. But my trusty feet did as they were told. The pavement was already slick with a light drizzle, not enough to make opening the umbrella worth it. I prayed for real rain when I came back out. Otherwise, I'd look suspicious holding an umbrella.

First, I stowed the umbrella in the duffle bag. Then I shimmied up a column, quickly reaching the archway's roof. Weaker legs would have wobbled on the incline toward the window, but my limbs were solid muscle springing up with ease. The window was locked. Maybe I should've taken that as a sign, but I didn't. I dipped my shoulder and pushed it against the rounded glass pane, which popped out like a loose tooth.

I was in.

The vacant museum was far eerier than the empty houses I usually hit. Blood-stained uniforms adorned headless dummies, stiff flags waited for the air conditioner to kick back on and breathe life into them.

Perspiration prickled the back of my neck. But I didn't even know what I was afraid of. I knew I'd find the sword. I thought I might even find something better.

Three long glass cases lined the back center wall. I scanned the first one—revolvers, letters, coins, canteens, but no swords. The second case had swords, but none with a handle so finely engraved as the picture. I moved on to the third case, pushing aside the negative voice in my head saying, Maybe Bloodstone's wrong, and the sword isn't in one of these cases. It could be anywhere. You only have a few minutes. What if you can't find it? Then what?

Then nothing because there it is.

The glint of moonlight on the blade gave it an alluring sparkle. The case was locked, so I slid a bobby pin from my hair, releasing a spray of wayward curls. I smiled as I jammed my bobby pin into the keyhole. I liked this—the sensation of being good at something that couldn't be taught. The thrill of maybe getting caught. I gave the bobby pin a good twist and snap! The tip of the bobby pin broke off inside the lock.

A curse touched the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed it. It wouldn't do me any good. "Now what?" I asked the stars watching me through the window. As if those oblivious balls of gas held any answers.

I was immobilized by the weight of what I had to do and how little time I had to do it. But I managed to take a labored breath. Oxygen filled my body, but the animalistic side of my brain refused to cede control. Lockpicking is an art, but my muse had left the building. No matter how I wiggled and tinkered, the case just would not open.

As the minutes ticked by, my fear grew like a tidal wave. If I didn't get this damn sword, we would lose the apartment Lisette loved so much. Then how would I afford the deposit for a new place?

Panic pushed my logical thoughts into the recesses of my mind. I raised the umbrella handle and smashed a hole through the top of the glass case.

Everything happened so fast it was impossible to say which was first—the deafening roar of the alarms, the flashing red lights, or Bloodstone's screams from the walkie-talkie—"Something went wrong! Get out Onyx!" — a few long seconds of static — "Onyx? Do you copy? Get out now!"

But I wasn't ready to leave. I reached into the shattered case and grabbed the sword first. Once I removed the umbrella, it was exactly the right size to slide into the bag. Spurred by this good fortune, I returned to the shattered case for more treasures. I grabbed as much as I could as fast as I dared. I sliced my arms. Half a dozen tiny cuts. D.N.A. that could be used as evidence. But I refused to let bleeding slow me down. As I stuffed the pink bag with loot, my glands dumped buckets of adrenaline into my bloodstream, sharpening my senses and stiffening my muscles. What. A. Rush. I felt invincible— all the way up until I heard the front door of the museum swing open so hard it thudded against the wall.

Two flashlights—two cops at least—scanned the lower level. One called out, but I was too far away to hear what he said. I slung the pink duffle bag over my shoulder, glitter flying everywhere, adding a layer of sparkle to the crime scene. I made a mess—a giant mess that identified exactly who I was. No time to clean. I grabbed the umbrella.

Blue lights flashed through the broken window I had come in through. A window in the back would have to work. Sheets of rain struck the window, a steady rat-a-tat-tat, and I prayed my umbrella would protect me from more than the storm.

"Onyx? Where are you, Onyx?" Bloodstone shouted into the walkie-talkie.

I waited until I had two feet firmly on the window ledge to whisper, "Second floor." I tossed the duffel bag with the sword down first. The rain increased, hard droplets stung my cheeks, and I finally opened the umbrella.

"Get out," Bloodstone squeaked, the former grit of his tone worn smooth. "Want me to create a diversion?"

"Stick to the plan," I said. "Meet me at Lee Circle." My free hand flitted over my lucky ring. The four smooth diamonds soothed me, reminded me that I came from a long line of survivors.

I tilted the umbrella back, scanning the shadowy ground for a soft place to land. Choosing the right spot could be the difference between a sprained ankle and a snapped spine. Lightning flashed like a neon sign, illuminating that glittery duffle bag, ensuring I didn't fall on it. And I thanked whoever had answered my prayers for the light. My luck, my legacy, would not end tonight.

Have you picked up your copy yet?

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