Since the moment I was ripped from my mother’s womb, I’ve been an outcast amongst my own kind. The Sidhe might possess magical Gifts, unbelievable wealth and unfathomable power but I don’t want a thing to do with them. I ran away from their lands in the Highlands of Scotland when I was eleven years old and I’ve never looked back. I don’t need a Clan. I’ve got my own family of highly skilled thieves who mean more to me than any Sidhe ever could.
Unfortunately for me, the playboy heir to the Moncrieffe Clan has something I desperately need. To get it back, I’m going to have to plunge myself back into that world, no matter what the consequences may be. I suppose it’s just as well I have sense of humour. I think I’m going to need it.
By bestselling author Helen Harper, Gifted Thief is the first book in the Highland Magic series. Excerpt:
You have to do bad shit to get ahead. Taylor had told me that a million times and for a long time I’d
bought into it. After tonight, however, things were going to be different. A new leaf and a new me. That
was what I was planning.
I’d been thinking about it for a long time but since I’d received the letter in elegant,
handwritten script demanding my appearance at the Sidhe court, I felt I had no choice but to step up my
plans to vamoose out of the city. I didn’t want anything to do with those bastards. Not unless it meant
ripping them off. Frankly, I’d rather head down to the Lowlands – and the Veil – than venture near the
At least Taylor had promised that my final hurrah was going to be a straightforward job. ‘In and
out,’ he’d said. ‘The place will be empty.’
‘You know I’m leaving after this one,’ I reminded him. Not that it was likely it would have slipped
his mind but with Taylor sometimes certain points bore repeating.
‘Of course, of course! As if I could forget.’ His eyes took on a knowing look that I chose to ignore.
‘You’ll miss it though. You won’t get many thrills from tramping around the countryside.’
‘It’s not tramping around the countryside. It’s mountain rescue. I think saving lives will be
He grimaced at that. ‘You’ll be bored.’
I simply smiled back. We’d had this conversation often enough in recent weeks. My mind was
made up and even he couldn’t change it.
‘I’ll always be here,’ he said. ‘If you do want to come back, that is.’
I hugged him impulsively. ‘I might not come back to work but I’ll always come back. You’re my
family.’ I meant every word. We’d had a few rough times over the years but who hadn’t? Taylor had
been there for me when no-one else was, even if his motives weren’t always pure. I worried about him
more than he’d ever know.
He looked abashed at my heartfelt words and ran an awkward hand through his hair. It was no
longer the carroty mop he had when I first met him all those years ago. Now it was more silver, far
closer in colour to my own locks, which still drew curious looks and the odd question about my ancestry,
even amongst the Clan-less underbelly. For the most part I shrugged them off.
It was a very long time since I moved in Sidhe circles. I crossed the road to avoid passing close by
any of my kin, no matter how distantly related they were. And one of the reasons I was leaving
Aberdeen was because they’d contacted me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of what they might do if they got hold of me, although that was a part
of it. I just wanted a quiet life. My childhood with the Sidhe was little more than a distant memory; in
fact sometimes I felt as if it had happened to someone else.
I ignored the gossip mags and whispered rumours about what each Clan was up to. I lived in the
underclass, far away from them. I didn’t care whether Aifric remained Steward and was therefore still in
charge, or which man Tipsania Scrymgeour was currently stepping out with. I didn’t even care that her
father, the Bull, appeared to be making more money than Bill Gates. The Sidhe could spend their days
worrying about politics, jockeying for position and doing whatever they could to rise above other Clans. I
only cared about me and mine. And none of mine were Sidhe. Or Clan.
I tested my kit, adjusting the harness at my back to ensure it was secure, and skirted round the
back of the building. It might be the middle of the night during a bank holiday weekend but I still needed
to be circumspect. It would be sod’s law if I got nabbed on the very last day I spent as a career criminal.
Tapping my forehead three times with my index finger to signal to my waiting crew, I gave one last look
around then sprang up.
My fingertips curled easily around the first ledge. Despite the typical Scottish chill, I was
barefoot. It made it far easier to gain purchase on the smooth glass surface of the towering bank. I also
admit that I rather enjoyed it when I glanced down and caught a flash of the sparkly nail varnish
adorning my toenails. It felt appropriate for this job; we were, after all, going after some more sparkles ‒
albeit of the more expensive kind.
Clambering up with fluid, nimble ease, I made fast work of my ascent. Beads of sweat were only
just appearing on my brow when I reached the assigned floor. Piece of cake. I tightened my grip with my
left hand, using my right to reach behind and unclip the glass breaker that was hooked to my belt.
It was a nifty piece of kit, designed to help trapped motorists break out of their cars. While I’d
never heard of anyone actually using one to save their own life, I found mine particularly useful. It was a
gift from Taylor when I graduated from simple manipulation tactics and dull look-out posts to full-blown
thief. The others might scoff at its hot pink colour but I’d had it for seven lucky years and it had never let
me down. I might wear black to stay camouflaged against the night sky but that didn’t mean that
everything I carried had to be boring monochrome too.
Leaning back as far as I could, I swung it into the centre of the pane of tinted glass, shattering it
instantly. Thanks both to the glass breaker’s and the window’s design, all the shards of glass fell inwards
just as I wanted.
Flashing a satisfied smile to my inner thief, I heaved myself inside with a leap, landing far
enough in to avoid catching my skin on any of the dangerous broken pieces. I pivoted round and
grinned, curtseying at the now-gaping hole. Then I checked my watch. Less than ninety seconds from
pavement to entry. That was impressive, even for me.
Without wasting another minute, I unclipped my harness and tested the nearby wall. The plaster
seemed sound enough so I pulled out my tiny drill, made a hole in the wall and carefully inserted the
climbing wire. I gave it an experimental tug; it would hold. Less than thirty seconds later, I was lowering
the rope out of the window and whistling down softly.
Three dark shadows broke away from different corners of the street. As the rope grew taut with
the weight of the first climber, I surveyed my surroundings. Taylor had insisted that this floor would be
the easiest one for entry. Looking around at the low-spec furniture, I was inclined to agree. The
employees on this level were clearly not the wealthy bankers who occupied other areas of this building
and were universally despised by the rest of the world. The guys who worked here looked like they filled
their days with dull data entry whilst suffering zero-hour contracts.
I wrinkled my nose and made my way along the narrow aisle between the cubicles until I
reached the office, which was separated by walls rather than flimsy partitions. Frankly, it was a wonder
that more people didn’t turn to a life of crime. Working here would drive me insane.
Inside the manager’s office was a heavy walnut desk and swivel chair. It looked considerably
more comfortable than the chairs out front. I sat down experimentally and swung myself around. Yup –
it was pretty damn fine. I examined the collection of family photos of beaming children and heavily
lipsticked trophy wife; I resisted the temptation to find a Sharpie and draw a moustache on them.
The frame was marked with the Macfie Clan colours. Typical. I bet Mr Manager here had aligned
himself with them, whereas his minions in the larger room outside remained Clan-less. The Macfies
were always into bloody banking. If they’d chosen a different path, we wouldn’t be targeting them so
bloody often. I shrugged. Their fault.
I helped myself to several boiled sweets from a crystal jar, raised my legs up, crossing my feet on
the desktop, and waited.
The crunch of glass signalled Speck’s arrival. He hated heights so he had to be forced to go up
the ropes first. If the warlock was left until last, he’d never pluck up the courage to clip on his
carabineer. We’d learned that the hard way a couple of years ago and lost out on a fat purse as a result.
I had tried coaching him through his fear but nothing seemed to work ‒ other than a swift kick up his
arse. With Lexie following on his tail, of course, that wasn’t a problem.
Speck appeared in the doorway, cursing. ‘We didn’t have to climb. I could have bypassed the
front door in less time than it took to get up here.’
‘Relax.’ I gestured towards the sweets. ‘Have some sugar and calm down. You know this was the
He grumbled at me, reaching out for the jar with a trembling hand. I knew better than to
comment. His terror would subside by the time Brochan, the last of our motley crew, joined us. To point
out that Speck was shaking like a leaf served no purpose. He could be rather sensitive, even at the best
While he crumpled up the sweet wrapper into a ball and tossed it carelessly onto the floor, I
opened up a drawer and peered inside. Lying on top of several heavily perfumed envelopes was an
ornate letter opener. I lifted it out. It was an expensive tool, especially in today’s digital age. Made
entirely from silver and with a perfectly balanced blade, it seemed a travesty to leave it where it was. I
regarded it seriously for a moment then slid into one of my many zippered pockets. It would make a nice
When Lexie appeared, grinning broadly at Speck’s pale face, I got to my feet and scooped up the
jar of sweets. It wouldn’t be long now. I went back out to the main room, depositing one sweet next to
‘One for you,’ I sang out, ‘and one for you, and one for you.’ I paused at one cubicle laden with
Star Wars memorabilia and pursed my lips. ‘You deserve two.’
‘You’re such a geek,’ Brochan told me, appearing silently from behind with the coil of climbing
I winked at him and rattled the now almost empty jar. ‘Want one?’
He patted his flat stomach. ‘Watching my weight.’
I rolled my eyes. ‘Are we clear?’
‘As a mountain stream.’
I shot him a look, wondering whether that was a gibe at my upcoming change of career. His
expression was innocent but I caught the faintest hint of merriment in the back of his eyes and stuck out
‘If the wind changes…’
I waved a hand in the air. ‘Yeah, yeah. We’re not in Sidhe territory, remember.’
‘Well you’re the one who’d know.’
I tossed back my hair and ignored the rejoinder. ‘Come on. Let’s get going.’
Leaving behind the depressing office space, the four of us moved quietly out towards the bank
of lifts. We required little in the way of communication by this point; we’d worked together long enough
to have an almost telepathic understanding of what was required. Still, out of respect for this being our
last mission together, Speck glanced at me and I gave him a nod of acknowledgment. He unscrewed the
button panel in the wall, short-circuiting the system and disabling all the elevators in one fell swoop. He
jerked his thumb at Brochan who immediately stepped forward and wrenched open the doors to reveal
the cavernous drop.
‘First one to the bottom is a rotten egg,’ he smirked.
Speck sighed. ‘Can’t we just take the stairs?’
Lexie tutted, giving him a sharp shove. Speck stumbled through the gap, his curse echoing as it
bounced off the walls.
‘We are trying to stay quiet,’ I reminded her with a frown.
She shrugged. ‘No-one’s here, Integrity. We’d be waiting forever for Speck to make a move if I’d
not done that.’
I didn’t entirely disagree; I didn’t entirely approve either. ‘There’s no point in taking unnecessary
‘Your impending retirement is making you boring.’
I folded my arms and gave Lexie a stony glare. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to maintain it for long
before a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. ‘Yeah, you’re right. I can still get to the bottom
quicker than you though.’
The other woman grinned. ‘Go on then.’
I took a deep breath and jumped. Although the drop to the bottom should have been lethal,
Taylor had cleverly modified all of our jumpsuits so it was a piece of cake. He was a regular Q. Each suit
was fitted around the shoulders with a small canopy-style parachute. It was no good for heights of more
than eighty metres, as sheer velocity would negate its gliding power. For something like this elevator
shaft, though, it was perfect. Less than one floor down and I’d already released it, enjoying the air
rushing past my cheeks as I descended with Lexie a heartbeat after me on the other side of the narrow
drop. She might have beaten me if Speck hadn’t somehow gotten in her way and forced her into the
wall instead of directly on top of the roof of the frozen lift.
‘Oops,’ he said, entirely unrepentant.
‘Idiot!’ Lexie hissed. ‘I’ve been trying to beat Integrity at this for months and you know this was
my last chance to do it.’
‘Tell you what, Lexie,’ I said. ‘I promise I’ll meet up with you in a few weeks once I’m settled in
Oban and we can have a jumping session then. As many times as you want.’
Brochan joined us, his large feet clanging loudly against the metallic lift. His merman body was
better designed for water rather than land, even though he had a profound fear of the sea. Any
footwear he ended up with looked like outsized clown shoes. It was a miracle he managed to stay as
quiet as he did. ‘Waste of time,’ he dismissed.
‘Why?’ Lexie demanded. ‘You don’t think I’m good enough?’
‘She’s Sidhe. You’re not. You’re a cute pixie but you’re not like her.’
I stiffened. What did that mean? Fortunately I was prevented from asking by Speck’s obvious
snigger. ‘She’s Sidhe. That’s funny.’ Brochan looked at him blankly. ‘Sidhe? She? You know. Sidhe is
pronounced she and you said she is…’ His voice faltered at Brochan’s expression. ‘Never mind,’ he
Lexie sniffed. ‘Integrity is not Sidhe. Not like the rest of them are, anyway. She’s better than
I gave her a grateful look even though we all knew the truth. ‘We need to get a move on,’ I said,
changing the subject. ‘We’ve been here far too long as it is.’
Working together, we easily unscrewed the air vent panel opposite. I went first, wriggling my
way through, followed by Speck, Lexie and Brochan respectively. It was unfortunate that Brochan was
somewhat larger than the others and ended up getting stuck halfway. With considerably hilarity –
muted though it was – we managed to pull him through. He landed with a rather painful sounding
thump, rubbed the base of his spine and grimaced.
‘You really do need to watch your weight after all,’ I commented, dodging out of the way of his
playful swipe. Then I winced melodramatically. ‘Ouch. If looks could kilo…’
‘Watch it,’ he growled back, jabbing his thumb ahead to focus me on our goal.
With only one barrier left, we all took a moment to admire the not-inconsiderable steel door in
‘It must have cost a pretty penny,’ Lexie said, her eyes wide.
‘Hundred and twenty thousand,’ Speck answered. ‘Retail, anyway.’
‘Waste of time when you think about it.’
We shared a grin.
‘Are you sure the drill isn’t going to be too loud?’ Lexie asked, gnawing at her bottom lip.
‘Worry wart. We’ve tested it. No one’s going to hear a thing.’
‘And,’ I added, ‘even if they do, they’ll associate it with the building works next door. They’ll
assume some poor sod has been pulled in over the holiday to speed up the construction.’
‘I could still cast a spell,’ Speck began. All of us shook our heads in vigorous denial. Speck
pouted. ‘Just because the last one went slightly wrong…’
‘Slightly? I almost lost my eardrums!’
I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Really, Speck, there’s no need. This drill is the business.’ I pulled
out several parts from my small backpack while the others did the same. We assembled the heavy-duty
piece of machinery in next to no time then I hefted it and gave an experimental tug on the button. It was
definitely audible but no louder than our normal speaking voices. I raised it in Speck’s direction. ‘Would
you like to do the honours?’
He held up his palms. ‘This is your last gig, Integrity. You should do it.’
I glanced at Lexie and Brochan, both of whom nodded solemnly in agreement. For a brief
moment, a hard knot rose up in my throat. Bugger. ‘I’m really going to miss you guys.’
Brochan turned his head away while Lexie blinked rapidly several times. Even Speck grabbed my
hand and squeezed it. ‘It won’t be the same without you.’
I cleared my throat awkwardly and tried to pull myself together. This was neither the time nor
the place to get all maudlin. At least they weren’t trying to change my mind. I’d miss my life as part of
Taylor’s crew more than I could possibly admit, even to myself, but I knew I was making the right
decision. ‘Let’s get a move on then,’ I whispered.
Brochan tapped the wall thoughtfully then measured out four points, marking each with a small
piece of chalk. He stepped back, allowing me to take his place. We exchanged a quick smile before I
pulled a mask over my mouth and nose and got started.
The diamond-tipped drill made fast work, piercing through to the other side at each point in less
time than it would take to brew a cup of coffee. A cloud of fine dust filled the air, coating the gleaming
vault door right next to us.
Lexie traced out a giant smiley face on it. When Brochan gave her a funny look, she shrugged. ‘It
might make them happy when they walk in here first thing on Tuesday morning.’
‘Somehow I don’t think they’re going to be happy.’
‘They’ve got insurance. They’ll get over it.’
I straightened my shoulders, massaging my neck and eyeing my handiwork. ‘A bit wonky,’ I
decided, ‘but it’ll do. Off you go, Lex.’
The blue-haired pixie grinned, using the edges of the gap to hoist herself up while Speck and
Brochan helped steady her. ‘Are you staring at my arse, Speck?’ she called out.
He coughed, going slightly red. ‘Course not,’ he mumbled. ‘I respect you too much, Lexie.’
‘Oh,’ she said, sounding disappointed, ‘that’s a shame. I’ve been doing extra squats just for you.’
Speck went even redder. I pressed my lips firmly shut, trying not to laugh.
Even with Lexie’s petite form, it was a tight squeeze. It took almost as long for her to shimmy
through as it did to complete the drilling. It was just as well that this particular model of vault had a
failsafe button on the other side in case anyone got trapped inside. There was no way the rest of us
would have made it through that gap.
When her feet finally vanished and she stood up, Lexie peered back at us from the other side.
‘Open the damn door,’ Brochan growled.
‘What’s the rush?’
‘Well, let me see,’ he said sarcastically. ‘We’re breaking and entering into what is supposed to
be one of the most secure vaults in the country to steal a gemstone that’s worth more than most people
will make in their lifetime. If we get caught, we’ll end up in prison until we’re all grey and wrinkled. So,
sure, take all the time you need.’
She jabbed a finger through the gap. ‘Pixies don’t go grey. And Integrity’s hair is already pure
white. So it’s only you and Speck who have to worry about that side of things.’
‘Okay, okay. Give me a moment. It’s pitch black in here, after all.’
Brochan started to mutter something under his breath.
‘Counting to ten?’ I asked, amused.
‘I could count to a thousand and she’d still annoy me.’
‘You love her really.’
There was a loud creak as the vault door began to open. Speck pushed forward, tripping over his
own feet in his haste to get inside.
‘I can’t believe you’re leaving me on my own with these two,’ Brochan grumbled.
I smiled and gestured at the door. ‘Moany mermen before shady Sidhe.’
‘I’m not moany. Not any more than you’re shady, anyway.’
‘I’m a thief,’ I said simply. ‘I’m about as shady as you’re likely to get.’ I gave him a gentle nudge.
‘Come on. Weren’t you getting worried about the time?’
He blew air through his cheeks and followed the warlock in. I held back for a moment, savouring
the last time I would ever do this. It had been a hell of a ride. Then I entered the dark vault too.
Speck had recovered enough from his stumble to click his fingers and create enough light for the
four of us to see what we were doing. The vault was lined with box after narrow box. It reminded me of
Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Even with its huge door, the size of the vault and the number of safety deposits
boxes were surprising.
‘What number is it?’ Brochan asked.
‘A724,’ I answered. ‘Further down the back.’
‘Did I ever tell you that I’m slightly claustrophobic?’ Speck asked.
‘Only every time we do this,’ Lexie replied. ‘Is there anything you’re not scared of?’
He seemed to think about it for a moment. ‘Spiders,’ he said finally. ‘I quite like spiders.’
The pixie shuddered delicately. ‘Ugh.’
‘There it is,’ Brochan said, breaking into the conversation. He strode over, examining the box in
question with a practised eye.
‘You know,’ Speck said, ‘there must be a lot of wealth hidden behind all of these. We don’t just
have to take the jewel.’
‘Do you want to be the person who steals some poor grandmother’s family heirloom?’ I asked,
watching Brochan carefully. ‘Or Joe Bloggs’ life savings?’
‘You have an interesting sense of morality. We are here to nick the Lia Saifir after all.’
‘The lordling who owns it is as rich as Croesus. He won’t miss it.’
Speck snorted but I ignored it. ‘Can you open it, Brochan?’
‘I reckon so.’
‘Do you need some tools?’
He drew back his fist and smashed it into the box. The door sprang open. He looked at me from
over his shoulder. ‘Nah,’ he grinned. ‘I’m good.’
My eyes danced. There was nothing like sheer brute strength. I stood next to him and gazed
down. This was always my favourite part, the heart-stopping moment before the big reveal when all our
hard work and preparation would pay off. With a deep breath, I reached out and slid open the drawer.
I stared, my mouth dropping open. Crap-a-doodle-doo. Brochan cursed and spat.
‘What?’ Speck asked. ‘What is it?’
Lexie squeezed her way in and gazed down. ‘Shit. It’s gone?’ She shoved her hand into the box
and felt around. ‘Maybe it’s rolled to the back?’
I shook my head. Frustration, disappointment and just the tiniest edge of relief mingled together
in my stomach. ‘No. It’s empty.’ I sighed. ‘Taylor was so sure it would be here.’
‘A month!’ Speck shrieked. ‘It’s taken us a month of planning to get here and the stupid gem’s
not there? Now what?’
There was only one answer to that. I slammed the box back into place. It clanged, the sound
reverberating around the vault. ‘Now we go home. We’re done.’