Bruce took a deep breath and gave the bank teller a bland smile once she stepped back from the open box. "When we're finished with the safe deposit box, we'll need to see Mr. Daniel to finish the rest of our business."
The teller frowned again, and while she had a pretty pout of a frown, he reached his limit of seeing it. "Mr. Daniel doesn't meet with customers, Mr. Wayne."
Especially customers labeled broke by every financial news desk in the city and ridiculed by all your other customers. "He'll meet with me or I'll take my business to another bank before the first of next month when the rental income for nearly half the real estate in Gotham City comes in." The teller's blue eyes widened and he softened his tone. "Thank you, we'll let you know when we're done."
She scampered out of the secure conference room. He took a deep breath to center himself and focused on the open mental box on the table.
Selina's heels brushed against the carpet as she circled around him. She hopped onto the table next to the deposit box. The hemline of the black dress she wore now rose over her knees as she crossed them. "I think I understand the whole recluse thing now."
"Do you?" That came out sharper than he intended. Damn it, he knew better than to let jabs from other businessmen actually hit him.
"I wouldn't want to socialize with that crowd of assholes either." She waved in the direction of the lobby.
He pushed his lips into a smile he didn't feel as he stared at the deposit box. "How blunt you are, Ms. Kyle."
"When I see an asshole behaving like an asshole, I don't feel the need to call him something different because of the size of their wallets. But I have manners and know to get out of earshot first, with their wallets if they were an asshole to me or mine."
He looked up at her face, but her sympathetic brown eyes replaced the smirk he had expected. "You didn't pick every pocket in the lobby."
"I'm not that good. But they deserve to have to cancel all their credit cards in a panic."
"They're entitled to how they feel. That fiasco with the Stock Exchange yesterday hurt more than just me."
"There's a difference between being upset and gloating over the misfortune of others." Selina shook her head. "Hand over the pretties, Wayne, before I change my mind about their wallets."
He reached into the deposit box and lifted out the handful of papers covering the various shaped jewelry boxes. "You're sitting there?"
"The way you kept peeking at my legs on the ride over here," she slowly kicked the top leg. "I thought you'd appreciate the view."
If she was offering... he handed her the first jewelry box and took a long look at her trim legs encased again in sheer black stockings. "In my defense, they are a pair of very nice legs. The second thing I noticed about you."
"Look don't leer." She peered at the silver bracelet. "A thousand, next." They went through the eight smaller jewelry boxes on top and only had a running total of roughly seventy thousand before they reached the long, flat necklace boxes at the bottom. She ran a finger over the embossed cracked leather box. "This is the first one labeled. Who was Helena Wayne?"
He had to think. "My great-great-grandfather's sister; she tried to join the Union Army during the Civil War--disguised as a boy, of course."
"Aunt Helena sounds like my kind of gal."
"My family was already involved in the Underground Railroad, but she didn't think they were doing enough. She got caught before she could train and ended up unofficially administrating on of the first outpatient departments connected to a hospital in the nation, right here in Gotham."
"You come from a long line of crusaders." She opened the jewelry box before he answered and whistled. "Oh Aunt Helena, I like your taste."
Bruce peered into the jewelry case. Emerald and silver beads covered the entire string and twenty-five large teardrop-shaped emeralds hung from the silver beads. The necklace was stunning on the yellowed white silk and would be even more stunning wrapped around a slender throat.
"Pass me my purse, please."
He picked up the black leather bag. "What do you have in here, a brick?"
She took it with a smirk, "Just the essentials. Not much experiences with women's purses?"
"No, I don't think anyone I ever dated even carried one. Expected me to pay for everything, I guess."
"Probably. Too trusting for my taste." She opened a glasses case and pulled out a pair of what looked like sunglasses, but he recognized a set of her goggles not attached to her mask. She slipped them on and studied the necklace again. "But I doubt brains was a quality you looked for in a date."
"They served a purpose, no reason to insult them."
"Too much information, Wayne." She moved a smaller lens in front of her left eye. "I don't want to know about you and the bimbos. What else is left in the deposit box?"
"One box left." She didn't look up from the emeralds, so he opened the last black box. Brilliant blue sapphire ovals surrounded by diamonds twinkled under the lights. Diamond-crusted butterflies connected each sapphire to another. A matching set of earrings rested in the center of the black form holding the necklace in place. His fingers clutched the box tighter as he froze.
"Wayne?" Selina took off the glasses. "What's wrong?"
He didn't realize how large the lump in his throat was until he answered her. "I didn't know this was here. I've only seen it in their wedding picture."
"I thought it was the pearls," she said softly.
He shook his head. "The pearls were the last necklace my mother wore." The crush of disappointment hit him in the gut. He lost Wayne Enterprise, thanks to years of avoiding his responsibilities. The energy reactor ended up a weapon instead of a way to improve Gotham. Batman was needed, but had chased Alfred away and was still considered an enemy by the police. Even if he defeated Bane, it wouldn't erase the insult to his parents' legacy. Nothing he had ever done with his life had measured up to their example.
The jewelry box snapped shut in his hands. Selina slipped it out of his grasp and set it back inside the deposit box. He blinked, took a deep breath to center again, and lost balance when she tugged him against her. Her arms tightened around him. He blinked again and eased his arms around her. The black blazer over her sheath dress bunched under his fingers.
She squeezed him before letting go. "Don't read anything into that. You needed it."
Bruce stepped back. "I won't give away your tough girl persona. I know how hard that is to cultivate."
She smirked. "Really? Is that why you needed the cane? Because you hurt your leg wearing tough girl heels?"
"Exactly. Flats for me from now on." This smile wasn't forced. "So what's your verdict?"
She picked up the emerald necklace. "This necklace is worth two hundred K thanks to the flawless quality of the emeralds and its age. Not that the other pieces are bad. Actually, your family has shown consistent good taste in jewelry. But it's worth more than the rest put together."
"I do understand the concept of more bang for your buck."
"You'd be surprised how few in your social circle do." She set the emerald necklace box on top of her purse and passed the other jewelry boxes to him.
"Nothing you want as part of your fee? Not even the diamond brooch?"
"Diamonds are traveling money and I'm not traveling right now."
Bruce mulled over that statement as he repacked the safe deposit box. She had announced at Miranda's fundraiser that she was targeting Gladstone's diamonds, and now she was giving him the reason why. She had vastly different set of criteria from the last thieves he had associated with. They had wanted whatever would score the highest amount with the least effort. Probably why they all got caught by the Bhutan authorities.
Once the teller had secured the box inside the vault again, she escorted them to Richard Daniel's office. The blond man smiled too widely as he strode across the room. "Bruce Wayne, it's been too long." Daniel appraised Selina while he shook Bruce's hand. "You always have a brunette on hand. Did Pennyworth pick this one out?"
"Never is not long enough," Bruce said in an undertone. "Ms. Kyle, Richard Daniel."
Selina shook his hand with a bland smile. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Daniel."
"Likewise, likewise." They settled in the chairs around Daniel's desk and he leaned back in his leather chair. "So a stock market gamble finally pulls you out of hiding. Fox should have engineered one years ago."
"Lucius has more integrity than to commit fraud." Bruce matched Daniel's posture but kept his eyes pinned to the man's face.
"We've all taken missteps on the market. No need to pretend it's anything else. But allowances must be made for being distracted by a pretty face." Daniel's subtle leer at Selina made it clear whose pretty face he meant.
"Everyone in Gotham knows it's fraud." Bruce glared at Daniel. "If I wanted to give up my family's company, I wouldn't need a hostage situation in the Stock Exchange to hide it."
Daniel shifted in his chair. "You've pulled crazy stunts before."
"With Wayne Enterprises?" Selina shifted to observe the interplay between the two men better, but Bruce stared unblinking at Daniel.
Sweat prickled at Daniel's hairline as he tried to smile. It was flat, but did show his teeth. "No need to lose your temper, Bruce."
"And there's no need for you to insult me or my business associate, Richard."
"Business associate?" Daniel glanced at Selina again, but without the leer this time.
"So spare us both your insinuations. You haven't improved your delivery in twenty-eight years, even though I rarely use my fists now when I lose my temper."
Daniel coughed and shifted his eyes away from Selina and Bruce to the painting behind them. "So what can I help you two with today?"
"I need new checking accounts set up first and to pay the electric bill at Wayne Manor. The real estate income needs to be directed to a new account, so the new deposits won't be caught up in this mess."
"The futures options drained your personal checking account before your lawyer put a freeze on it and your account for Manor operations."
Bruce set the jewelry box on Daniel's desk. "To open these accounts, I'd like to take a one hundred seventy-five thousand dollar loan with this as collateral." He opened the box and leaned back.
Daniel's fair eyebrows rose as he looked in the box. "The bank's appraiser will have to approve the expenditure, but it's only a formality for insurance. If you'll wait here, while I get the paperwork?"
"That's fine," Bruce answered. "I want to finish it all today." Daniel nodded and left them. Bruce sighed and moved to the window. The view of downtown Gotham wasn't bad; you could almost see the bay between the other skyscrapers.
"Put some cash in your pocket and treat us to supper, Mr. Wayne, and that will square the taxi bill." Selina said behind him.
"Fair enough. We should let Ms. Robinson pick the place for making her wait so long."
"So you have a favorite flavor of bimbo?"
His shoulders tensed at her tease and he continued staring out the window. "I don't. Daniel was talking about my childhood friend Rachel."
"That wasn't all of it. Did you play William Tell with him too?"
She tsked. "No, you boys talked about fists. And I'm getting the vibe I should lift his wallet."
"You'd pick his pocket for that? He was worse to Rachel."
"Now you know you can't leave it at that."
He sighed. "When I was eleven, somebody had the bright idea I needed more friends and arranged an outing with Richard Daniel. I brought Rachel along because she was the only one who could get me to have fun then. The nicest thing he said was associating with children of the help was beneath him. Rachel told him off, he retaliated by calling her worse names, and I nearly tore his head off when he made her cry. At least, Rachel and I didn't have to go on play dates with snobs after that. I'm sorry he learned the wrong lesson from the incident."
"I've been leered at by worse. So what happened to this Rachel?"
His hands curled into fists inside his pockets. "She was one of the Joker's victims."
Her intake of breath was sharp. "I wasn't in Gotham for his reign of terror." He concentrated on numbing the sting of failure and the new loss that Alfred had given him. Why hadn't she said anything? He would have protected Harvey better if he had known Rachel wanted the district attorney. He half-suspected it when he told her he would turn himself in. He didn't want to discuss it with Selina or, God forbid, Daniel.
Selina shifted in the chair behind him. "So why were all the talking heads screaming how you'd be in bankruptcy court tomorrow?"
A new topic of conversation made it easier to face her. Her large brown eyes were not as sympathetic as they had been in the conference room, but thoughtful looked good on her too. "Makes for better headlines, I guess. Or they think all my income comes solely from Wayne Enterprises."
Her head tilted as she smirked. "So you believe in diversification."
He probably shouldn't tell her. She would be the first to point out that she had stolen from him twice. But she didn't kill, she hugged him without hesitation, and he trusted her. "Roughly twenty-five percent of my income comes from the real estate and other businesses I own. By next month, I'll be a garden-variety millionaire, assuming I don't liquidate any other assets. But that's where my finances will stay if we don't reverse the fraud."
"Daggett wanted Wayne Enterprises bad enough to set up the Stock Exchange attack?"
"I hope I'm looking better by comparison."
Selina appreciated the time Bruce had to spend on paperwork. It gave her time to digest the surprises from him and lock them away where Jen wouldn't read them all over her face. He still mourned his parents. Never had she been gladder that everything she could have been sentimental over was yanked away by the system. But that wasn't his only loss, just the first one. So she let go of her unkind thought toward a friend who would let someone sink to the state she first saw Bruce in. All the money he had couldn't give him what he really wanted.
If Jen heard that, she would never shut up about the possibility. And Selina didn't need yet another neck to worry about right now. Her mask was in place when they found Jen in the lobby of the bank. "Hungry, kiddo?"
Jen tugged the earbuds out as she stood. "Famished. Did everything go okay? You took forever."
"I have a permanent cramp in my hand from signing so many papers, but other than that, everything went fine." Bruce steered them to the parking garage elevator. "What would you like to eat?"
"Pizza," Jen said. They hadn't parked Bruce's Rolls far from the elevator and Bruce unlocked all the doors with the remote. Jen scrambled into the back seat.
Selina slid into the shotgun seat and shook her head. "We can go to any restaurant in the city and you want pizza?"
Bruce buckled his driver's seat belt. "It's been years since I had pizza."
"Really, years? Nobody delivers in the Palisades?"
"Not to the Manor and Alfred didn't think it was healthy, so I guess the last time I had it was while I was at Princeton."
Selina smirked over her shoulder at Jen. "Looks like we're taking Mr. Wayne slumming. Lombardi's is just a few blocks away." Bruce nodded and headed down the street.
"And how long ago was Princeton?" Jen slid back and buckled on a seat belt.
"You must've had some real shitty pizza to give it up for that long."
"It tasted like cardboard soaked with tomato sauce."
Both Jen and Selina snickered, and judging by his slight smile, that was his intention. "Lombardi's won't be that, Mr. Wayne."
"Call me Bruce."
Selina's eyebrows rose.
"It will keep us incognito longer. Trust me."
"All right, Bruce."
They found a place to park, and there was an open table despite the crowd, a round booth in a corner of the dining room. Jen shoved Selina over so she could have the end and then Bruce sat down on Selina's left. It made her feel trapped, but she squashed that feeling down to her toes. At least they were against the wall where no one could sneak up behind them.
Jen leaned her elbows on the table after the waitress left with their drink orders. "Nobody talks about you and college."
"I'm not a good role model; I never finished my degree." Bruce shifted on the bench so he could see Jen.
"Why not? It's not like finances were an issue."
"Now you're interested in college?" Selina asked.
"You did a semester. You don't think I can?"
"Other things became more important," Bruce said. "You went to college?"
"It was part of a long con. Who knew art students actually had to go to classes?" Selina looked at Jen. "You never mentioned college before. When this is over, we'll see about you starting if you want."
Jen grinned. "So what do billionaires study in college?"
"I can't speak for all of them, but I studied computer engineering and programming with a minor in accounting." He shrugged. "Alfred thought I should know how to read the financial ledgers for Wayne Enterprises."
"I'm good with them and I like to tinker. If you're serious about going, you should pick a major connected to something you're good at or like."
Jen's face fell. "There's only one thing I'm good at and I don't like it at all."
"That's not true." Selina jerked her hand that curled into a fist off the table and into her lap. "You haven't had a chance to experience a lot of the jobs that are out there."
"And I thought you were just worried about the rent."
The waitress set their drinks down on the table. "Ready to order?"
Bruce's smile feigned helplessness. "I'm entirely in your hands, ladies."
"Got any allergies?" Selina asked as Jen grinned.
"A large original with pancetta, pepperoni, sausage, red peppers, mushrooms, and extra mozzarella," Jen said to the waitress. The waitress left and she turned to Bruce. "You'll have to try anchovies and onions on another pizza. Selina hates 'em."
"That sounds like plenty," he said. A young girl about ten but wearing the staff T-shirt approached their table. She carried a Polaroid camera. "Hello there."
"Wanna I ate at Lombardi's picture?"
Selina smirked. "I bet the tourists love those."
The girl grinned. "Yeah, and I stamp the words on the bottom of the picture." She pointed to the self-inking stamp hanging on her belt.
Jen pulled out her puppy-dog eyes. "Please, Selina, I don't have any pictures of you."
"For good reason."
"It's a Polaroid! Nothing left behind."
"How much?" Bruce asked.
"Five dollars," the little girl focused on Bruce. "I'm saving for a photography class."
He pulled out his wallet. "You don't have to--" Selina started.
"We have to encourage young entrepreneurs," Bruce said as he passed a creased five dollar bill to the girl.
Jen squealed softly, wrapped her arms around Selina's waist, and pressed against her. "Smile, 'Lina, like you just got away with a huge score." She squeezed.
"I don't like--"
"Having your picture taken?" Bruce threaded his arm behind Selina's shoulders and leaned his head against hers. Her stomach rippled in response. "Pretend to be someone who does."
"You have a camera protocol, Mr. I-Hate-the-paparazzi?" The absurdity of that hit the same time Jen grazed her ticklish side, and Selina grinned as the girl aimed the camera.
She felt his breathy chuckle. "The paparazzi never ask." The flash went off before she could respond. Bruce and Jen unlatched from her at the same time, and the girl borrowed their table to stamp the message on the white margin of the picture. Bruce accepted it and passed it to Jen. "A memento of taking me slumming."
She waved it to make it develop faster. "And getting Selina to smile. I'll guard it with my life."
"Stop being so dramatic." Selina leaned over to see their developing faces. Her amused grim matched Jen's thrilled face, and the smile on Bruce's was warmer than any of the polite ones he had given inside the bank. It reminded her of his grin when he cut into her dance with Gladstone. "Your eyes crinkle when you're genuinely amused."
He leaned over her to see and her stomach rippled again. "So they do. Must be the company." He smiled again and his eyes crinkled. "You have a beautiful smile, Selina."
"You don't have to flatter me." But her lips curled up in a smile anyway.