Excerpt from SECRETS: Argent Springs Book Two
In the brightly lit back room, Kate London pried the lid off a dusty crate and dug into the mass of tissue paper and brown packing paper covering multiple items. Sweet anticipation coursed through her, leaving her pulse pounding and her hands shaky. She’d waited ten days past the expected date for this delivery and wasn’t about to go home until she’d satisfied her burning curiosity.
She was only interested in one thing and that would be the four-by-six-inch cedar box listed on the estate sale sheet that contained the late Mrs. Camille Rickenbacker’s jewelry. It was a crap shoot, she knew. But the last recorded owner of a certain bezel-set antique pink tourmaline pendant just happened to be Mrs. Rickenbacker, a one-time resident of Argent Springs.
The pendant hadn’t been listed specifically among the jewelry, so she’d taken a chance and spent a ridiculous amount of money bidding on the jewelry box which included miscellaneous costume jewelry. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time a special piece had been mistaken for something less valuable.
She spotted a small, tissue-wrapped package approximately the right size, and her heart paused in excitement. She ripped the packing paper away, revealing a simple cedar box with a gold plate embossed with the initials A.R and C.R along with a date. A significant date to Mr. and Mrs. Rickenbacker, no doubt. Perhaps their wedding date.
She opened the box to find a mixed-up mess of gold and silver chains, jewels of all colors, along with many earrings and rings. It was as though someone had stuffed everything in the box and shook it a million times.
At her desk, she sorted and searched through what she could, digging through the bundle of chains looking for pendants. She found several that she was certain the flamboyant poker-playing ladies of Argent Springs would die for. The old dames were some of Kate’s best customers, so she’d be sure to call Agnes and Sakima in the morning. They liked to fight for first pick.
Frustrated with her find, she tugged the mass repeatedly to loosen the strands. A gorgeous pearl earring with small diamond accents fell to her desk before another pendant dropped with a plunk, landing far too close to the edge. She cupped her hand to catch it and then turned her palm up as she opened her fingers.
Sweet mother. This was the kind of day she lived for, where the fates smiled on her and literally nothing could ruin it.
She stared in awe at the gorgeous pink tourmaline pendant. It sparkled and winked as though eager to share its mystery. Her name would go down in history. Local history, anyway.
Argent Springs history buffs and antique collectors would recognize and appreciate the greatness of her find. Monetarily, the pendant would fetch several thousand, but historically, it had been mentioned in numerous retellings of the town’s history and was a once-in-a-lifetime, significant find. Allen Hamilton, current mayor of Argent Springs would be beyond delighted that she’d found his grandmother’s pendant, a piece of their town’s legacy.
Kate exhaled, closed her fist around the pink tourmaline and smiled. Life was good.
She absentmindedly glanced at the clock and then started when she realized she’d worked long past closing time, with night growing ever closer to the witching hour. Cricket had been home alone for far too long, and she’d be certain to voice her annoyance the moment Kate walked through the door.
Tomorrow would be a full day full of research on the rest of her acquisitions, but for tonight, she’d celebrate her good fortune. She slipped the pendant into a soft velvet bag, tucked it into her pocket, and closed down her shop.
Frosty midnight air greeted Kate as she stepped outside her store at the end of Main Street in the small town of Argent Springs, Colorado. Her thoughts tumbled like bingo balls, each more excited than the last over her latest acquisitions. She’d have to catalogue the other items tomorrow, see what might need to be repaired before she could sell it, and…the pink tourmaline! Sweet mother, indeed.
It was about time something went right in her life. She prayed when she woke the next morning this wouldn’t all be a crazy dream.
She hustled down the empty sidewalk and into the secluded alley between her building and the next, working over how exactly she’d announce her find to the antique world. Or when she should make her announcement.
Maybe she should keep it quiet for a while.
A shadow that wasn’t supposed to move, did, and she nearly fell in her haste to stop. Before she could react two strong arms banded about her chest, crushing her earlier excitement.
“If you scream, you’re dead.” The man hissed in her ear, his voice scratchy and disguised. With a quick flick of his wrist, he flashed an icy steel knife, razor sharp in front of her before he pressed the lethal blade against her neck.
A panic-stricken scream tore at her throat, trying to claw its way out, but she could barely breathe, let alone yell.
Things like this didn’t happen in her quiet, little town.
Frantic, she flicked her gaze down the dark, empty alley. They were utterly and completely alone. Her heart thudded in deafening beats, making it hard to keep her head clear.
She fought the swirling darkness that threatened to take over and clung to her sanity.
“I won’t scream,” she finally whispered and managed a shallow breath though the efforts pressed her throat against the knife. A fearful tremble started low and spread through her body. Her breathing grew more uneven as panic swelled. “What do you want? My purse? Take it.”
She couldn’t offer the tourmaline. Not unless he asked for it.
He tightened his hold around her abdomen, jerking her deeper into the October shadows. Hot breath, thick with garlic, brushed her neck as he leaned close and whispered. “I want you to do something for me.”
God, no. Thoughts of a vicious rape terrorized her, and it took all her strength to remain still. She closed her eyes against the fear as her pulse raced, throbbing against the knife with each heartbeat.
“I have something you want,” he continued. “To get it back, you have to do a job for me.”
Her mind went crazy analyzing his words, trying to make sense of them. “What do you mean?” she whispered and backed closer to him to avoid the scratch of his knife against her neck.
“I have your sister.”
“Janice?” No. She’d seen her that morning, and all had been well. “I don’t understand.”
“Listen to me,” he hissed. “This isn’t rocket science. I have your sister, and in order to get her back, you need to steal a rare gem for me.”
“What?” She started in surprise, and the edge of his blade sliced her skin. She froze from the shock of the stinging pain.
He jerked the knife away from her, though not far enough to lessen her fear. “God, woman, do you want to die? If you don’t hold still, you’re going to slit your own throat.” Her injury must have surprised him, too, for he spoke in a voice that seemed somehow familiar.
Or had she just imagined it?
“Okay,” she managed. Instinct urged her to reach up and test the damage, but she didn’t dare move again, though she was sure she could feel the cold air chilling her dripping blood.
“Listen close ‘cause I don’t have time for your shit.” His voice was once again a harsh whisper. “You’re going to fly to L.A. and steal a rock for me.”
Was the guy insane? What he asked was impossible. “I’m not a jewelry thief or a felon. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know how.”
“No, but you’re an expert in gemology.”
“How does that help?” She couldn’t believe she was arguing with a dagger-wielding nutcase, but she had to make him understand.
“I need someone who knows what to look for. It’s rumored the owner keeps fakes. I need to know the stone I’m getting is the genuine thing.”
The thought of committing such a crime made her dizzy. “I can’t do it. I—I have no experience. I’d get caught.” Not to mention stealing went against everything she believed in. “Besides, how do I know you really have Janice?”
He dug rough fingers into her French twist and jerked her head back, sliding his blade against her neck, though not slicing. Not yet.
“Oh, I have her.” A deranged chuckle rumbled from his chest. “She’s wearing jeans and a tight red sweater. When I tied her hands, I saw the scars on her wrists.”
Despair tightened like a vice around her heart. Janice had been wearing a red sweater that morning. And this man knew about her scars. Almost no one knew about Janice’s wildly unhappy youth and the attempts to take her own life. She’d lived in Sage at that time, and nowadays, she always kept her wrists hidden beneath long sleeves or layers of bracelets.
“Do you want to see your sister alive again?” His words came at her like forceful, angry arrows as he slid the blade over her throat. This time, the knife bit into her skin. “Do you?”
She couldn’t doubt his intent. He would kill her.
“I’ll do what you ask.” Janice had been so spiteful earlier at the jewelry store, flashing her engagement ring from Kate’s ex-boyfriend. But as much as they disagreed with each other, Kate couldn’t sever the undeniable connection she’d always shared with her sister, and she had to do whatever she could to save her.
He eased the knife, allowing her to straighten her neck and breathe.
“But…I don’t know how.” She wasn’t exaggerating. She was an introvert, a homebody. Not a kick-ass heroine like in the movies.
“I’ve taken care of that.” He rested the knife on her shoulder as he struggled with something.
She dared a glance back at him, catching sight of a tall man dressed in a black leather jacket and a black ski mask. Nothing that could be used to identify him.
“What are you looking at?” He pushed her cheek, knocking her gaze away. She stumbled before he grabbed her again and slammed a large gold envelope against her chest.
“Take it.” When she put a shaking hand on it, he continued. “It contains all the details. Nicholas Devere owns the jewel. His picture and another of the stone are in there. He’ll be at the Hotel Winchester in downtown L.A. on the twenty-first, having a drink with his uncle. You need to convince him to take you to his home.”
The man’s gloved hand snaked down her neck and cupped her breast, sending a wave of repulsion rolling through her. “I don’t think he’ll resist this,” he whispered, his hot breath chilling her.
She wanted to call him the pig that he was, but her instincts warned her to remain silent.
“Then you drug him and steal the gem. It’s simple. You might want to wear a disguise to be on the safe side.”
“Drug? What kind of drug?” She didn’t want to hurt anyone in order to save her sister.
“It’s a harmless powder. Pour it in his drink. It’ll knock him out for a few hours and then he’ll be fine. Besides, who’s more important? Your sister or him?”
Kate took a steadying breath, focusing on Janice’s safety. There was no way in hell she’d pull it off. “The twenty-first? Of October? That’s this Saturday, two days.”
“Yeah.” He gave a low chuckle. “You’ll be back in time for work on Monday.”
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. The whole idea was preposterous.
He jerked her hard against him. “If you think for a second I’m not serious, know this. I will kill her if I don’t get the stone.” He ran a gloved finger down her cheek, the leather cool and soft, his blade flashing near her eyes.
Bright fear surfaced again, bringing the reality of what he’d said down on her like a sledgehammer. “Okay,” she whispered.
“Don’t think about calling the cops. Just do what I say, and you’ll have your sister back.”
“I’m going to leave now. Don’t turn around. Don’t scream. Whatever you do, don’t call the cops. Just go home and know that I’m watching you. Take care of business, and everything will be fine. I’ll contact you for the gem after you return.”
He slipped his arm from around her, and she took a shaky breath. She stood frozen in place while she listened to his footsteps retreat down the alley. Several seconds passed before she dared to glance in that direction. When she did, he was gone.
Hidden by shadows, he watched Kate stumble to her car and climb inside. The terror on her face made him smile. Women that high and mighty deserved to be brought down, and he was more than happy to make sure that happened. Not to mention the load of money he’d get for his trouble.
He pressed the speed dial on his phone.
“It’s done. The package has been delivered, and she’ll have the rock by Monday.”
He paused long enough to hear the question he knew would come.
“No, I’m not worried. Dumb bitch would do anything to save her sister. She’ll make sure this happens.”
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