Stars of Mithra Box Set: Captive Star\Hidden Star\Secret Star (10 page)

BOOK: Stars of Mithra Box Set: Captive Star\Hidden Star\Secret Star
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“Look at us.” She pressed a hand to her mouth and sat down on the foot of the bed. “If this isn't a laughing matter, I don't know what is.”

She had him there. In fact, he realized, she had him, period. Now his lips curved, with determination. “Okay, sugar, I'm just going to have to wipe that smirk off your face.”

“Let's see if a big tough guy like you can manage it.”

She was grinning like a fool when he shoved her back on the bed and rolled on top of her.

Chapter 8

S
he had to learn to defer to him on certain matters, M.J. told herself. That was compromise, that was relationship. The fact was, he had more experience in situations like the one they were in than she did. She was a reasonable person, she thought, one who could take instruction and advice.

Like hell she was.

“Come on, Jack, do I have to wait till you drive to Outer Mongolia to make one stupid phone call?”

He flipped her a look. He'd been driving for
exactly ten minutes. He was surprised she'd waited that long to complain. She was worried, he reminded himself. The past twenty-four hours had been rough on her. He was going to be reasonable.

In a pig's eye.

“You use that phone before I say, and I'll toss it out the window.”

She drummed her fingers on the little pocket phone in her hand. “Just answer me this. How is anybody going to trace us through this portable? We're out in the middle of nowhere.”

“We're less than an hour outside of D.C., city girl. And you'd be surprised what can be traced.”

Okay, maybe he wasn't exactly sure himself if it could be done. But he thought it was possible. If her friend's phone was tapped, and whoever was after them had the technology, it seemed possible that the frequency of her flip phone could be a trail of sorts.

He didn't want to leave a trail.

“How?”

He'd been afraid she'd ask. “Look, that thing's essentially a radio, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Radios have frequencies. You tune in on a frequency, don't you?” It was the best he could
do, and it was a relief to see her purse her lips and consider it. “Plus, I want to put some distance between where we are and where we're staying. If it was the FBI on our tails, I'd want them chasing in circles.”

“What would the FBI want with us?”

“It's an example.” He didn't beat his head on the steering wheel, but he wanted to. “Just deal with it, M.J. Just deal with it.”

She was trying to, trying to remind herself that it had only been a day, after all. One single day.

But her life had changed in that single day.

“At least you could tell me where we're going.”

“I'm taking 15, north toward Pennsylvania.”

“Pennsylvania?”

“Then you can make you call. After, we'll head southeast, toward Baltimore.” He flicked her another glance. “If the Os are in town, we can take in a game.”

“You want to go to a ball game?”

“Hey, it's the Fourth of July. Ball games, beer, parades and fireworks. Some things are sacred.”

“I'm a Yankee fan.”

“You would be. But the point is, a ballpark's a good place to lose ourselves for a couple
hours—and a good place for a meet if you're able to contact Grace.”

“Grace at a baseball game?” She snorted. “Right.”

“It's a good cover,” he began, then frowned. “Your friend has something against the national pastime?”

“Sports aren't exactly Grace's milieu. Now, a nice, rousing fashion show, or maybe a thrilling opera.”

It was his turn to snort. “And you're friends?”

“Hey, I've been known to go to the opera.”

“In chains?”

She had to laugh. “Practically. Yeah, we're friends.” She let out a sigh. “I guess it's hard, surface-wise, to see why. The scholar, the Mick and the princess. But we just clicked.”

“Tell me about them. Start with Bailey, since this starts with Bailey.”

“All right.” She drew a deep breath, watched the scenery roll by. Little snatches of country, thick with trees and hills that rolled. “She's lovely, has this fragile look about her. Blond, brown-eyed, with rose-petal skin. She has a weakness for pretty things, silly, pretty things, like elephants. She collects them. I gave her one carved out of soapstone for her birthday last month.”

Remembering how normal it had all been, how simple, had her pressing her lips together. “She likes old movies, especially the film noir type, and she can be a little dreamy at times. But she's very focused. Of the three of us back in college, she was the only one who knew exactly what she wanted and worked toward it.”

He liked the sound of Bailey, Jack thought. “And what did she want?”

“Gemology. She's fascinated by rocks, stones. Not just jewel types. We keep talking about the three of us going to Paris for a couple weeks, but last year we ended up in Arizona, rockhounding. She was happy as a pig in slop. And she's had a lot of unhappiness in her life. Her father died when she was a kid. He was an antique dealer—so that's another of her weaknesses, beautiful old things. Anyway, she adored her dad. Her mother tried to hold the business together, but it must have been rough. They lived up in Connecticut. You can still hear New England in her voice. It's classy.”

She lapsed into silence a moment, struggling to push back the worry. “Her mother married again a few years later, sold the business, relocated in D.C. Bailey was fond of the guy. He treated her well, got her interested in gems—that was his
area—sent her to college. Her mother died when she was in college—a car accident. It was a rough time for Bailey. Her stepfather died a couple years later.”

“It's tough, losing people right and left.”

“Yeah.” She glanced at Jack, thought of him losing father, brother, mother. Perhaps never really having them to lose. “I've really never lost anyone.”

He understood where her mind had gone, and he shrugged. “You get through. You go on. Didn't Bailey?”

“Yeah, but it scarred her. It's got to scar a person, Jack.”

“People live with scars.”

He wouldn't discuss it, she realized, and turned back to the scenery. “Her stepfather left her a percentage of the business. Which didn't sit well with the creeps.”

“Ah, yeah, the creeps.”

“Thomas and Timothy Salvini—they're twins, by the way, mirror images. Slick-looking characters in expensive suits, with hundred-dollar haircuts.”

“That's one reason to dislike them,” Jack noted. “But it's not your main one.”

“Nope. I never liked their attitudes—toward
Bailey, and women in general. It's easiest to say Bailey considered them family from the get-go, and the sentiment wasn't returned. Timothy was particularly rough on her. I get the impression they mostly ignored her before their old man died, and then went ballistic when she inherited part of Salvini in the will.”

“And what's Salvini?”

“That's their name, and the name of the gem business. They design, buy, sell gems and jewelry out of a fancy place in Chevy Chase.”

“Salvini… Can't say I've heard of it, but then I don't buy a lot of baubles.”

“They sell some awesome glitters—especially the ones Bailey designs. And they do consultant work for estates, museums. That's primarily Bailey's forte, too. Though she loves design work.”

“If Bailey does design work and consulting, what do the creeps do?”

“Thomas handles the business end—accounts, sales, takes a lot of trips to check out sources for gems. Timothy works in the lab when it suits him, and likes to stride around the showroom looking important.”

Restless, she reached out to fiddle with the buttons of his stereo and had her fingers slapped. “Hands off.”

“Touchy about your toys, aren't you?” she muttered. “Well, anyway, it's a pretty posh little firm, old established rep. It was her contacts at the Smithsonian that copped them the job with the Three Stars. She was dancing on the ceiling when it came through, couldn't wait to get her hands on them, put them under one of those machines she uses. The somethingmeters, and whattayascopes she uses in their lab.”

“So she was verifying authenticity, assessing value.”

“You got it. She was dying for us to see them, so Grace and I went in last week. That was the first time I'd laid eyes on them—but they seemed almost familiar. Spectacular, almost unreal, yet familiar. I suppose it's because Bailey'd described them to us.” She rolled her shoulders to toss off the sensation, and the memory of the dreams. “You've seen the one, touched it. It's magnificent. But to see the three of them, together, it just stops your heart.”

“Sounds to me as though they stopped someone's conscience. If Bailey's as honest as you say—”

M.J. interrupted him. “She is.”

“Then we'll have to check out the stepbrothers.”

Her brows shot up. “Would they actually have the nerve to try to steal the Three Stars?” she wondered. “Could that be why Ralph was blackmailing one of them, rather than the gambling?”

“No.”

“Well, why not?” Then she shook her head, answering her own question. “Couldn't be—the payments started months ago, and they'd just recently got the contract.”

“There you go.”

She brooded over it a moment longer. “But maybe they were planning to steal the Stars. If they were trying to pull a fast one, got away with it, it would destroy their business…the business their father slaved a lifetime to build,” she added slowly. “And that would destroy Bailey. Even the thought of it. She'd do almost anything to prevent that from happening.”

“Like ship off the stones to the two people in the world she felt she could trust without question.”

“Yeah—and face down her stepbrothers. Alone.” Fear was a claw in her throat. “Jack.”

“Stay logical.” His voice snapped to combat the waver in hers. “If they're involved in this—and I'd say it fits—it means they've got a client, a buyer. And they need all three Stars. She's safe
as long as they don't. She's safe as long as we're out of reach.”

“They'd be desperate. They could be holding her somewhere. They might have hurt her.”

“Hurt's a long way from dead. They'd need her alive, M.J., until they round up all three. And from the rundown you've just given me, your pal may have a fragile side, and she may be naive, but she's not a chump.”

“No, she's not.” Steadying herself, M.J. looked at the phone in her lap. The call, she realized, wasn't just a risk for herself, but a risk for all of them. “If you want to drive to New York before I use this, it's okay with me.”

He reached out, squeezed a hand over hers. “We're not going to Yankee Stadium, no matter how much you beg.”

“I don't just owe you for me now. I should have realized it before. I owe you for Bailey, and for Grace. I've put them in your hands, Jack.”

He drew his away, clamped it on the wheel. “Don't get sloppy on me, sugar. It pisses me off.”

“I love you.”

His heart did a long, slow circle in his chest, made him sigh. “Hell. I guess you want me to say it again, now.”

“I guess I do.”

“I love you. What's the M.J. stand for?”

It made her smile, as he'd hoped it would. “Look, Jack, wild sex and declarations of love are one thing. But I haven't known you long enough for that one.”

“Martha Jane. I really think it's Martha Jane.”

She made a rude buzzing sound. “Wrong. And that puts you out of this round, sir, better luck next time.”

There'd be a birth certificate somewhere, he mused. He knew how to hunt. “Okay, tell me about Grace.”

“Grace is a complicated woman. She's utterly, unbelievably beautiful. That's not an exaggeration. I've seen grown men turn into stuttering fools after one flash of her baby blues.”

“I'm looking forward to meeting her.”

“You'll probably swallow your tongue, but that's all right, I'm not the jealous sort. And it's kind of a kick to watch guys go into instant melt-down around Grace. You flipped through the pictures in my wallet when you searched my purse, didn't you?”

“Yeah, I took a look.”

“There's a couple of me with Grace and Bailey in there.”

He skimmed his mind back, focused in. And didn't want to tell her he'd barely noted the blonde or the brunette. The redhead had taken most of his attention. “The brunette—wearing a big silly hat in one of them.”

“Yeah, that was on our rockhounding trip last year. We had a tourist snap it. Anyway, she's gorgeous, and she grew up privileged. And orphaned. She lost her folks young and lived with an aunt. The Fontaines are filthy rich.”

“Fontaine…Fontaine…” His mind circled. “As in Fontaine Department Stores?”

“Right the first time. They're rich, stuffy, snotty snobs. Grace enjoys shocking them. She was expected to do her stint at Radcliffe, do the obligatory tour of Europe, and land the appropriate rich, stuffy, snotty snob husband. She's done everything but cooperate, and since she's got mountains of money of her own, she doesn't really give two damns what her family thinks.”

She paused, considered. “I don't think she'd give two damns if she was flat broke, either. Money doesn't drive Grace. She enjoys it, spends it lavishly, but she doesn't respect it.”

“People who work for their money respect it.”

“She's not a do-nothing trust-funder.” M.J. said, immediately defensive. “She just doesn't
care if people see her that way. She does a lot of charity work—quietly. That's private. She's one of the most generous people I know. And she's loyal. She's also contrary and moody. She'll take off for days at a time when the whim strikes her. Just go. It might be Rome—or it might be Duluth. She just has to go. She has a place up in western Maryland—I guess you'd call it a country home, but it's small and sweet. Lots of land, very isolated. No phone, no neighbors. I think she was going there this weekend.”

She shut her eyes, tried to image. “I don't know if I could find the place. I've only been up there once, and Bailey did the driving. Once I get out of the city, all those country roads look the same. It's in the mountains, near some state forest.”

BOOK: Stars of Mithra Box Set: Captive Star\Hidden Star\Secret Star
9.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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