Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
“I copy that, Lyons. I copy that.”
“Text me if you get anything. We’re on our way to a party tonight at Mayhew’s.”
“Search and destroy?”
“Search and collect,” Mike corrected Grey.
“Good. Both of you use the fingerprint proof gloves.”
“And if you’re looking for data to copy—“
“Rebecca will be. What she got before is useless to us.”
“So give her one of our own USBs with our embedded virus. That way, she doesn’t have to copy anything. Plug it in and we’ll download all straight from Mayhew’s computer.”
They said goodbye.
Minutes later, when Becka emerged in a slinky cherry red cocktail dress and snappy high-heeled sandals, he was buttoning his shirt. He licked his lips, the sight of her kicking up his eagerness to get the night over with and take her home. “Pack a bag, honey. You’re coming to my house.”
“Yeah, but—“ She gazed at the dog.
“We’re bringing Fido with us, so don’t worry. I need to give you a few little gadgets. Collect some for myself tonight. Besides, my house is safer. Security is tighter.”
“I like gadgets.” She strolled forward to stroke her hands down his shirt. “And feeling safe with you.”
“Feeling is being,” he said and tipped her head for a solid kiss of reassurance. He wasn’t about to lose her now. “I am your man for this—and for all else. So get a bag. And Fido’s leash.”
As he drove from N Street to the Watergate, Becka sat beside him and twiddled her thumbs. Her special sign of nerves. She was thinking. Always thinking.
Mike had to get profiles of Mayhew’s guests. “Tell me about anyone here tonight I should check out.”
“A friend of Vince’s. A historical consultant to a few art dealers here and in New York. He comes to the shop often. More often than any other of Vince’s friends.”
“John Corman. Tall, dark, wears his hair in a ponytail. Very charming. Maybe too charming. Thirty-five-ish. Kind of a Washington walker.”
“A walker? An escort for older, single women going to society parties? I didn’t think that type existed any more.” Mike laughed.
“They do. He’s it. Worked at Christie’s auction house for more than a decade. He also paints.”
“Do you think he’s your forger?”
She rolled a shoulder. “I have wondered. He’s sold a few landscapes but they’re more late Picasso than Monet or Cassatt.”
“Ever met a William Rolinson?”
“Yes. Vince’s accountant. He might be there tonight.”
“Nice guy?” Mike asked.
“Suave enough for D.C. I have no idea how he is as an accountant. You know his name because Grey Holden is on the job?”
“He is. Ever met a guy named Mario Garcia?”
“Oh, yeah.” She shivered, rubbing her bare arms. “Mario thinks he walks on water. Especially with women. Big, brawny, brooding. A Latin lover, you know the type. Good looking but dangerous. Reminds me of a rattler. I think he’s Mayhew’s muscle.”
“He might be.”
“Swell. Just what I needed to hear.”
He reached for her hand. “I can handle him if I have to.”
“You look fit. But are you? Recovered, I mean, to fighting ability?”
“I can’t live in the jungle and eat snakes for a month, but I can still catch one and kill it.”
“All I needed to hear.” She escaped his touch. “Give me some air, Mike.”
“Sure.” But he was not done. “You have to tell me what you plan to do here tonight.”
“Going with the flow. Acting easy. Seeing if I can find his home computer. Access it.” She glanced at him, her gaze running over his duds. “You’ll fascinate the ladies and watch out for the men while I do.”
“I’ll put on the charm—and my goggles.”
She laughed but it had no mirth in it. “Watch that no one follows me around his condo. Buy me time.”
He drove into the Watergate garage. “Time is easy.”
“Injured or not, one look at you and few would mess with you.”
“Just as long as you mess with me, we’re good, babe.” He winked at her and pulled into an empty space.
As they walked into the elevator, she told herself to chill. But she was angry, yes. Angry at Mike’s abrupt entrance to her life once more. Insulted, maybe still a little, yes. Appalled that someone would hire him to bird-dog her. But she was comforted by his presence. That she would not deny, even if the fact that someone had hired him to guard her made her stomach queasy. Above all, she was lured to him, definitely. Enchanted by him. Too much. And she had to keep her mind clear for this. Her breathing regular. Normal. No drama.
And that was the problem. Mikael Lyons by her side gave her something else to think about. Last summer in Paris, she’d grown used to his presence. She’d had time to adjust. But he could not blithely walk into her life, her workplace, one summer afternoon, carry her off, tell her bits about him being her bodyguard, kiss her silly and then sweep her off to bed for hours and not raise her pulse. Panic in her heart. Fear in her soul.
And what she could not be, amid all that, was overwhelmed. Robbed of rational thought. Or so spooked that she missed the clues she needed to gather here tonight to add to her investigation…and get the damn thing over and done.
Clutching her little purse with a special USB and stretchy gloves inside, she tried to chill for this party. Sweeping her mind blank of her afternoon in Mike Lyons’ embrace was a giant task. And she had to have her wits about her to maneuver tonight.
“Good evening, Miss Tierney,” Vincent Mayhew’s butler greeted Mike and her at the front door. The luxurious penthouse condo lay open to the western horizon and the rays of August brilliance burst like diamonds against the glazed white tiles on the patio and in the gold and ivory great room. “So glad you could come.”
“Thank you, Valmont. This is my friend, Mikael Lyons.” She smiled at the thin, bald, eagle-eyed servant. “We’re delighted to be here.”
“Please join the others in the living room. Maurice is serving cocktails.”
“We will.” She and Mike edged their way past a group of people discussing the next election.
Mike jerked a brow, noting the lavish appointments of her boss’s home. “Does well for himself. French empire furniture. A Matisse?”
“I think so,” she murmured as she led the way into the throng near the patio doors.
“What else is the real McCoy?”
“A lot. Enjoy.” She stopped in front of the under-butler whom she’d met on previous visits. “Hello, Maurice. How are you?”
Mademoiselle Tierney. Comment allez vous?”
Tres bien, Maurice
. This is my friend,
. What may I serve you,
“I think you know what I like, Maurice,” she said with a twinkle in her eye for the silver-haired gentleman. He and the butler Robert Valmont were “an item.” Their boss knew it and in fact, appreciated their devotion to each other.
“I do.” He snapped his fingers and reached for a bottle. “I keep it here just for you. The very best crème de cassis and good white Burgundy. And you,
Lyons? What is your pleasure?”
She kept up a conversation with Maurice while he poured their drinks, allowing Mike to take stock of the scene before him. Glasses in hand, they moved toward a group clustered around an alabaster grand piano.
“Ah, here she is!” Vince broke from the others to walk toward her, hands out. Though he was forty, he had affectations that were a mix of old European manners and
nouveau riche kitsch
. He was sometimes quite embarrassing to watch. Like now.
She smiled at him and allowed him to give her air kisses on both cheeks. “Vince. Thanks for having us. My friend is Mike Lyons.”
“Mike.” Vince held out his hand, but from the cool look in his pale grey eyes, the gesture was purely formal. “Great to have you. You must tell me how often you work out at the gym to be able to carry Rebecca out the door the way you did.”
“I try to put in an hour a day when I’m not working. But I don’t recommend it.”
“No? Why not?”
Mike gave him a wry smile. “Like a lot of things, it’s addictive. Takes time and effort and you think about it too much. Makes going to work a problem.”
“And what is your work, Mike?”
“I used to be a SEAL. Now I’m figuring out what to do next.”
Becka didn’t bat an eyelash. She’d thought he was settled with Holden in the Omega Team. What was up with the indecision? Just a white lie as small talk?
Vince said, “A SEAL. Very commendable. Any missions you can tell us about?”
Vince laughed. “That’s what I figured. What are you drinking? Vodka?”
“H2O,” Mike said.
“Staying long in Washington?”
Becka shifted. She didn’t like the third degree Vince was giving Mike.
Mike nodded. “Like Rebecca told you on the phone, two weeks. Maybe longer. I’m a native. Grew up here. Love the town.”
“Few can say they’re from here. Those who do form a tight little social set, all to themselves. Is there a Lyons family business?”
“Not a business, no. My dad was a columnist for
The Washington Post.
My mother taught French lit at Georgetown University.”
Vince put a finger to his lips. His brow wrinkled. “Eric Lyons?”
“The same,” Mike said with some warmth.
“An expert on NATO and the European Union. My father knew him,” Vince said with a true smile on his lips. “They were friends.”
“Really?” Mike sounded delighted. “Nice. Haven’t met many friends of my dad’s in a while.”
“As I recall, they did not see eye-to-eye on the return of art confiscated by the Nazis from the French and German citizens during the world war, but they agreed to disagree.”
Becka stiffened, but shrugged it off quickly. She didn’t want to give signals their conversation meant more than it did. But why would Vince bring that up? Okay, so it was fine to follow up on such a friendship but the topic of lost art seemed too scary. Too coincidental.
Mike’s eyes widened. “Interesting.”
It certainly was. Becka took a sip of her
. Was it coincidental that Mike’s father and Vince’s had been friends and debated the ownership of confiscated art? Was that a clue of some aspect of the forgery that she investigated here? Had the person who hired Mike for the job of protecting her known about the men’s friendship? Was it of any importance?
Or was she adding two and two and getting five?
Mike took a swallow of his drink. “Is your father an artist or a critic or what is his interest in lost art?”
“He’s a private collector.” Vince smiled. “My grandfather acquired quite a few pieces after the war. Most of them sold to him by the families themselves.”
“I see. He was in Europe then after the Allies took Normandy?”
Vince emptied his wine glass and put it on a nearby table. “He was with a cultural attachment from the American Army, stationed in Paris after August 1944.”
“The best place to be when the missing pieces were brought in and recorded,” Mike added.
Mike tipped his head. “Would I be right to assume that your grandfather is no longer with us?”
“Right. He died more than twenty years ago. My father continues to collect art he likes.”
“What is your father’s opinion of the World Court’s attempt to prosecute those who refuse to return known artwork to former owners?”
Vince shrugged. “Ah, well.
C’est la guerre
, as they say in France. Things that happen in wartime are often out of anyone’s control. Things get messy. And for the World Court to take legal action against private individuals who bought items in good faith, means they’ll have to show malice and intent to deprive.”
Mike shook his head. “But the Court says those in possession now will have to show bills of sale.”
“Again. Difficult to do because of the conditions under which the works were sold.”
“During air raids, you mean?” Mike asked.
Becka clutched at Mike’s provocative words.
“Or in battle,” Vince shot back.
“Or starving. In need of a few francs to buy milk for the baby, a man would sell almost anything.”
Becka noted that beneath his tan, Mike was flushed, getting hot under the collar about this discussion. It wouldn’t do for her boss to hate him and she had to step in. “I’m sure the Court can resolve this by paying attention to specifics of each case.”
“Of course they can,” Vince said with a curt smile at Mike. Then he took hold of Becka’s elbow. “Let me introduce you around, Becka.”
With a sharp eye at Mike to cool his irritation at Vince, she allowed her boss to lead her over to the group at the piano. John Corman sat playing idly at the keys. His song of choice was Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”.
“This is my new assistant, everyone. Rebecca Tierney. Fine girl. Some of you have met her.” He introduced two women Becka hadn’t met previously and they exchanged smiles. “She has a great command of many things. French. The Impressionists. Rococo furnishings.
Annnnd she sings!
Don’t you, darling
The last word made her flesh crawl. She was not, had never been, would never be his darling. And she’d given him no indication she welcomed it. Nor had he ever presumed so much—dare she call it?—affinity.
And to add trouble to injury, one look at Mike and Becka recognized the predatory gleam in his eyes.
“Thank you, Vince, for the kind words. I’m afraid—“ she said, smiling at the others before her, “—he exaggerates.”
“Not at all. Do not believe her,” Vince said, taking her hand to lead her to the edge of the piano. “Disprove me, Rebecca.”
She demurred. “Really, Vince. I haven’t done this in ages.”
“I heard you the other day in the back room.”
Alarm zinged through her. She never sang these days. Unless she was nervous. And she had been because she was fiddling with his computer back there. Seeing if it had a USB port access. Seeing how old it was. If Vince had looked in on her—