Authors: V. K. Black
One treasure map; a pair of priceless emeralds; two very keen hunters — only one can win, but who says that competition can’t be a little fun?
When sweet, pretty Ariana Noonan knocks out treasure hunter Luke Donahue with a champagne bottle and steals his treasure map, he vows to get his map back, find the missing priceless emeralds…and exact a fitting revenge.
When Luke finally discovers Ariana in a dingy hotel on a remote tropical island, she’s in desperate straits and he finally gains the upper hand. Of course he will rescue her. His price? They act on the attraction that’s been simmering between them from the very beginning.
But all is not as it seems, and Luke’s sexy bargain turns up not only an unbelievable secret, but Ariana’s reasons for wanting the emerald. Suddenly, nothing is clear-cut anymore, and map or no map, Luke and Ariana are sailing into uncharted territory.
V.K. Black is from Queensland, Australia. She loves tropical islands, snorkelling on the Barrier Reef, good wine and hot spicy food. Amazingly, all of these appear in
. Sadly, treasure maps and priceless emeralds have been in short supply in her real life, but she loves to read about them, or write stories about them.
Her website is
A big thank-you to my wonderful husband, Darryl, who helps me with my technological inabilities. I also thank him for reading my books (not that he has much choice). He is very useful at testily pointing out things such as ‘Victoria, boats just don’t
To my mother
‘Mate, no offence, but you stink.’
Luke grinned at his old school friend and business partner, Bob Fetler. ‘I wondered why the old lady next to me kept wrinkling her nose. But I wanted to get back to Melbourne in a hurry.’
Peeling off the black, sweaty T-shirt he’d been wearing for the last 48 hours, Luke revealed the hasty first aid he’d performed on himself in the men’s toilets at Changi Airport in Singapore. Red-stained gauze was wrapped around his body from his nipples to his waist.
He grabbed a pair of scissors from Bob’s desk and cut through the layers. They fell in a heavy, sodden heap onto the carpet. Gingerly he removed his underwear, which constituted the makeshift padding. Each pair of underpants was dark red, full of sticky blood. Each fell with a heavy plop to join the mess on the floor.
Damn. The cut was worse than he expected. He’d been too angry to do more than give his chest an impatient glance while it disappeared beneath the layers of bandage. Mai Ling had done a good job. The jagged, gaping slash ran up at a steep slope from the bottom of his ribs to his left nipple. And it hurt like hell.
Bob said hoarsely, ‘How —’
‘I had my hands on the bloody statue.’ He ground his teeth in pure frustration. How the hell could he have been so stupid? He glared down at his chest. ‘But then someone surprised me.’
Bob made a small sound, like a manly whimper. Luke glanced at him. Bob’s face had turned almost green.
His experiences over the past few hours of personal idiocy and feminine betrayal vanished in the face of this more immediate problem. He laughed, pushing Bob’s head towards his knees before he could faint or be sick. The cleaner was going to be cranky enough about the blood, and Bob had a weak stomach.
They were unlikely mates, but they made a good team. Bob covered the administration side and supported Luke’s legitimate and extremely profitable Australia-wide finance company, Donahue Finance Incorporated. On paper, Luke ran it. But in reality, Bob did the work.
What Luke did was the fun stuff.
He decided not to tell his partner it was a woman who’d done the surprising. Bob had developed a romantic streak since he’d got married. Shame. He’d been a fun drinking partner every time Luke had come back from Cambodia, or Columbia, or a diving trip off Vanuatu, or wherever in the world he’d been treasure hunting. Then Bob had met Ann Marie, and suddenly there were no more wild boys’ nights out.
Girls weren’t Luke’s favourite creatures right now. For the first time in as long as he could remember, a woman had made him seriously angry. He had always been the one to walk away, but this time a woman had done the walking. Running, actually, when she’d seen she hadn’t quite killed him.
Shrugging off the unfamiliar feeling of fury, he grinned down at Bob. ‘I’m going to the doctor in a minute to get sewn up and get a few shots, but I wanted to show off the damage.’
‘Bastard,’ Bob croaked, without rancour, still holding his head between his knees. ‘Was it Changpu?’
Luke nodded. ‘One of his employees.’ Finding priceless artefacts and selling them to rich Hong Kong collectors was a profitable business. Of course, he’d suspected Mai Ling worked for the old man, whose ruthless methods had chased off all the competition – except for him. But she was a tiny little thing. He’d thought he could play her and enjoy all the delights her mischievous black eyes promised. Then she’d knifed him. Pity he hadn’t checked her handbag for that switchblade she carried. Not a mistake he’d make again.
He drew a package from the pocket of his jeans, and reeled. Bob was right. He stank. ‘I wanted to show you this.’
Bob raised his eyes from the carpet beneath his legs as Luke opened the package. ‘What am I looking at?’
‘Changpu got the statue. But it had no eyes.’ Luke waited.
‘You mean the emeralds had been stolen?’ Bob caught sight of Luke’s chest and lowered his head again hurriedly. ‘That’s it then. Changpu gets the consolation prize and we get nothing. Bugger.’
Oh, this was going to be good.
‘Not quite nothing.’
The suppressed excitement in his voice must have communicated itself to his partner, because Bob raised his head again. Studiously ignoring Luke’s chest, he asked, ‘What are you talking about?’
Mai Ling may have grabbed the small, golden Hindu statue, but he hadn’t been stupid enough to tell her about the clue to the whereabouts of the priceless emeralds that made up the statue’s eyes. With a dramatic flourish, he spread out the old animal skin he’d drawn from his pocket. ‘This, mate, is a treasure map.’
Bob stared for several seconds at the cracked old map, with its faint blue, red and green ink markings. Then he smiled. ‘Well, well. So where are the eyes hidden and when are you going to get them?’
Luke laughed. ‘That’s my boy. Nothing like greed to make you feel better. The emeralds are hidden inside a mountain on Manitia Island.’ He stabbed the map with his forefinger. ‘It’s a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, not too far from Sri Lanka. And I’m off next week, straight after the company cocktail party we’re flying up to in Sydney. I guess I should make an appearance, seeing as I’m CEO.’
There was a small thump against the door. It sounded as if someone had bumped or fallen into it. Luke shrugged on his T-shirt and walked across the thick carpet to throw open the door. No-one was there. He frowned and glanced back at his partner.
‘Do you think we could have been overheard?’ Bob asked.
Swiftly reviewing their conversation, Luke nodded. ‘We weren’t exactly whispering.’
‘Damn,’ Bob muttered. ‘Would it be Changpu again? Here? In Melbourne?’
Luke shrugged. ‘Can’t think of anyone else who’s in the running for the emeralds. Who have we got new on staff?’
‘No-one. We don’t even have any temps at the moment.’
Which made Changpu a wily, long-sighted enemy.
‘What are you going to do?’
Luke smiled grimly as he closed the door. ‘Stick to Plan A. Go find the emeralds.’ His heart sped up as anticipation ran through his veins. Sex. Greed. Danger. They were great motivators. But if Changpu came after him again, the little Chinese man would learn all about another motivator. Revenge.
* * *
‘Moonbeam, I need your help.’
That simple request from her old friend, Jason Hartfield, annoyed Ariana on two counts. One, he’d called her ‘Moonbeam. Two, he’d hugged her in that way she hated.
Pulling herself out of his arms, she pushed gently against his narrow chest, then wrinkled her nose. What the heck was he wearing? As his best and oldest friend, she normally wouldn’t have hesitated to tell him, in no uncertain terms, to ease up on the cologne and to quit calling her Moonbeam. But she paused. Her usually calm friend had shut the hotel-room door behind her, grabbed her suitcase and dropped it on one of the room’s single beds, hugged her, and was now staring at her with unusual urgency. She forced herself to smile. ‘Jason, you’re my oldest friend.’ She put a slight emphasis on the word ‘friend’. ‘If you need my help, you’ve got it. Just forget the ‘Moonbeam’, okay? You know I hate it.’
Only Jason and Grandma knew her real first name. Grandma, well Grandma was like a freight train. She couldn’t be stopped. If Grandma wanted to call her Moonbeam, there was nothing she could do about it. But she could stop Jason.
‘I blitzed the final exam, so I’m now, officially, a starchy old accountant, stiff, dull and sober. Moonbeam doesn’t go with the image.’
Jason took both her hands in his, but his welcoming pale eyes hardened. She’d never been able to tell what he was thinking, not even when they were kids and he was her pretend big brother. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they hadn’t worked out when they’d dated for about a nanosecond. That, and it had been weird.
As he caressed her palms, he gave a brittle smile. ‘Stiff, dull and sober like me, I take it?’
Drawing her hands away, she laughed. They’d known each other too long to play games. After that stupid little fling, which had involved about two tight, closed-lipped kisses, they’d settled back into their easy friendship. Like tonight, with her sharing Jason’s hotel room to save her from catching a taxi home.
Most people thought Jason was too stuffy and formal. But she knew his demons, and they were the same as hers.
‘Anyway, Jas,’ she continued,’you’ve flown up from Melbourne for this cocktail party. Why aren’t you dressed? I’ve blown a huge hole in my credit limit for this outfit tonight. I want to show it off.’
She’d had her doubts about the daring, black, clinging, cocktail-length dress that revealed an awful lot of her cleavage, but the sales assistant’s enthusiasm had been contagious.
Jason’s eyes flicked down to her rarely exposed chest. A hint of a faint, bitter smile played at his lips as the seconds ticked by. Her stomach tightened in alarm. What was wrong?
‘I’m not dressed because I’m not going.’
‘You…you brought your passport with you, right?’
Ariana frowned. ‘Yes, and why did I have to do that, Jason?’ She’d been mystified when he’d told her to pack it, and a little annoyed when he wouldn’t explain.
He licked his lips. ‘You probably won’t need it. It was just a precaution.’
‘What the heck are you talking—Jason, are you alright?’ For Jason had jammed his hands into his armpits, and was staring at her as if he couldn’t see her.
‘I’m in trouble Ari, terrible trouble. You said you’d do anything for me. Did you mean it?’
She stammered, ‘Of course I meant it, Jason.’ She tried to imagine what trouble such a conservative guy, dressed in a white business shirt tucked into his navy blue pants—no tie meant casual wear for Jason—could have got himself into. ‘What is wrong?’
‘Someone is going to murder me tonight.’
He swiped a hand through his thinning brown hair and removed his wire-rimmed glasses, then walked stiffly to the hotel room’s mini bar. With shaking hands, he poured the contents of two small plastic whiskey bottles into a glass. He drank it in one gulp.