Authors: Danita Minnis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #romance, #Fantasy & Futuristic, #historical, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal, #angels
She had touched his cheek—thin as parchment—and should have known by the relieved sigh escaping his colorless lips that his business with the world was done. Instead, excited over his gift, she left him for the last time in his small flat in Piccadilly chock full of music and memories.
Tired of crying, Angelina started reading the book. She was soon lost in the study of musical composition, theories she had learned from the Maestro.
By the time Angelina got home, she felt so silly about her reaction to the prank at the Royal Academy of Music that she did not mention it to her parents. The study hall door must have been stuck, not locked at all. Her reaction to it would make her parents worry that she had begun to backslide into her debilitating disorder.
People’s Republic of China
“Put the gun down.” Falcon’s quiet warning, though spoken in English, was not lost on the guard.
Slanted eyes flickered in uncertainty. The guard was doing too much thinking.
Falcon pressed the Glock against the guard’s heart. “Have it your way.” His thumb flexed over the trigger.
The guard lowered his automatic from Max’s temple.
Falcon released the trigger and holstered his gun.
The guard spat something in Chinese at Max’s head before retreating to his post in the corner of the room.
Falcon glanced at Max, and the agent relaxed his chokehold on the second guard. Sore Neck slumped to the floor, gasping for air.
Falcon walked over to the interrogation table. “Three days in Quajing Prison not enough for you? Sit down.”
Max stepped over the prone guard to sit back down in his chair. “Solitary confinement. You bastards…” he rasped.
Falcon took the seat at the other end of the table. “Max, tone it down or you are not going to like what happens here.”
Sore Neck got up from the floor and linked Max’s chain to the seat.
Blood trickled down Max’s face. He shook his head so it wouldn’t run in his eye.
Sore Neck gave the chain a malicious tug before he went to hold up the other corner of the room. Max licked the blood off his busted lip like it belonged to Sore Neck.
“She’s ten years old, Falcon. The guy broke her arm because she couldn’t handle the wash load!” Max tried to sit up but the chain that tethered his handcuffs to the chair was too short. Forced to lean back against the wide steel bands on the back of the chair, Max gave the guard a derisive look. “I just gave the man a taste of his own medicine.”
Still rubbing the red handprints on his neck, Sore Neck grumbled what sounded like a not so nice promise in Chinese to Max.
Falcon got up and walked around the desk to Max’s side so that his back was to the guard. “You worked him over pretty bad. The man’s in a coma.”
“He’s still breathing? I didn’t hit him hard enough. He owns the laundry operation. They should have put him away, not me…”
Falcon placed a hand on Max’s shoulder and the agent went silent on a heaving breath. The silence lengthened until Max was able to look him in the eye. “He is the brother of a politburo member.” He nodded slowly at the stricken expression on Max’s face. “Ye Zheng’s brother.”
Max looked down at his shackled wrists.
The door to the interrogation room opened. The investigator walked in with another man.
Great, no English.
“Qian Pao.” Falcon shook hands with the investigator, who started talking through his interpreter. The wall-eyed interpreter’s smile was as bland as his speech.
“Investigator Pao would like to thank you for coming to settle this matter. After speaking with Ye Zheng, Investigator Pao has decided to release the prisoner into your custody. Ye Zheng would like to keep this unfortunate incident out of the news.”
Falcon glanced at Max, whose chiseled expression resembled the stone wall he focused on. “I understand. We would like to offer our apologies to Ye Zheng and wish his brother Xio Zheng a quick recovery.”
Max studied the ceiling.
“Do you agree with Ye Zheng’s terms?” the interpreter asked.
“Yes. Max will not return to the People’s Republic of China.”
The investigator nodded his approval once the interpreter translated, and then rattled off another remark.
“Very good. Ye Zheng has a message for you. He thinks we have had a visit from the Jeweler. He would like to extend an invitation for dinner this evening. ” For the first time since entering the room, the interpreter’s eye fell on Max. “However, he must leave now.”
Max grinned at Sore Neck.
“I will see to it,” Falcon said to Investigator Pao. “Please tell Ye Zheng I will join him for dinner.”
The interpreter bowed, setting off a chain reaction as Investigator Pao bowed and Falcon followed suit.
When Investigator Pao and his interpreter left the room, Sore Neck unlocked Max’s handcuffs.
Max grabbed the guard by the neck, executing a swift right hook that must have crunched bone and cartilage. The guard crumpled to the floor.
Shouting curses, the other guard ran over, gun in hand.
Falcon stood between the guard and Max. The guard came to a standstill and put away his gun. He detoured around Falcon to reach his prone companion.
“Is there a plastic surgeon in the house?” Max watched the guard with a fool’s grin that started his busted lip bleeding again. “Hey, you’re going to break my arm!”
Falcon twisted Max’s wrist further up his back. “Not if you calm down.”
Sore Neck cupped the blood streaming from his shattered nose and stumbled out of the room ahead of the other guard.
Falcon released Max.
“I’m sorry, Falcon. I didn’t know the politburo…”
“Go home, Max.”
* * * *
Falcon entered the hotel room, fishing his cell phone out of a pocket. He let out an exasperated sigh when he saw who was calling. He dropped his keys on the hall table and headed to the bedroom. “Yeah,” he said.
“Where you been, man?” his partner, Everett Granger, said on the line.
“I got tied up at Mai Ling’s house.”
“You wish.” Granger chuckled. “You haven’t seen her in a year.”
“Where the hell do you think I’ve been?”
“I bet you didn’t know she was asking for you at the thing last night.”
“How do you know that? On second thought, forget I asked,” Falcon said. “I missed Zheng’s party last night, but then you already know my plane was delayed, don’t you?”
“When can you get here?”
Falcon stretched out on the bed. “Get there? I just made it here. I’m beat.”
“My sympathies. And Max?”
“Max got off light. The Chinese need a favor.”
Granger let out a slow whistle. “Lucky bastard. Waking up in a filthy Hong Kong prison must have been a humbling experience. What’d you do with him?”
“He is on vacation. When he comes back, he gets a desk. We’ll bring in someone else to handle surveillance on the child labor ring.”
“What about Jacobs?”
“Yeah, send him in. Ye Zheng says he’s missing some porcelain. Ming Dynasty. He thinks it’s the Jeweler. See what Jacobs can find out. Grange, I need some sleep. What have you got?”
“You are going to like this one.”
Falcon rubbed his grainy eyes and then glanced at his watch. “You’re a piece of work. This detour cost me two days prep. I have to catch a plane back to New York tomorrow. It’s two o’clock in the morning and you want to play. Don’t keep me in suspense any longer, Everett.”
“Well, if you’re going to get personal … you know that Stradivarius you’re looking for?”
“What about it?”
“It’s back on radar, turned up close to home.”
* * * *
Falcon stood in the shadowed courtyard of the Naples Conservatory.
She left the building right on schedule. She had arrived early and stopped by the
to pick up breakfast. She preferred the sweet rolls. When she left the music school, it was near dark.
Her schedule of classes wasn’t that bad. It was the time she spent practicing alone in whatever unoccupied classroom she could find that kept her there all day. She was dedicated, and very beautiful.
She had bumped into him in the hall two days ago on her way to class, “Scusi, Signore.” He did not know which was more shocking; the sound of her rich contralto or those huge liquid gold eyes, a striking contrast to the midnight waterfall rippling down her back.
He had purposely stepped in her path that day to confront her about the Stradivarius she carried. When he got a better look at her, he smiled “Perdonami,” and let her pass. Her lithe form glided down the hall.
If this goddess is a thief, she won’t have to take anything from me. I’ll give her whatever she wants, and more.
Although he allowed her to see him just that once, he had been watching her ever since. He did not know her name yet, but he called her Angel. Her unusual eyes made her seem like a fairy. Her fluid grace only enhanced the impression of an ethereal wood sprite.
The warm breeze lifting her summer print skirt silenced those thoughts.
Damned if he was not holding his breath waiting for the end of those legs before the gentle curve of her hips.
She crossed the darkening piazza and her full breasts danced under the white camisole top, making his mouth water. She was on her way home now.
She was staying at the
Casa di Città
and now so was he. The apartment, a few avenues away from the Conservatory, was in the cultural Greco-Roman district, where the buildings themselves looked like archaeological finds.
Falcon emerged from the cluster of fig trees in the courtyard. He stopped when a man exited a side door off the Conservatory. The man started walking behind Angel.
Turning toward the fountain in the courtyard, he gave the man a head start. He fell in step behind the man, who carried no books, no instrument.
Is he a teacher, or a lover?
No, not a lover. The man didn’t even call out to the girl. He did not know her.
Falcon strolled along, looking into shop windows he passed. The man ignored a streetlight, but Falcon stopped, making sure no one followed him. With an idle shift from side to side, he waited for a car to cross the intersection.
Across the street, a teenager sat on the steps of a closed shop. He’d been there for the last few days. The car stopped at the curb in front of the teenager.
Someone should pick him up.
He would not jeopardize his cover for drug trafficking. He would leave that to the local polizia.
The light changed and Falcon crossed the street, satisfied that the man following Angel was alone.
They were walking through the ancient Roman marketplace, which was deserted now. When the girl got closer to the church built on the site of an old temple, the man began to close the distance between them.
Falcon shook his head as she reached the church corner. She never noticed the man who was just a few feet behind her now. When the man pushed her into the gloom around the church corner, they were lost from his sight. The girl screamed.
Sprinting, he rounded the corner. About ten feet away, the man was trying to wrestle the violin case from her against the wall.
Falcon pulled out his gun and aimed. “Let her go.”
The man turned toward him, and the girl pulled at his ear. The man bent, holding his stomach. He made an inarticulate sound before running away along the side of the building into the darkness.
Falcon darted past the girl and followed the man into the shadows.
What the hell?
Something flitted overhead, darker than the darkness in which he now stood alone. He pointed the Glock upward even as a figure walked up the side of the building. It looked like a black cloud but more solid than it should be.
Before he could get off a shot, the darkness disappeared over the side of the roof.
Staring at the dead end in front of him, Falcon put his gun away. No doors or windows on either side.
Where is the guy?
Must be a hidden door somewhere, he’d check it out later.
Falcon turned back toward the girl. Beyond her, across the street, the man he had been chasing got into a car.
“No way,” he murmured as the car sped off. No way could the man have gotten past him in the alley.
The girl had both arms wrapped around the violin case in front of her. She was leaning against the church wall, crying.
A street lamp flickered on above them, belatedly bathing the passage in revealing light. She did not seem to realize that he was there.
“Did he hurt you, Signorina?”
She looked up. He lifted his gaze from her heaving chest.
“Grazie,” she whispered, wiping her face with the back of her hand. She shook her head. “I am fine.”
“You should not be walking alone at night.” The harsh reprimand in his voice surprised him. She was very young. Her tears wrought such vulnerability that he softened his tone when he came to stand in front of her. “Do you know that man?”
“No, I have never seen him before. But … he knew me.”
“What did he say to you?”
She looked down at the violin.
He stared at her until she looked up. Ah, she had just found her story. It was in her eyes, and it was not the truth. The fear in her eyes told him that story would never change.
“He didn’t say anything, but the way he looked at me…”
Her chest heaved again. He almost smiled; she was having a hard time with this lie.
She stared at him. “You are from the Conservatory. I saw you the other day.”
“Antonio Russo, Tony to my friends.” She did not hesitate to shake his hand, and he did smile then. She might be lying to him but at least she did not see him as a threat. She continued to stare at him. She must want more. “I’m taking classes at the Conservatory,” he added. “I play piano.”
“Oh yes, I’ve seen you in Signor Gattano’s class.”
He had signed up for the class because it was right next door to hers. So, she had noticed him, too. He smiled wider.
“Signorina, I could call you Bella, but that would not satisfy my curiosity.”
She lowered her eyelashes over cheeks flushed the color of the terracotta tiles on his mother’s sunlit patio in Tuscany. She tanned well for one so light. He almost lifted his hand to touch her cheek. There would be little satisfaction in knowing her name now that her skin was singing a siren’s song to him.
“My name is Angelina Natale.”
“Ah. You are an angel, after all. I have not seen you around here for very long. Did you just fall from heaven?”
He watched her full lips while the sound of earthy laughter, though shaky, amped up the adrenaline coursing through his veins. A vision of her lying naked beneath him, her golden eyes glazed in passion, teased him.
“I am from England. I’m here for the symphony.” Her Italian was excellent.