Museum curator Summer Hawthorne considered the exquisite ice-blue ceramic bowl given to her by her beloved Japanese nanny a treasure of sentimental value--until somebody tried to kill her for it.
The priceless relic is about to ignite a global power struggle that must be stopped at all costs. It's a desperate situation, and international operative Takashi O'Brien has received his directive: everybody is expendable. Everybody. Especially the woman who is getting dangerously under his skin as the lethal game crosses the Pacific to the remote and beautiful mountains of Japan, where the truth can be as seductive as it is deadly....
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March 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Ice Blue by Anne Stuart
Summer Hawthorne wasn't having a particularly good night, though she smiled and said all the right things to all the right people. Someone was watching her. She'd been feeling it all evening long, but she had absolutely no idea who it was. Or why.
The opening reception at the elegant Sansone Museum was small and exclusive--only the very rich and very powerful were invited to the tiny museum in the Santa Monica Mountains to view the collection of exquisite Japanese ceramics. And even if she wasn't particularly fond of one of those guests, he'd have no reason to watch her.
Her assistant, Micah Jones, resplendent in deep purple, sidled up to her. "I'm leaving you, my darling. This is winding down, and no one will miss me. I'm assuming everything's going well, and I've got an offer I can't refuse." He grinned.
Summer jumped, startled. "Evil man," she said lightly. "Abandoning me in my time of need. Go ahead. I've got everything under control. Even his holiness."
Micah glanced at their guest of honor and shuddered dramatically. "I can stay and shield you."
"Not on your life! The True Realization Fellowship and their slimy leader are just a bunch of harmless crackpots. Hollywood's religion du jour. Besides, you've been celibate for too long, or so you've been complaining."
"If you'd wear anything but black you might get lucky, too," Micah said, candid as ever. "Even so, you look marvelous."
"You lie," she said, ignoring her uneasiness. "But I love you, anyway. Despite the fact that you're ditching the reception early."
Micah smiled his dazzling smile. "True love waits for no man." He leaned down and gave her an exuberant kiss. "You know your room's ready for you if you need it. Just ignore any whoops of pleasure coming from my bedroom."
"you're a very bad man," she said affectionately.
"I'm fine, I promise you. You can enjoy yourself in private."
He blew her a kiss, sauntering off through the crowd, and she watched him go, ignoring her sudden, irrational pang of unease. Feeling the eyes digging into her back once more.
She was half tempted to call Micah back, ask him to wait. The reception would be over in another half hour, and then she could follow him down from the museum, and this odd, tense feeling would vanish.
But she hadn't gotten this far in her life by giving in to irrational fears. It simply had to be because of their esteemed guest of honor, his holiness the Shirosama. He had a reason to watch her out of his colorless eyes--she was standing between him and the prize Summer's foolish mother, Lianne, had promised him. And the Shirosama had not gotten to where he was, as head of a worldwide spiritual movement, without knowing how to get what he wanted.
He wanted her Japanese bowl, probably as much as she didn't want him to have it--the bowl her Japanese nanny had given to her a short while before she'd been killed in a car accident. It was one more betrayal from her self-absorbed mother, something she was used to by now. Summer had loaned it to the exclusive museum where she worked, just to keep it away from the religious charlatan for as long as she could. But sooner or later the creepy, charming Shirosama was going to get it, and there wasn't a whole lot she could do about it. At least she'd put it off for the time being.
But it wasn't the Shirosama who was watching her, or any of his white-robed minions--not as far as she could tell. She could feel the eyes boring into her back, and she turned, trying to catch whoever it was. Certainly not the elderly Asian couple by the fourteenth century incense burners. Not the tall, slender man with the sunglasses, who seemed much more interested in the impressive cleavage of the blonde he was talking to than in the exhibit. Maybe she was imagining it.
She recognized only half of the elegantly dressed guests who filled the gallery for this private opening, and none would have any reason to be interested in the lowly junior curator at the Sansone Museum. Her connection to Lianne and Ralph Lovitz and their Hollywood lifestyle was generally unknown, and by southern California standards she was totally ordinary looking, something she did her best to cultivate.
"His holiness wishes to speak with you."
She was very good at hiding her emotions, and she turned to face the monk, if that's what he was. For a group of ascetics, the followers of the True Realization Fellowship tended to be particularly well fed, and the plump young man in front of her was no different. He had the same round face, shaved head and faintly sanctimonious look they all did, and it made her want to stomp on his sandaled feet.
She was being childish and she knew it. She could come up with an excuse, but the reception was drawing to a close, the trustees were seeing to the departing guests and she had no real reason to avoid their guest of honor.