From New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes a novel of sexy romantic suspense for fans of Nora Roberts, Catherine Coulter, and Karen Robards. You've taken your Last Look. You've spoken your Last Words. Now prepare to surrender your Last Breath in this tour de force of suspense, romance, and action. As renowned archaeologist Dr. Daria McGowan readies the most important project of her career-a University museum exhibit showcasing the priceless artifacts her great-grandfather unearthed a century earlier in the Middle East-she makes a shocking discovery: many of the most significant pieces have vanished. Panicked, Daria turns to the FBI. Solving the mystery is an assignment that Connor Shields is more than happy to accept: Daria is the same intriguing blonde archaeologist he's had on his mind since their paths first crossed two years ago. Working together to track down the stolen artifacts, Daria and Connor discover a trail of bodies-collectors who have met brutal, bizarre ends at the hands of a killer whose murderous methods are based on the rituals of an ancient civilization. Amid rumors of a curse and mounting pressure from both the FBI and the University, Daria and Connor race to unmask their enemy and unravel a mystery stretching across oceans and centuries. All the while, an ingenious murderer follows a sinister plan to gather the coveted antiquities and one last acquisition-Daria. From the Hardcover edition.
Devoted fans will be satisfied with the comfortably predictable final volume of Stewart's Last trilogy (after Last Look and Last Words), but others may find the formulaic plot a little hard to swallow. Attractive archeologist Daria McGowan has been retained by an eminent university to catalogue the findings of one of her ancestors, who was rumored to have discovered proof of a legendary lost civilization. Her initial survey reveals that some priceless items have disappeared, and she soon learns that their innocent purchasers have been ritually butchered. She calls on a past lover, hunky FBI agent Connor Shields, and as they hunt for the killer, sparks fly between them. There's little doubt that all will end happily, both for the Shields-McGowan relationship and for the university, making this a romantic thriller of more sweetness than substance.
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June 24, 2007
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Excerpt from Last Breath by Mariah Stewart
In the bottom of the earthen pit, two skulls lay side by side, their foreheads touching, eyeless sockets gazing eternally into eyeless sockets. A hand of bone lay across a forearm, and bony fingers rested on what had once been the cheek of a beloved. From above, faces stared down at the unique find, most definitely unexpected in this part of the world. Here one was more likely to discover swords and knives, perhaps the bronze or silver sidepiece of a horse's bridle. In some graves, a beloved horse had been buried with its rider. But lovers buried together, still locked in an embrace, that was a find.
"Have you ever seen anything like this, Dr. McGowan?" Sayyed Kasraian, the excavation director on the dig high in Iran's Zagros Mountains, crouched at the side of the opening.
"Never." Daria McGowan carefully knelt beside the top of the pit, shining a flashlight on the skeletal remains four feet below. "Not just the positioning of the two figures, but the artifacts that were buried with them . . . it takes my breath away."
She moved the light as a pointer.
"Look there, the one is wearing some type of diadem, from here it looks like gold and lapis, see how blue? And the breastplates, also gold . . . rings on the fingers of all four hands, so we're looking at the remains of some very prominent lovers." She looked up at the Kurdish laborers who'd accompanied them, and said, "Gentlemen, we may even be in the presence of royalty."
Two of the men smiled; the third shifted uneasily and looked away, afraid, no doubt, of attracting the notice of any spirits that might still be lurking within the grave.
"And over here, see, glass bottles, dozens of them. They must have held water or wine or some type of oil that the dead would have wanted to take with them on their journey into the next world. And there, at the feet, see the bones?" She hopped into the pit, careful to land on the excavated area around the remains. "These appear to be canine."
She directed the light onto the skull, and her companion studied it from above for several minutes.
"It does look like a dog, doesn't it?" He smiled. "Well, that would be something new. I haven't seen that before. Not in this area, at any rate."
She knelt as carefully as she could to more closely examine the human remains.
"These two must have had a long and happy life together," she murmured. "The teeth are quite worn. They were elderly--for their time--when they died. Definitely a man and a woman, judging from the pelvic bones." She glanced up at the man whose face loomed above hers. "We're so accustomed to finding the bones of battle-scarred warriors, that when something like this is uncovered, well, it just melts your heart, doesn't it?"
The sound of a car engine drew her attention to the road behind the dig, and she climbed out of the grave as the vehicle pulled up and stopped.
She brushed off her hands on her pants and called to the man who had just arrived by Jeep.
"Dr. Parishan, come look! See what was found while you were back in Tehran at the museum having tea with your friends!" she teased the longtime friend of her father's.
"I heard there was a find and got here as soon as I could. Daria, thank you for coming." Under other circumstances the elderly man, the project director, would have offered a more gracious greeting to the American, whom he had personally requested join them on the dig, but he was eager to examine the contents of the grave. He reached the edge and stared down. "Oh, look at them . . . look at them . . ." he murmured reverentially. "Perfect . . . they are perfect . . ."
"So, Dr. McGowan, what is your feeling?" An obviously pleased Korush Parishan stood and brushed the sand from his knees. "On the site, overall?"
"I concur completely with Dr. Karaian's assessment," Daria said without hesitation. "The artifacts he's already unearthed show such a vast mix of cultures, I can't imagine that these people were anything but nomadic. We've seen the Indian river goddesses on the vases, golden goblets in the style of Bactria. The pottery bowls with the horned dragon, the god Marduk--definitely Babylonian. So here we have clear influences from India, Afghanistan, Mesopotamia. They all came together here in the mountains." She pointed off to the east, then drew a line across the horizon with her index finger. "The Silk Road passed through this region. You'd have had travelers from China, India, Anatolia, Greece. Their cultures all intermingled through the centuries, which would account for the fact that some of the artifacts are of a different age from the others."
She turned to the others and smiled. "This could be an amazing find. The rise off to your left looks as if it might be a likely spot to start. I cannot wait to see what else you might discover here."