Read an Excerpt
By the time Rosie reached Finnigans, the bar where she'd arranged to meet Dr. Graeme Marley, distinguished archaeologist from the Sydney Museum, she was already twenty minutes late. He wouldn't like that, the doctor, although she knew from experience that he was the sort of man who liked to make other people wait. But her lateness couldn't be helped. Getting through the late-Friday-afternoon traffic had almost wrecked her, held up as she'd been by her interview with a visiting film star who had a well-deserved reputation for minor rages if the questions didn't go right. Rosie knew how to get the questions right. The meeting had been so successful it had lasted right through a late lunch and well into the afternoon, with Rosie, at least, sticking to mineral water.
Eliciting hitherto undivulged but real information from the famous was her forte. Something that had won her a swag of awards and her own byline with the Herald. She had also done her stint in several war zones, using her skills to inform people at home of the terrible suffering that went on in infinitely less-fortunate parts of the world. The rape and murder of the innocents. Stints like that tore off every layer of skin and caused sweat-soaked nightmares, but she still kept going back. A warrior. Or so she liked to think.
A few journalists she knew were ranged around the bar, exchanging gossip and news, nursing their cold beers while they held vigorous postmortems on yesterday's headlines and the quality of reportage. They waved her over. Rosie flashed her high-wattage smile, indicating with a little pantomime of her fingers that she was meeting someone else. All of them to a man, and every other male in range, regardless of whether he was with a female companion or not, paused to take her in.
The verdict was unanimous. Rosie Summers was all Woman. She was also a great "bloke," a respected member of a tough profession. At five-nine she was a bit tall for a woman but had a beautiful willow-slim body. A cloud of naturally curly marmalade hair burst like fireworks around her face; a scattering of marmalade freckles dotted her bone-china skin. In days gone by, Rosie Summers might have been considered plain, all cheekbones, planes and angles, but the sum total fit right into the modern idiom. She had a lovely mouth to balance the high-bridged aristocratic nose and the wide uncompromising jaw, good arching brows, but it was the eyes that got you. Moss-green, they were mesmerizing enough to dive into, full of sparkling intelligence, understanding and humor. She wore her unconventional clothes haphazardly, a bit of this and a bit of that, combinations of unexpected colors and fabricslike now, with her orange silk shirt, brilliantly patterned scarf, ultra-skinny purple jeans guaranteeing attention to her long, long legs and big burgundy leather bag slung over her shoulder. Yet the whole effect was one of great dash. All in all, Rosie Summers added up to dazzle if you liked her, a little too much of a challenge if you didn't.
While others speculated about her, Rosie sailed on. It took her a moment to locate Marley, which was odd. He was a man who lived to be seen. Maybe he was hiding from the plebs, she thought, tucked as he was into a banquette at the far end of the room. His heavy handsome head was bent and he was staring into his glass, apparently transfixed by what was in it. He hadn't aged a minute since she'd last seen him. In what, two years? A brilliant academic, just as brilliant in the field, he had at first refused to be interviewed by her after his important discovery and dating of the Winjarra cave paintings in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. From what Rosie could gather, Dr. Marley considered women the very worst interviewers. According to him, they never stuck to the facts. She learned also that he'd read one of her pieces, an interview with a leading politician, and thought it quite dangerous. In his view, politicians had to maintain a facade, not let journalists take the scissors to them. Only when they actually met did Marley turn into "an old sweetheart," as Rosie later phrased it satirically to her boss. The article, a good one, with Marley saying far more about himself than he'd ever intended, appeared in a national publication and was so well received it spawned a number of television appearances for the doctor, plus a few big donations from the seriously wealthy.
Rosie had met Marley's wife, surprised that Mrs. Marley had so few obvious attractions when her husband was so striking. Helen was a quiet, almost weary youngish woman who let her husband do all the talking. Rosie figured Helen found it a lot easier that way. The odd time Mrs. Marley had opened her mouth, offering something that Rosie recalled always had a point to it, Marley had turned on her with a tight smile that quickly squashed further intelligent comment. Strangely enough, he had appeared very taken with Rosie, who was nothing if not forthright and highly articulate to boot.
"Dr. Marley?" Rosie approached the banquette. Marley didn't look up. "Rosie Summers," she said, wondering not for the first time if Marley did everything for effect. Either that or he'd developed a hearing problem.
But his surprise, as it turned out, was quite genuine. "Roslyn!" He tried to stand up, found the banquette too cramped for his height, sat down again after quickly paralyzing her outstretched hand. "How marvelous to see you. Thanks for coming. I know I was terribly secretive." For some reason he gave a hearty laugh.
"So you were!" Rosie responded brightly on cue, slipped into the banquette opposite, leaned forward, smiled. "Just enough to fan my interest, at any rate. How are you? You look well. It must be all of two years." That made him around forty-five, she evaluated.
He nodded, clearly pleased with himself, too. "Hard to believe. I'm glad you were able to come. You're often in my thoughts. You look terrific, by the way. The very picture of sparkling good health."
"I make sure I get my full quota of vitamins," Rosie answered dismissively. "What about you?" She let her eyes rove over him, waiting. There was a story here for sure.
"Things haven't been all that good for me, Roslyn," he told her, his nose pinched. "Helen and I have split up."
Rosie glanced around the room. Anything to avoid eye contact. Good for Helen! Rosie's spontaneous reaction was based on what she'd seen with her own eyes, but she could scarcely not show sympathy. "I'm so sorry.
He took a deep breath, making no attempt to disguise his outrage, a big handsome man important in his field, charming when he had to be. He had a crest of thick dark hair with distinguished silver wings, penetrating light-blue eyes, cared-for supple skin despite all the hours digging up the great Outback, a really fit toned body from regular visits to the gym. On the face of it, his wife should have been mad for him. Obviously she had been, until rebellion kicked in.
"It's all terribly sad and I suppose predictable." He shrugged. "Helen was always a retiring sort of girl. An only child of older parents. Quite eminent academics. Helen could have had a career herself, but she chose to marry me."
"Couldn't she have had both?" Rosie's voice was a shade dry. "You have no children?"
He shook his head, brushing the difficulties of parenting aside. "Children need time and commitment. Helen and I decided early in our marriage that we needed to devote all our energies to my career. I suppose you could say she sacrificed herself for me. Of course I asked nothing of the kind. She could have found part-time work at the museum. Cataloging for our extensive library. She was an excellent student." He shrugged again. "But things didn't work out. The simple truth was, she came to bitterly resent my success, though I have to admit she tried very hard to keep it to herself. She wasn't much good with people, either. Poor social skills. You'll understand I have to attend so many functions, fund-raisers, that sort of thing. I get invited everywhere."
And revel in it. "Those television appearances certainly helped put you in the public eye." All of a sudden Rosie realized she had never liked Marley, for all his suave charm.
"Haven't I always given you credit?"
"So you have," Rosie agreed. "For a while. So, where's Helen now?"
He frowned so ferociously that Rosie wondered if quiet little Helen had lost all sense of good conduct and moved in with another man. "Would you believe she's gone back to university?" He spit the word out as though it was an accusation. "Good God, she's nearly forty."
Rosie swept flying wisps of hair from her face. Ah, yes, the superior male. What arrogance! Hadn't that been her first impression? "I'm sure you regard yourself as a man in his prime, Dr. Marley. Helen hasn't hit hers yet. I'm sorry you've broken up," she lied. "Perhaps it's not final? Helen may want to establish herself. She can't always do what you want."
Another tight smile. "There'll be no reconciliation, if that's what you mean. Helen chose to leave me when I've done everything for her. End of story. I'm forced to face the fact that our marriage was a mistake in the first place."
"I guess Helen thought so, too," Rosie offered wryly, completely on the unworthy Helen's side. She was surprised Helen had it in her.
Marley glared at her. "You know, you might be a bit more sympathetic, but then, women always stick together. It's been a very unpleasant few months. Toward the end, Helen was almost a basket case. Yet her parents had the nerve to tell me it was my fault. I'd been neglecting their little darling. Didn't I know she'd desperately wanted children?"
"I thought that was one of the things the two of you had discussed," Rosie reminded him, looking amazed. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I can see it's really hit you." High time to change the subject. "So, any more fabulous finds up your sleeve? World scoops for me?"
He brightened instantly, penetrating eyes entirely focused, taking her back to the first time she'd met him, full of pride in his latest achievement, lionized by the academic world. "That's why I wanted us to meet, Roslyn." He reached across the table, took her hands, mercifully not using his bone-crusher grip. "I have in my possession a thrilling object. I've used the latest testing to date it at some five thousand years old. It was dug up on a far North Queensland cattle station."
Rosie was less than riveted. "Well. Okay." She gestured with one hand. "It can't be Aboriginal, then? You yourself have dated beautifully finished objects many, many thousands of years older than that. Not to mention the Winjarra paintings."
"They're not Aboriginal," Marley snapped. "Give me some credit, my dear. You'll easily identify the object just by looking at it."
"Do you have it with you?" Rosie asked more respectfully, deciding to play along.
Marley raised a dark mocking brow. "You surprise me, Roslyn. I need to be very quiet, very careful about this. Oh, I trust you. I trust your integrity. I couldn't stand to share my secret with any other person. Certainly not a journalist. I am offering you a great scoop, but what I really need from you is your persuasive power. You seem able to influence people. All sorts of people. I've made it my business to study your essays, your articles, your reviews. You have the ability to get highly sophisticated people to tell you what you want. More importantly, to get them to do what you want. That's not easy. It's a real gift."
"More or less," Rosie agreed modestly. "So, who is this you want me to work on? It might help if you put all your cards on the table, Dr. Marley."
"Please, call me Graeme."
He gave her a sort of we-understand-one-another smile Rosie wasn't altogether comfortable with. Although Graeme Marley was undoubtedly an impressive-looking man, she had never felt an attraction. Perhaps it related to his utter self-centeredness. Besides, he hadn't mentioned divorce, so he was still legally married to the rebellious Helen, who was at this moment throwing off her years of brainwashing. Still, calling him Graeme was hardly a sin.
He sat back, presenting her with an unexpectedly boyish grin. "Lord, I haven't asked you if you'd like something to drink."
She went to say, Not for me, settled for, "A Coke will be fine."
His snort was almost contemptuous. "Really?" He sounded as if she was having him on.
Rosie shrugged. "I don't drink when I drive."
Though she was starting to feel pretty desperate for a scotch. "I've got the trip home, then I have a dinner lined up. I promise you I won't be driving myself home, however."
"Anything changed in that department?" he asked smoothly, signaling a passing waiter, giving his order. A Coke with ice for her. Another scotch for him.
"Meaning?" Rosie quickly said. He made it sound as though they were closer than they were.
"One doesn't think of a woman like you without a man." He tried a seductive smile, leaving Rosie to believe he'd drunk too much.
"I'm quite happy on my own," she said simply.
"No disastrous encounters?" The raised eyebrows suggested there was a story.
Rosie lifted her arm to glance at her watch. "I don't usually discuss my private life. And listen, I don't have a lot of time. If you could just let me see what you're talking about?"
He leaned forward, his rich well-oiled voice just above a whisper as though he was about to impart illicit information. "It's ancient Egyptian," he said, blue fire in his eyes. "A magnificent stone scarab."
"I love it!" Rosie wondered if Helen's defection had affected his sanity. Speculation about whether there'd ever been an ancient Egyptian presence in Australia had been going the rounds for at least a century. Still, it would pay to listen. For now. "So it was found on this cattle station?" she asked.
The light-blue eyes were those of a religious fanatic. "I'm told there's a pyramid hidden in the rain forest," Marley said urgently. "Some parts of this station are jungle. There's a river running through it with its fair share of crocodiles. The nasty beggars have been protected for too long. Some wannabe Crocodile Dundee ought to start up safaris. Let our adventure-loving tourists shoot a few. Anyway, I'm very serious about this. Egyptology may not be my particular area of expertise, but I'm extremely well-informed. I have other objects, as well. Coins, artifacts, jewelry. A cache, no less. I've seen with my own eyes rock paintings showing Egyptian hieroglyphics and pictograms, and I've spoken to a trusted colleague in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo regarding translations. Others have blundered around in the past. Rank amateurs, mere enthusiasts who didn't know how to get a body of evidence together. Academic interest here has always been in
Aboriginal rock paintings. Not non-Aboriginal."
Rosie shrugged, surprised by the intensity of expression on Marley's face. "Well, I'm no Egyptologist, either!" she said. "Although I was fascinated enough to study ancient history in high school. I know there was a set of gold boomerangs discovered by Professor Carter in the tomb of Tutankhamen."
"Indeed there was!" Marley smiled at her encouragingly. "There's also significant evidence that the ancients were well aware of the Great South Land. It's also certain that the ancient maritime civilizations were quite capable of undertaking extensive ocean voyages. Who's to say an entire fleet didn't land in our far North?"
"Certainly not me." Rosie smiled, momentarily shaking off her skepticism. "May I ask how you acquired your cache?"
Marley glanced around to check on the waiter's whereabouts. Obviously a touch paranoid in his current state. "My dear." He leaned forward, raising his hand to the side of his cheek. "If that got out, I'd have tourists tramping around a sacred site."