Read an Excerpt
Police Lieutenant Fiona Gallagher looked up from her brochure to survey the crowd waiting to get a look at the legendary Rubinov Diamond.
The long line was being threaded through the exhibition room in a zigzag pattern similar to the ones used for security checks at airports. Her fellow viewers were a diverse group, ranging in age from small children to a couple just ahead of her who appeared to be in their eighties. She'd even spotted a couple of teens dressed in black and wearing red scarves and Santa hats in honor of the season.
Fiona had yet to figure out what the hell she was doing at the exhibition. In the five years she'd lived and worked as a police detective in D.C., she had yet to visit the National Gallery. Two or three times during her wait in line, she'd been tempted to leave. Diamonds with romantic legends surrounding them weren't her cup of tea. True, her boss, Captain Natalie Gibbs-Mitchell, had been nagging her to see it. But Natalie always thought Fiona needed more in her life than just her job. Fiona didn't agree. Her work in the high-profile crime division Natalie ran always gave her the challenges she thrived on.
Perhaps she'd come today out of boredom. She wasn't currently working on a case. That bothered her a bit. Christmas was far from her favorite holiday, and she always depended on her job to get her through the season. But it wasn't like she didn't have things to do. She was running a toy drive at the precinct that would benefit the families of returning vets, and she had a meeting at Walter Reed hospital in less than an hour. After that, she had to make an appearance at a Christmas party, which meant she needed a change of clothes.
The Rubinovhadn't even been on her mind when she'd left the station, but the next thing she knew, her car was at the National Mall. Curiosity had always been one of her strengths as a cop, but it seldom extended beyond the job. And she rarely acted on impulse.
As the couple in front of her moved on, Fiona got her first glimpse of the diamond. And she couldn't seem to drag her gaze away from it. Had she ever seen a stone that blue? Legend aside, she couldn't deny its extraordinary beauty. Even through the glass of the display case, the jewel in the center of the intricately carved necklace burned with a fire that seemed to grow even brighter as she looked at it.
As far as possessing the power to irresistibly draw two people together? Fiona's logical mind balked at that. But she couldn't fault the National Gallery's decision to promote the romantic legend surrounding the stone.
Even in the midst of a busy Christmas season, the Rubinov Diamond had all Washington talking. And not about politics. Several people, including a prominent senator's daughter, had attributed their engagements to the famous stone.
In her experience, true love was a rare thing. She wanted to think that her parents had experienced it, but since she'd lost them when she was four, she had too few memories to rely on. She certainly hadn't spotted anything even resembling true love in the series of foster homes she'd bounced through before she'd entered the police academy.
Although…her captain was very happily married—and expecting her first baby. And Natalie's sisters, Rory and Sierra, were happy in their marriages, too. But in Fiona's view, the former Gibbs sisters were exceptions to the rule.
Was she secretly hoping to find what Natalie and her sisters had found? Was that what had lured her to the exhibition?
Dream on, Fiona. Christmas is a time for broken dreams.
Still, she couldn't quite look away from the diamond, nor could she prevent feeling a little tug of longing.
She had to move on. Putting some effort into it, she tore her gaze away from the Rubinov diamond. It was only then that she noticed a man standing on the other side of the glass case. He was tall and dark haired with broad shoulders. There was something essentially male about him even without taking into account the officer's uniform. She was vaguely aware that an older woman stood to his right, her arm tucked through his. The younger woman to his left said something, and when he smiled, Fiona felt her heart skip a beat.
Now she studied the three people standing directly across from her with the same intensity she'd looked at the diamond. They had their gazes locked on the necklace. Family, she thought. She pushed the tiny twinge of envy away quickly.
Without warning, the officer's eyes lifted and met hers over the display case. For one instant, all she could feel was the impact of his gaze moving through her like a bullet—penetrating first skin, then muscle, blood and bone. Her mind went blank. Except for one word. Hers.
She felt a pull and knew only that she wanted to go to him, needed to…
When his gaze shifted back to the older woman at his side, Fiona realized that her heart was beating fast—as if she'd just raced to the top of a hill. And one of her hands had fastened onto the velvet rope in front of her. To hold on? To tear it away?
She could have sworn the fire in the diamond glowed more fiercely.
Ridiculous. She ordered herself to draw in a deep breath and let it out. This wasn't like her at all. And the officer— whoever he was—was a complete stranger.
Icy panic shot up her spine. She shouldn't have come here. It was always a mistake to wish for more than you could have. Without a backward glance at either the diamond or the man, she whirled away. Crumpling the brochure that told about the legend, she stuffed it into her coat pocket and barely kept herself from running out of the exhibition room.
Joy to the world…
The music poured out of the speakers in the sculpture garden at the National Mall, mixing with the chatter and laughter of skaters as they circled the ice rink. Usually, Army Captain D. C. Campbell loved Christmas music.
The song playing right now was a particular favorite. He'd always believed that spreading and receiving joy was the purpose, the mission of Christmas. But this year, he had to admit, the spirit of the season had eluded him. Not even the lights winking merrily on the National Mall were helping. Nor did the sight of his mother and younger sister, Darcy, skating arm in arm as they rounded the corner of the rink.
Using his cane to wave at them, D.C. gave himself a mental shake and turned to walk down the path toward Madison Drive. He knew exactly what his problem was—and he needed to solve it. He was bored out of his mind.
After his last tour of duty in Iraq, running the military police unit at nearby Fort McNair was as exciting as watching paint dry. It was a small base and occupied a scenic location in the Southwest section of the capital. The Anacos-tia River bordered it on the south and the Washington Channel on the west. The National Defense University was housed on the grounds, and D.C.'s main job was to oversee security. No problem there—since it ran like a well-oiled machine. Handling security had been a tad more challenging in Baghdad.
The other part of his job at Fort McNair was to investigate any crimes committed by personnel assigned to the base. So far the most exciting thing he'd done in the six months he'd been assigned there was to referee a fight that had broken out in the Officer's Club.
Again, it was pretty easy work compared to what he'd done in Iraq. The upside was that it was risk free. You didn't have to second-guess any decisions when you were signing requisition orders. No one's life was on the line. Not his. Certainly not a partner's.
He still felt guilty when he thought of David Eisley, the young private who'd been with him when he'd taken the hit to his leg. The soldier who hadn't survived. But he was dealing with it. Risks, wins and losses—they were part of the job. Part of what had driven him to join the military in the first place.
At other times in his life, D.C. had embraced boredom. After a particularly rough day in a combat situation, a little tedium was welcome. Refreshing even. But enough was enough.
No doubt it was his state of mind that had fueled his imagination earlier that afternoon, when he and Darcy and his mom had been viewing the Rubinov Diamond. That had to have been why he'd had such an… odd reaction to that woman.
When he'd first met her eyes, the tightening in his gut had been unexpected. Raw and hot and sexual. That he might have been able to explain away. After all, she was a beautiful woman. The whiskey-colored eyes and the cameo face framed in a long fall of dark hair was enough to whet the appetite of any male with a pulse. And when she'd turned and strode away, the closer look he'd gotten at her body hadn't disappointed him. Despite the fact she'd been wearing a short jacket and slacks, he'd gotten a clear impression of a lean, athletic body and miles of leg. Desire had punched through him again. Understandable. Enjoyable. But the intense and possessive urge he'd had to follow her was more than surprising. It was unprecedented.
He'd very nearly deserted his family to run after her. As it was, he hadn't been able to take his eyes off of her until she'd disappeared.
What would have happened if he had followed his mystery woman? The very nice fantasy that filled his mind helped him to fight off the increasing chill in the air as he continued down the path. The temperature had dropped steadily ever since the sun had set. But while they might warm him, distract him even, it was going to take more than interesting and pleasurable sexual fantasies to solve his current problem.
All he wanted for Christmas was an adventure. Was that too much to ask? Not anything major…he wouldn't wish a crime spree on his base. But he desperately needed something to jar him out of his mind-numbing state.
Thanks to the leg injury he'd suffered on his last tour of duty, it wasn't likely that he was going to see combat action anytime soon. Hell, he couldn't even join his mother and younger sister on the ice rink. Pausing, he turned back to watch the skaters. He barely needed the cane anymore, and the leg itself was at eighty to eighty-five percent mobility. The problem was it wasn't going to get to one hundred. His general had already had a conversation with him about transferring to a desk job at the Pentagon.
Problem was, a desk job didn't appeal to D.C. any more than continuing on at the less-than-exciting Fort McNair.
D.C. tapped his cane impatiently against the ground as he watched his mother and Darcy skate by again. He'd always thought he'd be a military career man just as his father had been. At least that had been his father's plan before he'd been killed in Bosnia. But a career in the army was out if D.C. had to spend the rest of his life on the fringes as he was doing today.
It came upon a midnight clear…
The lilting music had D.C. narrowing his eyes. Who said he had to wait until midnight for a little clarity? There was no time like the present. When January 15 rolled around, instead of signing up for another five years in the army, he could always resign. So what if he didn't know exactly what he'd do next?
His older brother, who owned a security firm in Manhattan, had offered him a job. But in the last year, Jase had taken on a new partner and more recently a wife. No matter. D.C. would figure out something. He always did. The corners of his mouth lifted in a grin. He did like surprises. Wasn't it the predictability of his daily routine at Fort McNair that was driving him nuts?
Having made the decision, something eased inside of him.
This time, as his mother and sister rounded the curve, he smiled and waved at them. It was his day off, and he'd invited them to join him at the National Mall for some museum touring followed by skating at the sculpture garden. The visit to the National Gallery had been designed to tempt his mother into town. For the last twenty years, ever since Nancy Campbell had stepped into the job of single parent, he'd never known her to take much time off for herself.
So when she'd mentioned she'd love to see the Rubinov Diamond exhibit, D.C. had lost no time planning the day. According to the press releases, the Rubinov boasted a Cupidlike reputation of bringing together those who came in contact with it. But it was nearly equally famous for its history of frequently disappearing for long periods of time. When it invariably resurfaced, it was never possible to trace the relationship between the old owner and the new one.
It didn't require highly trained investigatory skills to assume that there was often some sort of skulduggery afoot. D.C. suspected the diamond had, at various times, gone underground into someone's private collection. He'd learned a lot about the temptations of private collectors when he'd been investigating an art theft case in Iraq, one that had involved some high-level military officials. It had been messy.
Who knew how long the Rubinov had been in the possession of its current owner, Gregory Shalnokov? The reclusive billionaire had admitted to owning it for the past ten years, but just how he'd come to acquire it was shrouded in mystery. D.C. knew that provenances could be forged.
Still, he figured he owed Shalnokov one when he'd seen the look on his mother's and sister's faces as they'd gazed at the diamond. D.C. shook his head. There was something about women and diamonds.
As far as he was concerned, the blue stone was just another rock, albeit one that supposedly had extraordinary powers. Truth told, he'd been more intrigued by the security on both the exhibition room and the display case than he'd been by the diamond. After a fair bit of prompting and a flash of his ID, one of the guards, a man named Bobby, had told him that the lock on the case was voice activated. Only Shalnokov could open it.
Over the years, the legendary diamond had attracted as many thieves as lovers. The article in the Washington Post had even mentioned the name of master thief Arthur Franks as having once had possession of the stone. While the female members of D.C.'s family had oohed and aahed over the diamond, he'd been wondering how a good thief might work a successful heist. And the fact that his mind had wandered down that path was pathetic proof of the level of his boredom.
Then he'd glanced up and looked into his mystery woman's eyes. And for those next few seconds, he'd been unaware of anything but her. He couldn't recall ever being that intensely aware of anyone before.
When his cell phone rang, D.C. glanced at the ID and grinned. Jase had been checking in with him once a week since he'd been assigned to Fort McNair. A classic case of big-brotheritis.
"Don't you have something better to do?" D.C. asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do. But Maddie wanted me to call and remind you that you're joining us for Christmas in the Big Apple."
"And you don't think I'm getting daily reminders of that from Mom?"
Jase laughed. "Okay. I'll have to think up better excuses for calling. How are you?"
"I'm fine," D.C said. "Really." And he realized it was the truth. He was okay with the fact that his life after January 15 was a clean slate—something he had plenty of time to write on. It would be an adventure. And after all, wasn't that what he was craving?
"You'll figure something out."
"I will," D.C. said. He would.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas…
The song poured out of the speakers as D.C. pocketed his cell phone. His smile widened. The music seemed louder, the lights brighter, the evening merrier. He was still grinning and watching the skaters when he caught a movement in his peripheral vision. Turning, he spotted a figure at the far end of the garden just inside one of the entrance gates. The lights were focused on the ice rink, but he could still make out the white fur trim on the Santa hat as the person dodged behind one of the trees.
Earlier, when they'd arrived at the National Gallery, there'd been a couple of young people wearing red scarves and Santa hats in the museum. 'Twas the season, D.C. supposed.
He kept his eyes on the festive figure as he darted to the next tree. Intrigued by the furtiveness of the movement, D.C. stepped onto the grass using trees and sculptures for cover as he zigged and zagged away from the ice rink.
Suddenly, the person ducked down along one side of the largest sculpture—the four-sided pyramid. Hiding, D.C. decided. But from what? The question had barely formed in his mind when a second figure suddenly appeared on another side of the sculpture and moved stealthily toward the first. Both figures were dressed alike—dark clothing, a Santa hat and a scarf.
In spite of the dim lighting, D.C. caught the glint of light on metal and watched. The second one raised his arm and springing forward, brought a gun down hard on the other one's head.