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Her Kind Of Trouble
By Evelyn Vaughn
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne moment I was studying the five-thousand-year-old statue of a husband and wife, one of several in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's sprawling Egyptian wing. What kind of romantic problems had they faced, I mused. Deception? Cross-purposes? Old wounds? Had love won out?
The next moment, I sensed someone behind me, all size and impatience and body heat.
And not in a nice way.
"So you decided to be good, huh, Maggi?" The voice was too thick to be pleasant even if its owner tried.
I recognized billionaire slimeball, Phil Stuart, even before I turned. And here I'd thought that this one-thou-sand-dollar-per-plate event was exclusive.
"I'm always good," I told him, masking my unease as I turned anyway. Phil was nobody I wanted at my back. "But if you mean well-behaved ... maybe not."
"You gave up on those stupid goddess cups, right?"
Gave up? It hadn't been two months since I'd rescued the antique chalice of my ancestors, a holy relic called the Melusine Grail, from thugs sent by this guy. Since then, I'd been preoccupied helping nurse my sometimes-lover Lex back to health after a vicious knife attack.
By more thugs.
Probably sent by this guy.
Supposedly the two incidents were unrelated. I didn'tneed psychic abilities to doubt that. Either way, I'd had an excellent reason for not seeking out a second chalice.
I didn't need Phil tossing out double-dog dares.
Phil Stuart always looked a little off to me. Like a poor imitation of something better. Other than to check for the bulge of a gun - or a ceremonial knife - under his tux, I barely glanced at him before noting the two suited gentlemen lurking by the ancient stone archway. Was he kidding?
"Right?" He leaned closer, into my personal space.
"You've given up on those stupid goddess cups?"
"Not your business." I knew how to stand my ground, even in two-inch, ankle-flattering heels. "Back off."
He wasn't an immediate danger to me. This may sound weird, but ... ever since I'd drunk from the Chalice of Melusine - my family goddess, a goddess renowned for her prophetic scream - my intuition had sharpened to the point that my throat tightened whenever something threatened me. And my throat felt fine just now.
Then again, Phil rarely did his own dirty work.
He raised his voice. "Or what?"
A smooth voice beyond him said, "Or you'll make your date jealous."
Speaking of deception, cross-purposes, and old wounds ...
Lex, my sometimes lover and current escort, had returned from fetching champagne. Beside him stood a small, blond woman in an expensive gown. A black gown, naturally - this was a New York arts event. But Lex, healthy again and wearing a tuxedo with an ease GQ models would envy, was the one on whom my gaze lingered.
Alexander Rothschild Stuart III wasn't so tall he towered, nor so athletic that he bulged. His ginger-brown hair sported an expensive but conservative cut. His face revealed generations of upper-class ancestors, all pulling together in the sweep of his jaw, his cheeks, his nose, understated and yet, well ... perfect.
Maybe too perfect. But, good or bad, it was him. Lex was what Phil, his cousin, could never copy. When I wanted him, that was great. When I felt unsure of our relationship, it really complicated matters.
Lately, things had been very complicated.
"Maggi," Lex said coolly, passing me a champagne flute, "have you met Phil's new girlfriend, Tammy?"
"Let's go," said Phil - but I was already taking Tammy's manicured hand in my own.
"Pleased to meet you," I said. "I'm Magdalene Sanger. Are you sure you know what you're doing with this guy?"
"Hey!" Phil protested.
Tammy's eyes widened. Her lips parted. "Why do you ...?" Then, quickly, she looked down at our hands.
I'm not psychic, sore throats aside. I just knew Phil.
"Now," Phil insisted. But this reception was for patron-circle members, on a Monday night when the museum was normally closed to the public. If he made a scene, he would do so in front of the crème de la crème of city society. I hadn't pushed him that far. Yet.
Then again, this was my first drink of the evening.
Tammy slid an annoyed glance toward Phil, then said, "Pleased to meet you, Magdalene. That's a fascinating necklace you're wearing."
"Thank you. It's called a chalice-well pendant. It -"
"Enough!" At Phil's exclamation, several patrons turned to see who had been so gauche. Even Lex's lips twitched, which is about as close to a guffaw as my ex-lover is capable. "Stop talking to her, damn it!"
Tammy blinked, as if seeing him for the first time, then laughed. "Why in the world should I not talk to her?"
"Probably because his wife left him after talking to me," I guessed. That had been shortly after Lex landed in the hospital. The woman had good reason to be concerned.
Now my throat tightened in warning.
I spun in my heels and nailed Phil with a glare that stopped him cold, before he'd surged forward an inch. Everything about his posture said he'd meant to strike out at me, public place or not. And so it began.
"Here, Phil?" I warned softly. "Now?"
And since most bullies are cowards, he said nothing.
This time when someone stepped up behind me, the sense of solidity and body heat belonged to Lex. So was he backing me up, or readying to help his cousin?
Either way, my bare back welcomed his nearness.
"You know," murmured Tammy into the uncomfortable silence that followed, "perhaps I'll catch a cab home. Thank you for the invitation, Phillip, but -"
"You can't leave," protested Phil, and Tammy arched an eyebrow at him in challenge.
"Thank you, Magdalene," she said as she turned away. "It was a real pleasure to meet you."
"For three minutes?" Phil's heavy head swung back to me for one last glare before he trailed his girlfriend from the gallery. "You met her for three freakin' minutes. Tammy!"
Excerpted from Her Kind Of Trouble by Evelyn Vaughn Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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