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For Emily Parker, art insurance investigator Steven Gallagher is prepared to bleed. Emily is a liar and a thief, a former juvenile delinquent, and Steve's damn sure she's involved somewhere in The Cuzin Case he's working on. And it doesn't matter. He doesn't care about any of it, including the fact she's using him-and sex-to get whatever the hell it is she's after. Regardless of everything-ethics, morality, the law-regardless that he swore off women years before, Steve falls hard for the foul-mouthed little con ...
For Emily Parker, art insurance investigator Steven Gallagher is prepared to bleed. Emily is a liar and a thief, a former juvenile delinquent, and Steve's damn sure she's involved somewhere in The Cuzin Case he's working on. And it doesn't matter. He doesn't care about any of it, including the fact she's using him-and sex-to get whatever the hell it is she's after. Regardless of everything-ethics, morality, the law-regardless that he swore off women years before, Steve falls hard for the foul-mouthed little con artist, a streetwise gutsy chick who refuses to let a bad past beat her down. To keep Emily safe, he'll do whatever it takes, put it all on the line? And keep her in line. Even if he has to apply his dominant streak to her naughty little backside, she'll get everything she needs from him. Except his trust. No way, is he trusting his LOST ANGEL.
"Teetzees," supplied Maurice Pentegrine, of the Raleigh, North Carolina Fortune 500 Pentegrines.
Well, hell, yeah. But how come a straight-up guy like Maury had zeroed in on Steve's fantasizing?
"Yes, indeed," his client droned on. "Teetzees is worth a small fortune."
"You don't say." Steve whimsically juggled the diminutive jade figurine in his palm to the slow beat of his client's snooze-producing monotone.
For the past thirty minutes, Steve had listened to the history behind each and every invaluable object d'art in Maury's library, all one hundred forty-five pieces, and he had started zoning out from sheer boredom. If not for the distraction of Teetzees' amazing green chest he would've snored his way to dreamland about half an hour ago. And whoda thunk a straight-up kinda fella like Maury for collecting the smutty stuff, anyway?
You just never knew in this business, Steve mused, blocking a yawn with the back of one hand while bouncing Teetzees in the other.
"Uh-uh-careful there." Maury looked a little worried. "That statuette is the centerpiece of my fifteenth-century erotica collection. Rub her ... uh ... bosom and your love life is certain to improve."
"No kidding?" Steve rubbed away. But casually.
"Oh, my. I would never joke about a fertility goddess. The Mesopotamians believed that he who rubs Teetzees ... er ... um ... breasts will produce progeny within the next year."
Who was Steve to argue with the Mesopotamians?
Off came his thumb from Teetzees' fine rack. And then, before he did something seriously dumb, like accidentally dropping the voluptuous little beauty on her well-worn hooters-Maury wouldn't like that-Steve placed the three-inch statue back on the glass shelf where she belonged.
As the saying goes, beauty was all in the eye of the beholder. One man's idea of invaluable art was another man's idea of hard-core porn, the kind of dirty stuff you would never want your mama to discover should she happen to drop by for a sneak visit.
But hey, to each his own kink. And what did he know anyway? Seeing how he'd married his childhood sweetheart at the tender age of nineteen, he'd had no need for naughty knick-knacks to get his motor running. His pretty bride had kept his engine fully cranked, morning, noon, and night-
For one idyllic year.
Twelve fantasy months-the length of their honeymoon marriage. Widowed at twenty, in a sad mood ever since.
'Time heals all wounds,' the well meaning told him.
No dice. Almost two decades later, his wife's death still ached like a raw wound. Steve didn't like to think about that ache, much less talk about it. After Jen's death, he'd gone a little crazy-
A little crazy?
Shit, he went berserk. Almost tore himself apart. Booze. Babes. Bad habits. If not for his family's quiet support, for always being there for him, he probably would have succeeded in ripping out his own heart.
Right there and then, as Maury continued his never-ending monologue, Steve decided not to return to his New York City office. No point keeping a vacation house on Cape Cod if he never took a vacation-he'd fly into Logan instead, snag some R&R in his Falmouth retreat on the Cape. Spend some quality time with his family who lived there amidst the beach dunes. He missed them-
Maury's soliloquy cut into Steve's plan making. "Now, over here, we have some fine, albeit eclectic, examples of pre-Columbian phalluses. Notice the intricate leather tooling."
Aw, man! Now he was supposed to admire a bunch of ancient dildos? In Steve's line of work, he came face-to-face with too many phony old pricks as it was.
Before Maury thrust those ten-inch examples of wishful thinking at him, Steve interrupted his new client's spiel. "Your erotica collection is just nifty, but could we maybe get back to the business at hand? You know, the robbery? You say you heard nothing during the break-in?"
"Not a sound. The wife and I were upstairs in our bedroom. We slept through the entire incident."
Steve stuffed the pockets of his trench coat with his hands. "And when did you first notice The Cuzin had gone missing?"
"We didn't realize the house had been burglarized until the following morning. None of the alarms sounded."
Steve nodded. "This job has all the markings of a professional art ring. The thieves came over the roof, then down and in through that bay window over there."
"H-how do you know?" Maury stammered.
Steve gestured to a gargantuan rubber tree on the sill. "A shoe crushed the bottom leaf on that plant."
Maury rushed to the clay pot. "They stepped on the Ficus elastica?"
"Looks like it. Note the caked mud." Steve's crime scene analysis took a detour out the window. "Your lawn is real thick and green. You must have one of those underground sprinkler systems, huh?"
"The system is on a timer," said the dazed Maury. "Rain or shine, the sprinkler automatically waters the lawn every night, between the hours of two and four."
"Must create a lot of noise, like the sound of a running shower. A steady spray of water will muffle unfamiliar sounds. Could explain why you didn't hear the crooks break into the house. These thieves knew exactly what they were doing, all right." Steve frowned. "And you're sure nothing else is missing?"
"Only Cuzin's "Study in Light". Maury turned to the faded rectangular spot on the wallpaper. "My wife is devastated. She loved that painting. The blue background exactly matched the fabric on the curtains."
"Tough break about the decor," Steve said dryly. Wandering to a corner curio cabinet, he glanced at the display behind the glass. "You collect antique car memorabilia?"
"Yes." Maury gave sheepish smile.
Steve faced his client. "Did you recently remove something from this rear shelf?"
"Sure about that? There's a small oval area free of dust."
Maury raced to the cabinet. "My angel! She's gone!"
"A brass hood ornament," Maury explained. "The angel once graced a Dusenberg."
Now they were getting somewhere. Flay his ass, if that dropped little piece of information didn't turn out to be his first lead on the case. "Circa 1930, Model J?"
"Why, yes. How did you know?"
In Steve's humble opinion, the Dusenberg was one of the grand dames of the road. For good luck, the original owner of one of the cars-a notorious bootlegger during prohibition-commissioned an artist to create a sculptural interpretation of a Botticelli angel. That angel hood ornament was something else!
But totally worthless without the car.
So-why'd the thief bother snatching her? There were valuable things in this house, in this room-why swipe the angel?
Because he was dealing with no ordinary thief, Steve concluded. This thief had a soft spot for antique cars, probably owned one or two, maybe even a 1930 Dusenberg, Model J. Trace the current ownership of the bootlegger's car, and he just might find a brass angel ...
And maybe someone who knew a little something more than he should have about Cuzin's "Study in Light".
Excerpted from Lost Angel by Louisa Trent Copyright © 2006 by Louisa Trent. Excerpted by permission.
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