Moving Target (Rarities Unlimited Series #1)by Elizabeth Lowell
The troubling message from Serena Charters's late grandmother appears in a package containing four pages of a centuries-old illuminated manuscript -- a strange inheritance that hides many secrets...and has already cost many lives. Seeking answers, Serena turns to Erik North of Rarities Unlimited, a reclusive manuscript appraiser with a passion for the past. Without… See more details below
The troubling message from Serena Charters's late grandmother appears in a package containing four pages of a centuries-old illuminated manuscript -- a strange inheritance that hides many secrets...and has already cost many lives. Seeking answers, Serena turns to Erik North of Rarities Unlimited, a reclusive manuscript appraiser with a passion for the past. Without warning, they are thrust together into the center of a lethal firestorm that rages between two worlds -- one long dead, yet living on in an ancient text, the other chillingly alive and fraught with peril. In the blink of an eye, Serena and Erik have become targets of an unseen and determined stalker as they get closer to shocking revelations about Serena's legacy, the cold murder of an eccentric old woman in the heat of the Mojave Desert...and just how far a remorseless killer is willing to go. And now their only slim hope of survival is to keep moving.
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One Year Later
Like much of the town, the law offices of Morton Hingham were left over from a more leisurely, luxuriant time. Second-story arched windows framed a view of low-roofed buildings, tall palm trees, and stony mountains that dwarfed everything human. Inside the reception area, creamy walls and rich green plants soothed the eye. Solid wood furniture gleamed with polish. The carpet was worn, but tastefully so, like a dowager princess.
The secretary-receptionist was the same. Her voice was crepe, irregular without being rough. "Ms. Charters? Mr. Hingham will see you now."
For a moment Serena stared blankly at the receptionist. In this cool, gracious room with its stately aura of law and civilization, it was hard for her to remember that her grandmother had died from a random act of violence of the kind more often associated with inner cities than with the desert's ageless wilderness.
Very few animals killed simply because they could. Homo sapiens was first among them.
"Thank you," Serena said in a husky voice.
The older woman nodded, ushered the client into Morton Hingham's office, and shut the door behind her.
A quick glance told Serena that the lawyer's office had shuttered windows and no visible wallpaper. Every vertical surface was concealed by books whose covers were as dull and dry as their titles. Various legal documents lay stacked haphazardly on Hingham's heavy desk. An array of computers along the far wall looked out of place amid all the leatherbound monuments to pastdecisions, writs, and opinions.
Hingham's swivel chair creaked and jerked when he stood to greet his client. Long past the age when other men retired, the lawyer kept his shrewd mind engaged with the trials and tangles of people generations younger than he was.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Ms. Charters," Hingham said, clearing his throat. "There is a particularly difficult custody case that..." He cleared his throat again.
"I understand," Serena said, a polite lie. "It doesn't matter." The truth. She had been quite willing to look out the windows at the mountains that had ringed her childhood and formed her adult dreams. "I take it that the State of California is ready to close the books on my grandmother's murder?"
"The books will never be closed until her killer is found. But, yes. I'm empowered as her executor to turn over to you all that remains of Lisbeth Charters's -- er, your grandmother's -- worldly goods. "
His use of her grandmother's real name -- Lisbeth Charters -- told Serena that her grandmother had trusted this man as she had trusted only one other person on earth: her granddaughter.
Then the rest of the sentence penetrated Serena's mind. She compressed her lips against bitter laughter. Worldly goods. Her grandmother had lived a simple, spartan life. Her reward had been a cruel, savage death.
"I see," Serena said neutrally. "Does the fact that I'm finally receiving my so-called inheritance mean that I'm no longer a suspect in G'mom's murder?"
The controlled anger beneath his client's voice made Hingham examine her more carefully. Middle height, casually dressed in blue jeans and an unusual woven jacket, a slender yet female body that once would have aroused him and even now interested him, red-gold hair in a long French braid down her back, triangular face with eyes as cool and measuring as a cat's. The papers in his hand told him that she was in her early thirties. Her face looked younger, though her oddly colored eyes held an unflinching power that belonged to an empress twice her age.
Lisbeth Serena Charters had had eyes like that. Violet blue. Wide-set. Fascinating.
Hingham cleared his throat again. "You were never under serious suspicion, Ms. Charters. As the detective explained, it was simply routine to ascertain your whereabouts the night your grandmother died, especially as you were her sole surviving heir."
"The detective explained. It didn't change how I felt."
"Yes, well, it must have been very difficult for you."
"It still is. Even though G'mom and I weren't close, she was the only family I had."
And every day, Serena asked herself if she and her grandmother had been closer, would her grandmother still be alive?
There was no answer. There never would be.
Abruptly her hand moved in an impatient gesture. "Let's get this over with. I have work to do."
"Work?" Hingham glanced at the papers in his hand. "I understood that you were self-employed."
"Exactly. No time off for good behavior. My employer is a bitch."
A ghostly smile rearranged the wrinkles on the lawyer's face. "Would she mind if you took time for coffee?"
Serena smiled despite her unhappiness with the law, the legal profession, and the bureaucracy of the State of California. "Thanks, but I really should get back to Leucadia before the freeways turn into parking lots."
"Then if you'll be seated...?"
Despite the restlessness crackling along her nerves, Serena went to the wing chair that waited beside Hingham's desk. Outwardly calm, she forced herself to sit quietly. She had spent a lot of her life masking the energy and intelligence that poured through her with such force, they made other people nervous. Deliberately she leaned back into the chair, crossed her legs, and waited for the old lawyer to tell her what she already knew: her grandmother had no worldly goods worth mentioning.
Hingham's chair creaked sharply as he sat. "I take it you don't need all the ruffles and flourishes."
He nodded and shifted papers. "Your inheritance is what remains of the house and five acres it sits on. There are no liens nor outstanding debts." He handed a plat map and deed across the desk to Serena. "The taxes have been paid through last year. I filed for a reappraisal due to the fire."Moving Target. Copyright © by Elizabeth Lowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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