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McDermott: THE SACRED VAULT
New York City
Three Weeks Later
. . . So I’d like everyone to join me in a toast—a belated toast—to the marriage of two great friends of mine . . . Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde.”
Nina leaned around her husband to speak to the gray-haired man beside him as applause filled the room. “That was a nice speech, Mac.”
“Yeah,” rumbled Eddie, less impressed. “You only mentioned a few embarrassing moments from my time in the Regiment.”
Jim “Mac” McCrimmon grinned. “What are best men for? Besides,” the bearded Scot went on, “I’d never tell any of the really embarrassing SAS stories in mixed company. Certainly not in front of your grandmother!”
Nina stood. “Okay,” she said, running a hand self-?consciously through her red hair as everyone looked at her, “I know it’s not traditional for the, ah, ‘new’ bride”—she made air-quotes, raising laughter—“to speak at this point, but our lives have been anything but traditional since we met.” More laughs. “So I wanted to thank you all for ?coming—it’s great that so many of you could make it for our first wedding anniversary, and we’ve had some lovely cards and messages from those who couldn’t be here. And most of all, I’d like to thank the man who made it all possible—my strangely charming, sometimes crazy-making, but always amazing husband.” She kissed the Yorkshireman to more applause. “Anything to add, Eddie?”
“You pretty much covered it. Except for . . . bottoms up!” He raised his glass. “Enjoy the party!”
The DJ took the cue and put on a song—which, as per Eddie’s instructions, was a version of “Por Una Cabeza.” He stood, holding out a hand. “Fancy a dance?”
She smiled. “Y’know, I might have practiced this one a few times . . .”
“Good job too—you were bloody rubbish at it in Monaco!” He led her to the dance floor, the couple exchanging congratulations and jokes with friends along the way before taking their positions for a tango.
“Ready to dance, Mr. Chase?” said Nina.
“If you are, Mrs. Chase,” Eddie replied. Nina arched an eyebrow. “All right, Dr. Wilde,” he said with a playful sigh of defeat. “Just thought I’d try to have one vaguely traditional thing in our marriage.”
“You’re so old-fashioned,” she said, teasing. “And a one, and a two, and . . . dance!”
“I’m actually impressed,” said Elizabeth Chase to her younger brother. The DJ had switched to pop after Nina and Eddie’s display, the dance floor now drawing the younger and/or more inebriated guests while the host and hostess split up to circulate. “I had no idea you were so graceful. Shouldn’t you be wearing spangly trousers and dancing with celebrities?”
Her grandmother tutted at her. “Well, I thought it was very nice, Edward.”
“Thanks, Nan,” said Eddie. “And I’m glad you’re here to see it. And you, Holly”—he smiled at his niece—“and even you, Lizzie . . . I mean Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth gave him a look somewhere between acknowledgment of the shared sibling joke and actual annoyance. Holly’s expression, meanwhile, was of genuine pleasure. “It’s so awesome to be here, Uncle Eddie! I get to see you and Nina—do I call her Aunt Nina now? It sounds weird—and check out New York, and I’m getting time off school! Mum never normally lets me skive out of anything.”
“Probably for the best—mind you, I skived out of school all the time, and it never did me any harm,” Eddie told her, smirking at his sister’s sarcastic snort. “Anyway, it’s good to have the whole family here.”
“Not the whole family,” Elizabeth said pointedly.
Eddie forced himself to ignore her. “So, who wants another drink?”
“Me!” Holly chirped, holding up her champagne glass.
“You’ve had enough,” her mother said firmly.
“Aw, come on! I’m seventeen, I’m almost old enough.”
“Not here, you’re not,” said Eddie. “Drinking age is twenty-one in the States.” At Holly’s appalled look, he went on: “I know, how crap is that? But if you had any more, Amy here might have to arrest you.” He tugged the sleeve of another guest. “Isn’t that right, Amy? I was just telling my niece about how strict you American cops are about the drinking laws.”
“Oh, totally,” said Amy Martin, joining the group. She regarded Holly’s glass. “I mean, that’s a potential 10-64D right there. I’m off duty, but I might have to call that in and take you downtown.” Holly hurriedly put down the glass.
Eddie laughed and introduced the young policewoman to his family—then looked around at a commotion from the function room’s main entrance. “I might have bloody known he’d cause a scene. Hang on.” He crossed the room to close the doors, a task made harder by the press of onlookers trying to see inside. “Private party, so piss off!” he warned the gawpers as he shut the doors, then turned to the new arrival and his companion. “Glad you could make it. You’re only an hour late.”
As usual, the sarcasm went completely over Grant Thorn’s head. “Sorry, dude,” said the Hollywood star. “Jessica couldn’t decide on a dress.”
Eddie recognized his partner as Jessica Lanes, a starlet-of-the-moment famous for a couple of successful teen comedies and a horror movie, as well as her willingness to remove her clothes for men’s-mag photo shoots. “Nice to meet you,” he said to the blonde, who smiled blankly.
“Eddie here saved my life,” Grant told her. “He’s a cool dude, even though he’s a Brit.”
“Wow, you saved his life?” asked Jessica. “Awesome. So, you’re like a lifeguard?”
“Something like that,” Eddie replied, deadpan. Someone else tried to peer into the room; he moved behind Grant to secure the doors again, whispering, “Thought you were bringing that other Jessica? You know, the dark-haired one?”
“Old news, man,” Grant said quietly. “Besides, a Jessica’s a Jessica, right?”
Eddie shook his head, then escorted the pair through the room, which had suddenly been energized by the injection of star power. Holly in particular was dumbstruck by the appearance in three dimensions of a man who had previously been limited to posters on her bedroom wall. “Everyone, this is Grant and Jessica, who . . . well, you probably recognize.”
Nan peered at the pair as Eddie completed the introductions. “Ooh, I know you,” she said to Grant. “I saw you on the telly. You were in an advertisement, weren’t you?”
“Nan!” whispered Holly, mortified. “It was an advert for his film! That he was starring in! As the star!”
“Oh, that explains it. I don’t watch films these days,” Nan confided to Grant. “They’re all so noisy and violent, just silly nonsense. But I’m sure yours are very good,” she added politely.
Eddie held in a laugh at Grant’s discomfiture. “Anyway, I was getting drinks, wasn’t I?”
He headed for the buffet tables, passing Nina along the way. “Who’s that with Grant?” she asked.
“I thought his girlfriend was the one with dark hair?”
“Keep up, love. You’re a celebrity yourself, you should know this stuff.”
“I am not a celebrity,” Nina said, faintly irked by the accusation.
“Right. Being seen on live TV inside the Sphinx by two hundred million people doesn’t count.”
She groaned. “Don’t remind me. See you later.” Giving him a kiss, she continued circulating, spotting some friends and colleagues at one table. “Matt, Lola!” she called, joining them. “Everything okay?”
“Great, thanks,” said Matt Trulli, holding up his glass. “Top bash you and Eddie’ve put on. Congratulations!”
“Well, it’s mostly Eddie who organized it,” she told the tubby Australian engineer. “I’ve been a bit preoccupied with work—I spent most of the week in San Francisco. But if you’re enjoying it, I’m happy to take the credit!”
“You look lovely, Nina,” Lola Gianetti said. Nina felt her cheeks flush a little at the compliment from her personal assistant—though she had to admit that her cream dress was considerably more elegant than the suits she wore at the office or the rugged and functional clothing preferred out in the field. “And I didn’t know you and Eddie could dance!”
“That tango looked pretty hot stuff,” said Matt. “There, er, there many single women at dance classes?”
Nina was saved from having to answer by the arrival of another guest. “There you are, Nina,” said Rowan Sharpe. “I thought I’d never catch up with you.”
“We’ve spent practically the past week together, Rowan,” she said, grinning. “I would have thought you’d be sick of the sight of me by now.”
“Oh, don’t be absurd.” The tall, black-haired Connecticut native was in his late thirties, and in his tuxedo looked even more dashing than usual. Lola’s attention had definitely been caught, Nina noticed with amusement. “I certainly wasn’t going to miss this—even if I had to fly all the way from San Francisco to be here.”
“Rowan, this is Matt Trulli,” said Nina, making introductions. “He used to work for UNARA, and now he’s with the Oceanic Survey Organization. Matt, this is an old friend of mine, Dr. Rowan Sharpe. He’s in charge of the Treasures of Atlantis exhibition.”
“Oh, I’m in charge?” said Rowan, feigning surprise. “Funny, I thought you were. I mean, you’re constantly there bossing everyone about . . .”
Nina gave him a little laugh. “I’m the boss, so I’m allowed to be bossy. Besides, the exhibition’s really important to me. I just want things to be perfect.”
“Well, you always were a perfectionist.” He winked at her, then looked her up and down. “And speaking of perfection, you look absolutely incredible tonight. I’m very jealous of Eddie.” He sighed, smiling. “Ah, the path not taken . . .”
“Knock it off, Rowan,” said Nina, but not before Lola and Matt exchanged curious looks. “Rowan and I used to date,” she explained. “A long time ago, when I was an undergraduate.” Another look passed between them. “Yes, I had boyfriends before I met Eddie. Why is everybody always so surprised about that?”
“Though I’d actually known her for years,” Rowan added. “I was a friend of Nina’s parents—Henry Wilde was my archaeology professor. I even helped them with some of their research on Atlantis.” He put a gentle hand on Nina’s shoulder. “Henry and Laura would be so proud of you. You found what they spent their lives searching for.”
“Thank you,” Nina replied, with a twinge of sadness: Her parents had lost their lives searching for Atlantis. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind. Both the impending exhibition and this evening were about celebrating what the hunt for Atlantis had brought her, not regretting what it had taken. “But the main thing now is that the whole world can see it for themselves.”
“It’s a shame you can’t come with me for the exhibition’s entire tour. But I suppose Eddie would get rather annoyed if I took you away from him for four months.”
“He might at that,” said Nina, smiling. “And speaking of Eddie, I should go and find him again, so I’ll see you all later.”
“Have fun.” Rowan held up his drink to her, then said to Matt, “So, what do you do at the OSO?”
As Matt launched into what promised to be an extremely technical summary of his work building robotic underwater vehicles, Nina continued through the room, looking for Eddie. Before she saw him, though, she encountered more very familiar faces. “Hi!”
“Nina!” said Macy Sharif in delight. The archaeology student had been in conversation with Karima Farran and Radi Bashir, the Jordanian couple respectively a friend of Eddie’s from his days as an international troubleshooter-for-hire, and a producer for a Middle Eastern news network. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” said Nina, embracing her. “How are your studies going?”
“Well, you know that I used to be kind of a C student?” Macy said with a cocky grin. “Well, I’m now a . . . B student! B-plus, even. Sometimes.”
“That’s great! And you’ve still got another year and a half to get that A—like I said at the UN, if you want a job at the IHA when you graduate, just ask.”
“I think I will. Thanks.” She glanced past Nina. “Hey, is that Grant?” Nina nodded, and Macy’s look became more predatory. “I’m gonna say hi. You think he’ll remember me?”
“You’re hard to forget,” Nina assured her. Macy quickly applied another coat of lipstick, then darted off through the crowd. “He’s with someone,” Nina called after her.
“She’s very . . . forward, isn’t she?” said Karima.
“That’s one way to describe her,” Nina replied, amused.
Rad nodded. “She was just telling us in alarming detail about her night with some racing driver in Monaco. It’s only the second time we’ve met her! I might be a journalist, but there’s still such a thing as too much information.”
“She’s a live one, that’s for sure. So how are you two?”
“Edging ever closer to getting married,” said Karima, putting an arm around her fiancé’s shoulder. “Next spring, we think.”
“Or maybe summer,” Rad added. “Or autumn.” Karima jabbed him with her sharp nails. “Ow.”
“That’s fantastic,” said Nina. “And it’s so great of you to come all this way for tonight. Thank you.”
The beautiful Jordanian smiled. “We wouldn’t have missed it. Although I have to admit we’re making a vacation of it.”
“Two weeks in the States,” said Rad. “We’re doing a tour. I can’t wait to see the Grand Canyon.”
“He means he can’t wait to see Vegas,” Karima said knowingly.
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy it,” Nina told them. “Have you told Eddie that you’ve almost set a date?”
“Not yet,” said Rad. “We only spoke to him very briefly when we arrived.”
“I’ll go find him. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.” Nina spotted her husband talking to Mac. “Eddie! Eddie!” Mac looked around at her, but Eddie didn’t react. “Deaf as a post in his old age.”
“Your wife’s calling for you,” Mac said.
“Your wife. About five-five, red hair, very pretty, famous archaeologist?”
“Oh, that wife.” Eddie glanced back, but the people surrounding Grant and Jessica blocked his view. “I didn’t hear her.”
“Trust me, that’s an excuse you’ll only get away with once.” Mac gave him a wry smile, which faded at the lack of response. “Something wrong?”
“No, nothing.” said Eddie a little too quickly, looking around the room. Mac raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t comment further. “Pretty good turnout. Pity not everyone I invited could make it, but I suppose you can’t expect everyone to fly halfway around the world for cheese and pickled onions on sticks.”
“Yes, a shame,” Mac agreed. Another smile, this time decidedly cheeky. “I was rather hoping to catch up with TD . . .”
Eddie groaned in only partially feigned dismay at the thought of his former commanding officer and the far younger African woman together. “Behave yourself, you dirty old sod. Christ, I can’t think what she ever saw in you.”
“Oh, I imagine things like charm, chivalry, wisdom . . . Perhaps you’ve heard of them.”
“Tchah! I ought to kick out your tin leg for that.” He swung his foot at the older man’s prosthetic left limb, stopping an inch short.
“Well, if you think you need to even the odds . . .” They both chuckled, Mac raising his glass. “Anyway, here’s to a successful marriage, Eddie.”
“Thanks.” They clinked glasses.
“So how’s domesticity treating you so far?”
“Sort of normal. But we need one of those signs saying how many days it’s been since we last had someone try to blow us up. We’re up to about five months at the moment.”
“Let’s hope you break your record by a long, long way.” Behind Eddie, Nina approached, calling his name again. Mac deliberately raised his voice so she would catch it. “Although I expect you’ll soon start missing being shot at.”
“He’d damn well better not,” said Nina as she reached her husband, taking him by surprise. “Didn’t you hear me?”
He shrugged. “It’s a bit noisy in here.”
“So what are you two old warhorses talking about?”
Eddie looked offended. “Oi! Less of the old.”
“We were just having a toast to a happy marriage,” said Mac. Nina beamed at Eddie and put an arm around his waist. “And Eddie was also saying how glad he was that so many people made the time to come tonight.”
“I know,” she said, looking around at the guests. “Isn’t it great? Although I’m a bit disappointed that Peter Alderley didn’t even reply. What did he say when you gave him the invitation?”
Mac blinked. “Invitation?”
“Yeah. I put it in with yours because I didn’t know his address.”
The Scot was still puzzled. “I didn’t get an invitation for Peter.”
“You didn’t . . .” Nina gave her husband a look of deep suspicion. “Eddie? What did you do with Peter’s invitation?”
“Oh, that,” Eddie said nonchalantly. “It dropped out of the envelope before I licked it. And then it somehow . . . fell down a drain.”
Nina pulled away from him. “Eddie! I can’t believe you did that! Especially after everything he’s done at MI6 to help us.”
“Alderley’s a tosser, and he can’t stand me anyway.”
“That’s not the point!”
“Is Eddie causing trouble again?” said Elizabeth, joining them. “Somehow I’m not surprised.”
“Afraid so.” Nina sighed.
“Nan’s getting tired, so it’d be best if she went up to her room,” Elizabeth told her brother. “But she’ll want to say good night to you before she goes.”
“Well, yeah,” said Eddie, smirking. “Since I’m her favorite grandchild, an’ all.”
“God knows why. But come on over. You too, Nina, so she can have all the family together.” She led them across the room, adding a sharp aside to Eddie as Nina detoured to put down her glass: “Almost.”
“Right. Weird cousin Derek’s not here, is he?” said Eddie.
Elizabeth had no intention of giving up. “You know exactly who I mean.”
“Oh, don’t fucking start,” he muttered.
“You haven’t spoken to Dad for over twenty years, Eddie. His son’s got married, for God’s sake. I’m not saying you should have some big Hollywood tearful reconciliation in front of everyone—”
“Good, ’cause that’s not going to happen.”
“—but you could at least phone him.”
Eddie’s face was a cold mask. “Why? I’ve got nothing to say to him.”
“And what if you and Nina have kids? Are they going to grow up never knowing their grandfather? He’s not getting any younger. Nor are you, for that matter.”
“Tell you what,” he said, irritation breaking through, “how about we end this discussion before it pisses all over, you know, the special day?”
“Just think about it, Eddie,” Elizabeth said as they reached Holly and Nan, waiting near the doors.
“Already have, a long time ago. Hi, Nan!”
“Come here, Edward!” said Nan, and he bent to hug her. “Oh, my little lambchop. Married again!” She wagged a finger in mock reproach. “I’m still cross that you didn’t invite me to the actual wedding, though.”
“We didn’t have time, Nan,” said Eddie as Nina caught up. “It was a bit rushed.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” said Nina. “You forgive us?”
“Of course I do,” said Nan. “Come on, let me hug my granddaughter-in-law.”
“You want me to walk you up to your room, Nan?” Eddie asked.
She waved a hand at him. “Oh, don’t be silly! You should be enjoying your night, both of you. Holly can take me.”
Holly shot a stricken glance toward Grant, from whose company she had just been forcibly removed, promoting her mother to sigh and step in. “It’s okay, Nan, I’ll take you. No more champagne,” she added sternly to Holly.
“We’re off to San Francisco the day after tomorrow,” Eddie said to Nan as Elizabeth ushered her to the doors, “but we’ll see you again before we go.”
“It’s been so lovely to see you both,” said Nan. “And I hope you have an absolutely wonderful marriage. In fact, I know you will.”
“Thank you,” Nina said. Nan gave them a last wave as Elizabeth escorted her out. More people were lurking outside; news of Grant and Jessica’s attendance had spread through the online social networks. The moment the doors closed again, Holly made a beeline back to Grant’s group, where she found herself in competition with both Jessica and Macy for his attention. Nina turned to Eddie. “What were you and Elizabeth talking about?”
She knew him better than that. “Family matters?”
“Only one part of the family.”
“Three guesses which?”
“Like I said, nothing important.” Keen to change the subject, he gestured across the room. “Oh, hey, there’s Rowan.” He waved him over.
“Careful, Eddie,” said Nina teasingly as Rowan approached. “He might charm me away from you.”
“Anyone who takes you away from me’ll regret it,” Eddie rumbled before giving the taller man a faintly insincere smile. “Hi, Rowan. Glad you could make it.”
“Glad to be here!” Rowan replied. “Sorry to have monopolized Nina recently.”
“Yeah, it’ll be good to finally have some time alone with her tonight. That’s if she doesn’t bring a big bloody bundle of work home with her.”
“Yes, she always has been rather obsessive when it comes to Atlantis, hasn’t she?” said Rowan. “While we were setting up the exhibition, she wouldn’t even take time out for a tour of San Francisco. She’s a real slave driver.”
“Tell me about it,” said Eddie. He grinned at his wife, who was struggling not to rise to the bait as the teasing was turned on her, and attempted a falsetto New York accent. “ ‘Eddie, can you move these boxes? Eddie, can you jam this booby trap? Eddie, can you kill these bad guys?’ ”
“I don’t sound like that,” Nina objected. She looked at Rowan. “Do I?”
He winked at her. “Not at all. But I’d just like to say, Eddie, you’re a very lucky man. Congratulations. To both of you—Nina’s lucky charm obviously works for other people too.”
Nina touched her pendant, made from a broken scrap of what had turned out to be an Atlantean artifact discovered on an expedition with her parents as a child. “Let’s hope it keeps on doing that, huh? I’d like the Treasures of Atlantis exhibition to be a huge success.”
“It will be—and it won’t have anything to do with luck, Nina. It’ll all be down to you.”
“And you too.”
“Thank you.” Rowan smiled, then kissed her.
“Oi, oi,” said Eddie, nudging Nina away from him. He gestured across the room. “Want to dance?”
The DJ was playing Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” “This isn’t really tango music.”
“So, we’ll improvise. Come on.”
He led her to the dance floor. Nina put her arms around his waist. “Thanks for doing all this.”
“Hey, any excuse for a booze-up.”
“Sentimental as always, huh?” But she could tell that under his bluff exterior, the broken-nosed, balding Englishman was enjoying the celebration as much as she was.
From the Paperback edition.