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Going back would bring Nadia face-to-face with her mesmerizing ex-lover. It would thrust her into the vengeful path of his ruthless family. Those she could handle. But Nadia would also uncover...
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Going back would bring Nadia face-to-face with her mesmerizing ex-lover. It would thrust her into the vengeful path of his ruthless family. Those she could handle. But Nadia would also uncover a legacy so powerful, nothing would be safe from its force--not even the daughter she'd borne in secret and would die to protect.
"Mummy pwetty, Mummy pwetty!"
Somehow I found a smile. And somehow I looked from the magazine in my numb hands to my little girl. She bounced with her own special brand of two-year-old enthusiasm beside my wrought-iron chair. Her eyes glowed with excitement. Her dark curls bobbed. She'd been the one to show me the obituary. She'd been the one to come bounding onto the veranda, babbling about her mommy's pretty picture.
The chill was immediate, despite the unseasonably warm February afternoon. After weeks of rain, the sun seemed over-bright. "Where did you get this, sweet-pie?"
Lexie's smile widened. "Nanny Olga's woom," she said, and when she moved just so, I saw the smears of pink lipstick around her little mouth and knew she'd been playing with my makeup again.
"You know you're not supposed to go in there by yourself," I said, and her expression grew perfectly solemn.
Something inside me warmed at the painfully innocent words, even as the fissures of cold kept right on bleeding. "And you're a sweetheart," I said, but Lexie was already pushing her doll carriage toward the small table set for an afternoon tea party.
I watched for a long moment, as I so often did, before returning to the picture of the dead woman. I'm not sure why my hand shook. It was just a picture, of a woman I'd never met...but then, even as I slid my finger along the funky cut of her red hair, I recognized the lie for what it was.
I knew this woman, even if we'd never met. "Where's your nanny?" I asked Lexie. "Did you find her?"Dressed in the special white dress my mother had given her for Christmas, Lexie had raced off in search of Olga close to thirty minutes before. Olga had promised fresh scones.
But I'd not seen her since shortly after lunch.
Lexie lifted her dolly from the stroller and situated her in the miniature high chair. "Nanny weeping," she said matter-of-factly, but I was on my feet in a heartbeat and heading toward the house.
Then I realized what she'd said.
Not weeping, but sleeping. Little Lexie had trouble with her s"s. "She was sleeping?" I clarified, and she nodded as she poured imaginary tea into two faux porcelain cups.
And something inside me twisted. For little Lexie, in her fancy dress, with a white ribbon practically glowing against her dark hair, having her tea party alone. For Olga, curled up on her bed upstairs, still lost in grief all these weeks after losing a beloved aunt.
And for the woman in the picture, the one I'd spent over fifteen years looking for, who'd lost her life far too soon.
Her name was Scarlet. Long after I'd put Lexie to bed, I sat on an old settee and skimmed my finger along the zigzag lines of the woman's red hair. Then I traced her eyes, so like my own, wide and oval and flared at the outer edges, the color of a forest on a fall day. And the cheekbones, sharp and defined. The nose, neither thin nor wide, rather like a slope.
The color on the mouth was wrong--a bright flashy pink-- but the rounded bow of the top and fullness of the bottom was the exact shape I'd passed on to Lexie.
According to the obituary, Scarlet Rubashka had been thirty-two years old, just like me.
And she'd been murdered, cruelly and brutally, in broad daylight.
The chill started low and stabbed through me with horrifying precision. The memory tried to form, the blur of olive trees and the desperation of running, the whir of a waiting helicopter, but as I'd trained myself to do, I blocked the image and focused on the picture. On Scarlet.
It was not the first time I'd seen her.
I've always been a dreamer. When I was little, my dreams were happy. Ordinary things. With my mother busy with her charities and my father constantly in London, I was left to dream of kittens and butterflies and tea parties. There was nothing tragic, save for when a flock of pink birdies attacked my shiny new Mary Janes.
As I grew, my dreams changed. Nadia Bishop the shy little girl grew into a young woman with a taste for adventure. I became the one in charge, on a pirate ship or a wild stallion, walking along a parapet.
Perhaps even then it was fated that I would grow up to become a spy.
But no matter how the dreams shifted, from kittens to desperate chases through a grove of olive trees, I was never alone. I had companions. Two of them--a sister who didn't exist, and a man without a face. Of course, he started out as a boy.
I was an adopted child, an only child, and these imaginary, nighttime companions were the best friends I had. I don't recall how old I was when they first appeared; it just seems they were always there. But I was a woman before the boy got a face. Standing in the dim lighting of an exhibit of Mayan artifacts in an old Portuguese abbey, I felt recognition hit like a blow to my solar plexus when I saw him. It was as if all these disparate pieces inside of me simply slid into place. The boy from my dreams stood in front of me.
And the first time he kissed me...
It had taken almost a month to unearth the lies, but by that time it was too late. I'd fallen in love.
In the three years since, I'd tried to carve him from my dreams, but he remained. Except now he had a name. And a scent. And a child.
The girl had remained, as well, and, like me, she matured into a woman. Sometimes we were laughing. Other times, we stood on the edge of a cliff, hugging. Sometimes I ran through the darkness looking for her. And other times I screamed.
I always awoke with my throat burning.
Seven weeks ago, I dreamed of murder. There was sunshine and anticipation, that butterfly orgy in my stomach that had erupted within me the first time Antonio touched me. Then dread. The punch of horror and the hands around my neck. Then everything faded and went black.
Now I stared at the obituary and tried to breathe. Scarlet had died in November, precisely when I'd dreamed of death. And her face was the one I'd seen in the earliest dreams I remembered.
It was the face I saw in the mirror every morning.
And the key she wore around her neck looked identical to the one sitting on my nightstand--the one I'd had when I arrived at the orphanage.
And I realized I had no choice.
Slipping from my room, I made my way toward Lexie's. I needed to see her, to hold her in my arms and bury my face in her soft curly hair. To feel her breath on my body.Were it not for her...
Were it not for her, everything would be different. I would have gone after her father with everything I had, rather than severing all ties to the alias by which he'd known me, having my files sealed, and leaving MI6 for good. For years, I'd given my life to making the world a safer place. But from the moment I'd learned I was carrying a child, I'd given mine up to keep her safe.
And that meant making sure her father never knew she existed.
But now, in the fullest sense of the word irony, the need to protect, the one that had driven me to drop off the face of the earth, was sending me back to the town where I'd first confronted the enormity of my mistake.
Because I had to know. Who was Scarlet Rubashka, and why had she been murdered? What of the key? Was it really identical to mine?
Could her life, her death, lead me to the family I'd never quit wanting, despite the lovely life my adopted parents had given me?
Throat tight, I eased open the door and felt my heart stop. For just a second. That was all it took to scan from the empty crib to the rocking chair, where Olga sat holding Lexie. Rocking. Just rocking. Quietly. Slowly. Removed somehow.
For a split second, I considered backing away.
It was an intimate moment there in the shadowy, pale pink room, a moment that encapsulated the circle of life in ways that made me achingly aware of the inescapable web of mortality. I could fight the world, fight my daughter's family, but I could not fight the cancer that had almost claimed Olga the year before--and that had claimed her beloved aunt a few weeks before Christmas.
Every moment was a gift.
I'm not sure what broke the spell, what made my Olga blink and look toward me. I was thirty-two years old, but in that moment, her warm smile made me feel like a little girl again, and I wanted nothing more than to dive into her arms like I had when I was six and accidentally dropped my Matilda doll into the Thames--or when I was thirteen and Olga came to retrieve me at school, to tell me my father had suffered a massive heart attack. That the doctors had done everything possible, but he was gone.
Then the moment broke and time surged forward, and I saw the truth: that Olga was the fragile one now, I the strong one. She'd cared for me my entire life--and now it was my turn to care for her. She'd taken her aunt's death hard. She'd lost weight...lost the vitality that had always radiated from her like summer sunshine.
This wasn't the first time I'd found her late at night in Lexie's room, quietly rocking my daughter.
Our eyes held for a long moment, then she looked down and pressed a soft kiss to Lexie's forehead. Lexie murmured something as Olga stood. I rushed forward to offer a hand, but she was on her feet before I reached her. Together, we placed my little girl into her crib. I looked at her lying there, this perfect little two-year-old doll, and couldn't resist the urge to brush the dark curls from her face. She looks so like him. Olga placed Matilda 2 next to her, and we shared a brief knowing smile before turning and slipping from the nursery.
"Couldn't sleep?" I asked, after closing the door.
Olga kept her smile in place, but the sadness in her eyes deepened. "Just restless," she said, easing from her face the hair she normally wore in a long braid. Gray had begun to darken the blond strands. "And you?"
She wasn't going to like what I had to say. "I...found something." Taking her hand, I led her down the hall to my room. But before I had a chance to say a word, Olga paled. She stared at the magazine on my settee as if it were a viper poised to strike.
"Nadia." The tired pleading in her voice pierced my heart.
"I did not wish for you to see that."
I wanted to be angry with her. She knew about the dreams, that I'd always wondered. She knew about the letter I'd written to the orphanage, in which I'd requested information about a second infant, a sister. Who'd been abandoned with me.
She'd handed me their response one week later. "Dear Miss Bishop," they'd written, then gone on to claim they were quite sorry, but I'd been left there alone.
She knew, and yet she'd kept the magazine from me. "You should have shown me," I whispered.
"I should have burned it is what I should have done," she retorted in the brogue of her youth, and finally, finally her eyes sparked. "Just because you are too big to crawl into my lap as Lexie does, does not mean you no longer need protecting. Your mother and I thought--"
I cut her off. "I know." She and my mother wanted me to leave the past alone, just as they'd begged me not to pursue a career in intelligence. They felt it would only lead to more hurt. And while I should have been angry with her, I couldn't, not after I'd come so close to losing her the year before.
But I also knew I could not let her displeasure stop me. "You know I have to go," I said, skipping over the obvious and landing where we both knew I would. My father was gone, but we still had his Cessna. I'd already called Evan, his pilot. We would leave at sunrise. "I have to find out."
"You have to do no such thing," she said, snatching up the magazine and slapping it closed. On the cover, one of the last photographs Scarlet had taken, that of a serene-faced statue of a dark-skinned Madonna and child, made everything inside of me tighten. "Your place is here, with your daughter."
"I'll be careful." I hadn't been retired that long. I still knew how to slip in and out of shadows, how to use my 9 mm. "Two days, three max."
With an abruptness that stunned me, she took my hand. "And just what is it you hope to accomplish, Nadia?" Her own hand was thin and cool, but surprisingly strong. "No matter who this woman was, she is dead now. She cannot tell you anything. She cannot answer your questions."
Oh, but she could. "She was killed," I whispered. "Murdered," Olga clarified. "She, this Scarlet, this woman who looks so like you. She was strangled to death in Saint-Tropez--the same place you last saw him."
Him. She didn't need to say the name. We both knew. Antonio.
Except Antonio was not really his name. "Even more reason for me to go." Taking the magazine from her, I flipped to the picture of Scarlet above the obituary. "Look," I said, pointing. "Her necklace, the key. It is like mine."
"Nadia--leave it alone. You have Lexie to think of now."
"Don't you think I know that?" I tried not to raise my voice, but something hard and jagged broke through. "It's because of her that I have to go! That I have to know. Who killed this woman...and why."
Olga had always had beautiful eyes. Even now, when they were tired and drawn and bloodshot, and swimming with unshed tears. "And what if he is there? What if he sees you?"
I pulled back. "He isn't there," I whispered. His wife had been injured, according to a friend of mine still in the business. She was on the mend, but he would be with her. And their son. In Italy. Where they belonged.
"And even if he is," I said, twisting toward my nightstand and picking up the old, ornate key that dangled from a silver chain. "I do not make the same mistake twice."
Posted November 15, 2006
Long ago there existed a fabled race called Marians. They were forced to go underground and eventually disbanded. However, before they disbanded, they disassembled The Lady and hid the tiles away. Other than their enemies, no one remembered the powerful race. =============== Nadia Bishop had been adopted as a child. No one knew anything about her, except that an ancient key was left in her possession. Now Nadia has grown into a lovely woman. She is a former MI-6 agent with a two-year-old daughter, Lexie, to care for. Lexie's father, Joshua Adriano, is from a powerful and cruel family. Therefore, Nadia never lets Joshua know that he has a daughter. It would have remained that way, but when Nadia sees an obituary of a lady named Scarlet that looks exactly like her, she knows that she must seek out information. Nadia has always yearned to know of her biological family and this may be her only chance. As she investigates Scarlet's life, Nadia learns that the lady had an ancient key too. When Nadia finds out that the Adriano family is involved in Scarlet's affairs and Scarlet's death, she knows it is too late to back out. ================= Nadia must pick up the gauntlet thrown down and hidden by her ancestors, the Marians. If not, the Adriano family will force an apocalypse upon the world. ================ **** The Madonna Key series is completely author-generated, the collaborative product of several authors. This one is number six and by author Jenna Mills. Through Jenna Mills's creative talent, I traveled France and Ireland. I could feel Nadia's determination to protect her child, her yearning to learn of her own heritage, and of her confused emotions about Joshua and the Adriano family. You do not have to read the previous books to totally enjoy this wonderful adventure, but if you do the story will mean much more to you. Recommended! ****Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Her young daughter Lexie shows her mom former -MI-6 agent Nadia Bishop the obit picture in the paper that looks exactly like her thirty-two years old Scarlet Rubashka killed because she looked too much like her. The homicide hurts even more because Nadia knows it relates to her as the location is Saint-Tropez, a place she fled from just a few years ago.------------- Nadia knows she must return to the town where her former lover Joshua Adriano lives to uncover who killed Scarlet as she expects the culprit to come for her and her beloved daughter. However, she must continue to hide Lexie from her biological father Joshua, whom she does not trust because his family would want her for their diabolical use, as a means to obtain control of a mosaic with powers beyond the understanding of mortals. She must also decide whether to rely on the priestesses guarding the mosaic for in Saint Tropez she will meet human and inhuman demons, yet the bottom line is Lexie is all that matters.--------------- The latest Madonna Key thriller hooks the audience as innocent Lexie shows the obit picture to her mom saying how pretty she is this sets the comparative tone of good vs. evil with the heroine refusing to rely on anyone as she believes the man she loves wants her dead so he and his family can obtain the mosaic. Nadia is intrepid though scared, but not for herself her biggest fear is that Joshua will know Lexie is his offspring and take her whether the former espionage agent lives or dies. Jenna Mills provides a non stop action exhilarating thriller.---------------- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.