From New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes a novel of sexy romantic suspense for fans of Nora Roberts, Catherine Coulter, and Karen Robards.
Three devious prisoners vow murderous revenge. Now the second is free.
With her stalker captured, antiques dealer Amanda Crosby can finally sleep at night. Having worked hard to put the nightmare behind her, Amanda has vowed to never be a victim again. But when her business partner, Derek England, is found with a bullet through the back of his head just hours after she left an incriminating message on his voice mail, Amanda finds herself in danger of becoming a victim of another sort.
All the evidence points to Amanda as Derek’s killer, and Chief of Police Sean Mercer is building the case against her. But when another of her colleagues is found brutally murdered, it’s obvious that someone other than Amanda is behind the killings. Suddenly Amanda is a target once again, as a diabolical killer circles ever closer—and the only thing that stands between her and becoming the third and final victim is the man who had tried to put her behind bars. . . .
About the Author
Mariah Stewart is the bestselling author of numerous novels and several novellas. A RITA finalist for romantic suspense, she is the recipient of the Award of Excellence for contemporary romance, a RIO (Reviewers International) Awards honoring excellence in women’s fiction, a Reviewers Choice Award from Romantic Times magazine, and a three-time recipient of the Golden Leaf Award for contemporary romance. A native of Hightstown, New Jersey, she lives with her husband, two daughters, and two rambunctious golden retrievers in a century-old Victorian home. She is a member of the Valley Forge Romance Writers, New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Romance Writers of America.
Read an Excerpt
“I’m going to kill him. I swear, the minute his plane lands, I will kill him.”
Amanda Crosby glared at the screen of the laptop that sat open on the cluttered counter near the door of Crosby & England, the antiques shop she co-owned with Derek England, the subject of her wrath.
“Is she sure? Is your sister positive it’s the same piece?” Amanda closed her eyes and silently begged, Please, please, let it not be the same piece. . . . “Isn’t there any chance she’s mistaken?”
“Daria is positive the goblet in the photos we emailed to her yesterday is the same one that’s on the list of items stolen from an Iranian museum some years ago. You read her reply yourself.” Iona McGowan, Amanda’s longtime friend and onetime college roommate, hit the print command and watched as the color image emerged through the printer accompanied by the email from Iona’s sister.
Amanda read the email out loud glumly. “ ‘The goblet is in the stylized design of the finely painted pottery found at the Tell i Bakun site in southern Iran. Probably dates from 5 b.c. The mouflon horns are pretty typical of the time period and the culture. This piece would be especially prized and noteworthy because of its near-pristine condition, the vividness of the colors, the quality of the painted design work. I’m sorry, but there is absolutely no question that this piece could only have been bought on the black market.’ ” Amanda shook her head. “And I guess your sister would know.”
“Daria is an internationally recognized expert in the field. Which is why you wanted to consult with her in the first place,” Iona reminded her. She started to close out the window on the screen, but paused to ask, “Are we finished here?”
Amanda nodded in disgust and turned away from the counter. “Damn Derek anyway. Damn him. I told him not to buy anything on this trip, and to cover his eyes and ears if anyone offered to show him anything that couldn’t be completely and thoroughly documented. I told him to run like hell the minute someone whispered, ‘American, I have something special for you.’ ” Amanda continued to steam. “The business just can’t afford to absorb this hit. I don’t know how we’re going to make up this loss.”
“Look, Daria said there’s a reward—”
“Which would just barely pay to send the damned thing to her, by the time we have it securely packed and insured and hire a courier to hand deliver it so that Derek doesn’t get arrested for dealing in stolen antiquities.” She blew out a hot, angry breath. “He has no idea how lucky he is that she’s willing to help him out on this. I’m sorely tempted to let Interpol arrest him and be done with it.”
“You know as well as I do that Interpol is hardly likely to waste its time and limited resources pursu- ing this one item. Especially since it’s being returned to its rightful owner through a reputable archaeologist, which never would have happened if it had fallen into someone else’s hands. Besides, you’d never do anything like that—turn your own partner in—no matter how angry you are, and we both know it.”
“I don’t think we’d want to test that right now.”
“Manda, I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Not as sorry as Derek is going to be when I get my hands on him.”
“I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. What exactly did he tell you when he called, anyway?”
“Just that he bought what he believed was an important piece, that he already had a buyer for it, and that he was having it shipped home and to watch for it because it was going to knock my socks off. Well, it did that, all right.” Amanda slapped a hand on the top of a nearby oak farm table. “God, I could just kill him.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have given you better news.”
“I appreciate everything you’ve done. I wouldn’t have known what to do with this”—she waved her hand in the vague direction of the goblet—“without Daria’s guidance.”
“Glad I could help.” Iona patted Amanda on the back. “I’ve got to get back to my shop. I told Carly she could leave early today. Give me a call next weekend. There’s going to be an auction up near Pipersville in a few weeks. Maybe we can go together, pick up some goodies.”
Amanda walked Iona to the door and stepped outside onto the narrow cobbled walk that snaked around the well-manicured greens to tie together tidy shops, restaurants, and parking lots.
“I’ll talk to you soon,” Iona called over her shoulder before she disappeared around the corner.
Still sick to her stomach after having had her worst fears confirmed, Amanda stood for a few minutes in the doorway, barely noticing the shoppers who walked by. Even on this hot August afternoon, St. Mark’s Village had attracted a lively crowd. Springing from a cornfield via the imagination of its founder, Mark Hollender, St. Mark’s Village was a popular and pricey assemblage of antiques and specialty shops in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. On weekends such as this, it wasn’t unusual to see busloads of visitors from New York, Washington, D.C., or Boston already lined up in the parking lot by nine a.m. for an all-day shopping experience. Not for shoppers faint of heart nor those with light balances in their checking accounts—or credit limits on their plastic—the Shoppes at St. Mark’s Village were a tourist attraction for the discriminating.
Amanda Crosby had been one of the original dealers to sign on seven years ago when Mark Hollender had first proposed the idea of a cluster of high-end shops. She’d immediately recognized the advantage of being associated with a group that would be collectively marketed as upscale and high profile. And since most of the dealers specialized in one type of merchandise or another, there was little competition among the ever-growing number of merchants in the ever-enlarging complex. In addition to selling to the private shoppers drawn to the village, there was the profitable secondary market of selling to dealers from other parts of the country who often came east seeking items for their own shops or for special customers. The shop owners at St. Mark’s had solid reputations and had networked nicely with their counterparts in other states.
Sighing heavily, Amanda walked back into her shop, pausing to wipe a speck of dust from a piece of art deco pottery on a stand to the left of the door.
“Oh, the hell with it,” she muttered, tears stinging her eyes.
All of her hard work down the drain with one stupid purchase on Derek’s part.
“Correction,” she muttered aloud as she began to repack the pottery goblet as Daria McGowan had instructed. “One more stupid purchase on Derek’s part.”
Over the years, Derek’s get-rich-quick schemes had cost him and the shop a tidy penny. This, however, was the worst. The sixty-five thousand dollars Derek had paid for the goblet—the now known to be hot goblet—had wiped them out. And if not for Daria’s assistance, Derek could very well be a candidate for a nice long chat with Interpol or UNESCO.
Amanda gritted her teeth.
“But, Manda, I have a buyer,” he’d assured her. “Don’t worry about it, okay? To get his hands on this piece, he’ll pay many times what I paid, trust me. I know what I’m doing here.”
“No, Derek, you do not know what you’re doing. Whatever it is, just let it go. Don’t make any deals, don’t buy— Derek?”
The line had gone dead, and he’d not called back.
Several days later, the goblet had arrived, and as soon as she unwrapped it, Amanda suspected they were in deep trouble. She’d immediately called Iona, whose father and sister were well-connected archaeologists and who would know how best to deal with an item one suspected might be stolen without getting arrested in the process.
But, in spite of everything, Amanda did love Derek. They’d been the best of friends since that day, junior year in college, they’d discovered they shared a passion for American primitive furniture and art deco pottery, and a desire to own a high-end antiques shop someday.
Someday had come three years after they’d graduated from the University of Delaware. With heavy backing from Derek’s parents and an equally heavy reliance on Amanda’s antiques training, Crosby & England had done relatively well—well enough to support themselves, and a little more. They’d finally accumulated a healthy bank account, thanks to Amanda’s shrewd eye. At a country auction just months earlier, she’d spotted a set of four cottage chairs that she strongly suspected might be the work of Samuel Campbell, an early eighteenth-century furniture maker from western Pennsylvania who was just coming into vogue. She’d bought the painted chairs for an astounding eighty dollars—she’d expected the bidding to start at ten times that figure—and held on to them for six months, during which time she was able to confirm their origin. Then, as Campbell’s popularity hit its stride, she resold the chairs for a tidy eight thousand dollars each. Thirty-two thousand lovely dollars. Money she planned to use to move the shop from its present location at the upper edges of the original village to a more central location closer to Main Street. Money to purchase more high-end stock . . .
Amanda punched in Derek’s number on her cell phone.
“Derek, you are so dead,” she hissed through clenched teeth at the Record Message prompt. “If you have any sense at all, you’ll stay in Italy, because the minute I see you, I am going to kill you.”
“Excuse me?” a startled voice from behind her asked.
“Oh.” Amanda turned, equally startled. She hit the End Call button and slipped her phone into her pocket. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come in.”
The well-dressed middle-aged blond woman smiled absently, her eyes scanning the shop’s offerings.
“Was there something in particular you were looking for?” Amanda moved the wooden box holding the goblet to a shelf under the counter.
“I was wondering if you had any Weller pottery,” the woman said. “My friend bought a vase here a week or so ago and she said you might have some others.”
“A tall green vase? Raised dogwood blossoms?”
“Yes, Justine.” The woman nodded. “She was showing me just yesterday what she’d bought from you.”
“This is such a coincidence.” Amanda forced a bright note in her voice. “I was planning on calling Justine in the morning, because I know she has the beginnings of a lovely collection, and I have some new items that just came in. I haven’t even unwrapped them yet, and I thought I’d give her first look. But since you’re already here, perhaps you’d like to see . . .?”
The woman beamed.
It was a sure sale, Amanda knew. She’d sized up her customer well. There was no way this woman would leave the shop without purchasing most—if not all—of the new lot, if for no other reason than to be able to tell Justine about her fabulous find.
Amanda opened the first of the boxes she’d brought in from her car just hours earlier and began unwrapping the pottery. While not the most expensive of the potteries she carried, the Weller would bring a good price—maybe even a great price. American art pottery had become increasingly popular over the years, and the pieces she’d managed to get her hands on were far from run-of-the-mill. But there’d still be a long way to go to make up for what Derek’s latest lapse of judgment had cost them.
Well, she sighed as she carefully sat a tall pale green vase on the counter, she’d deal with Derek later. Right now she was going to do her best to start making up the deficit. One sale at a time.
“This vase is really spectacular.” She slid her glasses on as she slipped into her best sales mode. “It’s signed by J. Green, one of Weller’s most sought after artists. Now, note the lovely details . . .”