Archaeologist Lowe Magnusson is packing something everyone wants. The djed amulet, a priceless Egyptian artifact, will fetch Lowe a hefty paycheck from one of San Francisco’s wealthiest. But when the handsome Swede runs into his patron’s uptight daughter, what he once considered easy money becomes maddeningly complicated…
Cursed with deadly spirits as her constant companions, curator Hadley Bacall must keep calm to hold her dangerous specters at bay and prevent them from lashing out at anything—or anyone. Trouble is, Lowe is driving her crazy, but her father needs the artifact he’s transporting. While Hadley can feel the amulet’s power, she can’t fathom the destruction—or the desire—it’s about to stir up.
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LOWE MAGNUSSON SCANNED THE desolate Union Pacific Depot lobby. A young couple he recognized from the train was spending the brief early evening stop flipping through magazines at the newsstand. A handful of other travelers loitered on benches. No sign of the two thugs, but it was only a matter of time. Easier to kill him in the dark corner of a rural station than in the middle of a crowded smoking car.
Satisfied he was at least temporarily safe, Lowe slid a bill through the ticket booth window. Not a large bill, but large enough to sway a hayseed Salt Lake City ticket agent. Surely.
“Look,” he said in a much calmer voice. “You and I both know you have first-class tickets left on the second train bound for San Francisco. It departs at eight. If we wait for your manager to return from his dinner break, I’ll have missed it. It’s not like I’m asking for a new ticket. I just want to be moved from one train to another.”
The young attendant exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry, sir. Like I said, I don’t have authorization to exchange tickets. Why can’t you just wait for your current train to depart? An hour really isn’t that much of a difference in the long run. It might even leave sooner if they get the supplies loaded quickly, and aside from a couple of extra stops, they’re both going to the same place.”
Yes, but the other train didn’t have thugs with guns on it.
When he first noticed the men shadowing him, he thought sleep deprivation had gotten the best of him. After all, he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since Cairo. Food poisoning had made the usually tolerable Mediterranean crossing from Alexandria to Athens a waking nightmare. But just when he thought he was out of the woods, he spent the storm-cursed weeklong voyage from England to Baltimore hugging both the toilet and his pillow in turns, praying for death.
But God wasn’t done punishing him, apparently. Now that he’d endured three nights of restless sleep on the worst train trip of his life and was less than a day’s ride away from home, armed men were stalking him.
Where the hell had all his good luck gone?
Right now, all he wanted was to kiss solid ground in San Francisco, fall into his ridiculously luxurious feather bed—courtesy of his brother’s ever-increasing bootlegging fortune—and sleep for a week. Some clam chowder would be nice. A two-hour hot bath. Maybe a small harem of nubile women to warm his sheets—dream big, he always said. But if he could manage to avoid getting shot and robbed during the last hours of this hellish trip home, he’d settle for ten hours of uninterrupted sleep and a home-cooked meal.
The attendant eyed Lowe’s loosened necktie and three-day-old whiskers. “We wouldn’t even have time to find your luggage and transfer it before departure, sir.”
“Just forward it to my San Francisco address.” Lowe begrudgingly placed another bill atop the first. Dammit. Only forty dollars left in his wallet. Ludicrous, really. A priceless artifact was in the satchel hanging across his chest, guarded with his damned life for the last two months, and all he had was forty dollars to his name.
Not to mention the massive debt hanging over his head after the botched deal with Monk.
The attendant shook his head. “I’m not supposed to accept tips, sir.”
Lowe changed tactics, lowering his voice as he leaned on the counter. “Can I tell you something, just between you and me? I’m on a very important, verysecret government assignment.” He wasn’t. “League of Nations business. Health committee,” Lowe elaborated nonsensically.
“Health committee,” the attendant repeated dryly. He couldn’t have cared less.
“I wasn’t aware the U.S. had joined the League,” a voice called out.
Lowe looked up from the window to locate the voice’s owner: a woman, standing a few yards away. She was long and thin, wearing a black dress with a black coat draped over one arm. Black gloves. Black shoes. Black hair bobbed below her chin. So much black. A walking funeral home, blocking his view of the platform entrance.
And she was staring at him with the intensity of a one-person firing squad.
“I did say it was a secret assignment,” he called back. “In case you missed that part of my private conversation.”
“Yes, I heard,” she said in an upper-crust transatlantic accent, as if it were perfectly polite and normal for her to comment. No remorse whatsoever for butting into his business.
“Excuse me.” And please leave me alone, he thought as he turned back to the ticket window. Concocting a believable story on no sleep wasn’t the easiest task.
But she wasn’t done. “Can I have a word, Mr. Magnusson?”
Had she heard him giving his name to the agent, too? Ears of an owl, apparently.
Lowe’s attention snapped back to the agent. “Look, just get me the ticket before the train leaves. Have a porter deliver my steamer trunk to my address. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He stepped away from the counter and strode toward the woman.
“Yes,” he said irritably. “We’ve established you know who I am.”
Her brow tightened. “You were to meet me.” When he gave her a blank stare, she added, “My father cabled you when you arrived in Baltimore.”
In his haste to change trains, he’d forgotten about meeting up with Archibald Bacall’s daughter, the oddball museum curator.
Not that she was unappealing, now that he was seeing her up close. Not plain, either. To complement her owl-sharp hearing, she had an angular face that reminded him of a bird of prey. Long face, long arms, and nice, long legs. Tall for a woman, too. The top of her narrow-brimmed hat might fit under his chin, so he guessed her height to be five foot ten. But her boyish, slender body made her seem smaller.
And the all-black widow’s weeds buttoned up to her throat didn’t do her any favors.
“Hadley Bacall.” She stuck out a hand sheathed in a leather glove trimmed in black fur. More fur circled the collar of the coat draped on her arm. The Bacalls had money. Old San Francisco money, from the gold rush days—her deceased mother’s fortune, if he wasn’t mistaken. The Bacalls also had significant influence in the art museum at Golden Gate Park. Her father ran the Egyptian Antiquities wing and sat on the board of trustees; he’d been a field archaeologist when he was younger.
Not that Lowe had ever hobnobbed with the man. Without the amulet carefully tucked in Lowe’s satchel, Dr. Archibald Bacall and his daughter would not be extending high-class handshakes in Lowe’s direction. Hell, they wouldn’t even give him the time of day.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Hadley, that’s right.”
Her grip was surprisingly evasive for someone whose arm was propping up a thousand dollars worth of fur and an aloof attitude to match. She tried to end the handshake as quickly as she’d offered it, but he held on. Just for a second. She glanced down at his hand, as if it were a misbehaving child. He reluctantly let go.
“You did get my father’s telegram, did you not?” she asked.
“Sure.” He’d received a lot of telegrams from the man after the photograph of Lowe and his uncle standing in front of the Philae excavation site circulated in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic—a photograph that had been reprinted a month later in National Geographic.
“Why were you lying to the ticket agent?” she asked.
He coughed into his fist. “Ah, well. It’s a long story, and one I’m afraid I don’t have time to share. I’m switching trains, you see. So I won’t be able to meet with you after all.”
One slim brow arched. She was almost attractive when she was frustrated, very glacial and austere. The corners of her eyes tilted up in an appealing manner, and her gaze didn’t waver. He liked that.
“You didn’t come all the way out here just to meet me, I hope.”
She shook her head. “I was giving a seminar on Middle Kingdom animal mummification at the University of Utah.”
Fitting for a woman who specialized in funerary archaeology, he supposed. If he wasn’t so goddamn tired, he might’ve been interested in hearing her theories, but his travel-weary gaze was wandering to her breasts. Nothing much to speak of, but that didn’t stop him from looking.
“I’m on my way back to San Francisco,” she said, diverting his attention back to her eyes. “But when my father found out you’d be coming in on this train, he thought it might be wise for me to book a ticket so I could speak at the university before you arrived. We aren’t the only ones interested in your discovery. I’m not sure if you know what you’re getting into by bringing the djed amulet here.”
Oh, he knew, all right. He barely got the damned thing out of Egypt. While his uncle had battled the Egyptian Ministry of State, Lowe had defended their dig site from looters. He’d been shot at, stoned, stabbed—twice—and had won a fair number of fistfights.
Once he’d made it back to the States, he thought he’d be done with all that, but now he worried his troubles were only getting started. He’d briefly considered the possibility that the hired thugs on the train tonight might be after him because of his debt to Monk Morales, but if Monk wanted to kill him, he’d wait until Lowe got home. No, these thugs were definitely after the djed.
“I’ve already received offers from a few collectors.”
Her smile was tight. “My father is prepared to give you the best price. That’s why I’m to speak with you now. I’d like to inspect the amulet. If it’s truly the mythical Backbone of Osiris—”
“Christ, keep your voice down, would you?” Lowe quickly surveyed the lobby again. “I’m trying not to advertise, if you don’t mind. Besides, all the artifacts from the excavation were shipped on another boat. They’ll arrive next month. So I don’t have it on me.”
A hurried porter walked past them, wheeling a luggage cart. She kept quiet until the man was out of earshot. “You’re lying.”
Her gaze dropped to his leather satchel. “From the way you’re gripping that bag, I’d say it’s inside. But whether it’s there or in your jacket pocket, I canfeel it.”
The bizarre accusation hung between them for a long moment. If he hadn’t “felt” the cursed object himself, he might’ve laughed in her face. But truth be told, the amulet emitted some sort of unexplainable current. His uncle hadn’t felt it, but some of their hired Egyptian workers did. A fair number of them deserted their camp the night he’d brought it up from the half-flooded sinkhole. The artifact scared the hell out of him, frankly. And considering the way she was looking at him, all matter-of-factly and unblinking, well, that scared him a little, too.
“Mr. Magnusson,” she said in a lower voice as her eyes darted toward something behind his right shoulder. “Are you traveling with bodyguards?”
He stilled. “No.”
“Don’t turn around,” she warned.
“Are there two of them? Black coats. Built like brick shithouses, pardon my French.”
“No need to apologize. I prefer frank language. And if you are trying to ask if they are large men, then yes. They’ve been watching you for several minutes. One has slipped through a corridor behind the ticket windows and the other is approaching us.”
A clammy panic slipped across Lowe’s skin. His hand went to the Arabian curved dagger strapped to his belt and hidden under his coat over his left hip: ajanbiya. In Egypt, he’d become accustomed to using it for protection. But after he’d left, he’d continued to wear it for peace of mind, more or less. Just in case.
Looked like he might be needing it now.
“Don’t stare at the man approaching us,” he instructed her. “Just pick up your luggage and follow me out to the platform. Quickly, but stay calm.”
She didn’t panic or question him. And thanks to those long legs of hers, their strides fell into a smart, matching rhythm. He caught the crisp scent of lilies drifting from her clothes as they strode past the newsstand, where neat rows of Good Housekeeping and Collier’s Weekly blurred in his peripheral vision.
“Listen to me,” he said as he placed an open palm at the small of her back. “Those men are armed with guns. They’ve been shadowing me on the train all day. I don’t know for certain, but I’ve got a funny feeling they’re after the amulet. It probably wasn’t wise of you to talk to me, because now they’ll think we’re friendly, and that makes you a target, too.”
“What do you plan to do about it?” she said calmly. Even in the panic of the moment, he had to admire her grit.
“You have a ticket for the 127?”
“Go ahead and board your train. Tell the porter suspicious men are following you.”
“A porter’s not going to shield me from gunfire.”
“Lock yourself in your stateroom.”
“I’ll do no such thing.”
Oh, she wouldn’t, would she? He prodded her onto the shadowed train platform, where other travelers were waiting for their departure time to come, saying their good-byes to family members and loved ones. The chilly night air didn’t stop a tickling bead of sweat from winding its way down his back.
“If they shoot you and take the amulet, I’ll have failed my father,” she said logically, as if she were making a decision about dinner plans. “So I’m sticking with you.”
“Fine, see if I care if you get yourself killed. You’re already dressed for an open-casket memorial service.”
“And you’re dressed like a Barbary Coast drunkard!”
“Is that so? Well, I’ll have you know, I’m—”
Startled cries bounced around the platform. Right in front of them, exiting a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY, was the second thug—the one who’d disappeared behind the ticket windows. He barreled onto the platform with a polished revolver leveled at Lowe’s chest.
LOWE SHOVED MISS BACALL to the side. Her suitcase skittered across the platform as he reached inside his coat, drew the curved janbiya dagger, and swung it through the air. Not his best aim. But he felt fleshy resistance when it sliced through the thug’s shoulder.
At the exact moment the man pulled the trigger.
The rumble of two train engines absorbed the crack! of the gun. Where the shot landed, Lowe didn’t know—it just missed his ear, he knew that much. And he damn well wasn’t about to find out where the next might land.
The thug growled, gritting his teeth as he cradled his injured arm. The bright, coppery scent of blood wafted from Lowe’s blade. He readied himself to swing the dagger again, but thought better of it when he glimpsed Miss Bacall rising to her feet beside him. No, he decided, it really wasn’t a smart idea to engage in a knife fight in the middle of a train station. Especially when the curator connected to his big payout stood unprotected and the injured thug’s much bigger buddy was heading toward them with another gun.
Two guns, one knife . . . absolutely shit odds. No choice but to escape. So Lowe grabbed Miss Bacall around the waist and urged her into a run.
Screams from the lobby echoed off two idling locomotives. Fencing hemmed the station’s platform. Nowhere to run but into the arms of the train he’d just been so desperate to leave.
She tripped on the metal steps leading into the first open car. Like a domino, he stumbled behind and nearly crushed her, but managed to save them both from landing on their faces at the last moment. Also managed not to stab her with his bloody dagger. Barely.
“My luggage!” she shouted as he scooped her up and pushed her inside, wiping the blade on his pants.
“Forget it. Go!”
He sheathed the dagger as they raced through the deserted dining car, darting past compact tables draped in white linen. Heavy footfalls thundered behind them. The bigger thug had followed and was taking aim. Lowe covered Miss Bacall’s body with his, bracing for the worst—
Goddammit, he really didn’t want to get shot.
But instead of another revolver blast, he heard something different: a broader, sharper explosion, and then a surprised shout as the train carriage shuddered. A backward look revealed the thug sprawled in the floor, covered in broken glass. The train windows at the front of the dining car had . . . shattered?
Four windows, all blown out, as if a bomb had gone off. Cold night air whistled as it whipped past the jagged teeth of the smashed glass.
How in the living hell was that possible?
Did he care? No, he damn well didn’t. Maybe his good luck was returning.
He thrust Miss Bacall farther down the aisle. Without a word, they dashed through the last quarter of the dining room and passed through the open door back onto the platform.
Just in time to see the injured thug warily inspecting the broken train windows as he clutched his wounded shoulder. He hadn’t noticed them yet. Small miracle.
“Go, go, go,” he said in Miss Bacall’s ear. He grabbed her hand and raced down the platform, away from the lobby, away from the guns. And they followed the length of the idling train until they came to the last car.
The second train, the one he wanted to be on, sat alongside the 127. A whistle blew. Steam puffed from the engine. It was leaving the station. And the stairway that crossed the tracks to the opposite platform might as well have been in another city.
“Down!” he told Miss Bacall. She didn’t seem to understand his plan, and he didn’t have time to explain, so he jumped off the platform onto gravel-packed steel rails before helping her down into the darkness.
“Come on!” he yelled, pulling Miss Bacall alongside him to race behind the departing train as it chugged away from the station. They’d catch up easy as pie if they didn’t hesitate. Thank God for her long legs; she’d make an excellent Olympic sprinter.
“Are you insane?” she shouted as they raced together.
A legitimate question, but he didn’t answer. Nor did he consider leaving Miss Bacall behind. If the thugs were willing to shoot at him while she was standing at his side, God only knew what they’d do if he left her at the station, especially if they found out how rich her father was.
A small, railed platform cradled the back of the train, lit from above by a single light. A moving target, but a steady one. Like catching a cable car. Sort of.
Good sense be damned. He pumped his legs, grabbed the railing, and yelled, “Jump!”
Their combined landing wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve been. His balance faltered. He heard a ripping sound, and for a moment he felt her falling. An image of her body being dragged behind the car flashed in his mind, but a quick shift in his weight brought her into his arms. And after some awkward flailing with her carried coat—how on earth had she managed to hang on to that thing?—they stood on the back platform, chests heaving with labored breaths.
They’d done it! He couldn’t stop himself from hoo-ha-ing a little shout of triumph into the wind as they passed the engine of the idle 127. He caught a glimpse of a panicked crowd under the golden lights of the platform before their train chugged away into darkness.
He grinned down at Miss Bacall, thoroughly pleased with himself. Almost too pleased. The excited blood surging through his energized body was headed south, making him half-hard with the thrill of victory.
I am man! Hear me roar!
God, he almost wanted to kiss her. Probably all the surging blood between his legs was to blame, but still. A little kiss might make—
“What now?” she said, and not very happily.
His chaotic victory plans fizzled. He hadn’t thought that far ahead.
Unaware of the inane thoughts running rampant in his head, Miss Bacall threw up a frustrated hand and turned away from him to tackle the door handle. With their luck it would be locked, and—
Unbeknownst to Miss Bacall, a ragged section of the back of her dress was missing—that would’ve been the ripping noise he’d heard when he pulled her onto the platform. The torn piece of cloth hung from a railing bolt, fluttering in the breeze like a flag. But his gaze narrowed on what that missing piece of dress exposed.
Miles and miles of leg covered in black stockings. A tease of pink skin above the garters. And lingerie the color of a ripe honeydew melon, trimmed with a border of embroidered peacock feathers.
His heart stopped.
Imagine that. All her dour, black clothes were a false front, like a Wild West building in a Hollywood film! And underneath was all this . . . color.
Color and more.
So much more.
Because filling out the melon-green step-in chemise was the roundest, most voluptuous ass he’d ever laid eyes on—hands down, no exaggeration. How could someone this skinny and long have a backside the size of a basketball?
It was the single greatest thing he’d ever seen in all his twenty-five years.
She grunted, completely oblivious to her situation. “The door’s not locked, but the latch is stuck. Help me.”
Should he tell her? He had to tell her, didn’t he? How could she not feel cool air back there? Dammit, he had to tell her. And he would . . . but my God, that thing was round. If he was at half-mast before, she certainly had his full attention now.
“What? Oh, yes. Let me . . . just shift over this way so I can reach. Never mind, I’ll just do it this way. Stand still.” Wind whipped across the back of his neck. He reached around her shoulders, and there was no getting around this part, because they really had no room on the platform, and the train was picking up speed. So he was forced—forced!—to flatten himself against her back to reach the latch. Gods above. It was like sinking into a warm pillow: not too soft, not too firm. Just right. And because she was tall, he didn’t have to bend down too much for his victory-happy cock to nestle in the valley right between those plump, cushiony—
“Oh . . . God,” she whispered.
Indeed. Guess he wouldn’t have to break the bad news about the rip in her dress after all.
• • •
When the latch dropped, Hadley slid open the door and dashed inside the train car. Compartments stacked with baggage lined both sides of the otherwise deserted space.
Had that really just happened? Because “that” felt an awful lot like an overexcited male. Cool air tickled the backs of her legs. She twisted to get a better look at her dress.
“You ripped it during the jump.” He latched the outer door, halting the whistling wind and clack of the speeding train.
“You might’ve told me!”
“I didn’t notice until you turned around. I was busy trying to save us from being shot.”
“Save us?” She gathered the tattered edges of her dress together in an attempt to hide the tear. “You were the one being fired at, not me. And you were the one brandishing a—it looked like a ceremonial dagger.”
“The ceremonial ones aren’t sharp. Mine is.” His deep voice carried a bit of an accent—not immediately perceptible, but the cadence of his words had an almost songlike quality. A Scandinavian lilt. Oh, that’s right—the Magnussons were Swedish immigrants. “And you should damn well be glad it is sharp,” he continued. “Or that bullet might’ve re-killed the fox that gave up its short life for your coat collar.”
“It’s mink, and I don’t remember asking to be saved.”
“Oh, w-e-ell, pardon me for being a gentleman.”
“Gentleman.” She snorted a bitter laugh. What he’d thrust against her certainly wasn’t gentlemanly. And despite her best efforts, her wanton mind now pounced upon the novelty of the feel of him, hanging it up in a gilded frame at the forefront of her thoughts.
“Fine. Shall I unlatch the door?” he said. “You can jump out and hobble back to the station on a broken leg. And after those thugs hold you hostage, you can sign over Daddy’s check to pay the ransom and pat yourself on the back.”
The edges of her vision darkened before she had a chance to dampen her mounting anger. Murky and foul, her specters emerged from the walls like shadows come to life. Though fully visible to her, they were—usually—imperceptible to anyone unlucky enough to be in their path when she couldn’t send them back to whatever hellish place from which they came.
Or when she wouldn’t send them back.
Caught in their grip, a row of leather suitcases slid from the rack above Mr. Magnusson and toppled. He lurched out of the way and nearly knocked her over in an attempt to save his own head.
Served him right.
She backed farther into the car as the next rack of baggage avalanched.
That was for lustily shoving himself against her undergarments and making her want something she couldn’t have.
He shouted incoherently, ducking the falling bags. He moved with surprising grace for someone so tall. Still, better put a stop to this now before he was knocked unconscious or killed.
Or before he put two and two together and figured out it was her specters that had broken the windows in the first train.
One, two, three, four . . .
Anger blinded and stripped away her control. And when she was out of control, the specters would attack the object of her anger with deadly force, so she had to reel these dangerous emotions in. Must. Her father was relying on her to haggle with this man. The djed amulet meant something more to her father than an academic study or a bragging right, especially if he was willing to part with so much money to snag it before the museum or other collectors had a chance to bid. Possessing this is the most important mission in my life, he’d said.
Five, six, seven, eight . . . She counted until the specters faded back into the walls and Mr. Magnusson stopped shouting obscenities. She thought they were obscenities, anyway; he was speaking in Swedish now, so it was hard to be sure.
“What in the living hell?” he shouted, switching back to English. He stood at the ready, scanning the piles of baggage as he shoved disheveled locks of wavy blond hair out of his eyes. And what eyes they were, sharp and cunning—the bright, cool blue of the faience-ware lotus vase in case fourteen of the museum’s Late New Kingdom exhibit. Those eyes were a distraction, as were the hollow cheeks and regal Scandinavian cheekbones, high and arching like the bow of a Viking longboat. And those lips . . . studded with dimpled corners and so full, they’d be the envy of any woman.
His only flaw was a broken nose that hadn’t set correctly. It was just crooked enough below a bump in the middle to draw attention, but still not altogether unattractive. Ridiculously unfair that an opportunistic loot-hound could be so blindingly, roguishly handsome.
She’d seen his photograph—half the world had—but it didn’t do him justice. Something about the way he carried his towering frame smacked of confidence and reprobation. And the unshaven jaw and scuffed shoes only made him look like a fairy-tale king dressed as a beggar. As if she could be fooled into thinking he needed her compassion. His brother was one of the richest bootleggers in town. She wouldn’t be surprised if the Magnusson family’s illegal gains exceeded what was left of her mother’s fortune.
“Did you see that?” he said, holding his arms out as if he’d lost his balance.
“I saw it.”
“Is the train rocking? What just happened?”
“It’s over,” she said, trying her best to play dumb. “So, what’s your plan now, Mr. Magnusson? Do we hole up in here for the next, what, eighteen hours, until we make it to San Francisco? Or do we jump off at the next stop?”
“Christ. I don’t know.” He straightened the satchel strapped to his chest and cast one more bewildered look at the fallen luggage at his feet. “What’s your thought on the matter?”
Oh, now he was asking her opinion?
She considered their situation. “No decent-sized stations until Reno, so chances of finding an open ticket office at this time of night are slim to none.”
“Probably right about that. We’d have to sleep in the lobby and wait for the next train, maybe until this time tomorrow.” He blew out a long breath. “And I haven’t been home in nine months. Also haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in several weeks, so waiting’s not my preference. What’s in the next car? Can you peer through the window shade?”
She started for the inner door, but remembered what’d happened on the train’s platform and hurriedly slipped into her coat.
“Too late. I’ve already seen everything.” He turned sideways as he slipped past her. “Highlight of my entire trip home,” he murmured with a merry lilt.
An unwanted thrill chased away any modicum of shame she might’ve felt. For the love of God, what was the matter with her, falling for empty flattery? And why was it so warm in here? She discreetly fanned her face while he peeked into the next car.
“Kitchen car. Looks to be empty.” He motioned for her without looking. “If we get caught, leave the talking to me.”
They hurried through. Fresh-brewed coffee and toasted bread made her stomach groan. The next car was a cigarette-smoke-filled observation room—only one passenger here, and he didn’t even look up from his newspaper when they passed. The next car was a sleeper. A few private compartments lined the left side of a narrow passageway that spilled into the open public area.
“‘Manager’s Office,’” Mr. Magnusson read from gold-stenciled wood. They walked farther. “Ah, here are the compartments.” Occupied, occupied, occupied. The last compartment door slid open, and out stepped a gangly young man in a railway uniform. He couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen.
“Pardon me, sir,” he said, dropping his eyes as he stepped back into the stateroom to allow them room to pass.
“This one’s not occupied?” Mr. Magnusson asked.
“Not at the moment, sir.”
Mr. Magnusson flashed the porter a train ticket. “We were on the 127, my sister and I,” he said, motioning to include her. “They switched us to this train in Salt Lake City. My sister’s husband . . . well, there’s no sense in mincing words. The man’s a mean drunk, and he was threatening her, you see. And she’s got a bun in the oven. A bad situation.”
Hadley’s mouth fell open.
The porter looked as confused as she felt. “Yes, sir.”
“So they were kind enough to move us,” Magnusson continued. “They told us to come aboard, and that the ticket office manager would bring us the new tickets while they called the police—you know, to detain her husband. For her protection.”
“Oh, my,” the porter said, leaning to get a better look at her.
“Only, the train left the station, and the manager never came. So now our luggage is on the 127, and we’re stuck here without a stateroom assignment.”
“No one informed me,” the porter said.
“It happened so fast,” Magnusson replied, shaking his head. “Her lousy husband had a revolver—can you imagine? Pointing a gun at a woman carrying his own child.”
“Ma’am,” the boy said with sympathy.
Hadley responded with a strangled noise.
“Now, now,” Magnusson said, patting her shoulder. “Buck up, old gal. I know you say he only drinks when he’s overworked, but this can’t go on. Daddy will hire you a lawyer. It’s just not safe. You have to think of your child, now.”
“A crying shame,” the porter mumbled.
“Amen,” Magnusson agreed. “Do you think this is the stateroom they had in mind for us?”
“This one? It’s been booked by a party scheduled to board in Nevada.”
“Oh.” Magnusson’s face fell. He turned sad eyes on Hadley. “I know this is upsetting, and you’re exhausted and terrified. I’m so sorry.”
“I’ve already endured so much with you tonight . . . dear brother,” she replied dryly.
The porter cleared his throat. “I suppose the couple who booked the compartment haven’t been through your difficulties. I can put them in an open coach berth, if the two of you don’t mind sharing this compartment.”
Hadley didn’t like the sound of that, not one bit, but her protest was buried under Mr. Magnusson’s overdramatic sentiment.
“Oh, that would be wonderful. Just wonderful,” he said, flashing the porter a grateful smile as he enthusiastically pumped the man’s hand. “We’re both grateful.” He fumbled in his wallet and gave the boy a five-dollar bill. “Do you think you could do us one last favor and bring a pot of coffee and some sandwiches?”
“Hot tea for me, please,” she added. If they were doing this, she might as well have what she wanted.
“Yes, ma’am. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be right back,” the porter said, allowing them entry as he flicked the sign on the door to read OCCUPIED.
Hadley silenced her tongue and followed Mr. Magnusson inside the cramped stateroom. A small door led to a private toilet and shower on the right, and the parlor lay to the left: two cushioned seats faced each other in front of a wide picture window, capped by two pulldown sleeping berths above.
Mr. Magnusson pulled off his satchel and, along with his coat, hung his things on a hook. Then he ducked beneath the berth to plop down on one of the seats. His long body took up too much room. His shins brushed the edge of the facing seat.
“First class,” he murmured on a sigh. “I think the public berths on the 127 were stuffed with hay.”
Why on earth anyone with a bootlegging brother was riding coach was beyond her, but Hadley didn’t care to find out. As she unwound the handbag chain looped over her wrist, she addressed her bigger gripe. “First you’re on the health committee of the League, and now you’re a heroic brother to a pregnant hussy—”
“Not a hussy. I said you were married.”
“Is this what you do? Lie your way out of every situation you encounter?”
“I prefer to think of it as inventing a character. Acting.”
“Acting,” she repeated, hanging her handbag on the hook next to his satchel. She started to remove her coat, but remembered the rip in her dress. She wasn’t the only one; a slow smile crept over Magnusson’s face. She tightened the coat and perched on the facing seat. “Why wasn’t the truth good enough?”
“You mean, I should’ve told him that I’m an archaeologist who found a piece of a mythical artifact purported to open a door to the land of the dead—and two hired thugs were shooting at us to get it, so we jumped the train like hobos?”
She crossed her legs. “You, sir, aren’t an archaeologist. You’re an entrepreneur.”
“I have a degree.”
“And I have two.”
He casually kicked up his feet on the seat next to her, one ankle crossing its mate. “But no fieldwork.”
“Not for lack of wanting, but kudos for making me feel small.”
His face pinched as if she’d slapped him. But only for a moment before blankness settled over his features. He stretched his neck, loosening muscles. “You said you wanted honesty.” With his head lolling on the seat back, he rested his hands on his chest and closed his eyes. “If you’d like me to tiptoe around your feminine feelings, I’m happy to do so.”
“I want to be treated like a man.”
He glanced at her from under squinting eyelids, one brow cocked.
“I mean to say, I want to be given the same directness you’d offer a trusted colleague. I am your equal. Speak frankly to me, or not at all.” A quick anger flared inside her chest. She stared out the window, looking past her own tense reflection to the rolling black landscape.
One, two, three . . .
“All right, then,” he said after a few moments. “If you were a man, and we were colleagues, the first thing I’d do is drop the formal address.”
She hesitated. “Thank you . . . Lowe.”
“You’re welcome, Hadley.” He smiled before closing his eyes.
They sat in silence. Perhaps she’d misjudged him. Now that she had time to think about the evening’s events, she supposed some of his actions might have been well intentioned. He’d pushed her out of the first gunman’s path and defended them with the knife. He’d also shielded her from the broken glass in the first train car, not knowing she’d been the cause of it. And now that they were settled, she could admit that she’d rather be here than taking her chances back at the station.
“You know, now that I’m thinking about it,” he said with his eyes still closed, “if we were trusted male colleagues on a first-name basis with each other, I’d probably be bragging about how I just got a peek at a bea-u-tiful ass and nice pair of legs, and what a shame it was that the strange woman who curates mummified corpses in the antiquities wing of the de Young Museum dresses like an old maid.”
“And I’d tell you that she dresses that way so that the men she works with treat her with respect, not as the privileged daughter of Archibald Bacall.”
His voice softened. “Then I’d tell her that she shouldn’t change herself to please anyone, and her coworkers are probably overeducated Stanford graduates with no real-world field experience, so who the hell cares what they think, anyway?”
“I’m a Stanford graduate.”
A knock at the door halted whatever smart retort he was planning on releasing into the wild. The porter entered with a tray. Mr. Magnusson had the decency to remove his feet from her cushion so that a folding table could be erected between them. After piling the table with silver pots of steaming coffee and tea, a covered plate of sandwiches, and two table settings, the porter gave her a pity-filled look and left them alone.
“You’re eating for two,” Lowe said lightly, tugging a pair of thin, brown leather gloves off. When he laid them down, she noticed a strange alteration on the left glove. “So I’ll leave you all the ones with . . . What is this? Olive spread? I think there might be chopped walnuts in here. No-o-o, thank you.”
Left glove, left hand. By God, he was missing his pinky finger. Completely gone, all the way to the knuckle. His skin was discolored there. Stitches had left scars where the missing finger had been sewn up.
“Want a closer look?”
She glanced up, mildly embarrassed for staring. “Looks fairly recent. How did it happen?”
“Lost it in Alexandria.” He made a chopping gesture. “Never steal a Muslim’s woman.”
A woman? Surprise faded into disbelief. Did he take her for an idiot? “Sharia law concerning amputation as punishment is for thieves. I believe what you are referring to would be considered adultery, punishable by stoning to death.”
He lifted the top piece of bread from another sandwich. “Maybe he didn’t like the woman all that much, so he gave me a warning.”
“You know what? I don’t even care why you lost it,” she said, doing her best to curb the desire to call up her specters again. Maybe they’d unlatch the berth above him and re-break that crooked nose of his. “No more of your silly stories. Show me the amulet.”
He stopped picking through the sandwiches. “Show me a check.”
“Money. Of course. My father said that would be your first concern.”
“It’s everyone’s first concern.”
“You’re wrong, and that’s the difference between us.”
“Oh, do enlighten me.”
“You’re a digger. I’m a scholar.”
“If people like me didn’t dig, what would you study? Mummified rats in the walls of your precious museum?”
They stared at each other through the whorls of steam rising from the coffeepot. She eventually gave in and dug out Father’s check from her handbag, placing it on her side of the table.
He brushed breadcrumbs off his hands before reaching for his satchel. Ah-ha! She’d guessed correctly. No chance he’d pack the object in a shipping crate after all the hullabaloo it had garnered in the press.
Moreover, she really did experience an inexplicable buzzing sensation when she’d walked into the train station. It wasn’t the first time she’d sensed power coming from an object. The museum contained a door from Newgate Prison that made her head swim whenever she got within a few feet of it, and her father had occasionally acquired things over the years that made her hair stand on end. An object’s power was like a perfume, recognized upon first scent, but fading into the background as one’s nose became accustomed to it.
Lowe took out a small bundle of suede cloth and opened it on the table. Inside sat an elongated golden figure, about six inches tall, two inches wide. Osiris, funerary god of the Egyptian afterlife. The atef crown sat atop his head, and the iconic crook and flail crossed his chest. The figure was one component of the mythical Thoth djed amulet. Osiris’s body was the base of a pillar. Missing were the four crossbars that stacked upon each other to create the top: a dark hole on the figure’s crown hinted where the missing pieces would attach.
She fished out a folding magnifying glass from her handbag and examined the piece more closely. The style was right. Telltale metallurgy markings showed at the side seams, and the gold bore a distinct reddish coloration that gold from Ancient Egypt often possessed. According to the National Geographic article, Lowe claimed to have found the piece in a flooded secret room of the main temple at Philae.
Her throat went dry.
“Can I see the other side?” she said, her voice a raspy whisper.
He flipped it over. The back was flat, embossed by a series of hieroglyphs and unrecognizable symbols that abruptly cut off where the rest of the amulet’s crossbars would attach. Was she really looking at magical symbols from the mythical Book of Thoth? God, it was thrilling to even allow herself a moment to believe it might be true.
If she was forced to validate the piece’s authenticity and give a blind assessment on the spot, her education and experience told her that the object very wellcould be 3,000 years old—a priceless artifact, and a beautiful example of Amarna Period goldwork. Now, whether it actually opened a door to some mythical underworld was unknown, but something powerful crackled beneath the surface.
“If it’s real, my father wants it,” she finally said.
“I can’t just hand it over to you right now,” he said, reclaiming the amulet. “I’ll need signatures, people present, that sort of thing. And you and your father will want the Egyptian documentation.”
“You have it?”
“My uncle does.”
Dear God. How thrilling.
Nothing mattered but this. All the insults he’d thrown her way were forgotten. Every strange feeling he’d dredged up inside her. Whatever she’d endured had been worth it to secure this arcane piece of history. The knowledge that it would also secure her the job promotion she so desperately wanted was, as they say, killing two birds.
She slid the check across the table. “Consider this a down payment. I want your word that you won’t sell it to someone else. My father will give you the remainder when you meet.”
“Gentlemen’s agreement.” He stuck out his hand—the one still flaunting all its digits—but shook his head when she offered hers in return. “No gloves. Like a man would.”
Skin to skin? Not even the promise of the amulet could make her give him that. She avoided touching in general and skin contact at all costs. Beyond a few brief kisses at petting parties in high school and the loss of her virginity in college, she didn’t remember the last time she’d touched someone with her bare hand on purpose.
Within the space of one afternoon, this walking vaudeville act of a man had already touched her several times: his palm against her back when he was walking with her inside the station lobby; running hand-in-hand with her to catch the train; intimately pressing himself against her torn skirt. So much touching!
She supposed it was nothing to him—some people had no boundaries, after all—but it was something to her. “A gentleman would keep his gloves on,” she insisted, thrusting her gloved hand forward.
“Fine. If you don’t want it to be binding. There are special Man Rules, you know. Spitting, secret handshakes.” Smiling a crooked smile, he took her hand.
His grip was firm and steady. Warm through the thin leather. Rational thought abandoned her until she realized they weren’t shaking. Why weren’t they shaking? A small noise vibrated from the back of his throat. Her gaze lifted to meet his.
Just like that, he’d captured her eyes above, and her hand below. His thumb swept over the tender skin of her wrist, grazing her pounding pulse. A whisper of a touch, barely there. Barely a touch at all, really—it might’ve even been accidental. But the tingles that rippled up her arm didn’t care about distinctions.
She tore her hand away from his, back to safety.
“Mr. Magnusson,” she said, hoping she sounded less frazzled than she felt. “It appears we have a deal.”
LOWE DIDN’T PLACE MUCH value on a gentlemen’s agreement. Any kind of agreement, really. Much like the rest of his family, he saw words like “law” and “binding” as boundaries to be pushed—loose suggestions, if you will. It made no difference if it was a handshake, committed to paper, or filed in a government office.
His agreement with Hadley was no different than a hundred others he’d given without intent to follow through, so he wasn’t sure why it made him . . . uncomfortable. Maybe it was her intense, too-serious personality that rattled him. Or the way she looked at him with those discerning, hawklike eyes of hers.
Or maybe it was because he actually felt guilty when she’d trusted his lying handshake against her better instincts. Why had she? Hadn’t he given her every reason not to trust him? He certainly didn’t trust her. The woman was too smart. Too rational. Too critical. He saw the wheels turning inside her Stanford-educated mind.
Which was why, while she made use of the compartment’s restroom, he tucked the amulet base beneath the pillow in his berth, as he’d done every night since he found the cursed thing. And like his previous nights spent on the train, he didn’t expect to get much sleep. So when he woke up the next morning, he was surprised to realize he’d slept the entire night. And she’d slept, too.
Oddly pleasant to see her stretched out on the opposite berth, still wearing her coat. Her sharp, long features softened when she slept. She was rather pretty. Strikingly so.
Regardless, he damn sure wasn’t selling the djed amulet to her father. If Bacall wanted it so badly, surely Lowe could find someone else to double the man’s offer. Pointless to think about, because even that wouldn’t be enough to cover his debt.
Big problems required creative solutions, and Lowe knew exactly what he was going to do to solve them. After he had a hot meal and a bath.
Talking shop with Hadley helped to pass time during the last leg of their journey. It was four in the afternoon when he finally stepped off the train onto the Twin Peaks station platform and breathed in San Francisco air. Home at last. Thank God.
His baby sister careened his way, her blond, bobbed hair swinging as she ran. She pounced on him like she used to when she was a child.
“Whoa, Astrid,” he warned, but when her arms went around his neck, he found himself unable to stop from lifting her straight off the ground and hugging her back with the same enthusiasm. “All right, all right,” he said, setting her back down. “Release me, she-demon.”
She grinned up at him, running her gloved hand over his whiskers. “You look like a vagrant, älskade broder.”
“I feel like one. And look at you! You’ve grown since the summer. Are you still just seventeen?”
“Last time I checked.”
“You’re wearing rouge now?”
“Maybe I am.”
“Mamma and Pappa would roll over in their graves if they knew.”
“I’m not a child, Lowe.”
He laughed. “I didn’t say it was unbecoming.”
Her nose scrunched up as she smiled. He slung an arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek as another familiar face came into view.
“Bo Yeung,” he said, unhinging himself from Astrid to shake hands. The Chinese boy wasn’t really a boy anymore—he was twenty-one, all lean muscle and handsome grace. Once an orphaned pickpocket, Bo had been the trusted assistant of Lowe’s brother, Winter, for several years. When Bo wasn’t helping Winter with the bootlegging, he did some driving for the family and played bodyguard to Astrid. A well-paid one, at that: he wore a plaid newsboy cap and matching dark green suit that looked as if it cost more than Lowe’s entire steamer trunk of desert-friendly wear.
“She’s right,” Bo said, giving his hand a hearty shake. “You do look rough.”
“I’ve been through hell the last few weeks. I can’t tell you how good it is to see friendly faces.”
“I’d say the house has been quiet without you, but that’s a lie.” Bo had lived at the Magnusson house in the servant’s hall since their parents died in a car accident more than two years ago. Part of the family, really. But the way Bo was standing over Astrid—almost too protectively—and the way she was swaying nearer to Bo—almost too close—made Lowe think something had changed between them while he’d been in Egypt.
Interesting. Lowe loved a good scandal.
Astrid made a distressed noise. “What happened?”
“Oh, this? Didn’t I write you about it?” he asked as she lifted his left hand. “I lost it in a game of Five-Finger Fillet.”
“What?” Astrid and Bo said together before Astrid continued, “—in the world is that?”
“Knife game,” Lowe said, holding out his hand, palm down. “You put your hand on the table, fingers spread, and take the tip of your knife and stab between your fingers . . . tap, tap tap!”
“You are a liar!” Astrid squealed, horrified, but laughing. “Is it really gone? Is it a trick?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He wiggled his remaining four fingers before lunging at her side to tickle her until she squealed some more, begging him to stop. “All right,” he said. “Enough of that. Are the two of you my entire greeting party? Where’s my big brother and this fictional wife of his?”
A cheerful voice floated over his shoulder. “Fictional? I thought you were the one with a thousand stories up your sleeve.”
He turned to find a small, heavily freckled woman in a red silk dress with an oriental collar. She flashed him a pretty smile and crossed her arms under a great pair of breasts.
“You must be the spirit medium.”
“I’m also your brother’s fictional wife.”
“Hello, Aida.” He started to shake her hand, then leaned in and hugged her. “For the love of God, you’re family now.” He held her at arm’s length to look at her. “Are you really having Winter’s child?”
“The doctor says I am.”
He hugged her again as she laughed. “God help you if it’s a boy.”
“Christ alive, don’t squeeze her to death,” a deep, melodic voice said at his side. His older brother, Winter Magnusson, the mighty bootlegger. At twenty-nine, Winter was Lowe’s senior by four years and twice as burly. Lowe accepted his embrace, clapping him on the shoulder.
“You look like death warmed over,” Winter said. “Don’t they have a barber in first class?”
Yes, but he was too paranoid to allow anyone near him with a straight razor. Not to mention the problem of his dwindling funds. “I’m thinking of growing a beard.”
“Not if you want to live in my house,” Winter said.
Married or not, Winter was still his same old dictator self.
Lowe was too tired to fight, so he turned his attention back to Aida. How in the world his brother, with his gruff attitude and scarred eye, had been able to attract a pretty thing like her was beyond Lowe’s comprehension. “Astrid described you perfectly in her letters.” As for the breasts, Winter had mentioned those in the longest piece of correspondence he’d ever sent to Lowe. It said: I’m in love. Got married to a tiny, freckled girl with nice breasts and good sense. You’ll like her. And then a telegram a month later: You’re going to be an uncle.
She smiled back at him. “And everyone tells me you’re the luckiest man alive.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the porter helping Hadley onto the platform, like she was an invalid, or . . . Oh, that’s right. She was still officially on the run from her fictional husband. Better put the kibosh on that, as his friend, Adam, would say, before the story spread to his family’s ears. “Excuse me,” he told Aida, before rushing back to the porter. “Thank you for everything. I’ve got her now,” he told the young man, quickly taking her arm.
Just as quickly, she pulled away. “I can walk,” she muttered.
After giving the porter another five-dollar bill—his last—Lowe turned to find his family staring. Expectantly.
He cleared his throat. “Hadley Bacall, meet the Magnusson clan.” He hastily rattled off everyone’s names. “Miss Bacall and I met on the train.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Hadley muttered to herself.
“Her father works for the de Young Museum.”
“As do I,” she added.
“Right, of course,” he said, mildly flustered. Why didn’t he just say that to begin with? It’s not like anything scandalous had happened between them. Well, minus the ripped the dress; his eyes instantly angled toward her coat while his brain remembered the stitched peacock feathers curving over her luscious backside for the umpteenth time.
For the love of God, wake up, man!
“She’s a curator,” he managed to spit out. “The museum is interested in what I uncovered in the desert.”
There. That seemed to make sense to everyone. He struck his hands in his pockets and exhaled while Hadley politely elaborated on her undying love of mummies and the stories they told about the Egyptians’ diet and way of life . . . talk, talk. And his family acted impressed . . . Yes, yes. Good. Everything was normal and fine.
Until Bo spoke up.
“Do you have a car picking you up, or would you like a ride home?”
“I’ll just take a taxi, thank you,” she answered.
Then Winter had to insert himself into the conversation. “Bo will take your luggage to the cab stand, then.”
Luggage. Right. Time to invent another story. But Hadley was faster.
“Actually, your brother knocked my suitcase out of my hands in Salt Lake City during a knife fight, so God only knows if Union Pacific will find it.”
Excerpted from "Grim Shadows"
Copyright © 2014 Jenn Bennett.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Bitter Spirits
“White-hot chemistry and wry, subtle humor.”—Molly Harper, national bestselling author of the Jane Jameson series
“A sizzling-hot yet swoon-worthy love story with a mystery that keeps you guessing until the end.”—Kristen Callihan, author of Firelight
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 Stars ~Reviewed by ANN & posted at Under the Covers Book Blog If there is one series that stands out with its originality and its imagination, it’s Jenn Bennett’s Roaring Twenties series. When I learned that the heroine, Hadley Bacall is a curator and the hero, Lowe Magnusson is an archaeologist, I knew I was going to love this book. I’m such a sucker for these type of stories. Not only is it steeped in history and old truths, but Bennett adds a magical element to it as well, catapulting this series into something in its own universe. Hadley is cursed with these deadly spirits that often take over when her emotions get the best of her. However, she is finding it hard to keep her emotions in check when it comes to Lowe and the artefact that he is transporting for this father. In an effort to gain more highly prized artefacts, Hadley’s father tries to make a deal with Lowe. In return, Lowe will get a large sum of money, enough to cover his debts as well as a respected position that Hadley has worked all her life for. This puts them against each other as they try to determine if they can trust the other. Jenn Bennett weaves a magical story here. I was floored with the amount of unique details and creatures she managed to add in this story. With majestic hybrid creatures, you can be sure that there will never be a dull moment in this book. In addition to that, Hadley and Lowe have a wonderful romance. While Hadley doesn’t like to be touched, Lowe is quite patience with her. The sexual tension reaches a pinnacle and just when I thought the book would end without some sexy time, Bennett delivers with some wonderful scenes to keep me satisfied. This book just cruised by. However, I felt that the last 50 pages or so really dialled up the adventure in this story. It was gut wrenching, sad and highly entertaining. If you haven’t been reading the Roaring Twenties series by Jenn Bennett, then you’re definitely missing out. With high octane action-adventure scenes in a highly creative world, Jenn Bennett stuns with her vivid imagination and eloquent writing. GRIM SHADOWS is not one to be missed! *ARC provided by publisher