Wineseller Christina Alvarez Mancini told one little lie—to reassure wealthy clients, she invented a suave British boss. With her ultimate dream, a winery of her own, close to becoming reality, she can't allow irregularities at a high-end wine auction to jeopardize her reputation.
A conman in love with a good plan.
Stig needs money, fast. An immortal Viking thief who discovered the perfect role as a fictional wine merchant, he's days away from the big payoff. Even if the California woman who created his character realizes a real person is conducting business in London, he'll disappear. That's what he does best.
Secrets that turn deadly.
Stig has success in his sights when Christina walks into his auction preview, ready to ruin his plan. Experience tells Stig to cut and run; a thousand years of boredom compel him to flirt. And when deadly Vikings from Stig's past crash the party, Christina and Stig are forced to cooperate in order to escape. Yet everywhere they flee, it's these two rivals' own lies that set the greatest traps…
Book two of The Immortal Vikings
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Christina's little black dress itched. When she'd folded it in her carry-on next to her better black heels and a pair of stockings, she'd forgotten how the unlined side-zipper irritated the skin immediately below her armpit, but the threshold of Bodeby's London auction house was eight time zones too late to change her armor. The Bodeby's foyer wasn't half as large as the entrance hall at Uncle Robert's California estate, but what the townhouse lacked in square footage, it compensated for with elegance her uncle would never understand how to mimic.
"Madam?" The doorman glanced at her black rollie-suitcase, completely lacking in the designer touches that auction preview guests would have on anything they carried. She'd forgotten to remove the airline tag attached to the suitcase handle, and he probably suspected she'd changed clothes in a Heathrow Airport bathroom. From his completely blank expression, she could tell he didn't think she belonged with the one percent upstairs. "May I be of assistance?"
"Christina Mancini." She offered a smile and one of the cream linen-paper stock business cards she reserved for first impressions. "I emailed Monday that I planned to attend tonight's preview tasting. Several lots sourced by my firm Morrison and Mancini for Lord Seymour are in the catalog."
All true. Unsaid was that Bodeby's catalog listed two times more wine brokered by her company than her private records corroborated. Until she met whoever represented the estate of her deceased client and examined the actual bottles, she wasn't prepared to discuss her suspicions with the world's dominant auctioneer of fine and rare wines.
The indication to proceed to the coat check was a discreet backward step and abbreviated open-palm sweep low near the man's leg. After six years sourcing thousand-dollar vintages for the rich, she knew his informality signaled equality among working peers. He would have offered a slight bow and a second extended greeting to a client.
"Thank you." She was inside, her suitcase whisked to a discreet closet by uniformed staff who ranked below the doorman. People in her position offering expert personal services to the wealthy fell into the same zone as old-fashioned companions or tutors in books. Not on an equal social level, at least not in most of her clients' minds, but still experts who were respected. Establishing a connection with the staff manager of a client's household was the best way to create a long relationship with the person who paid the bills, especially since the staff manager usually signed the checks. Bodeby's was undoubtedly run much like a wealthy house, and the man who'd admitted her could be a future ally.
She might need one.
If the fluttering in her stomach as she ascended the stairs to the reception was any indication, the frowning old men in the gilt-framed portraits lining the stairwell already judged her guilty, perhaps of merely being a woman in the wine world. They wouldn't be the first, so she focused on the careful placement of each foot to avoid snagging her heels on the patterned stair runner and modulated her breathing in preparation for entering the tasting. A pastry at the airport would have absorbed the acid in her stomach, but she'd hoped to arrive before the preview opened. Evening rush hour traffic, combined with March rain, had ruined that plan.
"Miss Mancini." With impeccable timing, the auction house employee reached past her for a doorknob, his words straightening her spine and pulling back her shoulders.
Her entrance to the burgundy-and-gold decorated room passed unnoticed by the wine collectors mingling underneath the frescoed ceiling. The faded elegance of the overhead hunting scene also compared favorably to the Sistine Chapel reproduction crowning Uncle Robert's powder room, but she wasn't there to gawk at the trappings of good taste.
Perhaps a hundred guests circulated between tables where wine stewards provided micro-sized tasting pours, one vintage per station. Elsewhere, people chatted while servers offered small bites and removed empty stemware. Patrons ebbed and flowed at the tasting stations, but they pooled deepest around a man stationed in front of a faux wine cellar installed in the middle of the room. That was a nice touch, filling a space that usually felt empty away from the pouring tables. It could have been tacky, but the warm-colored stone looked real and gave the man at the group's center a superb backdrop. He appeared to be in his early forties, dark blond, with a black tuxedo to equal anyone's in the room. She couldn't place him, but the body language of the others indicated he was the person they jostled to meet.
To her right, Bodeby's head of wine sales huddled with a columnist for Wine Flight magazine and a third man. All three had forgotten to put on their party faces after their ties. She'd waffled for the plane ride from San Francisco over whether to approach the auction director. Her explanation would be concise. Two years ago she'd acquired six bottles of the 1991 Kingbird Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for Lord Seymour, who'd sent a fond note about how much he'd enjoyed two of them on the occasion of his eighty-first birthday. That wiggly script was framed over her desk, and simple subtraction yielded four remaining bottles. However, the Bodeby's sale catalog listed a full case of 1991 Kingbird Cabernet, twelve bottles estimated at nine hundred euro each, for a lot price of 10,800 euro. The international nature of fine wine meant the estimate was also listed in pounds and dollars. Fourteen thousand dollars for the case, and she couldn't verify more than four of the twelve bottles.
She twisted her mother's pearl ring until her thumb could press the little ball into her palm. Seventeen other auction lots had wines she had sourced, and each one had an inflated quantity. Copies of her sales receipts were in a folder in the coat check at this moment. Ethically, she had a duty to the wine community to report fraud, but any hint of irregularity, even a buzz as slight as a single fly at the next table, would kill her business.
Pushing the pearl harder into her hand, she kept her fist low at her side and glided clockwise around the room's perimeter, adding distance between herself and the wine director. Her height-challenged familiarity with heels enabled her to navigate without tottering like an intruder while her mind cataloged the faces she knew well, the ones she recognized and the ones that, in friendlier circumstances, she'd work to cultivate.
Near the corner of the room, Elaine Johnson nibbled on a cracker.
She could chat with the auburn-haired woman while looking engaged, rather than lurking. Bonus, she genuinely liked Elaine, one of the few first-wives in the room and a lady who'd introduced her to three valuable clients over the years.
"Christina!" Elaine's face lit up. "I had no idea you were coming over, or I would have told Jack to give you a ride." She smushed Christina into her chest but stopped short of a kiss that would leave lipstick on Christina's cheek.
In the instant Elaine squished her, Christina let her gaze return to the center of the room. A couple, money oozing from every perfect highlight of the too-young woman's tawny hair, approached the group in front of the mock cellar. The woman changed posture in a way that added a cup size she didn't need, and the older man used one of those power handshakes, left hand grabbing the younger man's arm with his right hand extended for the killer squeeze.
"I didn't know I was coming until two days ago myself." She stuck close to the truth while she watched the interplay in front of the cave. The shake recipient was lean, either from good genes or a good trainer, but he didn't crumple under the Masters of the Universe grip. Instead he grinned with the right amount of welcome and tilted his head to make a low comment. "Mr. Morrison broke his foot on the squash court"
"Oh hush. He did not!" Twenty years in San Diego hadn't pruned the older woman's Texas roots. "He's teasing you."
The gripper and the grippee shared a chuckle at the same time as Elaine. He was good.
She appreciated a good handler.
"That's why he sent me instead." As Elaine rolled her eyes, Christina shifted to improve her view of the knot of people in the center of the room, which included her friend's husband. "I've shown him how to use his digital assistant at least six times, but you know older men."
"He doesn't tell you everything, honey." Elaine's gaze swiveled to the same group at the moment Lord Seymour's daughter glided through the guests. "Haven't you noticed who's with Jack?"
The man with Jack was exactly who Christina was studying. He pressed Lord Seymour's daughter's hands and they kissed each other's cheeks, their body language signaling they knew each other well.
A low anger filled her empty stomach as she realized he must be the man representing the Seymour estate. With a smile that offered just enough sin for a middle-aged heiress and shoulders that didn't look too artificial, he'd easily convince a charity socialite that selling her father's wine collection was better than insuring it.
The Seymour cellar was Morrison and Mancini's to consign, by all that was fair in business. She'd been instrumental in building it. Every Western Hemisphere wine in it, from Argentinian malbec to Canadian ice wines, had been procured by her. It would have been courteous to ask her to be the go-between with the sale, but so much for women helping other women in business.
Hearing her name jerked her attention back to Elaine, who was watching her with penciled eyebrows higher than the Botox-loving crowd around Christina's target could hope to stretch. Her eyes and mouth somehow combined to look both amused and sympathetic.
"I don't know why you always describe him as older, honey."
"Geoffrey." Elaine purred the name of the senior partner of Morrison and Mancini as they both resumed staring at the cluster of people that included Elaine's husband, one of Christina's first customers. Then she leaned closer to snicker, "Jack is older. Geoffrey certainly isn't. He's a man in his prime."
Her client's familiarity with a man she couldn't possibly have met set off a low alarm. As soon as Christina figured out who the man at the center of this show was, she'd try to figure out what Elaine meant.
"Have you eaten? You look thinner than last time I saw you." Hand on Christina's elbow, Elaine steered her toward a waiter with a tray of white cheese spread on toasted bread. "You must come to shindigs like this with Geoffrey all the time. Is the food always this sparse?"
"Always." She gave her practiced laugh, the small and happy version, while she kept most of her attention on those gathered in front of the fake wine cave.
"I couldn't keep my mind on work without more food." Elaine sighed. "And when your boss looks so dee-lish in a tuxedo, I surely don't know how you work together without your eyes crossing. If I was twenty years younger and didn't love my Jack so much Tell me the truth, honey." She scanned Christina down to her polished black heels and then whispered close to her ear. "Aren't you a little itty-bitty bit tempted?"
"By what?" One ten-dollar coffee at Heathrow Airport hadn't been enough to clear her travel fog, because the direction of Elaine's question confused her. "By the appetizers?"
Geoffrey Morrison, owner and founder of Morrison and Mancini, wine merchants and custom collection finishers, contributor to numerous California charities, sponsor of an annual children's race held the day before the Silverado Trail Triathlon and author of several articles in Wine Aficionado and Wine Flight Magazine, did not exist. He was a complete fiction, created because no one, not one single person in possession of a credit card, hired a woman in her twenties to complete their wine collections, not even if that woman had an honors degree in viticulture and enology and five generations of California wine-making in her background. She'd juggled Geoffrey Morrison's busy schedule of non-appearances for six years. And never lusted after the invisible man once. Her pillow had more substance. So what the heck was Elaine talking.
She followed the woman's fatuous gaze straight to the center of the crowd, to the blond man who'd been her target since she'd noted his buzz.
No. The world could not be that batshit crazy.
"Now that I've met him, I think Geoffrey's even more yummy than the pinot noir he sent last month." Elaine giggled.
She had sent Elaine that varietal. She'd sensed how perfectly it would match her client's recipe for baked ziti with ancho chiles. Thinking about wine was usually an automatic comfort, but with the cacophony of accents and the feeling that one more part of her life was spiraling out of her control, the fact that Elaine liked her choice didn't calm her.
"Silly me. I forgot to thank him when we talked earlier. I'll have to go back." Elaine waved her lipstick-smudged cocktail napkin in front of her face as if heated. "Close your mouth, honey. I've decided to make sure your boss notices more than your brains."
The other woman assessed Christina from her hair to her shoes and back, the second person tonight to make Christina aware of her plain black dress and average heels. Elaine was her biggest fan, introducing her to new clients and sending customers from all over the country to her. Without Elaine, her business might not have survived, let alone grown to the point where she was halfway to the down payment on a small vineyard of her own, so she endured the scrutiny.
"My fairy godmother job would be easier if you wore a lower cut dress. Men are just like calves, always looking for"
"No, really, Elaine, please." She did not want to hear Elaine describe cow anatomy, not while they stood under Bodeby's antique chandeliers, because her concentration level didn't leave room in her brain to add inappropriate humor to the mix. She tried delicately to pull her arm out of the other woman's grip but didn't struggle enough to actually escape. To find out who the man in the center of the group was, because he couldn't be the nonexistent Geoffrey Morrison, she needed Elaine to drag her over and make conversation. That meant appearing reluctant, but not so reluctant that Elaine abandoned her apparent matchmaking. "It's fine. I don't"
"Oh hush. This will be like a romantic comedy. I guarantee by the time I'm finished, your boss will think the stars shine in your eyes."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I haven't read First to Burn but didn't need to to understand this story. Characters from Book 1 were introduced throughout Book 2, but it still read as a stand-alone. Stig was one hell of an interesting character. His willingness to laugh at himself, step way beyond what I considered any man's normal comfort zone, and unplanned plans contradicted the warrior he was at heart. He fought for what he believed in, gave no quarter when it came to protecting those he loved, including those who were gone. And while all that devotion and love was awesome, they didn't appeal to me as much as 1)his honesty with Christina, and 2)his profession. I don't think I've ever read a story about a male thief before. That was in and of itself a reason for me to keep reading. Most thief stories I've read are about women so this was a refreshing take on the whole burglar trope. The things Stig has stolen over the centuries is impressive, and the fact that his fingers are still attached to his person is even more impressive. Christina wasn't nearly as entertaining but she was a likeable character nonetheless. I couldn't fault her determination to succeed as a wineseller and desire to own her own vineyard. Truthfully, someone as devoted to the trade as she was deserved both. However, it was hard for me to accept that she would so easily accept a conman posing as her boss after all the time and effort she put into creating her company. It struck me as odd that she didn't fight Stig harder on this topic. Maybe she did, but it didn't come across that way to me. The chemistry between Stig and Christina wasn't fireworks or TNT equivalent. It was...mild, I guess. The sex scenes were well-written and it was in those scenes that desire, lust, want, and need really showed up. Everywhere else though seemed a little less obvious. I did enjoy Stig and Christina's journey around Europe as they struggled to stay alive, stay ahead of the game, and help Stig's leader stop a madman Viking. Along the way, there was plenty of laughter, insight, hopefulness, fear, and determination. What started as a simple con ended up being the story of a lifetime for Christina and the ultimate theft for Stig. She wound up with a man who was honorable, a hero, and timeless. He found a woman who filled the emptiness in his heart that thieving hadn't accomplished. (Received from Bippity Boppity Book for an honest review)
Christina Alvarez Macini runs a wine collection service along with a pretend boss. At a London wine auction she is shocked to find a stranger (Stig) claiming to be her boss. The night at an auction turns into a dangerous adventure. If they are to survive, these two strangers need to trust one another. The first Immortal Vikings, First to Burn was one of my favorite books in 2014. I was so excited to read number two. While it has a different setting, the story and characters were just has good. Stig & Christina are different, but also very much alike in some ways. I loved that their attraction burned fast and hard. The Second Lie is an excellent addition the the series, I loved it. Sexy, exciting and filled with non-stop adventure. A must read.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review (LoP or Lovers of Paranormal of Goodreads). **Contains some spoilers** There are a few reasons that I didn't care for the book. I did not like any of the characters. Christina Mancini was an educated woman who didn't have a strong personality and she didn't have any conviction in her opinions or actions. She went back and forth on a lot of events in the book. She is described as being educated in the book but she lacks common sense. She also can't look at certain situations with a level head or make rational decisions. I thought there were times where she was extremely selfish and felt entitled. For example, Christina and Stig on are on the run but the men that are chasing them find them… they keep finding them again and again somehow. Stig tells her to throw away everything they don't need. She thinks she does toss everything out except a cell phone she stole. Stig finds out she has that cell phone and informs her that is how the men are tracking them. From this event, Christina feels guilty for two sentences. In the next scene, she demands that she get half the money Stig is getting for his job because she has been with him. She is the one demanding money after she was the one that got them caught? … and no remorse for putting them in the situation. At times, she was a very weak person. She would be into Stig then she would hate him but then later she would do whatever he says. Christina was too unstable for my liking. On to Stig, he was a better character but not much better. The only reason I'm saying he was slightly better is because he was more stable than Christina was but that's it. I didn't like Stig because I felt like he was joking the whole time in the story and didn't take any of these life threatening matters seriously. He didn't realize Christina's life was at stake until she was abducted. I thought some of his plans for certain scenarios in the book weren't thought out well. They weren't exciting or original. These plans were not described well at all in the book. I also didn't see how he could be attracted to Christina, probably because I was so displeased with her throughout the book. A large reason I did not like this book was because it lacked lots of details. I had so many questions about what was going on because there wasn't enough words to describe any of the situations. Every chapter didn't have enough detail on the setting or how the characters were placed. The author focused more on the interactions between the characters and not enough on where they were or body language. I felt lost a lot in this story. There are chapters that are supposed to bring a reader back to the past but I had no idea what the scene was about until way later when it was described more (not all scenes were described later, just some). These past scenes have random things being said that aren't described… For example, in chapter 15, a past scene, Stig is the son of Gerlef of the Spear Danes. He is at the mercy of Beowolf for some reason. Stig is accused of stealing gold rings and Beowolf decides to let Stig repay them back by guiding them to the kingdom of Spear Danes. Is the Kingdom of Spear Danes of importance? How did Stig get accused of stealing gold rings? Were the rings significant somehow? Overall, what is the real significance of this scene? The author doesn't describe it any further than this. I didn't understand it and there are lots of these throughout the whole story. The book has a slow start. It took me a long time to want to finish reading it. Overall I will not be continuing on with this series.
Anna Richland returns with another installment in her Immortal Vikings series, where the Heroes are Immortals of Viking lineage. I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series, and love the premise of the heroes at some 1500 years old. Here we focus on the world of expensive wines for the nouveau and not so rich, with Christina as the business ideas. Knowing the difficulties of breaking into the rather cloistered world as both an upstart and a woman, she invented a rich globe-trotting partner for her business. Imagine her surprise when there are problems with an auction of some wine, and she comes face to face with the man she created from whole cloth. Stig is that mystery man, a Viking and one possessed of questionable morals. A thief by trade, when Christina shows up at the auction house, his plans are foiled until he realizes that she has granted him a sort of entre. Charismatic, fast talking and even faster thinking, Stig is a little “too” slick at first, and has just the right touch of bad boy to make him not entirely dislikable. When the story twists to encompass counterfeit wine that she has plans for, the story takes off and never stops with thrills, dangers and a solidly developed sense of sniping and bickering between Stig and Christina as they try to sort their way through the mysteries, dangers and history. Between their chemistry with Stig never having met anyone quite as quick-witted or intriguing as Christina, and the slow reveal of his ‘immortal state’, the story is one romp to another. My only complaint is the frequent POV switches that were hard to grasp early on, as the character voices needed time to strengthen, and mixed with the action-packed events the story took some time to get everyone straight in my mind. Once I had some more background on the two, and some time to watch them interact, the story took off and was a wonderful ride. I received an eArc copy of the title from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.