|Cover Art by Meredith Russell|
Alex Sheridan. An empath with no memory of his early childhood. His body is covered in patterns and scars.
Luke MacKinnon. A professor of ancient languages. The US Army knows he is the person to find answers. Words in an ancient script leading them to a weapon to win the war to end all wars. Others want Luke to find the Oracle for revenge as old as time.
The legend. The power of the Oracle returning after fifty generations, sent by the Gods on Olympus.
When Alex and Luke meet there is more than just lust between them. There is a connection they cannot understand. How can they survive the evil that wants the Oracle?
“….If you like mystery and intrigue in your romances, if you enjoy a plotline that will keep you in suspense, and if you prefer to read about characters who are real and human in their reactions, then you will probably enjoy this books as much as I did….”
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Rainbow Book Reviews – “….Using an existing legend like the Oracle of Delphi and re-interpreting it with a paranormal angle, giving it a modern slant, and adding characters I cared for from the very beginning made this story a joy for me to read. The balance between action/adventure and romance is really good, letting both parts of the story shine. If you like mystery and intrigue in your romances, if you enjoy a plotline that will keep you in suspense, and if you prefer to read about characters who are real and human in their reactions, then you will probably enjoy this books as much as I did. Bring on the sequel, RJ!…”
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Top 2 Bottom Reviews – 4/5 – “….The book explores the concept of life and relationships controlled by fate and how life is directed when destiny, rather than free will, controls the paths taken. From the introduction to the conclusion, the plot held my attention with a blend of romance, suspense, conflict, and action. The climax of the story and its resolution were emotionally satisfying and well developed. The story, as a whole, was well paced and tautly written….”
Boy Meets Boy Reviews – 4/5 – “….This was what was fun about this story, some really good adventure but not so much action that you’re dragged away from the romance or the mystery, the elements were balanced well….
….I’ll definitely be reading Book of Secrets, the continuation of the story and would highly recommend Oracle, it was a great read I really enjoyed….”
Hearts on Fire Reviews – 5/5 – This was a great read with likable characters and a good pace. Alex Sherridan is a thief with paranormal abilities but no memory of his youth before age 7. He was washed up on the shores of Greece with scars carved into his body, which he later had covered with tattoos along the lines of the scars. Luke McKinnon is a linguistic scholar hired to interpret ancient Greek scrolls in an an attempt to discover the Oracle at Delphi. When he meets Alex with his tattooed scars and abilities their lives become intertwined with the help of the gods. I recommend this book to anyone with an open mind.
The bullying had started on hour one, of day one. The new boy with the curious accent and stilted English carried strange scars on his body. Some said he had gotten them in a fire. Others suspected that he had done them to himself. Alex never deliberately showed the scars to anyone, but physical education and the changing rooms meant even he couldn’t keep all his secrets hidden.
There was a group of boys—bigger, stronger, and crueler than Alex could ever be—that made his life miserable. Their favorite torture was to corner him and taunt him and pinch him and he would cry. He was crying for the pain and the humiliation and for the utter terror that coursed through his thin body. He never told anyone; his new mom and dad could well send him away and he didn’t remember where he even came from. What if it was worse than here? What if the scars were from some terrible monster that clawed and bayed and wanted his blood?
“No sense in hiding in here, freak.” Tim was the eldest and by far the meanest of them all. He was broad and tall for a ten-year-old and he thrived on the attention that making Alex cry got him.
“Which stall is he in?”
“Did he run in here?”
“Try the end one.”
Alex curled into a smaller space, his feet up on the toilet, the door shut and locked. The lock itself was loose and could not actually keep out a group of kids intent on finding their target. He was crying so hard that there was no sound, only soul-destroying shaking that wracked his body.
Please. Please. Help me. Leave me alone.
He chanted over and over.
Someone find me and help me.
They were coming closer. Alex hadn’t thought of what door to enter but it was the farthest point and the last cubicle.
They found him.
“You in there, freak? Gonna make sure you don’t run again.” Tim’s voice was backed up with boisterous laughter and Alex could picture every single one of them banging on the door. The burning in his stomach was so painful he pulled his legs up tighter hoping to make it disappear, but instead the intensity increased. The prickle of pain travelled down his legs and through his arms and his vision blurred. He couldn’t see anything properly, and his fear grew and grew as everything turned hazy and grey. He was dying here in the bathroom. Dying as sure as being hit by a car or falling out of his bedroom window. His head pounded as the door rocked and the lock started to loosen from its tiny ineffectual screws.
Alex rocked and shut his eyes tightly as the lock splintered from the flimsy wood and suddenly the boys were there. Tim and his friends who made Alex’s life a living hell were far too close. Forcing his eyes open to see them, he braced for the first blow. But nothing came. Instead Tim was peering into the cubicle with a puzzled expression, and behind him his friends were looking over his shoulder straight at Alex.
“Where is he?” One of the less timid friends thought it a good idea to question Tim. Not a good idea as Tim swiveled on his feet and pushed the boy back.
“Fucking freak locked the door and crawled out under it.”
“So where is he?”
“We’ll find him.”
The noise of the boys, a bickering laughing group of hate, dissipated and finally Alex was left alone in the cubicle. The heat in his skin and the prickle of pain in his veins was manageable now.
Why didn’t they see me? They looked straight in at me, but right through me, as if I wasn’t here.
He checked his arm, the faint scar that wrapped its way down to his wrist and the shapes of letters or designs that stretched when he flexed his muscles. The burning wasn’t inside him, it was in the scars.
Was he invisible? Why didn’t they see him? He could see himself, so why couldn’t they?
“Something inside me,” he murmured. It kept me invisible to them.
He clambered down from the toilet, grimacing at the dampness on the seat of his pants. He crossed to the mirror and stared.
There was nothing in the mirror. No gangly young kid with snot and tears marking his face. Nothing.
Slowly he breathed. In. Out. In. Out. And gradually his form returned. Not in a freaky way where his face appeared then an arm, no this was slow and steady and one minute he wasn’t there, the next he was.
Years later, his first lover, Edward, would ascribe a name to this party trick that left Alex exhausted. He called it phasing and said Alex was almost stepping into another time stream for a while, into a different plane.
So that explained that.
What it didn’t clarify was the way Alex could alter physical processes or mess with mechanisms. Neither did it give reasons for how Alex could see inside people, into their heads and their hearts and perceive what was really inside them.
Through touch he was able to feel them.
Which was why, besides Edward, he never really touched anyone unless he could put into place mental barriers strong and steady enough to stop the overwhelming flood of information and emotion.
Because this flood? It terrified him and it hurt.
“She’s beautiful,” Alex said. He looked up at the façade of the British Museum and couldn’t help smiling. Whenever his work took him away from the US to England he was struck by the splendor of the place in front of him and the nature of its design. There was a comfortable familiarity in its white columns whenever he stood there in its shadow.
“She is,” Edward said softly. He moved to stand beside Alex and waited. He was always happy to allow Alex a few minutes with the view in front of them. Alex didn’t need to have empathic senses to see his lover was still firmly focused on the plan for tonight in his head. Edward was the worrier, the one who ensured plans were intricate and timed to perfection. What Edward saw when he looked at the museum differed greatly from his own view. Where Alex noticed beauty and architecture and glimpses of dreams that plagued his sleep, Edward observed opportunity and thievery. Not that Alex didn’t also appreciate how much money could be made from a well-timed lift of an artifact. He was, after all, one part of the two-man team that was responsible for the removal of many a relic from behind glass. Thievery was his livelihood. He wondered if the criminal streak ran in his family, his real family, like it did in Edward’s.
Edward’s own great-great-uncle had been responsible for the removal of artifacts from all over the world to place in the cold halls of the museum, including being part of the team responsible for the Elgin Marbles debacle. It was a point of controversy whether museums should be allowed to possess artifacts taken from other countries, and the British Museum was a notable target for criticism. A point Edward chose not to focus on in his determination to get the job done.
“Are you ready?” Edward asked.
Alex flexed his thoughts and scanned the façade once more, and with a blink he nodded. Yes. He was ready.
Alex knew the exact positions and security measures surrounding the Elgin Marbles, the Benin Bronzes, and the Rosetta Stone, three of the most disputed objects in the museum’s collections. He and Edward would both have liked the high of lifting any of those items but thievery on that scale simply wasn’t practical. Fencing high profile goods such as those would be fraught with the problem of getting caught, something neither Alex nor Edward cared to entertain. He cast a quick look at Edward who was looking directly at him with fondness clear in his expression.
Where Edward was comfortable in his tux Alex was just plain miserable. Damn thing was killing him. Tight and restricting, the jacket felt maybe a little too snug across his broad shoulders, the trousers stiff and unyielding. He wasn’t born to wear these things; he was born to wear jeans and T-shirts in hot Californian sunshine, not penguin suits in the frigid English weather. It wasn’t as if the getup kept him warm either as he stood and stared at Edward.
“Alex. Quit with the staring. Freak,” Edward said. The words were uttered under his breath with little heat, and he grinned that wide grin that Alex was so fond of. He turned almost immediately to mingle with other wealthy patrons who were waiting to move inside, slipping effortlessly into the role society placed on him. Alex smiled at his lover’s words and pulled himself out of his musings. Slipping a socially acceptable expression firmly down over his face, he moved to stand at Edward’s side, the faithful partner, the other half of the successful antiquities company Azure.
He was fiercely proud to accompany Edward, his lover was so handsome, so confident, and so very clever. Tonight Edward’s short hair was spiked and gelled to perfection and his dark brown eyes, framed with sooty lashes, were alive with expectation. They were a team in life and a team at work. Alex always deferred to Edward in matters of social niceties; he was the expert at getting them into places, using his name and his connections. It was once they were inside that Alex took care of the rest.
As the crowd of patrons moved into the museum, Alex followed Edward’s example; he nodded and air-kissed, laughed flirtatiously with society matrons, blushed when people commented on his cute American accent, and all around sold himself as slightly simple and wholly innocent. Every second that he talked though, he catalogued things in his head, things people would never consciously realize, let alone categorize. Details of jewelry and its worth shuffled into discreet sections in his mind even as he skimmed the rooms for cameras and security, already completely aware of escape routes, windows, and obstacles. There was an ability ingrained in him to know at every given instant the way his surroundings were laid out.
Edward had always envied Alex’s skill in that arena, commented on it, and called it Alex’s special ability, with the emphasis on ‘special’, which always earned him a shove when he said it.
Edward’s position in the complicated British aristocracy gave Alex that all-important social ‘in’ that a smart boy from California didn’t automatically have. After all, it wasn’t everyone who had after-hours access to the British Museum, nor, in particular, to the reading room and the new exhibition that was the evening’s centerpiece and target; The First Emperor exhibition. Dedicated to China’s Terracotta Army, it was a special showing, a one-off, for a limited time. The object he and Edward had been tasked to obtain was only in the building for two occasions; yesterday’s royal visit, and the evening champagne reception for those who could afford it, in other words, for people who knew people.
“Edward, my dear boy, how the devil are you?”
Alex stiffened at the words from behind him and sighed inwardly. A florid, portly man who always looked down at Alex like the young American was a bad smell under his nose, Lord Arriseth was something akin to Alex’s nemesis. The old aristo certainly disapproved of his godson Edward’s relationship with this ‘foreign man’, as he described Alex, and never failed to remind Alex of the fact. What concerned Alex was that even with the distinct superiority complex Arriseth held like a blanket around him, he still spent an inordinately long time staring at both Alex and Edward. Alex couldn’t get a true or clear sense of why the man did. Alex had long ago consigned it to the fact that the older lord was well and truly in the closet and lived vicariously through his godson and the hick lover from California. Alex tensed, but then caught Edward’s pleading gaze for peace just before the older man determinedly placed himself between Edward and Alex, effectively cutting Alex off.
Alex really didn’t know why Edward worried that he would rise to Arriseth’s goading, he would never actually say his piece to the blustery old fool. Especially considering that Edward was Arriseth’s godson. Added to which Arriseth was actually the one who had supplied the couple with the rare-as-gold tickets for the evening’s event. What made Alex smirk was the fact that Arriseth’s family had risen fewer than three generations ago from its roots in Greece and Spain, which made him one of the foreigners he so detested. Thoughts like those kept Alex amused during boring receptions and stuffy teas. Those, and the tingle of excitement at what he was going to achieve when the time was right, while the stodgy and unknowing milled and preened. He could feel the energy sparking inside him, the focus he needed to accomplish tonight’s lift coiling tightly along his spine.
Alex tuned back in to what Arriseth was saying. “So I said no, because, really it simply isn’t done, you know. Oh, and some chap with some Scottish surname is here tonight, some kind of expert on ancient languages. Bennington says he’s here to do some translations on the location manuscripts sent over from the Chinese embassy.”
Half listening to Arriseth and his name-dropping, Alex scanned the crowd on the steps around the exhibits, finding the usual people: a few celebrities, London’s elite, and him. The absurdity of the situation made him laugh; if they only knew the real Alex they would throw him out, way out, of this rarefied air. Curious about what others might be discussing he moved toward a group standing in a side aisle, a shadowed alcove filled with statuary and artifacts. He had an hour to kill, may as well find out what was happening around him, see what information he could pick up, drink his glass of champagne, and flirt a bit with society matrons.
He’d taken only three steps when something struck him as not quite right. A sensation started as a prickle at the back of his neck, a singular pressing awareness that someone was watching him. Alex settled his breathing and placed the champagne flute on the nearest table. Using the action as a cover he looked carefully around him. Alex had grown accustomed to being watched, since he didn’t tend to blend into crowds.
Somehow though, this felt distinctly different; this was that kind of speculative observation that made Alex’s awareness rise as soon as he sensed he was the center of someone’s attention. He caught Edward’s gaze; Edward who was staring at Alex with concern, a nervous-looking Edward who frowned at the faint uneasiness that Alex was sure showed on his face. Alex shrugged and smiled; don’t worry, both his expression and his body language relaying reassurance to his partner, and continued his inspection of the room.
His gaze finally focused on the shadows flanking, and partially obscuring, the last exhibit in the tour. A tall figure leaned against the column two to the left of the exhibit case. The same prickle of expectation slid across his shoulders even as Alex made his way toward the person observing him, picking up two champagne flutes from a passing waiter and sliding into the shadows easily. He nodded in recognition of the other’s stare and offered his counterpart the second flute of champagne. Without a word the man nodded, placed the empty glass he had been holding on the rear corner of the display table, and accepted Alex’s offering. Not a word passed between them as they each sipped a measure of the Brut, appraising each other as they did so.
“Good turnout,” Alex offered neutrally, endeavoring to get some sense of the man who stood there, attempting to decipher what caused the tingle of awareness inside him. He was tall, maybe only a few inches shorter than Alex’s six-two, and broad-shouldered. He had loosened his tie and there was a disheveled look about him. Alex sensed some discomfort in the man, but other than that there was nothing. It was confusing. He couldn’t get a proper sense of the man in front of him, couldn’t see more than vague shadows of the person he was. There was no chance of getting any more specifics without touching him. Because he was intensely primed to finish the evening’s task swiftly and successfully, he knew it wouldn’t be a good thing to distract himself by attempting to get a clearer reading. Instead he focused on the physical and on the man’s expression. With deep brown eyes, smoky eyelashes, and skin kissed by the sun, the man was stunning to look at. He had nicked himself shaving and the small mark marred his otherwise flawless skin. His nose held a small indentation where Alex assumed glasses usually sat, and he was staring right back at Alex throughout the entire appraisal.
“Very good turnout,” brown-eyes returned, just as carefully, sipping at the champagne and leaning back against the column again, his face in the shadows. The voice was as American as apple pie and had the lazy tone of a southern boy. Interesting.
“Alex Sheridan.” Alex took the initiative, holding out his hand in greeting, automatically raising and strengthening his barriers to the potential overload to his senses a casual handshake was likely to cause. The man didn’t hesitate; his gaze focused on the proffered hand, moving slightly out of the shadows to take it firmly.
“Luke MacKinnon,” he introduced himself, grasping Alex’s hand. He paused in the handshake then twisted Alex’s wrist to examine the beginnings of the markings peeking out from under the white shirt cuff.
“Interesting tattoo, Mr. Sheridan,” he commented, releasing Alex’s hand.
Alex shrugged, allowing his shirtsleeve to fall over the worst of the black lines. He wasn’t ashamed of the tattoos climbing and twisting across his skin. Far from it, they were stunning in design and a part of him. However, Luke’s soft American voice had sounded far too interested, indeed, almost possessive. Now was not the time for Alex to be making a show or to draw attention to himself. That single touch during the handshake was enough for Alex to feel a small amount of something about this Luke.
A hesitant mix of suspicion and questions hovered inside the brown-eyed man. Then when he’d twisted Alex’s hand and had examined the very end of the tattoo as it rested on his wrist bones, it was a sensory shock. Alex could almost taste the suspicion rise in the man. It was unnerving, and Alex went for the same answer he gave anyone who commented on his tattoos.
“College pledges,” Alex said, tapping his little finger against the crystal flute. Not that he had actually ever attended college for any more than a year. “Misspent youth,” he added as the other man leaned back against the pillar, retreating once again into the shadows. Luke MacKinnon’s gaze had moved from interested and alert to closed.
“You should come see me before I leave London,” Luke said. He inclined his head, indicating thought. “I can suggest many more tattoos in the same ancient Greek vein. If you want to relive your misspent youth, that is?” His voice was colder than the cautious civility he had displayed before, his eyes still in shadows, and his mouth set in a straight line.
Alex felt a shiver run down his spine; this guy had seen what—three inches of the tattoo that wound around his entire torso, and with only those to go on he had pinned the language as Greek, and added to that, actually identified it as ancient Greek?
Not only that, but as a touch empath, Alex had felt the change in MacKinnon’s demeanor like a cold thud against his chest. What had caused MacKinnon’s posture to stiffen and his beautiful deep brown eyes to narrow? It wasn’t a reaction Alex had seen before in others he had touched, no one usually flinched when he came in contact with them.
“If you will excuse me, I need to find my partner,” Alex offered.
Luke nodded. Evidently he wasn’t saying anything else.
After placing his still-full flute on the display table alongside MacKinnon’s empty glass, Alex pulled himself to his full height, murmured a polite, socially neutral good evening, and left without a backward glance. He could sense Luke’s gaze following him and he frowned slightly. He needed a clear head and within ten seconds Alex refocused on the task at hand. He had a job to do.
Looking down at his watch, the tail of his arm and wrist tattoo touching the platinum band, he snapped his concentration back into the room and away from the very perceptive man in the shadowed corner. He had fifteen minutes to achieve what had taken days to plan; the item he intended to ‘acquire’ was particularly well protected with security measures that could prove difficult. The inevitable ‘crowd mingle’ at events such as the current one provided an excellent opportunity to slip away unnoticed. He rejoined Edward, made his excuses to search for the men’s room and, seeing the spark of amusement and excitement in his lover’s eyes, hesitated for a heartbeat.
A successful ‘relocation’, as Alex termed it, was guaranteed to result in a night of heavy lovemaking. The passion for the edge, both of excitement and of fear that Alex possessed, translated well into lust. Edward knew his part, did his bit, leaning in to bite a kiss into Alex’s lips, and as Alex pulled back he saw excitement mirrored in Edward’s eyes. With a soft smile that promised much, Alex patted Edward firmly on the chest and left the main hall. For a moment he rested against a wall, clearing the last of the crowd’s noise from his perceptions and trained his attention ahead.
He successfully navigated the labyrinth of corridors linking the main hall to both the restrooms and the quiet, distant room that held the items he had really come to see: the manuscripts found in the tomb of the emperor. In particular Alex was interested in the scroll detailing the building of the tomb. It lay hidden away in a safe in side room 104A, awaiting translation. Alex came to a halt outside of the restrooms, both looking and listening for the sound of anyone approaching. Then he focused his internal energy on the camera that was scanning the hallway in sweeping, regular movements. Tracing back he could envision the wires inside that connected it to the wall. He nudged gently with his mind and watched as the camera turned away from him on a slow arc. Cautiously, he eased down the corridor and around the corner to the end door, marked Authorized Personnel Only, with its palm print-activated entry keypad.
Carefully, Alex placed the flat of his hand against the keypad, feeling the tension of awareness in the small of his back and the pit of his stomach as energy surged from him and into the mechanics of the door, overriding alarms with binary assurances his handprint resided in the appropriate database. The snick as the door opened sounded loud in the empty corridor. Alex froze, listening again in case someone had heard and was rushing to arrest him. Since he heard and sensed nothing he slid inside and pulled the door shut behind him.
Locating the safe took exactly forty-three seconds, then several more to disengage the security, maybe ten seconds to view and withdraw the item. The precious jeweled carvings and other items inside were ignored. As he left the room he half folded then slid the flat papers in their protective covers into his inside jacket pocket, hiding them in a fake lining that meant no one could see them at a casual glance. In exactly five minutes and seven seconds, if anyone had been counting, Alex Sheridan returned to his place at Edward’s side, insinuating himself into small talk and smiling and nodding in all the right places. Only the quick squeeze of Edward’s fingers around his betrayed his lover’s emotions.
Within half an hour the couple had made their excuses and had embarked on the trip home. Alex smiled as Edward let out a ‘yes’ of complete excitement as Alex floored their small convertible and sped away from the museum. Alex felt little guilt at what he and Edward did; ninety-five percent of their business was legitimate, inside the law. As for the final five percent: the ‘relocations’, the acquisitions, the items not for public display, to be spirited away to private collections, well, if he used his strange powers to make money, sue him. Alex had everything he wanted, money, a fantastic home, and the love Edward gave him.
One day Alex might be able to lower his barriers and love Edward as deeply and completely as Edward loved him. He wished he thought of Edward as more than just a friend he loved.
Listening to his lover talk at him over the noise of the engine was calming and wrapped him in security, and he felt the lust build inside him as the high of adrenaline started to flood his body. He took a hand from the wheel, grabbing for Edward’s hand and returning his smile. Life was good, damn good.
“Do you know how much I want you right now?” Edward said with a low growl, moving a hand to rest on Alex’s thigh, his fingers close enough to put pressure on Alex’s already hard sex.
“Jeez.” Alex squirmed as Edward played with the zipper of his dress pants, slipping those damn clever fingers under the black material, smiling as he found Alex commando.
“Tonight, I am gonna make you scream, Mr Sheridan.”
Luke McKinnon, driven by his innate curiosity, watched the small sports car leave the museum’s parking area, his attention drawn to the dark-haired American, the one with the tattoos on his wrists.
He had only ever seen symbols like the man had on his skin once in his life. They’d been lines and circles on ancient parchment in a translation for the Acropolis Museum after finds were unearthed at a dig at the Acropolis. Early words belonging to a time long since passed. Luke really doubted it was some kind of college pledge that resulted in that kind of pattern inked into a man’s skin.
Luke had never seen someone like Alex before, physically intimidating, broad in the shoulder and chest, wearing a suit that must have cost quite a bit more than Luke’s off-the-rack effort curving to every inch of his muscled body. Despite his high cheekbones, his blue eyes, and the sheer perfection of his features, he was exactly the kind of man Luke usually avoided; men with polished arrogance about them that only wealth could buy, aloof in their own worlds.
The scholar in him had been itching to pull up Alex’s sleeve, to see how far the marks went. The man in him was wondering at the rest of his body.
But this Alex’s reaction had been a voice dripping with ice. The tone was firm, surprisingly soft but inflexible and refusal had radiated from every line of his body. Luke was left feeling cold and shaky, like he had been physically shut away by a slamming door. That was the really interesting bit. More correctly, Alex Sheridan was interesting and, before returning to the soiree and the schmoozing he hated to his core, Luke resolved to find out more about him and about his tattoos.
He rejoined the gathering, glancing around to see who was where. Lord Arriseth was on his cell phone, and his entourage was hovering, waiting for him to return, seemingly unable to carry out simple conversations without the aristo. Luke deliberately crossed to the other side of the room and was immediately drawn into several long-winded conversations about the artifacts he was here to examine, all the time his thoughts returning to the intriguing tattooed man who had left.
Unintentionally, and despite his best intentions, he found himself close to the one person he had been trying to avoid all night, Lord Arriseth himself. The older Greek was not on Luke’s list of favorite people. He might fund quite a few of the digs Luke was involved with, he might even be the one financing tonight’s little get-together, but it was always done with that superiority only titled aristocracy seemed to possess.
“This is Professor MacKinnon, my expert.” Lord Entitled pulled him into the inner circle of his close friends, comprising a collection of other titles and a few tabloid personalities. Luke nodded in response to the greetings, trying not to bristle at the term ‘my expert’, and listened as Arriseth expounded on Luke’s skills with translations and solving puzzles. The conversation turned to the scrolls from the Emperor’s collection, which meant Luke at least could contribute to the conversation, holding everyone’s attention for a good twenty seconds. To be fair, they were here for the kudos of attending, not for breaking codes on a sealed scroll, but it still grated that they were stopping him from just getting on with his translating.
The very minute the discussion changed to the subject of yachts and Monaco, Luke made his excuses. He couldn’t even afford to look at yachts let alone own one, and he tried to avoid Arriseth for the remainder of the evening, hiding back in his alcove for a while and observing. It was what he did best.
He slid his cell phone from his pocket when he was bored and walked the perimeter watching for signal. As soon as he had enough, he Googled Alex’s name. A couple hundred hits returned, mostly society papers or magazines that specialized in tracking the rich and famous. Alex wasn’t the famous one. Apparently that would be his business partner in an antiques company, Viscount Edward DeChauncey, third cousin to the Queen twice removed or some such link.
They looked happy and successful and in one article it was implied they were more than business partners. Luke thanked the heavens that his gaydar was still apparently working after years of non-usage. Checking the kind of antiques they specialized in was interesting. In his experience, companies such as theirs had a niche market that they focused on: art, precious gems, furniture, or a particular time period. However, Azure Antiquities, with one address in Los Angeles and another in London, seemed to have an eclectic mix of everything and anything. They appeared to specialize in locating one-off items on request. Interesting. Luke wondered if they actually made any money out of that. Nothing of what he read on any of the hits explained the lettering on Alex’s arm, though. Maybe back at the university, if he used their systems, he could find out more.
Luke startled and looked up. Someone had found him lurking in the Egyptian exhibit. He started to defend himself then realized it was only William Walton. William was his connection at this museum and the person who had contracted him to begin to decipher the scroll markings.
“Hi, William,” he said. He didn’t bother to hide the relief in his voice.
“Can I hide with you?” William asked with a smile. He held out a wine glass full of deep ruby red liquid and smiled. “I brought a bribe.”
Luke took the glass gratefully, although he knew to limit himself to no more than a few sips. Red wine played havoc with his mental processes. He tasted the thick raspberry-scented fluid as it coated his tongue and slid down his throat. He couldn’t stop the groan of satisfaction that left him. Finally he was able to talk and William was standing, ever so politely, waiting for him to finish his orgasmic connection to the grapes.
“Why do you need to hide?” Luke asked politely.
“Too much money out there”—William gestured back the way he had come—”and not enough sense.” William grumbled the words with a grimace. Aristos and others with disposable income were what kept museums in general flush with enough money to attract exhibits. The British Museum may well be an old, established, and well-respected place, but even it had to bend with the times.
Luke knew exactly where William was coming from. Too often people at gatherings like this were collectors. The people were the bane of Luke’s life, buying up items like they had the right to hide away history that belonged to all.
“I’m not really a people person and I’m just itching to get to the scroll,” Luke admitted.
William’s eyes lit up. “Would you like to see it now? No sense in wasting your time hiding behind this sarcophagus and slowly getting drunk.”
Luke pushed back the instant surge of excitement. He had been told he would need to wait until tomorrow. “Would that be okay?”
“I have the code. She’s my baby.” Determined, William took Luke’s wine and placed it on a small table. “Let’s go.”
Ten minutes later, staring into the safe where the papers had been, William looked confused.
“Has someone removed them for analysis?” Luke tried for helpful and instead came off as the guy who stated the obvious.
“You don’t understand. I’m the only one with the access code.”
They stood silently while William rested a hand on the safe door and forlornly stared into the space where Luke assumed the scroll had been.
Finally William shook his head. “I think we’ve been robbed.”
Luke was sure there was another explanation but didn’t say anything. Why would anyone take a scroll yet leave the other, probably far more precious items, in the safe?
That didn’t make any sense. No sense at all.