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Running scared, p.1
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       Running Scared, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
 
Running Scared


  TO DR. C. M. JOHNS

  Curator, Roman Britain,

  Department of Prehistory and Early Europe

  The British Museum

  Thank you, Catherine!

  The facts are yours.

  The fancies are mine.

  The friendship is ours.

  CONTENTS

  PerfectBound e-book extra:

  Popular Fiction: Why We Read It, Why We Write It

  Prologue

  The silvery disc of a nearly full moon kept Virgil O'Conner awake. He liked it that way.

  Chapter

  1 Even though Risa Sheridan was only an occasional consultant to the international firm of Rarities Unlimited. . .

  2 "Did the client agree to having these objects manually inspected?" Risa asked, frowning.

  3 The book in Virgil’s lap was heavy, scholarly, and filled with beautiful drawings and color photos of Celtic art.

  4 The telephone’s relentless ringing finally dragged Cherelle Faulkner from a drugged sleep.

  5 The lobby of the Wildest Dream hotel/shopping/theater/gambling complex was decked out like a Halloween tart. . .

  6 When Gail Silverado opened the door of her private office, she was reminded that Las Vegas and Hollywood. . .

  7 Headlights jerked and bobbed. The ten-year-old Ford Bronco was making heavy work of the unpaved road.

  8 Grateful for the bright moon, Cherelle followed the old man’s footsteps. Her white clothes shimmered in the moonlight.

  9 Cherelle was still screaming when Tim backhanded her hard enough to send her staggering out of the shadow. . .

  10 With well-concealed impatience—her feet were screaming—Gail Silverado said her good-byes to Mickey Pinsky. . .

  11 Most of the big hotel/casinos had a focus in their lobby to lure and entertain walk-ins.

  12 Gold lay in gleaming array across the frayed chenille bedspread that Cherelle had jerked over the rumpled sheets.

  13 The white-walled, Persian-carpeted room was quiet except for the occasional sound of paper when Shane turned a page . . .

  14 "You said you'd wait for Cherelle to—” Socks didn't let Tim finish the sentence.

  15 For long minutes Cherelle stared at the Golden Fleece’s namesake suspended in a tank full of water.

  16 Miranda Seton’s blue eyes were as faded as her dreams. Other than alcohol, there was only one source of pleasure in her life. . .

  17 Risa hung up the house phone, cursed under her breath, and headed for Gabriel’s Horn before another person. . .

  18 Shane’s fingers sped over the keyboard of his specially modified computer.

  19 Socks left his neon purple baby in a parking space at a burger joint two blocks away from Joey Cline’s pawnshop.

  20 Cherelle licked up the last bit of shrimp cocktail off her fork, mopped steak juices from her plate. . .

  21 The phone rang on Shane’s desk. He ignored it and kept on frowning at the computer screen.

  22 As far as Socks was concerned, Miranda Seton’s house smelled like a bakery and sounded like a catfight.

  23 In the midst of the cheerless cries and smoky desperation of one of Las Vegas’s old-style, downscale grind joints. . .

  24 Shane’s computer screen was displaying the information on the hold for baccarat last week and every week before that.

  25 Shane sat in Risa’s office, going through museum catalogs and art books that featured Celtic gold artifacts.

  26 Uneasily Tim glanced around the public part of Joey Cline’s pawnshop.

  27 Smith-White didn't look like his name. Instead of being tall, thin, and distinguished, he was short, bald, and round. . .

  28 The silence in Miranda Seton’s house was thick enough to walk on.

  29 The sound of groaning woke Tim up. Vaguely he realized that he was the one making the low, ragged sounds.

  30 Almost reluctantly Risa watched her office door close behind the smiling Smith-White.

  31 Cherelle smiled at the earnest young man behind the guest-services section of the front desk.

  32 All the way down the hall to her apartment, Risa told herself she was dragging her feet because she was tired. . .

  33 Risa leaned against the wall next to the employee elevator and tried to get enough oxygen into her lungs.

  34 John Firenze stared at his nephew and wished his sister had exercised better taste in men.

  35 Shane closed his office door behind the LVPD detective who had asked more questions than Risa could answer.

  36 S. K. Niall sat in his Rarities office and gave the view screens on the far wall a quick, comprehensive glance.

  37 Rich Morrison’s office took up half the top floor of the Shamrock’s tall needle of a building.

  38 Shane stood in Risa’s office, growing more frustrated by the moment.

  39 The nurse poked his head around one of the wide hospital-style doors that were about the only sign that Timothy Seton. . .

  40 Ian pulled his car up near Shane in the cracked parking lot of the Jackpot Motel.

  41 John Firenze grabbed his private phone like it was a winning lottery ticket. "Yeah?"

  42 William Covington’s business establishment looked like what it was, an upscale antique-consignment store. . .

  43 Ian had seen enough dried blood to know what it looked like. Not that you had to be some kind of. . .

  44 Risa and Shane drove by Shapiro’s business, which was located close to the failing downtown and its downscale casinos.

  45 Shane’s office was cool, well furnished, and smelled like glory after hours spent on the dusty streets. . .

  46 From the air, Sedona looked like a jeweled spiderweb flung across the black velvet land.

  47 Cherelle pumped another quarter into the slot machine and hit the button. Reels spun. . .

  48 Dry-eyed, Miranda watched while the nurse wheeled the crash cart out of Tim’s room. The cart hadn't helped. Nothing had.

  49 Shane missed the rural mailbox the first time. It was easy to miss, because the "road" that led off toward the hills and cliffs. . .

  50 John Firenze sat in his gleaming private office and wanted to kill something. Not just anything.

  51 Risa knocked on Virgil O'Conner’s door again, waited again, knocked again. No light came on inside or out.

  52 Shane waited for Risa to say something more. He couldn't see her face, but the tension in her body told him. . .

  53 Rich Morrison and Gail Silverado looked at the six gold artifacts from every angle. Both of them wore exam gloves.

  54 Slowly Risa awoke from a dream of lying naked on her stomach at a tropical beach with the taste of the sea on her tongue. . .

  55 Shane drove to the Water Stop with one eye on the traffic, one eye on the mirrors, and the memory of Risa’s anger. . .

  56 Gnawing on the inside of her mouth, Cherelle sat in the middle of the unmade bed and stared at the television.

  57 Hands empty, Shane leaned against his car. As soon as he'd seen that the woman wasn't Cherelle. . .

  58 Cherelle had gnawed at her mouth until beer stung like iodine whenever she took a drink.

  59 Rich Morrison opened the office door himself and gave Gail a kiss on her softly powdered cheek.

  60 Down the center of the table, resting on what looked like unused Halloween napkins, six gold artifacts lay, gleaming. . .

  61 "You're sure you didn't see any of the gold at all?" Dana Gaynor demanded, glaring from Risa to Niall. "Not even a glimpse?"

  62 Risa took a few steps toward Shane, then stopped. From his expression, she could have been a stranger.

  63 April Joy watched Shane massage his computer. Seven separate screens displayed different parts of the comparisons

  64 Gail Silverado, Rich Morrison, and Carl Fi
renze no longer sat around the table that had been rolled into Gail’s office. . .

  65 Nobody looked at the telephone.

  Everybody waited for it to ring.

  66 Socks flipped through the motel’s piped-in channels twice before he switched back over to the commercial offerings.

  67 As Shane drove swiftly down the Strip, rivers of colored lights flowed in silent glory over the windshield.

  68 "Right at the intersection after the next light," Dana said. Risa glanced in various mirrors as she braked for the yellow light.

  69 Shane didn't bother to ask how it was going. The steady, whispering stream of curses told him that Niall. . .

  70 Cherelle jumped every time lights flashed in the parking lot. Since the motel apparently was letting out rooms. . .

  71 Shane was out in the parking lot before the intruder’s semiautomatic spit out the second and third shots.

  72 April Joy walked in and looked at the five people who sat around Shane’s office in varying states of exhaustion.

  73 The golden dagger’s blade was as long as Shane’s hand. Ancient symbols that began with the wheel of the sun and ended. . .

  About the Author

  Also by Elizabeth Lowell

  Credits

  About the Publisher

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Sedona

  Thursday, October 30

  The silvery disc of a nearly full moon kept Virgil O’Conner awake. He liked it that way. At eighty-one, he had long since decided that watching shades of darkness twist across the Arizona night was better than being in their grip and screaming himself awake.

  “I’m sorry I took it,” he whispered to the night. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry . . .”

  The darkness didn’t answer. It never had.

  His heart faltered, skipped, and settled down. He let out a long breath that wasn’t quite relief. He wanted to die, but not yet. Not until the dead forgave him for touching their sacred gold.

  Neckrings of braided gold chains, as smooth and heavy and supple as he once had been.

  Armbands as wide as his spread fingers, heavy gold covered with symbols so eerie and beautiful they raised the hair on his scalp.

  Cloak pins as big as his hand, pins carrying the likeness of an animal, yet frighteningly human.

  A mask that was more than human.

  Shapes of gods or demons or dreams long dead.

  Twenty-seven pieces of gold. Beautiful gold.

  Deadly gold.

  A chill condensed on his skin. Automatically he reached for the lap robe, but its soft warmth couldn’t heat the freezing in the marrow of his bones.

  He was a dead man screaming.

  “No,” he said hoarsely. “I didn’t mean it! I never sold any of it, even when I needed money. I worked two jobs. Worked hard. I could have melted it all down or . . . or . . .”

  His voice died into a whispery rasp. He knew the spirits that hounded him couldn’t hear his words. He wasn’t a channel. He couldn’t reach his tormentors to explain his innocence.

  Unless, just maybe, he held some of their gold in both hands. No gloves this time. Nothing to protect his flesh. Just his skin and potent gold.

  The thought made him shudder. He had touched the gold once, long ago, with his naked fingers. He had never touched it that way again. He didn’t even want to think about touching it. But he kept thinking about it just the same, reliving every black instant of the night so long ago when he had followed his dead great-uncle’s instructions, borrowed a metal detector from military stores, and gone digging in Britain while the death throes of World War II echoed around.

  The sacred oaks where neither Romans nor Angles dared to go. Nine hills. Six groves. Three man-rocks facing in. One spring. Three times three times three of gold.

  He jerked his head sharply. He didn’t want to remember. It made his heart twist as it had that night, pain lancing through every cell in his body, in his soul.

  “Hold tight,” he whispered to himself. “Just till tomorrow. Midnight. That’s when they’ll finally understand why I did it.”

  Or he would die.

  He wasn’t sure if he really cared which happened, life or death. He only cared that the gold stop killing him by inches.

  “Hold tight. Tomorrow. Midnight.”

  Chapter 1

  Los Angeles

  Friday, October 31

  Morning

  Even though Risa Sheridan was only an occasional consultant to the international firm of Rarities Unlimited, she didn’t resent flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for a few hours of work. She never knew what treasures a client might have brought to the company’s headquarters so that Rarities could “Buy, Sell, Appraise, Protect.” All she could be certain of was that whatever she would be inspecting was at least four hundred years old—and usually much older—because ancient jewelry was her specialty.

  Risa’s feeling of anticipation flattened when she looked through the double glass doors that led to Rarities’ offices; Shane Tannahill was already on the other side of the bulletproof glass. Despite the fact that she had left Las Vegas before he did, her boss had beaten her to Los Angeles.

  Shane had one of his hands tucked into a pocket of his black slacks. The other hand anchored the soft leather jacket he had slung over one shoulder. A visitor’s badge hung on a chain around his neck. Angular face impassive, jade green eyes narrowed, dark hair neatly trimmed, he lounged against the guard desk. Waiting for her.

  He wasn’t a patient man.

  Bloody L.A. traffic, she said silently.

  It wasn’t her fault that her plane had been held on the ground in Vegas for a security check. Then in L.A. a semi truck hauling gasoline had turned over on Sepulveda, blocking the easiest exit from the airport and thoroughly screwing up the city’s already overburdened surface streets.

  And making her late.

  Risa’s pulse might have kicked with more than irritation when she spotted Shane, but her steps didn’t hesitate or quicken. Nor did she check that her short black hair was smoothly in place and her unstructured blue jacket was hanging straight. Other women might have licked their lips for that extra shine or sucked in their belly or stuck out their chest to look their best for Shane Tannahill.

  Not Risa.

  She had fought to get where she was. She loved her job as curator of gold objects for the Golden Fleece, Shane’s Las Vegas entertainment complex. She wasn’t going to lose everything she had worked for simply because of his handsome face and killer grin. Better that she rub her boss the wrong way than the right.

  Shane’s work ethic was simple and inflexible: no lying, no cheating, no stealing, and no sex. He didn’t touch the female employees. End of subject. But if a woman didn’t want to accept that, and he was interested in an affair, he would find her another job. Only then would a good time be had by all.

  No matter how intelligent, appealing, rich, and maddening Shane might be, Risa wanted her job more than she wanted to do laps around the sex track with any man. Even one of the few who had ever really interested her.

  It’s the forbidden fruit thing, Risa told herself briskly. No man is that sexy after you wake up with him. Or without him, more likely.

  The guard released the automatic locks for Risa. The door swung open.

  She gave the uniformed man a bright smile. “Good morning, Jersey. How’s the thumb?”

  Jersey, who was about seven feet of muscle and bone, blushed. “Who told you?”

  “Mmmm” was all she said. She didn’t want Shane to know how often she and S. K. Niall chatted. Shane was friendly with the two heads of Rarities, but that friendship didn’t slop over into business. Shane wouldn’t be pleased knowing that his curator talked several times a week with Niall—Rhymes with kneel, boyo. I’m not a bloody river. At the moment the Golden Fleece didn’t have enough business with Rarities to justify such frequent communications. But Risa was lonely, and Niall was safely involved with Dana Gaynor, the other he
ad of Rarities.

 
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