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       Jade Island, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
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Jade Island


  ELIZABETH LOWELL

  Jade Island

  For

  Nancy and Roger Kisner.

  Wonderful neighbors, wonderful friends,

  wonderful people.

  Contents

  Prologue

  The man was frightened.

  Chapter 1

  The pounding on Lianne Blakely’s door made her sit straight…

  Chapter 2

  Lianne sat in her mother’s elegant Kirkland condominium and watched…

  Chapter 3

  Though Lianne pretended to be absorbed by the exquisite jades…

  Chapter 4

  The Sung dynasty jade bowl collected admirers like a magnet…

  Chapter 5

  Lianne thought about denying that she was being followed. Then…

  Chapter 6

  During the pause between the second and third sessions of…

  Chapter 7

  Driving skillfully, Kyle shifted his glance between the car’s various…

  Chapter 8

  Lianne didn’t look away from the art when Kyle walked…

  Chapter 9

  Kyle didn’t understand the words father and daughter were speaking,…

  Chapter 10

  Archer walked into Kyle’s suite without knocking, shook him awake,…

  Chapter 11

  Lianne slowed at the U.S.-Canada border, pulled into the Pace…

  Chapter 12

  Kyle paced around the small waiting area of Jade Statements,…

  Chapter 13

  Kyle was still thinking about Archer’s words the next day…

  Chapter 14

  The guard at the Institute of Asian Communications dock was…

  Chapter 15

  “Is he really sucking on her foot?” Kyle asked. Lianne…

  Chapter 16

  Beneath leaden skies and a fitful wind, the Pace Lane…

  Chapter 17

  Lianne looked pale and much too tightly strung as Kyle…

  Chapter 18

  The heel of Kyle’s foot crashed into the door before…

  Chapter 19

  When Dick Farmer was working instead of impressing CEOs and…

  Chapter 20

  Kyle sat down next to Lianne in the breakfast nook,…

  Chapter 21

  Displayed by a television screen that was no thicker than…

  Chapter 22

  So someone has been taking jade out of the Tang…

  Chapter 23

  Lianne stared at the concrete-and-steel building. It wasn’t one of…

  Chapter 24

  Two hours after the meeting with April, Lianne felt like…

  Chapter 25

  The wind blew hard all morning, churning the water, bringing…

  Chapter 26

  From overhead came the grinding drone of a propeller plane…

  Chapter 27

  “I’d just as soon not see this island ever again,”…

  About the Author

  Praise

  Other Books by Elizabeth Lowell

  Cover

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  The man was frightened.

  His hands shook as he picked up pieces of jade and packed them into boxes. Precious jade, ancient jade, the Stone of Heaven…the dreams of man carved in rock with inhuman patience, inhuman skill.

  Dreams that roused envy, greed, avarice.

  Dreams that led to theft, betrayal, death.

  His hands were colder than the jade he stole piece by piece, dream by dream, the soul of an entire culture passing through his clammy fingers. Here a dragon coiled in elegant designs that were three thousand years old. There a scholar stood wrapped in cloud-soft curves of creamy stone. In the corner a mountain loomed, the lives of the sages carved into its moss-green face, lives sculpted by artisans whose own lifetimes came and went before the creation was complete.

  Dreams of beauty condensed into a thousand shades of jade, white sliding to ebony, green shimmering to blue, red burning to yellow; and all colors transformed harsh light into an ethereal glow, a soul lit from within.

  Unique.

  Priceless.

  Irreplaceable.

  Seven thousand years of culture stacked in gleaming array. Ancient bi, disks that represented heaven; equally ancient cong, hollow cylinders that represented earth. Ceremonial blades and armbands exquisitely carved with symbols whose real meanings were older than man’s memory. Rings, bracelets, earrings, pendants, buckles, seals, bowls, cups, plaques, clouds, mountains, knives, axes, men, women, dragons, horses, fish, pigs, birds, the immortal lotus; everything a culture ever dreamed had been patiently, patiently, carved from the only gemstone that spoke to this culture’s soul.

  Jade.

  “Hurry up, you fool.”

  The man gasped and would have dropped a fragile, ageless bowl if another hand hadn’t shot from the gloom and grabbed the cool, hollowed-out hemisphere.

  “Wh-what are you doing here?” the first man asked, his heart slamming frantically.

  “Making certain you do it right.”

  “What?”

  “Pillage the Jade Emperor’s Tomb, what else?” replied the second man sardonically.

  “I—not all—I—no! It will be discovered!”

  “Not if you do what I say.”

  “But—”

  “Listen to me.”

  Shaking, the first man listened. Hope and fear grew in him equally. He didn’t know which was worse. He only knew that he had dug this grave with his own hand.

  And he would do anything not to be buried in it.

  As he listened, he didn’t know whether to laugh or weep or hide from the devil who whispered coolly, gently, of absolute betrayal. It was so simple after all. It wasn’t necessary for him to grasp the nettle of guilt firmly. The devil had found someone else to grasp it for him.

  Understanding that, the thief laughed.

  When he went back to packing the priceless jade, his hands were warm.

  Chapter 1

  The pounding on Lianne Blakely’s door made her sit straight up in bed, her heart beating rapidly. For an instant she wondered if she was dreaming all the noise. She certainly was tired enough to be dreaming. She had worked late last night, arranging and rearranging the beautiful jade pieces in her apartment until she was certain she had the right design for the Jade Trader display at tonight’s charity auction.

  The pounding increased in volume.

  Lianne shook her head, pushed heavy waves of black hair out of her face, and stared at the bedside clock. Barely 6 A.M. She looked out the small window. Dawn had arrived in most of Seattle, but not in her old, west-facing apartment above Pioneer Square. Even if the morning had been clear—it wasn’t—no sunlight would reach her windows until late morning.

  “Lianne, wake up! It’s Johnny Tang. Open the door!”

  Now she really wondered if she was dreaming. Johnny had never been to her apartment, or to her business office, which was just down the hall. In fact, she rarely saw him at all unless she was visiting her mother in Kirkland.

  “Lianne!”

  “Just a minute—I’m coming!” she called.

  Grateful that there were no neighbors to complain about all the yelling on a Saturday morning, Lianne kicked off the duvet, grabbed the red silk robe her mother had given her last Christmas, and hurried to the door. Two locks and a dead bolt later, she yanked the door open.

  “What’s wrong?” Lianne demanded. “Is it Mother?”

  “Anna is fine. She wants to see you before the auction.”

  Mentally Lianne rearranged her crammed schedule. If she did her own nails, she could manage a visit. Barely. “I’ll swing by after I
set up the Jade Trader exhibit.”

  Johnny nodded, but he didn’t look like a man who had gotten what he came for. He looked restless, irritable, caged. Anger bracketed his full mouth and tightened the skin across his wide cheekbones. Despite that, he was a handsome man. Two inches under six feet, lean, quick of hand and mind, and with a generous smile when he was in the mood to use it.

  “Do you have any coffee?” he asked. “Or are you still stuck on Chinese caffeine?”

  “I have coffee as well as tea.”

  “I’ll take mine black. Coffee, not tea.”

  Lianne stepped away from the door as Johnny walked in. She didn’t know exactly how old her unacknowledged father was—close to sixty, surely—but he looked barely forty. Through all the years of Lianne’s childhood, her mother’s lover had aged hardly at all. Some silver hair was now mixed in with the black, a few laugh and frown lines had appeared, there was a slight blurring in the line of the jaw; small things, really, when Lianne thought of all the changes she had been through from birth to almost thirty years of age.

  And never once in all that time, through all her changes, had Johnny Tang acknowledged that Anna Blakely’s child was also his own.

  Pushing the thought away, Lianne closed the door and shot the dead bolt home. What Johnny did or didn’t admit was no longer the most important thing in the world to her. Jade was. Tang jade. Her father’s father’s collection. Hundreds of pieces, thousands. All of them were precious, some were priceless, and each piece of jade gleamed with time and secrets and the luminous soul of art.

  “Couldn’t resist playing with them, huh?” Johnny asked, gesturing with one hand.

  There were jade sculptures sitting on the small kitchen table, more objects lay on the floor, and some of the smaller pieces perched on the tiny counter.

  “Playing? If that’s what you call it,” Lianne said. “They aren’t exactly dolls.”

  He gave a crack of laughter. “Father would faint if he heard you say dolls and jade in the same breath.”

  “Wen knows I respect jade.”

  “Wen is using your skill and not paying you enough.”

  Lianne gave her father a startled look. “He taught me everything I know.”

  “Wrong,” Johnny said impatiently. “Until seven years ago, he didn’t know you were alive. Then you picked up some jade beads in a garage sale and he decided you had some kind of jade genius.”

  “Those beads were from the Western Zhou dynasty, three thousand years old, and were incised with dragons—a symbol of royalty. They were tied with a faded red silk cord that was older than the U.S. Constitution.”

  “If you had sold them and put the money in the stock market, you wouldn’t be living in this dump. But no, you gave them to my father for his birthday.”

  At first Lianne was too surprised to answer. It wasn’t like Johnny to talk about family. Certainly not with her. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, measuring all the small signs that he was truly upset.

  “I didn’t know you disapproved of what I did,” she said quietly.

  “Would it have mattered?”

  “Of course. I don’t want to anger you or your family.”

  Lianne had never wanted that. She had turned herself inside out, learned Mandarin and Cantonese, worked seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, to prove to the family of Tang that she was worthy of them. She was still working on it, no matter how much she pretended to herself that she was simply trying to keep her own business healthy by staying close to her best clients—the widespread, international family of Tang.

  “You should have done as your mother wanted and become a teacher,” Johnny said.

  “You woke me up at six A.M. to tell me this?” Lianne asked finally.

  “No.”

  When Johnny didn’t say anything more, she turned on the gas under the coffeepot and waited for things to start perking. In Seattle, percolator coffee was practically a sacrilege, but at the moment she didn’t feel up to the intricate demands of the espresso machine she had bought on sale a week ago and still hadn’t fully mastered.

  While coffee perked in the tiny kitchen, Johnny paced several times through Lianne’s small studio apartment. It was obvious she didn’t spend much time there. Other than a framed print of the San Juan Islands and another one of Warring States decorative jades, there was nothing individual in the room. The subtle, unmistakable proof that Lianne was pouring herself into her work instead of her private life didn’t please Johnny.

  “Why are you living in this dump?” he asked.

  “The rent is cheap.”

  “I give—” Johnny stopped abruptly. “Anna has enough money to see that you live in a better place.”

  “What she has is hers.” Given to her by Johnny Tang. But that was something Lianne wouldn’t say aloud. “I’m more than old enough to support myself.” In fact, she would be thirty soon. She would be celebrating that landmark alone; Anna and Johnny were going to Hong Kong or Tahiti or somewhere on the other side of the Pacific to celebrate the thirty-first anniversary of their relationship.

  “Anna says your business is doing well,” Johnny said. “Why don’t you do better for yourself than this?”

  “The building belongs to your family. If you think it’s a dump, complain to your oldest brother, Joe Tang. He’s the landlord of record.”

  For a time there was silence. It wasn’t a comfortable one, but Lianne made no attempt to break it. She didn’t trust herself to. She might say something she shouldn’t, something like Why this concern for me all of a sudden? The question wouldn’t be entirely fair. Johnny had done better by his illegitimate daughter than many men did by their legal offspring. It wasn’t his fault if Lianne hungered for the love of a family that didn’t want her in any way except as a jade expert.

  Old history, Lianne reminded herself. All of it. She couldn’t change the past, but she could work for the future. And she was. Though the Tang family’s patronage for her jade business was important, it wasn’t the only reason she had beaten the odds and established her own business. A lot of the reason for her success was her own expertise and willingness to work ninety-hour weeks.

  “Have you talked to Kyle Donovan yet?” Johnny asked.

  “Is that why you came here for the first time, to find out if I’ve ‘accidentally’ managed to meet Mr. Donovan?”

  “Why else would I come?”

  Because I’m your daughter. Biting her tongue against the bitter words, Lianne reached for two mugs. The coffee wasn’t quite ready, but she was more than ready for an excuse to do something with her hands.

  “Coffee,” Lianne said, handing Johnny a mug.

  He took it and watched her, waiting. “Well?”

  “No,” she said, answering his question about Kyle Donovan.

  “Why not?”

  Lianne poured herself coffee and took a sip of the weak brown stuff.

  “Are you involved with someone else?” Johnny pressed.

  “No. And why would it matter? You asked me to meet Donovan, not to seduce him.”

  “Then meet him!”

  “How?” she demanded. “Stick out my foot and trip him?”

  “Come on,” Johnny said impatiently. “Don’t go all modest and fake Chinese on me. You’re as American as your mother. Just do what the other girls do. Go up and introduce yourself. That’s how I met Anna.”

  And look where it got her. Again Lianne bit back the bitter words. Her mind knew that it took two to make the master-mistress duo; her mother was a very willing participant in her second-class status. Lianne didn’t understand it, but she was beginning to accept it. Finally. The cost of fighting it was just too high.

  “He’ll be at the auction tonight,” Johnny said. “Do it tonight.”

  “But—”

  “Promise me.”

  Lianne saw the emotion in her father’s eyes, anger or impatience or something she couldn’t name. Yet she knew it was real, as real as her fear of acting like
what she had been called all her life—the daughter of a whore.

  “Why?” Lianne asked, something she hadn’t done before.

  “Anna and I are going to Tahiti after the show. If you don’t do it tonight, it will be too late.”

  “Too late for what? Why are you so eager for me to meet Kyle Donovan?”

  “It’s important. Very important.”

  “Why?”

  Johnny hesitated. “Family business. That’s all I can tell you.”

  Family again. Always.

  But not hers.

  “All right,” Lianne said thinly. “I’ll do it tonight.”

  “Let me summarize,” Kyle Donovan said, staring in disbelief at his oldest brother. “You want me to seduce the illegitimate American daughter of a Hong Kong trading family in order to discover whether she’s involved in the sale of cultural treasures stolen from China?”

 
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