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Midnight in ruby bayou, p.38
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       Midnight in Ruby Bayou, p.38

           Elizabeth Lowell

  April Joy came out of cover and walked onto the dock, where she could hear what was being said. The lethal-looking pistol in her hand was a gleaming piece of night. “Where’s Ivanovitch?”

  “He got away,” Walker said.

  “Bloody hell. Farnsworth, go help Peel guard the Montegeaus. They’re in the library.”

  Farnsworth gave her a long look before he headed for the library, taking the shotgun with him.

  Walker pulled Faith closer to his side with one hand. The other was clenched around the Heart of Midnight. Faith put her arm around his waist and held him as hard as he was holding her. On either side of the dock, the bayou shifted in response to hidden tidal rhythms.

  “Don’t think you need to be worrying about Ivanovitch,” he drawled softly. “He’ll have his hands full just swimming out of the marsh. Doubt he’ll make it, if you’re wanting the truth. That mud covers better marsh rats than him.”

  “Does he have the Heart of Midnight?”

  Walker shook his head. “I do.”

  April measured him for a few seconds, then accepted the inevitable. Whatever really had happened tonight in the marsh, Walker had taken Ivanovitch out of the game. Permanently. Too bad from her point of view; he could have given her a lot of information about Tarasov. But given the choice between the ruby and Ivanovitch, she would have killed him and fed him to the bayou crabs herself.

  April put the pistol on safe and stashed the gun beneath her jacket at the small of her back. She had never found a shoulder harness in size four. She looked at her watch, calculated the time in St. Petersburg, and smiled. They would make it with a few hours to spare.

  “Hand it over, slick,” she said. “There’s a Gulfstream G-5 on standby at Savannah International, flight plan in place for dear old Mother Russia.”

  “Slick, huh?” Walker said. “Thought that was Archer’s nickname, or Kyle’s.”

  “Any man who can go for a boat ride with Ivanovitch and come back smiling is slick in my book. The ruby,” she said, holding out her hand. “We’re on a short clock.”

  “Why?” Faith asked.

  April narrowed her beautiful black eyes, weighed Faith thoughtfully, and shrugged. The Donovans had their faults, but talking out of school wasn’t one of them. Besides, it was hardly a state secret. “The Hermitage is opening a new wing of its museum dedicated to the czars’ possessions. Specifically jewelry.”

  “Always a crowd pleaser,” Faith said.

  “That’s the whole point. Getting crowds in, pleasing them, having them walk away proud of being Russian.”

  “There’s a lot to be proud of,” Walker said.

  “Slick, they could be descended from angels or mud balls and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference in the here and now, where all that matters is that I get the ruby back in time for the opening.”

  “So that Tarasov doesn’t get his tit in a wringer?” Walker drawled.

  “More like his cock.”

  “Is Solokov really that much worse than Tarasov?” Walker asked.

  “Tarasov is ours. Solokov isn’t. Do I have to connect the dots for you?”

  Walker shrugged, then feinted as though to toss the stone in her direction and to hell with the chance of losing it in the bayou.

  For what was perhaps the first time in her life, April Joy flinched.

  Walker smiled almost gently, then held out his hand.

  April looked at him like he was a copperhead. Slowly she reached out, still expecting a trick.

  Walker passed the gem over. “That’s one you owe the Donovans. A big one. Consider letting Mel keep the necklace as kind of a down payment.”

  “I’ve already made a down payment,” April said dryly. “All of Tarasov’s future jewelry sales will go to Donovan Gems and Minerals on a first refusal basis.”

  “Sales?” Faith asked. “As in stolen goods?”

  “Marat Borisovitch Tarasov is a high government official with responsibilities that include overseeing the ‘deacquisition’ of museum goods,” April said neutrally. “Russia needs hard cash. Culling museum basements is one way to get it. If he takes a cut for himself, nobody’s shocked.”

  “It ain’t stealing if the government does it,” Walker said. “That what you’re saying?”

  “I didn’t make the rules, slick. I’d rather live in a world where a revolution yielded more than starvation, torture, executions, and a new herd of swine sucking at the public trough. But this is the only world I’ve got. I take care of it the best way I can.”

  “Do you really need to take Faith’s design apart?” Walker asked.

  April thought about it, then thought about how little she liked dancing to the tune of a Russian mafiya lordling. “All the bastard asked for was the big ruby. That’s all I’m taking back to him.”

  April Joy turned and walked into the night. A minute later the sound of a powerful engine drowned out the wind. Wheels spat gravel and a car headed swiftly down the long drive leading out of Ruby Bayou.

  When Walker could no longer hear the engine, he turned to Faith. She was watching the night where April had disappeared.

  “What are you thinking, sugar?”

  “I’m designing spoons with really, really long handles.”

  He took her face between his hands and tipped it, as though to see it better in the light. “I’d rather you design matching leg shackles – ”

  “I told you how I feel about – ”

  “ – but seeing as you don’t like them, I’ll settle for rings. How would you feel about getting a ruby instead of a diamond engagement ring?”

  She went very still. “Depends on who’s giving it to me.”

  “I am.”

  She tried to make out his expression. She couldn’t. “You said you didn’t want that kind of burden.”

  “I thought about that a lot tonight on my way back to you. I decided it isn’t a burden if you choose the right partner to share it.”

  Her arms tightened around him. “Then, partner, I don’t care if it’s diamonds, rubies, or dirt.”

  Walker laughed. “I’m thinking a ruby. A very, very special one. Like you.”

  “No fair. Where will I find one like you?”

  “We’ll go looking for them.”


  “Right after you design those spoons.”

  The End



  Elizabeth Lowell, Midnight in Ruby Bayou



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