Nightshade

Beautiful woman looking to one side.

Beautiful woman looking to one side.

 

With the mysterious reappearance of the Townsend Exhibit after many years of being lost, Sonya Douglas, the registrar at the Orsini museum in San Francisco, was assigned the task of placating the handsome, wealthy, self-assured, and determined scion of the Townsend family, Christian Townsend.

First, she tried spin control—but instead of being grateful, he wanted to know who had originally taken the artifacts and why. And why, all these years later, they had been found hidden inside the museum! Then she tried damage control—dogging his every step as he probed the unsolved theft.

Only the harder she tried, the more fascinated she became in both the oddities of the past crime and the allure of the man she had been told to help. Then the threats started…

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Read an Excerpt:

The small glass bottle caught a ray of the sun, causing a flash of emerald fire to illuminate the features of the young boy who held it. Fascinated, the boy twisted it this way and that, trying to make the light reappear. But no matter how hard he tried, the flash of green would not recur.

The boy examined the other ancient objects on the table: an ivory comb with graceful dancers carved along its spine, a drinking cup, a lidded jar once freshly painted with black horses that was used to store fragrant ointments. Yet it was the small green bottle that intrigued him most.

It had been the first object to hold his attention since the long flight he’d made alone from New York City to Italy, and he already knew some of its history. His great-uncle had told him that the bottle was very old, and that at one time it had held the taste of death.

He ran a finger across a raised leaf decorating the front of the bottle. Had it once been real? Only to be transformed into glass by a magician’s touch? Didn’t poisonous potions and magicians almost always belong together? In one of his favorite books there was a magician who—

Hands came to rest on his shoulders, and along with them the aroma of his great-uncle’s favorite cigar. “So, my little Christian, you like my collection. I thought you might.”

The boy turned, his dark curling hair falling over his forehead, his deep blue eyes curious. “You found all of this yourself, Uncle?”

The old man nodded. He was tall and spare and impeccably groomed, wrapped in an air of past adventure. His midnight eyes, similar in shape and color to his great-nephew’s, were permanently marked at the corners by an array of wrinkles. His skin, burned brown by an unrelenting sun, had long since lost the unhealthy pallor of his own childhood. He nodded again, smiling.

The boy pointed to the bottle. “I like this one best!”

His uncle lifted the bottle and unconsciously mimicked the boy’s earlier action of holding it up to the light. “Why do you say that?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know.”

His uncle chuckled. He understood the compelling lure of danger even if the boy did not. “Look no farther than your own blood, my Christian. With pirates for ancestors, you’ve inherited a knack for balancing on the sharp edge of the sword. But be careful, little one, a wrong step…a wrong move, and—”

Christian giggled. “And there would be two of me!”

The old man gazed into the laughing face. Even at six, the Townsend characteristics were strong. He recognized the familiar recklessness, the challenge given and accepted, the sheer joy of life that was made all the sweeter by the knowledge that it could disappear in the blink of an eye. He also saw the charm that made it all worthwhile. For a moment he experienced a pang of jealousy. His life was ending as Christian’s was beginning. He wanted to do it all over again! But he knew that Christian deserved his time, his moments of glory, in a world crammed full of opportunity and challenge.

He ruffled the boy’s hair. “Not two,” he corrected. “Only one. One that might not be so easily mended. Take care, my Christian. Always remember to step cautiously, even when boldness is necessary to achieve an end.”

The boy’s smile faded, and for a moment he looked older than his six years. “I will, Uncle,” he promised. Then, like quicksilver, his smile returned. “Now tell me about the bottle again…about how you found it…and what used to be inside.”

The old man was pleased. All he had left were his memories and his stories. He had so many, and now, for the short few weeks of summer, he had a child who wouldn’t tire of hearing them.

He took a seat on a wide bench in a shaded area of the courtyard and patted the cushion at his side, an action that instantly had Christian abandoning the table.

“Now, let me think…” he mused softly as the boy wiggled into place beside him.

The warm Italian sun spread its golden light over the surrounding hills; a light breeze kissed their skin, refreshing them. In the distance, a bird called for its mate.

As Christian waited for his uncle’s tale to unfold, he clutched the emerald bottle he’d brought with him.

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