Read The Concubine's Tale Online

Authors: Jennifer Colgan

The Concubine's Tale

BOOK: The Concubine's Tale
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Dedication

For Jillian, thanks for all your encouragement!

Chapter One

Cait Lang tried to ignore the bristle of annoyance that tightened the back of her neck as she dialed the all-too-familiar phone number. She’d put on a bright, compliant smile when her boss, Matthew Greer, asked her to make the call. Back in her office, she’d waited patiently while her assistant, Jeri, finished some filing, before she indulged in a long-suffering sigh and some therapeutic eye-rolling.

Why did Mr. Greer always give that arrogant know-it-all Grant Pierson the right of first refusal on any new piece that came into the gallery? Certainly Madison-Greer had plenty of wealthy, polite clients who deserved a shot at owning a coveted piece of antiquity as much as Grant Pierson did. What bothered Cait most, though, was that she had Grant Pierson’s number memorized.

Not just his number, either. She leaned back in her chair, listened to the electronic trill through the receiver and recalled the chiseled planes of his face, his chocolate brown eyes, and blond, professionally mussed hair that was just the right length for running fingers through in the heat of passion. The gorgeous ones always had a fatal flaw, though, and Grant Pierson’s was his personality. Self-assured to the point of cockiness, the unflappable rare art collector alternately made Cait want to throw herself at him, or throw something heavy at his head. Fortunately for her, the Madison-Greer Gallery had a strict policy about employees dating clients, so the former option was safely out of the question. The latter, however—that nice Etruscan vase that sat in the corner of her little office would make a wonderful projectile, wouldn’t it?

When Pierson’s answering machine picked up, Cait sighed and halted the impatient drumming of her ballpoint pen on the desk. All violent fantasies aside, this was business, and Cait was nothing if not professional. She doubted Pierson even knew how much she resented the special treatment he received, since each time they’d met, she’d followed Mr. Greer’s lead and treated the man like visiting royalty. He’d probably come to expect it now.

She stammered at the beep, realizing she’d daydreamed through his message. “Ah…Mr. Pierson, it’s Cait Lang from Madison-Greer. I’m calling to give you advance notice of a new item we received at the gallery—”

“Pierson here.”

Cait started at the intrusion of his deep voice. He sounded a little breathless, like he’d run to catch the phone. The clock on the wall across from her desk read two p.m. Maybe he’d just returned from a power lunch. Or maybe he was out of breath from an afternoon liaison. That thought sobered her. Why did her angry thoughts about Grant Pierson always turn to sex?

“Good afternoon, Mr. Pierson.” Cait slipped into her game voice and studied her shipping manifest as though it might contain information she hadn’t read a hundred times before.

“Cait. Matthew Greer’s personal assistant?”

Heat gathered beneath the collar of her silk blouse. “Head curator,” she corrected him, keeping her voice even. “I’m calling to let you know about a fascinating new piece we’ve just acquired.”

She heard the crinkle of a deep leather chair and imagined him leaning back and planting his long legs on the edge of his mahogany desk while he loosened his tie. “Hit me.”

Love to.
Her fingers played at her collar, and she deftly released one of the tiny pearl buttons of her blouse. Had someone turned off the air conditioning in the gallery offices again?

“It’s a scroll. Papyrus. Circa 1200 BC.”

“Hmm, a scroll.” He sounded bored.

She nodded, directing her gaze at the ceiling once again. “Yes.”

“Where did you acquire it?”

“A private collector obtained the scroll in 1962. It’s going to be auctioned as part of the dissolution of the man’s estate.”

“Museums interested?”

“A few, but I’ve been instructed to let our preferred customers know about it ahead of schedule. You’re first on the list.” As always. Grant Pierson’s private collection of Egyptian art and artifacts was legendary. His ruthlessness in acquiring rare and unusual pieces was surpassed only by his generosity in allowing museums and researchers access to his finds.

“Could I come by and take a look at it?”

“Of course. When is convenient for you?”

“How about this evening, around seven?”

Cait glanced at her day planner. Another late night. Ugh. “Seven. Certainly. I’ll be here.”

“I look forward to it, Cait. Thanks for calling me.”

“I’ll see you at seven.”

When he hung up, Cait took a deep breath. Now she’d have to hang around after closing and wait for him. Why did it have to be tonight, when Mr. Greer was out of town and unable to entertain his favorite client?

“Did I hear you say seven, as in p.m.?” Jeri ducked her head back into Cait’s office and frowned. “I can’t work late tonight.”

Cait gave the younger girl a tight smile. “No problem. I don’t expect you to stay two hours overtime to accommodate Grant Pierson.” She waved her hand, dismissing him as just another eccentric art collector. “I’ll handle him.”

Jeri nodded, and a knowing smile replaced her frown. “I bet you will.”

Grant Pierson considered which held more fascination for him, a Nineteenth Dynasty Egyptian scroll to add to his collection of rare antiquities, or an evening with the undeniably alluring head curator for Madison-Greer.

Among rare works of art, Cait Lang certainly stood out. He pictured her as he’d seen her last, in a severe herringbone suit over the laciest satin chemise. Her legs, in pearl gray hose, seemed to go all the way to Neverland. Her honey-blonde hair begged to be released from a flawless bun at her nape. Her coral-shell lips had shimmered with every clipped word of her conversation. Even her voice was graceful and curvaceous. That sexy purr she adopted when discussing a new artifact always gave him a jolt that lingered long after the conversation ended. He told himself it was just her passion for antiquities that made her powder blue eyes sparkle—a passion they shared.

If it wasn’t for her ice princess attitude and that cool veneer of aloofness she adopted whenever he was around, he might have asked her out, regardless of Madison-Greer’s archaic dating policies.

He hated to admit it, but he liked that diamond-hard exterior. Her professional polish always made him curious as to what lay underneath the buttoned-up, business-woman exterior. Maybe it was time to find out.

He straightened his tie and hit the call button on his phone. “Anna, I’d like reservations for two at Del Monaco’s tonight for eight-thirty.”

“Will do,” his secretary replied.

“And Anna—”

“Yes?”

“Not my usual table. I’d like one in the back tonight.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Something out of the way would give them a little privacy, and maybe he could get Cait to come out of her polished shell for a while. He swiveled in his chair to take in the view from his office. A few hours alone with the lovely Ms. Lang would certainly put him in the mood to spend a small fortune on a piece of ancient papyrus.

Cait stared at the scroll and thought of the first pair of hands that might have touched it. Sheathed now in tempered glass, its brittle remnants spread in a broken oval shape, it reminded her of a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. She found it sad that the missing pieces would never come together.

Lost in thought, she jumped a little at the sound of the gallery’s door chime. She smoothed her dark skirt and hurried to the front door.

Grant Pierson appraised her through the frosted MG logo that decorated the upper half of the glass.

“I hope I’m not keeping you from something,” he said as she backed up to let him inside. He stepped aside while she relocked the door.

Of course not
, she thought.
What social life can a girl have when she works all the time?
“No problem. I was able to rearrange my plans.” Cait let her curious gaze follow him across the main display area. His charcoal suit and polished Fiorello shoes said boardroom all the way, but the broad shoulders and tight butt said weekend athlete. He moved like he owned the place. With the amount of money he’d spent here over the years, he might as well have been a partner in the business.

He bent to study the rare coin case in the center of the room. “You’ve changed the lighting in here.”

She nodded. “We added some tracks down the center of the ceiling and replaced the top panels of the cases with a new type of glare-free glass. A major improvement for a small investment.”

“Your idea?” His expression gave her pause. She couldn’t tell if he approved of the change or not.

She crossed the room before answering, conscious of his gaze on her. “Not really. Mr. Greer is the display expert. The scroll is in the back, if you’d like to take a look.”

“Can’t wait.”

They met at the narrow doorway leading to the back room. There, she caught a warm, spice-scented whiff of his aftershave as she passed him. Their shoulders brushed, and the feel of textured wool over lean muscle sent a charge through her nerve endings. Goose bumps rose under her blouse.

The sudden chill of excitement caused by the brief contact became a languid heat as she watched his expression change. His eyes lit when he saw the scroll, and his long fingers seem to flex with the desire to touch it.
Figures an ancient artifact would turn him on
, she thought.

He circled the display case. “Tell me about it.” He clasped his hands behind his back, as if to prevent himself from reaching for the inaccessible treasure.

“Of course.”

Beautiful. That was the first word that came to Grant’s mind when he saw it. The rich color of the aged papyrus, the fine crazing where time had begun to disintegrate the fibers, gave the piece such character, like wrinkles on an aged face. The ink used to paint the hieroglyphics had once been vibrant shades of kohl black, berry red and deep ochre. Now the edges of the word symbols were faded and chipped, but enough of the work remained to be legible to those who knew the complicated ancient language.

So beautiful. He looked up into eyes the color of delicate lapis lazuli and smiled. He wanted it. He wanted her.

“According to the journal of the original owner, the piece was discovered in a limestone cave just outside of Coptos. It had been sealed in a clay jar.”

Grant closed his eyes and tried to picture the vessel and imagine the thrill of discovery. “What happened to the jar?”

“It had been sealed with beeswax, and the boy who found it unfortunately broke the jar while trying to open it. The shards were thrown away.”

The sorrow in her voice touched him. It meant something to him that she appreciated the loss as much as he did. “What year was it found?”

“Probably 1951. It was purchased by the collector from the boy’s family in 1962. They’d emigrated from Egypt to the US at great personal expense and sold a few family treasures to get back on their feet financially.”

“Who was the collector?”

He watched her purse her lips. She looked down at her fingertips where they rested on the edge of the case. “I’m not at liberty to—”

“His name was Charles Layton, wasn’t it?”

“No fair trying to guess. Do you know him?”

“I met him once, several years ago. He’s paid next to nothing for a number of rare artifacts over the years. He befriended displaced foreign nationals and managed to get his hands on things that should have been donated to museums.” Grant shook his head. He wanted the scroll just so he could see it on public display—something Layton never allowed with his ill-gotten treasures. “Has it been translated?”

“Roughly.”

He leaned toward her and drank in the enticing scent of her perfume. “Tell me more.”

Did he imagine that she blushed when his gaze dropped to the delicate neckline of her blouse?

“The translator believed it might have been a memoir of sorts. An account of two lovers who ran away together.”

“Lovers?” There was something about the way she formed the word. The tip of her tongue peeked between her perfect teeth, tantalizing and sweet. “Is the complete translation included in the price?”

She gave him a dark look. “Normally that’s extra, but Mr. Greer left instructions that we should accommodate any special requests you had.”

Grant held back a laugh. He could think of a number of special requests he’d bet good money Matthew Greer would never sanction. He gave her a languid smile. “Tell me everything you know.”

Cait walked around the display case, putting the ancient treasure safely between her and Grant. The look in his dark eyes and the arrogant set of his jaw told her he was enjoying this way too much. Having her at his beck and call was not part of her job description, but she couldn’t resist the allure of the remarkable story. She took a deep breath and began.

“The first glyph is a woman’s name—Nayari. The consensus is the story was written about her, possibly dictated to a scribe. According to this, she was a concubine in the house of a magistrate named Ammonptah. His name appears in the cartouche below hers.”

The butterflies in Cait’s stomach fled the moment she began to tell the story depicted on the scroll. This was a part of her job she loved. Learning the history of an artwork or artifact gave her even more pleasure than the work itself sometimes. The story Charles Layton had recorded in the accompanying journal was tragic and compelling. One look into Grant Pierson’s bottomless brown eyes and she knew he was hooked already, just as she’d been the moment she began reading.

BOOK: The Concubine's Tale
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