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“Exquisite artifacts,” Damon Underwood murmured, as he paged through the portfolio on his desk. “More exquisite designs.”
Sitting across from him in his minimalist Soho office—white walls and floor, slim black and glass furniture—set in a high floor of a historic cast-iron building, Gemma Hewitt allowed her lips to bow into a natural smile for the first time since her mother’s murder. Grief and guilt had consumed her, taking away her drive to work. A gallery manager who was a mutual acquaintance had recommended her to Damon, who had called her to set up a meeting. Still feeling lost, self-blame burdening her heart, but knowing she couldn’t stay frozen in her grief forever, Gemma had forced herself to use this opportunity to revive her stalled professional life.
“Your work is very eclectic, my darling. How do you choose your next project?”
“My next project usually chooses me.” Literally, though she didn’t say so. “I go where my muse leads me and I find pieces that interest me.”
Damon nodded as he studied the photographs of her Tibetan snow lion cuff bracelet and the artifact decorated with the snow lion that inspired it, ironically a piece of armor meant to protect a knee.
He said, “So you’ve been to Tibet.”
“No, not yet.” Though she did spend half her time traveling the world, searching for inspiration. She’d been on more than a dozen junkets abroad in the last four years. “Actually, I picked up the armor in a bazaar in Istanbul.” The way she usually made her finds.
“How did you know what you had in your hands?”
She shrugged. The moment she’d touched the artifact, she’d seen the mythical snow lion attacking seven dragons, symbolizing fearlessness and victory. “The pieces always speak to me.”
He laughed. “All right. Don’t tell me.”
She wasn’t being evasive. From the time she was a child, old objects with a history had always drawn her to them. She remembered finding a fragile gold ring on the beach in the Bahamas when she was eight. The moment she’d touched the ring, it had vibrated in her hand, and she’d known it had been from a downed ship. She’d “seen” it sink, if only in a flash.
“I’ve actually admired samples of your work at the Met,” Damon said. “Including this bracelet.” He tapped the photograph, then closed her portfolio and leaned back in his leather chair. “The reason you caught my interest and I asked for this meeting.”
Damon Underwood appeared as minimalist as his office. Dressed in black trousers and a black designer shirt, his light brown hair slicked back from a broad forehead, he wore only a single piece of jewelry—a platinum ring set with an impressive black diamond.
He said, “You’re well thought of at the Met.”
“Good to know.”
“Admiration well-deserved. What’s next? Where does your muse lead you?”
Still dealing with the emotional repercussions of her mother’s death, she said, “I don’t have a specific destination in mind. Yet.”
“I was hoping you would say that.”
Having been intrigued by the invitation to audition for a gemologist who worked with top jewelry designers, Gemma asked, “You have something you want me to design for you?”
With one of the gems on his walls? He’d decorated only with large unframed photographs of stones of different cuts and colors.
“It’s the other half of your job that most interests me. The research half. I perhaps have something—rather some things—I would like you to find,” he said. “A client who is also a good friend might be interested in hiring you for a personal quest.”
“Who? What kind of quest?”
“I’m not at liberty to divulge that just yet. I will meet with her, tell her about your ability to find unusual artifacts. I’ll highly recommend a meeting. If you’re interested, of course. The project would involve some traveling.”
“One of the reasons I love my work so much.” Gemma kept her smile, but her mind was twirling a mile a minute.
Why the mystery?
Damon Underwood had a reputation for doing whatever it took to get what he wanted, not that she would mind working for or with him. She could handle herself in demanding situations. Since earning her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, she’d been tracking down artifacts to use for inspiration in designing jewelry for museums and high-end stores and boutiques. Her extrasensory ability helped her find extraordinary pieces and pry out their history. A decent living for an artist. Working with a private client to do the same would take her in a new, potentially more challenging, direction.
“So you are interested?” he asked.
Her curiosity aroused by the secrecy, Gemma couldn’t resist. “I’m more than interested. I’m intrigued.”
“Good. Then I’ll speak with my client and get back to you.” He slid her portfolio across his desk, and his expression grew serious. “I know this comes late, but I would like to offer you condolences on your mother’s death.”
Gemma’s mood immediately shifted. Of course he would know. At least the part that had been the focus of the media for weeks, until they’d gone on to fresh blood. He couldn’t possibly read her heart. “You mean her murder.”
“If there’s anything I can do for you…”
She forced a smile. “I’m fine, thank you,” she said, as would be expected of a proper Hewitt. “And I really must leave now. I’m hosting an open house at an apartment in the Village.”
“You’re in the real estate game, as well?”
“My father is a broker. I’m simply helping him.”
Her mother Zara used to arrange the open house fetes for multimillion-dollar properties. Now her father wanted her to step into her late mother’s shoes. Her father was still trying to convince Gemma she would be better off working in real estate than as an artist. More practical, maybe, but certainly not as fulfilling. Thinking Damon might know someone who would be interested in the apartment, Gemma took a card from her purse and slid it across the desk to him.
“That’s the address. Stop by for a look if you have time.”
“Unfortunately, I have other plans for this evening.”
“Of course.” Gemma got to her feet and collected her portfolio. “I’ll be eager to hear what your client friend has to say.”
“I’ll get back to you soon,” Damon promised, also rising and escorting her to the door.
Gemma gave him a sincere smile before leaving his office. She would look forward to that call.
Arriving home a half hour later, Gemma didn’t feel so fine. Nearly a month and the police still had no leads. She’d made numerous calls to the head investigator and the answer was always the same. “We’ll call you if we have anything new to share.” The police didn’t seem to be able to do that, however, and she feared they were already thinking of Mom’s murder as a cold case. Grief simmered below her surface and popped up at unexpected times. All it took was a reminder like Damon’s offered condolences to set her off.
Setting down her portfolio on the desk next to the curved stairs leading up to the parlor level, she walked through the first floor gallery, past the seating area around the fireplace. The opposite wall was painted a soft gold and lined with framed garden photographs taken by her mother. Focusing inward, Gemma brushed her fingers over them as she walked toward the back and picked up images of her mother in the garden.
This was their gift, Mom had always told her. One that they’d shared. This incredible ability to connect with the past. Neither of her siblings had inherited the gift. At least not that they would admit.
Double doors at the far end of the gallery opened to the secreted terrace, her mother’s favorite part of the Upper East End townhouse. Although Gemma hadn’t followed in Mom’s footsteps as a gardener, Gemma felt closest to her mother’s spirit amongst her roses and dahlias and delphiniums.
Opening the terrace doors, she was attacked by a frenzied ball of energy.
“Hey, Gizmo,” she said, picking up the wiggling dog and crushing him to her.
If she hadn’t forgotten to walk him that fateful night as her mother had asked her to because she and Gemma’s father would be out late, Mom would still be alive. How was Gemma ever going to get past that?
“Nice of you to get home in time to change.”
Sitting on a bench, smartphone in hand, one Armani-clad leg crossed over the other, Malcolm Hewitt scowled at her from beneath bushy eyebrows that were still dark despite his steel-gray hair. The disapproval in his hazel eyes was aimed at her graffiti print leggings, purple wedge boots, and deep purple tunic that made her copper hair glow brighter.
“Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll wear something more appropriate.” In her opinion, at least. They never agreed on much.
“You’re acting as hostess to an event to sell a twenty-million-dollar apartment. Wear something designer.”
“This is designer.”
Her father made a disapproving noise. The oldest of three siblings, Gemma had been the only child who always fought him to be her own person.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be ready to leave shortly.” She kissed his cheek and set Gizmo in his lap. “The terrace is smothering him. He needs a walk in the park.”
She regretted the words as soon as she’d said them. Her father’s expression clouded, his eyes grew watery, and he clutched Gizmo so tightly the dog protested with a little yelp.
“Go get ready,” he said gruffly, setting the dog on the ground. “The car will be here in half an hour.”
“More than enough time,” she assured him, touching his shoulder. “But I know you’re anxious to get going, so I’ll meet you there.” He placed his hand over hers and firmly gripped it for a moment before waving her off.
Gemma rushed from the terrace into the gallery, collected her portfolio and took the elevator up to her second floor suite. She had her own parlor and bath in addition to a large rear bedroom with a balcony overlooking the terrace. The non-traditionally decorated rooms reflected her taste for color and dramatic style, and were accented with exotic purchases she’d made in her travels. Like the intricately patterned handwoven carpet she’d found in Turkey. Or the glittery wall-hanging of old work she’d brought back from India.
Her best friend, Liza Braden, never missed her chance to complain how odd it was that Gemma was still living here. Liza had moved out of her parents’ home the moment she got her first job. Now her apartment stood empty half the time, with Liza flitting around the globe planning meetings for her company. Gemma had considered a move, but she loved coming back to the townhouse after one of her many investigative trips abroad. Not only was this home to her, it had offered the opportunity to be near her mom, to whom she’d been closer than anyone. And now, with Mom gone—her fault!—Dad would be lost if she decided to move out.
Still, as she stripped out of her clothes, she couldn’t help stewing a bit.
She’d disappointed Dad when she hadn’t joined the family business, as would her younger brother, Simon, when he finished his MBA at Wharton. Even Amber, the baby of the family, had just gotten accepted to the Harvard School of Design, with plans to stage the New York apartments and townhouses their father brokered. Dad had never minced words when it came to the career that had chosen Gemma. He’d thought her obsession with creating jewelry that was art would pass, and when it hadn’t, he’d been outspoken in his criticism, predicting that she would never last.
Which had been her biggest fear, until some unknown assailant had ended her mother’s life.
Now she feared the killer would never be caught.
Gemma pulled on black pants and a black leather vest that zipped up to a low rounded neckline with a soft collar and tied it at the waist. She had her own style in all things, and this was as conservative as she got. Even with their differences, Gemma cared deeply what her father thought of her. Approval was something he always held just out of her reach. She brushed her shoulder-length copper hair and pulled it up, away from her face, twisted it and clipped it in place. After donning red patent peep-toe heels, she decided the outfit needed an unusual necklace to make it pop.
But not one of her pieces. Something of Mom’s to pay tribute to the woman who should be running this party. Who should still be alive! Surely Dad would appreciate that.
Her pulse fluttered and her mouth went dry. Only one piece came to mind. The one the police had finally returned a few days before, after keeping it for weeks. Potential evidence, they’d said, but it hadn’t panned out. The only fingerprints on the necklace had been her mother’s.
The front of the second floor held a library and reading area with big windows to the street. It also held a safe. Compelled by something buried deep inside her, Gemma entered the library and opened it. She stared at the contents, not wanting to remove the fragile sandalwood box, whose central panel was carved with three Hindu deities surrounded by floral carvings on all sides. Reluctantly, she retrieved it. Mom had left the necklace to her in her will, but this was the first time Gemma had sought it out.
Her heart pounded as she held the box in her hands and tried to resist its contents. She might as well have tried to fight the fate that had taken her mother from her. That, of course, was uppermost in her mind. Mom had been wearing this necklace the night she’d been killed. And Gemma had a connection to the past that she couldn’t control.
Gemma fought the tears threatening her fresh eye make-up, and swallowed the lump in her throat. She couldn’t cry. Couldn’t be late. Couldn’t disappoint her father. Not again.
She grasped the box in both hands, sensing the contents whispering her name. She didn’t hear it as much as feel it. It wanted her to touch it… to don it… to see…
She’d already imagined the horror.
What if it could show her the murderer’s face? The thought made her heart pound anew. What could she do with the knowledge? Who would believe her?
It didn’t matter. Gemma would know. That would be a start.
Gemma brought the box back to her dressing area. For the most part, Mom had traditional tastes, but this was an exception. The jeweled necklace was from the turn of twentieth-century India. Mom had inherited the family heirloom from her own mother, who’d inherited it from hers… and now it belonged to Gemma, who had always loved it.
Reverently, she opened the box. Spread out over the black velvet interior, the jeweled collar spoke to her in urgent whispers, like a rush of multiple voices that only she could hear. It pressed her to don it, but in lifting the jeweled piece from the box, she nearly dropped it. A jolt of something dark and primal flashed through her, and for a second, she saw her mother’s pale face and terrified expression, as if from a great distance, before it flickered out. Unnerved, she quickly set the necklace down on the table. Then she noted the disturbed velvet bedding in the box, revealing a fold of paper. Lifting the velvet, she found a handwritten note and a business card.
The note was from her mother to her.
My darling Gemma, this treasure from the British Raj has been passed from mother to daughter for five generations.
British rule over India had lasted nearly ninety years. Five generations of women… the necklace must have been created halfway through the British Raj.
When the jeweled collar is finally yours, I hope it will open your mind… and your heart to what really counts in life. Love you, honey. Mom
Mom had avoided talk about their psychic ability, but Gemma’s throat closed for a moment as she remembered how both had been able to sense things others couldn’t.
…open your mind…and your heart to what really counts…
What did Mom mean? What kind of power did she believe the necklace held, other than perhaps to give Gemma a glimpse of its history? And why had she written it now? Had her mother had some inkling that she was about to die?
A shiver ran through Gemma. Hesitantly, she picked up the necklace and stared into the depths of the rubies and emeralds and sapphires. The darkness she’d experienced the first time had faded. Instead, jewel colors flashed and danced deep within her mind. Her fingers rippled with sensation as if a current ran through them. Holding up the necklace, she looked for an insignia that would reveal the designer’s name on the reverse side. Instead, she found the etched face of a tiger with eyes that were slivers of smoky green cat’s eye gems. Her breath caught, and she ran a fingertip over the tiger. The touch was electric. The necklace suddenly came alive in her hands with a power she’d never felt from any other artifact. She couldn’t put it down if she tried. The connection telegraphed through her, enveloped her.
Her hands shook as she fixed the collar in place around her neck.
Would she see him now? The murderer? Would she see his face?
Would she somehow be able to make up for her part in the tragedy?
End of Excerpt