Alec lifted her hand seductively and kissed her knuckles like they’d just met. Greek men were so different. She felt the urge to curtsy, but buried the impulse with a smile. She didn’t want to feel anything for Alec, and wished she were home, safe from the schoolgirl thuds banging away in her chest. She wasn’t ready to date yet. Not since they found Sam.
“Now, what do you think of the necklace?” Generosa twirled her arm toward the case in game show host style.
Annalisse loved the way Generosa’s gestures followed her words. A modest woman whose confidence and positive attitude had rescued Annalisse from more than a few scrapes with Harry.
“It scares me, Gen. I’d like your permission to cover it tonight.”
“Nonsense, bambolina.” Generosa escorted Alec to the display.
“It’s a bad omen. Where’d you find it?” Annalisse balled a fist and banged her hip.
Generosa clicked the glass with her acrylic nails. “Doesn’t the motif remind you of your beautiful horses, son? I know we shouldn’t have copied Sam’s bracelet, but I had to have one. We added filigree next to the acorns for a modern touch and redesigned it in fourteen karat.”
Annalisse peered inside the case then slowly met Generosa’s gaze. “You are one of the most special people in my life, so please don’t take this the wrong way. There’s no filigree, and it’s not a recent piece.” She lowered her voice. “I beg you— shove it in a safe deposit box. I don’t care, lock it away, but don’t tell anyone you have it, and never wear it.”
“Why?” Alec stepped between her and Generosa.
“Sam. The curse this necklace carries—the same destiny as her bracelet.”
“Pooh.” Generosa tsked.
“What curse?” Alec leaned closer.
With the speed of an open water faucet, Generosa’s words ran together. “I know every painting and artifact in this gallery. I sell only new jewelry, Annalisse. I’ve planned this event for months. Must we do this?”
“It’s from ancient Persia. The ruling Mushasha had ordered death to the wearer of any collection piece. Sam bought her bracelet just before she died. I know her killing wasn’t random.” Annalisse touched Generosa’s wrist. “And I won’t stand by while this necklace hurts you.”
“Mu-what?” Generosa’s lips soured in a pucker.
Annalisse’s breathing intensified into short bursts. Marble statues mocked her with their stares. If Generosa made a copy, then someone switched her necklace with the true artifact. But, taking a fake and leaving the real one in its place made no sense.
“Do you have the matching ring, too?” Annalisse swayed. When she stumbled, Alec caught her around the waist. “I’m okay.” Annalisse adjusted the foot that slipped out of her shoe. “Shouldn’t have skipped lunch.”
“Eat something.” Generosa crooked a finger at a server near the staircase. “The jewelry collection’s been missing a long time. Hundreds of years. It’s priceless, and now someone wants the pieces back. This display in your shop makes us a…target.”
SEVERAL WILD-EYED WOMEN stood in a semicircle, their hands pressed against their cheeks or over their mouths. Annalisse broke for an opening in the rigid line of guests. Her heart stopped at the sight of Alec administering the Heimlich maneuver to her boss. A cool clamminess rushed the nape of her neck while she watched Alec’s repeated cupped fists to Harry’s upper abdomen. Harry’s stoic, ashen face left her woozy.
“Alec, let me help.” Annalisse ran to Alec’s side.
Harry’s dead weight collapsed on Alec, and he stumbled to keep Harry from falling on her. Alec slowly laid him on his back. Lifeless. Not breathing. Annalisse’s suspicions were confirmed. Harry was sick.
The silk fabric clung to her waistline while perspiration trickled down her thighs. She sank to her knees and leaned over Harry’s paunch, loosened his tie, and checked for a pulse at his neck. Heat from the crowd suffocated her. Open mouthed, she labored for breath. Westinn’s bedrock, its patriarch, couldn’t leave her. Not yet.
She clutched his shirt and yelled, “Don’t give up, Harry!” Touching his cheeks, she found them cool. Annalisse scanned the room. “Is anyone a doctor or EMT?” Vacant stares met her question.
A reel of her first aid training ran through her head. Annalisse tilted Harry’s head back, looked down his throat and did a finger sweep. “No food in the airway,” she mumbled. She checked for a pulse again at the carotid, and, one hand over the other, pressed the heel of her palm over his breastbone and pumped in short bursts. Counting to thirty in her head, she huffed after each thrust. Her arms ached and her palms hurt. “Harry, breathe! Damn it, breathe!”
“Did someone call an ambulance? Where is it?” Alec checked the Rolex on his wrist and crouched next to her. “When you’re ready, I’ll take over.”
The irony. Harry had forced his employees to take the CPR course with no idea he’d be the one in need.
A lonesome siren’s wail pierced her ears when the vehicle stopped in front of the gallery. Annalisse glanced through the entrance as the FDNY emergency truck’s blaze red and yellow door opened. The myriad of blinding lights split the evening. She turned back to her unresponsive boss and ripped open his shirt, sending buttons flying to the tile before she continued CPR.
Muffled voices, footsteps, and a metallic clank sounded from behind. Ambulance attendants rushed through the double glass doors, banging their gurney along the way. In the cool relief of the air from outside, she silently said a prayer for Harry.
“I appreciate everyone’s concern, but please allow the emergency personnel room to do their work.” Generosa swiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Hang on, Harry.”
Title: Stolen Obsession