Odin's Great Hall, Valhalla
"YOU DARE TO DEFY ME, WOMAN!"
Hlif refused to cower faced by the thundering ire of her Lord and Master. No one before her had ever disobeyed the Great Odin and she doubted anyone ever will after her.
"My Lord, I find the request unjust in that it will affect too many lives and leave many broken."
Odin surged out of his throne, his powerful arms thrown wide to encompass the hall. "Do you all hear? You all bear testimony to the audacity of one of my own—supposedly my Supreme Valkyrie." Odin fixed his glaring gaze on her again. "You are not to decide for me. Nor do you have the authority to advise me or defy my orders." The hall grew even quieter as the bearded god slowly approached her. With her head lowered, Hlif could see Odin's golden slippers as they came to stand before her. "It will set a bad precedent if I leave you unpunished, Valkyrie. I will not have my underlings question my rule. Look at me."
Hlif lifted her head and was surprised to catch a glimmer of sadness in Odin's dark grey eyes.
"For your insolence, I ban you to the mortal realm, where you will remain until such time as I deem your misdemeanour paid for in full."
With a low bow, Hlif nodded as she put her hand over her heart and rose to her feet. As she met Odin's eyes, she was again struck by the brief look of sadness she read in them. The incensed god turned away from her and Hlif adhered to the blatant dismissal. The Great Hall was quiet as she took the long, shameful path from the throne, through the throng of nobles to the exit. A body fell into step with her and not needing to look to see who it was. She spoke, her words hard and bitter.
"You got what you wanted. Are you happy now, Loki?"
When no reply was forthcoming, she turned to look at her companion. Loki the Mischievous, demi-god and son of Odin, had a small smile plucking at his lips. How no one could see through the man's fake joviality, baffled Hlif. Looking deeper and harder, Loki's smiles were menacing and his handsome features cruel.
"It was not my choice to defy our father, Hlif. You did it all by yourself. I carry no guilt here."
He was right. She defied Odin. She knew she did the right thing in standing up for love. But it all wouldn't have had to happen, had Loki not planted the devious plan in Odin's mind. It was a game between Odin and his queen, Frigg to collect the souls of warriors. Where Odin's Valhalla teemed with an army of brave, fearless warriors, Frigg's was home to strong-willed, cunning warriors. The queen didn't put much stock in brawn and bravery like her husband; instead, she strived to outwit her egomaniac husband with an army of strategists. Eventually, when the sword and the mind crossed, Frigg hoped to gloat at her husband when she claimed her pick of favours she would collect as the spoils of victory.
The game was always intense and with all the time to kill; it was also endless. Yet, as of yesterday, it became personal, prompting Hlif to step in. As one of Odin's celebrated Valkyries, Hlif had scoured countless battlefields to relieve mortally wounded warriors of their pain and escort them to the immortal realm. However, they were all close to death by the time she happened upon them.
Loki changed the rules… and out of spitefulness, no less.
Not once before had either Odin or Frigg stooped so low as to order the death of a warrior. Odin did so yesterday at the behest of Loki. When she heard of the directive, Hlif knew her time as a favourite in Valhalla was numbered. She couldn't bring herself to partake in something so contemptible.
Especially not when the warrior in question was the love of her life.
The Royal Palace, Snowland
The door opened silently as Hlif slipped in and closed it behind her. She was no stranger to the mortal realm. In fact, she spent most of her time down here, since humans were such bloodthirsty creatures, who spend their pathetic short lives warring each other for petty reasons. Where else would a Valkyrie be found if not where war and death reigned? Lightening her steps, she made her way over to the large, fur-covered bed and its slumbering occupant. A warm smile tucked at the corners of her lips, as she looked down at the sleeping features, so angelic in repose.
"You will have to tread even lighter if you hope to catch me unawares, Valkyrie," a soft voice said.
Hlif chuckled softly as she divested herself of her armour. How this woman had managed to escape Odin and Frigg's attention for so long was surprising. Gurith Haraldsdottir, Queen of Snowland, had the instincts of an immortal. The woman was destined to be a great Valkyrie and now, thanks to Loki's interference, Odin knows that too. As stark fear crawled down her spine, Hlif threw off her clothing and slid into the bed, behind the warm back of her lover. The blond head turned to reveal eyes so light they were almost colourless. Their lips met and Hlif hummed at the pleasure of feeling her lover's slick tongue in her mouth. After ten years of kissing this woman, she still couldn't get enough of her. Nor could she stop the thrill of desire, which coursed through her every time Gurith touched her. When the kiss ended, Hlif nuzzled the blonde beauty's neck for a moment longer before the blonde grabbed her head and pulled it back so she could look into her eyes.
"I have suffered your absence for three moons. What brings you here so unexpectedly?"
Hlif cringed inwardly at the question. She didn't want to talk about her banishment and the reason behind it. "Was it only three moons? It felt more like three seasons," she teased instead.
Her evasive ploy hadn't fooled her lover. The blonde queen sat up and Hlif's mouth fell open at the sight of the beautiful naked globes that swung free. The woman was as gorgeous as she was a great fighter.
It was from the lips of a dying warrior, expressing his regret that death would rob him of ever looking upon the face of the most beautiful woman in all of Scania again, that Hlif had first heard of Gurith. Intrigued, Hlif had returned to earth to seek out this famed beauty. After all, who would mourn a short, paltry human existence to what waited for them beyond the mortal realm. To both her shock and pleasure, she found Gurith to be even more beautiful than the warrior's description. She fell hard that day and continued to do so every day for the following ten seasons.
"What are you keeping from me, beloved?" Gurith asked quietly as she lifted the warm furs to cover her naked breasts. The action, Hlif knew by now, was to focus her attention and not let it stray. "Tell me, Hlif."
Knowing that she, a demi-god, was not immune against the wiles of this beautiful woman, Hlif rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. "Loki managed to persuade Odin to hunt for your soul."
There was a sharp gasp, but still Hlif refused to look at the blonde. "When?"
"The directive was made known a few…"
"When do I have to die, Hlif?"
This made Hlif rise on her elbow as she looked intently at her lover and the owner of her heart. "I was banished, because I refused to follow the order."
Gurith shook her head, her face a mask of disbelief. "You… you defied Odin? For me?"
"I will take on anyone if it means I can keep you safe, my heart." Hlif captured her lover's lips in a deep kiss. "You mean everything to me… and more."
Gurith cupped Hlif's cheek, her eyes warm and tender. "Those kinds of words can bring the wrath of Odin down on your head, my Valkyrie."
"I have chosen you above all else already, Gurith. Above immortality. My punishment has set you free from being used as a peon in the gods' games. For the time being we will live life as mortals."
Gurith chuckled, her pale eyes burning with love. "What do you know of living the life of a mortal, daughter of Odin?"
Hlif pushed her hand under the fur blanket and brushed her hand over the springy hair between Gurith's warm thighs. "I have lived as a mortal once, beloved, many centuries ago. I trust I will survive."
The queen threw her head back as Hlif's finger brushed over the small, hard nodule that stood proud and erect between desire-swollen lips. "You were a mere babe then. Life has changed since Odin claimed you and took you to live in Valhalla."
Hlif nodded. "I know, but you will help me adapt to this crude lifestyle."
Ice blue eyes swung her way and Hlif chuckled at the warning in them. "Crude, Valkyrie? It will serve you well to remember that at this very moment your hungry fingers roam the hot sanctuary of a primitive being?"
A soft moan escaped Hlif's lips. She was made to be this woman's weakness and the other way around. She pinched the slippery nodule between her forefinger and thumb and made as it she was milking it. Gurith threw her head back and let out a guttural moan.
"How can I forget when it sheaths my fingers like a fine silk scabbard?" Hlif murmured. She pressed the roughened pad of her thumb on the nub and watched in breathless wonder as the colour of the blonde Queen's eyes bled out, leaving them completely colourless. She bit down on her lower lip as her mouth watered in anticipation of tasting that sweet slippery nub. She knows that it will make the Warrior Queen scream and growl like a feline in heat. Hlif pushed two fingers into the writhing woman and smiled when Gurith cursed at the sudden sensation. For such a celebrated leader, Gurith could be unexpectedly and refreshingly crude sometimes. Her profanity surely is a habit picked up from her men on the battlefield.
"Oh, Valkyrie, how you play me like a well-tuned lur. Do not stop, beloved."
Hlif captured Gurith's lips in a hard kiss. She looked down into the unfocused gaze of her love and pushed her fingers deeper. Gurith threw her golden head back and let out a deep, lusty moan. Beaming with sexual pride, Hlif whispered, "Do not fear that I would stop, for I love the song coming from your lips too much."
For the rest of the night Hlif was tireless as she made up for the three moons they had spent apart. It was only when the sky lightened and dawn announced its splendour in a kaleidoscope of colours, that Hlif pulled her fingers from Gurith and rolled the thoroughly-ravished Queen onto her stomach for a well-deserved rest. She slowly made her exit from the bed and blinked when she stumbled slightly.
How could she have forgotten? Banished from the immortal realm, Odin had also seized her great powers. She was now equal to the mortals who were asleep in their longhouses. Hlif sat on the bed and waited for the fainting spell to blow over. While she waited, she gazed on the form of her lover. Strangely enough, she didn't feel in the least unhappy for having given up her powers to be the mortal mate of this woman. It was true what she had said earlier about Gurith being everything and more to her. It was possible to be a very good mate to Gurith. She had seen great men of much lesser power wandering the mortal realm. She, too, could be one of them with her now-diminished powers. Feeling stronger, she put on her breeches and a shirt and with one final look at Gurith crept from the sleeping chamber. She quietly made her way through the palace and only stopped when she was outside.
The air was crisp and clean and after their vigorous lovemaking, it felt good to draw it into her lungs. These are the things they took for granted as immortals. When in these three hundred years of immortality had she ever taken the time to stop and appreciate the effortless beauty around her? When did she use her lungs to draw in clean, fresh air? Feeling elated that she was alive, in love and so thoroughly satisfied, Hlif languidly stretched out her towering frame. She brushed her hands over her short, dark curls and with a slight skip in her step, made her way across the huge courtyard to the lookout point. For a brief moment, she regretted ravishing Gurith to the point of collapse. It would've been a memorable moment to have her lover here with her, enjoying the tranquillity and beauty of the first of many early mornings for them. With the thought still running through her mind, Hlif gazed out over the wooden wall.
Her blood instantly turned to ice.
Stretching as far as the eye can see, stood a sea of warriors. She instinctively raised her hand to her back for her shield and spear only to find the space disappointingly bare. The fear that clogged her mind at that moment immediately coursed to other parts of her body, leaving her rooted to the place.
"Ah, we meet again so soon, sister," a smarmy voice said behind her. Hlif turned to encounter the wicked eyes of her half-brother and nemesis. "What? You do not look pleased to see me."
"Why are you doing this, Loki? I have been punished and the matter was sealed with my acceptance of the penalty." Her hands curled into fists as she watched the lanky demi-god blinking at her.
"Why? You ask me why?" Loki threw his hands up, his dark eyes glittering with mirth. "Of all the warriors and Valkyries alike I always thought you to be the most astute. I obviously rushed to my conclusion, sister." He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again, Hlif shuddered at the menace she saw in them. "You have emasculated me. As a full-god and son of Odin, I should be the one Father look to for guidance and support. Instead, he grants you, the by-blow of a hasty tumble with a human whore, the honour that should have befallen me."
Stunned by the vehemence and the words, Hlif could only stare at Loki. A sneer pulled Loki's boyishly handsome face into an ugly mask of hatred.
"Your arrogance made you grow lax, sister dear. Did you think no one would notice your sneaky trips to this castle? That your rutting with the Queen would go unnoticed?" Loki smiled, an ugly movement of his lips. "It did not take much to find out who she was? Besides spreading her legs for you, she is a descendant of the one warrior whose soul Father could never command. His daughter is the next best thing, especially seeing as she has the same prowess as her father, if not better."
A tremor slithered down Hlif's spine. How did Loki find out? When she found out that Gurith was Harald the Great's daughter, she had made it a point to keep the truth hidden from Odin. And with good reason. Harald refused Odin's offer to join him in Valhalla. Odin himself had come to the mortal realm to cajole the warrior's soul from him as Harald lay dying on the battlefield. But the cunning warrior, having expected the god's interference, waited for Odin to turn his eyes away for a scant instant, to take his own life. The poison was potent and fast working; stealing the warrior spirit before anyone, god or man, could do anything. A soul released under duress was a lost cause, soiled and impossible to save. By taking his own life, Harald had cheated Odin from claiming the soul of one of the best warriors to ever have walked the earth.
Finding out about Gurith's heritage was pure luck. She had been there when Odin courted Harald's soul and seeing the same sword strapped to her lover's hips on the many occasions the Warrior Queen was doing battle, made it all come together. She had never asked Gurith about her father, scared that the heavens had ears. Now Loki had managed to unravel the mystery and waved Gurith's scent under Odin's nose.
"Please do not do this, Loki. If you want, petition Father to condemn me to the mortal realm forever. With me out of the way, you will be positioned favourably to receive his attention." Hlif had never begged for anything in her life before, but she would do anything for Gurith.
Loki chuckled softly. "How the high and mighty have fallen. Is she really worth it? Or is what she has between her legs so potent that it has addled the Supreme Valkyrie's brain?"
A heated surge went through Hlif at hearing the crude words that spilled from Loki's mouth. She was thus shocked to find a warm hand clasped her wrist. Turning, she met the ice-blue gaze of her lover.
"There is no sense in wasting any sort of emotion on one such as him," Gurith said. Her voice was heavy with contempt. "He is not worthy to demean yourself over."
Hlif pulled Gurith into her arms, looking deep into the sombre eyes. "But you are worth it, beloved. I am doing this for us."
The ice-blue eyes warmed a fraction, before they shifted from her to look out over the wall. "They are here to steal my soul, Valkyrie."
Hlif tightened her arms around the shorter woman. "I will not let them. I swear. I will not let anyone near you."
Gurith's eyes were awash with love when they met hers again. "You are only mortal now, Hlif. You are just as much at their mercy as I am."
"Contrary to collective opinions," Loki muttered, his tone amused, "we immortals do have lives and engagements to keep. So, instead of having you bleed my ear with your senseless love prattle, shall I give the General the signal to attack?" Seemingly, the epitome of boredom, Loki studied his fingernails before looking at them.
Hlif stepped closer to her half-brother. "Please, do not do this, Loki?"
"Do not plead with him, beloved. Instead, kiss me, take my breath away," Gurith said softly and held her arms out to receive Hlif. Baffled by the strange request, but also unable to refuse the woman, Hlif walked into the loving arms.
"What are we going to do, Gurith? I cannot live without you and hopefully the same applies for you," Hlif mumbled in the fragrant blond hair.
"Let us give him what he wants." Gurith held onto her tightly when Hlif tried to move out of the embrace. "He will not stop otherwise."
Hlif turned her head slightly to look at Loki. He was smiling broadly. She felt Gurith move in her arms, but couldn't keep her eyes off the hateful, gloating face of Loki. She will make him pay for this. She will destroy him completely.
"Kiss me, Valkyrie," Gurith said softly and Hlif complied. The kiss was deep and gentle and… different. Hlif pulled back slightly when she felt something poking her in the chest, breaking the kiss she looked down and gasped. The golden hilt of her dagger protruded from Gurith's chest. Her eyes flew up immediately to meet the tender ones of Gurith.
"What have you done?" Hlif moaned sadly. "Oh my love, why?"
"No… No… NOOOOO," Loki screeched as he tried to push between them, but Gurith held on with almost superhuman strength.
"I cannot let…" The pale eyes were dimming slowly. "… them steal my soul. I have immortalized you in there. At least this way my soul will roam the mortal realm. Find me, beloved, and remind me of our love." Gurith closed her eyes for a moment and Hlif could feel her knees buckle slightly. "Kiss me again, my heart. Take my last breath and let it live inside you until we meet again."
Knowing there was nothing else left to do, Hlif slanted her lips over Gurith and kissed the dying Queen with all the love she felt for her. She only lifted her lips when Gurith's body went limp in her arms. She looked down at the pale face made blurry by the tears in her own eyes.
"I promise to search for you, beloved. Wait for me, for I will not rest until I have found you." She swung Gurith's body into her arms and with a final glare at a dumbfounded Loki, walked away.
"I am not done with you, Loki, Odin's son," she muttered under her breath.
"The document clearly states that failure to adhere to the stipulations could result in legal action. I've been in touch with the Nepalese Culture Ministry to find out if there was a way around that, but the answer is no." Soft, red lips pressed together in annoyance. "Lisa, I assure you that we have done everything that was humanly possible. Now all we need to do is sit and wait for all the red tape to be cleared before we put in another bid for the items." A well-manicured hand curled into a fist as the woman listened to the person on the other end of the line. "We've known from the start that it would be difficult to get the Nepalese government to release the items to us. We've come this far and all I would ask of you now, Lisa, is to allow the process to be handled on the other side. I'll call you as soon as I hear from them." The woman listened quietly. "Yes, Lisa, I'll call you. You're welcome. Goodbye."
Borgny 'Bo' Witteman hung up and yanked the headset from her head, upsetting her carefully coifed blonde locks. She fixed cold ice-blue eyes on the picturesque sight of the bustling street seven floors below her office.
"Vaughn again? Is it the fourth time she called in two days?"
Turning slowly, Bo fixed her assistant and friend with a cool stare. "That woman is impossible." She threw the headset on her desk. "I can't wait for the Nepalese to come back to me so I can get her off my back for a while." She skirted the desk and gracefully sank into her chair. "What else happened in the past hour while my time was being hogged by Lisa Vaughn?"
Marion pushed away from where she'd been leaning against the doorjamb. "Harold and Gemma are on their way to the airport. They'll meet with the Sandovals in Washington before Gemma continues on to Ohio to visit her family. She took a week's annual leave to check up on her mother who's recovering from a mild stroke."
Bo's eyes widened. How did she not know about that? "We must send flowers and a card and offer our help in any way we can."
"Already done. Mrs Pritchard received her flowers this morning."
Once again astonished by the woman's competence, Bo smiled broadly. "You're a star, Marion. Thank you."
Marion smiled, but her eyes were hooded as she looked at Bo. "Just doing my job, boss. However, you can thank me over lunch, if you want."
For a moment, neither said anything as they stared at each other. "Marion…" Bo began, but the brunette held up her hand.
"Just lunch, Bo," Marion said softly
Marion Grady was beautiful, brilliant, and extremely competent. Bo doubted she could have made a better choice when she picked the woman from a list of candidates fifteen years ago. They worked together like a well-oiled machine, with Marion anticipating Bo's every need even before the lawyer knew what she wanted. Together they had built the small law practice into a formidable corporate leader in the niche market of Antiquities and Cultural Law. Now years later, Bo headed a team of four talented young lawyers and three archaeology researchers servicing fifteen long-term clients.
It was finally reaching her dream and reaping the awards that led to Bo inviting Marion to an art gallery opening of a friend and client. Drunk on success and champagne, they ended up at Marion's place. Six hours later, Bo had crept out of the loft with her lace thong stuffed in her purse and her Manolo Blahnicks in her hand. She had cursed herself for being the worst kind of fool on her drive home. The most difficult thing for her to ever do was to tell Marion that what had happened was simply a mistake. That was a year ago and although they managed to salvage their friendship, the awkwardness remained.
"Yes, I'd like to have lunch with you. Just give me ten minutes to make a call to Nepal and I'll come meet you." She put the headset on but quickly turned back to Marion. "Will you get us a table at the Turin? I actually crave their ceviche."
Marion smiled. "Yum! See you soon."
When the door closed behind Marion, Bo lowered her head until her chin rested on her chest. She will probably never forgive herself for what had happened that night between them, because Marion didn't deserve to be treated that way. There were an obscene number of women Bo could've called to scratch her itch, instead she took advantage of a dear friend. Of all the mistakes she has made over the years, that one rated the highest.
The shrill ringing of the phone interrupted her thoughts. "Bo." She rolled her eyes. "Lisa, I haven't heard back from the Nepalese yet." A small frown formed on her forehead. "Yes, I know Professor Shawn Whitaker."
The restaurant was bustling with the lunch crowd when Bo entered. Her eyes swept the crowded tables and she offered a small smile when she spotted Marion's little wave. She carefully stepped around waiting staff, conscious of numerous eyes following her passage. It stopped bothering her a long time ago, but it didn't mean she didn't sometimes feel a bit conscious of all the attention her presence generated. She had been a supermodel before and had been stared at more times than she cared to remember as she walked runways across the world. As she made her way to where Marion waited, she wished that it hadn't been the case today. She was nervous enough as it was. This was the first time she would meet with Marion outside the office since their disastrous one nightstand. She didn't need strangers witnessing her unease.
"Hey. I thought you stood me up," Marion said softly as Bo took the seat opposite her.
The remark was probably meant to be a joke, but Bo could hear the genuine concern in Marion's voice. She focussed her gaze solidly on Marion.
"I'll never stand you up, Marion," she said earnestly. "I had a call to take care of which took longer than anticipated."
Marion smiled, the tension in her shoulder easing slightly. "Lisa Vaughn again?"
"Not this time," Bo muttered as she looked around for the waiter. "Have you ordered already?"
"I've ordered your ceviche and asked them to bring it over once you arrive." Marion took a sip from her water. "So, what goes this time?"
Bo exhaled noisily. "There's been a find in Iceland and professor Whitaker wants me to meet him at his office in Reykjavik on Friday." She poured herself a glass of water from the carafe. "Apparently this could be the find of the century."
"I thought the scrolls of Queen Aspen two years ago, was tagged as the find of the century?"
Taking a small sip, Bo shrugged. "A lot is happening it seems. It's as if the universe's treasure chest is overflowing and it's unloading some of its secrets."
"Who… or rather, what is it that's got the good Professor's undies in a wad?" Marion asked with a grin. "Professor Whitaker is not someone prone to histrionics."
The waiter appeared at their table and Bo ordered an expensive bottle of red wine. When she looked at Marion, it was to find the other woman looking at her with raised eyebrows. "What?"
"Whatever the phone call was about, it seems to have put you in a celebratory mood?"
Bo leaned over the table, grinning broadly. "It appears as if professor Whitaker has stumbled upon a find which could rival that of Queen Aspen." She sat back slowly. "But that's not the reason why I'm ordering a seventy year old wine, my dear."
"Do tell, boss. Will it make us filthy rich?"
"Not really," Bo commented. She lifted her water glass to her lips. "But I'm excited to find out something more about my heritage."
Marion frowned. "Your heritage?"
"Yep. Professor Whitaker's assistant mentioned something about a Viking warrior. I've always been fascinated by the Viking era." She placed her glass on the table. "I can't really explain it, but it somehow feels important for me to go and see what the fuss is all about." Bo fixed Marion with an intense stare as she waited expectantly for Marion to ask the one question, Bo really didn't want to answer now. The waiter's approach saved her, but she knew how Marion's mind worked and knew that this would be a very short reprieve.
She waited patiently while the waiter to serve them, avoiding Marion's gaze. When the waiter finally left, she picked up her wine and sniffed it delicately before taking a sip. Suppressing a small moan at the tantalizing flavours, she chanced a look at her lunch companion.
"Is this what I think it's about, Bo?"
Feigning ignorance to buy herself a few more minutes, Bo gave Marion a quizzical look.
"You know what I'm talking about? Is this about your parents?" Marion asked gently.
Her parents. Bo felt her heart clench at the thought of her parents. She wasn't home the day it all happened. She'd travelled with her university hockey team to compete against their biggest rival. As soon as the match was over, a couple of detectives approached her coach. Her parents had been murdered by what they suspected had been a botched break-in. Nothing much was taken, except that whoever broke in took an obscene amount of time and detail in killing her parents. She had not seen the bodies, but the closed caskets at the funeral were indicative of the damage done to them.
Fearing for her safety, her grandmother had sent her to the States to live with her father's brother, who owned an Antiquities gallery in New York. It took a while for her to adapt to life in the States and to depend on her uncle, but a talent scout spotted her in a coffee shop near her college campus and soon she was jetting all over the world, making her own money and having her face plastered on the covers of magazines and billboards.
After ten years, she called it quits and went back to school to get her law degree with a specialization in Antiquities. Her uncle was very proud on the day of her graduation and signed on as her first client. The rest as they say is history, but the senseless demise of her parents had always stayed with her. Bo hired private detectives to find out what had really happened, but it seemed the culprits simply vanished without a trace.
Every one of the seven detectives came up empty handed. But the short call with Professor Shawn Whitaker had brought it all up again. She wasn't sure how a celebrity Archaeologist fit into the mix, but the man seemed confident that he could give her some information on her ancestry. Who knows, it could lead to the reason why her parents were killed. Alternatively, it might not. But Bo felt deep inside that she'd undoubtedly stumbled upon a break. For the first time in twenty years, she might have some answers.
Bo took a sip of her wine, its taste dramatically altered by her mood and she scrunched up her face. Marion was still staring at her.
"I don't know if it even relates to my parents, but I feel I should go and hear him out."
"Would you like me to accompany you?"
She shook her head. "I'll be gone for a week at the most and I would feel more comfortable knowing you're here to run the show." The waiter brought her food over and Bo felt her mouth water at the sight. "Did you order something for yourself?"
"The shrimp linguine. It should arrive shortly. When are you leaving?"
"At the end of the week. Lisa's request for having the artefacts from Nepal shipped over is caught up in red tape from the Nepalese end. I've spoken to Ram to see what he can do from his side, but after the theft of priceless Himalayan statues from a Buddhist monastery, the Nepalese Cultural Ministry isn't keen to have any more of their artefacts leave the country. Not even the exposure these pieces would give their country, seems to matter to them."
Marion's food arrived and they both began to eat. Bo was relieved that unlike the wine her dish wasn't affected by her mood. When the silence at the table stretched for longer than was normal, she decided to stick to business.
"I've been so busy with the Vaughn case. What else is happening in the office?" She watched as a flash of sadness washed over Marion's face. Bo didn't avert her gaze, but she gave herself a hard kick mentally.
"We signed on a new client last week."
"That's good news. How many this year?" They were nearing the end of the year and it was almost time to close for the holiday season. Signing on new clients would mean they might have to work a couple weeks into the holiday if they want to keep the client on.
"Seven. They've all been serviced and are looking forward to future dealings with us. The client of last week is looking for some sort of a partnership with a reputable archaeologist or a team to excavate a site in Northern Iceland."
Bo leaned back in her chair. "Did you explain to him that we are not a recruitment agency? We only intervene on the behalf of a client to have a foreign relic shipped from its country of origin to anyplace in the world."
Marion grinned. "I explained it to him exactly like that."
"He offered us five million dollars to hook him up with a team of experts and a further five million to have whatever he finds shipped to a gallery here in the States."
Bo gaped at Marion. "That's a lot of money." She took a sip of the wine and found its taste to have improved greatly over the past few minutes. She topped up Marion's glass too. When people threw around money like that, it usually sets off alarm bells for her. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him I needed to talk to you first," Marion said quickly. "I also suggested a face to face meeting with you."
She smiled at the younger woman. That was one of the reasons she hated herself for what she'd done to Marion. The woman was very good at her work and Bo didn't know how she would've survived had she not given Marion a chance when she applied with a less than stellar résumé than the other candidates. "Thanks, Marion. Could you set up a meeting with him for the day after tomorrow?"
"Consider it done. In the meantime, could you try to wrap up the Lisa Vaughn issue, please? I'd hate to inherit her when you leave at the end of the week."
Bo chuckled softly. Lisa Vaughn owned a number of reputable galleries in the States and they had been lucky and quite honestly, privileged to have landed her as a client. The woman brought in good business, but she demanded exclusive service for that privilege. Over the past five years, they had managed to meet and, on occasion, exceed her expectations.
Her latest project seemed to have hit a snag, though. No matter how many calls and cajoling Bo did, the Nepalese didn't seem interested in having a showing of their ancient idols in the States. Up to now, Bo had been dealing directly as the liaison for Lisa Vaughn. Maybe she needed to muddy the water a bit. Make it difficult for both parties to see it as giving in to each other.
She also needed to do an extensive background check into Lisa Vaughn. Maybe the Nepalese aren't saying 'no' to the showing, but rather 'no' to Lisa. Bo needed to find out if there was any link between their clients. Secondly, she needed to find out that, should the Nepalese government had an issue with Lisa, if there was someone they would say 'yes' too. That someone would need to be someone Lisa would prefer as well. That way the Nepalese get their exposure and tourism opportunities for their gorgeous country increases. Lisa gets the credit for bankrolling the project. A win-win situation for all involved.
"I might have another angle to see how we could work around this. If you could get Martin to clear my afternoon, I may just be able to perform a miracle today."
"That'll be my priority when we get back to the office."
The rest of their lunch continued wonderfully and Bo prayed that they could have more outings like these.
Dr Shawn Whitaker shook his head as he studied the engravings on the shield. To finally be confronted by something he had spent his whole life searching for, was inexpressible. He sat back and looked up at the other person in the room. Hanna Holm had a glow on her face. To be honest, the woman had been like that since they had opened the tomb.
"I don't know what to say."
"There isn't much to say, Professor." She threw her arms wide, taking in the large room with its rows of tables. Every table was heaving with relics found in the queen's tomb. "Each item here speaks for itself."
Shawn stood and walked to the nearest table. He gently picked up a ring and turned the piece around as he studied it. It looked like a wedding band. The historical tombs didn't mention a consort in the queen's interpretations. He replaced the ring and looked at Hanna. "These are all priceless. How are we going to keep them secure?"
"I've hired a local security firm. They specialize in dig site security and they have already deployed a team. Some are disguised as diggers and students. Others worked on setting up surveillance cameras around the area as well as patrols of the site and the nearby camp."
Shawn smiled at the woman. He was invited to deliver a talk at Uppsala University when he noticed her first. Shawn was struck by her intensity and intelligence. She took notes and asked thought-provoking questions. He recruited her on the spot and dragged her along on digs during her school breaks. Upon her graduation, Hanna walked into his firm as a senior Archaeologist and he had placed her on the project closest to his heart.
To find the tomb of Queen Gurith Haraldsdottir.
The notorious Viking Warrior Queen.
Claimed Book 1
The Wolven Series