| Mission: Irresistible |
By Lori Wilde
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No question about it. The mummy was following her.
Cassie Cooper slipped past King Tut, who was chatting up Nefertiti beside the lavish hors d’oeuvre table, and cast a surreptitious glance over her shoulder.
There he was. Peeking from behind the Sphinx’s chipped nose, his mysterious dark eyes following her as she meandered around the main exhibit hall of the Kimbell Art Museum.
Stifling a triumphant grin, she readjusted her Cleopatra Queen of the Nile headdress, which kept slipping down on her forehead and mussing up her wig. Just to tease, she moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue.
Who was lurking beneath the swaddling linen?
Her pulse quickened. She had a lot of admirers. No telling who was in the costume.
Maybe it was an old flame. Maybe a new one. Maybe it was even a stranger.
Goose bumps dotted the nape of her neck.
A mystery. How exciting.
Don’t let yourself get diverted. Forget the distractions; you’ve got a job to do.
The voice inside her head sounded exactly like her straight-arrow twin, Maddie.
Cassie sighed in wistful longing. Apparently she missed her sister’s lovable nagging so much that her own conscience had taken over the job. She was happy Maddie had married her true love, hunky FBI agent David Marshall. What she wasn’t so thrilled about was David’s getting promoted and dragging Maddie off to live in the urban wilds of Washington, D.C.
Focus on your goal.
Okay. All right. She was focusing.
Cassie turned her back on the mummy and managed to tamp her libido down a smidgen. If she had any hope of landing her dream job in the public relations department of the Smithsonian, she would have to make sure this charity masquerade to promote the legend of the star-crossed Egyptian lovers exhibit went off without a glitch.
After getting laid off as the PR director for Art World Today magazine four months ago, she’d been grateful just to get her old job back at the Kimbell, but now her wanderlust had kicked up again. She was hungering for something new and different. Cassie wanted the change not only because bagging the Smithsonian represented the pinnacle of her career, but also because she would get to live near her twin again.
Unfortunately, achieving her dream job would require a glowing recommendation from her new boss, Phyllis Lambert. And old Prune Face was not her greatest fan. In fact, if Cassie hadn’t been instrumental in helping capture the charming art thief who had robbed the Kimbell the previous year, she knew Lambert would have convinced the board of directors to show her the door.
She must perform flawlessly. All she had to do was keep her mind off Mummy Man and firmly fixed where it belonged.
On the party.
With a discerning eye, she assessed the room. Exotic Egyptian music trickled through the state-of-the-art surround sound system. Large navy blue banners with ivory lettering adorned the walls of the exhibit hall. Underneath the lettering on each banner was the amulet’s double-ring emblem, encircling an embossed silhouette of two lovers kissing beneath a blanket of golden stars.
“UNDYING LOVE,” declared the banner along the north wall. “INTRIGUE” bordered the south. “DANGER” flanked the west. “BETRAYAL” along the east wall, completed the quadrangle.
Tuxedoed waiters moved throughout the assembly carrying trays of champagne. Armed security guards manned the exits. Caterers dished up bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, assorted puff pastries, grilled prawns, Russian caviar, and the finest pâté.
Cassie had spared no expense. A hundred patrons of the arts had shelled out a thousand dollars apiece to witness the reunion of the ill-fated lovers separated in death for the past three thousand years.
Great. Perfect. Everything was running like a precision Swiss timepiece as they anticipated the arrival of the guest of honor, the illustrious Dr. Adam Grayfield from Crete, who was bringing with him Solen’s portion of the exhibit.
Until then, Cassie found her concentration drawn irresistibly over her shoulder again. She scanned the guests, searching for the mummy.
Impromptu romance had landed her in trouble more times than she cared to count, but she couldn’t seem to help herself when it came to the first rich blush of potential amour.
Putting an extra wiggle into her walk just in case the mummy happened to be watching, Cassie sashayed over to where several high-profile patrons, an eminent Egyptian from the Ministry of Antiquities, and various members of the press were clustered around a red velvet cordon. They were oohing and aahing over the feminine segment of the main attraction.
Princess Kiya’s sarcophagus and the section of amulet found among her artifacts.
The amulet, displayed on black velvet draped over a granite pedestal, was nothing spectacular to look at. After all the fanfare, seeing the amulet in person was a bit of a letdown. The talisman was a simple half-dollar-sized copper brooch, and there was a small jagged tear in the pliable metal ring where a second circle had long ago been ripped away.
Kiya was patiently awaiting the return of her Minoan lover, Solen.
Tenderness clutched Cassie’s heart. Damn, she was a sucker for romance. But secretly, while at the same time she dreamed of finding her own true love, deep down she was conflicted about the reality of such intimacy. The whole one-man-for-the-rest-of-your-life thing gave her the heebie-jeebies. For crying out loud, how did a girl ever know for sure if the grass wasn’t greener in another pasture?
From her peripheral vision she caught furtive movement through the crowd. The mummy was creeping closer. He was most definitely following her. He edged around a collection of canopic jars before ducking behind a guy in a hawk mask dressed as Horus the Sky God.
Aw, he was shy. How sweet.
She was normally attracted to bold, daring types, but there was something about shy guys that made her feel all soft and squooshy and maternal inside.
Face it, Cassie, Maddie’s voice teased inside her head. You have a talent for finding something to like about any member of the opposite sex.
True enough. She did love men.
Well, except maybe for the annoying Dr. Harrison Standish skulking at the back of the room. He was petulantly tossing from palm to palm that odd miniature replica of an ancient Egyptian battery that he always carried with him. She tilted her head and met his gaze. He glowered at her through the smudged lenses of his round, dark-framed glasses.
Dr. Standoffish. That was what Cassie called him behind his back.
The truth was, the guy intimidated her with his intellect. He was a Rhodes scholar, and he used so many big words, she often felt the need to lug a dictionary around with her just so she could figure out what he was saying.
Harrison had arrived from Egypt the previous Monday with Princess Kiya and her artifacts in tow, giving Cassie dark and brooding looks right from the beginning. Two years ago he had resurrected Ramses IV’s oldest daughter in the Valley of the Kings, and ever since then he had been diligently searching for her eternal soul mate, Solen.
But Dr. Adam Grayfield had beaten Standoffish to the punch. Harrison had to be irked over Dr. Grayfield’s coup d’état. Perhaps that was why he was so pissy.
Standoffish was younger than she had expected. His youthful face placed him in his early thirties, but still, he seemed much older. Stodgy. Set in his ways.
And Cassie was stuck with him.
He was the sole reason the Egyptian government had allowed the exhibit into the United States. The Kimbell had gotten lucky because Standish was a Fort Worth native, and he’d chosen to host the exhibit in his hometown.
Cassie and the obstinate Egyptologist had had several heated disagreements over the publicity of the star-crossed lovers. She’d had to remind him on more than one occasion of the politics of economics. If he wanted more grant money for his digs, then, like it or not, Harrison would have to play footsie with both the media and the museum’s benevolent benefactors. You’d think after so many years in the archaeology game, the guy would have already bought a clue or two.
They’d also argued over his refusal to wear a costume for the masquerade party.
Cassie might have won the publicity war, but Standish had triumphed in the costume department. As usual, his dark hair was disheveled, looking as if he’d combed the unruly locks with a tuning fork.
He was attired in his quintessential nerdy professor clothes. Rumpled orange-and-white-striped shirt, hideous purple tweed jacket with worn leather elbow patches, a god-awful chartreuse bow tie, and five-pocket, pleated, baggy khaki Dockers. Hadn’t anyone ever told him that pleats were out, out, out?
She just now noticed he was wearing one brown tasseled loafer and one black one. The clueless guy had to be either color-blind or severely fashion-impaired.
What a geek.
Cringing, Cassie rolled her eyes and prayed that no one else had noticed. He was destroying the exotic atmosphere of ancient Egypt she’d worked so hard to re-create.
His gaze held hers, and Cassie forced herself not to glance away. She didn’t exactly know why, but something about the man made her jittery. Maybe it was the way he habitually handled that toy of his. Or perhaps it was because he seemed immune to her charms. She was accustomed to batting her eyelashes, crooking her little finger, and having men fall at her feet.
But not this dude. He just kept scowling and tossing that stupid artifact reproduction.
Did he want a staring contest? Was that the deal? Oh, he had sure picked the wrong gal for that. She was the master of the staredown. The only one who could trump her was Maddie.
Let’s have a go at it, Poindexter. Cassie narrowed her eyes and sank her hands onto her hips.
He didn’t blink.
Neither did Cassie.
She’d heard Standish was known as old Poker Face around the digs, but she wasn’t intimidated. The game was on.
He narrowed his eyes.
She responded in kind.
One minute passed.
Okay, now she’d see how he responded under pressure. She stuck out her tongue.
Real mature. He cabled the message with his eyes and didn’t crack a smile. Apparently he wasn’t going to let the sight of her tongue unnerve him.
She laughed, flipped her straight dark wig over her shoulder, and gave him a quick flash of her natural blonde hair beneath. The peekaboo was no accident. His face flushed as if he was having thoughts he had no business entertaining.
“Ahem.” Phyllis Lambert cleared her throat. The middle-aged curator was also dressed as Cleopatra, but Phyllis didn’t possess the pizzazz to pull it off.
“Uh-huh,” Cassie mumbled without glancing over at her boss. She didn’t want to break eye contact with Standoffish and default the game.
“If you’re all done exchanging meaningful glances with Dr. Standish, might I have a word with you, Cassandra?”
Meaningful glances? As if!
First off, she wouldn’t be caught dead flirting with a pointy-headed intellectual like Einstein Poindexter Standoffish. Second, before Cassie could ever successfully flirt with him, he would have to read the comprehensive volume of Flirting for Dummies cover to cover.
From what she had seen of Standoffish so far, the dude possessed few social skills and zero talent for coquetry.
“Cassandra,” Lambert repeated.
No one except the annoying curator ever called her by her given name. Not even her own mother when she was displeased with her.
Cassie directed her gaze to the potato-chip-thin woman who wore too much makeup and not enough clothing. Powder foundation had settled into the numerous wrinkles lining her disapproving mouth. The air-conditioning was cranked a couple of degrees too low, providing indisputable evidence that the fifty-something Lambert wasn’t wearing a bra under her flimsy white gown.
Not that her “girls” needed a harness, but barf, this was a classy event. At the very least, a couple of strategically placed Band-Aids were in order.
Be nice. Lambert has the power to make all your dreams come true.
Or crush them into dust.
Cassie forced a smile and ignored both the curator’s comment about exchanging meaningful glances with Dr. Standish and her unbound ta-tas.
“How may I help you, Phyllis?”
Lambert pursed her lips and tapped the face of her wristwatch. “The presentation starts at eight o’clock. It’s now fifteen minutes until the hour, and there’s no sign of Dr. Grayfield. Have you heard from him?”
Seven-forty-five. Really? Time flew when you were being shadowed by a mysterious mummy.
Cassie frowned. Where was Adam?
He had called her from New York the previous afternoon, promising that he and Solen would arrive at the Kimbell with plenty of time to set up for the reunification ceremony. Even if Dr. Grayfield appeared right now, fifteen minutes wasn’t nearly enough time to get things set up and rolling.
She had offered to send a car and an assistant to help him unload the crate at DFW Airport, but Adam had refused. For the sake of secrecy, he’d insisted on handling the details himself. Because she was a big fan of the dramatic, Cassie had acquiesced. In retrospect, it wasn’t such a hot idea.
Had something happened to him? Could he have been robbed? Accosted? Worse?
Anxiety clutched her, but then she blew out her breath and brushed her fears aside. Her twin sister, Maddie, was the worrywart, not she.
Everything would be fine.
Adam would show. No doubt he just wanted to make a grand entrance. And who could blame him? He had a big surprise in store. Imagine being the first person ever to decipher the hieroglyphs of the ancient Minoans, on top of discovering the lost tomb of Kiya’s beloved Solen.
Cassie felt especially honored because she was the only one Adam had told about the hieroglyphs. He’d said it was on a need-to-know basis, and because she was in charge of the party, she was the only one who needed to know in advance that he had an addition to the program. He’d sworn her to secrecy. Which wasn’t a problem. She liked being in on secrets.
From over Phyllis’s shoulder, Cassie spied the mummy again. He was waving, trying to get her attention. When his dark, enigmatic eyes met hers, he inclined his head toward the exit door leading to the garden courtyard. Was he telling her to meet him outside?
A sudden thought occurred. Could Adam Grayfield be the mummy? He’d told her he would be wearing a special costume. Was he playing flirtatious games with her? Or did he have an urgent message to relay?
“Well?” Phyllis demanded.
“Have you heard from Dr. Grayfield or not?”
No point putting the woman in a snit before there was something to snit about. “I heard from Adam.” Last night, Cassie mentally added. “Everything is on schedule.”
“He better be here by eight.” Phyllis tapped her watch again. “Because if anything goes wrong tonight—”
“Nothing,” Cassie interrupted the curator, “is going to go wrong.”
“Then do me a favor and put my mind at ease. Locate Dr. Grayfield.”
Jeez Louise, don’t get your panties in a bunch.
“Go. Now.” Phyllis made shooing motions.
“I’m going, I’m going.”
Cassie started after her purse, where she’d stashed her address book. She had taken only a couple of steps before Lambert dropped the nuclear bomb.
“Oh, and Cassandra,” Phyllis called after her.
Cassie forced herself not to sigh. She turned around and plastered a perky smile on her face. “Yes, Phyllis?”
“If you return without Dr. Grayfield and the remainder of the exhibit, you can kiss your coveted recommendation to the Smithsonian good-bye.”
Excerpted from Mission: Irresistible , by Lori Wilde . Copyright (c) 2005 by Laurie Vanzura. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top