She held the mask in her hands, the white curator’s gloves preventing her sweating palms from damaging the priceless artifact. She hadn’t been this nervous since the first time she’d had sex. And that had been bad. It got better, with the right partner. With Sam. With Sam everything had come easily. Why were her hands shaking?
Fuck, her brain was rambling. Bad enough that she did it when she was talking, but now she was babbling in her own head. She glanced around this conference room, looking longingly at the half-empty bottle of Scotch in the sidebar, noting the heavy scent of cigarettes in the air and the smell of the expensive leather chairs surrounding the sturdy oak table. The room spoke of wealth and privilege, exactly the sort of image the auction house cultivated for clients, no matter what their normal day-to-day dirty work might be. But Sheila also took note of the huge, yet thoroughly bored, guard just outside the door. Salbury and Sons may be New York’s finest auction house, but apparently they didn’t pay their security guards enough to stay alert.
It wasn’t something she would have normally given any attention to. But then again, Sheila Connelly Sumners was not a person who normally thought about stealing Inuit ceremonial masks either. She was amazed that she’d been asked to examine the piece. It wasn’t often that the big boys would ask a “little lady” to authenticate a rare piece like this. She supposed that the collector didn’t want word to get around, and thought that a small-time ethnographer at Columbia would know enough to keep her trap shut about something this incredible.
The kinapak was beautiful. Ancient beyond any artifact of the kind she’d ever seen or heard of. It was unmatched in quality. Stoniman had excellent taste in those items he wanted to secret behind the fortress of his downtown mansion. The trained social scientist in her evaluated the age, the composition, the likely uses. The stone and wood and feathers described in her notebook in cold, logical terms.
The storyteller in her knew that this object held power. One look into the half-wolf, half-human face and she knew that this piece did not belong in a display case on some rich man’s wall. This piece was alive, and it was cut off from its people.
George Alfman, the man who’d demanded she come into the Salbury offices at ten on a Saturday night, waltzed in the opposite door. The man wore his crisply pressed three-piece suit like armor. It looked as good as it would have if he’d come into work on a Monday morning at eight. She wondered if the little weasel had run on home to change into his best duds to impress her.
She’d just thrown on khakis and a thick gray sweater. She still had her pajama top on underneath, for christ’s sake! She didn’t wake up looking like Doris Day. George’s eyes traveled over her rumpled form with a mixture of distain and desire that was almost comical. The man was maybe an inch taller than her five two, and that receding hairline and Hitleresque mustache did not seem to make him think he was any less a catch. Maybe he thought if he showed her the most jim-dandy find of the year, she’d go to bed with him?
Fat chance, buster. Go find a gold-digging bobby-soxer and leave the real women alone.
The idea that this knucklehead was going to hand over this mask to Stoniman and not the Metropolitan Museum was sickening. She couldn’t let it happen. Hell, the damn thing should be at home, where it would still be used. Loved and cared for.
She’d already made the decision. Now she just had to have the guts to go through with it.
“George, baby, this is a bee-you-tiful piece. Almost too beautiful really.”
His brow furrowed, and the mustache twitched. She’d hooked him.
“Too beautiful? You think it’s fake! I can assure you, on the very best recommendations that…”
She had no desire to listen to one of his speeches. “Let’s just say I’m not completely convinced. But there’s a guy I know in the chem lab. He’s got a couple of tests that I would want to run.” She gave him her best blonde bombshell smile. “Just let me collect a few small samples and…”
“No! You can’t… I mean, I can’t damage it, it would lower the value…”
“Oh well then, there are some non-invasive tests that could be run. Spectrum analysis, that sort of thing. But then I’d have to take the mask with me. Could I borrow a security man to come with me for a couple of days? Just to be safe?”
She resisted biting her lip. It had been a risk, but she could see George’s beady little eyes flicker to the beefy guard in the hall and the miserly cogs turning in his little rodent brain. “All of this is hush-hush, top secret, you realize that, Sheila?”
“Everything I do for Salbury and Sons I hold in the strictest confidence, George. When have I ever let you down?” True, she hated being ordered by her department head to work for these fellas, but that was the kind of treatment a woman had to take to get by in a man’s world. And at the moment, she was grateful for that record. It meant that she might just have George falling into her honeytrap any second now…
“I think that it might just be safer for you to take the mask in a very unremarkable bag and have the tests performed in secret. That way we avoid any unwarranted attention by unsavory elements.”
Hook, line and sinker.
“Well, George, if you think that would be best. You know I always trust your opinion in these things.” She fluttered her eyelashes, and she hoped she wasn’t laying it on too thick. It always seemed to work for Rita Hayworth. George smiled at her goofily, and she gave him a happy grin.
She was going to walk out of here with the mask and never look back.
© Elaine Lowe
Mask of Ice
Author: Elaine Lowe
Genre: Erotic romance
Professor Sheila Connelly remembers Professor Sam Sumners. His dark eyes, his talented tongue, the way he always makes it clear he wants her. She should remember him—he’s still her husband, after all. When she “liberates” a powerful Inuit artifact from a ruthless dealer and needs help to find it a home, there’s no one else she trusts more than Sam. During the resulting adventures through the perilous arctic, she can’t remember how she managed without him.
It’s 1955, and it’s a man’s world. Through the magic of the artifact, Sam finds out just how hard it is to be a woman. And Sheila discovers that no matter what happens, she needs Sam with a passion hot enough to melt all the ice around her heart, and his.
All they have to do now is survive.