Death is Forever by Elizabeth Lowell - Romance>Romantic Literature
Somewhere in the Australian outback, on land left to her by a late relative she never met, American photographer Erin Windsor believes a diamond mine might be waiting with the promised yield of millions of dollars in raw gems. But the old man took its location with him to the grave. Erin's not the only one in the hunt, though she's easily the least ruthless...and most vulnerable. Blood will stain the trail to a precious, well-hidden secret, and she must turn to Cole Blackburn for help or face the killing night alone. A geologist and a walking mystery with ties to powerful forces that are now Erin's enemies, Cole is a dangerous man to trust, but she has no choice. Because life is too short to throw away your dreams, no matter how treacherous the pursuit of them might be.
And death is forever.
"Two people died getting this to me."
Cole Blackburn looked at the small worn velvet bag in Chen Wing's hand and asked, "Was it worth it?"
"You tell me."
With a swift motion Wing emptied the contents of the bag onto the ebony surface of his desk. Light rippled and shifted as nine translucent stones tumbled over one another with tiny crystalline sounds. The first impression was of large, very roughly made marbles that had been chipped and pitted by use. Nine of the thirteen stones were colorless. Three were pink. One was the intense green of a deep river pool.
Cole's hand closed over the green marble. It was as big as the tip of his thumb and surprisingly heavy for its size. He rubbed it between his fingers. The surface had an almost slippery feel, as though it had been burnished with precious oils. He turned the stone until he found a flat, cleanly chipped face. He bathed it with his breath.
No moisture collected on the smooth green surface.
Excitement stabbed through Cole. Without a word he walked to a liquor cart that stood against a nearby wall. He picked up a heavy leaded crystal glass and glanced at Wing, who nodded. Cole brought the green stone down the side of the glass in a single swift stroke.
The stone scratched the glass easily and deeply. The stone itself wasn't marked.
At random Cole picked up other stones from the desk and drew them down the crystal surface. New scratches formed. The stones themselves remained untouched. He pulled a well-worn jeweler's loupe from his pocket, angled the desk light to his satisfaction, picked up the deep green stone, and examined it.
The sensation was like falling into a pool of intense emerald light. Yet this was not an emerald. Even uncut and unpolished, the stone held and dispersed light in ways that only a diamond could. It shimmered between his fingers with each tiny movement of his hand. Light flowed and glanced among the irregularities in the stone's surface and gathered in its luminous depths. There were no fractures and only two very minute flaws, both irrelevant to the diamond's value. They lay just below the surface, where they would be cut and polished out of existence.
Cole looked at several more stones before he put his loupe back in his pocket and said, "White paper."
Wing opened a desk drawer, extracted a pure white sheet of Pacific Traders Ltd. letterhead, and slid it across the desk. Cole pulled a small chamois bag from his pocket and removed a rough diamond that he knew was of perfect color. Uncut and unpolished, the stone had a natural octahedral shape. It looked almost manmade next to the worn, irregular stones from Wing's bag.
Cole spaced the diamonds across the surface of the paper. One of the stones changed color subtly, becoming more coral than pink. The other pinks deepened to a lovely clear rose. Most of the white stones took on a blue sheen that exactly matched Cole's diamond. One or two showed a very faint yellow cast to their white, a color shift that only an expert eye would have detected or cared about.
And the green stone burned more vividly still, an emerald flame against snow.
Cole lowered the loupe and studied the green diamond with both eyes again. It still glimmered with an internal fire that was both hot and cold.
Years before, in Tunisia, he'd seen a stone that was nearly the equal of this one. The smuggler who owned the rough claimed it had come from Venezuela. Cole didn't believe it. But before he could raise enough cash to buy the truth, someone had sealed the smuggler's lips by cutting his throat. The smuggler's death hadn't shocked Cole. When it came to diamonds, a man's life was valuable only to himself, and his death could easily profit any number of people.