The Diamond Affair
By: Carolyn Scott | Other books by Carolyn Scott
Published By: C.J. Archer
Published: Mar 08, 2013
ISBN # 9781301041008
Published By: C.J. Archer
Published: Mar 08, 2013
ISBN # 9781301041008
Word Count: 57,000
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Mobipocket (.mobi), Epub
The Diamond Affair by Carolyn Scott - Romance>ContemporaryRuby Jones is the luckiest gemologist in the world. After all, how many can claim to have handled the famous "lost" Florentine Diamond, once worn by Habsburb Empresses? But her luck runs out when the diamond is stolen from ruthless businessman Guy Beauvoir. As the one commissioned to verify it, she's his prime suspect. With Beauvoir's goon chasing her all over the city, there's only person Ruby can turn to.
Jake Forrester doesn't want anything to do with Ruby, but he owes her brother big. The ex-special ops soldier turned private security agent is moving interstate, and the last thing he wants is a complication in the form of his mate's sexy little sister. The sooner he can find the Florentine and return it to Beauvoir, the sooner he can walk away.
If only it were that simple. Keeping Ruby safe is turning into a full-time job, and having her close is playing havoc with his determination to forget the secrets he's tried so hard to bury.
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Ruby Jones had thought she was alone with her diamonds. She was wrong. Someone was in the hallway beyond her workshop door. The tap tap of footsteps on the floorboards was loud in the silence, louder even than her rapidly beating heart.
She froze. At ten p.m, visitors to her first floor workshop were only there for one thing.
To steal her gems.
Maybe, just maybe, her presence would scare off the opportunistic thief. "Is that you, Aaron?" she called out, though the footsteps didn't belong to her assistant. After working together for four years, she knew his light, rapid step. These footsteps were heavier, slower, as if the person were being cautious. Or trying to sneak.
Ruby sat very still, straining to hear over the blood rushing between her ears. Silence. Maybe she'd been mistaken. After all, there was more than enough jewelry in the downstairs store safes to keep him occupied. Why would anyone need to venture upstairs at all?
Bolstered by logic, she got up to investigate. She picked up the slim jeweler's knife, just in case logic proved fallible, and eyed the telephone on her desk. If she called the police based on footsteps alone, she'd sound paranoid. But she had heard something. Better to be safe than sorry.
She reached for the phone just as the door swung open and crashed back against the wall. She gasped. A gorilla of a man stood in the doorway holding a gun.
She knew him.
"Don't touch the phone," he growled. He waggled the gun, directing Ruby away from the desk. "Drop the weapon."
Ruby obeyed although her shaking body didn't want to move out of reach of the phone. But she knew the consequences if she didn't do as ordered. The intruder had a reputation for ruthlessness. His boss even more so.
But the boss had no reason to rob her, or send his goon around to wave a gun in her face. He was insanely rich, he didn't need to resort to petty theft. What was going on?
"You're Frank, aren't you?" she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "Guy Beauvoir's employee?"
"Head of security actually." He thrust out all of his chins, making the ruddy flesh wobble. ‘Fat Frankie' his boss had called him yesterday, but only after the gorilla left them alone in Guy's office. Even Beauvoir didn't want to insult him to his face.
She swallowed and waited, torn between talking to him and keeping her mouth shut. His gaze darted around the small room, taking in her equipment and tools before settling on the small diamonds lying loose in the tray on her workbench. His gaze flicked back to her.
"What do you want?" she asked, unable to keep quiet any longer.
"Where is it?" he said from the doorway.
"Where is what?" She shrugged. "If it's gems you're after there's some in that tray, the rest are in the safe." She indicated the sturdy safe squatting in the corner. "Take what you want. I'm insured."
"Open the safe."
She hesitated and he pointed the gun higher, aiming at her head. One shot and she was dead. Ruby didn't doubt for a second that Fat Frankie would have any qualms about pulling the trigger. Panic and bile rose in her throat as she fumbled with the combination lock.
The door opened and she pulled out tray after tray of diamonds, sapphires, rubies and other precious and semi-precious stones. Some were still in their raw form, others cut, polished and ready to be crafted into jewelry pieces by herself or Aaron. It broke her heart to think all their hard work was about to be snatched away by the sausage fingers of Fat Frankie simply to fill the vaults at Guy Beauvoir's mansion.
She had no idea why one of Australia's richest and shadiest men wanted her stash of gems, but she wasn't about to argue with his right-hand man. Not when he was reported to be trigger-happy and fiercely loyal to his boss.
Damn it, why had she accepted Beauvoir's offer to visit him yesterday against her better judgment? Frankie's presence must be connected. But how? If only she'd refused the invitation.
There was no point speculating because she would always have accepted his offer to view the Florentine diamond. No matter that she knew he must have procured it through the black market. It had been a once in a lifetime opportunity. She didn't regret it, even now.
She knelt in front of the safe, holding the trays, Fat Frankie standing over her. He clicked his tongue. "It's not here." He kicked the nearest tray, scattering her stones—her precious, beautiful gems—all over the workshop. It would take her forever to find them all.
"What are you doing?" she shouted. "Stop it!"
"Then tell me where it is." His foot nudged another tray.
"Where what is?"
"There are diamonds all over my floor," she snapped. "Which one in particular?" Even as she said it, she knew. There was only one diamond Guy would be concerned about losing. One extremely valuable diamond. "The Florentine," she said on a breath.
"Yeah, that's it," Fat Frankie said, his jowls lifting. "The Florentine."
"I don't have it."
"Wrong. The boss says you do and I've gotta retrieve it. Whatever the cost." He shot her a cruel smile and his hand flexed around the gun.
She swallowed down her fear and stood. This was absurd. There must be some mistake. How would she, a small-time gemologist and jeweler, get past Guy Beauvoir's security? The man had more locks and alarms than a bank. The idea that she could steal even a pencil from him was ridiculous.
"Mr. Beauvoir must be mistaken," she said. "I don't have the Florentine. Why in the world does he think I do?"
Fat Frankie hesitated as if weighing up whether to tell her. "You were the last one to handle it," he finally said. "And you overheard the boys discussing which route they were going to take to get it to the boss's house."
She had? She frowned, trying to recall the previous day when she'd been charmed by Guy Beauvoir in his suite of offices. But all she could remember was the Florentine and its magnificent clarity. The color was a rare citron and the light bounced off its facets in glorious patterns. She'd never held anything like it. It was as beautiful as she'd always imagined.
"You were seen on the security footage, listening." Fat Frankie frowned too. "Near the palms," he added.
"What palms?" Then she remembered the two tall potted palm trees in the foyer where she'd stopped to pull out her notebook and pen. She'd wanted to write down a description of the Florentine while it was still fresh in her mind. None of the historical accounts did it justice.
"Yeah, see?" Fat Frankie said, his expression clearing. He must have doubted his own security intelligence and begun to believe her. "You were there. You did overhear the boys."
"No, I didn't. I was too busy."
He snorted. "Yeah, right." He raised his gun again. "So, where is it?"
"I don't have it! Do you actually think I'd steal from Guy Beauvoir then return here? Are you crazy?"
"Could be." He sighed. "Come on, just tell me where it is. You're the only one who could have stolen it, so..." He put the gun to her temple. "Bang bang."
Ruby wanted to be brave. She really did. But her legs felt like water and she was sweating all over. Her brains were about to be scattered around the room along with her gems. Oh God, why her? She tried to think, tried to clear her mind of the haze of fear but she couldn't.
"Please don't shoot me," she whispered.
"I don't want to mess up that pretty face of yours, Mizz Jones, but I will. Boss's orders. Just tell me where this diamond is and I'll let you go."
Even if she had it, he'd never let her go. She looked away and searched for something to distract him. Her gaze settled on the knife she'd put down. It perched near the edge of her desk.
"Okay," she said, sucking up her welling tears. "There's another safe. A small one, in the desk drawer."
Fat Frankie stepped away but continued to watch her. "Go open it. Slowly."
She crossed the carpet, stepping on an opal on the way. She stood so that Frankie couldn't see the knife from his position near the safe. She picked it up with one hand as she opened the top drawer with the other. She lifted out the petty cash tin. It wasn't even locked. But it would do. It would have to.
She turned around and nearly smacked into Frankie's well-cushioned chest. He reeked of sweat and garlic. She gagged on a sob. Please God, let this work.
She thrust the tin into his stomach. He humphed and caught it with both hands, lowering the gun. Ruby lunged, pressing the blade into his fleshy side then using the moment of distraction to snatch the gun off him.
He squealed in pain, clutching at the knife sticking out of his side. "You bitch!"
He shouted obscenities at her as she grabbed her handbag off the desk and raced out of the workshop. She ran down the stairs, through the shop and onto Collins Street without looking back. There were no sounds of Fat Frankie following her but she couldn't be sure and didn't wait to find out. The sooner she called the cops the better, but she wanted to be safe when she did it.
Collins Street was deserted on a Wednesday night. The office workers had long gone, the shops were closed. There wasn't even a café open where she could make a call. She pushed on to her car, parked a block away. By the time she reached it, she was sweating from both the fear and Melbourne's heat wave. Even at night the warm air clung to her like a second skin.
She drove to the nearest police station but changed her mind and didn't stop. If she reported Fat Frankie's confrontation she would have to explain about the Florentine and that would lead to questions as to why she hadn't reported Guy Beauvoir's latest acquisition to the authorities earlier. Technically she hadn't done anything illegal as the Florentine wasn't stolen property—it had simply disappeared nearly a hundred years ago—but it would certainly lead to doubts about her own clean reputation. If it became known that she was dealing with someone of Guy Beauvoir's reputation, her clients would stay away. Celebrities and socialites couldn't afford to be connected to a jeweler with a dubious reputation, and she couldn't afford to lose their custom.
Instead she broke the speeding laws to get to her St Kilda apartment as quickly as possible. Fat Frankie may be injured but if he was smart—and the jury was still out on that one—he would head straight there. She didn't have much time. Get in, grab some essentials then get out. The most essential of her essentials wasn't the toothpaste, spare underwear or the ring her father had made for her, although she shoved all of those things into an overnight bag. The most important thing was a phone number scribbled on the back of a napkin in her brother's handwriting.
She thrust it into her handbag and left, locking the door behind her. She passed Evie from number six on the stairs.
"Hey, Ruby," she said cheerily. Evie was always cheery even at six a.m. on their morning run. "There's a man checking out your car. Big, fat ugly mother. Want me to call the cops?"
Fuck! "No thanks, not necessary. Hey, will you need your car for the next couple of days? Mine broke down and I know you catch the train to work. I promise I'll take good care of it."
"No need, it's a piece of trash. It's insured so do whatever you want with it." She tossed Ruby her keys. "You okay, Sweetie?" For once, Evie sounded worried. Her pretty brow furrowed. "You're not in any trouble are you?"
"Nothing a few margaritas won't help me forget when it's all over."
Evie's smile returned. "Deal." She moved on up the stairs. "Take care, Hon."
Ruby gave her what she hoped was a nonchalant wave as she raced down the stairwell. She'd parked her car out the front of the apartment complex so she snuck out the back door to the residents' parking lot behind the building. Evie's blue Ford really was a piece of scrap metal but it was better than her own Honda right now. No doubt Fat Frankie would take it apart looking for the Florentine once he realized she'd left the building.
She drove south along Nepean Highway, not really for any reason except that it was away from her apartment and her shop. She had no ties in Melbourne, no family except her brother and he was fighting in Afghanistan. There was no way Frankie could trace her in Evie's car.
But there was nowhere for her to run to either. No one to shelter her.
She drove down the Nepean for about fifteen minutes, constantly checking her mirrors. When she was sure no one had followed her, she pulled into a side street and fished out her mobile phone from her bag. She punched in the number scrawled on the napkin.
It was picked up on the second ring. "'Lo," came the gravely voice down the line.
"Is this Jake Forrester?" She tried to sound calm and in control, not an easy task when fear skimmed along her skin like tiny flames.
Silence on the other end for a few heartbeats, then: "Who wants to know?"
His gruffness didn't soothe her fractured nerves. "Ruby Jones. Matthew Jones' sister. He told me—"
"—To contact me if you ever got into trouble." The man swore.
She blew out a breath and leaned her forehead against the steering wheel. Thank God Jake Forrester still had the same phone number. "Something like that," she said. Actually her brother's words had gone along the lines of, 'Only call Forrester if you're absolutely desperate. He's not the sort of man to bother if you get a parking ticket.' Well, she was desperate. And Jake Forrester had all the credentials she needed. He'd once worked alongside her brother in the army's elite SAS unit before quitting to run his own security business. If he were anything like Matt, he would be resourceful, tough and clever. Even better, he apparently owed her brother a favor.
"I'm not interested," he said. So much for favors.
"Wait! Don't hang up. You don't even know what I want."
"I know enough. Someone is after you. An ex, the tax man, whoever. It doesn't matter. They're all the same."
She got the feeling he meant you're all the same but she didn't say so. She didn't dare. Jake Forrester sounded like a man who didn't like being corrected.
"Please," she said, hating the desperate whine in her voice. "You're the only one I can turn to."
"I can't help you," he said again, but this time she heard the note of indecision. She seized it. It was time to pull out the big guns. Appeal to his masculine pride. It worked on Matt all the time and she hoped it would work on the man on the other end of the phone.
"But Matt said you owe him," she said. "He told me if I needed to, I could call in the favor."
Forrester swore again, louder this time. "I can't afford this right now."
It wasn't an outright ‘no'. "I can pay," she said.
"That's not what I meant."
"Oh. But I can pay anyway. Whatever your fee is, I'll meet it plus expenses. Please. I'm desperate."
"Yeah, I get that." He made a sound, half grunt, half sigh. "Do you know O'Brian's Bar in Ascot Vale?"
"Meet me there in half an hour."
O'Brian's was a popular bar, even mid-week, and she didn't want to be seen right now. "Can we meet at your place?"
She blinked at his abruptness. "But it'll be less open." And she'd feel less vulnerable.
"You'll be safe in a public space," he said.
How did he know she was worried about her safety? He didn't even know what kind of trouble she was in. For all he knew it was trouble with the police. His assumption annoyed her a little.
"How will I recognize you?" she asked. "What will you be wearing?"
She waited for more but Jake said nothing. "Don't you want to know what I'll be wearing?"
What was he going to do, ask every female who walked in if they were Ruby Jones?
"Half an hour," he said then hung up. He hadn't even asked her if half an hour was enough time for her to get to Ascot Vale.
She sighed and turned the car around. Jake Forrester better be worth the attitude. If he couldn't help her, or wouldn't, then she was going to make her brother's life so miserable he'd want to stay in Afghanistan.
That's if she lived long enough to tell him.