A shy librarian and a dashing FBI agent must work together to catch a killer and recover a priceless silver treasure in this light and sweetly romantic suspense novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Do It Yourself Home Renovation mysteries and the Cutthroat Business mysteries.
On the island of roses and ruins, love awaits and danger lurks.
When Annika Holst's father dies, it's up to the young librarian to carry out his last will: to take his ashes back to his hometown, medieval Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.
But no sooner does the plane touch down in Stockholm, than the bag with the cremains goes missing. A young American named Nick Costa comes to Annika's aid... but can she trust the handsome stranger? And what of Curt Gardiner, another young man from “back home,” also visiting his mother’s native Sweden?
To catch a murderer, recover her father’s ashes, and find a missing Viking treasure, Annika has to put her trust in one of them. But the wrong choice could mean not only the loss of her heart... but of her life as well.
- ONE –
It was the kind of thing that should never happen, the kind of thing that would never—in a world where everything was right and good—be allowed to happen.
What kind of daughter loses her father’s ashes, for God’s sake?
But—Annika reminded herself—it wasn’t a world where everything was right and good, was it? If it were, her father wouldn’t have been shot and killed for the money in his wallet, and she wouldn’t be here, halfway around the world, sans his cremains.
And the trip had started out so well, too.
She’d been early to the airport, of course. The flight left in the evening, and navigating
New York City
at rush hour, straight through Manhattan from
Brooklyn to ,
had been a daunting proposition. She’d set out five hours early, just to be
sure she wasn’t late, and had gotten to Newark
with three and a half hours to spare. Liberty Airport
But the wait hadn’t been unpleasant. She’d walked around a bit and browsed in the duty-free stores. She hadn’t bought anything, but she’d noted a few things she thought she might want to buy, once she was on her way home instead of headed halfway around the world. She probably wouldn’t end up buying anything on her way home either, but thinking about it was nice.
After that, she’d bought herself dinner in one of the restaurants—she was on vacation, after all, and it was all right to eat alone in an airport. There, it didn’t mean she was the kind of girl who couldn’t get a date. Rather, it meant she was confident and sophisticated enough to travel on her own, without anyone else.
And when those activities had paled, she’d simply sat down in one of the seats by the gate to read, the carry-on bag with the ashes safely tucked behind her feet, where no one could get at it.
As a librarian, she should probably abhor eBooks—more than a few of her colleagues did—and as a librarian she definitely appreciated the sight and smell and feel of a “real” book in her hands, but for traveling, nothing could beat an eReader. She’d never run out of books again. And if she did, there were more just a click away.
For the trip, she’d downloaded everything she could find about Gotland—fiction, non-fiction, Frommers, what have you—and quite a bit about
in general. Her Danish mother had made sure Annika, Anders and Astrid were grounded
in the Danish language and Danish history and custom, but her father hadn’t
seemed to care that his children didn’t speak Swedish or know much about his
childhood home. They’d gone to visit family in Sweden every few years growing up,
until they were old enough to want to stay home with their friends during
school breaks, and then Anne had gone on her own. But Carl Holst—Calle
Magnusson, Annika corrected herself, still amazed that she hadn’t ever known
her father had spent most of his adult life living under a name that wasn’t
properly his own—hadn’t ever brought his children to Sweden, not even when
they’d been so close that it was just a hop, skip and a jump away, and hadn’t
gone back himself, not in the more than thirty years since he’d left. Denmark
And she’d lost him.
So anyway, the trip had been uneventful up until that point. She’d spent the time in the airport reading, and when she needed a break, she’d watched the people moving through the terminal, wondering where they were going and what they were doing. Making up stories about them. That young woman, in the Indian clothing with the red dot between her brows and the resigned look on her face, dragging her feet... was she just tired, or was she reluctant; on her way to
to be married off to a cousin against her will? Just before the airplane doors
closed and the flight took off, would her boyfriend push his way onboard, to
tell her he couldn’t live without her and to convince her to elope with him?
Would he succeed, or would she abide by her parents’ wishes? Would she find
love, either way? India
And the two backpackers, barely out of their teens, with heavy boots and bright smiles... were they off to explore Europe for a month, tramping through the
Old World, gawking at
museums and architectural gems? Or were they headed to Africa
to plant crops and minister to the sick? Archaeology students, off to dig in Cornwall, or missionaries, going to preach to the heathens
of darkest Borneo? Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Siblings? Or just friends?
And what about the handsome businessman, the one with the black hair and dark suit, hunched over his tablet? Was he an engineer, going to save a bridge from collapse, or an accountant, going to save a business from bankruptcy? Or maybe a spy, going to save the world as she knew it? With those kinds of dashing good looks, he could be anything. She could totally imagine him in full James Bond mode, navigating his customized Lamborghini along the beach in
Monte Carlo, top down, wind ruffling
those dark curls. She could see him pull up outside a casino and get out of the
car, smoothing a well-manicured hand over his hair and straightening his bowtie
before tossing the keys to the valet and going inside to the glitz and glamour,
his stride long and unhurried; his face bland, but his gaze ever vigilant,
Just then, he lifted his head and caught her eye, and Annika had found herself looking into a pair of brown eyes, as dark and melting as Godiva chocolate, surrounded by long sooty lashes. He held her glance for a few seconds, just long enough for her to turn beet red, before he smiled and went back to work. After that, Annika kept her attention on her own tablet and didn’t look at anyone else for too long.
He’d been on her flight, a few rows behind and across the aisle, and had spent most of the time in the air working. A few times, she’d felt prickling at the back of her neck, as if someone was staring at her, and she’d always turned, hoping maybe it would be him—but it never was. Just her imagination, probably. Wishful thinking. As if a man like that would ever be interested in a girl like her. As if she’d know what to do with him if he were. He probably spent his time with slinky Mata Hari types, as dark and exotic as he was. Gorgeous women with lush figures and designer breasts, in million-dollar gowns sparkling with diamonds. Women who knew what to say to a man like him. Women who didn’t blush when he made eye-contact.
It was an overnight flight, so she’d tried to catch a few hours of sleep, but between the anxiety about being thirty thousand feet up in the air, the worry that she wouldn’t know what to do when they landed, and the excitement about going somewhere she’d never been before—not to mention the guilty knowledge that in the luggage compartment above her head, unbeknownst to the people around her, was a semi-transparent Tupperware container full of her father’s earthly remains—she hadn’t been able to sleep a wink. By the time the fasten seatbelt sign came on and the plane started its descent into
, she must look as bleary-eyed as
she felt. Arlanda Airport
Passport control went quickly and efficiently, and the handsome young Swede behind the counter winked at her when he handed her passport back and told her “Welcome home.” Either he was an idiot and didn’t notice she was carrying an American passport, or he was smart enough to realize that with a name like Annika, her background had to be Swedish.
After that, the only thing left to do was pick up her suitcase, take both that and the carry-on through customs, and then make it to her connecting flight to
she’d be sleeping in .
City of roses and ruins. A UNESCO world heritage site. The best preserved
medieval town in Visby Scandinavia and her father’s
The baggage carousel was mobbed, but eventually she found an open spot in the back, close to where the suitcases disappeared back into the bowels of the airport. And there she stood, watching as suitcase after suitcase swirled by, many of them black cloth with wheels, just like hers. She should have tied a ribbon or something to the handle before she left home, so it would have been easier to pick out. Or instead of something staid and boring, like black cloth, maybe she should have splurged on a hot pink suitcase with polka-dots instead, like the one just now moving past. No chance of anyone picking that up by mistake.
She tried to picture herself wheeling a pink suitcase with polka-dots, but couldn’t. Pink polka-dots belonged to long-legged nymphs with flowing, wheat-blonde hair and skimpy shorts, like the one who just now leaned over to snag it. The James Bond type from earlier was standing nearby, and Annika couldn’t help but notice that his attention—and eyes—snagged for a second on the girl’s upturned rear and the long length of her legs.
The girl didn’t miss it, either, and when she turned to sashay off, polka-dotted suitcase in tow, she flashed him a smile, one he returned with interest.
Annika turned back to the carousel, looking for her own suitcase. There were several black ones on the band, and more coming all the time. That one coming her way—with the tiny nick at the corner—looked somewhat familiar. If she could just get a look at the tag...
She took two steps forward and leaned in.
The next second, the world turned upside down, quite literally. Something hit her from behind, and she found herself sprawling beside the suitcase, legs waving in the air, with her skirt bunched around her hips and her thighs on display. She was stunned, unable to move for a second; unable to do anything but watch as surprised faces flashes by, their eyes wide and their mouths open. If they were talking to her, she couldn’t hear them. The noises seemed distant, like the buzzing of a bumblebee in a jar, a sort of dull background hum.
And then a pair of strong hands grabbed her and she was unceremoniously yanked off the luggage carousel and to her feet, and the noises became voices, babbling in a lot of different languages. People crowded around, jostling her. Arms reached past her to grab their suitcases and bags off the belt. Eyes stared, mentally stripping her down, and she could feel her face flush. As reality came back, she realized her knees hurt, and she wobbled again. The hands on her arms tightened.
“You’d better come over here and sit down.”
The voice was male, deep and smooth. And American. Annika looked up, and found herself staring into those same chocolate brown eyes as earlier.
Way to go. She’d made a fool of herself in front of the same guy twice. The same really handsome guy.
Up close he was even better looking than from a distance. Handsome enough to make her forget the stinging in her knees for a moment as she stared into that perfect face.
And then he opened his mouth. “Did you have a little too much to drink on the plane?”
Annika stiffened. What a jerk! “I don’t drink.”
“Of course you don’t.” He kept pushing her toward a bench a few yards away.
She tried to slow down, glancing over her shoulder. “My bag—”
“We’ll see it go by. I’ll grab it for you.”
That wasn’t the bag she meant, but he wouldn’t allow her to turn back. Instead he deposited her on the bench and squatted in front of her. “You banged yourself up pretty good, didn’t you?”
Annika followed his gaze and saw that sure enough, the ride on the carousel had shredded her nylons and left her knees a bloody mess. She hadn’t had scrapes like those since she was five years old and had fallen off her bike in
. “Oww!” Prospect
“Right.” He glanced around. “You’re gonna need bandages for those. Let me grab the bags and I’ll help you find someone.” He got to his feet.
“I really don’t need...” Annika tried, tilting her head back to look up at him. He quirked a brow, clearly not convinced, and why would he be? Of course she needed his help. Her knees were hurting more and more with every second that passed, and she had zero desire to go near the baggage carousel again. Easier just to let him do what he wanted. Saving things was his specialty, after all. She could let him save her the trouble. “I have a black cloth suitcase with wheels, and a black carry-on bag. It’s over there.” She pointed to the other side of the baggage carousel, where she’d been standing when she took her undignified tumble. “I put it down when I went to grab my suitcase. The tags say Annika Holst.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Nick Costa.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Excuse me. I think I see my bag. I’ll be back.”
He headed toward the carousel, leaving her sitting there. Annika watched him for a second, as he threaded his way between the other travelers still waiting for their suitcases, and bent to check the tag on a piece of luggage making its way past. His posterior in the black slacks was every bit as nice as she’d expected.
# # #
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