My birthday is tomorrow. I'll be ... old. Don't ask me why turning sixty-nine is weighing heavily on my mind, but it is. I've joked about doing age subtraction since I turned sixty. You see, for each year I gain, I subtract one. Using my red-headed math theory, I'll be turning fifty-one instead. See, if I don't hang onto this creative age computation, I'll be ... well ...
My heroine in my latest release has traveled to Paris to celebrate her fortieth birthday. She has a list of things to do there. Once, of which, is to visit the Mona Lisa painting. While in the Salon Carre, she unwittingly foils a terrorist's bombing attack starting a chain reaction that has her life in danger. To protect her, the French government puts her in the care of Niko Reynard, a younger counterterrorist agent. Let the sparks begin! Birthday or not.
A grim-faced guard stepped in front of Alyson Moore when she raised her camera to take a picture. “Madame, in the Louvre, we do not photograph the Mona Lisa.” His lips fashioned a thin line of disapproval.
Alyson’s eyes scanned the crowd, for even as the security guard admonished her, scores of other tourists, their arms upraised, used cell phones to snap photos. “Am I the only one trying to take a picture here?” Without waiting for a reply, she pocketed her camera, and the snippy, tight-assed guard moved on.
She shouldered her way through the early morning crowd in the Salon Carrẻ to get a closer look at the painting encased in bullet-proof glass. Seeing Da Vinci’s masterpiece was a dream come true. No one, not even an overzealous guard, would spoil her time with Mona.
Once the museum opened its doors at nine sharp, and Alyson passed through security, she hurried to see this woman of mystery. The throngs of people already crowding the gallery surprised her.
She slipped between two men and stepped closer to the leading lady of the gallery. Alyson’s nose twitched from the sweet and sour blitz of assorted perfumes and various degrees of hygiene. Murmurings of adulation echoed off the gallery walls as if the Mona Lisa were a five-hundred-year-old rock star. How had one painting achieved such stardom?
If the ever-present guard wouldn’t allow photographs, she’d sketch some of Mona’s fans standing, spellbound by her enigmatic smile. When she finally tugged her large sketchpad free from the tight confines of her yellow leather bag, other items fell and scattered.
Alyson crouched to retrieve pieces of charcoal, just as the man standing next to her bent to place a black backpack, the style European men were so fond of carrying, on the marble tile floor.
Their eyes locked.
“Excuse me, you’re standing on my things.” Alyson pointed to his shoe. The man, face damp with perspiration, scowled, raised his foot and snatched her navy scarf, hotel keycard and passport, crushing them into a ball. He stuffed the wadded scarf into her outstretched hand and stood.
Alyson reached, fingering for the last charcoal pencil that rolled beyond her reach. She straightened and realized the man in the dark green t-shirt was walking away. The tattoo of a scorpion on the back of his neck. “Sir? Sir, you’ve forgotten your bag. Monsieur?”
He didn’t respond.
She called after him again.
The man disappeared into the crowd.
The museum guard approached. “Is there a problem, Madame?”
“Yes, that man left his backpack here.” Alyson indicated the black canvas bag on the floor. “He set it down at the same time I dropped some things.” She held out her navy scarf to show the guard and suddenly it hit her that her scarf was empty. She shook it out to make sure. “My hotel key and passport!” Pulling apart the sides of her shoulder bag, she rummaged through its contents, hoping against hope she’d shoved them inside without thinking. Still, with her passport the same shade as her scarf, she assumed it was wrapped in the scarf’s folds.
“I don’t believe this. He took my keycard and passport. Why would he take my things and leave his bag behind?”
The guard’s eyes widened for a second. “Madame, you are sure the man left this bag?” He pressed a button and spoke into a speaker attached to the lapel of his uniforme, a scowling gaze intent on Alyson.
“Yes. He…he was setting it on the floor at the same time I squatted to retrieve my fallen items. I asked him to move his foot since he was standing on them.” Alyson groaned as realization sunk in. She was in a foreign country with no passport. Oh, hell!
The guard cautiously unzipped the backpack. Yellow wires. The man stepped back, depressed the comminications button again, and spoke rapid-fire French. Pandemonium erupted. Armed guards rushed toward the abandoned black bag. Once the word “bomb” was uttered, visitors screamed as they stampeded from Mona Lisa’s room.
Suddenly, Alyson stood in the eerie deafening silence with only the pounding of her heart and the cocking of guns reverberating in her ears—she and the black bag containing explosives surrounded by eight armed guards.
Holy effing shit!
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