... and now here's the rest of the chapter:
A new wave of nerves assailed Keira as she stood in a short queue. The venue was in a prestigious part of the old city, the Altstad, where art studios and galleries dotted themselves around.
After fleeing the American, she’d flashed past the gallery during the late afternoon, needing to check it out. She wasn’t entirely sure why, but there had been an urgency to know where it was located, and how to escape it quickly. Then the interior had been almost empty, but now? It burst at the seams, even though she was bang on time.
The queue moved up, vanishing quickly inside, till her turn. Tendering her invitation to the doorman, she greeted him as she scanned around. ‘Guten Abend.’
“Good evening, Miss Drummond,” he replied in faultless English. Whipping out his phone, he fingered a brief text. “Herr Amsel will be along shortly to speak to you. Please remain in this front part of the foyer.”
She nervously licked off some of her lip gloss. How the hell could the doorman possibly know her name, since the invitation card she’d just handed him bore no name on it? Her confusion must have been worn like a banner, though, because the door attendant made a hasty explanation.
“You haven’t noticed the embossed motif on the bottom right here?”
She hadn’t, but when she looked closely and fingered the area, she could see what he referred to.
“There are only three guests tonight who have had their invitation stamped with Herr Amsel’s special insignia… and only one of them a young woman. That’s how I know your name, Miss Drummond.”
Accepting his simple explanation, she moved away from the door to allow the next guests to enter. Knowing she was one of three special people didn’t make her feel any less vulnerable when she glanced at the surrounding faces. A new fish in a large bowl of established guppies couldn’t possibly feel any more out of place. She wondered if the phrasing on the invitations of all the animated guests around her, was just as odd as her own, but then immediately discarded the thought. No-one close by looked insecure as they chatted in little clusters, and pointed, and noisily commented on the displays. There had to be a couple of hundred people crammed into the gallery.
Her host couldn’t possibly have given all of these guests the same enticement he’d given her. She’d not only been invited to attend the event, all of her expenses to Heidelberg had been paid. Did it mean the other two special guests had had similar treatment? She wondered if the two special males felt they were in a similar weak position as she did; felt as hesitant about their decision to attend.
Not so for the crowd, though, in her near proximity. All the smiling and nodding, here and there, indicated nothing but pleasure.
Mulling over her situation made her fret even more. If she moved even a few steps away she’d be eddied in the shoal. Yet, cowardice wasn’t a familiar trait. Her profession demanded meeting new people. Her inner sister berated her for being such a wimp, urged her to get a grip.
Reaching out, she plucked a champagne flute from the tray of a passing waitress, for liquid courage, before she peered at the intricate detail on a piece of etched glass. Way beyond her disposable funds, nonetheless, it was a work of art she could appreciate. A few sips of champagne drowned some of her disquiet, as she determined she’d make the best of what was the strangest event to happen to her in ages. Maybe even ever.
The door attendant’s voice intruded. “Miss Drummond? Herr Amsel won’t be available for a while, but I’ve another of his three special guests with me now. I’ll leave you to get to know Meneer De Raad.”
Keira looked up at him. Very tall was her immediate impression. Very slim in the way people of Dutch descent often are: not skinny by any manner of means, just a very long drink. An appetizing one if it were the height of summer, since cool elegance radiated from him; though all that Germanic blondness might be chilly in winter time. Her observations grounded her a little more.
His voice had lightness to it she associated with people very familiar with the meeting and greeting process; assured, confident… and just as assessing as she was. Whiskerless pale skin matched his thatch of streaked blond hair. A strong nose sat above thin lips. The eyes, which displayed a high degree of interest, were an ice-blue behind light lashes.
Though definitely handsome, he packed none of the punch of the stranger on Steingasse. Something about Meneer De Raad spoke of determined ambition. The set of his jaw maybe? Her gaze shifted momentarily while she made a swift check of the faces close by. The American wasn’t visible, yet could be anywhere in the throng, if he’d taken up the invitation. She wasn’t sure why she seemed to be looking for him… but she did.
“Miss Drummond?” Meneer De Raad’s words came after a long pause, as though he carefully considered what to say, yet she surmised it wasn’t due to any language impediment.
Her hand was engulfed, small against long, smooth fingers that had nothing roughened about them. The polite smile on her face turned to a grin when she found his handshake as cool as he was. Yet, rather than put her off, it contrarily did the opposite and made her feel more at ease. She felt her tense shoulders relax a little while her hand was released.
“Keira Drummond, and from the introduction, I’m guessing you’re Dutch, Meneer De Raad?”
“Yes. My name’s Zaan.” He waved his invitation. “We are two of a privileged three people here tonight, according to the doorman.”
“That’s what he told me. Though I wonder why? I’ve absolutely no idea why I’m here, except I’ve to meet someone called Jensen Amsel.”
When expressed in such fashion, it sounded so simple, so ordinary. She broke off eye contact to gaze around, feeling a dull heat creep over her cheeks. How ridiculous she’d been earlier when the American’s invitation had spooked her. Embarrassment deepened further over her silly reactions, making it difficult to resume the conversation and eye contact.
“I, too, have been asked to speak to Jensen Amsel. I’ve never met him, though I know of him through trade sources.”
She allowed Zaan De Raad’s ease in the situation to rub off on her. No disquiet or insecurity plagued him, she was sure of it. Rather, there seemed to be a repressed excitement behind those ice-blue eyes when she looked closely. “You’re way ahead of me then, since I know nothing. Perhaps you could tell me about him?”
She didn’t mean to plead, but it would make her feel less out on a limb if he could tell her something about her host.
“Jensen Amsel is the money man behind this cooperative gallery. He’s not an artist, but is an avid collector. He holds investments in galleries and various businesses.” Zaan’s smile encouraged her to ask questions as he gave her more information. “Amsel’s based here in Heidelberg. In addition to this gallery, he has shops in the Aldstadt, mainly selling jewellery and crafts; though his jewellery chain extends to other cities in Germany.”
“You make it sound as though you’re also in the retail market, Meneer De Raad?”
“Yes, I am, but please call me Zaan, and I’ll call you Keira?”
“Fine by me.” She grinned at the courteous bow of his head. He was definitely a smoothie. “I’m not connected to the retail trade, so that’s not why I’m here. I’m a translator but, since almost everyone speaks English, I’m not going to make any money translating tonight.”
“If not your profession, have you any other association with Heidelberg which may have drawn you into this intriguing situation?”
“You find it intriguing, too?” She was quick to latch onto that, though Zaan De Raad didn’t look as if he believed there was anything fishy about it. A twinkling amusement lurked there in his expression.
“Oh, I’ve a good idea why I’m here, but till Jensen gives his explanation I must wait in anticipation. I think, perhaps, we need to divulge a little of our backgrounds for this to make any sense to you.”
Keira desperately wanted an explanation for the request of her presence in Heidelberg, though she wasn’t in the habit of sharing personal information with strangers. Yet, hadn’t she done a little of it with the American? If the content of his envelope hadn’t been revealed, she was honest enough to admit they might have moved on to even more private disclosures.
She metaphorically kicked herself for being so stupid. Her gut reaction to flee from the guy had been way off base. A degree of anxiety still clenched, but she wasn’t so inclined to run off now – especially if Zaan could prepare her for the situation she’d got herself involved in.
She followed the Dutchman to a less crowded space, though still not too far from the entry door if the doorman needed to alert her to Jensen Amsel’s arrival. Once there, Zaan had no hesitation about speaking of himself. Cockiness settled on him as comfortably as his pale-cream linen suit, worn with typical European panache. His gaze snagged hers, his concentration absolutely focused. Blunt. A little proud. Yet somehow the attitude suited him, and didn’t give the impression of being a negative quality. She couldn’t consider him an ally, not quite, though he was, to a certain extent, the best she had at present.
“I’m thirty-four. Born near Den Haag, I’ve always lived there. I’ve two antique shops in Den Haag, another in Amsterdam… and I believe the mystery which brings us together this evening began many years ago with my great-grandmother.”
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