A magical, fast-paced, hold-your-breath thriller is available now from New York Times bestsellers M.J. Rose and Steve Berry—a fun tale of mystery and mystics, where history and alchemy come face to face—and I have a sneak peek for you. You can read the first part of this excerpt at Vilma Iris.
I wasn’t sure of Nicodème’s age. Maybe mid-eighties. I’d never asked, though he’d been around nearly my whole life. He was a gnarled, walking stick of a man with a face like the pummeled look of an unfinished sculpture topped by a mop of unkempt white hair. My father, doing what wealthy men did, had been a collector of rare coins, stamps, and books as well as ancient Egyptian and Roman glass and pottery. Nicodème had long been a dealer in all of those and visited us several times a year in Spain, always bringing curiosities for my father’s perusal, staying with us a few days, telling stories of the world, then leaving with more money than when he’d arrived.
Knowing how much I loved perfume, he never failed to bring me a flacon of some kind. My favorite was still the tiny quartz bottle with a black jade stopper that hung from a silver chain, which I wore often. Opened, I could catch a whiff of the original formula it had once held. I’d never filled it with anything else for fear of losing that faint suggestion of that long lost scent. My curiosity about scents began as a child when my mother gave me my first bottle of cologne. A light floral lemon with a hint of orange blossom. Expectations. A curious name. But one I never forgot.
A jolt of pain surged up my right leg.
Something had bruised the bottom of my foot. Aware of the fragility of ankles and the price of stumbling, I slowed and reached down, applying pressure which resulted in more pain.
I kept going.
More of that self-discipline I’d taught myself through too many life lessons and bad decisions to count.
My target remained in my sights about thirty meters ahead. I stumbled on a cracked cobble and nearly lost my balance, but I wasn’t going to stop. This thief had stolen something invaluable. How did I know that? Nicodème’s instructions as I’d bolted from the shop.
Get it back. No matter what.
His air of urgency unmistakable.
Nicodème’s shop sat at the end of one of Eze’s oldest streets, against the outer wall, pressed to the mountain, where not all that many tourists ventured. The thief had knocked, entered, and examined what he’d come to see—a wooden box waiting for him on the counter. He was polite and asked intelligent questions. Which raised no alarm bells, as antique dealers were the shop’s main customers.
He even provided a name.
Nicodème never advertised and no signage identified the building or business other than a bronze number 16. The door stayed locked and all visits were by appointment only. Hildick-Smith had scheduled his last week, there to see some of the ancient glass, as he’d heard Nicodème stocked quite a bit.
Which was true.
The display cases were filled with rare antique bottles, glasses, bowls, jugs, and jars. Differing styles and craftmanship from around the world. The shelves were stacked with catalogs and books about glass, pottery, and carved stone. A reference library any museum would be envious to own. Hildick-Smith, though, had come to see something in particular, something that he’d confirmed was there at the time of the appointment.
A wooden box.
Rectangular shaped, fashioned of shiny rosewood, the cover inlaid with cabochon stones—amethysts, moonstones, garnets, and sapphires.
From the back of the shop. In what Nicodème called the Museum of Mysteries.