He didn’t acknowledge the offer or her request for him to go. Slowly, fluidly, he strolled from one art display to another.
“A Canova,” he said, walking over to the clear case containing a marble bust of Beatrice from the famous, epic poetry of Dante Alighieri. “An impressive piece.”
Jordana followed the man to the sculpture, taking in his modest attire more closely now. None of his clothes looked newer than a decade old, and they fit him like they’d been broken in on someone else and cast off years later. His brown leather loafers were scuffed and scarred, faded and timeworn like the rest of what he wore.
“Canova is considered one of the greatest neoclassical sculptors,” Jordana said, unable to resist sharing her knowledge of the collection. “He was probably the most famous artist of his day, but I don’t find many people who know his work on sight. Particularly the lesser-known pieces like this one.”
“More’s the pity.” Her uninvited visitor’s mouth curved in a faint smile. “Canova’s work is exquisite, no question. There is a calmness to his sculpture, from the smoothness of his subject’s skin, to the fluid form of each curve and the flawless stroke of every line.”
Listening to him speak so eloquently and so well informed, Jordana suddenly felt awkward for insisting he’d have to pay to view the art that belonged by rights to the world. In spite of her earlier misgivings about him, she found herself intrigued.
He went on, still studying the sculpture. “The perfection of Canova’s work—the pure idealism of it—invites the eye to linger, to study and admire.” The man glanced to Jordana. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Jordana shrugged. “Honestly, I find it too perfect. His art is too … I don’t know. Too controlled, I suppose.” She gestured to a neighboring marble piece, one of the collection’s most important acquisitions. “Take this Bernini bust, on the other hand. Look at the energy of his work. It’s unsettling, unrefined. Aggressive.”
The sculpture they looked at was Anima Dannata, depicting a condemned soul staring into the abyss of hell. Jordana drew closer to the display. “Bernini shows you every crag in his subject’s face, every livid vein and hair standing on end. You can actually see the torment in the man’s face—you can feel it. You can almost hear the scream of horror from the man’s open mouth. Bernini shows you everything. He dares you to experience it.”
The stranger nodded. “You take your art very seriously.”
“I love it,” Jordana admitted. “It means everything to me.”
Something flickered in his unusual green eyes. “We share that in common, then. I am a lover of art myself. And today, a newfound appreciation for Bernini. Your favorite piece, I take it?”
“Oh,” Jordana said, shaking her head. “No, there’s another sculpture that I like even more. But it’s not as important as either of these.”
“Will you show me?”
For a moment, Jordana forgot all about the fact that the exhibit was currently off-limits to anyone but museum staff. She led him to another of the pieces housed inside a Plexiglas display.
“Cornacchini’s Sleeping Endymion,” he said, a smile on his lips. Jordana noticed he hadn’t needed to read the placard. “You know this one too?”
“It’s been in the museum’s collection for many years, I believe.”
“Yes, it has.” He must be a longtime patron of the museum, to be so familiar not only with art in general but with this particular piece as well. “Endymion came to us by anonymous donation a couple decades ago. It was in another exhibit most of that time, but when I began planning this collection, I had to have it.” She gazed at the reclining human shepherd, sleeping under Selene’s crescent moon. “There’s not another piece in the entire museum that I love more than this one.”
A cryptic smile played at the corners of the stranger’s mouth. “I can’t imagine it being in better hands.”
Jordana considered the odd compliment, her curiosity about the man deepening the longer she spoke with him. He couldn’t be more than thirty years old, she guessed, but he had a wisdom about him—an indefinable aura that made him seem far older than his age.
He wasn’t Breed; he had no dermaglyphs that she could see, nor would he be walking around during daylight hours without being wrapped in yards of UV-protective gear, if he was one of Nathan’s kind.
And yet her senses seemed to resist the notion to call him human.
Flummoxed, she extended her hand to him. “I’m Jordana Gates, by the way. The exhibit curator.”
He hesitated momentarily before taking her hand in a warm, firm grasp. “Yes, I know who you are.” At her uneasy look, he indicated the ID badge hanging from the lanyard looped around her neck.
“Oh.” Jordana laughed nervously. “I’m sorry, but … who are you?”
At first, she didn’t think he would answer. Then, carefully, he said, “Cassian.” No more, no less.
Did she know that name from somewhere?
She couldn’t be sure, but Jordana knew she’d never seen this man before.
Jordana withdrew her hand from his. “Well, Mr. Cassian, I really have enjoyed talking with you. But it’s getting late and no one is supposed to be in the exhibit before it officially opens tomorrow, so …”
“Of course,” he replied politely, even dipping his head slightly in an almost courtly bow. “And I assure you, Jordana, the pleasure has been all mine.”
She took in his shoddy attire again and felt a pang of regret for the way she’d discounted him on sight. And she couldn’t just push him out the door, especially not knowing how much he enjoyed the exhibit. “Wait here a moment. I’ll be right back.”
She didn’t pause for his answer. Impulsively, she pivoted away and hurried back into her office. Riffling through her desk, she grabbed a pair of complimentary tickets to tomorrow’s grand opening event and full-day admission to the museum.
“I just remembered I had a couple of leftover passes in my office,” she said as she returned to the exhibit room. “I’d love for you to have—”
He was gone.
“Mr. Cassian?” Jordana scanned the area, then made a quick search of the nearby exhibits.
He wasn’t there.
She hurried to the gallery overlooking the museum’s main entrance lobby.
He had left.
No, he’d vanished.
Mysterious Mr. Cassian was gone, as swiftly and cleanly as a ghost.
HE HAD RISKED FAR TOO MUCH.
Cass made a hasty dash through the city streets, oblivious of the rain that soaked his thrift store clothes and cheap, soggy shoes.
He was across the city from the museum now, unsure where he was headed except that it had to be away. Far away. As far as he could get, and he had to go at once.
He hadn’t expected to linger as long as he had. In his mind, he’d imagined entering the museum for a few short minutes—just long enough to visit the treasure that had branded him a wanted man, traitor to his queen and his kind.
A treasure that he was giving up today … forever.
Of course, the anonymous donor of the Sleeping Endymion sculpture twenty-five years ago was no mystery to him. He couldn’t deny his satisfaction—his relief—at knowing that particular treasure was in a safe place, and had been all this time.
But the terra cotta figure wasn’t the only secret he’d been keeping since he’d fled the Atlantean queen’s court.
Either one of his secrets could have gotten him killed.
The risk of discovery was too great now. He was jeopardizing all he cherished by remaining in Boston.
He’d almost chanced this visit to the museum a couple of nights ago, but he’d lost his nerve and instead skulked outside the building like a wraith. He’d barely gotten away without creating undue notice.
But he had to look upon his greatest, most precious secret one last time—an indulgence he had been careful to avoid at all costs for nearly a quarter century.
Now he was content. He had to be, because today he was leaving for good. He could only hope that his secrets—and the treasure he cherished most of all—would be safer for his absence.
Cass had placed his trust in an ally who had proven his loyalty through years of silence and sacrifice. That trust had been reaffirmed at their meeting a couple of days ago.
Another ally—this one across the globe—one who risked as much as Cass in aiding him, had agreed to look out for Cass’s interests once he’d fled for his permanent exile.
An exile that would begin now.
Resolved, Cass pulled up his collar to shield himself from the slanting rain as he ducked down a side alley.
That’s when he noticed them—the trio of dark figures that had fallen in behind him.
He glanced over his shoulder and his stomach went cold.
The three immortals were disguised in pedestrian street clothes, much as he was. But their purposeful stride and menacing presence were unmistakable.
And beneath the long hem of one of their sodden trench coats, Cassian spied the glint of an Atlantean blade.
There was a time he might have turned around and faced this threat. A time when he would have fought it, even unarmed as he was now.
But today, he knew true fear.
Not for himself, but for the secrets he would die to protect.
Cass took off running, leading the legion guards as far away from the museum as he could, calling upon every ounce of his preternatural agility and speed.
The queen’s men were close behind him—too close. They zigged and zagged as he did, never losing sight of him for a second.
In minutes, Cass and his pursuers were in the city’s old North End. He hadn’t intended it, but his feet had carried him to the only home he’d truly known since coming to Boston.
La Notte was just ahead. Through the rain, Cass saw the back entrance of the club a few hundred yards in front of him.
The Atlantean guards had split up at some point.
Cassian lost track of one of them.
He didn’t see the assassin until it was too late.
The soldier from Selene’s royal court appeared out of nowhere, standing in front of him, long blade gleaming.
I’m dead, Cassian realized. It was over now.
He knew it, even before he felt the ice-cold kiss of Atlantean steel biting into the side of his neck.
“A toast,” Carys said, raising a glass of red wine across the table from Jordana at one of their favorite Italian restaurants in the city’s old North End. “To the exhibit grand opening. I know it’s going to be a huge success.”
“I hope so.” Jordana sighed and clinked her glass against her friend’s. “Did you check to make sure the placard on the French tapestry was corrected? And now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have moved that display of Roman pottery from where we had it for the patrons’ reception. Do you think it should go back to its original place?”
Carys grinned and rolled her eyes. “It’s perfect, Jordana, all of it. You thought of everything. The exhibit couldn’t possibly be in better hands.”
“Thanks.” Jordana smiled at the compliment, but she couldn’t help being reminded of her odd visitor, Mr. Cassian, and the fact that he’d said something very similar to her.
Carys gave her a quizzical look. “Did I say something funny?”
“No, it’s just …” Jordana shook her head. “A man came in to view the exhibit this afternoon.”
Carys frowned. “Someone you know?”
“No, I’d never seen him before. He apparently just wandered in from the street.”
“But the exhibit doesn’t open to the public until tomorrow night,” Carys pointed out.
“That’s what I told him.” Jordana took a sip of her wine. “He didn’t seem bothered that we weren’t officially open yet.”
“Weird,” Carys said, twisting some pasta onto her fork. “What did he want?”
Jordana shrugged. “I suppose he wanted to look at the art. That’s what he said, anyway. We talked for a while about Italian sculptors and compared some of the pieces in the collection, then he left.”
Carys eyed her over the rim of her wineglass. “Like I said, weird.”
“He was … nice,” Jordana said, taking a bite of her scampi as she thought about the man and the short time she spent with him in the exhibit.
He was a stranger, a peculiar one at that, and yet she’d felt almost instantly at ease around him. Despite his oddness and his uninvited presence in the museum, she had felt comfortable with him; safe, in some indefinable way. And she would have enjoyed talking with him a bit longer, had he not left the museum without explanation as soon as she turned her back.
Vanished, more like it.
Maybe Carys was right, there was something weird about the man.
Jordana’s musing was interrupted when her friend’s comm unit pulsed on the edge of the table with an incoming call.
“It’s Aric.” There was a note of bitterness in Carys’s voice as she spoke her brother’s name. Her fingers hovered over the device for less than a second before she drew her hand back onto her lap with a shallow sigh. The comm unit buzzed again, but Carys remained still, her mouth pressed into a flat line.
Jordana studied her across the small table. “You can’t shut him out forever, Car.” The Chase siblings hadn’t spoken since their heated confrontation over Rune the other night, and Jordana knew it was killing Carys to have a wall standing between her and her twin.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com