A Prize Beyond Jewels

By: Carole Mortimer

                                      CHAPTER ONE

                Three days later. The Archangel gallery, New York.

                ‘WOULD YOU MIND moving? I’m afraid you’re in the way.’

                Rafe straightened in the doorway of the east gallery of Archangel, where he had been standing for the past few minutes observing the installation of the glass and bronze cabinets being brought in for the displaying of the Palitov jewellery collection. He turned now to look at the young lad who had just spoken to him so abruptly.

                He seemed to be in his teens, and a couple of inches under six feet tall, dressed in the same faded denims and bulky black sweatshirt as the other workers, and wearing a baseball cap pulled low over his face.

                A face that was a little too pretty for a boy, Rafe realised: arched dark brows above eyes the green of fresh moss, and surrounded by long and thick dark lashes, a pert nose with a light smattering of freckles, high cheekbones above hollow cheeks, with full and lush lips above a pointed and determined chin.

                Yes, he was a bit too pretty, Rafe acknowledged ruefully, although he didn’t seem to be having any trouble helping to wheel the display cases into place.

                Rafe had arrived at the gallery at eight-thirty as usual, only to learn from his assistant manager that the Palitov crew had been here since eight o’clock. ‘I was just looking for—’

                ‘If you wouldn’t mind moving now?’ the boy repeated huskily. ‘We really need to bring in the rest of the display cabinets.’ Two of the more burly workmen had moved to stand beside and slightly behind the younger man, as if to emphasise the point.

                Rafe frowned his irritation with that muscled presence; where the hell was Dmitri Palitov’s daughter?

                Those green eyes widened as Rafe still made no effort to shift out of the doorway. ‘I don’t believe your employer would approve of your lack of cooperation.’

                ‘It so happens I’m only here because I’m looking for your employer,’ Rafe replied in frustration.

                A wary expression now entered those long-lashed dark green eyes. ‘You are?’

                ‘I am,’ Rafe confirmed with a hard smile. ‘It was my understanding that Miss Palitov would be here herself this morning to oversee the installation of the display cabinets.’ He raised mocking and pointed brows.

                The boy looked even less certain of himself now. ‘And you are?’

                His mouth thinned with satisfaction. ‘Raphael D’Angelo.’

                The boy winced. ‘I had a feeling you might be.’ The youth straightened. ‘Good morning, Mr D’Angelo. I’m Nina Palitov,’ she added as he made no effort to take her outstretched hand.

                Nina had the satisfaction of seeing the man she now knew to be Raphael D’Angelo, one of the three brothers who owned the prestigious Archangel galleries, briefly lose some of his obviously inborn arrogance as those golden eyes widened with disbelief, the sculptured lips parting in surprise.

                It gave Nina the chance to study the man standing in front of her. He was probably in his mid-thirties, or possibly a little younger, with long and silky ebony-dark hair styled rakishly to just below his shoulders, and with the face of a fallen angel. He had predatory golden eyes, sharp blades for cheekbones beneath that olive-toned skin, his nose long and aristocratic, sensuous lips that looked as if they had been lovingly chiselled by a sculptor, his jaw square—and at the moment tilted at an arrogantly challenging angle.