That just about sums up talented mathematician Faith Murphy’s life. After a disastrous one-night stand with hockey heartthrob Nick Rossi, she flees to a conference in Siena, Italy. She expected her Boss from Hell, Roland Kane, to be unbearable. She wasn’t expecting him to be dead.
A head injury has destroyed Nick Rossi’s hockey career. Maybe if he hadn’t been devastated and drunk, he wouldn’t have seduced Faith Murphy. By the time he realizes she might be the woman of his dreams, she’s run off to Siena. It’s Palio season in Siena. The Palio, a no-holds-barred medieval horse race, has the whole city in a lather. Nick knows Siena like the back of his hand. He knows he can get Faith back if he follows her to Siena. But there’s the little matter of suspicion of murder in the way…
Cops don’t have time for murder in Siena during Palio season. Police Commissario Dante Rossi finds it hard to focus on murder when there’s a horse race to be won. But when his cousin Nick shows up in pursuit of a pretty American who’s the prime suspect, all bets are off.
Read an Excerpt
“Okay,” Faith said to Nick, crossing her arms over her chest. They were just outside the Certosa gates, in the corner formed by the stucco facade and the fieldstone wall of the Romanesque chapel.
She was uncomfortable. The gravel of the walkway leading to the high arched brick entrance was hurting her feet. She lifted a hand to shade her eyes against the bright gold of the early afternoon sun. She’d left her sunglasses inside with her briefcase, and remembering that she’d been rudely pulled away from her briefcase—and her life—made her angry.
“Right now you’re going to give me a very good reason why you just chased off the head of the math department of Manchester University, who happens to be a top man in our field and the editor of Quantimath. A leading publication, by the way, which now has an article of mine on system dynamics under consideration.
“My career is happening here, Nick. Right here. Right now. Just because you don’t have one any more doesn’t mean I don’t get a shot at mine.”
Faith saw Nick wince and regretted her crack about careers. For a second or two. But damn it, Nick had had his career. He’d already had his chance to show what he could do in his field—to shine. And he was probably a multi-millionaire to boot. He’d done it while the time was right for him.
Mathematicians were like athletes, they did their best work young. This was her time. She’d done some very good work, but it had all somehow remained unnoticed.
She was just now beginning to suspect that the reason was Roland Kane.
But Roland Kane was dead. There was nothing to stop her now. Unless you counted a very angry and very large former hockey player.
A muscle was working angrily in Nick’s jaw. It was extremely unfortunate it only added to Nick’s attraction. There didn’t seem to be very many things that detracted from it. Even drunk and bristly and clueless, he had been overwhelmingly sexy that last morning.
And even now, surly and sober and clean-shaven, she had to stop herself from swaying toward him.
“What was I doing?” he answered angrily. “What do you think I was doing? I see some wirehead with hygiene problems getting in your face and talking about becoming hysterical, what do you think I’m going to do? Wait until he goes postal?”
Faith was startled. Nick’s thought processes were sometimes so hard to follow. Paul Allen hysterical was ridicu—ahhh. Her brow smoothed out.
“Paul wasn’t talking about being hysterical, Nick. He was talking about hysteresis. It’s the history dependence of physical and virtual systems, and he’s done some interesting work on the epsilon expansion—”
Nick’s jaw muscles clenched tightly, like runners under the skin. “Never mind,” she said with a smile.
“That’s right, go ahead and make fun of me because I’m just a dumb jock,” he said heatedly. “But I’m not dumb.” His head stuck out aggressively, big chin tilted up. He looked like an attractive bulldog. “Just because I haven’t heard of hysteric…hystero—”
“Hysteresis,” Faith murmured.
“Whatever,” he shot back. “Whoever heard of that anyway? It’s a ridiculous word. Stupid word. I’m not dumb for not knowing what it is.”
“No one called you stupid, Nick.” It was true. She had never made the mistake of thinking him dumb, even in his stupidest jock mode. Nick’s family made fun of him, but Nick was far from being stupid. It was, alas, another of his fatal charms—a completely non-theoretical, totally reality-based, street-wise intelligence.
“Listen up, Faith, because I’m going to say this once. They’re running a trial heat of the Palio at six o’clock and you’re coming with me. You’re getting in my car and staying in the car with me.
“You’re going to walk the streets of Siena with me until we get to Piazza del Campo and then you’re going to stay there—with me—until the end of the horse race and then we’re going to grab a bite to eat. Together. Then I will drive you back up to the Certosa.”
He said all of that pugnaciously, shifting his considerable bulk from foot to foot in full rhino mode, with exactly the same expression as when he shot a puck past five adversaries on the ice straight into the net at thirty-five miles an hour.
He looked as if he were willing to carry her off if she said no.
Well, now, let’s see. After the most satisfying day of her life, in the most beautiful place she’d ever been in, did she want to go down to the most gorgeous square on earth to watch a trial heat of the most famous horse race in the world with the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen?
Yes. “Okay,” she said.
Nick was standing stiffly on the balls of his feet, fists bunched, a ferocious scowl on his face. “What?” His scowl deepened. “What did you say?”
“I said okay. You want to go down to the central square, that’s fine. The rest of the conference team is going down anyway, so I can hook up with them later. All the afternoon meetings are over.” She squinted up into Nick’s frowning face, directly against the bright afternoon sunlight. The light hurt her eyes. “But first, I need to go pick up my sunglasses. I left them in my briefcase in the meeting room.”
The scowl lightened. “Okay.” The martial stance eased a little, and his weight rocked back on his heels. “Okay, let’s go get your sunglasses.”
“You can wait here—” Faith began, then took another look at his face. “Never mind. Come on. I need to gather my things anyway.”
It was 4:30 p.m. and the conference was over for the day. There were a few participants Faith recognized lazing around in the shade of the portico, speaking quietly. Two men sitting on the low retaining wall saw her, smiled, and got up. Faith felt Nick stiffen, the two looked at her, at him, then sat down again.
The Sala Delle Volte where she’d presided over the workshop was empty. Her footsteps echoed on the ancient terracotta tiles.
Faith drew in a deep breath as she walked down the aisle created between the rows of blue, upholstered chairs. Someone had forgotten to turn off the overhead projector and she could smell the faint smell of ozone that electrical appliances sometimes gave off. There was a faint and familiar tang of unwashed mathematician, with an overlay of Armani for Men. Doubtless Leonardo Gori. Or maybe the French guy.
At the far end was a fresco of The Last Supper, but instead of the usual lugubrious depiction, it looked like the painting of twelve men having a good time, eating and drinking. One of them looked a little pained, as if he had a touch of gas. He certainly didn’t look guilt-ridden or tragic, definitely the happiest Judas she’d even seen. The long walls were covered in frescoes too, still-bright scenes of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, frolicking in what looked suspiciously like the formal gardens of the Certosa.
She loved this room. This was the room in which her life turned around. Like many mathematicians, Faith harbored doubts about the reality—the corporeality—of the real world. The theory that there were a billion parallel worlds in which a billion parallel Faiths were having a billion different lives made a lot of sense to her.
Well, in this room, she had slipped into an alternate universe. A better one, one more suited to her talents, where she would be happier and more fulfilled.
Faith picked up her sunglasses and saw her briefcase sitting against the wall. She would just nip up to her room and leave it there. Maybe while she was up in her room, she would take the time to splash on some cologne, run a comb through her hair, change outfits…
It was going to be a fun evening. The first of many, many more to come, she was sure. Her real life was beginning. She was in the right universe.
She was smiling as she pulled her bulging briefcase up on the table that had served as a podium. She laid it flat, snapped open the locks and froze.
Nick had been looking around the room, puzzling over the frescoes, but he suddenly zeroed in on her face.
“Faith?” he said.
She tried to swallow, tried to get the words out.
“Hey.” Nick walked up to her. “You’re white, honey. What happened? Is the heat—”
Then his eyes fell on her open briefcase and he swore, suddenly and viciously. He snatched the sheet of white A4 paper lying neatly on top of her documents, diskettes and books.
Don’t touch it, Faith wanted to say, but nothing would come out of her mouth.
It was too late to worry about fingerprints, anyway, as Nick was poring over the words, reading them over and over again. He said something in Italian…probably a repeat of what he’d said in English. He cupped her elbow with one hand, and put the other hand, the one holding the sheet of paper, behind his back. Probably thinking to shield her from its contents.
But she knew. She had a good memory and there weren’t many words, anyway. A simple message, laser printed in capital letters.
GET OUT OF HERE, FAITH. REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED TO ROLAND.