Rome, Italy – 2006AD
Gemma Hart’s senses were on full alert as she swiveled her body through the throng of tourists. She couldn’t believe she was here. She couldn’t believe her father… well Alistair, was actually stupid enough to think they could pull this off without getting slaughtered.
She stopped at the threshold of the large cathedral, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. It was one of the oldest cathedrals in the city and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome. You know, the Pope!! Gemma steeled herself against the urge to turn and run. She knew exactly what they were here for and she would have done anything to stop it. But how could she, without throwing everything away?
“Gemma!” Ruby’s voice was sharp in her ear. “Stop standing there gawking at those pillars and get on with it.”
She blushed as she followed her sister’s tight frame into the interior of the grandiose structure. Ruby and Dom had left for college nearly a month ago and she was missing them desperately. Life at home was so quiet and dull without them. The only good thing about traveling was getting to see them again. She’d managed a micro catch up while they were shoving on their clothes, but she wanted more. Resolving to call her that night, Gemma returned to the task at hand.
“Okay, he wants us to what?”
Gemma would have laughed at Ruby’s incredulous expression if she hadn’t been so shocked herself. Gazing up at the gold pillars she took in the ornate structure above the altar then let her eyes travel over the angelic artwork gracing the upper walls. Her eyes soon dropped back to the barrier she would have to cross in order to achieve her task.
I can’t believe I am giving up part of my Sunday to do this. I should be meeting Harrison right now, but no! I have to risk my butt retrieving something that might one day annihilate my butt. I think it’s safe to say my life sucks. Well, except for Harrison.
Her cheeks grew warm as she pictured her lean boyfriend hopping into his sexy Corvette and heading north to their spot. He would drum his long fingers over the steering wheel as he waited at the lights then run his hand through his blond hair as he accelerated towards her. She knew him well enough to know he’d be pushing the limits to get to her. She had sped down to Anastasia National Park so fast she had arrived twenty minutes early. She hadn’t minded though. The water had been glistening in the sunlight and a squadron of diving pelican was entertaining her when she had been called away.
A black disdain for her parents leaked into her mind like liquid poison. Holding the sharp expletives behind her lips, she glanced up at Ruby’s whispered words.
“How are we supposed to do this with all these people around? And what if it’s not even in there?”
“We’ll just have to be quick,” Gemma kept her voice even in an attempt to calm Ruby’s frantic jabbering.
“Well, everyone knows you’re the fastest so I’ll just try and distract.”
“Okay.” Gemma lifted the barrier and ducked beneath it. “Here goes.”
Staying in a crouched position, she edged towards the altar and ducked behind the marble railing. Peeking up from her hiding spot, she turned back to assess the crowd and noticed Ruby chatting to a bystander. No one seemed aware of her jaunt into forbidden territory.
She crept back until she hit the bottom of the golden structure. Seeing the piece up close made her realize just how intricate the carvings were. It was stunning to look at and even more amazing to touch. Running her hands over the carved edges, she admired the mastery of the work before biting the inside of her cheek and loathing herself.
With firm fingers, she followed her father’s instructions and ran her hand around the back of the furniture until she felt a small crack. It took a few attempts, but she managed to pry the edge away and catch the piece before it hit the marble floor. She held her breath for a moment. The fear of being caught pulsed through her veins. She listened to the normal hum of milling people and released her breath. She had to trust that Ruby was keeping quizzical glances at bay.
With scampering fingers she felt inside the small compartment for the leather pouch her father had described. After a few minutes of desperate searching she nearly gave up, until the tops of her fingers brushed something on the way out. Turning her hand over, she felt the material, wrapped her fingers around it and yanked it free.
“Hey! Stop! Che cosa sta facendo?”
Gemma’s head whipped around. An angry guard was stepping over the railing and walking towards her. With nimble fingers, she shoved the pouch in her pocket, jumped to her feet and ran.
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