Authors: Elizabeth Adler
ALSO BY ELIZABETH ADLER
Sailing to Capri
The House in Amalfi
Invitation to Provence
The Hotel Riviera
Summer in Tuscany
The Last Time I Saw Paris
In a Heartbeat
Sooner or Later
All or Nothing
Now or Never
The Secret of Villa Mimosa
Legacy of Secrets
Fortune Is a Woman
The Property of a Lady
The Rich Shall Inherit
ST. MARTIN’S PRESS
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
MEET ME IN VENICE.
Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Adler. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Design by Maggie Goodman
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Adler, Elizabeth (Elizabeth A.)
Meet me in Venice / Elizabeth Adler. — 1st ed.
1. Antique dealers- Fiction. 2. Antiques business—Fiction. 3. Venice (Italy)—Fiction. 4. Shanghai (China)—Fiction. 5. Paris (France)—Fiction. 6. Americans—Foreign countries—Fiction. I. Title.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
For my mother and father,
who would have so enjoyed reading this
Of course, my thanks to my editor, Jen Enderlin. I would happily allow her to edit my entire life. And to my agent, Anne Sibbald, and her team at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, who all look after me with care and affection—which I return with gratitude. And to Sweat Pea and Sunny, my beautiful—and naughty—cats (one of whom you might recognize in this book), who keep me company in those long hours of writing.
Yuan, a plain young woman in a summery blue dress and sandals, never felt even a hint of danger when she boarded the double-decker train from Shanghai to Suzhou on the borders of the Taihu Lake.
The landscape was dreamlike, more than sixty percent water with low hills bordering cultivated fields. Canals intersected the ancient city, framed by graceful arched bridges. There were leafy lanes and centuries-old pavilions and famous gardens dating back through four dynasties. It was no wonder Suzhou was described by Marco Polo as “the Venice of the East.”
The journey took only ninety minutes, but when the train stopped Ana was dismayed to find it was raining. Still, always uncertain of the temperamental weather, she had carried an umbrella.
Regretting the summery blue dress and the sandals, she hurried into a taxi.
Arriving at her destination, Ana paid off the driver. She put up her umbrella and began to walk down the cobblestone pathway by the edge of the canal. It was late and the area was deserted. The rain was coming down hard now, and what with the clouds and the dusk, the carbon-gray water and the pathway covered by dense leafy trees, it was darker and more lonely than she would have liked. Suddenly nervous, she glanced around but no one was about.
Ana’s summer sandals clattered noisily on the slick wet stones as she hurried toward her rendezvous. Head tucked under the umbrella, shivering in the damp, she did not notice the observer behind her, keeping carefully to the shadows under the trees.
She paused at the arched bridge that resembled the ones in Venice, looking around her, half-smiling. She did not hear the observer approaching on soft feet.
He struck her a vicious blow behind the knees, sending her sprawling. Her skull smacked on the stone path and her eyes rolled up in her head. She was unconscious. He dragged her to the edge of the canal and pushed her into the water. There was a splash, then the soft thud of his urgent footsteps running back along the lane. The heavy rain conveniently washed away any traces of her blood from the path. It was the perfect murder.
The next morning Ana’s body in her summery blue dress was found where it had drifted, caught in the reeds further down the canal. Her death was judged an accident: a fall on the slippery
stones when she must have hit her head; a tumble unconscious into the canal; a drowning.
She was buried with great ceremony in the wealthy Yuan family’s plot in Shanghai. Her handsome young American husband, Bennett Yuan, sobbed, heartbroken, but despite their sorrow her Chinese family remained impassive and dignified.
Tragic, the mourners said. Such a sweet girl, happily married and with everything to live for. And what on earth was she doing in Suzhou anyway?
Six Months Later
Song was eating breakfast at the Happybird Tea House, an open-fronted place in an alley off the Renmin Road, named for the tiny birds, the pets of the customers that accompanied them in their little bamboo cages, singing their morning songs. She ate there every morning at exactly the same time—eight o’clock—and she always had exactly the same thing: shrimp dim sum with vegetables and green tea with semolina grains that swelled up like miniature cannonballs in the hot tea and tasted like slippery bird shot. Her fellow breakfasters were all men but that did not bother her and anyway they were all too immersed in their newspapers and noodles to notice her, even though she was an attractive woman.
She was small and very slender, with a shoulder-length swing
of glossy black hair and eves so dark a brown they looked almost black too. She had the fair skin of her European mother and the delicate bridgeless nose of her Chinese father, and she wore either conservative Western clothes bought at the better boutiques on the Nanking Road, or the traditional brocade dress, the
in jewel tones, tailored specifically to her directions by an expert in his tiny storefront shop near the Bubbling Well Road. Either way, though she was not beautiful, she gave the impression of an attractive, successful woman. Which, in a sense, she was.
This morning, however, she was wearing narrow black pants with a black linen top. Her hair was pulled back and large sunglasses hid her eyes. She could have passed unnoticed in any Shanghai crowd. She glanced up as a man entered, then stood looking around him. He was a foreigner, older, smart in a lightweight beige business suit and he carried a leather document case. Lily lifted her hand, beckoning him over.
He came and sat in the chair opposite. With a gruff “good morning” he placed the document case on the table in front of him. A soft-footed server hovered nearby and Lily ordered plain green tea for her guest. She asked if he would like to eat and with a faint look of disgust he said he would not. He was Swiss and conservative and he did not like Chinese food. The teahouse was not a place he would have chosen to do business but this was Lily’s call.
“‘My client is interested in anything you can show him,” he said without wasting any time. “Provided it can be authenticated, that is.”
Lily had done business with him before. His client’s identity was preserved under a cloak of strict anonymity, which suited
her just fine. That way she didn’t have to deal with tricky, rich, artistic personalities who thought they knew more than she did. Antiques and, in particular, stolen antiques were what she had dealt in since she was sixteen and she knew what she was talking about.
“I have some things your client might be interested in,” she said in a low voice, because you never knew who was listening. “I expect to take delivery of a batch of antiquities very soon. Cloisonné, famille verte, statues . . . .”
“When will you have them?” His eyes bored into her, questioning her integrity. She hated him for it but she did not show that. Instead she smiled.
“Within a few weeks. Meanwhile, here is something very special. The most important piece I have ever come across.” She reached in her purse, took out a photograph and handed it to him.
The man studied it carefully. “My client doesn’t care for jewelry,” he said curtly.
“I think he will care for this when he hears its provenance.” Lily took another sip of her green tea, meeting his eyes across the table. “Your client will no doubt have heard of the great Dragon Lady, Cixi, the Dowager Empress of China?” She spelled the name for him and told him it was pronounced
so that he could make his notes correctly.
“Cixi was once a concubine but eventually she ruled China and was said to have been even more powerful than her contemporary, Queen Victoria.
“The Empress lived in great splendor in the Forbidden City, and in preparation for her death she built herself a magnificent
tomb, a lavish complex of temples, gates and pavilions glittering in gold and precious stones.
“Eventually, she was buried there, wearing her elaborate crown and magnificent robes, along with her wonderful jewels and precious ornaments. And before they sealed the coffin, in accordance with Imperial custom, a large and very rare pearl, the size of a robin’s egg, was placed in her mouth. It was believed this would preserve the royal corpse from decay.”
Lily paused in her story, studying the man opposite. He was looking at the photograph she had given him. She could tell from his body language he was interested, even though he pretended otherwise. It was all about money, she thought, cynically. But then, wasn’t it always?