Saturday Excerpt: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers

Going strong since 2012, the Sharpe & Donovan series by New York Times bestseller Carla Neggers has been a must-read for romantic suspense fans everywhere. Now, we’re so excited to give you a sneak peek at the latest in this iconic series, Thief’s Mark!

About Thief’s Mark:

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished.

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.

New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers delivers the gripping, suspense-filled tale readers have been waiting for.

***

Dublin, Ireland

 Colin Donovan eyed his wife of almost two weeks, a glass of champagne in front of her on their low table at the crowded, upscale bar at the landmark Shelbourne Hotel in the heart of Dublin. Since he knew Emma Sharpe as well as he did, he noticed the slight pull in her eyes that indicated tension. “Last night of our honeymoon,” he said, leaning back in his comfortable stuffed chair.

She smiled. “We’ll make the most of it.”

He returned her smile. “We will. You look good, Emma.

Rested, happy and rosy-cheeked.”

“The rosy cheeks are due to the champagne.”

“And the tension I see in those green eyes of yours?” She picked up her champagne. “I’m in reentry mode.”

Colin got that. They would be back at their offices on the Boston waterfront in a few days. Right now, they could enjoy the views out the tall Shelbourne windows across to St. Stephen’s Green as the long June day slowly wound down. Every seat at the polished bar and the tables was oc- cupied with laughing shoppers with their Brown Thomas bags, tourists in sensible shoes and young office workers with loosened ties.

“Then there’s Granddad,” Emma added. “He’s up to something.”

Wendell Sharpe was always up to something but Colin knew he didn’t need to tell Emma. “Speak of the devil,” he said, nodding to the entrance off the lobby.

She followed his gaze, sipping her champagne as she watched her octogenarian grandfather, who lived in Dub- lin, make his way toward them in his rumpled khakis, sport coat and bow tie. He was semiretired, but no one believed he would ever fully give up his work as a private art de- tective. Not willingly, anyway. Meeting for drinks at the Shelbourne had been his idea.

He shuddered as he arrived at their table. “Could you two at least try to look less like FBI agents?”

“We are FBI agents, Granddad.” Emma set down her glass and rose, smiling as she and her grandfather embraced. “It’s great to see you.”

Colin got to his feet and he and Wendell shook hands. “Good to see you, Wendell.”

“Welcome to Dublin. How was the honeymoon?” He grinned. “Don’t answer.” He pulled out a chair and sat with a heavy sigh. “I walked from my place. Beautiful day. When did you get in?”

“About an hour ago,” Emma said. “We walked in the park and got here about twenty minutes ago. It’s the last day of a perfect honeymoon.”

“Your secret Irish honeymoon didn’t stay secret for long, did it?”

Emma laughed. “It didn’t stay secret at all.”

“Everyone knows we’re here,” Colin added, glad to see some of Emma’s earlier strain ease.

“You chose Ireland for Emma,” Wendell said. “Tough to think of you as romantic.”

“Not going there, Wendell.”

“Are you making a stop in Dublin on FBI business?”

Emma shook her head, strands of her fair hair falling onto her forehead. She reached for her champagne and sat back with it. “We’re here to see you, Granddad.”

Colin picked up his Smithwick’s. “What’re you drink- ing, Wendell?”

“Sparkling water. I like to keep my head about me with you two.”

A typical Wendell Sharpe exaggeration, but Colin or- dered the water. He drank some of his beer and contained his impatience. He’d been on alert since Wendell had texted Emma two hours ago and suggested they meet at the Shel- bourne instead of at his home a few blocks away.

The sparkling water arrived, and Wendell drained about a third of his glass before setting it on the table and tak- ing a breath. “We’re getting looks. I’ve lived in Dublin for fifteen years but I don’t recognize a soul here. I’m an old man. It’s got to be you two.”

Colin made no comment. They weren’t getting looks. It was a diversion tactic. No one near their table was paying attention to them much less sneaking looks at them. He and Emma were dressed comfortably but suitably for their surroundings, not in the hiking clothes they’d worn much of the past ten days in the Irish countryside.

“It’s nice of you to invite us here, Granddad,” Emma said casually. “Any particular reason for the change in plan?”

Wendell glanced around the elegant bar. “I haven’t been here in a while. I thought we should celebrate your mar- riage at a special place. I didn’t make it to your wedding. Least I could do is buy you a drink.” He settled back in his chair. “Glad you two didn’t order expensive whiskey. I’m retired.”

Emma gave him a skeptical look. “Semiretired at best.” Colin stayed out of this one. In the months he’d come  to know Emma—as he’d fallen in love with her—he had learned to steer clear of meddling with or even trying to understand her deep-seated, often impenetrable relationship with her eccentric family. Wendell had launched Sharpe Fine Art Recovery sixty years ago in the front room of his home on the southern Maine coast. After his wife’s death, he’d returned to the land of his birth and set up a Dublin office. When Colin had planned their Irish honeymoon, he’d included a night in Dublin for Emma to see her grand- father. Wendell had invited them to stay with him. It had seemed like a good way to start the reentry process back to their normal lives. Family, friends, their work with the FBI.

No more boutique hotels, cute cottages and long walks in the Irish hills, at least not for a while.

“You two go back to work…when?” Wendell asked. “You’re flying back to Boston tomorrow, right? They’ll let you get home first, do a load of laundry, buy some milk and coffee?”

“We’re f lying to London tomorrow,” Emma said. “We’re taking advantage of being on this side of the Atlantic and meeting with a few people.”

Wendell frowned. “So you’re back to work tomorrow?” “We’ll return to Boston for the weekend and be at our

desks on Monday.”

“I thought Colin didn’t have a desk.”

“I don’t,” Colin interjected. “They let me nap on Em- ma’s couch once in a while.”

They being HIT, the small Boston-based team Emma had joined early last year and he’d been shoehorned into last fall. He wasn’t a good fit, but for the past ten days, he’d had one focus and that was the woman on the other side of the table. It was Wednesday. They had an early f light to Lon- don. Emma would meet with her UK counterparts in art crimes, her area of expertise, and Colin would focus on… whatever Matt Yankowski, their FBI boss, wanted him to focus on. He and Yank would talk tomorrow. Colin had completed an undercover assignment before the wedding. Yank no doubt would be chewing on a new assignment.

Wendell took another big drink of his sparkling water. “I have a surprise for you. I’m treating you to a night here at the Shelbourne. Figured it’s a better choice for the last night of a honeymoon than my guest room.”

Emma folded her hands on her middle, eyeing her grand- father with a cool steadiness Colin had come to know and appreciate. “Thank you, Granddad, that’s generous of you, but we’d have been happy in your guest room.”

“You’ll be happier here.”

Emma unfolded her hands and touched a fingertip to the rim of her champagne glass, nothing casual about her move. “Are you sure this is a wedding present and you’re not having your place painted, or you didn’t suddenly dis- cover mold in the walls? It’s not a problem if it’s inconvenient for you to put us up. We could find somewhere to stay. The Shelbourne is gorgeous, but having a drink with you here is a great wedding gift. We don’t want you to go to any big expense.”

Her grandfather looked around at the bustling bar. “Prin- cess Grace stayed here back in the day. You’ve seen pictures of her. She was a beauty. Tragic end to her life.” He shifted back to his guests. “This place was built in 1824. I saw that when I booked your room. These walls ooze Irish history.” Wendell was engaging in pure, in-your-face evasiveness.

No wonder he’d stuck to sparkling water. Colin snatched up his pint glass and nodded to Emma. “Do you want to get the truth out of him or do you want me to…or just forget it and pretend drinks and a night at the Shelbourne are a last-minute wedding gift?”

“They’re a surprise wedding gift,” Wendell said, unruf- f led. “They’re not last-minute.”

Emma sipped her champagne, returned the glass to the table and turned to her grandfather. “But Colin’s right, isn’t he, Granddad? You are hiding something.”

Wendell leaned forward, plucked the slice of lemon out of his glass, squeezed it, then tossed it back in and took a drink. “You two missed your jobs while you were on your honeymoon, didn’t you? You’re rested and ready to pounce on an old man. I shouldn’t have mentioned expensive whis- key and being retired. Put you on alert.”

“When someone does something out of the blue, out of character, most people will notice,” Emma said. “It doesn’t take being an FBI agent.”

“Helps, though.”

Colin gritted his teeth. “Spit it out, Wendell. Why don’t you want us at your place?”

The old man locked eyes with his new grandson-in- law. “All right. I give up.” He paused. “My place is a crime scene.”

Emma stiffened visibly. Colin noticed a renewed strain in her Sharpe green eyes. “What kind of crime scene?” she asked quietly.

“Break-in. Someone slipped inside while I was out for a walk after lunch. I didn’t have much time to think be- fore you two arrived in town. Putting you up here was the easiest way to handle you until I could figure out what to do.” He waved a bony hand. “One of the hazards of hav- ing FBI agents in the family.”

“You didn’t call the police,” Colin said, making it a statement.

“No point. Nothing they can do.” Wendell gave another sigh. “Damn, I’m getting old. Fifty years ago I wouldn’t have spilled the beans this fast. Ten years ago. I should have just had you over to the house and handed you a broom to clean up the glass.”

Emma’s chin shot up. “Glass?”

“Guest-room window. That’s how they got in. Do you have a car? Where are your bags? You can check in after your drink. I booked your room under Donovan. I assume you’re using Sharpe professionally?”

“Unless you land in prison,” Emma said. “Then I might reconsider.”

“I wouldn’t blame you.”

“We turned in our rental when we arrived in Dublin and took a cab here. We left our bags with the bellman while we had drinks with you.” Emma leaned toward Wendell and put a hand on his thin wrist. “Why don’t we finish our drinks and then walk over to your place and have a look?”

“Check in and get settled first. I’ll take a cab back to my place and meet you there. A one-way walk’s my limit

these days.”

“You can call the gardai in the meantime,” Colin added. Wendell scowled at him but turned to Emma with a smile. “Take your time. I won’t touch anything, but I’m not involving the gardai and the FBI has no jurisdiction

here. Just so we’re clear.”

“Have you told anyone else about the break-in?” she asked.

“No, and I don’t plan to. I didn’t plan to tell you but Colin here had his thumbscrew look on and I caved.” Wendell raised his glass. “Bottoms up, kids.”

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