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Making Mina 2: Strings Attached

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Making Mina 2: Strings Attached

  Making Mina: Strings Attached

  By Tacie Graves

  Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

  Chapter One

  “That’s it! I’m going to get a pair of cats, some sensible shoes, and dedicate my life to saving the whales.”

  Mina shoved a file across her desk, catching the corner of her out-box. A stack of grant proposals on the corner trembled at the violence of her action. She watched for a breathless moment as it shivered, and when it toppled over to explode in a shower of oversized confetti her shoulders slumped in defeat. It was official. The whole world was out to get her.

  “Whales aren’t so bad.” Across the room a dark waterfall of hair parted momentarily to show a bird-bright, black eye and a twist of a smile. “And you already wear sensible shoes.”

  Chance brought the women together years ago, but friendship kept them close. They were a strange pair—Mina in her flowing dresses and, yes, sensible shoes, and Ivy Fielding, the museum’s resident goth—but from the start they’d understood each other. When Mina appeared on her doorstep in the early hours of Saturday morning Ivy opened her door with no questions and an unlimited supply of Kleenex and ice cream. Today, though, she was enjoying the third day of an “I-told-you-so” binge and Mina was fed up.

  “You’re a fine one to talk. You never wear anything but those Frankenstein boots.” Mina glared at her friend and kneeled gingerly to gather up the scattered papers. “And you already have two cats.” She stifled a groan as she stood. She was sore in places she didn’t even know she had. It had been days since she sneaked away from Marco Genovese, but her body complained often enough that the memory of what caused those aches and pains was never far away. It amazed her, after years where sex never crossed her mind, now she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Not that she’d ever admit that to anyone.

  Ivy opened her mouth but whatever she intended to say was cut off. Both women jumped as the door slammed open, the tiny space suddenly filled with energy radiating from a wiry whip of a man.

  Andrew Peabody was the head of the anthropological collections department at the Oppen Institute. The Oppen wasn’t as large as other collections in the area, but it spanned 500 years and four continents and had earned him a reputation as a skilled conservationist. His love of history and culture was infectious and Mina attributed her fascination with the subjects to her years working with him since she’d earned a position as his intern during her sophomore year. At sixty-five he had the energy of a man half his age, racing off to the far corners of the globe at a moment’s notice, but this was unusual even for him. All five feet and six inches of him practically vibrated with excitement.

  “Mina! Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded. His fuzzy eyebrows drew together in a ferocious frown and Mina’s stomach dropped. She shot a quick look at Ivy who shook her head and shrugged. Whatever had him worked up was a mystery to her as well. The only thing Mina could think of was her break up with Ethan, but she never expected this kind of response. True, it had taken Andrew months to forgive her for getting engaged—throwing her career away, he called it—but shouldn’t he be happy she wasn’t getting married? And how could he know already? She expected to have at least a week to work up the nerve to break the news. She really needed his support if she was going to get back into the University’s anthropology program, and she’d put up with any lecture he wanted to give her, but she really hoped he wasn’t here to add another voice to the chorus of “Ethan’s a Jolly Good Bastard” that Ivy’d been singing all weekend.

  “Tell you what, Dr. Peabody?” Mina tried to smooth the wrinkles out of the grant applications where she’d clutched them in surprise. She piled them neatly on her desk, erasing any evidence of the earlier chaos. She was proud of her work—she’d written more successful grant proposals than any other staff member in years—but academically she couldn’t compete with the other employees of the Institute. In the current climate there were Ph. D.’s working as exhibit technicians; her measly B.A. shouldn’t even get her in the door. When she’d announced her engagement everyone assumed she’d be leaving so her position could be filled by a real anthropologist. Honestly, she almost had. A shiver ran through her at the thought. Thankfully she’d been unwilling to take that last step, or now she’d be alone and unemployed. With all that confusing the issue, the last thing she wanted was for her mentor to think she wasn’t taking her work seriously enough.

  Apparently, that wasn’t the problem.

  “Such modesty!” Andrew’s expression cleared and he turned a paternal smile on her, beaming with pride. “The Genovese Collection, of course!” When no one responded he continued. “I know. I know. It isn’t as significant as the Guarnacci collection, but then nothing truly is, is it? And it isn’t entirely Etruscan, either, so we won’t be able to display everything in an appropriately developmental chronology, but some of the pieces have never been exhibited. Never! Those items are probably worthy of an exhibit of their own. And then there are the bronzes! And two cinerary urns! For you to have been able to convince Mr. Genovese to allow the items to be studied and displayed… well, it’s remarkable! Truly remarkable!” The little man positively bubbled with enthusiasm and Mina returned his smile weakly.

  The Genovese Collection? Ivy’s eyes were huge as she mouthed the words and Mina shook her head dumbly. This must be some kind of terrible joke.

  “I don’t know what to say.” At least that was the absolute truth. Someone had put her in a terrible position and she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly who it was. The question was why. “Marco and I,” she stopped herself when Ivy’s eyes got even bigger. “Mr. Genovese and I haven’t exactly discussed any details. I never expected him to contact you,” she swallowed, her mouth dry, “directly.”

  You never expected to hear from him at all, you mean. Mina tried to ignore the little voice in her head without success. This is what you get for messing around with a man like Marco Genovese.

  She had known better from the beginning, she just hadn’t wanted to accept the truth. Again. She was so stupid about men. She should never have gone home with him. The only place she could expect in Marco Genovese’s life was a temporary position as bed warmer. When dawn came and the alcohol had worn off it was obvious, so, she pretended to be asleep, and when he left for his morning run, she ran too. As far and as fast as she could.

  Coward. The little voice in her head refused to shut up.

  Yes, I’m a coward but that’s not the point! Mina viciously stomped on the voice in her head. The point is Marco Genovese should be more honorable than this. Dragging her boss into things—endangering what little career she had left—it was unconscionable. Why, this was just bullying! The next time she saw him she’d tell him exactly…

  “I’m surprised to hear that, Miss Hemingway.” A dangerous voice cut through the chatter in her head and sent a chill down her spine. “I thought when I spoke to you Friday I made it very clear that we’d address these things… again… later.”

  Again… later… the words sent a frisson of excitement through Mina’s body as she remembered the last time she’d heard them. Her eyes flew to the door, praying she was wrong, but, no. The world was still out to get her. There, lounging against the doorframe like he owned the place, stood Marco Genovese. His presence dominated the small space and Mina could feel her pulse speed up in response to his proximity. He wore a charcoal gray suit and a black silk shirt, each perfectly tailored piece worth a small fortune, and he did not look happy.

  “Mi-ister Genovese,” Mina stumbled over his name. “What a surprise.” She swallowed hard and tried to calm herself. There had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for him being there.

sp; She just couldn’t figure out what it was.

  His expression was blank, his dark eyes inscrutable as they met hers, but for some reason she would swear he was blindingly, blisteringly angry. Not that he had any reason to be. I mean, yes, she left without saying anything. Snuck out, actually, but he couldn’t have expected her to stay. That would’ve been crazy.

  Wouldn’t it?

  Dr. Peabody’s excitement made him impervious to the undercurrents in the tiny office, but Ivy’s eyes were threatening to fall out of her head. She flicked a finger at Mina to get her attention and Mina shook her head tightly, silently begging her not to ask any questions. Ivy slowly nodded in understanding. The look her friend shot her guaranteed she was going to have some serious explaining to do, but she didn’t care. She’d explain until she was blue in the face as long as she could get out of the next ten minutes with her professional reputation intact.

  She pasted a smile on her face.

  “A very welcome surprise, of course.” Mina’s voice cracked and she hurried on to cover it. “I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you’ve decided to allow the Oppen Institute to arrange for the display of your collection.”

  Hell, she thought a little wildly, I don’t think admitting that I didn’t even know you HAD a collection would go over very well. Mina was a terrible liar but she learned how to play politics with Ethan and his cronies. As long as you didn’t come right out and insult them people didn’t pay attention to what you actually said they just heard what they wanted, which made skating by the truth good enough for most people.

  Somehow she doubted Marco Genovese was most people.

  “Your pleasure is my pleasure.” His voice was low and sensual and she shivered in the warm room remembering words whispered in the dark… Touch yourself. Take your pleasure. Your pleasure is my pleasure… Mina swallowed thickly and he continued. “When I arrived this morning I told Dr. Peabody how much faith I had in your abilities, and he informed me that of course his very best student would be available to curate the display.” He held her gaze, challenging her to argue. “I must say I was very relieved. You have no idea the disappointment I’ve faced since arriving in Miami.” Mina couldn’t help but wince. “It’s good to know I’ll be in your very capable hands.”

  Definitely not most people.

  Mina’s capable hands were shaking. She couldn’t believe he wanted her to curate the display. She’d never managed anything that large. An exhibit? Sure. Two? Maybe. But an entire collection? No way. Dr. Peabody expected her reaction, though, and jumped in to save her.

  “Of course she’ll have a team to help her,” he said, smiling broadly, and patting her shoulder soothingly, “but as you requested she will be the curator in charge. She will have the final say in all of the arrangements, and will be your main point of contact with the museum.” He turned his proud smile on Mina. “From the time they first joined the Oppen, Mina and Ivy have been my hardest workers. Between the two of them I’m positive that you’ll have everything exactly the way you want it.”

  Ivy gasped when her name was included and Mina’s eyes flew to hers. A collection like this could make Ivy’s career. She’d been working through the ranks, repairing, organizing, archiving… anything and everything that was asked of her. She’d never put anything ahead of her work. She’d gotten her doctorate at twenty-eight, and it was clear that she was going to make a name for herself one day. The Genovese Collection, though, would make sure that day came sooner rather than later.

  Mina shook her head, stunned. She had no idea what Marco was playing at, but if there was any chance he actually intended to allow his family’s artifacts to be cataloged and displayed, Mina had no choice but to play along, if only for Ivy’s sake.

  She looked at the man dominating the room and shivered again. Just for Ivy’s sake, she thought. I’m not going to let him make a fool of me, though.

  “I’m flattered,” she said, meeting Marco’s eyes with a challenge of her own, “and I’d love to manage this exhibit for you, but I must point out that there are other people—more qualified people—who could fulfill your needs better than I can.”

  Mina watched closely to see if he recognized her underlying meaning, and she wasn’t disappointed. Marco Genovese was many things, but slow on the uptake was not one of them. He cocked an eyebrow at her, his face a study of patience and polite interest.

  “Perhaps there are more experienced people available,” he said blandly, “but it was your passion for the subject, your willingness to stretch your boundaries, that I believe makes you the perfect candidate for this position.”

  Mina’s cheeks burned. Her lack of experience was what landed her in Marco Genovese’s bed in the first place, and he’d definitely spent the majority of that night stretching her boundaries.

  “Your confidence is overwhelming,” she said through clenched teeth. “I promise: Dr. Fielding, Dr. Peabody, and I will do everything we can to make sure that you are satisfied with the exhibit.” Ivy smiled, her face actually peeking out from behind her curtain of hair. Dr. Peabody beamed with pride, nodding and making little noises of agreement, and Mina knew she was well and truly stuck. She couldn’t back out now, even if she wanted to.

  Not that you want to, a little voice said. Her night with Marco Genovese had been everything she could ask for—excitement and passion and romantic murmurings in the dark. Those incredible fingers slid over every inch of her body, exploring slowly—so slowly—that she thought they must be finding the nooks and crannies in her soul. Marco learned the spots that made her whimper in ecstasy, and the rhythms that made her scream as she orgasmed over, and over, until she collapsed like a rag doll in his arms. Even then he didn’t stop. He petted her and kissed her, whispering mysterious nothings in the rolling accents of his native tongue until sleep claimed them. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of, but the knowledge that it was temporary—it could be taken from her at any time—was more than she could bear. It was better to end it on her terms; so, she did.

  Or so she thought.

  Dark eyes followed her every move. His face was still a mask of polite interest, but his eyes were hard. His presence at the museum made it clear that her terms hadn’t suited him, and he wasn’t a man accustomed to disappointment. She could feel his eyes as they traveled over her, and her skin tingled in response. Her cheeks were flushed, her pulse fluttering in her throat, and she shifted in embarrassment as she felt her nipples harden under his gaze as if it was a physical touch.

  Marco’s face barely changed, but Mina could see the satisfaction there. He was pleased at her reaction, pleased that he could trigger such a response without ever raising a finger.

  “I am so glad to hear you say so,” he said. “This project has consumed me over the past few days, and I am looking forward to proceeding as quickly as possible.” He turned, breaking their gaze, and focused on Dr. Peabody.

  “Dr. Peabody,” he said, “You mentioned that you had papers in your office that would be required to arrange for the transfer of items—release forms, catalog pages—do you think that you could bring those to me now? I have a meeting this afternoon, but I would like to make as much progress as I can today. You never know when an opportunity is going to,” he paused, “slip away?” He turned, back to Mina, expression dark and unreadable, and stared. “That is the phrase, yes? Slip away?”

  She couldn’t find her voice so she nodded instead. Marco smiled but it never reached his eyes.

  “Good, good.” He turned back to Dr. Peabody. “Sometimes I think we should do all our communicating with actions. Words mean so little to some people, and can lead to such misunderstandings.”

  Mina trembled as she stood, remembering the last words she’d said to Marco before he climbed from bed. He’d promised to arrange breakfast after his run, told her to sleep, that she’d need her rest. She laughed a little thinly, already feeling the panic brought by the light of day. She pulled the blankets up to her chin, wild curls falling across her ey
es, and nodded. It’s so comfortable here. I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave. He rolled over her, pinning her blanket and all, and kissed her possessively. Long moments later, both of them breathing raggedly, he’d answered. Good. Leaving isn’t on the agenda.

  As soon as he’d left, though, her feet weren’t just cold, they were ice cubes. She knew he was expecting her to stay, knew she’d all but promised that she would, but she couldn’t do it. The power, the money, the passion… it was just too much for her to handle.

  “Of course! I’d be happy to get that paperwork started for you. I have a packet that our new donors are given, and if you can give me ten minutes my assistant can collect all the other items we have prepared. You must understand that once we get into deliveries and security that there will be more specific materials that must be addressed, but Mina here will be able to talk you through any of that as it comes up.” He paused, fingers tapping against his chin. “Ivy?” Ivy jumped and pulled her eyes away from Marco.

  “Yes, Dr. Peabody?” She was already moving towards the door and it took every ounce of restraint for Mina not to grab her arm and stop her. “Is there something you’d like me to take care of?”

  “Yes, yes,” the little man was muttering, now, his mind speeding along at a mile a minute. “I need you to run down to the Development and Giving department and pick up the donor packet that they have, and then stop in the office of the Senior Archivist and let him know that we need all the release forms and transport restrictions for the more delicate items that will be coming. Oh, and don’t forget to stop in…” His voice faded away as Ivy followed him down the hall, visions of Etruscan sugarplums dancing in their heads.

  And just like that, she was alone with Marco Genovese.

  The room was admittedly small, but with Marco standing there it felt miniscule. His broad shoulders blocked her view of the door, her only avenue of escape, and she looked everywhere but at his face, afraid of what she’d see there.

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