Plain Brown Wrapper: C.H.A.S.E. Box Set
Shelby Morgen
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2009 by Shelby Morgen

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2:45 PM Friday, 17 December 2004
A dilapidated warehouse somewhere in Malaysia


The gavel hung in midair while the auctioneer waited. Nothing. At last the German turned away, his nostrils flaring in anger as he shook his head.

"Sold!" The gavel banged on the rickety wooden podium, echoing through the room. All other sound ceased. "To the lady in the white suit."

Candy finally remembered to breathe. The auction workers brought her purchase to her, and Candy handed over a stack of American dollars.

Now what?

She turned to face the incredible hunk standing before her.

Good Lord. What had she done?


1:15 PM Friday, 17 December 2004
Singapore Changi Airport


Candy ran for the cab pulling up in the loading area, but before she could flag the driver down, he was gone. "I hate Christmas!"

She dropped the handle of her rather unwieldy luggage cart. Predictably, it collapsed, raining suitcases across the sidewalk. She jammed the toe of her black leather pump into the nearest bag. Ouch. Shit. That was stupid.

Lord, she was tired. Airport security was so tight now it had taken her over an hour to get through customs.

She was going to be late.

Candy hated being late.

Goddamnit. She watched yet another taxi drive away. I shouldn't even be here. Any of the junior attorneys could have handled the job, but not even an all-expense-paid trip to Singapore could get anyone else to take an out-of-the-country assignment over the holidays.

Well, she would have been just as alone back in New York. No matter how you looked at it, the holidays sucked.

It wasn't just Christmas. Her birthday fell on December 25th. The worst part was her parents had wanted a Christmas baby. But now they were gone, and there was no one around who would even remember it was her birthday, let alone go out of their way to make the day special for her.

Time, as Richard would say, to move on.

Asshole.

The thought of Richard gave her enough energy to pick up her suitcases and search for a cab.

Funny how Richard and asshole just naturally went together.

She'd bet a hundred dollars it was Richard-the-asshole who'd screwed with her flight schedule. She should have landed last night, just before midnight. Instead she'd ended up on the later flight with a plane change at LAX. Twenty-nine nerve-wracking hours after taking off from BWI she was finally in Singapore. It wasn't even about the money, though he'd probably saved a grand on the tickets. No, it was about keeping her under his thumb.

Screw you, you sanctimonious bastard. I will not miss this auction, damn you.

A cab pulled up to disgorge a touristy looking couple overburdened with packages. "Taxi!" Candy screamed. Jerking hard on the handle of her luggage cart, she raced for the cab, waving madly at the driver. "Taxi!"

This driver actually came around to help her with her bags. Maybe her luck was changing. While the driver piled her luggage into the trunk, Candy poured herself into the back of the cab, ready to pass out. She'd dressed for winter in New York, not the warmth of Singapore. "The Mandarin Oriental, please."

"Shiok, lah?"

He didn't speak English? Well, that was just great. Lah she was pretty sure meant yes in Malay, but shiok she didn't have a clue about. She held out her confirmation email and pointed to the address.

"Lah," the driver agreed. At least she hoped he was agreeing to take her to the hotel. He wasn't her idea of a hot date. Once he got started, he chattered non-stop, waving his hand at various buildings as they wound their way across town. Blah, blah, blah, blah

Candy closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. The light breeze brought the smell of the ocean in with it. The Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, sat right on the bay. She'd have breakfast tomorrow on her balcony, overlooking the Keppel Harbour, in an opulent and exclusive hotel, newly remodeled.

The Mandarin Oriental was one of the few luxuries she permitted herself. After all, it was... appropriate. It fit the corporate image. The concierge knew her by name. There would be stationery in the drawer with her name printed on it. Room service would have a double espresso sent up precisely at 7:00 AM, with the New York Times, delivered in English.

All that luxury came with a price, and Richard-the-asshole was picking up the tab. She reminded herself to order room service more often. Would serve him right if she'd brought along an "assistant" and charged the entire trip for two off to her expense account.

She would have, too, if she had an assistant. But that was his department. Bastard.

The driver pulled to a stop in front of the Mandarin Oriental. Candy gave him a twenty-dollar tip to wait while she checked in. She'd put that on her expense account too. It was Richard's fault she was late.

This was her time now. Visions of crisp silk and aging bisque brought a smile to her lips. She didn't bother to follow her bags up to the suite. They'd be unpacked by the time she returned. If the driver hauled ass and it wasn't too far away she could still make the most important part of the auction -- a dozen late 1800's vintage Bru Bebes, all from the same collection, all pristine, with their original boxes. Too bad she couldn't afford all of them, but even she didn't have that kind of money. At least not on her, in cash. Unless they went very, very reasonably, she'd be doing well to manage one...

The cabdriver shook his head adamantly when she showed him the Web page she'd printed out. "Sotong! No woman! No go! Terok! Ulu, kayu, lah?"

No woman? What the hell did that mean? The auction had started over twenty minutes ago. She didn't have time for this. She waved the printouts at him. "Auction," she explained. She pointed to the picture of a little girl holding an antique china doll. "Auction. Antique auction. This address."

The man shook his head. "No go. Terok, ulu. No woman. No go."

Sweat trickled down her shoulders in an irritating and unbecoming fashion. Candy searched her phrase book impatiently. "Auction," she attempted in Malay. Assuming he spoke Malay. "Where I come from women go to auctions all the time. Alone." She tapped the face of her watch. "I'm late." She held out two more Singapore twenties.

Finally the man snatched the money from her hands, still muttering in a curious mix of Malaysian and broken English as he turned the key in the ignition. Candy smiled smugly as the cab lurched forward with a cough and a sputter.

After all, it was Brasden-Marten's expense account. She was here on company business. The American fifties stowed in her purse were her own, to be spent however she wished, and he couldn't say a thing. Not any more. Her "ridiculous hobby" was an asset he despised too much to even bother to get appraised.

Moron.

She tried to focus on the joy of the hunt, the impending victory. Maybe if she closed her eyes, just for a moment while the cab took her across town... Maybe a tiny, short little power nap and she'd regain her equilibrium. Maybe...

Excerpt from All I Want For Christmas

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