Masters’ Admiralty, book 1
A warrior with everything to prove.
Tristan Knight has served the Admiral of England since he was a teenager. As a knight he has pledged his life to protect the Masters’ Admiralty, and when he’s assigned to escort an archaeologist on a research trip he knows the menial task is punishment for the failure of his last mission.
A woman in a gilded cage.
Sophia Starabba is a brilliant scholar and accomplished law enforcement officer, working for Italy’s cultural heritage protection department. But none of that matters to her family or the other members of the territory of Rome. To them she’s the “Principessa”- daughter of the Admiral.
The man who holds the key.
James Rathmann lives for mysteries. In another life he would have been a detective, but a love for digging in the dirt made him an archaeologist. Now one of the world’s leading experts on coins, and curator at the British Museum, he’s been called to Rome to examine a recent discovery.
An old enemy back from the dead.
Among the coins they find something alarming—a message from a villain everyone had assumed was long dead. Tristan leads them on the trail to identify and protect the next potential target and possibly discover the identity of the Domino, a killer and anarchist who plagued the Masters’ Admiralty in the past.
But the Domino isn’t dead, and together James, Sophia and Tristan will fight to stay alive and one step ahead of a killer who will do anything to destroy the Masters’ Admiralty.
Prologue Sneak Peek:
The scent of death lay over every surface and permeated the air. Three bodies, three different methods of murder, but the reek lay over, in, and on every molecule in the cave, binding the horrifying tableau together.
“Don’t look at them.” Her brother, Antonio Starabba, cupped her elbow, turning her away from the bodies. The cave had once been natural, but humans had lived, loved, and died on these lands for thousands of years, and the cave bore the scars of human use—the floor had been leveled, niches carved out of the walls, and steps cut into the crevasse that served as entryway into the cave.
Antonio steered her past two people who were quietly photographing and processing the scene. One looked up in time to see her face—or what there was to see of it between the mask and the hood of the all-white disposable coveralls she’d put on before entering.
It should have rendered her anonymous, but the woman recognized her.
“Principessa,” she murmured quietly, bowing her head.
Antonio led his sister to the far side of the cave, where rough shelves had been cut into the walls. The shelves were filled with what a lay person would have called a treasure-box decorated with rough-cut jewels that indicated they had been made long before the refined tools jewelers used today were available. A stone bust from ancient Greece, as well as two paintings on the floor, leaning against the walls, both impressionist-style paintings of the Italian countryside, all burnt orange and shades of yellow and citrine.
As lovely and interesting as all those things were, the vast majority of the treasure on display—and despite her training, she couldn’t help but think of this as treasure—was coinage. Gold and silver coins, most with the rough, thinned edges of ancient currency.
For the most part, the coins were simply loose on the stone shelves, except for three stacks on the right-hand side of the top shelf. Each stack had nine coins.
Three bodies. Three stacks. Nine coins. All multiples of three.
She stepped back to look at the paintings. One had three oaks in the foreground, the other had three plump sheep in a field.
“Whoever this is, they know,” she said.
Antonio nodded. “Yes. You will handle the art?”
“The art, the jeweled box, yes. But I’m not a coin expert.”
“There’s someone in England.”
Antonio frowned, his dark brows drawn down over his gold eyes. “The country or the territory?”
“The territory. He’s one of us.”
“Merda. I don’t want this spreading outside of Rome.”
“Now is not the time to play games.” She had very little patience for the political games the territories played. She understood them, but that understanding didn’t mean she shared her brother’s—or father’s—suspicious and secretive policies. The boundaries of the nine territories had been drawn and redrawn, existing entirely separately from the national boundaries of the countries of modern-day Europe.
“Do you really think a stranger would have found this place, on this land?”
Antonio shook his head, but he said, “It is possible.”
“Who is going to handle…” She couldn’t stop herself from looking over toward the bodies. Her gaze fell first on a severed limb. With a shudder, she forced herself to turn back to the little cache of art and coins.
“Antonio,” she protested. “You cannot.”
“We can, we will.”
“We do not have what the Polizia di Stato do—the labs, the tests.”
“The Carabinieri do.”
“We do not—”
“Not your division.”
The Carabinieri, one of Italy’s two police forces, were technically members of the military and older than the modern country of Italy. But they didn’t deal with homicides the way the polizia did, and were better known for responding and providing support after major events like earthquakes than for taking on barbaric killers.
“We will not involve the polizia.” Antonio squeezed her shoulder.
“You are a fool.” Her brother surely had to see that this was not something they could hide from the normal authorities.
“Tell me the name of the coin expert you need. I will contact England.”
He turned away.
“Coglione,” she muttered under her breath. Her brother was a moron. She cast one last look at the three stacks of coins. She would make sure they weren’t moved, not until the coin expert got there. If this was meant as a clue, then everything about the coins could be a clue, not just where they were from or their value, but their condition—which side was faceup—and even their relation to each other.
Taking a moment to push down her anger, she walked toward her brother, avoiding looking at the bodies. She was careful on the rough-hewn floor. She’d been at a gala when she was called out. She’d left her stilettos and ball gown in the back of a black van pulled up near the entrance and wore only thin slippers inside protective plastic booties. She could feel damp cold leaching up into the balls and heels of her feet. She told herself the dampness wasn’t blood, but she started to gag, her skin crawling.
Her brother cast her a hard glance, and she forced down the need to retch and straightened, walking through the room as if she were still at the gala.
There were now four people photographing and measuring the cave. Murmurs of “Principessa” followed her as she walked to the foot of the rough stairs.
Her brother walked up with her, and when they got to the top, he motioned to some trees off to the left. She checked to make sure no one could see, then stumbled over and vomited up the canapés and prosecco she’d consumed.
She used her mask to wipe her face, then walked back to the van. Her brother held the side door open for her. She climbed in and started stripping off the coveralls. She could still smell the death. Good God, was the smell in her hair?
“Name?” Antonio demanded.
She shimmied out of her coveralls, debated making the drive home in nothing but her shoes, thong and the half corset she’d worn under the ball gown, then decided that was asking for trouble and pulled the champagne taffeta designer gown off the floor of the van, where she’d carelessly discarded it.
“Rathmann at the British Museum,” she told her brother.
“Ah, no no no, Antonio.” She gathered her skirts and backed up while still in the van. “Zip.”
Antonio Starabba, a man many feared—and rightly so—grumbled as he zipped up his sister’s dress.
She turned, still holding her skirts up off the forest floor. “Be careful, Antonio.”
“I will.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “And you, Princess.”
Sophia Starabba rolled her eyes. Only with her brother would she dare mock the title. “Don’t move the coins. The paintings can come up. If you wait a few hours, I will be back, and I’ll do it.” It was after midnight, but it would still take her at least forty-five minutes to get back into Rome, half an hour to shower, change, grab her kit, and another forty-five minutes back to the villa. The cave entrance was within the villa’s expansive walled grounds.
A villa that on paper was owned by her father, but in reality, was owned by the Masters’ Admiralty, and the territory of Rome.