“THERE’S NO nice way to say this, so I’ll just say it. My great-uncle was an old pervert.” The woman’s mouth tightened, as did her grip on the cardboard box she was holding.
Tom bit his lip, trying not to give her a verbal slap. He wasn’t going to argue with her—Zaz Edison had been an old pervert. But he’d been a fun, witty, engaging old pervert, and everyone, including Tom, had liked him. Well, everyone except his great-niece, apparently. Tom sorted through possible responses for something to say that wouldn’t be too offensive; the man had died just two days earlier.
“Well,” he began, but the woman shook her head impatiently.
“No, please, I really don’t want to talk about it. I just want you to take care of this.” She thrust the box at Tom, and as she did so, the notebook sitting on top of it slid off and fell to the ground. The woman picked it up and set it on Tom’s desk, her lips moving in a weird way, as though she was holding back a swear word or a string of them. “Uncle Izadore left it to a museum in San Francisco, and I have no idea how to get it there. You don’t just slap a FedEx label on something like this. Or maybe you do, I don’t know.” She blew out a breath. “You museum people must know how it’s done.”
She made “museum people” sound one step above carnies, but Tom barely heard her through the fog of shock that crept over him. A museum in San Francisco? Zaz had been a patron of the local museum for years; he knew Tom was the jewelry expert there, and yet he’d left something valuable, something interesting, to another museum?
“If he hadn’t left specific instructions in his will,” the woman went on, “I’d have thrown it out with the rest of his pornography.”
That got Tom’s attention. “What did you throw out?”
She gave Tom a look, then spoke to him as if he were an idiot. “Everything! His house was filled with…. God knows what. Books, magazines, DVDs. Even old movies. I didn’t look that carefully. I don’t want to know.”
Jesus, not just a prude, but a stupid one. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“Not at all.”
“That stuff was vintage—”
“It was filth! And now it’s all in garbage bags outside the house. You’re welcome to it if you get there before trash pickup.”
“Fine.” Frigid bitch. Poor Zaz.
She must have read Tom’s face, because she scowled. Then she pulled a piece of paper out of her purse. “I’ll need you to sign this receipt.”
“I’m not going to sign it before I know what I’m receiving.”
“It’s in the box.” She jiggled her foot as Tom set the box on the desk. “I just can’t have that thing in the house. I have children.”
Tom allowed himself an eye roll as he opened the flaps of the box and began digging through the packing peanuts. His fingers hit something hard—a wood and glass display case by the feel of it. He pulled it out, then froze when he saw what was inside.
Tom stared down at the object, then carefully set the case on the desk before snatching up the notebook.
“Are you going to sign the receipt or not?”
“Give me a minute.” His heart was racing. He flipped through the notebook until he saw the name he was looking for, then snapped it shut and grabbed the receipt. He signed it, then shoved it back at the woman.
“I know none of this is legally binding, so I’m relying on your professional ethics. Uncle Izadore spoke highly of you. I know you’ll be honest, if only out of respect for him.”
“I still don’t understand what you want me to do.”
“Ship it to the San Francisco museum. I’ll reimburse you and pay you for your time. ” She pulled a business card out of her purse and handed it to him. “I just don’t want to see it ever again.”
“Will do,” Tom managed.
She turned and walked out of the room without another word, and a few seconds later, the front door shut. “You forgot your ruby slippers,” Tom muttered.
Peter poked his head into the office. “She seems nice.” He grinned, leaning against the doorframe.
Tom let his eyes wander down the smoothly muscled lines of Peter’s body, remembering how he’d let his tongue do the wandering the night before, just after Peter had gotten out of the shower. He turned back to the box on his desk. “She’s Zaz’s great-niece, and she threw out the erotica he collected for decades. He’s probably spinning in his grave.”
Peter’s grin lost some of its brightness. “I was sorry to hear about him. He was a nice old guy. Hung out with me at that museum party.”
“He was probably checking out your ass.”
“Yeah, he was. But not in a creepy way. He was funny. And he seemed really happy you’d brought me.” Peter crossed the room and bent down, then wrapped his arms around Tom. “Are you okay? I know you’re sad that he’s gone—”
“No, it’s… um.” Tom tightened his grip on the display case. “I need some time alone with this.”
“Alone with—Emily’s Magical Bejeweled Codpiece,” Peter read off the label inside the display case. “What the hell is that?”
“I’ll explain later.” Tom set the case on his desk and opened the notebook.