Excerpt from chapter 2 of City of Gold (Matthew Connor Adventure series)

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you all for coming to celebrate this monumental find.” William paused to soak in the enviable applause. He definitely had a way of extorting the response he wanted.

After the clapping died down, he continued. “The Pandu statue is unquestionably one of the greatest discoveries of the twenty-first century. We are indebted to those who brought the Pandu here for us to appreciate.”

The statue was suddenly projected behind him on a large screen, the introduction to a slideshow presentation.

Matthew ran his hand along his jawline as he scanned the room. For the most part, everyone’s eyes were on William. All except for a few wandering and lustful gazes that traveled over him. A brunette, who appeared to have reached drinking age last week, sucked on her finger, the implication obvious.

Matthew returned his attention to the podium, even though it made him nauseated to listen to William speak about his discovery. If the man had any idea that it was because of his son—and his son’s two best friends—that this celebration was even possible, it might give him his third heart attack.

“If you have any questions about the Pandu, I am certain that the museum curator, Miss Robyn Garcia, would be happy to answer them. You can also ask my son, Matthew Connor”—he extended his hand toward Matthew—“who is an archaeologist.”

Despite the twist in his gut, Matthew lifted his glass in response, purely out of etiquette.

“Yes, well, without further pomp and circumstance, Miss Robyn Garcia.” William stepped to the side, clapping, and Robyn joined him on the podium.

It was the first time this evening that Matthew saw her. How he had missed her, even in a crowd, was remarkable. Matthew let out a deep breath at the sight of her.

She wore a black evening gown that complemented her tanned complexion. Her long, dark hair was straightened and slicked behind her shoulders and left to drape over her bare upper back. The dress was floor length with a slit on the left side that reached midthigh. Beads that sparkled like diamonds covered the bodice, and the fabric was attractively gathered where it cupped her breasts. She’d paired the gown with diamond earrings and bangles.

Robyn positioned herself behind the microphone and let her eyes trace over the crowd. If she was nervous about public speaking, it wasn’t evident. They met each other’s eyes, and her lips curved upward slightly. He was certain his mouth was gaping open and his expression resembled that of a goofy teenaged boy with a crush. It was a lot easier to see her as an equal when she was wearing khakis and boots, her shirt stained with sweat and her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail.

Robyn gestured to the screen behind her. “It truly is a remarkable gift we’ve been given. Thank you to William Connor for extending this celebration to his home.” She clapped, encouraging everyone to follow suit. Even Matthew found himself putting his hands together.

William dipped his head in silent acknowledgment and then waved, implying that it was no big deal.

And really, it wasn’t. Lauren and Daniel did all the hard work. Lauren’s primary charge was keeping the house tidy, and Daniel was the butler and property manager. At the end of the day, everything was their responsibility.

Speaking of Daniel, there was no sign of him. That was strange because he was the one who had led them to India in the first place. He was Matthew’s aid when it came to researching and picking expeditions. Maybe Daniel working for both father and son wasn’t the ideal situation, but it was what it was.

Robyn continued. “The Pandu is believed to date back to the third century. If you joined us at the museum earlier, this isn’t news to you, but the sacrifices that Gideon Barnes made to bring this to us are significant.”

“Is that why he’s not here tonight?” a man in the crowd called out. If Matthew remembered right, his name was Jacob.

No one was looking at him, yet Matthew felt under a microscope. Where was Lauren with more champagne? He always felt uncomfortable in these situations and was impressed by Robyn’s restraint in not letting her eyes drift back to him. She was a pro.

“Mr. Barnes regrets that he was unable to be here tonight, but he sends his love and appreciation.”

A man standing next to Matthew bumped his elbow. “The guy never shows up for his own contributions. If it weren’t for the artifacts and some pictures, I’d doubt his existence.”

“He might value his privacy,” Matthew said. And that statement wasn’t far from the truth. As for the pictures, Matthew had hired a man to be the face of Gideon Barnes, but it was to get his father’s backing, nothing more.

Robyn went on, providing more background on the Pandu. His mind wandered as she spoke. He was ready for the next mission. Time was too precious to sit around basking in past accomplishments. Life was about seizing the moment.

Matthew looked to the doorway and noticed Daniel standing off to the right. Daniel’s Norwegian gray eyes were locked on him.

“Excuse me,” Matthew whispered as he weaved through the mass of people to Daniel. Matthew handed his empty glass to the man.

“Refill, sir?”

Matthew directed Daniel to move down the hall and out of sight of their guests. “That’s not why I’m here, and you know it. You have something. What is it?”

Daniel considered their surroundings before responding. “One of the greatest legends, sir.”

Matthew’s heart palpitated, a natural and habitual occurrence when the prospect of a new adventure came calling.