Home > The Attraction Distraction

The Attraction Distraction
Author: Jenn McKinlay

 

 

Chapter One

 


“Sarah, what’s your vaccination status?”

My head snapped up from the facsimile of a Mycenaean clay tablet on my desk. Claire Macintosh, the director of the Museum of Literature, stood in the doorway to my office. She looked spectacular, as always, in a Viking warrior sort of way. Strong chiseled features and tall, very tall—like supermodel tall—but with robust curves and shoulder-length thick blond hair that made her resemble a 1940s pinup model.

“I’m up-to-date on all of my medical,” I said. “In fact, I just had a full workup last month. Tetanus, typhoid, meningitis, cholera, malaria, I’ve got them all and a few I can’t remember. Why?”

“We need you to acquire a piece for the collection but it requires travel to a remote location,” she said.

“Oh.” I perked up. I loved to travel. The more exotic the better.

“I’d go but I have to attend that horrible fundraiser my mother is insisting upon,” Claire said. She looked peeved.

Claire’s family was loaded. She lived in a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue and not from the salary she made here at the museum. But Claire had just turned forty and her mother, Hildy Macintosh, had made it her mission to marry her daughter off and have grandbabies within the year. I’m not gossiping. Hildy literally told every person she met that this was her agenda and then asked if they knew a nice man for her daughter.

Claire simply rolled her eyes and then stepped over the men her mother threw at her feet. I’d seen it happen. It was painful to watch, actually.

“Is she going to try and marry you off again?” Still seated, I stretched my back, which was tight since I’d been hunched over my desk all morning.

Claire cringed. “Undoubtedly.”

When she was thirty-five, Claire became the youngest person ever appointed Director of the Museum of Literature. Housed in a Georgian Revival mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, along Museum Mile, it was formerly the private residence of industrialist Thomas Stewart and his beloved wife Mabel. An avid reader and book lover, Mabel Stewart had bequeathed the property to a private foundation with specific instructions to create the Museum of Literature.

The director was a highly coveted position, and Claire had to prove herself time and again to the very exacting museum board. I knew if she was sending me in her stead to acquire a piece for the collection that the stakes would be high and failure not an option.

“Just so you know,” Claire said. “I’m choosing you because the Classics is your specialty, but also, because of your personality.”

I frowned. I was known for being a bit single-minded, and by a bit I mean utterly myopic when it came to curating the exhibits for the museum. I took our mission statement to “preserve the written word and make it accessible to all who want to learn” very seriously and I’d been told I could be rather strident and off-putting in my execution on behalf of the museum.

“My personality?”

Claire smiled. “Yes, you, Sarah Novak, are known for your tenacity, which will be very advantageous in this instance. Now come on, we have to visit Miles in Special Collections.”

My eyebrows lifted. Special Collections was a wing of the museum that no one, and I do mean no one, was allowed to enter without clearance. Even after seven years as curator, I didn’t have access.

My face must have betrayed my thoughts because Claire said, “It’s fine. You’re with me.”

“Okay.” I rose from my desk and followed her out the door, locking it behind me.

The museum is my favorite place in the entire world. Built at the height of the gilded age, it had opulence in abundance with its parquet hardwood floors, ornate wooden paneling, and embossed ceilings.

Because we were open to the public, one side of the building was devoted to the display and care of the collection. Trained librarians and archivists maintained the books and managed access to the materials. The other side, where my office was tucked into a corner, housed the museum’s professional staff, education, marketing, and special collections.

As curator, I put together exhibits, such as my extremely popular Jane Austen exhibition back in February. I was also tapped to acquire materials for the museum. My expertise was Ancient Greece and Rome. You have to love a good Heroic Period, am I right?

“We’ll stop by wardrobe before you leave.” Claire started down the stairs. “You’ll need to be fitted for appropriate dress—”

“Okay. Wait...what?” I stopped in the middle of the staircase. The steps were shallow and wide making each one a small landing.

“I’ll explain as we go,” Claire said. “You’ll have to catch the red-eye tonight if you’re going to get there in time.”

“Get where?” I spread my hands wide in exasperation.

“Greece,” Claire said. “Sort of.” She started down the stairs again.

“Sort of?” I hurried after her. “What does that mean? Am I getting dropped in the middle of the Aegean Sea?”

Claire stopped, turned, and pointed at me with a wink. “You’ll see. For now, I want Miles and Olive to set you up with some survival equipment.”

On any other day, I would’ve been giddy to finally be allowed in the Special Collections area. From afar, I had pondered this high security department, aching to get inside—yet I was caught on the word survival. What did that mean? Was death a possibility here? Or just injury? Exotic in my mind was more grass hut and beach, not machete and jungle. I would have barraged her with questions, but Claire quickened her pace and even though I’m not short, I had to hustle to keep up.

Special Collections was in the basement on the museum side of the building. I don’t think I imagined that the temperature dropped twenty degrees as we wound our way down the spiral staircase to the floor below. This area was under Miles Lowenstein’s purview. Miles, tall and thin with tufts of white hair sprouting out of his head was intimidation personified, but his right-hand woman Olive Prendergast was straight-up terrifying.

The access door was a massive rectangle of reinforced steel with a web of blue lasers running across it. Claire stepped up to a monitor which scanned her face with a creepy green light then she put her thumb on a tiny square built into the wall. A light over the door turned green, the lasers shut off, and I heard the door automatically unlock before it slowly slid open.

A long circular hallway covered with rectangular white tiles was illuminated by track lights built into the walls and ceiling. The floor was concrete and Claire’s pointy high heels—yes, she wore four-inch spikes because she wasn’t tall enough at five-eleven—clacked as we made our way down the passageway.

“So, this is Special Collections,” I said. If someone had asked me what I’d expected, I don’t know what I would have answered. This wasn’t it.

“Charming, huh?” she asked. “They went for subway chic when they designed it.”

I smiled and tried to convince myself that if Claire could crack jokes maybe it wasn’t so scary down here. I was feeling a wee bit claustrophobic and desperately missing my third-floor office with the view of the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and the city beyond.

The hallway abruptly ended at a second steel door guarded by another web of lasers. Again, Claire scanned her face and pressed her thumb on the small square. The door unlocked and slid open into what could only be described as utter chaos.

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