Diamonds are for Eden Chapter 1

Natasha Kelly slowed her steps to tug at the creeping hem of her figure-hugging green bodysuit. After eight hours in spandex and killer heels, the pleasure of the disguise had begun to pall.

She joined the queue in front of airport security and shifted the weight of her carry-on to the other shoulder. If she passed this inspection, she embarked on the final leg of her journey.

With a bright smile in place, she paused before the staid British official as he scrutinized her passport. “Transferring from one flight to another, Miss?”

“Yes.”

“You travel quite often.”

“I’m a courier…for museums.”

His eyes came to rest on hers, and he squinted at the layers of glistening eye shadow and mascara. “A…courier, you say?”

She batted her false lashes at him. “Absolutely.”

The young man swallowed hard and cleared his throat before studying her passport yet again. Natasha knew the picture by heart. A studio shot of a pale, oval face with blue eyes, the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, framed by shoulder-length, wavy blond hair. Quite a contrast from the spiraling curls of the bright red wig she wore now.

When he glanced at her again, she winked and lifted the edge of the wig.

“Anything to declare, Miss?”

“Not yet, but catch me on the way back.”

The corner of his mouth twitched as he waved her past.

With one hand clutching her shoulder bag, she sashayed through the turnstile, hoping she didn’t trip in the four-inch, lime green stiletto heels. If she landed flat on her face, it would blow that care-free cover of hers.

She grinned as she emerged with her dignity intact. Kimberly, South Africa, here I come.

At the next water fountain, she paused to scan the crowd as she bent to take a drink. Perhaps she’d lost the tail, but a network of terrorists could employ any number of new faces. It made for a rather unnerving experience.

Natasha, stick with The Plan.

Now was not the time to second-guess her scheme. Abram Perez and her parents were counting on her, and a successful delivery would open a whole new venue for Kelly’s Couriers and Shipping Service. Around the next corner, she spotted her departure gate and stepped to the line of waiting passengers.

Just think of it…over half a million dollars in diamonds. She’d never transported anything like it. The museum artifacts she often carried were priceless, but this, well, it was different, as if the economy of an entire industry rested in her hands.

To hear Abram talk, it did. If Israel couldn’t import stones, their diamond trade ceased to exist. A tragedy for a country known for the best diamond cutters in the world. But Natasha still had to reach the diamonds. And that meant fooling anyone sent to intercept her.

Instructions from Abram swirled in her brain. She pictured his diamond pinky ring waving through the air as he lectured her over some point. He’d listed several when he discovered someone had tailed her Union Jack Mini-Cooper through Houston traffic.

She again switched her bag to the other arm, taking one step closer to the beaming woman who checked the boarding pass of each would-be hi-jacker. Natasha wrinkled her nose. What was she thinking? The throng of humanity around her appeared harmless enough, from the teenagers in the corner frantically texting on cell phones to the harried mother passing out juice cups to boisterous children. If only Natasha could identify potential terrorists.

She handed over her boarding pass.

God could protect her from something she couldn’t identify. She had to trust Him.

Within seconds, she followed the other passengers in the boarding tunnel to the plane. She flashed a smile at the flight attendant before sinking in a plush leather chair. Oh, how sweet it felt to relax her long legs. Thank goodness Abram insisted on first-class tickets. She stowed her carry-on at her feet and leaned back, anxious for the plane to take off.

Forty sweltering minutes later, the pilot’s voice squawked over the loudspeakers. “We’ll be taxiing to the runway momentarily. I apologize for the delay. The cooling system will have you comfortable as soon as we lift off.”

Hallelujah.

Her stiff limbs ached as if she’d run a marathon, and the suffocating atmosphere only made it worse. Why did the air-conditioner only work when the plane was in flight? In about five more minutes, she’d yank that wig off her head and throw it, terrorists or no terrorists.

A stir at the open doorway drew her attention, and her mouth gaped. That couldn’t be Dirk Sloan stepping into the plane. Heads perked up all over, especially the females, as passengers caught sight of him.

Natasha glanced around, more than a little irritated, while beads of sweat trickled from under her stifling wig. Why would an actor from Great Britain take a commercial flight bound for South Africa? Had the airline really held up an entire planeload of people for one silly actor? Apparently so. The attendants sealed the door, and the hum of the engines grew to a roar.

Natasha took a deep breath as cold, ventilated air blasted her face. She should concentrate on the positive. At least, she could tell her sister Elaine that she’d flown first-class with Dirk Sloan. What a heart-throb! Elaine loved him. Even her boys played with action figures from one of Sloan’s movies.

Natasha smiled. How did a grown man cope with having his identity usurped by a doll? Perhaps it suited him perfectly. As the flight attendants volleyed for his attention, his magnetic smile encompassed one and all. Natasha heard a sigh or two. She shook her head. Hero worship wasn’t for her no matter how attractive the hero.

Dirk finally made his way to the seat across the aisle. As he addressed the passengers around him, a lop-sided grin lit his face. “Please forgive the delay. It seems there was a problem with my luggage. A prop, or something, I believe. You know how security is these days.”

The other passengers nodded in sympathy, quite willing to forget that he’d kept them melting in their seats for over forty minutes. With another captivating smile that quickened even Natasha’s heartbeat, he dropped into his seat. This muscle-bound giant exuded more sex appeal in person than he did onscreen. His tight knit black pullover and hip-hugging jeans revealed why he was the world’s favorite action hero. He smelled sensational, too. His gaze caught hers, and he raised one perfect blond eyebrow.

Natasha turned away. Why had she ogled him like any star-struck teenybopper? He probably got more of that than he deserved and had an ego to match.

As the plane ascended, Natasha scrutinized everyone in her vicinity one last time. Directly ahead sat a young couple, eyes locked in idiotic adoration. A splattering of rice trailed across his shoulders and peeked from the folds of her up-do hair. Honeymooners.

Deftly avoiding another glance at Dirk Sloan, she peered past the seats behind her. A businessman stared intently at his laptop, oblivious to the pilot’s request to terminate all electronics during take-off. The man beside him downed a glass of dark liquid then snapped his fingers at the attendant for another. That was it for the passengers in first class. Yet she couldn’t escape the feeling of someone watching her.

She settled back in her chair. Through the window, inky blackness stared back at her, broken only by the flashing red lights on the plane’s wing.

An attendant brushed past her seat, gushing toward the actor across the aisle. “Oh, Mr. Sloan, I can’t thank you enough for this autograph. My niece will be thrilled.”

“Please…call me Dirk.”

Natasha closed her eyes as irritation grew. More like Jerk, who thinks the whole world revolves around him. Dirk the Jerk.

She drifted off to sleep.

Terror gripped Natasha as her heart beat faster and faster. With one hand, she clung to a cliff while her other hand flailed the air, seeking sanctuary along the slick rock.

Dirk the Jerk peered down at her from the top of the cliff then erupted into song. “Here I come to save the day!”

His hand reached for her grasping fingers.

I’ve got to be dreaming. Open your eyes, Natasha.

She struggled to lift heavy lids, blinking several times before focusing on Dirk Sloan as he bowed before a line of beaming teenage girls. Their giggles could still be heard as they made their way back to coach.

“Sorry…didn’t mean to wake you.” Dirk stood above Natasha with the self-conscious grin that melted hearts in theaters the world-over.

“No problem.” She turned back toward the dark window.

How long had she slept? What was he doing out of his seat? Had the pilot removed the seatbelt sign? She ached to stand and stretch her stiff limbs.

“You know,” he began with a husky British accent. “You just missed refreshments from the stewardess. Shall I ring her?”

“No, thank you. I think I’ll wait.”

Why couldn’t he sit down? She needed to get past him to the restroom, but he seemed quite happy blocking the aisle with his broad shoulders. She couldn’t wait. She grabbed her bag and stood, swiveling first left, then right.

“The loo is that way.” He pointed, towering over her by at least two inches. And she in her stilettos!

At his continued grin, something fluttered deep in her stomach. Motion sickness, no doubt, from the smell of his cologne. She nodded at him and continued down the aisle.

A flight attendant met Natasha at the door to the restroom. “May I help you?”

Natasha gave her a friendly smile. “Just going into the bathroom.” She blinked several times, widening her eyes. “You know you could help me. I’m meeting a friend, and I’d like to surprise him.” She lowered her voice. “This is a wig. I had to get up so early this morning to catch my flight, I just didn’t have time. When I come out, let me know what you think.”

The young woman laughed. “No problem.”

Good. Now she wouldn’t think Natasha was hiding something. She didn’t want to get arrested as a terrorist by some sky marshal.

She stepped into the tiny bathroom and locked the door, but her thoughts traveled to Dirk Sloan. Why this sudden antagonism for the man? It was so unlike her. The poor man didn’t know she had a lot riding on this trip. According to Abram, the shipping line had lost one employee, supposedly murdered at sea, and so had the Mossad, which was even more frightening. If Israel’s secret service couldn’t track the diamonds, how could she? She had to keep her wits about her and ignore Mr. Dirk Sloan, perfect male icon that he was.

Natasha remained in the restroom for several minutes, peeling off green spandex and washing away layers of make-up. It felt amazing to free her head from that wig and pull on comfortable clothes. She brushed her hair back in a ponytail, the only style that camouflaged the wig-induced flatness of her hair.

Once her appearance matched the passport photo, she opened the door and stood in the aisle. As if on cue, the attendant lifted her thumb in a gesture of approval. Natasha smiled her appreciation. She’d always enjoyed wearing her pink capris and sleeveless shell.

When she resumed her seat, Dirk the Jerk glanced around and raised that perfect blond eyebrow. What was that supposed to mean? He must not have thought much of the “real” her, because he returned to his perusal of the in-flight magazine and didn’t approach her again.

Natasha closed her eyes for the remainder of the flight, rehearsing her plan to sneak a shipment of diamonds past a terrorist group without getting herself killed. The recent break-in at her house and the warning typed across her computer screen left little doubt that someone meant business. She just had to make it appear she wasn’t a threat. The dumb blond routine.

When the plane at last touched down in Kimberly, South Africa, the sky shone with a sunrise of brilliant orange. Fields of tall yellow grass flashed past as the plane taxied to a stop. Natasha’s heart thumped in exhilaration, and she took a deep breath. Lord, guide my steps.

The airport bustled with the usual frantic travelers and a few aimless souls, who ambled along as if they hadn’t a care in the world. She recognized native African styles with head wraps, sari-draped Muslims, even some European-cut designer suits.

When she reached luggage claims, she recognized Dirk, shoulder bag in tow, strolling away from the area with a uniformed chauffeur. She shook off thoughts of the super-famous and turned into a Ladies’ room. Time for more fun with the hair.

In a spacious stall, she yanked open her carry-on then slid out of her pink shirt and capris. She folded them in a tidy bunch and reached for the next outfit, a black leather mini-skirt with a fitted black tank top and wide belt. As she zipped the thigh-high boots, she stifled a giggle. If her brother could see her now, he’d think she resembled a call-girl.

Leaning against the sink, she tugged on the black wig, a sassy bob that curved toward her chin, a look she actually liked. After applying burgundy lipstick, silver hoop earrings, and dark, round sunglasses, she stared at her reflection. All that black made her skin look pale as a sheet, but it was still her face that gawked back. She grimaced, heading for the door. Maybe she wasn’t fooling anyone, but it was part of The Plan.

Outside in the now brilliant sunlight, Natasha felt waves of humid heat. The wig instantly felt like…well, a wig, or some hairy boa constrictor. Even her brain felt suffocated underneath the extra weight.

She took a few steps away from the doorway and nearly gagged on exhaust as a long, diesel bus lumbered past. For this, she might as well be stuck in Houston traffic. Several seconds passed as she absorbed her surroundings. On the left, several hotel limos cruised through the pick-up zone. Across the street, red and yellow cabs lined the taxi-for-hire lane. Which one would be safest? A world-wide terrorist ring could buy or sell anyone.

Before she could decide, a black limousine nearly knocked her off the curb. She jumped back, ramming into someone. While she fought for balance, her sunglasses slid off her nose. Strong hands caught her arms and held fast.

A familiar scent teased her nose even before she met the amused expression of Dirk, the Jerk, a scant six inches from her cheek. She noted a tiny scar in the hairline above his left ear. Facelift? Surely he was too young to start that, but who knew with actors? Such a self-absorbed group.

His soft chuckle made Natasha’s toes curl.

“Well,” he said. “You change colors faster than a chameleon. Are you in trouble?”

Was she? She blinked up at him.

“Hello? Miss…are you all right? Would you like a ride somewhere? Hotel?”

Natasha’s mind whisked through possible answers. A ride with a well-known actor would be safer than hopping into the enemy’s cab. She caught her breath, powering up her most dazzling smile. “Aww, Mr. Dirk, would you do that for me?”

Her insides cringed, knowing she must appear another shameless fan, but if that was the kind of woman he liked, she could act, too.

He dropped her arm, and the smile faded from his face. “You’re mocking me. If you require no further assistance…” He thrust her sunglasses toward her as she straightened then turned away.

“No, please wait. I…thank you for helping me. If it’s not out of your way, I’m staying at The Diamond House.”

“It would be a pleasure. We’re traveling that direction.” His answering smile did nothing to thaw the frozen blue eyes that studied her. “Your trunks?”

“My suitcases, yes.” She pointed a finger. “Right behind you.”

Dirk snapped his fingers, and the chauffeur gathered Natasha’s luggage and placed it in a stretch limousine the same shade of silvery-gray as his uniform.

She bent to climb inside. Tinted windows blocked the bright light from outside, and it took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust. She blinked as her head went for a spin.

“You’re very trusting.” His penetrating eyes glinted in the gloom of the limo, and a cold wave splashed over her heart. What had she gotten into? Then he smiled, flashing pearly white teeth. “Perhaps we should introduce ourselves?”

“Oh…Natasha Kelly, Houston, Texas.” She managed a slight smile as she held out a hand. “And you’re Dirk Sloan, famous British actor.”

“Infamous, judging from your earlier reaction.”

That perfect blond eyebrow tilted in open amusement. How did he do that? Now, she felt like an idiot.

“I’m sorry. The flight attendants were just so…flighty over you. I assumed you must really like yourself.”

“I enjoy myself. There’s a difference.” He leaned forward and reached for a recessed refrigerator. “Refreshments?”

Natasha accepted a bottle of water.

“It’s really not that strange for me to visit countries. I’m supposed to absorb local color for a part.”

“A new movie? What type of part?”

He couldn’t be a native. His features were too Anglo: straight patrician nose, thin lips. Maybe he’d been cast as Tarzan. She smiled at the thought of him in a loincloth and lifted the water to take a drink. It wouldn’t do for him to think she was laughing at him again.

“It’s a film about the Boer Wars. I’ve been told they’ve a fair museum here, so I thought I’d do a bit of study.”

He might not be the intellectual lightweight he’d seemed. She shouldn’t have judged him. You’re right, Lord. Forgive me, please.

“Is this your first trip to Africa?” asked the superhunk.

“No, I lived here for several years when I was a child.”

“Really? What do you remember?”

“Poverty. Need. Friends. And we adopted my brother. My parents were missionaries in Zimbabwe. I was six at the time, and my sister was nine. One day, this half-starved, half-naked native boy was brought to my mother. I recognized him right away. His parents had been helping us. They were killed because of it.”

She rarely spoke of those times, and suddenly self-conscious, she paused. Had she monopolized the conversation?

Dirk leaned forward, his eyes intent on hers. “Please, continue.”

“Well…umm, Katir’s mother managed to hide him near the mission and told him not to make a sound until she came back.” Natasha shrugged. “But she never did. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed by wild animals at night. He was terrified. My mother had to sit up with him for days. He became completely devoted to her.”

“That’s horrible. I can’t believe you’d want to return. Are you visiting him?”

“No. He was legally adopted by my parents and came with us when we left. He’s as American as I am.”

“Tell me more, if you don’t mind.”

Natasha leaned back in her seat. Africa was an easy topic. “I do remember some funny moments. My parents encouraged Katir to learn tribal ways. One night, we all sat down to have our evening meal. He yanked out this blow-dart and snared a large fly on the wall right over the food. My mother didn’t even flinch.” Natasha grinned at the memory. “She calmly asked Katir to remove this monstrous bug from the wall, wash his hands, and in the future would he kindly refrain from piercing insects at dinner. My sister and I nearly fell out of our seats, laughing.

“Mom was wonderful, though. Katir was only about four years old, but he still managed to teach us a lot she wasn’t crazy about. We became experts at blow-darts, spear throwing, and Mom’s all-time favorite…distance-spitting contests.”

Dirk laughed. “Sounds like he gained quite a family.”

He bent toward Natasha, and her throat dried up. No wonder this guy sold millions of tickets at the theatre. He definitely exuded a powerful presence.

She cleared her throat. “I hope so. I know once we found him, our family seemed complete. He’s one of my best friends now. In fact, we own a shipping business together.” She tilted her head. “Well, I started it, and when he finished college, he came to help.”

“An admirable young man. What brings you to Africa?”

A frisson of unease skittered down her spine. He had already asked that. Was he just a trifle too interested in her personal life or should she be flattered? “A friend.”

“Perhaps we’ll run into one another while you’re here.”

The limo rolled to a stop, and the driver opened the door to climb out.

Natasha glanced at Dirk while his attention was held outside. It seemed as if they’d just gotten in the car. She enjoyed his company, but she’d probably never see him again. Was it just a little strange that he’d never asked for an explanation about her appearance changes on the plane and at the airport?

The chauffeur opened Natasha’s door and helped her out. She thanked him and walked toward the revolving doors of the hotel then swiveled to wave goodbye. She almost collided with Dirk and flung out a hand to steady herself. He grabbed it.

Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the uniformed hotel staff as they removed all the trunks.

“I’m staying here as well.”

She yanked her hand free. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He crinkled his eyes in the most adorable manner. Did he have any unattractive habits?

“I wasn’t sure I wanted you to know, especially with the way you first acted. It sounds trite, but I have to be careful. Please forgive me. Is there any chance we could have dinner tonight?”

Natasha fought his British charm and the lure of that intoxicating cologne. She had responsibilities and needed to keep a low profile. “I’d like to, but I’m meeting that friend.”

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Another time, perhaps.”

Natasha turned, and they made their way into the hotel lobby across polished marble floors as smooth as glass. A brass cart rolled by with their luggage perched on top.

She peered past it to a large sitting area of bright orange tapestry armchairs, yellow ochre sofas, and warm brown settees artfully arranged for cozy chats. Murals of African primitive art graced the walls and ceiling. Vibrant, stained glass room dividers and glossy teak cabinets all combined to create a luxurious habitat of African hospitality.

When the sound of running water registered, she swung around. Dirk moved ahead of her as she rushed to the glittering waterfall. It tumbled into a pool laden with gold, red, and white koi, then narrowed into a labyrinth, eventually reaching the center of the foyer in a tinkling fountain.

She whirled back to Dirk but already an entourage of people surrounded him. One, a very determined-looking young woman with a clipboard, edged Natasha out of the way as she spouted directions in a precise tone.

Within seconds, Dirk and his handlers stood encased by a glass elevator as it shot upward. Natasha’s last sight of him was a slight nod in her direction and that raised brow. He’d get a permanent wrinkle if he kept that up. She smiled as he disappeared.

Once in her room, Natasha abandoned all thought of Dirk Sloan. She’d wired her parents with news of her safe arrival. Now it was time for business. Using her room key as a knife, she ripped open the cablegram she’d received downstairs and read the contents.

Confirmation from Tennia. The Plan moved forward.

She stared into space, ignoring the spacious room as she pondered Abram’s problem. Why would terrorists take diamonds? The more she thought about it, the less sense it made. Surely the terrorists knew Africa wasn’t the only source for Israel’s diamonds. According to Abram, Australia operated a thriving market and Russia’s diamond merchants had made recent overtures to Israel. There was no way terrorists could stop Israel from getting diamonds.

What was really behind the thefts? Was someone trying to force Israel into choosing another supplier? Did terrorists actually want the diamonds?

She plopped down on the bed. Her heavy eyes closed as her mind grappled with the revolving thought…what are the diamonds for?

Natasha woke two hours later, stretched, then yanked off the black wig. Her scalp prickled as if hundreds of fire ants danced a polka. She sat up to pull out pins then shook her hair free. What a relief.

Her fingers combed through life-less strands. If only she could sleep a few more hours, but she had to make herself presentable if she wanted to visit the diamond broker.

She jumped up and drew back brocade drapes from behind a peach-toned leather couch, then sniffed. That was the elusive scent she’d noticed. Peaches.

She laughed. Never before had she visited a hotel that matched the color of the rooms to a scent.

Filtered sunlight glinted off the gilt-covered armoire and reflected in the matching dresser’s mirror. Sparkles danced on the cream moiré wallpaper. Lovely. Abram might have chosen the room for security and privacy, but it delighted the senses as well. She panned the rest of the room. Unobtrusive safe in the wall. She might use that. Pastel abstract painting. Corner dining table with matching French provincial chairs. Like any hotel, only more luxuriant.

First things, first. She took a deep breath. Take nothing for granted. She inspected the lamp and shade, the phone, picture frame, then crouched on her hands and knees to peer under the bed. She wished she knew what to search for, but she’d never seen a bug. When she returned to Houston, she and Katir would take a little class on new-fangled security.

For now, mission accomplished. She’d repeat the search again later so she’d know if anything changed, but now, it was time for a visit to the Harry Oppenheimer House, offices of De Beers Diamonds.

Natasha hauled her suitcase from the corner and placed it on the bed. After crushing her hair all day in a wig, she hadn’t many choices. With one finger twirling a pale, limp strand, she studied the contents of her overnight bag. That round tin of dark brown powder would be perfect camouflage for her flat hair.

Some minutes later, she looked into the mirror with satisfaction. A lanky boy with stringy brown hair nodded at her. She laughed at her reflection then slid into tattered jeans and a T-shirt before riding the elevator downstairs.

A yellow car, more like a mini-car, waited at the front door. Within twenty minutes, Natasha arrived at De Beers’ main packing facility and followed an escort to the Chairman’s office.

A tall, thin man with graying temples, in a tailor-made, charcoal suit, stood at the door, trying hard not to stare. He cleared his throat and held out his hand. A diamond encrusted Rolex and a pinky ring much like Abram’s winked up at her. As if they were members of some exclusive club. The Diamond Club, only the rich and influential need apply.

“How was the flight, Miss Kelly?” He tried to smile but it looked more like a cringe. Still, he exhibited a great deal of tact. He’d made no mention of the fact that she resembled a refugee and that he could buy her life several times over.

“The flight was long. Please call me Natasha. I appreciate your time, Mr. Watson.”

He indicated a seat then took a chair beside her.

Mmm, like sinking into butter. Natasha forgot Abram and his diamonds for a few seconds as she twisted in the baby-soft leather.

Mr. Watson’s doubtful brown eyes followed her movements then met her gaze. “What would help you most with your investigation?”

How could she convince this man that she was capable of protecting his diamonds and tracking the lost shipments? She straightened in the chair, crossed her ankles then gave him a level look.

“I’d like to hear anything relevant. The entire process of readying diamonds for shipment.”

“I’m not sure what you’ve been told, but we take stringent measures to protect each diamond shipment.” Mr. Watson drummed his fingers on the side of his chair. “Video cameras throughout the building, specially designed uniforms with no belts, sleeves or pockets, and all the employees who handle diamonds work in locked rooms with a guard. No one is ever alone with the merchandise. Recently, I’ve packed the shipments to Israel myself. We hide them in wooden vegetable crates.”

Natasha nodded. If she wanted his support, she couldn’t act like she knew his business better than he did. “It seems inconceivable that someone breached such security. But it would be best if I saw it for myself. I want to make sure I understand the process because I truly expect to help you, Mr. Watson.”

He steepled his fingers, tapping the middle two together as he watched her. Natasha didn’t flinch. He had a lot at stake. From what Abram had told her, losing the Israel account would be a financial set-back, but would Watson trust an unknown young woman, especially one dressed like a boy?

He took a deep breath and lowered his hands to the sides of his chair. “Believe it or not, I’ve heard of your firm. I made inquiries after Abram called. You aren’t at all what I anticipated, but your reputation is sound.”

No more than a man in his position should do, and better than some of the managers she’d run across in the States.

“I appreciate your confidence. Your situation is unique, but that’s my specialty and why Abram asked me to get involved. If it helps, he’s known my family for years.”

“I suppose a tour is in order.”

Thirty minutes later, Natasha had concluded that unpolished diamonds were not at all attractive, more like looking at a rough piece of quartz from the driveway at home. But a little cutting and polishing created a gem worthy of setting a girl’s heart aflutter. That’s where Israel came in. They imported small diamonds called melee and used their expert cutters to turn out glittering jewels. According to Mr. Watson, Abram hadn’t exaggerated. The Diamond Institute in Israel employed world-renowned gem-cutters.

The last stop was a glass observation room overlooking a loading lab. Natasha strained to see the small pebbles through the glass partition. Here the workers verified diamonds for color and grade, bagged them then labeled the bags for crate shipping. Each finished package looked about the size of a business envelope. Several packets might easily fit inside a handbag. No wonder the workers weren’t allowed any purses.

The employees in this room held the highest levels of security. But that didn’t stop the management from mounting four cameras over the table and four underneath. Anyone entering the room was monitored by video cameras, the guard inside the room, and by whomever was in the observation booth. To top it off, all conversations were recorded.

Natasha leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. The whole system seemed foolproof, which meant the diamonds must disappear from the vegetable crates while the ocean liners were en route. That probably accounted for the missing member of the ship’s crew. He’d been assigned to work in the lower decks of the warehouse.

A flicker of light caught one of the diamonds, and a pale rainbow appeared on the glass wall. The sign of promise. It was time to leave.

Outside the building, a wave of heat and humidity hit Natasha in the face as she walked to City Hall to catch a tram to the Kimberly Mine Museum. Here she found what she’d expected to see at De Beer’s. Glittering glass. 14.5 million carats of it. Almost three tons. A girl could drown herself in that much bling-bling. Too bad the display really was glass, representing the total volume of diamonds removed from the Big Hole that started it all.

She moved past a group of children and peered into the Big Hole, creepy…and dark. A small boy hello’d into the emptiness, and the sound echoed over and over. Where was the bottom? To think over 22 million tons of earth had been dynamited out of that hole then hauled to the surface by hand or with a few pulleys. It was remarkable, what people would do for diamonds. Even kill.

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