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Die in plain sight, p.1
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       Die in Plain Sight, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
 
Die in Plain Sight


  To the Voglesong family,

  Whose complex journey through

  the little-known disease called GS/FAP

  has inspired more people than

  they know

  Contents

  E-Book Extra: Excerpt: When the Storm Breaks by Heather Lowell

  Prologue

  Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70

  About Elizabeth Lowell

  Also by Elizabeth Lowell

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Southern California

  Two years ago

  Prologue

  With each stabbing, slashing stroke, the painting took shape in violent shadows and searing spurts of water like screams flung against the night. But the woman in the painting couldn’t scream.

  A blunt masculine hand had forced her head under the steamy surface of the spa. Blond hair floated like golden light on the seething water. Her right hand raked a scarlet trail across her murderer’s forearm. Something on her wrist sparkled against the overwhelming blackness swirling around her, devouring her life.

  She was just one more to die in plain sight and never be seen. One more to fall prey to what the tabloids called the Savoy Curse.

  Pausing, he glanced at the other paintings lined up in a bleak row along the studio wall for comparison. He deftly adjusted the shade of blond in the new canvas, intensified the contrast of darkness and diamonds, added a blood-red moon reflection, and set aside his brushes without signing his name. He would send this one naked.

  That was rare.

  That was part of the fun, keeping everyone off-balance. Making them nervous. Making them wonder if the next one would be sent to them, the press, or the police.

  They shouldn’t have killed you, dancing girl. You were mine. I can’t kill them for you, but I can make them pay. And pay.

  And pay…

  If there is a God in heaven, they will live in hell.

  With a bleak smile he looked at the calendar. He didn’t need to see the death date in order to remember it, but looking at the brittle page was part of the ritual, part of the revenge. He painted the month and day in blood-red, circled it, and closed his eyes.

  Burn in hell, you bastards.

  Burn.

  Pasadena, California

  January

  Early Tuesday morning

  1

  Lacey Quinn looked around her parents’ gracefully remodeled old Pasadena home and gave herself a moment to prepare for the coming storm. Her mother and father were enjoying a sun-dappled weekend brunch in the garden room. Lacey had driven over from the coast and dropped in without warning, figuring it would be easier to tell them that way.

  Now she wasn’t so sure.

  “Remember that art auction benefit for the Friends of Moreno County I mentioned last time I was here?” Lacey asked.

  Her mother made a noise that said she was listening despite the boring subject. Although charity benefits were Dottie Quinn’s meat and drink, her daughter’s relentless interest in art baffled Dottie as much as it irritated her. Except at the very high end of the trade, art was indelibly messy; she preferred life well ordered and tasteful.

  “What about it?” her father asked.

  Part of Lacey wanted to drop the subject. The rest of her tensed for a fight. “In addition to bringing two of her paintings for a showing, Susa Donovan is going to paint a canvas onstage and then auction it off right there, with the money going to Friends of Moreno County.”

  Coward, sneered her inner self. You didn’t drive all the way from the beach just to announce that.

  Brody Quinn grunted, shuffled the legal papers he was reading, and said, “That’s nice.”

  “Nice?” Lacey put her paint-stained hands on her equally paint-stained jeans. “Dad, even postcard-size paintings by La Susa sell for more than a quarter of a million a canvas.”

  “So she gets a nice write-off giving one to charity,” Brody said. “So what?”

  “In addition to donating the painting,” Lacey said through her teeth, “she has generously agreed to look at any old paintings people bring in. Sort of like Antiques Roadshow.”

  “Clever idea,” Dottie said instantly. “Everyone is sure they have a treasure hidden away in the family junk, so there should be a huge turnout and lots of press for the event. Excellent approach. I’ll put it to work for my next charity auction. I’ll even use the name of your little shop, Lost Treasures Found.”

  Lacey managed not to wince. Her shop wasn’t huge, but it kept her and her partner, Shayla Carlyle, employed and paying taxes while they scoured estate sales and craft fairs both local and distant for stock.

  Figuring the conversation no longer needed to include him, Brody went back to the legal brief he was reading.

  “The point is,” Lacey started, when she got distracted by a lock of her curly hair springing free of the clip she used to tame the chestnut mass. “Damn!” Automatically she jammed curls back in place and reset the clip.

  “If you’d just have it cut short and styled, dear, it would be easier to control,” Dottie said.

  “Then I’d have to do it every few weeks.”

  “And?”

  “The point is, it only costs twenty dollars a painting to have Susa look at them.”

  Dottie adjusted to the changed subject without a pause. “Even better. All money donated, yes?”

  “Yes, and I’m going to take three paintings in for her to see,” Lacey finished in a rush.

  “I’m sure she’ll be quite kind to you,” Dottie said. “After all, she has family of her own, I believe. Didn’t High Style magazine mention six children and various grandchildren?”

  “Not my own paintings,” Lacey said, setting her teeth. “Granddad’s.”

  A legal brief slammed down on the patio table as Brody stood up. The family cat shot out from under Brody’s chair and vanished into the lush undergrowth of the garden.

  “All over again,” Brody said. “From the beginning.”

  Lacey’s chin came up. “You have a good legal mind. Do I really need to repeat it?”

  “What you need to do is convince me that I shouldn’t—”

  “Not again, Dad. We’ve had this argument so many times we could speak each other’s lines. For whatever reasons, you think your father’s paintings aren’t worth wall space. I do. I think he is—was—” She swallowed. His death two years ago was still fresh for her, still hurtful. Sometimes she still thought she saw him from the corner of her eye or across the street or turning down the aisle of the grocery store. “Grandfather was a very fine artist, equal to if not better than any of the California Plein Air Impressionists that are hanging in museums on both coasts. I believe in him. He believed in me.”

  “Honey, I’m sure your father—” Dottie began.

  Lacey kept talking. “Without my grandfather I’d be trying to be something I’m not, a society woman instead of an artist. I don’t ask you to support my choices with money or hugs. But, damn it, don’t act like I need your permission, either. He left the paintings to me, not you. He died before I understood how much he meant to me. The least I can do is try to resurrect him from undeserved anonymity as an artist.”

  “Still dying to do David Quinn: Biography of an Unknown Artist?” Brody asked.

  “I want to know where I came from. I love my family, but I don’t fit in. My sisters do.” She grinned wryly at her mother. “Two out of three ain’t bad, right?”

  “Lacey,” her mother said,
hugging her. “We love you.”

  “And I love both of you,” she said, returning the hug. “But that doesn’t mean we’re the same kind of people. The older I get, the more like myself I get and the less like either of you. Grandpa Rainbow understood that. He understood me at a time when it meant…everything. Now I want the world to understand how great he really was.”

  Brody sat down at the table and put his head in his hands. What a royal mess. But all he said aloud was, “Okay, you want to find out all about your beloved grandfather, my father, who was as self-absorbed a bastard as ever came down the road.” He looked up at his baffling daughter. “You’re the only one he really noticed, you know. He just tolerated the rest of us.”

  Lacey didn’t know what to say.

  “He wasn’t a nice man,” Brody said finally. “Finding out more about him won’t help you, but it sure could make you sad. Leave it alone, Lacey. Some people aren’t what you want them to be.”

  “He was an extraordinary artist,” she said stubbornly. “I’m sorry he wasn’t a good father or husband, but…”

  “You’re going to do it anyway.”

  She nodded. “That’s why he left everything to me. Even though he never signed a painting, he knew the value of his art. So did I. You didn’t.”

  After a moment Brody said, “What happens if this fancy painter at the auction doesn’t see anything special in my father’s paintings?”

  “I’d be shocked.”

  “I wouldn’t. If ever a man deserved obscurity, he did.”

  Lacey smiled sadly. “Art and deserving don’t go together much. Look at history.”

  Brody didn’t have to. He had his own problems. The less the world knew about his reprobate father, the better. A man bucking for a judicial appointment didn’t need any skeletons crawling out of the family closet.

  “Lacey,” he said slowly, “I ask you again. Leave it alone.”

  “I’m sorry, Dad. I can’t. But don’t worry, I’ve made sure that I’ll be anonymous, so you won’t need to worry about…” She paused, then shrugged. “You know, the wrong kind of publicity for you when you’re at a crucial point in your career.”

  “Anonymous,” her father said. “I don’t understand.”

  “Grandfather never signed his paintings, so we don’t have to worry about that. Instead of bringing the canvases under my name or my store’s name, I taped an e-mail address to the back of the canvases as a contact number. The address is a new one under an invented name, January Marsh. And if anyone manages to track me down despite that and asks where I got the paintings, I’ll just say I found them at a garage sale. Given my line of work, it’s an obvious way to account for my possession of Granddad’s art.”

  Brody made a sound that could have meant anything, then let it go. If she was wrong about her grandfather’s genius, this would all die a quiet death. If she wasn’t…

  Well, he’d burn that bridge when he came to it.

  Los Angeles

  January

  Tuesday morning

  2

  Ian Lapstrake hadn’t been raised by fools. When Dana Gaynor, copartner of Rarities Unlimited, started in on him with a voice like an ice-tipped whip, he stood up straight and paid attention.

  “Listen, boyo,” she said, borrowing one of her partner S. K. Niall’s favorite nouns, “I’m getting damn tired of you ignoring your e-mail. How are we supposed to keep you up-to-date on your projects?”

  “I always have my pager turned on.”

  “Screw your pager.”

  “I’m not that desperate yet, but thanks for the thought.”

  Dana glared at Ian’s dark eyes and gentle trust-me smile. She opened her mouth to tear a strip off him, but snickered instead. He looked as innocent as a puppy.

  He wasn’t.

  “You and Niall,” she said, shaking her head. “I always end up laughing when I should be furious.”

  That wasn’t quite the truth, but Ian knew better than to point it out. The times when Dana had not ended up laughing were vivid in his memory, like a fresh brand.

  She watched him with eyes as dark as his own and said simply, “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you. The Donovan is worried.”

  “Kidnap threat?” Ian asked instantly.

  “No one is threatening to steal Susa and ransom her for a few mil,” Dana said. “Your job is to be real visible so that it stays that way.”

  “So he wants a guard for her, not her paintings.”

  “As her husband, the Donovan, put it, Susa can create more paintings but no number of paintings can create more Susa.”

  Ian smiled. “A man with priorities.”

  Dana all but winced. “And not shy about sharing them. Normally one of the Donovan men would be traveling with Susa, but…” she shrugged. “Sometimes a husband, four sons, and two sons-in-law just aren’t enough to go around.”

  “What are friends for?” Ian said, accepting the quiet assignment with grace. “One strapping gofer coming right up. What about the Lazarro icon shipment?”

  “Niall’s problem, not yours.”

  “The Kenworth scrolls?”

  “Belong to Mary.”

  “The possible Louis Fourteenth—”

  “As of now,” Dana interrupted, “Susa Donovan is your full-time assignment. Your other projects have been parceled out.”

  Ian grinned. “You’re really determined to get all the Donovans into the Rarities Unlimited fold, aren’t you?”

  “Haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” Dana winked and walked away. “Check your e-mail for details of where and when you pick up Susa this afternoon.”

  Ian watched the smooth locomotion of Dana’s hips with a male appreciation that didn’t need to fondle in order to enjoy. Then he shoved his hands in the pockets of his slacks and headed for the coffee machine. Right now it looked like caffeine was going to be the only excitement in his life until Susa Donovan’s big charity bash was over.

  That and checking e-mail.

  Savoy Ranch

  Southern California

  Tuesday morning

  3

  Even the stately colors and textures of Ward Forrest’s big dining room couldn’t soothe him this morning. Watched by the worried brown eyes of Honey Bear, his golden retriever, Ward was up and pacing the Persian rug. He avoided the antique furniture without even seeing it, and didn’t spare a glance to the paintings of founding ancestors. They weren’t his anyway, as his dead wife had taken great pleasure in pointing out. Even if the paintings had been of his blood kin, he would have ignored them. Right now he was riding a real hard mean.

  He hadn’t run a profitable land-based empire into the twenty-first century by being sweet-tempered and churchgoing. Hell, in all his seventy-odd years, no one had expected him to act like a sugar cookie.

  Until now.

  Angelique White was a pain in the ass. Too bad she held the future of Savoy Ranch in her pious little fist. Talk about a Savoy Curse. Christ. There was one for the supermarket headlines.

  “God damn all women to hell anyway.”

  Honey Bear thumped his tail enthusiastically at the sound of Ward’s voice.

  Rory Turner, sheriff of Moreno County and Ward’s former son-in-law, looked up from the report he’d brought to the ranch house. Unlike Ward, who was dressed to go pheasant hunting, Rory was in uniform, right down to side arm and hat.

  “What are you talking about?” Rory asked.

  “Saint Angelique makes Mother Teresa look like a party girl.”

  The ripe disgust in the older man’s voice made Rory want to laugh, but he knew better. Ward had really wanted some dirt on the CEO of New Horizons, who happened to be the only daughter of a televangelist and a Savannah socialite. NH was a cash-rich investment fund looking to diversify by building communities with “room for family, community, church, and God.” Savoy Ranch had been courting NH and Angelique for ten months, but every time it got down to signing papers, something happened.
Blissy, usually. His daughter had a genius for hitting the headlines at all the wrong times. Or one of his grandkids would be on TV spouting something offensive to somebody—Christians, usually—and Angelique would draw back.

  Each time she backed away, she screwed another concession out of Ward before she returned to the bargaining table. She might spend a lot of time in dim places with her head bowed while she talked to the air, but she was one of the coldest negotiators he’d ever sat across the table from.

 
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