Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
In relief that he didn’t pursue that subject, she sank down to the stool.
“Holden told me you’re now an employee of Coldwell Insurance Securities in London.”
“I investigate fraud. Art fraud. Only now I don’t track money, I track the forgery. And I do it for a private company, not Langley and State.”
“What’s your job here with Mayhew?”
“I am his assistant salesperson and his bookkeeper. He hired me in May after Coldwell discreetly paid his assistant a sizable bribe to take a permanent powder. I applied with such sterling credentials that Mayhew salivated at the prospect of hiring me.”
“And your job there is what?”
“Coldwell suspects Mayhew is trafficking forged Mary Cassatts.”
“Cassatt? Don’t know her. Educate me.”
“An American impressionist who moved to Paris in the late 1860s. She painted mostly women. Her most recent work to be sold privately went for four million.”
“Would I like her work?” he asked with sincere interest. During their time together in Paris, she’d taught him much about impressionist artists and their work. She smiled that he had asked such a thing.
“You like Monet and Renoir. So you’d like her paintings, too.”
He popped the cork on the bottle, poured her a hefty glass of wine and sauntered over to put it in front of her. “And are you proving that he sold it or that he forged it?”
She picked up her glass, swirled the rich red in the bowl and inhaled the notes of cherry and blackberry. She took a generous drink and loved the hell out of the silky ambrosia. Once she answered him, she predicted she might be drinking the whole bottle herself as she told her story. “When I first started, I was attempting to prove he was a fence for one forged Mary Cassatt.”
Mike stared at her, his blue eyes narrowed and wary. “And now?”
“I suspect he may have sold two additional forged paintings of hers.”
“Too much of a coincidence to have so many by one artist?”
“Precisely.” She smiled at him.
“So you think Mayhew knows the forger?”
“I do,” she said with conviction. “For two reasons. One, few dealers can have such repeated luck finding so-called ‘lost’ Impressionists’ paintings so easily unless they value the source. Secondly, we suspect the subject matter of the last two paintings. Interpol runs a master list of lost art, you see.”
“And these last two are not on it?”
He widened his eyes. “And three are worth how much total, approximately?”
“More than a cool thirty million dollars.”
“My thought exactly.”
“Holden was told you would have documents. In the office, I asked you if you had them and you said yes. Do you?”
She dug the flash drive from her skirt pocket and held it aloft. “Would I ever lie to you?”
“What’s on there?” he asked.
“Mayhew’s recent sales.”
“Will that give you enough info to slap him in jail?”
“We’ll see when I plug it in.” She took another drink and fingered the little black drive. “But before that—“
“I need to call him.”
Mike’s eyes turned glassy. “Covering my ass?”
“Absolutely. He’s logically wondering who you are and why you barged in like Tarzan and hauled me away. I can’t let him question what’s going on. Do we chance he calls the police and says someone’s abducted his sales assistant?“
“You played it like you knew me.”
“Sure. And didn’t want to.”
He strode around the island and took her by the shoulders. “Listen to me. Don’t tell him where you are. Omega’s client wanted you safe. That’s why I went in there the way I did.”
“Yeah. Well, that shooter on M Street didn’t help.”
“We don’t know the full story on yet with that. If that shooter is headed for you—”
She huffed. “Why would he shoot innocent pedestrians if he were headed for me in an art shop?”
“Maybe he got spooked.”
“Right. And maybe I’m Tinkerbell. We don’t even know if he’s been caught. Or she has.”
“Precisely why we’re being careful,” he said. “Besides, a radius around the crime scene will be off limits. So you most likely can’t go back. Not yet. Not until the police catch a suspect. And definitely not until you tell me more about Mayhew’s activities and why you suspect him of selling forged paintings.”
“Look, Lyons. I can play Jane captured by the big bad jungle cat for only so long. Then I will have to call in. The sooner, the better.”
“Great. Drink up.” He motioned for her to finish off her wine.
“I will not. This
deserves a worthy admirer.”
“So leave it. I’ll open another bottle later.” Grabbing up his cell, he seized her hand and tugged at her.
She groaned in objection. Then she took a healthy swig and left her glass on the granite.
He watched her with a half smile. “Come along, Jane.”
“Har, har,” she said as she stumbled along behind him. He led her out into the foyer and up the circular staircase. The air was cool as it whirled around her, the subtle fragrance of jasmine filling the air as it had years ago when his mother was alive and tending her fabulous garden.
Upstairs on the landing, she noted that the doors to the walnut paneled library and the sunroom stood open. Farther down the short hall toward the rear of the house, three doors were open there too. On the left was the master bedroom suite, a study in ultra modern cream and beige, steel and glass. He walked into the last door on the right and into a room that backed out onto the rose garden. Here he had installed three computers with huge screens, a sound system and a bank of other computer-type gadgets. He flipped a few switches. Lights blinked. Screens jumped to life.
“Wow,” she said as he rolled over two ergonomic chairs and motioned for her to sit. “All the latest, huh?”
“Close to it. Good tech makes me feel smart.”
“Makes me feel creepy,” she admitted as she rubbed one arm. “Can they see inside my body?”
“Inside, no.” He grinned ear-to-ear. “Under your clothes, yeah.”
She punched him in the arm and swung the steel chair around to sit in it. “Get serious.”
She whipped around to face him, horrified. “Nooo. Tell me you’re joking.”
He raised his arms in surrender. “It’s new technology. Good, too.”
Her mouth fell open.
“No lie. It will replace x-rays soon. Nothing harmful either. Fun stuff.” He wiggled his brows at her.
“I am not amused,” she grumbled.
“Okay. Enough of the funny stuff. Hook up that flash drive to this one, Tierney.” He pointed to a stand-alone lap top. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
She hesitated. “It’s not wi-fi connected?”
“Safer that way. We send no signals off that flash drive. Just in case Mayhew gave it a virus to alert him to any snooper’s extra-curricular activities.”
She nodded and plugged in her stolen goods. The directory drive popped up on screen. She took a deep breath. “Looks good and—“
A long list of documents scrolled down the monitor.
“See? It’s fine.” She grinned, crossing her arms, satisfied.
“Maybe,” Mike said as he peered at the screen.
Her job was almost finished. She’d have her proof of fraud for her supervisor in London, fill out the paperwork and quit. She took hold of the mouse to click on one titled
and the entire page of figures collapsed to gibberish.
“No. No. What the hell?” She was frantic, clicking the mouse. “Stop. Stop.”
Bending over her shoulder as he gazed at the screen, Mike curled his lip. “Shit. Your document has an encryption program.”
“But—“ She clenched her hands. She was more than disappointed. Her subterfuge, her efforts, all her pulse-pounding attempts to download files and this—
was what she got?
“We should have waited. It’s normal for anyone hiding intel to tack an encryption program on the computer. Anyone who wants data has to plug in a code to get the real McCoy.”
She froze. “Will Mayhew know I copied it? Can he?”
“Depends on how he loaded the program. Have you ever opened this set of documents before?”
“But in the office?”
“Yes. On that same machine.” She covered her eyes with her hand. “Oh, hell.”
“Hey, don’t panic.” He raised her chin. “Let me send this file to Tampa.”
“You think your friend can read it?”
“With the gizmos that Holden has in that office of his, he could translate the Dead Sea scrolls.”
She reared back, awed. “You think?”
“I know.” He arched his brows. “Whaddya say? Shall I send this over?”
She had no other options. Leave and take the drive with her? Right. To whom? No one she knew could unscramble a code quickly or at will. Refuse? Hardly. What good would that do her? She needed help and courtesy of her fairy godmother also known as Omega’s new client, she had it in the flesh and blood of Mikael Lyons. She would not look a gift horse in the mouth. “Do it.”
He nodded. Taking the flash drive from the USB port, he walked it over to another computer on the other side of the room and typed a few letters to get a version of email that looked more like a military log. He sat down in front of the three-foot wide screen, typed a quick message and folded his arms. In a second, a reply drifted across the screen in red stencil-like letters.
Mike spun to face her. “He’ll be back to us in a few minutes. We need to give him time to work the software and apply it to your documents. In the meantime, you can fill me in on Mayhew. His background. Why you suspect him. Where he gets his authentic art.”
She nodded. “Well, let’s see. Vincent Charles Mayhew. Born Paris, nineteen-seventy-six.”
“Forty years old.”
“Bingo. Parents, Cristal and Richard Mayhew, Junior, of Paris, Washington and Dublin. Cristal Brusson, French, born in the Loire valley, art director of
Musée des beaux-arts d'Orléans
until her death twenty years ago. She was an expert in French Royal Academy art. Richard Mayhew Junior who is American, age seventy, is the only son of an American Army colonel of same name who was stationed in Paris after the Allies ran out the Germans in nineteen-forty-four. Mayhew, Senior, worked with art reclamation for a joint task force of American, British and French governments.”
“Reclamation of works the Nazis confiscated?”
She nodded. “Both Mayhews, Senior and Junior, were and are known for obtaining art for wealthy private individuals whose art collections are zealously kept for their eyes only. The oldest Mayhew was very secretive about his work for the Allies. So secretive, in fact, that many suspect he had saved a secret cache of Nazi stolen art for himself.”
Mike blinked. “Wow. That takes balls.”
“Big ones. No one has ever found hard evidence that he kept anything. But his son over the past few decades sold a few paintings whose provenance was questionable. He sold them privately, so it was not possible to verify their authenticity.”
“Whose work are we talking about?”
Becka wiggled her brows. “Reports say that the Mayhews have dealt with, among other lesser bits and pieces, a Degas, a Matisse and two drawings by Picasso. Hitler hated Picasso.”
“So Vince may be selling stolen art but also now fencing forgeries of it?”
“How did you first suspect him?”
“An Impressionist expert on Mary Cassatt came to Coldwell in London after seeing a painting Mayhew had here for sale. She said that she had looked very closely at the painting of
Amalie by the Sea
when she was here on vacation last Christmas to visit her brother. She said that Vincent Mayhew had been most kind to her and showed her the work on three separate occasions. She pretended, of course, that she was interested in buying it. She said the brush strokes left much to be desired. And the yellow color was too orange to be a true work of Cassatt.”
“And what happened to the painting?”
“It was purchased before I could get here and have myself hired.”
“Did you ask Mayhew about it?”
“No. I wouldn’t want to show my hand that way.”
“Instead? What have you been doing?”
“Watching how he works, who comes into the shop, getting friendly with him so that he invites me to his little dinner parties.”
A play of emotions swept across Mike’s face. Ruefulness, distaste and jealousy were replaced by a smirk. “Anything more than that?”
Gratified that she could get a rise out of him concerning other men’s interest in her, she decided not to give in to gloating. She wouldn’t play him that way. Never had. She doubted preening would get her anywhere anyway. “Nothing. He’s not my type.”
“He’s a little too self-impressed for my particular taste. I prefer a humble man.” That was bull. She preferred
man, cocky, aggressive, ripped and whip smart. Humility was probably not even in his vocabulary. She knew it all over again the second her gaze swept Mike’s gorgeous blue eyes and the shock of blond hair, the tan, the muscles of his arms, his pecs.
Christ, he was a feast. And most poor women were starving. Me, mostly.
She shifted in her chair. Too aware of him, her body got all wet and swollen remembering what it was like to be carried around in those arms, caressed by those hands and invaded by that big, bold body.
She cleared her throat. She’d be a little more honest with him. “One more thing. Not to my liking. He does orgies.”
Mike grimaced. “As in what precisely?”
“Do we have to discuss this?”
He nodded, his gaze warm on hers. “You bet we do.”
“For the humor or the leverage?”
“Humor now. Leverage if we need it to persuade him to talk.”
“Right.” She looked away. Shook her head. Got up and walked to the window to gaze out on the garden, filled with the dark green leaves of rose bushes that climbed the trellis of the gazebo. “This kind of thing is what I don’t like about my job. I have to dig up the dirt on all kinds of people and put it down in black and white.”
“But you’re an investigator, Becka. To find the truth about people is not so much peeping as it is reporting.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m glad you can look at it so circumspectly.”
“I have to. I’ve spent my own professional life preparing for the elimination of liars, frauds and murderers. If you don’t know everything about them—what they eat, where they sleep, who they love—you stand less chance of finding them and taking them down.”
“When I started this kind of work, I told myself I was catching criminals. That was a good thing. But I have my moments when I question if I’m being more destructive than I need to be.”
“Is that hesitancy left over from anger you felt when your dad was under investigation?”
He was direct and she flinched at it. “Of course it is. I need to detach. From Mayhew. My work. Coldwell. But that’s tough. I’m caught in a circle. I love the work, but I hate the company, the drama, the paperwork. I hate my boss, too. He’s too impressed with himself and for little reason. His operatives do the work. I thought I’d like being out of the government. That I’d really get off being a fraud investigator for a private company but now I can’t tell if it’s all just…I don’t know…something weird about
“Like what?” he asked, his consoling voice seeping into her.
“I’ve taken jobs because I was offered them. People like me. Too much, maybe. I sometimes tell myself I should become a grouch, shave my head and wear denim jumpers and white crew socks.”
He snorted. “Oh, that would work well.”