Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
“Well, guess I’m hooked.” She smiled with resignation at the piano player. “Hi, John. How are you?”
“Hi there. I’m well and I’ll be better after you do your bit,” he said, arching a brow in question as he tickled the keys with a few bars. “Good key for you?”
Nodding, she cleared her throat.
“I’ll do it once around, okay?” She licked her lips.
He gave her the intro to the Cole Porter.
She hadn’t sung in years. Not for anyone to listen to, only humming in her car or when she danced around her apartment. But she hadn’t felt like dancing since last summer.
She took at shot at the lyrics, looking straight into Mikael Lyons’s dreamy eyes. She’d always gotten a kick out of him. No other men ever matched him. She’d tried to replace him. Tried others in the sack. Told herself he was no good for her. Would never want her—and when he had finally joined her in Paris last summer and they’d made love, to her the joy of having him beside her, inside her, was better than Champagne or flying off to some new and thrilling place. All other men had bored her. And she was a fool to think anyone else could ever supplant him. So why did she try?
Yeah. She got a kick out of Mike. She loved him. Wanted him. Still. And she might as well get used to the truth of it. She must have him. No one else would ever do.
And she’d move on to that reality only after she finished this song and this job.
She blinked, her solo done. Smiling, a hand in the air, she acknowledged the polite applause.
Vince laughed, his pale eyes dancing. And as he reached for her elbow, she leaned into Mike. He kissed her on the crown of her hair.
Vince took the hint and backed off. “Rebecca, I think you’re a staple at all my parties.”
“You’re kind, Vince. But I won’t do that again.”
“I’ll try to change your mind. Allow me to leave you. Mingle. Meet others.”
“I will,” she said. “After I get Maurice to mix me another drink, I’m dragging Mike off to gaze at your Matisse.”
“Like the Impressionists, do you, Mike?”
“Renoir, mostly,” he told Vince. “But I’m always eager to see others.”
“Well then, after you get your fill of Matisse, you need to go into my study. Rebecca, take him, why don’t you?”
She brightened. “Thanks. I will.”
“Take a gander then.” Vince nodded, his glance at Mike one of incredulity. Then he excused himself.
“A stroke of luck,” she said to Mike beneath her breath.
“Let’s get you another drink first.”
“A little courage,” she said as she tucked her arm in his and they strolled back toward the under-butler, “is a good thing.”
“Where’s the study?”
She smiled at him as if he’d said something funny. “Near the office and the powder room.”
She got another kir from Maurice and Mike got a refill of water. They were headed for the study.
“Hello-o-o, Rebecca Tierney!”
She turned to face a woman whom she’d known in college. Back then, the girl had been the picture of the obsessed, depressed artist, up all night sketching or painting. She’d been a plain Jane, wiry hair, spindly body, dressed in shapeless cottons and scruffy sandals. A blend of yogi and philosopher, she’d lived across the hall in the dormitory. Becka had liked her, even though she was constantly bumming a dollar here and there to afford her daily lattes at the local café. But the girl who had never seemed to have a dime looked like she’d gotten not only money, but a first class stylist.
“Diane Lavalle!” Becka greeted her with a grin. “You look fabulous.”
“Thank you, thank you. So do you. But you always did.” Diane hugged her, her toned arms grasping her securely to her muscular torso.
Becka couldn’t get over how much Diane had changed. Her unruly dishwater blonde hair was now a sleek, golden mass pulled back in a severe knot at her nape. She wore a slinky white cocktail dress that splashed like a twenties’ flapper girl to her calves. She’d put tiny crystals in her ear lobes and bright red lipstick on her lips. Her eyes—always the most arresting part of her—were rimmed in black and silver shadows showing her ice blue eyes to stark advantage.
“Diane, allow me to introduce my friend, Mike Lyons.”
“How do you do, Mike,” Diane said putting out her hand and they exchanged a few pleasantries about weather in Washington. “How do you know Vincent, Rebecca?”
“I work for him.”
“Do you?” she asked and there was some note in her voice that did not speak of surprise.
“For a few months now. And you?” Becka had to know.
“He has admired my work.”
“Is that right?” Becka remembered Diane had been talented, even if she lacked a dedication to perfecting her own style. “He likes to find young new artists whom he can shepherd through the warrens of the art world. So what are you doing? Painting? I remember you took classes in those, as well as graphics.”
Diane flipped a hand to dismiss Becka’s words. “I worked in graphic design for a PR firm for a while after graduating. It paid the bills. But it wasn’t very rewarding otherwise. I had to get on with it, if you know what I mean. I moved to Rouen in northern France. Not far from Monet’s gardens of Giverny, actually. I loved it. That’s where I met Vincent.”
“He did tell me how he loves to walk along the lanes in Normandy. He found you there, did he?”
“Wandering, I’m afraid. He likes my work.”
“Good for you,” Becka said, recalling that what Diane did well was imitate a certain Impressionist known for painting in dots. “What are you doing?”
“Ah. Well. My own explorations. Sort of Jackson Pollack.” She laughed. “Nothing like the items of Vince’s more traditional taste.”
That was for sure. And so how did Diane pay her bills now? She certainly looked better heeled than when she’d been in college. “Do you live in Washington?”
“No, I’m here for only a few days. I live in Miami.”
Becka felt Mike stiffen. He was thinking of Garcia and Vince’s connections. However, she thought it intriguing that an artist would live so far from New York where so many more in the art world lived or traded. “Miami? Wow. You came to hot from hotter.”
“I had a bit of business to take care of.” Diane regarded Mike with covetous eyes. “What do you say you and I do lunch next week?”
Terrible, actually. She had better things to do than socialize.
“Call me at the shop. We’ll set a date.”
“You’re on. And now I’m off to drag Corman from the piano.”
“Oh, good,” Becka said, interested in how Diane knew the man. “You’ve met.”
“We have. Years ago.” Diane waggled her fingers at Becka and Mike. “I’ll call.”
“Interesting,” Mike said as the two of them wandered past a couple, through the patio doors and out onto the deck. No one else was out there. Becka was sure he’d led them out here to talk privately.
The sun was setting, sparkling white-gold rays off the ripples of the Potomac. Becka had to turn her back because the spray of light was so brilliant it put spots before her eyes.
“What’s she doing in Miami, I wonder,” Becka murmured.
“Odd place for an aspiring artist.”
“Hmm. Unless she’s after South American commissions,” Becka speculated.
“Or hiding out.”
“Have Holden run a check on her.”
Mike arched a blond brow. “You think it’s worth the time?”
“I do.” She nodded as Mike took out his phone and typed in a text. “She was never….”
“A legitimate artist. She had moments of creativity. But she would never apply herself.”
“You were close friends?”
Becka tipped her head one way and the other. “We had a few classes together. History of French art and architecture. A basic sculpting class.”
“You sculpted?” Mike sounded full of appreciation.
“I tried. That was the extent of it.” She laughed. “I’m better as a theorist or a critic. Or a detective. Even better as a sales person.”
They stood there for a few minutes, finishing their drinks, closing their eyes to enjoy the breeze, their backs to the railing and the river flowing past.
“What do you say?” he asked her. “Ready to explore?”
“Yep. Do you recall the layout of the rooms from the plan I drew for you?”
He gave her a quizzical look as if to say,
Are you kidding me
? “Right. Remember what I said. Touch nothing anywhere. When—
—you find a computer, slip on the gloves I gave you before you try anything. And if—“
“If I get scared, fly.” Becka nodded, acting cool and collected.
“All right. Nice and easy now.”
They pushed away from the railing and strolled inside, past Maurice and a group of others. Placing their glasses on a nearby tray, Mike followed her down the hall and stopped before the powder room.
“Go,” Mike said nodding toward the room at the end of the hall. But directly opposite the powder room, a door stood open and inside the walls were lined with paintings of all sorts, large and small. “I’ll join you in a minute.”
When he winked, she gave him a little smile of agreement. That was the plan and the dialogue they’d agreed upon for this part of their subterfuge. He’d get lost and pretend to find her.
He disappeared inside the powder room.
She spun for the room that was Vince’s home office. Inhaling a huge breath, she took hold of the knob and thrust open the door. The room was dark. Very dark. Too dark. She leaned against a wall switch and turned on the overheads with a move of her shoulder. Blinking, she saw a well-appointed office. Rows of books on in-laid walnut shelves. A huge TV on one wall. Small sofa facing it. A desk, covered in papers and folders. So unlike his desk at the gallery that was pristine, orderly to a fault. Why? How could a man be two different types of people?
Because he was?
Because he was.
She snapped open her little purse, dug out the two black gloves. Made of some miracle fiber that did not leave prints or material residue, the gloves slid on easily and clung tightly to her fingers and palms. She moved to Mayhew’s desk and riffled through his papers. Nothing pertinent jumped out at her. Just this month’s bank statement.
A laptop sat closed on the desk. She stared at it, her pulse pounding. Reaching inside her purse for the special USB flash drive that Mike had given her, she picked it up. But it was so tiny, it slipped through her fingers and fell to the carpet.
She bent, picked it up and straightened.
She felt in back of the laptop for the USB slot, inserted hers and—
Heard the door click open.
Mike emerged from the powder room. No one was in the hall. Good.
Becka was still in the back room. Wincing, but glad that she must’ve found a computer to hack, he strolled across the hall into Vince’s study. It was a combo of sitting room, TV room and private art gallery.
He didn’t know as much about art as Becka but he did know that what he was looking at was a mélange of good to poor paintings.
The works that merited his attention were three Impressionist-type paintings on one wall. Of Paris in the rain, Montmartre’s main square and a street scene near the Invalides, the paintings struck a note of melancholy in him. They brought back memories of his time in Paris with Becka last summer. Good memories, yes, they were. But they’d been shattered by his own abandonment of her. He kneaded his hands. He wouldn’t make that same mistake again.
A door clicked open.
He faced the doorway and saw no one in the hall.
Until Maurice stepped into his sight.
“May I help you,
Lyons?” He cocked his head to one side.
“No, thank you. I wait for
Tierney. She was going to explain all the credentials of the art in this room.”
“I see. And where is she?”
Mike shrugged. “The powder room?”
“I was just there,
. She is not.”
“Hunh.” He shook his head once. “Don’t know then. Maybe she went back to the party.”
“But she did not,” the under-butler said as he smoothly pulled a gun from his pocket and pointed it at Mike. His hand shook. A good sign that this takeover might be easy.
“Hey, hey.” Mike waved a hand in front of him as he gave the servant a jaundiced eye. The man had a late model Sig Sauer on him and the dude might be seventy or more, but who knew how well he could handle his weapon? He was clearly nervous about it. “Put that away.”
“I think you need to come with me.”
“Wrong. I’m here to look at art.”
C’est des conneries
. You are here to—what is the word? Snoop.” He flicked the gun to one side. “Come with me.”
“Hey, I’m just looking at the art and—“
Maurice took a gadget from his pocket and pressed it.
At the sound of a whir, the far wall slid slowly aside.
“Wow.” Mike gazed at the spectacle before him. “That’s quite a feature. Must have cost Mr. Mayhew quite a penny to get that contraption installed.
Before him spread a room now double its previous size. And in this extra space stood shelves of perpendicularly lined compartments. And on one wall, by itself, illuminated by indirect pale lighting hung a spectacular medieval portrait of a beautiful woman. She stood in half-profile, blonde, blue-eyed, angelic, smiling as if bemused, dressed in a ruby gown that draped her flawless creamy shoulders. The painting was exquisite and Mike didn’t need an art degree to know, deep in his guts, that this was a priceless work painted by an artist long dead and much revered.
He directed his gaze back to Maurice, but too late, because the man squinted at him. He’d noted Mike’s surveillance of the portrait.
Maurice walked sideways into the area and motioned with the gun for Mike to come forward. “
S’il vous plait, Monsieur
. This way.”
“Look. Call your boss, Maurice.” Mike walked right up to him.
But Maurice backed away. “No, no. You may not come close. I will shoot you.”
“Terrific. Just what I need on a Friday night.” He took a step closer to the old man. If he kept him talking, occupied, he’d get within striking range. One thing for sure, he’d be faster than Maurice. Unless old Mo had a trigger finger.
“What’s going on here, Maurice?”
Mike snapped his attention to the hall doorway where Vince stood, asking the question that Mike himself wanted an answer to.
Mike kept his cool. “Vince, your servant has a funny idea I’m dangerous. Call him off.”
Vince took a few steps into the room. “Why are you pointing that at him, Maurice?”
“He is investigating us,
Vincent. I could not let him.”
Mike sighed. “Tell him, Vince. You told me I could come view your collection.”
Maurice grimaced. “Then why did Robert just now open the door to your back room office,
, and discover
Tierney in there?”
Vince walked right up to Mike, his pale eyes alight with a fierce gleam. “Did he now?”
“She just chose the wrong door,” Mike said, nonchalant.
“In my hall?” Vince scoffed and turned to close the door to the hall.
Mike shrugged. “Hey. Women like to see other people’s homes. I know she does.”
“Really?” Vince asked.
“Where there’s art, Rebecca will look. I know.”
“You do know. You’ve looked at it with her often enough, haven’t you?” Vince said.
“We’ve known each other for years. So, yeah, we’ve looked at plenty of pictures. What of it?” Now he was pissed. And needed Vince to come a little bit closer. The way to take down two targets at once was only if both were in range. “It doesn’t merit a gun.”
“I say it does, Mike.” Vince was getting cocky now.
“I say mere possession of a gun in the Federal military district of Washington merits you a stay in a federal prison. No questions asked.”
“You won’t be asking,” Vince said and motioned Maurice toward the back wall.
Keeping the Sig trained on Mike, Maurice did his boss’s bidding and backed toward a far door.
“Someone will ask,” Mike said. “Especially if I don’t post tomorrow morning.”
“Post where? How?” Vince asked, a snarl on his thin lips as he paused. “You were vague about your employment.”
“I have friends.”
“I bet you do,” Vince said. “Aside from Rebecca, you have a whole team of friends.”
Enough of this cat-and-mouse. “Been investigating me?”
“As a linebacker at the Naval Academy football team and son of the famous columnist Eric Lyons, you show up quickly on search engines. Google likes you.”
Mike sniffed. “My life is an open book.”
“Not completely.” Vince extended a hand toward the door that Maurice had just opened to a dark stairway. “Allow me to offer a different party.”
“And if I don’t come? You can’t shoot me with your living room full of people.”
“But Mike,” Vince said between his teeth, “I think you’ll want to join Rebecca.”
This dude was not thinking straight. Whether Vince thought he could spirit away Becka and him, too, or not, he wouldn’t get far. He, Maurice and the butler would get caught. “Save us all some wear and tear, and don’t do this.”
“I can’t take the chance.” Vince motioned for Mike to descend the stairs. “Maurice, did you take his phone?”
“No. I did not want to get too close.”
Mike grinned. “Smart.”
“Put it on the table, just there,” Vince said.
Mike unsnapped his phone, punched the screen hard with his thumb and held it down. His emergency signal to Holden was silent, unique, activated by his thumbprint and the length of time on the screen. Three seconds was what he needed. Three. Had he had enough?
“Okay.” Vince said. “Let’s go.”
“For a SEAL, you’re slow as shit.”
“Gee. Sorry. I’m disabled.”
“So is my aunt Minnie. Go.”
Down the winding stairs they went for two floors until Maurice stopped before a freight elevator. Maurice pushed the wall button and the doors swished open.
“In you go,” Vince said.
“Won’t your guests miss you?”
“They’ll entertain themselves.”
Mike nestled in the far corner as the elevator descended. “So who painted the lady in the ruby gown in your secret room up there?”
Vince smiled like a wolf. “Leonardo.”
Mike’s brows shot up. “Didn’t know DiCaprio could paint.”
Mike tsked. “Where are we going?”
“A ride on the river.” Vince motioned for him to exit the elevator and walk into the underground garage. “I don’t suppose you get seasick, do you, Captain Lyons?”
“Depends on the company I keep.”
“A certified smart ass,” Vince said again. “Pull the van around, Maurice.”
Maurice handed over the Sig Sauer to his boss and strode down a long line of parked vehicles.
Mike heard Maurice hit a button and unlock a car. In a minute, he drove it up to the two men.
Vince walked around to the back, opened one of the doors and motioned with the gun. “Hop in.”
No cuffs. No ropes. That was a gift. But he wasn’t mentioning stuff like that and giving these guys any bright ideas.
Wordless, he crawled inside, took a seat on the side bench and waited.
He knew this town like the back of his hand. Growing up here, he’d learned the streets and the river as a boy playing hide and seek with his friends. Walking to school or to judo lessons, meeting his dad at the Air and Space Museum or hitting the bars when he’d come home on leave, he knew every inch of this city. He’d read the history books that recounted tales of those who had run through the tunnels of the Underground Railroad. He knew what tunnels still existed. He’d jogged from Kennedy’s grave up the hill in Arlington Cemetery and knew exactly how long it would take him to fight the Potomac’s current downstream to swim upstream one mile. Even in the not-so-tip-top shape he was in now, he’d make it. He wasn’t that disabled. Or that weak.
So he just needed to know where they’d taken Becka and he’d be fine. So would she. He’d find a way because he always did.
Except the last time when your mission went belly up.
Analysis said that failure wasn’t all his. Still he felt it like ice picks in his fingers and toes.
He scrubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.
He’d get her.
He sat straighter. Closed his eyes and memorized the direction of the van.
Up and around. Over a bump. So. We’re out in the street. Which way?
He sniffed the air. Stuffy August evening air.
If they really were going for a boat ride, then traveling north along the Potomac did not seem logical. Not much traversed the Potomac going upstream. Folks usually traveled downstream in canoes and occasionally, a few very small houseboats, all of which had to use the locks in the Canal to get around.
Most who owned vessels docked them south of the city in the port of Alexandria. But the docks were few and the dock master was known for his rigid rules and short temper. If you wanted to sail in or out, you had to notify the dock master in writing well before. Going out at night—and Mike bet that’s what they wanted to do to get rid of his body—would not be welcomed on short notice. So if they were moored at Alexandria City marina and Vince and Maurice thought they were going to pull out their boat tonight, that wouldn’t be happening. And too, depending on how big their vessel, Alexandria might not be able to accommodate them in size.
If they were headed beyond Alexandria, Mike would say they were going for a private marina farther south. One where the master was not so finicky that he’d prohibit a sailor from leaving port at night—and venturing on to dump a few bodies out into the Chesapeake Bay.
Though before they hit the Bay, they’d sail past Quantico, the Marine base.
Just the thought of a few Marines close made him feel brighter. He bet Grey Holden had a few buddies who lived nearby.
If the little tracking device he’d tucked inside his trouser waistband sent out a strong enough signal for Grey Holden to find him, he’d hit pay dirt.
And if the similar tracker he’d dropped inside Becka’s bra was as good—and her attacker hadn’t found it, they’d be golden.
* * * * *
In the backseat of an SUV, Becca steadied herself to gain serenity for the challenge ahead. She avoided straining at the ropes around her wrists because she wanted them as loose as Valmont had so ineffectually made them. She could not untie them, but she had a good chance at sliding out her thumb and then a finger, and another. Given enough time. And that was the problem. She had no idea how much she had because Valmont had been tight-lipped about where they were headed. And they’d been riding for at least two hours.
She inhaled the tangy salt air, a whiff of grilled seafood and the fumes of gasoline as the Range Rover she rode in pulled to a stop. Valmont pulled into a parking space on the pier of a dock. At least a hundred boats lined the marina. The boats bobbed in the water. Most of the residents were inside their cabins, a few lights twinkling inside, lighting up the starry August night.