It took all of the considerable self-control Eugenia Swift had at her disposal to hang on to her temper. "For heaven's sake, Tabitha, the last thing I need is a bodyguard."
Tabitha Leabrook smiled with the sort of poised confidence reserved for those who have grown up with money, social influence, and very high self-esteem.
"Think of him as a precaution, Eugenia," she said. "A prudent preventative action. Rather like wearing a seat belt."
"Or getting a flu shot," Cyrus Chandler Colfax offered helpfully.
Eugenia tightened her fingers in a reflexive movement. The fresh-off-the-press invitation to the Leabrook Glass Museum's annual Foundation Reception crumpled in her hand.
She wondered what the penalty was for strangling very large men who wore tacky aloha shirts, khaki chinos, and moccasin-style loafers. Surely no judge or jury would convict her, she thought. Not when they saw the evidence.
Colfax had said very little thus far, obviously content to wait as the argument swirled like a waterspout in the center of the room. He was biding his time, letting Tabitha wear her down. She sensed his plan as clearly as if he had written it out for her to read. He intended to loom in the shadows until she had been sufficiently softened up. Then he would step in to deliver the coup de grâce.
Dressed in the splashy blue, green, and orange shirt, he should have looked ridiculous against the oriental carpet and warmly paneled walls of her expensively furnished office. Unfortunately, he did not appear even slightly out of place. He clashed terribly with the expensive decor, of course, but he did not look out of place.
It was the room that looked somehow prissy and too elegant.
Eugenia was not fooled by the beachcomber ensemble. Not for one minute. She had a talent for being able to look beneath the surface. It was a gift that had led her into a successful career, first as an assistant curator at the Leabrook and now as its director.
She could see very clearly that Colfax was going to be a problem.
The cryptic tropical attire could not conceal the reality of Cyrus Colfax. He looked as if he had just ridden in off the range with a pair of six-guns strapped to his hip and was prepared to clean up the town.
Slow-moving and slow-talking, he had the feral, ascetic features of an avenging lawman of the mythic West. He even had the hands of a gunman, she thought. Or at least, the sort of hands she imagined a gunslinger would have. Strong and lean, they were a highly uncivilized combination of sensitivity and ruthlessness.
There was an aura of great stillness about him. He made no extraneous movements. He did not drum his fingers. He did not fiddle with a pen. He simply occupied space. No, Eugenia thought, he controlled space.
She estimated his age at about thirty-five, but it was difficult to be certain. He had the kind of features that only toughened with the years. There was a hint of silver in his dark hair, but nothing else to indicate the passing of time. There was certainly no evidence of any softening around the middle, she noticed.
But what disturbed her the most were his eyes. They were the color of thick, heavy glass viewed from the side, an intense, compelling green that was cold, brilliant, and mysterious. It was a color that was unique to a material forged in fire.
Eugenia tossed aside the crushed invitation and folded her hands together on top of her polished cherrywood desk. This was her office and she was in charge. She glared at Tabitha.
"What you are suggesting is highly inefficient and a complete waste of time," she said. "Besides, I'm supposed to be on vacation."
"A working vacation," Tabitha reminded her.
"She knew she was losing the battle, but it was her nature to fight on, even when defeat loomed. It was true that she was the director of the museum, but Tabitha Leabrook was the chief administrator of the Leabrook Foundation. The Foundation endowed the museum and paid the bills. When push came to shove, Tabitha had the final say.
Ninety-nine percent of the time the chain of command created no major problems for Eugenia. She had a great deal of respect for Tabitha, a small, dainty woman in her early seventies. Tabitha had a seemingly unlimited reservoir of public-spirited energy, refined tastes, and a good heart. She had a penchant for facelifts and the money to afford them. She also had a will of iron.
For the most part Tabitha demonstrated a gratifying respect for Eugenia's abilities and intelligence. Since appointing her director of the Leabrook, she had given Eugenia her head when it came to the administration of the museum.
Tabitha and the Board of Directors of the Leabrook Foundation had been delighted with Eugenia's achievements. Under her direction, the Leabrook had swiftly shed its stodgy image and achieved a reputation for an outstanding and exciting collection of ancient and modern glass.
It was unlike Tabitha to interfere in Eugenia's decision making. The fact that she was doing so today indicated the depths of her concern.
"I will feel much more comfortable if Mr. Colfax accompanies you to Frog Cove Island," Tabitha said. "After all, if there is some question of murder here -- "
"For the last time," Eugenia interrupted, "there is no question of murder. The authorities declared Adam Daventry's death an accident. He fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck."
"The lawyer who is handling the Daventry estate called me an hour ago," Tabitha said. "He told me that the executors insist that Mr. Colfax make some inquiries into the matter."
"So let him make inquiries." Eugenia spread her hands. "Why do I have to be involved in them?"
Colfax stirred at the edge of the beam of light cast by the Tiffany lamp on the desk. "The estate wants everything handled very quietly. Very discreetly -- "
Eugenia eyed his bright, palm-tree-patterned aloha shirt. "No offense, but somehow I don't see you as the soul of restraint and discretion, Mr. Colfax."
He smiled his slow, enigmatic smile. "I have many hidden qualities."
"They are extremely well concealed," she agreed politely.
"It will be an undercover operation." Tabitha's eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. "Rather exciting, don't you think, Eugenia?"
"I think," Eugenia said carefully, "that it sounds like a lot of nonsense. I read the articles in the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer. There was no mention of any suspicion of foul play in Daventry's death."
Tabitha peered at her over the ruins of her reading glasses. "I must remind you, Eugenia, that the sooner the executors are satisfied, the sooner the Leabrook will be able to move the Daventry glass collection here to the museum."
Tabitha was right, and Eugenia knew it. Adam Daventry had left his magnificent collection of glass to the Leabrook. For most of his time as a collector he had focused on seventeenth- to twentieth-century glass. But a few months before his death, he had also begun to acquire some ancient glass.
Eugenia was eager to get her hands on the collection, but that was not the real reason she planned to spend her summer vacation on Frog Cove Island.
Adam Daventry's death had made the Seattle papers for two reasons, The first was that he was the last direct descendent of the Golden Daventrys, a prominent Northwest family that had made its early fortunes in timber and then moved on to amass even more cash in Pacific Rim shipping.
The second reason Daventry's death had garnered a mention was that five years earlier Adam Daventry had moved to Frog Cove Island off the Washington coast and established an art colony. The island had become a popular summer weekend destination for Seattlites, tourists, and others who liked to browse the local galleries. The annual Daventry Workshops Festival, held in June, had become a major summer event that drew large crowds.
Although Daventry had plastered his name on the art colony and the summer festival, he himself had always avoided the public eye. The rare photos that had been taken of him showed an elegantly lean, dark-haired, middle-aged man with smoldering eyes and Faustian features.
Eugenia had met him six months earlier when he had come to Seattle to consult with her in her professional capacity. She had quickly discovered that she had something in common with Daventry, namely an abiding passion for glass. But in spite of that, she had come away from the encounter with a one-word description of him. The word was bloodsucker.
"I don't understand why you're so upset about this arrangement, Eugenia," Tabitha said. "It's not as if you both won't have plenty of privacy. From what the lawyer said, Glass House is quite large. Three stories and a basement. There are any number of bathrooms and bedrooms, apparently. So many, in fact, that the executors plan to sell it off to a hotel firm to be converted into an inn."
"Yes, I know, but -- "
"The only thing you and Cyrus will have to share is a kitchen," Tabitha concluded.
"Don't worry," Cyrus said. "I'll bring my own food and do my own cooking, Ms. Swift."
Eugenia chose to ignore that. She pitched her voice to a soothing tone, the sort she used when she urged possessive private collectors to donate their finest pieces to the Leabrook.
"No one's going to stop you if you want to go to Frog Cove Island, Mr. Colfax. But I fail to see why you should stay at Glass House with me, even if it is big enough to be an inn."
"Because I need open, unquestioned access to the place, Ms. Swift. Among other things, I want to go through Daventry's papers and files. It's going to take time to do a thorough investigation. The easiest way to handle it is for me to stay at the house."
Eugenia drummed her fingers on the desk. "I suppose that the estate has every right to hire an investigator. And I really don't care what you investigate, Mr. Colfax. But I fail to see why you have to attach yourself to me."
"It's a perfectly logical move," Tabitha insisted.
Eugenia clenched her fingers around the pen. Tabitha was a great fan of murder mysteries. She was obviously thrilled by the prospect of aiding and abetting a real-life private detective.
"I've got a job to do on Frog Cove Island," Eugenia said steadily. "I'm going to inventory Daventry's collection. Make arrangements to have it all crated and shipped back to Seattle. I don't have time to play Nancy Drew."
"You don't have to assist in the investigation," Tabitha assured her. "That's Mr. Colfax's job. But he needs a cover in order to do his work."
"Why on earth can't he just be up-front about what he's doing?" Eugenia retorted. "Why can't he tell people he's looking into Daventry's death?"
"I just told you, I'm supposed to be discreet," Cyrus said. "Besides, the island community is a small one and very insular. It's not likely that any of the locals would talk freely to a private investigator if they knew who he was and what he was doing."
"I'm sure Mr. Colfax won't get in your way," Tabitha said with an encouraging smile.
Eugenia eyed Cyrus with brooding dismay. He most definitely would get in her way. She could tell that much just by looking at him. One could not simply ignore a man like this. The shirt alone made it impossible.
In the normal course of events, his presence would not have constituted a serious problem for her. An irritation, perhaps, but not a major problem. As Tabitha had pointed out, Glass House was reputed to be quite large. But the business she intended to pursue on Daventry Island did not come under the heading of normal.
She had her own agenda at Glass House, and that agenda had nothing to do with inventorying the Daventry glass collection.
Twenty-four hours after Adam Daventry had fallen to his death, his lover, Nellie Grant, had drowned in a boating accident. Her body had never been recovered.
The official verdict was that she had been washed overboard into the icy waters of Puget Sound. There had been some speculation that, despondent over her lover's death, she had committed suicide.
Eugenia did not believe that Nellie had taken her own life, and she knew her friend had been experienced with small boats.
The problem was that she could not come up with any other logical explanations for Nellie's death at sea. She only knew she would not be able to sleep well until she got some answers.
She was, after all, the one who had introduced Nellie to Adam Daventry. Any way she looked at it, Eugenia knew that if Nellie had never met Daventry and gone to Frog Cove Island, she would probably still be alive.
"Mr. Colfax can go to the island as a tourist," she suggested in what she hoped was a calm, reasonable tone. "He can browse through the art galleries or hang out in the local taverns. Isn't that the way a real professional investigator would go about worming information out of people?"
Colfax did not even wince at the thinly veiled insult, she noticed. But Tabitha's surgically tight jaw became even tighter.
"Mr. Colfax is a very real professional investigator," she said. "He has his own firm, Colfax Security, with two offices on the West Coast, including one in Portland."
"We're planning to expand to Seattle this year," Cyrus said easily.
"Is that so?" Eugenia narrowed her eyes. "Tell me, why does the Daventry estate suspect foul play in Adam Daventry's death?"
"It's not a matter of suspicion," Cyrus said. "It's more a case of what the executors feel was an inadequate investigation by the local authorities. They just want a second opinion, that's all. And they want it done quietly."
"But what possible motive could there have been?" Eugenia demanded.
"Haven't got a clue," Cyrus said.
Eugenia made herself count to ten. "I hesitate to ask, but do you perhaps have any suspects?"
She sighed. "You've asked the Leabrook to provide cover for you, Mr. Colfax. Just exactly how do you expect us to do that? What sort of excuse am I supposed to use in order to explain why I'm spending my summer vacation with you at Glass House?"
Tabitha spoke up before he could respond. "I thought we could send him along as your assistant."
"My assistant?" Eugenia swung around in her chair. "Trust me, Tabitha, no one is going to believe for one moment that Mr. Colfax is an assistant curator or anything else involved in the museum business."
Cyrus glanced down at the palm trees on his chest. "Is it the shirt?"
She refused to acknowledge the question. She kept her pleading gaze fixed on Tabitha. "This is not going to work. Surely you can see that."
Tabitha pursed her lips in thought. "He does have a certain eccentric style, doesn't he? Perhaps we could pass him off as a photographer hired to take pictures of the Daventry glass collection. Photographers are inclined toward eccentricity."
"I have never," Eugenia said between her teeth, "met one who looked this eccentric."
"A photographer cover is too complicated, anyway," Cyrus said. "I'd have to bring along a lot of fancy equipment that I wouldn't have time to figure out. Furthermore, there's always the risk that a real photographer on the island might want to talk shop. In which case I'd probably give myself away in the first five minutes. I'm not real good with gadgets."
"Good grief." Eugenia closed her eyes. "It's hopeless."
"Cheer up," Cyrus said. "I have an idea that I think might work."
"Lord spare me." Eugenia cautiously opened her eyes. "What is it?"
"We can go to the island as a couple."
She gazed at him, uncomprehending. "A couple of what?"
"Of course." Tabitha bubbled over with excitement. "A couple. That's a wonderful idea, Mr. Colfax."
He gave her a modest smile. "Thanks. I think it has possibilities."
Eugenia froze. "Wait a second. Are you talking about you and me? Together? As a couple?"
"Why not?" He gave her what was no doubt intended to pass for an innocent, earnest expression. "It's the perfect excuse for us to spend some time alone together at Glass House."
"Oh, you won't be entirely alone," Tabitha said helpfully. "There's a sort of caretaker-butler on site. The lawyer said his name is Leonard Hastings. He used to work for Daventry. The estate kept him on to look after things, especially the glass collection."
Eugenia knew the name. The box she had received that contained Nellie Grant's clothes and personal effects had been sent back to Seattle by someone named Leonard Hastings.
She planted her hands on her desk and pushed herself to her feet. "This is beyond ludicrous. It's insane. Anyone with a slice of brain can see that it will never work."
Tabitha tilted her head. "I don't know, Eugenia, I think it's a very clever plan."
"Simple, too," Cyrus said. "I'm a big believer in keeping things as simple as possible."
Eugenia realized that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. "It's simple, all right. Simple minded."
"Everyone's a critic," Cyrus said.
Eugenia tried hard not to grind her teeth. In spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary, she was very sure that whatever else he was, Cyrus Chandler Colfax was not simple.
Her eyes met his, and for a few seconds everything came to an abrupt halt. A frisson of awareness brought all of her nerve endings to full alert.
She knew this sensation. It was the same feeling she got when she looked into one of the first-century B.C. Egyptian glass bowls on display in the Ancient Glass wing of the museum. There was power here. It drew her even as it set off alarms.
In fairness to a civilized society, Colfax should have been required to wear caution flags and a lot of flashing red lights to warn the unwary against approaching too close. The Hawaiian shirt did not do the job.
She was certain that Cyrus's laid-back ways were a facade. She knew that as surely as she knew the difference between fourteenth-century Islamic glass and Chinese glass from the early years of the Qing dynasty. His strong, ruthless hands and enigmatic green eyes told the real truth. Even as she tried to assess him, he was sizing her up with a hunter's focused interest and intelligence.
She was sure that he did not intend for her to learn anything more about him than he wanted her to know.
Two could play at that game, she thought.
Which meant they had a standoff.
She made one last stab at warding off the inevitable. "Tabitha, you can't possibly expect me to work under these conditions."
"Nonsense." Tabitha's shrewd eyes burned with the fires of excitement."Where's your sense of adventure? Why, if I didn't have so many commitments here in Seattle during the next few weeks, I'd be tempted to go in your place."
Not a chance, Eugenia vowed silently. She had no intention of allowing anyone, not even Tabitha Leabrook, to go to Frog Cove Island in her stead. But she needed to be free to pursue her own plans, and that meant she had to be in charge of the situation. From what little she had seen, Colfax did not appear to be the easily managed type.
She picked up the plump, 1930s-era fountain pen she used to sign official correspondence and lounged back in her chair. "What happens if I simply refuse to cooperate in this fiasco?"
"Easy." Cyrus shoved his hands into his pockets and smiled benignly. "I tell the Daventry estate folks that you won't assist the investigation."
She waited for the other shoe to drop. When Cyrus did not say anything else, she rolled the fat pen between her palms.
"That's it?" she asked.
"Well, not quite," Cyrus said slowly. "After I tell the estate executors that the Leabrook was uncooperative, they will probably instruct their lawyers to tie up the assets of the Daventry estate as long as possible."
Eugenia closed her eyes.
"I figure that a good legal team could probably arrange to keep the Daventry glass collection out of the hands of the Leabrook for four or five years," Cyrus continued. "Maybe longer."
A cold chill went through Eugenia. She opened her eyes and sat very still.
Tabitha's mouth dropped open in shock. "My God, we can't risk that. We must have that glass. It's an incredible collection."
Eugenia watched Cyrus closely. "He's bluffing, Tabitha."
Cyrus raised his brows.
He was not bluffing, Eugenia thought. If she did not cooperate, he would convince the executors to tie up the estate. The Leabrook could wind up spending a fortune fighting for the bequest in court.
"That's blackmail," she said.
"Eugenia, really, that's going much too far," Tabitha chided. "Mr. Colfax is not issuing a threat. He's merely telling us what the executors' reaction, will be if he isn't allowed to conduct his investigation."
"Like heck he is. He's threatening us, Tabitha."
Tabitha made a tut-tutting sound. "You're overreacting, my dear. And it's all moot in any case. I've already agreed to assist him, and not just because it will please the Daventry estate."
"I know, I know," Eugenia said wearily. "You're worried about me."
"I'm being cautious." Tabitha's expression turned serious. "If there is a possibility that Adam Daventry was murdered, the motive might very well have had something to do with his art collection. I do not want you staying alone with all that valuable glass and only that caretaker person for protection."
Eugenia knew when she was beaten. "All right, Tabitha, if you insist, I'll go along with this idiotic scheme."
Tabitha beamed. "Thank you, my dear. It will be a tremendous load off my mind to know that you'll have Mr. Colfax with you at Glass House."
"There is one small stipulation," Eugenia added gently.
Cyrus's gaze sharpened fractionally. "What's that?"
"I get to choose the cover story we use," Eugenia said briskly. "Given the extremely limited range of options, I'll have to settle for the one in which you pose as my assistant."
There was a beat of silence.
"Don't think that one will work real well," Cyrus said.
"Too bad." She glared at him. "It's the only one I'm prepared to consider."
Cyrus nodded. "Mind if I ask why you chose that one instead of the one in which we pose as a couple on vacation?"
She eyed his shirt. "I would have thought it was obvious. It's going to be difficult enough to pass you off as my assistant. But I can absolutely guarantee that never in a million years would it be possible to convince anyone that we were a couple."
"I get it," Cyrus said. "You're trying to tell me that I'm not your type."
She thought about the unsubtle threat he had issued a moment ago. "No," she said. "You're definitely not my type. And there's one more thing I want clear here. I don't know much about private investigators, but I've noticed that on TV they always carry guns."
"I'm a real-life investigator, Ms. Swift, not a TV private eye."
"I trust that means you don't actually carry a gun around with you. I absolutely refuse to share a house with a strange man who carries a gun. I detest guns."
"So do I." Cyrus moved his left shoulder slightly. "I once had a nasty experience with one."
At six-thirty that evening, Eugenia poured herself a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc and went to stand at her living room window. Her condominium was located midway up in a high-rise building in the heart of the city. She had paid extra for the view of Elliott Bay, but she considered the money well spent. Something about vast expanses of water was soothing to her soul.
She had spent the last four months engaged in a major remodeling project, which was finally complete. She had ordered the architect to tear down every wall except those needed for privacy in the bath and bedroom. The background color was white, a perfect, foil for her growing collection of West Coast studio glass art. The contemporary glass sculptures glowed on carefully lit pedestals arranged around the room.
An arched entry divided the hall from the white-carpeted living room. A low, white sofa and white leather chairs together with some glass tables comprised the furnishings.
The only color in the room besides the brilliantly hued glass sculptures was around the gas fireplace.
Eugenia studied the hand-painted amber and green tiles that formed the fireplace surround. Nellie Grant had designed them for her.
The last time she had seen Nellie was here in this very room. The remodeling had been in its final stages. The wall beside the fireplace had still, been open and tiles had been stacked on the floor, when Nellie appeared at the front door. That had been the morning after Adam Daventry had fallen to his death.
Rather than wait for the private ferry that served Frog Cove Island, Nellie had used Daventry's launch to get to the mainland. She had rented a car and driven an hour and a half into Seattle.
She had definitely not been grieving.
You were right, Eugenia. He was a bastard. I should have listened to you. I'm not sorry he's dead. I know that sounds awful, but it's the truth. I have to return to the island this afternoon to get the rest of my stuff, but after that I never want to see the place again.
Eugenia glanced at the painting above the recently completed fireplace. It was one of Nellie's works, the first in a series called Glass, she had explained. It depicted a late-nineteenth-century French vase from the Daventry collection. Nellie had captured the rich, vibrant colors and the enthralling effects of fight shining through the glass.
Daventry said that since he had no children for me to paint, he wanted me to do some portraits of his favorite glass pieces. I did four of them before he died Now that he's gone, I figure they belong to me. I want you to have this one, Eugenia. Sort of a housewarming gift. You've been terrific about encouraging my work.
Nellie had been eager to get her career as an artist under way. Eugenia suspected that was one of the reasons she had fallen victim to Daventry's charm. He had convinced her that he could introduce her to the right people and get her work hung in the most prestigious galleries.
Eugenia walked, slipper-shod, across the new white rug. She paused beside a pedestal and gazed into the swirling green depths of a whimsical glass sculpture that had been created by a young artist in Anacortes.
Watching the play of light on beautiful glass always helped her to clarify her thoughts.
After a moment she reached for the phone on the table beside the sofa. She flipped open a card file and found the home number of her friend at Mills & Mills, the firm that handled the Leabrook's security.
The same intuition that she relied on so heavily when it came to art was sending small warning signals concerning Cyrus Chandler Colfax. It told her that he was not what he seemed.
"Sally? Eugenia. I need a favor from you."
"It's nearly seven." Sally Warren sounded startled. "Are you still at the museum?"
"No, I'm home." Eugenia sank down onto the arm of the sofa. "I'm going out of town the day after tomorrow. I need some information."
"Finally going to take a vacation, huh? About time. I'll bet you can't even remember the last one you took."
Eugenia frowned. "Of course I do. I went to England two years ago."
"And spent all of your time in the glass collections at the Ashmolean and the British Museum. But we'll let that pass. What do you need?"
"Mills & Mills has been in the security business for a long time, right?"
"Thirty years," Sally agreed.
"You must know all of the other major security firms on the West Coast."
"I met one of your competitors today. Cyrus Chandler Colfax. Ever heard of him?"
There was a short, startled silence on the other end of the line.
"Colfax?" Sally sounded distinctly cautious.
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"I've never met him, but I've heard about him. I wouldn't call him a competitor. He doesn't go after the same business. Mills & Mills specializes in museum security. Colfax usually does corporate and private stuff. Very exclusive. Very expensive."
Eugenia tightened her grip on the phone. "What can you tell me about him?"
"Wait a second, you're not thinking of moving the Leabrook account to Colfax Security, are you?"
"No, of course not. But I want to know whatever you can get on him."
"It will take me a while. Mind if I ask why you need to know about Colfax?"
"Because I'm going to spend my summer vacation with him."
Copyright ©1998 by Jayne Ann Krentz
When Colfax declares they must pose as a couple, Eugenia protests in a manner as loud as his Hawaiian shirts. She fears that her secret mission will be discovered...while he hopes that she will be a mask for his own hidden agenda. But soon their very lives depend on making an utterely convincing couple. Because among the chic galleries of Frog Cove Island lurks a killer, and their only chance for survival is the boldest, most artful collaboration they can dare to imagine.
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