Love and Danger Series, Volume 2
The woman he could never forget...
The killer he never knew existed...
Artist Gwen Trueblood is shocked to discover her husband David's accidental death was actually premeditated murder. Almost as troubling is the revelation that he was in the Witness Protection Program, making Gwen question how well she knew her husband at all. Only one person can give her the information she needs, but he's the very last person on earth Gwen wants to speak to.
U.S. Marshal Colin Mitchell was like a brother to David Beaumont when they were growing up, until Colin realized he had feelings for his friend's fiancé. Colin makes a move that ultimately costs him both the woman he loves and his relationship with David.
Colin was in charge of the investigation into David's death, and he can't believe he let the other man's killer get away. The case is reopened, bringing David's murderer out of hiding and putting Colin and Gwen directly in the path of evil itself. Together they must discover the truth of what happened to David, as they struggle to come to terms with the passionate attraction that's been smoldering between them since the fateful daydream years before.
Gwen Trueblood slid the glass door open and stepped into the cool night air, sniffing greedily at the pungent scent of damp earth that greeted her. She felt the dew on the deck boards beneath her bare feet and smiled, her thin top lip sliding over its too-full counterpart.
Mornings were her favorite time of day, the hours before sunrise a seemingly magical gift reserved for those who appreciated their wonder. It was in this time that she did her best work, her mind free from the hazards of daily living and at once completely her own.
Already her fingers longed to drag a brush, heavy with paint, along the textured surface of a canvas. She would work on the last of an acrylic series she was doing for a show in New York. It was an abstract grouping, and she had yet to decide what she wanted to do for the last installment, having spent the better part of yesterday layering it with a background of the deepest purples and blues.READ MORE
Images flipped through her mind as she sipped her hot coffee. A tree, its green leaves silhouetted against a darkened sky. A pond, at the edge of a forest. A storm.
Dancing wind and the smell of coming electricity, the sky just beginning to mist. An image of her niece’s new husband came to mind. Hank Jared’s spirit was strong and good, a force to be reckoned with. She would include his energy in the painting, fighting the storm that surrounded him.
Gwen balanced her cup on the deck railing and raised her face to the darkened sky above, closing her eyes. Slowly she raised her arms in front of her body, the movement at once graceful and full of power, an ancient pose meant to relax the spirit and ready the mind.
She had first learned Tai Chi when she and David lived in New York City, their home a tiny studio apartment over a Chinese take-out restaurant on Lexington. The family who owned the restaurant became good friends, with Gwen spending her days painting and her evenings watching the family’s two children and elderly uncle. It was the uncle who taught Gwen the wonders of the ancient martial art, and Gwen had practiced it daily ever since.
Shifting her weight to the right in a graceful slide, Gwen moved slowly back and forth, turning her body into “ward off”, then “parry and punch”. Ideas for her painting flowed through her mind, the chirping of birds heralding the coming dawn. Time passed unnoticed, trivial and mundane. She bowed her head and took one final cleansing breath, then headed inside the old farmhouse, turning on lights as she went.
Sitting in front of her largest easel, she reached for her palette and paints. Her steady hand layered black and white onto the purple surface, instantly transforming it from a simple solid color to a turbulent scene. With broad strokes she worked a mass of red acrylic into the canvas with a thick butter knife. She spread it in large swirls, its texture like buttercream frosting piled high atop a cake.
The picture before her was now a swirling purple background with a red structure near the top. Turning her head to the side, Gwen considered with her eyes before reaching to blend a red and a harsh yellow into a vibrant, singing orange. She began to apply the paint to the canvas in a similar shape, this time in the bottom right corner. The energy of the color against the stormy background reminded her of David, and she smiled contentedly as she worked to make the shape more soothing in appearance, with rounded edges and a thick substance of acrylic.
When Gwen looked at the canvas, she didn't see the blocks of color that made up the composition. She saw Hank Jared and David Beaumont, riding out a storm. The energy of the piece felt right, but something was missing. Perusing the metal tubes of paint, her eyes landed on a peacock green and she froze, the image of Colin Mitchell invading her memory.
He’d been wearing a polo shirt exactly that color the day everything changed. She picked the tube up and held it, the warmth of her hands quickly heating the metal. It wasn't the first time she'd thought of him, though she usually pushed the memories aside as quickly as they surfaced. Instead, she twisted off the cap and squeezed a small amount onto her fingers, spreading it between her thumb and forefinger.
It was a beautiful color, at once intense and lovely, and she stared at it, remembering Colin's handsome face. The younger brother of David's best friend Rowan, Colin was a cocky young college student when he lived at their grandmother's house just north of New York City. Rowan had parties there the summer Gwen and David were dating, the short train ride along the Hudson River seeming to take them away to a magical land.
Another memory threatened, and Gwen wiped the color onto her apron before it could breathe new life into its lungs, but she was not willing to forsake the color. Using a tapered brush she worked it into the hairs and began to paint. With every stroke, the door she had firmly closed on Colin’s memory eased apart another crack, exposing something raw and base beneath.
Her cheeks heated as she remembered the warm golden brown of his eyes, staring into hers, the light summer's breeze picking up his dark hair and ruffling his shirt. But it was the way he looked at her, and the sheer attraction she felt pulling her to him that she remembered now.
They were standing on the patio overlooking the Hudson River on the evening of a glorious summers day. Where the others had gone, she did not know.
Are you with David? he asked.
She could hear the baritone of his voice, not a child at all, but a grown man. There was an understanding between them already that if she was alone, she would be his, and she thrilled at the flirtation. A wind gusted, holding her caftan firmly against her body, and she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. This man was appealing, but she was very much in love with someone else.
I am, she answered, a smile on her face and pride in her voice. His intense eyes never left hers as he raised his glass and nodded once, making her belly tingle.
There had been other parties after that one, and Colin was always there in the background, keeping his distance from Gwen. On her way to the final party of the summer with David, Gwen stared out the train window at the miles of passing river, its expanse glimmering in the late afternoon sun, and her pulse raced a little faster, knowing they would soon see Colin.
The admission was difficult for Gwen, though she recognized lust for what it was, and not some deeper betrayal of the man she loved beside her. As the train rocked down the track, bringing her closer to Colin, she allowed herself to do what she had never done before. She fantasized about Colin Mitchell.
Gwen molded the paint into a textured construction as she allowed herself to remember her dreams of touching that young sexy boy with her hands like she now touched his energy with her brush.
She was flushed, goose bumps rising up on her arms and legs as she worked. This was dangerous territory, an area of her memory that should be cordoned off with hazard tape and left well enough alone. But Gwen delved deeper, her eyes briefly closing as she imagined Colin’s lips at the side of her neck, much as she had on that train ride fifteen years before.
She heard herself breathing deeply, felt her lips fall apart. It had been a dream, a daydream, a mistake. The past and the present mingled and danced, finally free from the confines of her mind and forever emblazoned on the canvas. Gwen rested her brush on her palette and stared at her creation.
By the time she and David got to the party, Gwen had nearly forgotten about the dream. She got herself a glass of wine while David went off with Rowan to play cards, then stepped onto the veranda to enjoy the stunning views and the cool summer breeze.
She could feel Colin’s presence the moment he joined her on the patio, though she did not turn around. Her body remembered her dreams of this man, every nerve in her body tingling in anticipation like a schoolgirl with an overwhelming crush. She was being silly, playing with fire, never considering she might be burned.
His voice was deep and vibrated in her belly. “I had a dream about you.”
She heard his footfalls approach, could hear him breathing behind her. “You did?”
It was little more than a whisper when he spoke. “A daydream.”
Shame swept up the back of her neck. How was it possible? She’d been caught, like a child. She had poked the lion with a stick and now he stood so close to her, poised to attack.
“It was so real...” he said.
Gwen raised her hand. “Don't.” She hadn't meant to betray David, would never have done it if she’d known Colin was aware.
His voice was throaty and snaked up her arms. “And so damn good.”
She was horrified at what she had done, but at the same time she wanted Colin to touch her. She could feel the need coming off him in waves, the answering echo in her own body begging him to do it.
“Colin!” Rowan’s voice behind them was sharp, startling her.
Colin’s voice dripped with annoyance. “Yes?”
“I need your help inside.”
They all knew he was lying. She was so embarrassed. When she was able, she turned and faced Rowan, avoiding Colin’s stare. “Is it something I can help with?” she asked, crossing the patio and heading into the house.
What have I done?
Gwen cursed herself and her damn libido, her attraction to this boy and her stupid response when he called her on it. She should have slapped him across the face. Isn’t that what an innocent woman would do?
That’s probably why it never occurred to you.
She found David in the basement, telling him she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home, neither of which was a lie. That night, she lay in bed beside David and stared at the ceiling, explaining to the universe in general and to Colin Mitchell in particular that what had happened between them would never, ever, happen again.
Her eyes dropped from the easel to her bright green fingertips. Until she painted a peacock green glob on a stormy purple canvas, it had not.
* * *
Gwen and David were standing on the enormous stone terrace of a mansion overlooking Los Angeles, the sounds of a party carrying on the night air. “This is unreal,” she whispered.
David chuckled, slipping his arms around her waist from behind and nibbling her neck. “The view?”
She lifted her champagne to her mouth, feeling the mist from the bubbles as it showered her lips. “All of it. David, you won an Academy Award!”
Their eyes met and they burst out laughing, as if he had somehow pulled a fast one over on the entire world.
“I know. It’s crazy.”
“You deserve it.”
He rocked on his heels. “Maybe. Bloomfield’s score was phenomenal.”
“They thought yours was better, and so do I. I’m so proud of you, David.”
He pulled her close and she felt his excitement. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Oh, pooh. Of course you could have.” She raised her chin. “But you would have been very lonely.”
He laughed and kissed her deeply on the mouth. “I love you more than anything. Do you know that?”
“I’ve wished for years now I could give you the world. It seems now, I can.”
She furrowed her brow, her eyes seeking his. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve gotten more job offers in the last six hours than I have since I was nominated.”
That was impressive. The phone had barely stopped ringing since Bordeaux had been nominated for best original score.
“We don’t have to stay in that cramped little apartment anymore, Gwen.”
“I like our apartment.”
“Do you want to stay there?”
“Not a moment longer than necessary,” she said, giggling, the champagne in her glass sloshing as she did.
“Tell me what you want, sweetheart. The world is our oyster.”
Suddenly, she realized he was telling the truth. There would be no more scraping to get by, no more need to count every penny. “It is, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “This is my dream. Everything I’ve been waiting for.” He stroked her face. “Now tell me what your dream is so I can make it come true.”
Gwen looked off into the distance, imagining. She envisioned an art studio, a big wide kitchen with two ovens for baking, a wide front porch and a rolling hillside. Born and raised in the country, she was surprised to realize how her heart ached to go back. “I want to live in the middle of nowhere. An old farmhouse in the country.”
“Like your mom and dad’s place?”
She shook her head. “Yes. Oh, David, would you mind terribly? I know how much you enjoy the city…”
He laughed. “I was in the city because of work, but with the Oscar, I’ve made enough of a name for myself. I can work anywhere you want. Just say the word.”
In the end, they chose Vermont, with its quaint mountain villages and five-hour drive into New York City. Gwen made the house her own, planting a large garden and recreating her favorite parts of her parents’ home. There was a fire pit with an octagonal wooden bench, an oversized porch swing, even a target practice area for shooting up in the back field. As a teenager, Gwen had spent countless hours shooting at cans with her father and brothers. Over time she became an excellent shot, though she never joined the men in hunting for game.
Her most favorite spot in the new home was far out on the property, a steep hill that overlooked a great valley. It was deep and wide, filled with the deepest greens in summer and dotted with ski slopes and trails in the winter. She’d been sitting in the grass on a warm autumn day, taking in the sweet scent of leaves and earth, when David surprised her.
“You look like a goddess.”
Gwen jumped a little, then took in her paint-splattered overalls. “The goddess of disaster and ruin?”
He sat beside her. “The goddess of love.” He reached out to stroke her long blond hair.
“I love it when you lie to me.”
She lifted heavy lids to gaze into his eyes. “Mmm. It gets me all melty inside.”
“I like melty.”
They kissed and came together, bodies eager and fresh with desire. It wasn’t the first time they’d made love on this spot, but it would be the time that stayed alive in her memory. Hands glazing over sensitive skin, moans and crying out, a peal of laughter loud and true.
It was the last time husband and wife made love in this place, for this man who meant more to Gwen than any other on God’s green earth was soon to die on the hills that stretched out before them in autumn’s majesty.
And Gwen would never come to this spot again.COLLAPSE