Gruesome murder rocks art world

Hard-nosed Detective Dane Reynolds has met his match with up-and-coming sculptress, Simone Preston, the prime suspect in his current homicide. As he digs into her past and uncovers another dead ex, he questions if he has a Black Widow on his hands.

Simone is shocked when her ex-boyfriend is found strung to a piece of art she has up for auction, especially since he’s not the only former flame to be murdered. Someone is setting her up, and with the help of the one man who could put her away, she’s determined to find out who.

Together, the two find themselves caught up in a tangled obsession that could leave them in danger of losing their lives as well as they hearts.



Chapter One

Dane Reynolds had never seen anything like this in the ten years he’d worked homicide, and he had witnessed some pretty gruesome sights in the mile high city of Denver.
A murder victim hung like art? That threw him back and flooded his gut with something akin to nausea, though the feeling faded quickly once he started to examine the crime scene.
The man was suspended from a six foot marble statue right of the Troubadours auctioneer’s podium, facing a large room with fifty chairs, twenty-five on each side.
Superficial cuts crisscrossed his torso as if he’d been used as a whipping post. Cause-of-death, more than likely one of the three inch-and-a-half incisions on the upper chest. Lack of blood in and around the sculpture suggested he’d been killed elsewhere. That meant they’d have a small window of time to locate the kill site and ensure evidence wasn’t lost.
Dane brew out a breath and focused his attention on the people detained for questioning, a group of twenty or so standing off to his left. According to what he’d heard on the radio on his way over, the hall had been filled to capacity when they’d unveiled the body as the bidding began. The crowd that remained appeared as if they had witnessed the actual murder.
“Hey, Reynolds, seen anything like this?” Detective Reed Adams walked toward him, weaving a coin through his fingers.
Dane recognized his partner’s obsessive habit, Reed’s way of managing the job. He could hardly fault him for that. Dealing with the rigors of homicide took a special kind of resolve, and he had learned years ago that finding a coping mechanism helped keep one’s sanity.
“Any idea who the guy is?”
“ID in his wallet says Troy Draper. We’re running a check on him now.”
“Did he work here?”
Reed shook his head. “Not according to anyone we talked to.”
Dane glanced again at the victim as two coroner assistants removed him from the sculpture. When he was on the floor and zipped into a body bag, he analyzed the stone form the corpse had been strung to. “How about the statue? We know who created this monstrosity?”
“Not much of an art enthusiast, are we, Reynolds?” Reed smirked.
Dane’s upper lip twitched. He wasn’t a fan of some artsy-fartsy’s interpretation of the male anatomy, with a dong the size of a horse’s—created either by a man with an enormous ego, or a hopeful woman. “Who’s the sculptor?”
“The curator said the piece belongs to Simone Preston. Here’s the kicker. We found one of her business cards crushed in Draper’s hand. I think that makes her a person of interest.”
“Was there an address on the card?”
“Nope. Just a phone number and e-mail.”
Dane pointed to the crowd outside the gallery. If they didn’t bolt soon, he’d be surprised. “Did we find out anything from this motley crew? When the sculpture arrived at the hall? If the piece was checked when it was received?”
“Yeah. The statue was in the back since yesterday afternoon and rechecked last night before the workers left at ten. So, that leaves the murderer a ten hour window since the Troubadours staff arrived around eight this morning.”
“What about forced entry or surveillance cameras?”
Reed cleared his throat. “None of the points of entry—doors or windows—were jimmied. We’ve got people dusting for prints now. According to maintenance, the camera in the back hasn’t worked for weeks. The staff said they have one on backorder.”
Dane rubbed the taut muscles at the base of his neck. “That’s damned convenient. I’m going to need a list of people who knew that and had keys to the back door.”
“You think it was an inside job then?”
“With no signs of a break-in. . .? What about security, besides cameras? Do they have guards around in the evening? Isn’t art supposedly worth so much money?”
“Art is priceless,” a well-dressed man with a manicured goatee said in a snippy tone as he walked toward them. His hazel eyes narrowed in disapproval of Dane’s sarcasm.
“And you are?” Dane asked.
“Bradley Lyons, Troubadours’ curator.”
Dane reached into his breast pocket and extracted a small notepad. “Did you know the victim, Mr. Lyons?”
“I met him once. He came by with Miss Preston about six months ago.”
Again with the name. He’d need to talk with her.
“Do you know Miss Preston well?”
“She’s one of our most talented artists. We’ve sold a number of her pieces.”
Dane made a mental note of the way the man’s eyes lit up as he gushed about the woman. Maybe the two had something going, or Mr. Lyons wished they had.
“Do you have an address for Miss Preston? We’ll need to talk with her.”
“Yes, of course. It’s in my office. I’ll get it.”
The man left, and Dane turned to Reed. “Did you get the impression Mr. Lyons might have a thing for this Preston woman?”
His partner shrugged. “Perhaps he’s just a fan of her work.”
Dane glanced again at the piece of art, studying the sculpture with a critical eye. Definitely not his cup of Joe. But then, he wasn’t the type to appreciate fine art unless it was done on black velvet and had a picture of dogs playing poker. “Run a check on Mr. Lyons. I want to know if he’s hiding anything besides his bad taste in art.”
“I’m on it. Will you be headed to Ms. Preston’s?”
“Once I talk to the crew. I want to see if my questioning makes any of them nervous.”
Lyons returned with a slip of paper and handed it to Dane.
Her address surprised him. The woman lived in one of the most affluent parts of the city. Either there was a hell of a lot of money in art, or she had someone paying for all that luxury.
“Can I let my employees go home, Detective?” Lyons’ question drew him back to the man, the annoyance in his voice clear as rain. Typical rich snob—always assuming their time was more valuable than those lower on the socioeconomic ladder.
“Not yet. I have a few questions for them first.”
“Can you at least tell me when you’ll have this wrapped up? We do have a business to run.”
Dane clenched his hands at his side. “I don’t think you quite grasp the severity of this situation, Mr. Lyons. A man is dead. Murdered and strung to a piece of art you were planning to auction off today. Could take days for us to gather evidence. I’d suggest you get used to having us underfoot. Oh, and don’t wander off too far. We’ll probably have more questions.”
Lyons’ amber eyes darkened, then he huffed and turned to leave.
The guy walked away as if he had a stick up his ass. Clearly, he couldn’t care less that a body was found on his property—the murder nothing more than an inconvenience. At least, that’s how it seemed to Dane, and the toughest part was the man reflected the norm of society, not the exception.
The thought had acid working its way up his throat. He reached back into his breast pocket for a roll of Tums. He popped two in his mouth, and while chewing them up, glanced one last time at the piece of marble.
Maybe a different angle would help.
He tilted his head slightly and squinted.
Nope. Still ugly.
What type of woman created such a grotesque interpretation of the male form? Dane hadn’t a clue. But, he guessed he’d find out soon enough.
* * *
“You have to come see this, Simone,” Laurie hollered from inside the living room down the hall.
Simone Preston tossed her mallet and chisel onto the table next to the piece she’d been working on for months, then walked to the doorway and stuck her head in the room. “What’s going on now? I have a deadline.”
Her best friend pointed to the television.
Simone heaved a sigh and tucked a short strand of curly blonde hair behind her ear. “I couldn’t care less who’s doing who on your reality shows, Laurie.”
“This isn’t one of my shows, but you’re not going to like the reality of this. Watch.”
She stared at the TV screen, unsure of what she was seeing until a familiar landmark registered. “Is that Troubadours?”
Laurie nodded.
“What did I miss? Were they robbed?”
Her friend shook her head. “Someone was murdered.”
Simone’s legs began to shake. She clamped tight onto the doorframe to steady her balance, then swallowed a huge lump forming in her throat.
Horror unfolded as two men with “Coroner” stamped on the back of their dark jackets shoved a gurney with a body bag from the building.
She turned to her friend. “Did they say who?”
The doorbell rang, and Simone’s heart jumped half out of her chest.
As she walked to the front door, her mind raced as to who could’ve died. She knew at least a handful of people who worked at Troubadours—all wonderful, generous individuals.
Simone squinted out the peephole at a tall, dark-haired man standing with his back to her, his hands stuffed into a well-worn leather jacket that fit snugly across a wide expanse of shoulder.
A tingling feeling worked its way up her spine while she fumbled with the bolt lock—a strange sensation that could be interpreted as a sixth sense, warning her not to release the chain. But then, she’d never had any insight before. If she had, her life would be so different now.
She eased the door open a crack and was immediately inundated with a light, musky scent that sent her stomach fluttering. This man was trouble—and she didn’t need any more of that.
He turned. ”Ms. Preston?”
Simone’s jaw slackened, her eyes fixated on the man’s incredible lips, in awe of their color and fullness. With her artist’s sensibilities, she could appreciate the beauty of a perfect feature, and that’s what he had—a mouth she envisioned crushed against her own. Strangely enough, she could almost feel its moist pressure.
Pull it together, Simone. One of your friends might be dead.
“Y-yes.” Heat infused her face. The last thing she needed was for him to see her sweat.
He reached into his jacket, pulled out a leather case and flashed a Denver PD badge.
As if she’d been doused with ice water, a shiver raced through her. This gorgeous, worthy-to-be-etched-in-stone, man, was a cop.
“I’m Detective Reynolds, Miss Preston. Could I come in and speak with you?”
Simone nodded, then closed the door and released the chain, tamping down her disgust for law enforcement—not easily done when she despised the whole lot.
She opened up and stepped aside, allowing him into her loft.
“Can I get you anything? Coffee? A soda perhaps?” She hated to offer the man anything but the door, yet her mother’s excessive lessons in the social graces forced her to remember her manners.
“No, thanks. I came to talk to you about Troy Draper. Did you know him?”
Simone’s heart stopped. Did she know him? What did the man mean? Why did it sound as if Troy was no longer alive?
The scene on TV struck her like a slab of cold granite. The murder. The men from the coroners’ office. The body bag. That was Troy inside.
Her hands clamped over her mouth. How could this be happening? Again?
“Are you all right?” He grasped her arm gently.
Even as the reality of the nightmare closed in around her, a sudden jolt of electricity shot up her arm. The man’s touch circuited through her like a two-twenty current, only reiterating the fact this man was trouble—the huge, uninvited kind.
Angry with herself, she yanked free from his grip and backed away.
“Is Troy dead?” Her lips began to quiver. She knew the answer, but needed confirmation.
Laurie chose that moment to stick her head out of the living room. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine.” Simone shooed her back into the room. She didn’t need her best friend causing problems. Laurie had a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Laurie disappeared, and Simone refocused on the detective. “Is he?”
When he nodded, tears clouded her eyes.
Talk about surreal. It’d been months since she’d given any thought to Troy. Especially when they’d ended their relationship so badly. Yet, she would’ve never wished this for him. Not ever.
“He was stabbed.”
A tear slid onto her cheek. “At Troubadours?”
The detective’s eyes widened. “He was found there, yes. How did you know?”
Simone blew out a strangled breath. “I saw it on the news right before you rang the doorbell. Why would Troy be found dead there? He’d only been to Troubadours once, and that was with me almost seven months ago.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, Ms. Preston, but he was found strung to the statue you had up for auction with your business card in his hand. Would you have any idea why?”
Simone stared at him, numb to the world around her. Was he accusing her of murder? Because if he wasn’t, it sure as hell sounded like he was.
Her defenses shot up, along with the hairs on her arms. “I don’t have a clue, Detective. But I’ll tell you this, I didn’t kill him if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
The man’s gray eyes narrowed. “I assure you, Ms. Preston, I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”
Sure you weren’t. That’s what they’d told her the last time. Right before all hell broke loose, and she became the prime suspect in the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Jed.