Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz
Tags: #Literary, #Mystery & Detective, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction
And the Hades cup had disappeared.
t 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
. There was no mention of any suspicion of foul play in Daventry's death."
Tabitha peered at her over the rims 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 Seattleites, 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
"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
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?"