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The Memories In Midnight

A Calata Novel

Prologue

Florence, Italy

Her back was turned when the anarchist arrived.

She was holding roses, stark white and oddly fragrant; with her hair short and spiky, he thought she looked like a wood sprite. When she turned in his direction, she smiled, and the anarchist thought she smiled at him.

For a moment, he couldn’t breathe.

Then she looked right through him as if he wasn’t even there.

And his rage became visceral.

Her name was Jaz McLean. She was an artist, working in bronze, and her talent as a sculptor went beyond skill—there was a hidden truth in her work.

There were five sculptures in all, modest in size, intimate, depicting a male nude. She called the series the Faceless Man because, no matter what the pose, the faces were never revealed. Then she’d add a single detail—the curve of a muscle, the hint of a tattoo—and the anarchist knew it was his own face she hid.

He wanted her to see him. He wanted them all, in that art gallery, to see him and not those pieces in bronze. Instead, she refused to make eye contact, chose to pretend her Faceless Man wasn’t standing right there, in front of her.

He couldn’t think. Couldn’t find words to make her look at him. But he knew what he could do, and he looked at the art in the gallery, then at the art she created. He would obliterate everything until there was nothing left for her to see—except him.

Doors were wide open, beckoning patrons inside. It was a warm night. People mingled and gathered on the street since the gallery was crowded, and at first no one noticed when he crashed into the tables, shattering the alabaster bowls on display. Not until the pieces fell and he picked up what was left and threw the wreckage through the windows.

The anarchist wasn’t alone. Others joined him and they began to rampage. People screamed, assumed the worst. They fell over broken chairs, slipped in spilled wine. He laughed and ripped paintings from the wall, sliced with a knife until pieces of canvas littered the terrazzo floor like a beggar’s rags.

He looked at her once; she just stood there, holding those roses in a vise-like grip. Shock must have set in, since there was no color in her face—only a fragile, frozen look in her eyes.

He hesitated. His hands began to shake and he thought, for an instant, he would destroy himself when he destroyed her art. The belief was so strong that, when he knocked the first sculpture to the floor, he expected to cry. But as pieces scattered like bodies in the blood-red wine, he realized the truth: he felt nothing at all.

Throughout the breaking, Jaz McLean remained mute. She hid behind her silence, and the anarchist gathered himself. Threw red paint into her face. Watched as it coated her hair, caught in her mouth, dripped from the virgin flowers clutched in her arms. Ruined petals fell like confetti at her feet, and with bitter satisfaction, the anarchist thought the next time he stood in front of her, she would see him.

Because the next time, what dripped across her face would be blood.

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon

“It’s an exquisite piece, isn’t it?”

She stood three steps away. With that blond hair, black dress and diamond necklace, she was the perfect foil for this upscale Portland art gallery—expensive and available, but only to a select few.

A passing waiter held out a tray and she selected two crystal flutes, holding both up to the light as if evaluating the bubbles, then offering him one.

“I haven’t seen you here before.”

“And you’re wondering who I am.”

“I don’t recall your face,” she agreed, “and I always remember faces.”

When she pushed the flute toward him, he accepted, took a brief sip and let the liquid slide against his tongue. Across the gallery, the string quartet launched into Pachelbel’s cannon. The melody had a jazzy vibe with the cello taking the lead—an artifice, in his opinion, combining with the champagne to sell the art.

It wasn’t his style, but it wasn’t his gallery, either, and he continued to sip while the woman studied him. He gave her the time to judge the cut of his suit—Italian, black and obviously custom. The white silk shirt—casual at the neck as if he’d snatched the tie off, tossed it aside when he left wherever he’d been.

Her eyes dropped to the understated and obscenely expensive watch on his wrist and he heard the tiny intake of breath. Watched her evaluate the uncut onyx cuff links. Dark tan. Dark hair. Green eyes. Stubble on his jaw, that hint of danger. Listened, while she made a soft, sexy little hum before joining him in studying the sculpture.

“You didn’t forget a face,” he said. “I wasn’t on your guest list. My apologies.”

“You don’t seem like a man who means his apologies.”

“No.” His shrug was one of agreement. “I flew in this evening. Settled into my hotel—”

“Which hotel?”

He told her. It met her requirements because she switched from information-gathering to rapport-building.

“They have a rooftop bar there that’s fabulous.”

“They do, and I was settling for a whiskey and the view when an old friend dropped by. He told me about the opening—”

“A very private, invitation only art opening,” she pointed out slyly.

He offered the smile known to override objections. “My friend mentioned it, but then assured me you wouldn’t mind if I crashed your gate. I prefer to arrive unannounced.”

“Ah.” She nodded as if he’d just given her the wisdom of the world. “And… your friend?”

He gave her the name. She was impressed. “I’m Jules Munro. This is my gallery.” She held out her free hand, gave a quick, satisfied glance around. “And you?”

“Jones.”

Her smile turned false. “Well, Mr. Jones, we’re pleased you joined us here this evening.” She gestured to the flute of very expensive champagne. “It’s not whiskey, but I think it should do.”

It was a brush-off. Probably the name, since Jones didn’t inspire trust. He reached into his suit pocket, withdrew an embossed card. White. Black, emphatic lettering.

She glanced at it, stared. Recognized the logo. Private bank in Seattle. Managing partner. International relations. All totally false—his part in it, anyway. But the bank, itself, was real. Based on the Swiss model, although he left that up to Arsen and Phillipe and a high-rise full of Three’s high-priced lawyers since banking wasn’t his thing.

“Bartholomew Jones,” he said. “And I hope you’ll forgive me for arriving uninvited to your event.”

“No forgiveness needed,” she murmured, aware of his subtle insult. “You’re more than welcome.” The card disappeared into a hidden pocket in the black dress. “Will you be staying in Portland, Mr. Jones, or heading to Seattle?”

“A quick stop-over. Last twelve months kept me in Japan. Before that was Singapore. Heading toward Europe. Thought I’d catch a little down-time looking at the art.”

“Do you collect, then? Or just admire?”

“Both.”

“You’ve a good eye.” Casual, she tipped the champagne flute toward the sculpture. “The artist is Jaz McLean, from her Faceless Man series. It’s the first new piece she’s produced in over a year.”  

He studied the male figure, nude—they were always nude, as if she wanted to reveal the body, strength and, possibly, the danger in the male form while obscuring the face. He knew the intent behind the Faceless Man series, had read the early magazine articles before she stopped talking publicly about her work.

“Man,” Jaz had said, “was an enigma. We see his outer strength but we are denied his inner thoughts, his soul, if you will, since we’re denied access to his true face. We must put our own souls there, if we can. Then hope we are right.”

He hadn’t been sure about her description, thought it sounded a little too esoteric at the time, and then she’d disappeared from the glittering art scene. He’d decided her sudden withdrawal was part of a practiced intrigue, although he’d read the file and knew the details. Still, it bothered him in a way he couldn’t define, just as a lot of things bothered him about Jaz McLean.

“Are you familiar with her work, Mr. Jones?” Jules asked, and he forced his attention back to the woman trying to sell him the art.

“I am.”

“This piece is a favorite of mine. It’s meant to be enjoyed in the round, a position of power in any room. And yet the artist has titled it Surrender.”

“A provocative title,” he agreed.

“We see a man in his prime, proud, strong—but to whom does he surrender? An enemy? A woman?” She paused, watching him over the rim of her champagne glass. “What do you see when you look at it?”

His voice was rich, low. “I prefer hearing what you see.”

“I see an isolated man.” She walked while she spun her story, drifting around the pedestal until she stood on the opposite side where she could study his face.

“He is bared to the skin, on his knees but upright. The muscle definition in his back and across his shoulders, his thighs—it’s so alive I have to clench my hand against touching it. I want to touch it. Need to. His legs are slightly parted, hips flexed as if he’s ready to take a woman—or be taken by her. But he is alone. One hand is clenched to his heart. She gives us clues, does Jaz, so we surmise he is a warrior. The weapon near his hand appears to be a—”

“A takuba,” he interrupted. “The sword of the Tuareg, often worn at the shoulder but in this case, at the hip—the detail here is accurate.”

“Jaz will tell you truth lives in the details, Mr. Jones.”

“Will she?”

“Truth is behind the Faceless Man. That’s the reason why she hides his face. We must work for it, this truth. Try to understand what she has to say. A piece like this could be studied endlessly while you sit, relaxed in a deep leather chair with a good—whiskey, was it? Yes, a crystal tumbler near your hand. And music. You seem like a man who enjoys solitude and music.”

What she saw caught him by surprise. Professionally, Baz revealed little emotion other than what he used to intimidate. This other side of him should have been buried. Deep. Then again, he hadn’t expected to see beyond the art. Beyond the details.

And still, the woman kept talking with the softness of seduction.

“This is our Faceless Man, Mr. Jones. His head is bowed and he wears a veil made of rope, tied around his forehead. Those strands, the knots and beads—the sense of movement is compelling. We realize he has, in this moment, fallen to his knees. In exhaustion? Defeat? I have always wondered.”

“He is Tuareg.” The hard answer came from recognition. Memory. “He wears a symbolic veil, closing off the outer world. He surrenders his fear to his inner warrior before battle, and it speaks of great strength. Heart.”

“This piece should be yours, then,” she said without missing a beat.

His focus remained on one intricate knot. He stared for a moment too long before he reasserted control, pulled away.

Jules said, “Few people recognize the takuba. Did you research this piece?”

“I’ve spent time in Algeria.”

Predictably, she glanced at his physique, the stubble on his jaw, the scars on his hands, then sipped the very expensive champagne.

“I hope not recently?”

He didn’t answer. She tipped her head with a considering look in her eyes—then went back to the sale.

“Jaz is brilliant. She’s been exclusive to Europe, so it’s a rare opportunity to have her work.”

“I didn’t realize she was back in the States. Perhaps I might meet her,” he suggested, and Jules made a humming sound again, deep in her throat.

“Not possible, I’m afraid. Jaz doesn’t meet with anyone.”

It was the hum that gave her away. She’d taken a while to catch on, realize the essence of their conversation—a battle over control. She was playing his game, now, but she wasn’t close to his level and the only fun left was the playing.

“Pity,” he said, dismissive. “I was considering a commission—through your gallery, of course, and I would require a non-disclosure. I don’t make it known when I acquire art.”

“Perhaps.” She stepped away, one step, but he could tell she was wondering whether he’d just chummed the water or if he was serious. Behind him, the string quartet launched into another classical tune, played as jazzy as the Pachelbel, but with the violin dominating. The forced tempo killed the soul in the melody, he thought. Music should have soul and not pretense.

“What is the financial range of your interest, Mr. Jones?” Jules asked while she studied a painting mounted on the wall.

“I saw a piece of hers in Florence. Couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

“Her work is very evocative.”

Jules smiled as she angled around, paused when the spotlight reflected off her cleavage. Then a burst of laughter carried from across the gallery. They both glanced up, although for different reasons. His eyes narrowed. Jules smiled and held the champagne flute to her bottom lip.

“Excitement?” he asked.

“Another red dot. I need to… celebrate.”

He didn’t say what rose to the top of his thoughts. It would spoil the mood he’d worked so hard to achieve. With a sigh, he returned the flute to a silver tray—a tray held by one of the catering staff, a slender woman who seemed to be everywhere at once. He caught a whiff of perfume, like sunshine. Air.

He needed to breathe.

“I’ve taken enough of your time, Jules.”

“I have nothing but time this evening, Mr. Jones.”

“Unfortunately, I do not.”

He smiled. Regretful. Hoped she would take the hint.

She didn’t, or else she understood the hint and decided to ignore it. He watched politely while she set aside her champagne flute. Complied when she linked her arm around his elbow, held on while she walked him across the crowded gallery space. Spotlights highlighted the contemporary paintings, while marble pedestals held sculpture from a variety of artists. Jaz McLean’s one piece—Surrender—sparkled like a jewel in the midst of stones.

They reached a quiet corner where the windows framed an expensive view of the Portland skyline. Too much light, he thought. Too much noise. He barely registered the weight of her hand until Jules tightened her fingers around his forearm.

“The piece in Florence. Why couldn’t you get it out of your mind?”

“I found it… sensual.” He watched the expression on her face. “I’m not shocked by the word, Jules. I find such appreciation of the male form to be quite sensual in a woman. But when I returned to the gallery, the piece was no longer there, and when something is denied me, I walk away. But that piece held. I wanted more.”

“I could ask her agent. Jaz is, well, she’s reclusive, refuses all contact unless it’s through a vetted process.”

“I recall some sort of trauma.”

“It was awful.”

He waited. Her blond eyebrow arched again.

“When, exactly, were you in Florence, Mr. Jones?”

“Eighteen months ago.”

“Right before it happened—tragic.”

“Italy does love it’s tragedy.”

“Jaz had just finished a two-year program at an exclusive atelier near the Bargello. Critics were impressed with her early work, the collectors were eager…”

“And then?” he prompted with a cynical smile.

“Anarchists. They were all in black, stormed the opening for her show, and, well”—she struggled with the words for effect— “they smashed all of her work. Then a man threw red paint in her face and said next time it would be blood.”

“The gallery didn’t have security on site?”

“Not enough,” Jules said, “and the destruction wasn’t the worst of it. Her best friend was there—and the girl was stabbed.”

“I remember now.”

“It damaged her, Jaz, because her friend was killed beside her car. After the damned comment about the next time being blood and not paint. The authorities said it was a random act, a homeless man, but you don’t get over murder, not when you’re kneeling in blood with red paint in your hair.”

“Jaz didn’t get over it?”

“No. Panic attacks—you’d expect that. Then private security. Nothing helped and she withdrew, never appeared in public again. In a sick way, her fame increased because of it. Such a bright, vibrant talent just squashed.”

“Her talent hasn’t been squashed. You can see it in her work.”

“I’ll tell her that,” Jules said, biting her lip. “It might help her decide if she’ll talk to you. Perhaps by phone?”

“I’m a face-to-face kind of guy. You understand.” He said it with enough steel to be sure she did understand. “All or nothing with me.”

“Well.” Her smile was bright and tight again. Fake again.

It was time to make an exit.

“You have my card, Jules?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a private number. I’d be disappointed if it got out to anyone other than Jaz McLean.”

She patted her pocket. “Not to worry.”

Then, to be sure he had her cooperation and firmly hooked, he leaned forward and whispered something in her ear.

She was still smiling when he stepped out into the cool night.

CHAPTER 2

Columbia River Gorge, Washington State

“Damn, damn idiot,” Jaz said as she drove across the bridge—and how many feet down, again, if she hit a wet patch and skidded over the edge? But the Columbia River was wide, and this narrow bridge wasn’t one of the major routes between Oregon and Washington. And Jaz knew it didn’t matter which bridge she drove across. It was driving across deep water that frightened her.

It was her own damned fault, this late-night drive. Her brave idea to join the catering crew, then crash her own art opening—the first time in six months to publicly show her work, at least under her own name and in her Faceless Man series.

In fact, she marked her life in six-month terms. Six after Florence. Six in London. Six in the Pacific Northwest.

Each six-month segment had gotten easier, though, and she was grateful. It had been a hard-won fight, working on her fear and finding herself again. Learning how to release the tension that held her shoulders rigid for months.

At first there’d been nothing, no art. No galleries. Then there was work that held no soul. But she was sculpting again, rediscovering her Faceless Man and feeling stronger about it, so she took her acupuncturist’s advice—offered while balancing Jaz’s chakras which, the girl said, were oppressed by a strong male influence.

Jaz needed to expose herself to what she feared, and since her chakras felt “balanced” she decided, what the hell. Attend the opening although not as herself. And—surprise—no smashed art. No blood. No men in black.

Only one very alarming, very insightful man.

She’d noticed him in front of Surrender. Couldn’t help herself. At first, she thought it was a threat she felt with that little jolt of her pulse. He was compelling, hard and raw and possibly the oppressive male influence her acupuncturist had been talking about.

But she sensed… something, standing close enough to hear his voice. See his eyes.

She needed to remember those eyes, how they were sharp, a deep green, nearly transparent the way a forest stream could be transparent over the rocks below. Rocks abrasive enough the cut her.

The tires ka-thumped off the bridge and she turned right onto the paved two-lane. The yellow cones of her headlights caught where the road curved around the cliffs, then settled into normal. Her hands relaxed a fraction. In twenty miles, she’d reach the graveled road that would drift between the terraced vines and only take a straight shot as it got closer to her little house.

It was one of Celine’s, that house, but it was also hers for as long as she wanted it. It wasn’t in the San Juan Islands—which was where Celine was at the moment—but it was by the water and she was in the middle of a vineyard, so what more could she want?

Maybe a dog. Someday, she’d like to be normal enough to have a dog.

The arc from the headlights marked her turn down the long drive. Then it was a bumpy mile through the terraced tempranillo grapes, planted on this side of the Columbia River Gorge where they caught the sun.

Comforting, Jaz thought, how she’d manage to stay in one place long enough to know where the sun rose, which stars were first to light up the night sky. She recognized the soft whisper of the wind through the old tree, growing at the far end of the yard. Then she parked near the steps to the porch and just sat, letting the quiet settle.

Settle. It was a good word, she decided. She would settle while she relaxed the returning tension in her shoulders. Decide if she could ignore the white card Jules had given her, ignore the man who stood in front of Surrender with a look of shock on his face.

A look of pain, as if he knew, as he stared at Surrender. Recognized the energy living in the clay.

It frightened her.

Then… then, she’d been intrigued.

And that was so not good.