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Eminently Readable. The mystery puzzles, the romantic element heightens the excitement, and the cast entertains. Well done!

Regina Pounds
Ten years ago Cosmo Bari vanished, and with him, his legendary masterpiece, Virgin in Pastel. Since that day no one in the seaside art colony of Steeple Hill has heard from the eccentric painter.
Surrounded by an extended family of Cosmo’s colorful compatriots, mystery writer Kyle Bari believes he has come to terms with being abandoned by his famous father, until the day Adam MacKinnon arrives with his new lover, the beautiful but poisonous, Brett.
Brett has an unerring instinct for other people’s weak spots; soon the quiet colony is seething with hostility and suspicion as Brett hints he knows something about the missing artist.

My grandfather’s house stood dark and silent in the moonlight. Though technically mine, for now I was obliged to creep in like a thief, slipping under the police tape and shinnying up the tree in the front yard. It had been several years since I’d climbed a tree—tree climbing not being recommended for heart patients.

I reached the open window on the second story and slipped inside the house.

It was hot and stuffy and dark. I pulled my flashlight out. The beam played around the room, lighting the crucifix over the bed, the photos of my grandparents on their wedding day and my mother on ponies of various shapes and sizes. I began sifting through my grandfather’s dresser. As Adam had said, everything was in apple pie order.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for; finding the Virgin tucked between his boxers would have been convenient. Not that I wanted to believe there was a link between my grandfather and Brett’s death, but to me the connection seemed inescapable. I found my grandfather’s keys on the lace doily, gleaming dully in the street lamplight. I tucked them in my jeans.

Quietly, I crept downstairs.

It was an old house. Floorboards creaked beneath phantom footfalls. The beams, which had expanded in the heat of the day, now contracted in the cool night with unnerving little groans.

I tiptoed into my grandfather’s study and sat down at his desk. The drawers were closed. Locked. I pulled out the key ring and slid the keys aside looking for something small enough to fit in a desk drawer.

It was not there.

I searched the desktop and found a letter opener. It was too fat for the key slot. I pulled out my Swiss army knife and went through the blades, one by one, till I found one thin enough. I used this to pry at the lock. It was so easy in books and movies. Not so easy sweating in the darkness. There was clearly some trick to it. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the locking mechanism, flipping through the memories of pages of diagrams and templates from my research.

After what seemed an eternity of blind poking there was a gratifying click and the drawer sprang open.

I sat up, shining my flashlight inside the drawer’s contents. The drawer was as neat as a pin, everything in its proper tray compartment. Next to the tray was a leather journal—also locked.

I lifted the journal out and glanced up as a floorboard cracked by the door. Because I expected to see nothing it took my eyes a moment to separate the dark figure standing motionless from the other shadows.

When at last I realized what I was staring at, my heart seemed to stop. The stillness in my body matched the stillness beside the hall. I snapped off my flashlight, rising and slowly edging toward the door at the opposite end of the room.

The silent figure moved away from the doorway.

“Who are you?” I asked. “What do you want?”

It was not so much that I expected an answer as I wanted my apparition to speak. That purposeful silence was terrifying.

The figure took another step forward and tripped over one of those small tapestry footstools my unknown grandmother had been so fond of.

As he went sprawling, I bolted for the door which led into the kitchen.

The kitchen was long and narrow, the door leading to the backyard was at the opposite end. I ran for the door, unbolted it, yanked it open but there was a chain at the top and it held.

My pursuer crashed through the doorway as I scrabbled at the chain. The part of my brain that could think, noted that he was tall, and that the reason I could not see his face was because he wore a black ski mask.

Picking up one of the kitchen table chairs, he advanced on me, raising it high. There was no time to think; I had no experience, and I knew I couldn’t hold up long in a fight. I grabbed the teakettle off the stove and threw it at him.

He ducked and struck at the kettle which hit the floor, spilling water. As he threw the chair at me he slipped on the water, his aim spoiled. I scrambled toward the entrance to the dining room.

The chair hit my side and I fell half on top of it, which hurt enough to galvanize me into new action. I continued anteater fashion toward the doorway, pulling out and emptying drawers as I regained my feet.

Silverware, candles, pot holders, tools clattered down on the hardwood floor. My pursuer paused, feeling among the forks and boxes of matches, to rise up, hammer in hand.

I became aware that someone was breathlessly swearing and praying, and that it was me. My assailant swung the hammer at me, and some instinct or forgotten movie memory guided me. I yanked open the dry goods cupboard door, and the hammer smashed into it with such force it wedged in the wood.