Isabella’s Painting: A Karina Cardinal Mystery, Book 1
Peeling back layers of lies could save a masterpiece…or reveal a killer.
After a long week lobbying on Capitol Hill, all Karina Cardinal wants to do is chill with Netflix and her boyfriend, Patrick Dunne. Instead, she’s slipping her aching feet into red stilettos for his parents’ annual holiday bash.
When she accidentally interrupts Patrick’s father in his study, her embarrassment is tempered by suspicion that Martin Dunne and his dapper, secretive guest are hiding something. Maybe the painting she barely glimpses right before it disappears behind a secret panel.
An internet search raises her curiosity to full-blown alarm. If she’s right, Martin is in possession of a stolen masterpiece. Infamous because everyone close to it has turned up dead. As in Mafia-style-execution dead.
As she’s chewing over which instinct to follow—back off while she still can, or dig deeper for the truth—she crosses paths with FBI agent Mike Finnegan. An old friend and not-quite flame from her college days. When she looks into his warm, mocha eyes, she’s tempted to tell him everything.
Trouble is, she’s already being watched. And the next move she makes could destroy innocent lives…including her own.
Chris laid the fork and knife together on the empty plate and stretched his legs out, reclining against the seat with the scotch cupped between his hands.
“Enough about me. What do you do?” One of my shoulder-length curls fell forward, and I tucked it back behind my ear.
“I work in the import-export business.”
“I see,” I said, not seeing at all. “And what types of things do you import-export?”
“All sorts of goods and materials.”
His replies were evasive, and my mind immediately jumped to drugs. “From any country in particular? Mexico, perhaps?”
He chuckled as if enjoying a private joke. “No, not much comes from Mexico. Italy, France, occasionally Spain.”
“France? What does the U.S. import from France?”
“What does France export?” He stroked his glass. “Let me think … machinery, oil … pharmaceuticals.”
An undercurrent of secrecy seemed to surround his answers, which I found odd. I didn’t ask another question, instead waiting for him to continue. He seemed to enjoy the mystery he was creating, and I wondered if he was simply an eccentric old man yanking my chain.
He clanked the ice in his glass and swallowed the last of the scotch. “But … my dealings with France are in wine.”
“Yes, of course, French wines.” My shoulders relaxed. “I had a fabulous full-bodied glass of Bordeaux earlier this evening. Quite possibly one of the best reds I’ve ever tasted. So smooth. Is that your business with Marty, then? Are you his French wine connection?”
O’Brien’s faded blue eyes caught mine, then darted away. “No, afraid not. Our transaction has to do with his art collection.”
“I see.” Indeed, I did. Before the party, on my tour of the house, Patrick had taken to pointing out paintings by famous artists, some I knew, many I didn’t. A Degas pencil drawing stuck out in my mind. But it wasn’t simply artwork that his father collected. Throughout the house, there were shelves of glass cases housing antique statues, a Tang Dynasty vase, an Erté mirror, what I guessed to be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art and antiquities. When I mentioned this to Patrick, he explained to me his father had invested in state-of-the-art security. The glass cases were wired with pressure plates, and the exterior of the house was monitored with cameras.
“Are you buying or selling?”
Chris held up the tumbler and gazed at the melting cubes.
“Or would it be indiscreet to disclose such information?”
The man roused my curiosity, but before I could ply him for additional information, Patrick came around the corner and spotted me. “I’ve been looking for you.” He reached out his hand.
Giving an internal sigh, I reluctantly took it and rose to my sore feet. “I’ve been keeping Mr. O’Brien company.”
“Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met.”
This surprised me. I’d assumed Patrick would have met his father’s art dealer, but perhaps there were many. I introduced the two.
“I’ve been enjoying this beautiful lady’s company,” O’Brien said.
“I’m sorry to take her away, but Mom’s been wanting you to meet one of her friends from Junior League.”
I turned to Chris and held out my hand. “Please, excuse me. It’s been nice talking with you.”
He took my hand, sandwiching it between his own. “Again, the pleasure was all mine. I am aware quiet corners should be left to old men. Lovely young ladies, such as yourself, should not have their lights dimmed by dark corners, but rather be the centerpiece, the belle of the ball.”
I bit my lip and held back an eyeroll at his heavy-handed compliments. “I hope your business transaction comes to an effective conclusion.”
“I have no doubt it will. I wish you a Happy Christmas.”
“And to you.”
“Happy Holidays.” Patrick nodded at Chris, then slid his hand across my lower back and guided me toward the front of the house. “What the hell was that all about? Who was that crazy old guy?” he asked, speaking out of the side of his mouth.
“I believe he and your father are discussing some art.”
Patrick paused and glanced over his shoulder, but we’d gone out of O’Brien’s of sight.
YOU CAN PURCHASE ISABELLA’S PAINTING AT:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ellen Butler is a bestselling novelist writing critically acclaimed suspense thrillers, and award-winning romance. Ellen holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Policy, and her history includes a long list of writing for dry, but illuminating, professional newsletters and windy papers on public policy. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Virginia Writer’s Club and the OSS Society. She lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.
You can find Ellen at:
Website ~ www.EllenButler.net
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Twitter ~ @EButlerBooks
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