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One Sizzling Night

By:Jo Leigh

One Sizzling Night - Jo Leigh


1

KENSEY ROBERTS MADE the short walk from the mansion to her boss’s office at a brisk pace. They’d been working out of his Tarrytown, New York, estate for a week now, and normally she enjoyed the leisurely stroll through the garden when she had occasion to meet with him. Not today. She paused outside his door and glanced down at her pressed linen pants and cream-colored blouse.

She’d paid particular attention to how she looked this morning. Her hair was simple, a little wavy now that it was past her shoulders. Applying makeup had been a challenge, but she’d had to do something to hide the fact that she hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. A final inspection assured her that she looked as cool and polished as usual.

Inside she was a complete mess.

Neil Patterson was sitting behind his immaculate teakwood desk. On any other day, she’d help herself to coffee first, exchange a few pleasantries if he wasn’t in the middle of something. Today Kensey headed straight for him and skipped the small talk.

“I hate to spring this on you at the last minute,” she said, ignoring the leather chair across from him. Too much adrenaline was shooting through her system. She couldn’t sit, hadn’t been able to sleep or stomach the thought of food since last night. “I need some time off.”

Neil leaned back, eyebrows raised. “Good morning.”

Kensey nodded. “Hopefully it will be just a week, so I’ll be able to escort the van Gogh to Vienna next month as planned.” Her voice, she knew, was well modified, and there was nothing about her expression that signaled anything but calm assurance. This mask had been her saving grace for years. She’d learned how to play a part from the best teacher in the world. “But it’s possible I’ll be away longer.”

Neil didn’t ask why. She doubted he thought it had anything to do with the weeks of vacation time she’d never used. He simply waited, his expression as neutral as her own, though she’d bet her Rolex he already knew what was going on. The CEO of The Patterson Group had made his first million at twenty-three and turned that into a billion-dollar empire before he’d hit fifty. Not only was he brilliant, he was careful and he did his research.

He was also the man who’d spotted something worthy enough in her that he’d taken her under his wing four years ago, giving her a life she’d never dreamed possible. Ironically, they’d met over a forgery.

God, Kensey didn’t want to disappoint him. But she had something very important to prove.

“I’d wondered if you’d seen this,” Neil said, and opened the folder sitting in front of him.

The second she saw the neatly folded copy of the New York Post she knew it was over. Her secret was about to unravel. In truth it had started to fray two years ago when Neil had guessed that she had a connection to the Houdini Burglar. But the thefts had stopped by then, and Neil hadn’t pressed her to fill in the blanks from her past. He would now, though, and she could hardly blame him.

He slid the paper across his desk. Every part of her wanted to run, but she stayed right where she was, her gaze lowered to the article that could change her life forever.

Art Collector Does a “Houdini” with $10M Degas

by John Witseck

Art lovers around the globe have been stunned by the report that Douglas Foster, highly respected art collector and import/export entrepreneur, is a person of interest in the investigation of a Degas landscape heist.

At nine o’clock Sunday morning, investment banker Clive Seymour discovered his security system disabled and The Wood, painted by Edgar Degas, missing from his private collection. Mr. Seymour was alone in his home at the time, although he and longtime associate Foster had dined together the previous evening.

NYPD Detective Sergeant Calvin Brown arrived at the estate at nine-thirty and confirmed that Foster had been Seymour’s only dinner guest before Foster left for Manhattan shortly after midnight. According to Mr. Seymour’s driver, he dropped Foster off at the Waldorf Astoria where he was staying. Foster, who lives in Paris, had arrived in New York early Saturday afternoon.

When police went to the hotel Sunday morning to pick Mr. Foster up for questioning, he could not be located. His suite had been cleared of his belongings, but a spokesman from the hotel stated Mr. Foster was not due to check out until Tuesday.

Seymour denied that Douglas Foster was the famous art thief dubbed the Houdini Burglar who has eluded authorities across four continents for three decades. Mr. Seymour has declined further comment, though he seemed understandably shocked as the two men have known each other for many years.

Detective Sergeant Brown, a thirty-year veteran of the NYPD white-collar crime division, is confident they will find Mr. Foster and bring him in for questioning. Brown, who will be retiring from the department in three months, has been after the Houdini Burglar for most of his career, although he stated that as of this morning there was no evidence to support the allegations that Foster is involved with the theft.

“Your father, I presume,” Neil said, as calm as could be. There wasn’t a trace of judgment or censure.

She looked up into his piercing blue eyes and simply nodded. The story hadn’t even hit the front page, what with yesterday’s oil tanker spill. But it had made page two and the scandal had the fine art world buzzing. Everyone who was anyone knew Douglas Foster. From the time she was young he’d been an A-list party guest.

“He’s innocent,” Kensey said. “I’m sure of it.”

Neil’s brows rose. “How would you know that?”

“It’s a forgery, a good one, I’ll give you that, but it’s not perfect.”

“You’ve seen the Degas?”

“No, but I dug up every digital picture of it that was taken after Seymour bought it, and some from the prior owner. Most of the pictures are shadowed or just plain bad. On purpose, I’m thinking. But seeing it up close? Foster would have written it off as a forgery and never given it another thought.” No one she knew, and she knew a lot of people in the art world, was better at spotting forgeries. “He taught me just about everything I know.”

“Circumstances might have changed,” Neil said. “You haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s older, slower. It’s possible he’s lost his touch. It happens.”

“He might have slowed down but there’s no way he would have taken a forgery. Or for that matter, be so stupid and careless. He was Seymour’s only dinner guest. Why on earth would he choose that night to go back and steal the painting? Please. And God knows he doesn’t need the money. He has enough to live out three lifetimes in luxury.”

Neil smiled. “It’s not always about money for people like him. It’s the thrill of the chase or the rush of being the smartest and the best. It gets in the blood and clouds people’s judgment. So they don’t know when to quit.”

Kensey’s chest hurt. She didn’t like the way those unnerving blue eyes studied her so closely. If he’d ever thought she was indeed her father’s daughter, or the possibility existed that she could be drawn back to her old life, he would’ve cut her loose by now.

But no, Neil had always been her champion. What her father never taught her about business or life, Neil Patterson had. He’d invested in her, encouraged her and listened to her opinions.

“All I know is that this thing smells like a setup. Seymour probably realized the painting was a fake ages ago, and knew he couldn’t sell it to any of his regular buyers. This con must have dropped into his lap like an early Christmas present. My bet’s on the cop. Brown’s retiring soon. He’s been after the Houdini Burglar for most of his career. He doesn’t want to go out looking like a fool.”

“A cop? About to retire with a pension?”

“Why not? He’s been obsessed.”

Neil gave her a slow, considering look. “Fine,” he said. “Let’s assume you’re right. What is it you want to do?”

She tried to relax, her gaze going to the Modigliani hanging behind him. It was one of her favorites, one he’d kept out of circulation far longer than most. She suspected because he knew of her fondness for the painting.

As his curator, she worked up a complete profile for each piece in his vast collection, checking and double-checking the provenances, all of which went into a very complex metadata formula that told them when a piece was ready to go into circulation, and where. Some of the pieces would be marked for sale, while other were to be held on to as an investment. All that mattered to her was that she had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing the work up close, studying the craft and basking in its pure genius.

“I need to prove he didn’t do it,” she said, finally sinking into the leather chair. “As long as he’s on the run he can’t return to his home in Paris or access his accounts. I’m sure he has money stashed away somewhere in case something like this were to ever happen but who knows if he can get to it.”

“Do you think he’ll try to contact you?”

“No.” The thought hadn’t even occurred to her. She shook her head. “After ten years without a word? I doubt it.”

“You’re right. He wouldn’t want to involve you.”

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