The Art of Love and Murder

Chapter One

Lacy quickened her pace.

The footsteps behind her did the same.

As fast as her feet touched the bricks, her heart beat twice that speed. If only she could clear the narrow alley, step onto the lit sidewalk...

Like a magnet, the street light pulled her forward and she lunged out of the darkness.

Her hand slammed to her chest. After a hard intake of breath and a fast exhale, she cast a furtive glance over her shoulder. With her head down and the strap of her purse in a tight fist against her breast, she whirled around to cover the last block at a trot…

And jarred with the collision as if she’d hit a cement wall. She careened off balance, but hands grabbed her shoulders keeping her upright.

She gasped and reared back out of the tight hold. Using her fisted purse as a weapon, she hurled a defensive blow to a broad chest. The hulk didn’t flinch, and she lifted her knee, landing a jab short of her target and into the tree-sized thigh. “Ehhh,” she cried out as her knee jammed into unmovable muscle.

“Lady, I’m not going to hurt you.” The man held his ground and loomed over her, his hands at his chest fending off the swing of her fist.

Her vision filled with the imposing figure, and a chill shivered her body. Run screamed in her head.

This time the swing of her purse missed the target as she turned to escape.

His hand caught her arm and pulled her close.

“Help, help me!” Her voice came high and hysterical.

“I am trying to help.”

Both hands gripped her shoulders now, and her feet came partly off the ground, forcing her to look into his face.

“What’s wrong? Are you in trouble?”

Her head swung side to side, but the empty street and sidewalks could have been a ghost town. In the distance, a jazzy tune drifted through the air with voices too far away to help.

She gulped.

He waited.

Fear clawed her chest even though he stood quietly. His eyes, shaded by night, stared into her face. The street lamp held the man in a halo, outlining a stance and bulk that brought Paul Bunyan to mind. The grasp on her shoulders, firm and steady, left no choice but to hold still and consider her options. She took a ragged breath and held it with tight stomach muscles. If he’d intended to hurt her, he surely would’ve dragged her back into the alley.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded her head. He released his hold, his hands sliding down her arms, trailing a shiver of gooseflesh behind them.

“Oh, hell,” she choked out, releasing the breath, panting for air as if she’d run five miles at full speed. She bent at the waist, fists on her knees and caught her breath. Her heart still pumped like mad; the after rush of adrenaline turned her legs to jelly. “Oh, hell.”

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

She raised her head enough to peek through her hair at the legs belonging to the voice. Cowboy boots and well-worn jeans hugged muscled thighs. When had Paul Bunyan left Minnesota and traded in his lumberjack lace-ups for cowboy boots?

“Are you okay?” His voice filled the night air, eased through her heavy breathing.

Lifting one hand, she waved him off and nodded her head. Her other hand rubbed the knee that had encountered the immovable hulk of a man.

Two more deep breaths and her heart sank back to its rightful place. Slowly, she rose to face her would-be rescuer.

He jammed his fingers into jean pockets and looked quizzical, but certainly not dangerous, in spite of his size—over six feet. At five foot seven, Lacy looked many men in the eye; she had to lift her chin to meet his face. The faint crease lines at the corners of his eyes and between his brows spoke to his age, possibly early forties like herself. He stood, boots planted on the sidewalk with legs that matched his upper body girth. What happened to the plaid shirt? This Paul Bunyan wore a gray T-shirt with the logo of The White Wolf Spirit, a store she’d seen across the street from her hotel. His shoulders and chest were broad, solid without the proverbial rippled muscle effect. No wonder her assault on him resembled a gnat ramming a wall.

“You scared the crap out of me.” The urge to get in his face with a primal scream, to relieve the rush fear left behind, jarred her.

“Were you running from someone?” He spoke as if conducting an interview.

“I heard someone following me.” She glanced behind her. “I thought...when I ran into you...” The obvious conclusion she’d made didn’t need voicing. A twinge in her thumb reminded her to ease the grasp on her purse strap.

He moved toward her, and a residual ping of fear made her twitch at his closeness. But when he glanced down the alley, inches from her, he warmed the night between them, surprising her with a whiff of fresh, pine-scented air.

“Did you see anyone?” He regarded her with a dispassionate expression.

“No. I said I heard someone.”

“Are you sure?” His voice echoed quietly.

He seemed to measure her, his dark eyes searching deeper than he should. She clutched her purse tighter in her fist. His soothing voice didn’t change the fact he was still a stranger on a dimly lit street.

“I...I think so. No, I’m sure.”

“It’s not advisable to be walking alone down dark breezeways.”

His tone sounded like a lecture for a child. She shook her hair from her face and squared her shoulders. A grown woman didn’t need a reprimand. “Breezeway? Yes, well, it’s not like it’s an alley for Pete’s sake, with trashcans and rats.” She glanced at the darkness she’d escaped. “It’s paved with brick, and the doors have signs on them. Damn near a Civic Center Mall walkway.”

“Civic Center?”

“Yeah.”

He raised a brow.

“In Scottsdale. Lots of restaurants and bars and museums. For people, not cars. But we light our walkways.” He’d scared the hell out of her, and now he gave her advice. The placid face, the level voice only served to irritate. “This is damn small town USA. A woman should be able to walk around at night. Shouldn’t she?”

“We’re small compared to Scottsdale, but we’re still inhabited by humans.” A patronizing, half-smile 

accompanied the lecture-toned voice. “I’d advise sticking to lighted streets at night, and preferably in the company of others.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chamber of Commerce.”

Rock music cut through the dark of the alley and filled the caustic quiet her words left behind. A couple on the sidewalk across the street softly laughed as they passed by. His quirk of a smile remained; evidently her sarcasm left him unscathed. Friendly eyes regarded her for a moment, then he looked as if he’d been caught staring, and his glance dropped to his boots. He’d been so overwhelmingly powerful, so suddenly in her path that she hadn’t noticed until then what a ruggedly handsome face he had. The old-fashioned street lamp lit his hair, dark brown with streaks of gold and pulled back in a ponytail at his neck. Something about him, maybe his nose or cheekbones, suggested they might share a Hopi heritage.

This helpful stranger didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of her ill temper. Her anger, misdirected at him, bordered on rude. Not his fault. He’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or maybe in the right place.

Losing interest in his boots, he glanced at the alley, then back into her eyes.

“Um, well, thank you for coming to my aid. I’m sorry about all the hitting...and the knee.” The ache reminded her.

He waved off her half-assed apology and gifted her with a quick smile. “You were frightened. No harm done.” His strong voice softened. “But I’m serious about not walking after dark...alone.” A deep breath followed and he shifted his stance.

The display of sincere concern for an unknown woman with a quick caustic tongue touched her. His brute masculinity and woodsy scent didn’t hurt either.

She smiled, warming to the tough guy with a gentle manner. “You’re absolutely right.”

Two young men stepped around them, smoking and talking, headed down the alley toward the music. He watched them pass then asked, “How far do you have to go? To a hotel, I assume?”

“I’m staying at the Grand View Hotel. Another block.”

“Ahhh, the Grand View. The haunted Grand View.”

“So I read.” The brochures and web page had devoted quite a bit of time to the hotel’s reputation. That worked for Lacy and her friend, Phoebe, when they’d researched where she would stay.

The barest hint of a smile returned to his mouth, and his head ticked in a nearly imperceptible nod. “Perhaps the footsteps following you—”

“Were not my imagination.” Her mission in Flagstaff to learn more about the mystery swirling around the artwork left by her mother might have her imagination working overtime—but not about ghosts.

He chuckled. “It’d be understandable.”

“I tell you, someone followed me.” She raised her voice half an octave. Helpful or not, he could keep his condescending attitude.

“Okay, okay.” The smile fell away, and his brow wrinkled. “Would you like me to walk with you?”

Shaking her head and pointing toward the Grand View Hotel, she said, “That won’t be necessary. I can see the hotel from here. Thank you, anyway.” She returned the purse strap to her shoulder and glanced into his face when she passed him. Concerned? Interested? “I appreciate your consideration and help.” She wilted under his gaze. “Have a nice evening.”

Thin-soled sandals didn’t help her wobbly knees on the cobbled cement, scored to look like stone, when she attempted to walk away with an air of confidence. The last glimpse of the stranger’s attractive face left her weak-kneed like her fear of assault earlier. She wanted to get back to the hotel and hide her head under the covers.

As she moved farther from the distant music, no echoing footsteps followed her. But then, she didn’t hear his steps receding either. She was certain she’d heard steps in the alley earlier, and she was certain the intriguing stranger now watched her.

When she reached the Grand View Hotel and climbed the steps, she took hold of the ornate, brass door handle and glanced back down the street. The man had vanished. Her shoulders sagged with a momentary wash of disappointment. Okay, so maybe he didn’t watch her safely to the hotel. The steps behind her in the alley had been real enough, not the echo of her own shoes hitting the bricks, whether he believed her or not. Then again, she shouldn’t have read the hotel brochure or listened to Phoebe’s excitement over the prospects of seeing ghosts.

The combination of a tiring drive and the margarita with dinner had made her a bit woozy. Alcohol, exhaustion and bodiless footsteps could make anyone jumpy.

****

Chance stepped away from the glow of the street lamp, his scrutiny never leaving the retreating lady in distress. She was damned near as pretty from the backside as from the front. Her eyes had caught the glow of the street lamp, heightened by her own inner fire and set him ablaze like he hadn’t felt in...years. Now, as she glided toward the Grand View, her hair flung ebony sparks each time she entered the halo of a street lamp. Even from this distance, as she mounted the steps, the roundness of her hips revived a near deadness to which he’d grown accustomed.

The flare from the tip of a lit cigarette jarred his musings. Across the street from the hotel, a dark figure hung in the shadow of a closed shop. When Lacy’s hand touched the door, the figure flipped the butt to the street, stuffed his hands in his pockets and ambled in the opposite direction from Chance. The tall, lanky figure swayed, stumbled and continued on.

Probably a drunk college student out killing time.

When the woman opened the door, Chance slipped into the breezeway, satisfied with her safety. He might as well check out the possibility of her imagined stalker.

His silent steps, deliberately slow, carried him back down the breezeway as he glanced from side to side, patrolling. No one lurked in the doorways. He took his time, his trained eye searching for any evidence to confirm the lady’s fear. Nothing. His chest tightened as he remembered a moonless night in another alley eight years ago this month.

Ahead, on the corner of the breezeway and Santa Fe Street, the sounds of the Lumberjack Brewery invaded the night, louder as the door opened, and sucking back in as the door closed. He glanced at his wristwatch, the hands glowing green. Nine o’clock. The Lumberjack would be ramping up for a Friday night.

He passed the back entrance of the Kachina Café, the rich smells of Mexican food drifting into the air from the plates of the people sitting at the patio tables. Pausing a moment, he surveyed the remaining patrons, but no one caught his attention as anything other than late diners. He wondered if the Kachina’s enchiladas tasted as good as he remembered. They had been his wife’s favorite... The tightness wrenched another notch.

“You jerk,” a voice hissed, and a woman with a man stumbling behind her rounded the corner. “First you’re an hour late, and then I find you with that bitch.”

He recognized Laura, a friend of his daughter’s.

“Wait, honey, wait.” The man’s words slurred.

“Don’t honey me you jerk, jerk, jerk.” She stopped when she saw Chance. “Sheriff Meadowlark. I didn’t see you there.”

“Got a problem, Laura?”

She shrugged, her wide-set eyes looking older than her nineteen years. “I married a problem, Sheriff.” Her cheeks glowed pink in the light from the restaurant.

The problem came beside her, nearly falling into Chance. He recognized her useless husband, along with the reek of stale beer.

“Laura, honey, wait. I can explain. It was an accident.”

“Oh, yeah.” She shook off the hand he’d draped on her shoulder. “You just accidentally grabbed her ass while your head accidentally fell into her tits.”

The problem, Clark Katz, rubbed his face, making unintelligible sounds.

Chance shook his head. “Who’s driving, Laura?”

“No one, Sheriff. It’s only a couple of blocks home.”

“Anything I can do?”

She sighed deeply and tucked escaped blonde hair from her ponytail behind an ear. “Nah.”

“Okay, then. Be careful.”

The young woman nodded and strode passed him. “Come on, jerk, follow me home so I can lock you out.”

Clark complied, issuing apologies and excuses, swaying behind her and dragging his feet.

Chance walked on and stepped onto the sidewalk of Santa Fe, the main artery of Flagstaff. Once known as Route 66, businesses, bars and shops flanked one side; the railroad tracks skirted the other. The door of the Lumberjack opened, spilling a trio of young men out onto the sidewalk along with a rock song he didn’t recognize. Two women, probably college students, darted behind the trio and into the bar, prompting the three men to do an about face and follow them back inside. Mostly college kids out and about.

He turned on his heel, retracing his path back up the breezeway. He’d left his Cherokee parked not far from the Grand View. He’d eaten dinner at Jane’s Whole Earth and had a beer with a friend at the Broken Arrow. He’d topped off his evening helping a lady in distress, a lady whose eyes flashed green, and whose sultry voice still rang in his ears.

His phone rang as he reached the sidewalk at the other end. He pulled it from his pocket and read the display: Kitty. He put his thumb on the mute button but didn’t depress it. Hell, he might as well answer. She’d only call again. “Hello.”

“Hi, Chance. You still having your Friday night beer with Chief?”

“Just heading out.”

“How about a second one with me?”

An old Garth Brooks song, Mr. Right, played in the background, her choice not lost on him.

“I’ve got Negra Modelo in the fridge...”

Maybe if he told her he’d seen her son, drunk and in trouble with his wife, her mood would be ruined.

“It’s ice cold, honey, but I’m feeling hot.”

He passed under the street lamp that had lit up the green eyes of the lady in distress. “Not tonight, Kitty.” He ignored the huff of disappointment. “I’ve had a rough day, and I’m looking forward to climbing into bed.” He mentally kicked himself for that opening.

“Well...”

“Hey, Kitty, I’m really beat. I wouldn’t be much fun.” He opened the door to his Cherokee. “Another time, okay?”

“Sure, Chance. You call me, you hear. I’ll keep the Modelo cold...and my hands warm.”

He depressed the end call button, tossed his phone on the seat and glanced out his window at the Grand View Hotel. What the hell struck him about the tourist lady that he couldn’t get out of his mind? Kitty had never lingered on his mind—even after a toss in her bed—the way a few innocuous moments with the green-eyed stranger had. Had it merely been the memories she raked up that stirred the embers? He couldn’t be sure, but he sure as hell wanted to know.

****

“Hello, Ms. Dahl. Were the tacos at the Kachina as good as I promised?”

The young hotel clerk greeted Lacy as she strolled through the nearly century old lobby on her way to the stairs and her room. The young woman’s petite stature and perky, twenty-something personality seemed in direct contrast to the black spiked hair, piercings and black rimmed eyes. Lacy had dubbed her the Black Fairy when she’d checked in two hours ago.

“Every bit, Penny. And the margarita was strong.” She wondered if the young woman always dressed Goth or if she embraced the spirit of the Grand View Hotel’s reputation. The night shift and the Agatha Christie setting suited her look. “I think I’m tired. I better get to bed.”

Penny smiled an impish, close-mouthed grin. “Got big plans for tomorrow?” She crossed her arms on the white marble counter. Black, elbow-length gloves with the fingers missing displayed delicate fingers ending in black nail polish.

“I’m getting out tomorrow for some research I’m doing, art gallery and maybe a museum.” Lacy breathed in the musky scent of the ages-old lobby. Or maybe the Black Fairy’s perfume?

“Are you writing a book or something on Flagstaff?”

“No, I’m trying to find the artist of some sketches left to me.” She yawned. “And I better get to bed so I’ve got the energy for the long day tomorrow.” She hiked her purse strap higher on her shoulder. “Is there a park nearby or somewhere I could do a little running in the morning?”

“A small park. One block north and a couple of blocks west. But it’s pretty small.”

“I’ll have to make do. Goodnight, Penny.”

“Goodnight, Ms. Dahl.”

The short flight of stairs challenged her as she trudged, tiredly pulling each foot up to the next step. The floral carpeting, narrow hallway and gold patterned wallpaper transported her back in time. The renowned hotel, beautifully restored, reflected the era of the 1920’s. The antiquated wall lamps dimly lit the hall, casting warm shadows of the past. She walked where many famous people had traipsed in the last century.

Halfway down the hall, she stopped at her door and fished out her old-fashioned brass key from the pocket of her jeans. Had her mother and father walked this hall, slept in one of these rooms, maybe made love? Drowsily, she mused as the heavy key clicked in the lock. Had she been conceived here, only to be left orphaned months after her birth, before Kaya Mockta and Hartmut Luschin could be married?

The door swung open, and she bumped it closed with a hip, at the same time digging through her purse to grab her ringing cell.

“Hello.” She locked the door and flipped the deadbolt.

“So, how’s the haunted hotel?” Her friend Phoebe’s animated voice made Lacy smile.

She tossed her purse on the bed and flopped beside it, kicking off her sandals in the process. “Haven’t seen a ghost yet, but it’s a lovely old hotel.” 

Her back relaxed into the mattress, and her eyelids drooped with the notion of sleep to come.

“Rats. What have you been doing?”

“Nothing really, yet. I’m back in my room from dinner. I was starving when I got in, so the cute Goth hotel clerk directed me to a Mexican food restaurant.” She stared at the glass chandelier on the ceiling.

“Did you get hold of your long lost relatives before you left Scottsdale today?”

“That whole thing is a bit weird.”

“I like weird.”

“I called the number we found for Kaya’s stepmom, but she’s no longer at that number. Her daughter Carol lives there and wouldn’t offer any info on the mother, but did agree to see me.” Something in her tone had rubbed Lacy’s nerves, set her on edge so much she didn’t know if she wanted to meet the stepsister of her mother. “She’s a work of art.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s like I was the plague here to infect her...until I mentioned the sketches. And then she got interested in where I would be staying, how many sketches there are and when she could see me.” Her questions, delivered with a greedy edge, had irritated Lacy. She still rankled at the thought. The woman hadn’t made one inquiry touching on the human factor of a long lost relative.

“Sweet.”

“Yeah, my thought. Then when I checked in, I already had a message from her. So I called, but she wasn’t there. A young man answered. He knew me and said his grandma just wanted to know when I’d made it to town.”

“Because?”

“No idea. She hasn’t called again.” No pleasantries were issued when she told him she’d see her tomorrow. Oddly enough, the old woman’s interest in the sketches, although rudely curious, gave Lacy cause to keep the meeting. She didn’t need the family ties, just information.

“How are you holding up? Have any second thoughts about tracking down information on your birth parents?”

“No. I’m on a mission for my daughter. If August hadn’t decided to grill me after Mom’s funeral, I might not have remembered the chest in the attic. My main focus is finding who made the sketches in order to satisfy my daughter’s curiosity, and maybe add to the inventory at her art gallery.”

“But it’s more than that, isn’t it?”

She glanced at the photographs and sketches on the desk in the corner of the room. “Not really.” A half-carved wolf stood sentinel over the paper treasures, both of which had roused her daughter’s excitement about the possibility of art treasure. “I suppose some of the mystery surrounding my birth parents could be uncovered in my search. August had some questions about her lineage. But that’s not my primary mission.” Lacy guessed her friend expected digging up the past would bother her, but without the history, she could’ve been researching for someone else, totally unrelated. “I’m doing fine, Phoebe.”

“Good. I’m going to plant the perennials everyone brought to the funeral for Sarah in your yard tomorrow. I found a cute sign at the nursery today that says Sarah’s Garden. Your mom would’ve gotten a kick out of it.”

“Oh, Phoebe, how sweet.” A weepy sensation welled up at the mention of her mom.

“What do you suppose she’d think about you researching your birth parents?” Phoebe’s typical bluntness came with a soft edge to her voice.

“She’d be here with me. And if Dad was alive, he’d have cheered us on.” She rubbed her eyes and smiled. “Mom showed me the chest when I was in my early teens, but I had no interest. I don’t even remember looking at the contents. Kaya and Hartmut were dead, Sarah and Arlo were the only family I’d ever known or loved, and I was much too busy being boy crazy.”

“Hey, the old Lacy could learn something from the young Lacy.”

“Who you calling old?”

Phoebe chuckled. “Not exactly what I meant. Your forty-two-year-old butt probably looks better than your teenage one did. You certainly don’t have the muffin top like I do. Shouldn’t our yoga classes do something for that?”

Misty sadness dissolved with her friend’s chatter.

“I think the latte and blueberry scone you have every morning at my café have something to do with it.” She pictured her artsy friend, long blonde-gray braids lying on her ample chest. Earlier, when they’d met at the café before Lacy headed out, Phoebe had worn a bright yellow T-shirt beneath a sheer lavender embroidered tunic, huge gold earrings dangling from her ears.

Her friend sighed. “I’ll never publish another book again if I can’t sit in the Lacy Latte with a coffee and scone while I write. My career took off when you opened your coffee café.”

“Then keep an eye on the place for me over the next couple of days, will you? Hazel is great, and I probably won’t be needed, but I’m only a couple hour’s drive away. I could trek home easy enough.” She ran a hand through the side of her hair and twirled a lock around her finger.

“I’d be happy to. Hazel takes good care of me.” A cupboard door closed and the rattle of dishes clinked. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything from your lawyer on the Austrian deed you found in the chest.”

“No. Mark said it might take some digging to find out about something dated 1847.” She brushed the lock of hair along her chin like a paintbrush. “I’d have to assume Lenhard Luschin is an ancestor of my father, Hartmut, but there may be no value to the deed anymore.”

“Or there is.” Phoebe giggled. “Maybe you’re an Austrian princess and it’s the deed to your castle.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised about anything now, Phoebe.”

“Have you called August yet?”

“No, too late. And besides, nothing to tell her yet. If she hadn’t had to return to Tucson right after the funeral, I’d have brought her along on this Flagstaff mystery tour.”

“So, are you going to meet with the wicked stepsister tomorrow?”

Lacy rose, swung her feet to the floor and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “Yep, that’s on the agenda.” The overhead light glinted off her red painted toenails. She absentmindedly checked her fingernails to see how her French manicure looked. “I want to go by the art gallery, too.”

“That all sounds nice, but no real action yet. I’m sorely disappointed.”

“I didn’t say there hadn’t been any action. In fact, I got more action than I wanted after dinner.”

“Now you’re talking. What?”

She opened her small suitcase on the floor next to her bed as she talked. “I left the restaurant from the back patio and walked down a sort of alley way. Only it’s not like a real alley because it’s paved and clean.” She dug into her cosmetics bag for her makeup remover. “Anyway, it was rather dark, and I swore I heard someone following me. If I walked faster, the footsteps behind me walked faster. I was more than a little scared.” She took off her eye makeup, balancing the cell between her chin and neck. “And when I reached the street, I ran smack dab into this Paul Bunyan hulk of a man who seemed...seemed... protective or something. But he scared the shit out of me being right there at that precise moment.” A residual shiver drifted over her with the memory, like the aftershock of an earthquake. “I clobbered the guy with my purse.”

“And then what?”

“And then I came back to the hotel and—”

“No, Lacy. Judas Priest! Tell me about this guy. What kind of hulk?”

“As in strong looking, you know. What’s to tell? He’s a local, I would assume. He looked down the alley, and I went on my way.”

“Was he good looking or sexy or what?”

Lacy sighed and smiled, partly from her friend’s comment and partly from the memory of her rescuer. “We had all of five minutes at the most together, under a dim, old fashioned street lamp.” A gorgeous, rugged face and strong arms hadn’t gone totally unnoticed, but the vision faded with a blink and a shrug.

“Did you get his name or anything?”

The writer in her friend needed details. “Phoebe, you’re hopeless. I’m not here to meet men, certainly not strangers I encounter on dark streets.”

She doubted she still knew how to meet interesting men. Conrad had been dead three years, but she’d not had the inclination or desire, especially when, in the middle of her grief, she’d discovered what a sham her marriage had been.

“I’m damn tired and going to sleep now. Go write a mystery about a dark alley that isn’t an alley.”

“Oh, all right. Sleep tight and don’t let the ghosts keep you up.”

“Thanks. That helps a lot. Bye, Phoebe.”

She ended the call and reluctantly rose to turn off the chandelier, but walked over to the desk instead. A picture lying on top of the pile held her attention—her birth mother holding an infant. The glossy finish of the photo had cracked along the top and one side, and fingerprint smudges rimmed the edges. The seated woman held Lacy’s baby-self swaddled in blankets. She guessed the woman’s rust colored, full skirt and silver belt to be Indian-style clothing. She wore moccasins the color of doeskin, and two braids framed her face and fell over her breasts to disappear beneath the child. She smiled at the camera, her face lit with happiness.

Another older photo, scalloped edges and in black and white, had the name Mansi Mockta written on the back—her Hopi grandmother. She pushed it aside as she picked up the next photo of Hartmut Luschin, the Austrian man with startling green eyes, her father. A slight tremor traveled along her spine. She knew this face if only because it mirrored her own eyes. She turned the photo over and read the inscription yet again. My Hartmut, 1966, written in a feminine script.

Why hadn’t they married? Where were they going when the small plane crashed, killing them?

Only Lacy had survived.

Not news. She’d known all her life that her blood parents were dead. The past she would dig up might seem like it belonged to someone else, but it didn’t. Phoebe may have sensed this trip turning into more than an art treasure hunt. Lacy had always been so anchored in Phoenix, but something tugged at her, as if her anchor had been in soft sand all along.

Below the photos lay sketches, signed with the mysterious initials M/KM. She’d left the carved chest at home, inscribed with her birth mother’s signature on the bottom—Kaya. The chest had held the pictures and the art for over forty years, including a half-carved wolf, unsigned, but a match to one of the sketches. She ran her fingers over the front half, the head and forelegs of the wolf in a frozen state of escape from the wood. Nothing identified the artist on the unfinished sculpture. Had Kaya and M/KM been friends, partners, rivals? Hopefully, she’d have her answers by the end of the weekend.

She flicked the wall switch, dousing the chandelier, and glanced at her unopened suitcase sitting on the stand. Too tired to even dig out her pajamas, she slid out of her jeans. Yanking back the cream-colored brocade bedcover, she crawled between the crisp matching sheets and sank her head into a most magnificently plush pillow.

Lots to do tomorrow. She pulled the chain on the ornate, red glass lamp, leaving the room in near darkness. Dim light filtered through the curtains on the window overlooking the street below. She’d start with the art gallery. And reluctantly see the stepsister. The lady might be willing to help her once they met face to face.

She sighed, and her lids closed as she started her descent into sleep. The face of her would-be rescuer came to mind, momentarily puzzling her at the thought, but sleep tugged, and she let it go. If she ran into him again, she’d get his name. For Phoebe.