A series of Exclusive Excerpts from my backlist – which always needs some extra love *wink*. Today it’s BLINDED BY OUR EYES: an erotic crime story set in the London art world, with suspense, murder, and an ending that is satisfying for the crime, and HFN for the romance.
BLURB: London art dealer Charles Garrett has devoted his life to appreciating and acquiring beauty, both in art and in his companions. His fashionable life is rocked to the core when he discovers the body of a young artist, Paolo Valero, in a pool of blood in his gallery.
As Paolo’s mentor, Charles is haunted by the horror of his violent death. Seeking closure, he investigates Paolo’s past and soon discovers a tangled web of motives and potential suspects, some closer to home than he ever imagined. He’s drawn to Antony Walker, an aggressive, handsome sculptor with unsavory ties to Paolo. Charles is unsettled by Antony’s forceful nature but irresistibly attracted to his passion and his art.
When the evidence points toward Antony’s guilt, Charles is thrown into emotional turmoil. Has he lost his heart to a killer?
The interview room at the police station was small and bleak. A smooth coat of off-white paint and a selection of plastic furniture made no concessions to comfort. I’d been brought a cup of tea but I hadn’t touched it so far. I hadn’t been handcuffed or cautioned, and I didn’t think anyone was watching me through a one-way mirror, but the officer’s attitude was harsh, nonetheless. Suspicious.
“I just found him like that.” I bit back the nausea. “I told you everything already.”
“You don’t live over the shop?”
I frowned. “You mean the gallery? No, I have a flat in Bayswater.” They had the address, didn’t they? I was sure they’d written it down at some stage.
“But you called in to the gallery, so late at night. Ten-thirty, or thereabouts. What was the reason for that, sir?”
“I wanted to check out the displays. I’ve been away for a couple of days.” I wasn’t going to tell this man how attracted I felt to the gallery, at any time of day or night. It was always a pleasure to go there, for whatever reason. Or at least, it had been until tonight.
He glanced down at some sheets of paper in front of him. His hair was trimmed to just above his collar. Dark brown, tousled. His shirt looked clean but lined, as if it had only just come out of the packet. “Yes. We’re checking that with the airline.”
I started to shake my head then stopped myself.
“No one called you? Asked you to come around? Maybe you had an arrangement to meet someone on your return. At the gallery.”
“No. Nothing like that. I just dropped in. I didn’t expect…” I swallowed hard. My throat was dry, but the tea didn’t look any more inviting than it had before. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be there.” I glanced down at my shirt. There was a smear of dried blood over the lower buttons from where I’d held Joseph.
The policeman fanned out the papers, then shuffled them back together. “You have other tenants, though?”
“I rent out the art studios above the gallery.” There were just a few rooms but they were very popular with artists who didn’t have facilities themselves. It also gave the gallery a certain unique character. That helped with the promotion, of course, with getting established in a challenging market. “But they don’t often work at night, and it’s usually with prior agreement. They’d need a key.”
He tensed up very slightly. “And who has a key?”
“I do, of course. I’m usually the one to arrange things if anyone wants to work late. I often work late there myself.” The officer was jotting things down but it didn’t look as if he were transcribing all my words. “Fergal—that’s my assistant, Fergal Corrigan. Also Rita Morrow, she manages the gallery during the day while I’m out viewing or buying.”
The officer looked up. “The victim.” It was a statement, not a question, but I still nodded agreement. He didn’t write anything down about that.
“Yes, sir. He’s definitely dead, I’m afraid.”
“Nothing could be done,” I said. There was no question in that, either. My voice sounded bleak.
“Did you use your key, sir?”
“When you arrived at…” Another glance down. “Ten thirty-five. Did you use your key to get into the gallery?”
I frowned. “No. The door was already unlocked. Joseph said…” Raised eyebrows from the policeman. The scene felt staged, like one of the adventure movies Fergal often lent me, where the innocent hero was being baited by hostile police. Except I was in this movie and I didn’t feel anything like a hero. I continued, regardless. “Joseph said it was like that when he arrived. Paolo had left it open.”
“I don’t know. I suppose so.”
“Not for you?”
“He didn’t know I was coming.” My stomach clenched with growing frustration. “Neither of them did.”
“Do you have any idea why anyone would want to kill the victim?”
The clenching turned to horror and more nausea. “Of course not.”
The police officer—I was sure he’d introduced himself, why couldn’t I remember his name?—shrugged slightly. “He has a reputation, sir. Let’s say, for provocation.”
“In the art world?” I stared at him, confused. “But he’s never shown his work before.”
The officer pursed his lips. “A couple of domestic events, Mr. Garrett. Disturbances at clubs. I believe there was an accusation of fraud, though the complainant withdrew the prosecution before it came to court. You didn’t know this?”
“No.” None of it. But had I wanted to? Needed to?
“How long had you known him?”
“Paolo?” I didn’t know why I couldn’t order my thoughts properly. “About a year. Yes. He brought some statues to the gallery for me to see, he wanted to sell them. I was impressed with his work and asked to represent him. He hired a studio at the gallery, too, when he needed somewhere more peaceful to work than his own place.”
“Your representation of the victim, sir. Was that important to you?”
I didn’t know what he meant. Of course it was, Paolo had been a fine artist. “He wanted time and space to create his sculpture. I have a growing network of clients and contacts who I knew would be interested in buying it. We agreed it would work mutually well for us.” The lump in my throat seemed to be growing. “He had so much to look forward to.”
“You admired him, sir?”
Hadn’t I already said that? “Paolo was a fascinating, talented young artist, and I was proud to have been the one to offer him the chance to develop that talent.” God, I sounded pompous, even to my own ears. Defensive, too.
The officer glanced down at a note. “He was a sculptor, you say. In wax.” He looked back up at me. “Do people still do that?”
“Of course they do. I admit lost-wax casting is an unusual choice of process for many modern artists, but the way Paolo created his pieces was exciting and fresh.”
He nodded, though I had no idea if he knew anything about artistic processes or not. “But vulnerable, too. Most of them were smashed.”
Pain spiked through me. “It was devastating. A terrible attack on…everything. I just hope there are enough remaining to illustrate how Paolo’s gift might have matured over the coming years, how well we could have worked together. If he’d stayed with the gallery, of course.”
There was a brief, tense silence in the room.
“Your gallery is quite new, isn’t it? It must be hard, setting up a business on your own. Trying to make a go of it.”
“I’ve been open for a few years now. I know it’s not an easy world to break into, but its success is growing.” As if this police officer cared about the health and direction of my career.
“Would the sale of these statues have been lucrative for you? You were probably relying on them.”
The onset of a fierce headache nagged behind my left eye. “Well, that seems even more of a justification for my innocence, doesn’t it? Why would I destroy the very work that was apparently going to make my fortune? Why would I harm the artist I’d hoped to share a working relationship with for many years to come?”
“Mr. Garrett, please, there’s no need to get upset. You’ll understand we have to examine the context of this crime as well as the facts.”
The context. I had stood in the gallery when the police arrived, trying to understand the context. They immediately sealed off the gallery as a crime scene, but the police officer in charge kept me there for a while longer. They wanted to know whether anything had been stolen or moved.
It had taken all my strength to face looking around the display area again. I couldn’t ignore the creeping stain still glistening in the areas nearest the wall, the bloody smears on the floor made by men’s feet when they took away the body. I was able to confirm that none of the work was missing, though a few of the fittings had been broken, like the display case. It was as if there’d been a scuffle in the room before Paolo fell. Then the police walked with me—guiding or guarding?—upstairs to the studios.
There’d been far more terrible damage in the room that Paolo had been using for the past couple of months. The tables were thrown to one side and his tools scattered all over the floor. He’d been working with sheets of charcoal-coloured wax, creating base figurines, and they’d all been dumped unceremoniously among the mess. Worst of all, most of his works in progress had been broken in pieces and trampled. Some of them had already been sent away for casting, but he always left several at the studio.
It had been a hell of a shock to me. Had I ever come into contact with such violence? The aftermath of it seemed to hang in the air, heavy and ugly. My skin crawled at the mere thought of it. But what was even more distressing was the frightening realisation that the perpetrator cared nothing for beauty or compassion, that someone had chosen destruction over devotion, without a second thought. Destruction of Paolo, of his work. Of my haven.
“Sir?” The police officer coughed loudly, recalling me to the mean, cold room where we both sat.
My anger was slowly giving way to a bone-deep misery. “This has all been a dreadful shock. When can I go?”
He didn’t answer that. “What about the other people you say had a key?”
“Just my staff. I trust them. Besides, the door was open.”
He nodded, but I don’t think he was particularly agreeing with me. “It may not have been the victim who opened the door, sir.”
I felt buffeted with the confusion and frustration. “Then they’ll be on the CCTV.”
This time he inclined his head, as if giving me credit for the observation. “Yes indeed. We’re checking that out, too. And what about the other entrance?”
“The back door to the gallery, Mr. Garrett. There’s a small yard and a service road that runs behind these properties, I believe. There’s CCTV there as well?”
“No, I…there’s an empty box on the wall as a deterrent, but I couldn’t afford to install it there as well. Anyway, the door is locked, it always has been. We don’t use the yard at all.”
The policeman raised his eyebrows. “And who has keys to that door?”
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “I can’t remember there being more than one. I lost it shortly after I moved in, and as we weren’t going to use that entrance, I didn’t worry any further.”
There was another brief silence. “You lost it. Any idea where?”
“No.” I stared at him. “Anyway, the front door was open.” I knew I was repeating myself. “Why on earth would he need to open the back door as well?”
“Yes sir.” The policeman gave a polite smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “You trust your staff, you say.”
“Of course I do.”
“I was just wondering if there’d been any animosity between them and the victim.”
“Animosity?” It was pathetic, just echoing his words. But it gave me a precious moment to gather my thoughts. “Of course not.”
“Well, we’ll interview them all as well.” He collected up the papers and stood. “I won’t keep you any longer.”
I stood as well, eager to be gone.
“Mr. Garrett? You said you were looking forward to a longstanding working relationship with the victim.”
I hesitated. “Yes.” I bit back the sarcasm of “That’s my job.”
“And that he needed peace to work. Was he finding that a problem?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He shrugged and ran a hand over his hair, damping it down. “I wondered if there was animosity anywhere else in his life. Enemies. Threats. Considering the kind of man he appears to have been—”
“That’s enough,” I said sharply. “I don’t propose to speculate on anything else. I can’t see that it’s any help to you and it’s certainly distressing me. If I think of anything else, I’ll contact you. Or my lawyer will.” I didn’t actually have a lawyer, at least not one who could have helped with this situation, but I didn’t see any need to tell that to the police at the moment. It was a measure of how desperate I was to get out of there and home.
The officer lifted a hand as if to soothe me. “That’s fine, sir. And your friend?”
My friend? “Is Joseph still here?”
“He’s probably finished his statement by now.”
“Good God, is he all right? He’s been through a terrible ordeal.” I was determined not to leave without him. “I assume it’s all right for me to wait.” I didn’t relish sitting in the visitor chairs in the entrance foyer, but I couldn’t let Joseph face the rest of this night alone.
“He’s a close friend, you’d say?”
“Yes, I’d say that.”
The man’s gaze ran quickly over me. It wasn’t a hostile look—and I’d suffered enough of those in the past to recognise one—but it was inquisitive. “And you said you’ve known him for…?”
“A year,” I said steadily. I didn’t elucidate.
“Yes, of course.” He met my gaze. “Do you know of any relatives we should contact on his behalf? Anyone who can…anyone he might want to call?”
I knew then that Joseph was still in a disturbed state. “No.” Not now. A spasm in my gut brought new pain. “I’ll wait for him and take him home. Or he can stay with me if he wants.”
The officer nodded, as if that was what he’d expected me to say. He waved toward the door, gesturing for me to precede him. “Thank you for your time, in what’s obviously been a very difficult situation.”
Was I meant to respond to that? My head was aching, and I felt so disoriented I leaned briefly against the door frame to steady myself. As I straightened and walked out of the room, I heard his parting shot.
“We’ll know where to find you both, if we need to talk to you again.”