Forget Me Not
Prologue July 12
You know what I want.”
Hearing him behind her, she jerked and dropped her paintbrush. It slid across the canvas, streaking the emerald gulf water with a bold, jagged slash of white.
“Gregory,” she said, her voice half croak, half whisper, her eyes seeing far beyond the easel and canvas in front of her.
She had made this confrontation inevitable, but she hoped to finish one last painting before—
“Well? Are you going to give it to me?”
Shaking, she turned. He stood closer than she expected, towering above her and blocking both studio doors. The one to the deck overlooking the gulf was closer, but with his stride and reach—she didn’t stand a chance. Inevitable.
Putting down her palette, she squared her shoulders and stiffened, unable to see past the bloodlust in his eyes. Would her response push him over the edge?
Regardless, she had only one choice. Her mouth as dry as the sand between her and the surf, she hiked her chin and looked him right in the eye. “No.”
“Reconsider—and think carefully.” His hands curled into fists at his sides, his face darkened to red, and the blood vessels in his thick neck protruded. “Is that your final answer?”
How could anyone that angry sound that controlled? She darted her gaze from door to door, still seeking a way out. But there wasn’t one. No one would interrupt, would hear her scream. There would be no escape.
She glanced to a painting of a young girl hanging on the wall. What more could she have done? The man was rich, powerful, and more manipulative than anyone she’d ever known. She had gone all the way to the mayor looking for help. Well, to his wife, Darla, but even she had to admit how outrageous her claims had sounded. Gregory Chessman did
seem incapable of anything that wasn’t wonderful.
Yet she knew better. She studied the painting, the innocence and promise in that beloved face. If he found her—and sooner or later, he would—then she, too, would die. That left but one option. One. And who knew if it would work?
“I know the truth about you.” She injected her tone with confidence and a warning of her own. “If anything happens to me, others will know it too.”
“You tried that and failed.” He grunted. “You’re a crazy woman. No one believes a crazy woman, not even an airhead.” He followed her gaze to the painting.
Something inside him snapped. His face contorted and he closed the gap between them in a flash, clamping his fingers around her throat. Fury pounded off him in waves, rivaling the six-foot surf. With a throaty growl, he jerked, lifting her off the ground.
She fought hard, kicking and swinging her frail arms, trying to break his hold, but she couldn’t make contact beyond his forearms. Her vision blurred, her starved lungs burned, craving air. Her limbs turned leaden. Then the brilliant light flooding the studio faded to black, and she knew no more.
Gregory watched the life leave her eyes, taking pleasure in the fact that his would be the last face she would see. How dare she refuse him? Threaten him? The crazy fool.
When the last spark of hope for revival passed and she hung limp and lifeless a foot off the floor, he dropped her.
Her body crumpled in a heap.
He didn’t look down, just walked over her, knocked the aged painting off the wall, and then crushed it with the heel of his shoe. Three years, and the subject in it still taunted him. Still made him vulnerable to Alik Demyan. Gregory shuddered.
Now she would suffer for both, for trespassing on his peace.
The portrait lay tattered and torn, its brittle frame cracked. He went at it again, and kept at it until the painting was utterly destroyed.
Though he despised dirtying his own hands, NINA would be pleased. No one had messed up this one…