Home > A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(9)

A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(9)
Author: Melinda Leigh

An easel stood in the center of the brightly lit space. It held a half-finished painting of a cove. Moonlight shimmered on the water and rocks. Tessa stopped in front of the painting. A half dozen photographs of the same beach were pinned to the wall next to the easel.

“This is the beach where he was murdered,” Tessa said. “It looks like he painted from photographs. He had a camera with him. Maybe he was taking pictures when he was killed.”

“Makes sense.” Logan leaned over her shoulder. “He was no Van Gogh, but he had talent. Do you have any idea how much he asked for one of these paintings?”

“The last time I was in the art shop, I believe the price on a canvas this size was around five hundred dollars.”

“How many did he sell a month?” Logan asked.

Tessa pulled out her phone and called Rachel Abbott, the owner of the art store. “Hi, Rachel. This is Tessa.”

Logan walked into the adjoining storage room.

“Oh, my God,” Rachel said, sobbing. “I heard about Dante. How did this happen? He was such a nice young man.”

Tessa heard the sound of Rachel blowing her nose. “Did you know of anyone who didn’t like Dante?”

Rachel sniffed. “No. Everyone liked him. He was sweet and thoughtful.”

“How well did his art sell?”

“Tourists loved it. I sold twenty paintings last summer.”

“What about during the off-season?” Tessa asked.

“You know it’s slower in the winter. Maybe two or three a month at best, depending on the tourist traffic.” Rachel’s breath hitched. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”

“It’s horrible,” Tessa agreed. “Thanks, Rachel.”

She lowered her phone and relayed the information to Logan. Dante definitely hadn’t accumulated $100,000 by selling local landscapes.

Logan emerged from the storage room. “Have you looked in there?”

“No.” Tessa followed him in. Canvases leaned on the wall. Tessa had assumed they were blank canvases, but Logan turned one around. It was a portrait of a woman, reclining on the chaise in the studio, clad in nothing but a long string of pearls. It was a tasteful depiction, with her legs strategically angled. Her hair cascaded over her shoulder and across her breasts, showing just a hint of flesh.

Tessa recovered from her shock to look at the subject’s face. “That’s Shannon Moore.”

Logan stared at the opposite wall, as if uncomfortable looking at Shannon’s portrait. “Is Shannon still married to Brad?”

“Yes, and they still own the Naked Sheep Winery.” Tessa linked her hands behind her back and studied the painting. “The painting is amazing. I mean, Shannon looks great for her age, but . . .”

Dante had made the most of her best traits. He hadn’t made her look younger or super skinny. He’d smoothed and accentuated her curves, but he hadn’t painted away her flaws. Tessa could see the edge of a stretch mark along Shannon’s hip and a spider vein on her leg. But the small imperfections didn’t detract from her beauty at all. Dante had made her look as if they didn’t matter. Her sexiness came from within. On the canvas, her skin glowed. Her gaze was sensual and direct, as if she knew exactly how incredible she looked. It wasn’t a come-hither gaze. It was powerful, even demanding.

Logan nodded. “There are more.”

“What? How many more?”

“Three.” Logan moved to the other canvases and began turning them around.

Tessa didn’t know the next two subjects, but then Logan spun the final painting.

“That’s Pam Rhodes,” Tessa said.

Like he had done in Shannon’s painting, Dante had portrayed each woman as realistic—and yet incredibly beautiful. Pam’s cesarean scar peeked out from behind her bent leg, and a bit of cellulite mottled her thighs. All three were attractive women in their mid- to late forties, all were nude, and their portraits were stunning. It was the look in their eyes, Tessa decided. It was confidence.

“This was his real talent,” she said. “Making women see themselves as beautiful.”

Logan frowned at Pam’s painting. “I don’t know her.”

“Pam owns Shiny Objects, the jewelry store in North Sound.”

“Is she married?” Logan asked.

“Yes. Her husband, Steve, is some Hollywood big shot. They bought a place here a few years ago, but I don’t see him around much.” She glanced around the studio. “This case has taken some interesting turns. We have an artist using a fake name, with a big bag of cash hidden in his laundry hamper, and paintings of naked local women.”

“I wonder if their husbands knew. Jealousy is an excellent motive for murder.”

“A definite possibility.”

“Tessa.” Logan’s voice was filled with warning. “I found another painting.”

She turned and nearly tripped over her own feet. Her mother.

Thank God, her mom was wearing a long flowered dress in the painting. Her gray-and-blonde hair fell in waves to her shoulders, and her feet were bare. She looked like the aging hippie that she was. But it was the look in her eyes that stopped Tessa cold.

The blue eyes that gazed out of the painting were soft and clear.

Dante hadn’t lived on the island for an entire year. Mom was already starting to decline by the time he’d arrived. Yet he’d managed to paint her exactly how she’d looked before her eyes had gone vague and watery.

“Did you know he was painting your mother’s picture?” Logan asked.

“No.” Tessa wondered what else she didn’t know about her mother’s relationship with the dead man.

5

Logan didn’t believe Tessa’s mother had anything to do with the artist’s death, but the paleness of Tessa’s face told him that she was clearly disturbed by the painting.

“Your mom was at home when you received the call about the murder, right?” he asked.

“Yes.” Tessa’s brow furrowed.

“Then you have nothing to worry about. Your mother wouldn’t hurt a soul.”

“No, of course not. But she could easily be taken advantage of. I have to double check her bank accounts and see if any money is missing.”

“Brad Moore and Steve Rhodes are on the top of my suspect list.” If Logan were married, he would not want his wife getting naked for another man.

Tessa seemed to shake off her shock. She went back into the studio and sat at a desk in the corner. “There’s nothing illegal about painting women in the nude.”

“Jealousy has nothing to do with the law. Was this artist good looking?” Logan had only seen the man dead. Dante hadn’t been at his best after catching a harpoon with his chest.

Tessa pushed a button on the answering machine. There was only one message—Shannon Moore asking when her painting would be dry enough to pick up. Tessa opened a drawer. “He was too young for my taste. I prefer men to boys.” She pulled a manila file out of the desk and set it on the blotter. “But he was certainly easy on the eyes. I imagine plenty of women would have been interested.”

Why did the thought of Tessa being interested in a man irritate him?

She opened the file and flipped through several pages. “Here are the invoices and contracts for the four nude portraits. The women each paid a two-thousand-dollar deposit, with an equal amount being due upon delivery. The two women we didn’t recognize are both from Seattle.”

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