She had always drawn and painted. She could not remember a time when she had not kept a sketchbook close at hand. She had been fascinated with watercolors and acrylics and pastels since childhood. She picked up her brushes as easily as other people picked up a knife and fork. Her family considered her painting as nothing more than a hobby but she knew the truth. It was as necessary to her as food and water and fresh air.
She had been born into a family of financial wizards and entrepreneurs. It was not that art was not respected in the Harte clan. Some of the members of her family actively collected it. But they treated it as they would any other investment. Hartes did not establish careers as artists. She’d dreamed her dreams of becoming an artist but she’d kept them to herself.
The time had come to turn her dreams into reality. She could feel it. She was ready. Something inside her had changed. She sensed new dimensions in her work, new layers that had not been there in the past.
She was sure of her decision to try her hand at painting full time, but she did not know if her work had a market. She had enough Harte business instincts to understand that in the real world, art was a commodity like any other. If there was no consumer demand for her work, there was no possibility of making her living as an artist.
The route to financial success as an artist required the support and savvy marketing of a respected dealer. The decision to show her paintings to Octavia Brightwell first had been based entirely on intuition.
Octavia owned and operated an influential gallery, Bright Visions, here in Portland. She had also opened a branch in Eclipse Bay.
“Well?” Lillian prompted when she could no longer stand the suspense. “What do you think?”
“What do I think?” Octavia appeared to have trouble dragging her gaze away from the painting. “I think it’s absolutely extraordinary, just like the others in your Between Midnight and Dawn series.”
Something inside Lillian relaxed a little. “Good. Great. Thanks.”
Octavia turned back to the painting. “I’m pulling out all the stops for your upcoming show. I want maximum impact.”
“I don’t know how to thank you, Octavia.”
“Don’t bother. We’re both in this thing together. I have a feeling that it isn’t just your career that will take off when I hang your work in my gallery. Mine is going to get a real shot in the arm as well.”
Lillian laughed. “Sounds good to me. I’ll leave you to do your job. I’m off to Eclipse Bay on Wednesday.”
“You’re really going to do it? You’re going to close down Private Arrangements?”
“Yes, but keep it to yourself for a while.” Lillian folded her arms and studied the paintings that lined the studio wall. “I’m still working on figuring out how to break it to the family gently.”
“I suppose it will come as a shock.”
“Well, it won’t be quite as much of a blow as it was when Nick announced that he was leaving Harte Investments to write mysteries full time. After all, my grandfather had counted on him taking over the company when my father retires. But no one is going to be real thrilled when I announce that I intend to paint full time. Hartes don’t become artists. They’re businesspeople.”
Half an hour later, the laptop under her arm, the hood of her rain cloak pulled low over her face, Lillian walked quickly through the misty rain toward the building that housed the offices of Private Arrangements. Her thoughts were on the conversation with Octavia. She did not see the big man until he stepped right into her path.
“You’re Lillian Harte, aren’t you?” he said fiercely.
The anger in his voice made her mouth go dry. She came to a halt in the middle of the busy sidewalk, fervently grateful for the fact that she was surrounded by a large number of people.
The man looming in front of her appeared to be in his mid-forties, big, heavily built with blunt features and thinning, short-cropped hair. She could not see his eyes. They were concealed behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Not real useful on a cloudy, rainy day, she reflected, but they certainly added a note of menacing drama.
“Do I know you?” she asked cautiously.
“No.” His heavy jaw jerked. “But I know you, lady. You’re the matchmaker, aren’t you?”
She clutched the laptop very tightly. “How do you know that?”
His mouth twisted. “I’ve been watching you for the past couple of days.”
A blast of stark fear left her palms damp. “You followed me? You had no right to do that. I’ll report you to the police.”
“I didn’t do anything illegal.” He looked disgusted. “I just wanted to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“Sure you were the woman who runs that matchmaking outfit, Private Arrangements.”
“Why do you care who I am?”
He moved in closer. “You’re the one who took Heather away from me. You hooked her up with someone else, didn’t you? I called her a couple of days ago. Thought I’d give her another chance, y’know? That’s when she told me that she planned to marry this guy you set her up with. She thinks she’s in love. I think you messed with her mind.”
Ice touched Lillian’s spine. “Are you talking about Heather Summers?”
“Heather was with me before you tricked her into thinking I was no good for her. She left me because of you.”
It took everything Lillian had to stand her ground. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Witley.” He took another step toward her, his face clenching with anger. “Campbell Witley.
Heather and I were together before you came along. You ruined everything.”
She glanced quickly around again, reassuring herself that she was not alone here on the sidewalk. Then she looked very steadily at Campbell Witley.
“Please, calm down, Mr. Witley. I did match a woman named Heather but when she filled out the forms I gave her she stated that she was not currently seeing anyone. I always insist that my clients be single and unattached when they sign up with my firm.”
“I don’t care what Heather said on your damned forms.” He tapped his wide chest with a stubby thumb.
“She was with me .”
Lillian remembered Heather very well. She was a shy, nonconfrontational type who would have found it extremely difficult to deal with an aggressive man like Witley.
She also recalled that Heather had been a different woman after her first date with Ted Baker. Baker was the quiet, studious sort, very much a gentleman. He and Heather had attended the opera together. It had been love at first sight.