Key of light, p.11
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       Key of Light, p.11

         Part #1 of Key series by Nora Roberts
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  She chuckled at that, then opened her bag to offer him a look at the printout she’d made from the digital photo. “Do you recognize this painting?”

  “Hmm, no. But something about the style.”

  “Exactly. Something about the style. I can’t quite place it, but it’s nagging at me. I’ve seen this artist’s work before, somewhere.” When the file was copied, she switched to another, put in a fresh disk. “If you remember, give me a call. Day or night.”

  “Sounds urgent.”

  “If I’m not having a psychotic episode, it may very well be.”

  “Does this have anything to do with M. F. Hennessy? Are you working on a story for the paper?”

  She goggled. “Where did that come from?”

  “You were seen having dinner with him the other night. I hear everything,” Tod added.

  “It doesn’t have anything to do with him, not directly. And no, I’m not writing a story. Do you know Flynn?”

  “Only in my dreams. He’s very hot.”

  “Well . . . I think I might be dating him. I wasn’t going to, but I seem to be.”

  “Lip lock?”

  “Several of them.”

  “Rating?”

  “Top of the scale.”

  “Sex?”

  “Almost, but cooler heads prevailed.”

  “Damn.”

  “Plus he’s funny and interesting and sweet. Pretty bossy in a really clever way so you barely notice until you’ve been bossed. Smart, and I think tenacious.”

  “Sounds perfect. Can I have him?”

  “Sorry, pal, but I may have to keep him.” She snatched out the disk, then carefully closed documents and shut down. “Mission accomplished with no loss of life. Thanks, Tod.” She threw her arms around him, gave him a big, noisy kiss. “I’ve got to get to work on this.”

  SHE hunkered down in her apartment, systematically going through the data, cross-referencing, eliminating, until she had a workable list. By the time she left for Flynn’s, she’d winnowed The Gallery’s client list by seventy percent.

  Dana was already there when she arrived.

  “Had dinner?”

  “No.” Malory looked, cautiously, for Moe. “I forgot.”

  “Good. We’ve got pizza coming. Flynn’s out back with Moe for their daily romp. You’re okay that I told him about your dream?”

  “Yeah. We seem to have brought him into this.”

  “Okay. Go in and flop. We’ll have some wine.”

  She’d barely done so when Zoe arrived with Simon in tow. “I hope it’s all right. I couldn’t get a sitter.”

  “I don’t need a sitter,” Simon declared.

  “I need a sitter.” Zoe hooked an arm around his neck. “He’s got homework, so if there’s a corner he can use. I brought the shackles.”

  Dana winked at him. “We’ll use the dungeon. Can we torture him, then feed him pizza?”

  “We’ve already had—”

  “I could eat pizza,” Simon interrupted. Then he let out a whoop as Moe charged in from the back of the house. “Wow! That’s some dog!”

  “Simon, don’t—”

  But boy and dog were already rushing together, caught in the throes of mutual love at first sight.

  “Hey, Flynn, look what Zoe brought us. We get to make him do homework.”

  “I’ve always wanted to do that with somebody. You must be Simon.”

  “Uh-huh. This is a great dog, mister.”

  “The dog’s Moe, I’m Flynn. Zoe, can Simon take Moe back out so they can run around like maniacs for a while?”

  “Sure. Twenty minutes, Simon, then you hit the books.”

  “Sweet!”

  “Straight out the back,” Flynn told him. “There’s a ball out there with toothmarks and drool all over it. He likes you to chase it and fetch it back to him.”

  “You’re funny,” Simon decided. “Let’s go, Moe!”

  “Pizza,” Dana announced when the bell rang. “Want to call him back?”

  “No, he’s fine. He just finished eating three helpings of spaghetti.”

  “Flynn, be a man. Pay for the pizza.”

  “Why do I always have to be the man?” Then he zeroed in on Malory and grinned. “Oh, yeah. That’s why.”

  Dana sat on the floor with a fresh notebook in her lap. “Let’s be organized about this. The librarian in me demands it. Zoe, pour yourself some wine. We can each report what we’ve found or thought or speculated on since the last time we got together.”

  “I haven’t found much.” Zoe took a folder out of her canvas bag. “I typed up all my notes, though.”

  “Aren’t you a good girl?” Delighted, Dana took the folder, then pounced on the first box of pizza when Flynn dropped two of them on the coffee table. “I’m starving.”

  “There’s news.” He sat on the sofa beside Malory, turned her face toward him with his hand, then kissed her long and firm. “Hi.”

  “Gee, don’t I get one of those?”

  At Zoe’s question, he shifted and leaned toward her, but she laughed and gave him a light shove. “I’d better settle for the wine.”

  “If Flynn’s finished kissing girls,” Dana began.

  “Which won’t be until I’ve drawn my last, gasping breath.”

  “Settle down,” Dana ordered. “We know about Mal’s experience. I have the typed report of it here, which I’ll add to the collection of notes and other data.”

  “I’ve got more.” Since it was there, Malory took a slice of pizza from the box and dropped it onto a paper plate. “I have a list of people—clients through The Gallery—who’ve purchased or shown interest in classical and/or mythological subject matter in art. I’ve also started a search of like styles, but that’s going to take some time. I intend to start making phone inquiries tomorrow.”

  “I could help,” Zoe offered. “I was thinking that maybe we should do a search for paintings that include the element of a key. Like a theme.”

  “That’s good,” Malory acknowledged, and tore a sheet off the roll of paper towels that stood in for napkins.

  “I’ve got some appointments tomorrow, but I’ll work around them.”

  “I’ve been working on the clue itself.” Dana picked up her wineglass. “I’m wondering if we should take some of the key phrases and do a search on place names. Like restaurants or shops. Take the Singing Goddess, for example. I didn’t find anything on that, but it’s the sort of thing that could be the name of a shop or a restaurant or a site.”

  “Not bad,” Flynn said and helped himself to another slice of pizza.

  “I’ve got some more.” Still she said nothing as she reached into the box herself, topped off her wine. “I put in some Internet time running the three names Malory heard in her . . . in her dream. “Niniane” comes up a few times. Some legends have her as the sorceress who enchanted Arthur’s Merlin and trapped him in the cave of crystal. There’s another that has her as Merlin’s mother. But when I put her together with the other two, I found one hit from this esoteric little site on goddess worship. It gives a variation on the Daughters of Glass—and calls them by those names.”

  “Those are their names. You can’t think it’s a coincidence that I dreamed those names and you found them today.”

  “No,” Dana said carefully. “But isn’t it possible you came across the same site and the names stuck in your head?”

  “No. I would’ve written it down. I would’ve remembered. I never heard them before the dream.”

  “Okay.” Flynn patted her knee. “First, I’ll tell you I haven’t found any record of a shipping or moving company that serviced Warrior’s Peak. And no record of any company shipping furniture here for clients under Triad.”

  “They had to get all that stuff in there somehow,” Dana protested. “They didn’t just click the heels of their ruby slippers together.”

  “Just giving you the facts. The real-estate company didn’t make the arrangements for them, either. At this point, I h
aven’t found any trail leading Rowena or Pitte to the Peak. Not saying there isn’t one,” he continued before Dana could protest. “Just saying I haven’t found one through the logical sources.”

  “I guess we have to look at the illogical ones.”

  He shifted to beam at Zoe. “There you go. But I’ve got one more logical step to take. Who do I know who collects art seriously, someone I could use as a source? The Vanes. So I gave my old pal Brad a call. It so happens he’s heading back here in a couple of days.”

  “Brad’s coming back to the Valley?” Dana asked.

  “He’s taking over the local headquarters for HomeMakers. Brad’s got the Vanes’ passion for art. I described the painting to him, or started to. I wasn’t close to being finished when he gave me the title. The Daughters of Glass.”

  “No, that can’t be. I’d have heard of it.” Malory pushed herself to her feet and began to pace. “Who’s the artist?”

  “Nobody seems to be sure.”

  “Just not possible,” Malory continued. “A major talent like that, I’d have heard. I’d have seen more of the artist’s work.”

  “Maybe not. According to Brad, nobody seems to know much about the artist. The Daughters of Glass was last seen in a private home in London. Where it was, by all accounts, destroyed during the Blitz. In 1942.”

  Chapter Eight

  MALORY closed herself in her apartment for two days. She submerged herself in books, telephone calls, E-mail. It was foolish, she’d decided, to run around chasing a dozen different angles and suppositions. Better—far better—to conduct the search with technology and systematic logic.

  She couldn’t function, simply couldn’t think, in disorder. Which was why, she admitted as she carefully labeled yet another file, she’d failed as an artist.

  Art, the creation of true art, required some mysterious, innate ability to thrive in chaos. Or that was her opinion. To be able to see and understand and feel dozens of shapes and textures of emotions at one time.

  Then, of course, there was the little matter of possessing the talent to transfer those emotions onto a canvas.

  She lacked the gift, on all levels, while the artist of The Daughters of Glass had it in spades.

  The painting at Warrior’s Peak, or one done by the same artist, was the path. She was sure of that now. Why else did she keep coming back to it? Why had she somehow in her dreams walked into it?

  Why had she been chosen to find the first key, she thought, if not for her knowledge of and contacts in the art world?

  She’d been told to look within and without. Within the painting, or another by the same artist? Did “without” mean to look at what surrounded the painting?

  Opening a file folder, she studied the printout of the painting again. What surrounded the daughters? Peace and beauty, love and passion—and the threat to destroy it. As well as, she mused, the method to restore it.

  A key in the air, in the trees, in the water.

  She was damn sure she wasn’t about to pluck a magic key out of the air or from a tree branch, so what did it mean? And which of those three was hers?

  Too literal? Perhaps. Maybe “within” meant she was to look inside herself to her feelings about the painting, both the emotional and the intellectual response.

  Where the goddess sings, she reflected as she rose from her piles of research to pace. No one had been singing in the dream. But the fountain had reminded her of music. Maybe it had something to do with the fountain.

  Maybe water was her key.

  And, she thought in frustration, she might not have left her apartment, but she was still running in circles.

  There were only three weeks left.

  Her heart jumped at the quick rat-a-tat on her glass patio doors. There stood the man and his dog on the other side. Instinctively she ran a hand over the hair she’d yanked back into a ponytail sometime that morning. She hadn’t bothered with makeup or with changing out of the baggy cotton pants and tank she’d slept in.

  Not only was she not looking her best, but she was pretty sure she’d dipped below her personal worst.

  When she opened the door, she decided Flynn verified that when he took a good, hard look at her and said, “Honey, you need to get out.”

  She felt, actually felt, her face arrange itself in a sulk. “I’m busy. I’m working.”

  “Yeah.” He glanced at the neat stacks of research materials on her dining room table, the pretty coffee carafe and china cup. There were small containers, all in matching red plastic, that held pencils, paper clips, Post-its.

  A glass paperweight swirling with ribbons of color anchored a few typed pages. A storage box was tucked under the table, and he imagined she placed everything that related to her project inside it every night and took it out again every morning.

  It was amazing to him, and oddly charming. Even alone and at work she kept things tidy.

  Moe bumped her leg with his snout, then gathered himself to leap. Recognizing the signal now, Malory stuck out a hand. “No jumping,” she ordered and had Moe quivering in his desire to obey.

  As a reward she gave him a congratulatory pat on the head. “I don’t have any—”

  “Don’t say it,” Flynn warned. “Don’t say any food words. He loses his head. Come on, it’s great out.” He caught Malory’s hand in his. “We’ll go for a walk.”

  “I’m working. Why aren’t you?”

  “Because it’s after six, and I like to pretend I have a life outside of the newspaper.”

  “After six?” She glanced down at her watch, remembered she hadn’t put it on that morning. It was just another sign that the efficient train of her life had jumped its tracks. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”

  “Which is why you need to go for a walk. Fresh air and exercise.”

  “Maybe, but I can’t go out like this.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m in my pajamas.”

  “They don’t look like pajamas.”

  “Well, they are, and I’m not going out in them, and with my hair all horrible and no makeup on.”

  “There’s no dress code for walking the dog.” Still, he was a man who had a mother and a sister, and he knew the rules. “But if you want to change, we’ll wait.”

  HE’D dealt with enough women to know the wait could be anywhere from ten minutes to the rest of his life. Since he’d learned to think of the female grooming process as a kind of ritual, he didn’t mind. It gave him a chance to sit out on the patio, with Moe flopped over his feet, and scribble ideas for articles in his notebook. In his opinion, time was only wasted if you didn’t do something with it. If the something was staring off into space and letting the mind drift on whatever current was the strongest at that moment, that was fine.

  But since that current was how he might get his hands on Malory again, he figured it would be more productive all around to channel his energies into work.

  Since Brad was coming back to the Valley, the Dispatch would need a solid feature on him, on the Vanes, on HomeMakers. The history of the family and their business, the face of that business in today’s economic climate, and any plans for the future.

  He would handle that one himself, and combine his professional and personal interests. Just as he was doing with Malory. So he began to note down various aspects that described her.

  “Blond, brainy, beautiful” headed his list.

  “Hey, it’s a start,” he said to Moe. “She was picked for a reason, and the reason has to have something to do with who or what she is. Or isn’t.”

  Organized. Arty.

  He had never met anyone who managed to be both.

  Single. Unemployed.

  Huh. Maybe they should do an article on twenty- and thirtysomething singles in the Valley. The dating scene in small-town USA. If he gave that to Rhoda, she might start speaking to him again.

  He glanced up when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and watched Malory walk to the patio door. It hadn’t tak
en her as long to transform herself as he’d figured it would.

  He got to his feet, hooking a hand in Moe’s collar before the dog could leap on Malory. “You look great. Smell even better.”

  “And I’d like to keep it that way.” She leaned down, tapped a finger lightly on Moe’s nose. “So, no jumping.”

  “Why don’t we take a drive down to the river? Then he can run around like crazy.”

  SHE had to give him points. He’d managed to turn walking the dog into a date and had done it smoothly. So smoothly, she didn’t realize she was on a date until they were sitting on a blanket by the river eating fried chicken while Moe raced around barking hopefully at squirrels.

  But it was hard to complain when the air was cool and fresh, and the light softening as the sun sank lower in the west. When it dropped beneath those peaks, everything would go soft and gray and it would be cooler yet. She would need the light jacket she’d brought along—at least she would if they stayed to watch the stars come out.

  And how long had it been since she’d watched the stars come out?

  Now that she was here, she wondered if the enforced hibernation, however brief, had accomplished anything more than creating a logjam in her mind.

  She wasn’t an isolationist. She needed contact with people. Conversations, stimuli, sound and movement. And realizing that only made her understand how much she needed to be part of the workforce again.

  If she grabbed the million dollars at the end of this strange rainbow, she would still need to work. Just for the day-to-day energy.

  “I have to admit, I’m glad you got me out.”

  “You’re not a cave dweller.” He dug in the bucket for another drumstick when she frowned at him. “You’re a social animal. Take Dana, she’s more cave dweller than social animal. If you left her alone, she’d be perfectly happy holed up with mountains of books and a vat of coffee. At least for a few weeks. Then she’d need to come up for air. Me, I’d go nuts after a day or two. I need the charge. So do you.”

  “You’re right. And I’m not sure how I feel about you figuring that out so soon.”

  “Soon’s relative. I’ve spent, oh, about a year thinking about you in the past week. Given time and energy ratios. It’s been a while since I’ve given that much thought to a woman, in case you’re wondering.”

  “I don’t know what I’m wondering. Yes, I do,” she corrected. “Why haven’t you brought up the key, or asked me what I’m doing about finding it?”

  “Because you’ve had enough of that for now. If you’d wanted to get into it, you’d have brought it up. You’re not shy.”

  “You’re right. Why did you bring me out here, away from town?”

  “It’s quiet. Nice view. Moe likes it. There’s the slim chance I can get you naked on this blanket—”

  “Try slim to none.”

 
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