Hello — As you learned last week, I’m at work on the next book. Today, I thought I’d give you a glance at the first five pages. Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook at Mary Coley Author or Mary Coley Book Club.
~ Chapter 1 ~
Marble-sized hail pounded the back of Jenna Wade’s trench coat and slammed the sidewalk. Icy rain drops slithered down her scalp under her dark brown hair all the way to her neck, sending cold fingers down her spine.
She stared through the window at a painting. She wanted to pull her eyes away, but she couldn’t. Her heart stuttered, raced. The awning over the storefront windows next door popped in the wind.
The woman in the painting was trapped inside a coffin-shaped glass box. Fear crazed her wide brown eyes; the white tips of her contorted fingers clawed the unyielding glass. Her uplifted face caught the rays of the sun shining into the dark room from a single window, high in a wall.
The woman’s face … her face.
The ozone-scented air pulled her back two decades. She smelled the pines, the dirt on her hands, the smoke from the burning cabin, and his saliva on her lips.
A horn honked on the street behind her.
She turned from the window and ran down the sidewalk.
An hour later, Jenna couldn’t keep the horrific find to herself. “It was me, Mandy,” she blurted to her only friend after rushing back to the company where they were both employed. Still full of panic, she’d described how she’d seen the painting in a gallery window in Tulsa’s arts district.
Amanda Lyons shook her head. “Some artist has a hidden obsession with you. You’re beautiful, remember?” Amanda’s shoulder-length auburn hair swung forward as she leaned against Jenna’s desk and peered down at her, her green eyes narrowed.
Jenna swallowed hard, already regretting what she’d just revealed. She shouldn’t say anything more. She shouldn’t tell Mandy that she knew the artist. She knew why he’d painted it. And the fact that it was in a gallery, here in Tulsa, terrified her.
“What are you not telling me?” Mandy straightened and pushed her hair behind her ears.
Jenna bolted up from the chair and across her office to the built-in bookcase that lined one short wall. Among the many books that filled the shelves–annual reports, finance books, reference volumes, and the other tools of accounting–sat framed photographs of her husband and friends, and souvenirs from trips. She hesitated every few feet as she walked from one end of the shelf to the other, letting her shaking finger trail along the edge. Her heart pounded and she pulled in one deep breath after another. It was happening. She’d been hopeful that enough time had passed. After twenty years, she’d thought she was safe.
Safety was an illusion. Her life was an illusion. She’d held so many things so tight inside her for so long. She couldn’t reveal any of them, even to her best friend. She fingered a carved, brightly painted armadillo from the Yucatan, purchased last year on a trip to Cazumel with her husband Sean, Mandy and her boyfriend Will.
“Why didn’t you call Sean after you saw it? Why didn’t you go to his office?”
Jenna recognized the irritation building in her friend’s husky voice. “I don’t want Sean to know about the painting.” Jenna set the armadillo back on the shelf and focused on a picture of the four of them at the edge of the ocean, lying in the frothy fingers of the sea.
“Someone uses you as the subject of a creepy painting and you won’t tell Sean? You never keep anything from Sean.” Mandy crossed the room to stand beside her at the bookshelf. “Call him. Now.”
Jenna straightened her back and steeled herself to remain silent. There were many things she had kept from Sean. And, the painting of the glass crypt was not just a painting. It was a promise.
“We’ve got to go back to that shop,” Mandy said. “Find out who painted that picture and how it ended up in a Tulsa gallery. Maybe you went to high school with the artist, and they innocently reproduced you from their imagination. You’ll talk and that will be the end of it.”
There’s nothing innocent about that painting.
If someone from home found her, she’d have to run again. From Sean, from Mandy, from her job. From everything. Just like before.
“Forget it. I overreacted.” Jenna stomped over to her desk and jiggled the computer mouse as she dropped into her chair. Her computer screen lit up. Her brain roared. Why did I tell Mandy? She had caved in a moment of panic–a moment of needing to tell someone about that horrible painting. She was so tired of keeping everything inside. White noise roared in her head.
Mandy was unlikely to let it go. Why hadn’t she learned over the past twenty years to keep her trap shut? It would never end. Not until she was dead.
~ Chapter 2 ~
Mandy stewed over what Jenna had said as she walked down the corridor to her own area. Without details of what was depicted in the painting, Mandy’s imagination went wild. She pictured Jenna in scenarios from erotic fantasy trysts to lesbian love to historical remakes. She imagined her in some Elizabethan costume, as Queen Elizabeth or Marie Antoinette, maybe Cleopatra. Why had this particular painting upset Jenna so much?
Maybe the woman just looked like Jenna, a vague representation, but good enough to make Jenna think she was the subject of the painting.
At her office cubicle, Mandy pulled a rain slicker from her locker and grabbed her umbrella.
She rushed past Billie, the office assistant for her section. “Got to go out for foam core,” she called. “Ruined the last piece. In this weather, who knows how long it will take.”
Mandy punched the elevator button. Jenna hadn’t said what street she’d been on or where the gallery was. The Arts District had been expanding, but there couldn’t be that many galleries.
On the sidewalk in front of the building, rain drops splashed into puddles. She raised her umbrella, watched the car headlights reflecting off the wet cement, looked down the sidewalk one direction, and the other. Which way?
Mandy stepped back into the building. Slidell, the night watchman, stood stretching behind his desk, grimacing. He glanced at her, touched his cap, and then dropped his look below the counter of the desk. Mandy knew that every five seconds, a bank of monitors switched from views of the elevator lobbies on the ten floors above to shots of the long hallways.
“Have you got a phone book? Can I look up an address?”
“Sure thing. Not much of a phone book anymore. Businesses only. Have to use the Internet for anything else.” He shook his head, then reached down into a drawer for the phone book. He set it on the counter in front of him. “Have a look.” He grabbed a notepad and a pencil and laid them next to the phone book.
Mandy flipped through the pages looking for listings under ‘art.’ Fifteen galleries were within walking distance of their office building, several along one street, and others scattered in the nearby Arts District. It would take more than an hour to visit them all, if she did this alone.