by Claudia Riess
On March 24, 1946, World Chess Champion, Alexander Alekhine, is found dead in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal. The cause of death remains mired in controversy when, three-quarters of a century later, a letter of his that could rock the art world is unearthed in a routine home renovation in upstate New York. The letter is addressed to a person of international repute and offers information about art works looted during the German occupation of Paris.
When the young man in possession of the letter is brutally murdered, his mentor, art history professor Harrison Wheatley and Harrison’s sleuthing partner, art magazine editor Erika Shawn, hurl themselves into the dual mission of tracking down both the killer and the looted art.
The hunt takes the couple to far flung locations, and as the stakes rise along with the murder count, it looks like the denouement will take place far from the comforts of home.
The door to the master bedroom was wide open, yet seeing the tableau of nanny and infant locked in a look he read as mutual devotion, Harrison felt obliged to rap on the door before disturbing the scene.
Kate was standing in profile, cradling Lucas in her arms. She had on a form-fitting tank top and tights, and her mop of flaxen hair was reined into a high pony tail. When she broke gaze with Lucas to look toward Harrison, her expression bore the remnants of affection. “Ready, Daddy?” she asked, looping him into their orbit.
“Absolutely,” he said, striding toward them.
As Kate handed Lucas to him, Harrison was moved by the tenderness of her movements, the glimmer of regret in her relinquishment. Unlike Kate, he held Lucas at arm’s length, wary of the soiled diaper. Carrying him to the changing table—the infant surprisingly unperturbed by the awkward means of transport—it suddenly occurred to Harrison that a woman like Kate would make an agreeable match for his son. Beautiful, intelligent, caring, what more could a father wish for? It was not until Lucas had been placed on the changing table and began wriggling in protest did Harrison realize the hilarious prematurity of the notion, along with his own libidinous detachment from it. Equally amusing.
He could not help but grin as he un-velcroed Lucas’s diaper. Kate, meanwhile, rushed to his side to hand him a baby wipe from the shelf under the table. “Let me do it,” he said, as their hands brushed against each other at the wipe’s retrieval. Kate whisked away her hand, with a smile inadequately masking unease.
What was she thinking? That he was about to make an Arnold Schwarzenegger move on her? Think again. He admired her body the way he admired Renoir’s Bather. Skin deep. He wiped down Lucas’s bottom and deposited the soiled items into the bin designed for that purpose. With one hand on Lucas’s belly to stabilize him, he reached with the other for a fresh diaper on the lowest shelf of the changing table. Kate stood right next to him, her hands poised above Lucas like a priest about to deliver a benediction, in case she had to come to the infant’s rescue.
Erika stepped into the room. “How’s it going?” she asked evenly, not quite as impressed by the tableau before her as Harrison had been of his.
“Going great,” Kate answered. On such a fair complexion, even the tiniest blush was visible.
“Your husband’s doing just fine,” she said, stepping away from her charge, considering the critical stage of Mission Diaper had passed.
“When expectations are low, every minor advance is a major victory,” Harrison said, struggling with the diaper alignment.
“Let me help you,” Erika said, coming near.
“He doesn’t want to be helped,” Kate said with a little laugh. “Take it from me.”
Take it from you? Erika sniped within. “You’re right,” she said, straining to be her better self.
“There we are!” Harrison declared, as he stuck closed the second pair of diaper flaps. “A little awry, but good as new.”
Lucas, who had been intermittently releasing grunted complaints, suddenly launched a full-throated protest.
Kate started for the bedroom door. “You’ll want your privacy,” she said. “I’ll be in my room studying. Call me whenever, okay?” Without asking, she knew to shut the door on her way out.
Erika lifted Lucas from the changing table and immediately his cries became anticipatory. She sat down in the rocking chair and raised her shirt, then snapped open one of the panels of her nursing bra and held Lucas to her breast. “Kate’s a wonder, isn’t she?” she tested.
Harrison assumed the question was rhetorical and didn’t respond to it. Besides, looking at her prompted a response to a thought he had had earlier, about certain forms of admiration being only skin deep. He approached the rocking chair and dropped to one knee before her.
She was nonplussed. “Are you going to propose again?”
He didn’t answer that question either. He slid his hands along her outer thighs, stopping when he reached her hips. He held her there, just like that, saying nothing for a moment, just looking. “To the bone,” he said finally.
She knew it was a declaration of love, but it seemed to have come from out of the blue. No matter. Its sincerity put her needling questions to rest.
About the Author
Claudia Riess is a Vassar graduate who's worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart and Winston. She is author of the Art History Mystery Series published by Level Best Books and includes: “Stolen Light,”* “False Light” and “Knight Light.” She is also author of “Semblance of Guilt” and “Love and Other Hazards.”
“Knight Light,” the third novel in her Art History Mystery Series, released February 23, 2021, follows the series amateur sleuths Erika Shawn, art magazine editor and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor, as they tackle the sinister world of art crime that tests both their courage- and love-under-fire.
Claudia Riess will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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