QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM paranormal book out:
Two men haunted by more than the past.
Painter Stefan Cobbe was homeless and debt-ridden after the death of his wealthy partner, but the worst loss of all was his artistic inspiration. After two years of nothing, he’s offered patronage by an eccentric gallery owner and starts to produce again, canvas after canvas. The only problem? He can’t remember painting any of them-not one single brushstroke.
Luke Morganstern’s reputation as an art-fraud investigator is in tatters. He can’t afford to turn down any job, even a lousy one for an anonymous client who sends him after an unidentified forger in a remote cabin in Oregon. When the alleged forger turns out to be Stefan, the man he never stopped loving, Luke’s professional ethics are stretched beyond the breaking point.
As the two men take tentative steps toward reconciliation, evidence begins to mount that they’re not alone in the woods. Someone-or something-is watching. Something with sinister plans for them both. To escape, Luke must overcome his suspicions and Stefan must trust Luke with his deepest fears. Otherwise they could forfeit their relationship, their sanity-and their lives.
Publisher’s note: This is a heavily revised and significantly expanded reprint of Northern Light.
Art Medium Series blurb:
Artists use all manner of materials to express their vision, to interpret the world around them, to affect the hearts and minds of their audience.
But what if the artist himself were the medium? And what if artistic inspiration weren’t the only force at work?
If painter Stefan Cobbe and art investigator Luke Morganstern don’t answer those questions fast, they stand to lose their reputations, their relationship-and their lives.
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This stretch of the Oregon Coast couldn’t be more different from the manicured white sand in front of Luke Morganstern’s high-rise condo in Sarasota. In place of the fragile shoal of sea shells, the beach sported sea wrack and piles of driftwood the height of stadium bleachers. Instead of the soft lap of Gulf wavelets, the surf beat itself to death on jetties made of rocks the size of Volkswagens.
The windshield wipers of the rental car thwapped and screeched in the never-ending, half-hearted drizzle, Oregon’s default weather setting ever since he’d arrived, as if the clouds couldn’t be bothered to muster up a real storm.
The weather sucked. The lousy rental car sucked. The road sucked. And anonymous clients teasing him with hints of a major forgery really sucked.
Damn it, he could be back on his balcony, sipping a beer, watching the sun set over the Gulf at the end of a liquid trail of crimson. But his mystery client—who doled out information in dribbles like there was an alphabet shortage—wanted to pay him to risk terminal mildew in soggy Oregon. Money talked, and if Luke wanted to hold on to that condo and balcony, not to mention the beer, he had to listen.
This was his first time on the left coast since he’d turned down the commission from the Prescott Gallery in Palm Springs five years ago. He’d gotten such satisfaction out of wording his snide refusal, flipping the professional bird at Marius Worthington Prescott the fucking Fifth, the asshole who’d stolen the only man Luke had ever loved. “Stole”? You practically handed him Stefan on a platter when you ran out like a fucking emo teen.
Now though . . . he’d grovel for the chance at a Prescott job, even if Marius were still at the helm and not two years dead. With a Prescott commission, he could have turned down this one and laughed all the way to the bank.
Luke’s mocking laugh cut off in a hard inhale as another semi tore past in the other lane, its draft rocking his rental car and making him regret the greasy eggs he’d eaten at the diner in Tillamook. Not so superior now, are you, you pathetic son of a bitch? Gone were the days when he could afford to turn down cases for trivial reasons like his broken heart.
Luke finally made it into Wheeler and pulled the car to a stop at the address Mystery Client had deigned to text to him. He peered through the rain-spattered window at the building behind its metal mask of scaffolding. Luke recognized the name, North Coast Gallery: Marius had invested in this place once, like he had in so many other small galleries. The tentacles of his influence had snaked through the art world until Luke hadn’t been able to turn around without seeing another instance of how much worthier Marius was of the man that they’d both wanted.
You won, you pretentious SOB, and a lot of good it did you. You’re dead. And Luke was a disgraced art-fraud investigator, one month away from flat broke.
He sighed, opening the door and using it to lever himself out of the car, his hip more wonky than usual after so many hours of tense driving. He crossed the street, scowling as he tried to remember who owned this place.
Boardman. That was it. Thomas Boardman, but for the life of him, Luke couldn’t put a face to the name. Which was odd— Luke never forgot a face, and once upon a time, he’d have been able to recite every independent gallery in the US and pick their owners out of any given cocktail party lineup.
He’d let that slide after the Hernandez fiasco too.
A trio of brawny workmen on the top tier of the scaffolding were giving the gallery sign a face-lift, removing the three-foot-high gold letters. North Coast Gallery was currently No Cost Gall. Maybe the workmen had a sense of humor lurking behind those stoic expressions, Carhartt jackets, and—whoa—Utilikilts.
Luke’s scowl transformed into an appreciative grin. Maybe Oregon had its good points after all.
He crossed the street, ignored the orange detour signs, and ducked under the scaffolding to get to the door. He pulled out his cell phone to check Mystery Client’s text message. Not that he needed to. M.C. wasn’t exactly verbose.
Third gallery, east wall.
Luke didn’t hurry because why bother? He doubted M.C. knew a forgery from a Frappuccino. So he strolled, checking out the place.
The gallery was almost empty this early on a gloomy Tuesday. A trio of teenagers who probably should have been in school hovered in the corner, sneaking peeks at a larger-than-life male nude in acrylic on canvas. An elderly man leaned on a cane, studying a morose bronze salmon. A woman jostling a stroller holding her snoozing infant twins sat on a bench and slumped against the wall, glassy-eyed, under a triptych of Mapplethorpe photo reproductions.
Clearly, No Cost Gall wasn’t fighting off the crowds, which begged the question of how Boardman could afford the upgrades to the facade. No matter how slick the exterior, it couldn’t compensate for the lackluster contents. The pieces on display were an odd mix of quaint, intriguing, and just plain awful—and whoever handled the lighting should be shot.
Once he got to the third gallery, he could barely see the east wall because of the menagerie of chainsaw animal sculptures that crowded the floor. How anybody imagined this layout was—
Holy shit on a palette knife.
The picture in pride of place at the end of the room drew Luke like the promise of sunshine.
With a chainsaw grizzly looming at his back, Luke forgave Mystery Client everything: the bogus secrecy, the white-knuckled drive on substandard roads, even the relentless Oregon damp.
Because fuck me blind. An Arcoletti. An actual, honest-to-God, genuine fake Arcoletti. Luke’s personal Holy Grail of art fraud.
He pulled out his cell phone and texted Mystery Client. I’m in.
Good old M.C. responded with a link to a map resembling a diagram of the large intestine. Luke’s grip on his cell phone tightened. A road that tortuous screamed mountain. He rubbed his hip to ease the never-absent ache, tempted to back out, hop on the next plane back to Sarasota, and tag Mystery Client with a Screw you and your games. Find another art investigator.
His thumbs hovered over the keypad. Two years ago, he’d have sent that arrogant text—or worse. Two years ago, he’d had his pick of plum jobs all over Europe. Now, his anemic bank account shared dwindling life support with his battered reputation.
But the memory of Jean-Pierre’s parting taunt, his voice mocking as only the pain-free and stupidly confident could be, was the kicker that made Luke tuck the phone in his coat pocket. “Afraid of a little hill? Did you break your balls as well as your leg? You are not the man you were, cher.”
But an Arcoletti, damn it. Mountain or no mountain, switchbacks or no switchbacks, it was the one lure he couldn’t resist.
And bum leg or no bum leg, he’d prove to the skeptical art world that he could still kick major forger ass.
E.J. Russell—certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor—lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
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