by Kate Merrill
When Amanda Rittenhouse feels betrayed by her partner Sara, she flees to the festive mountain town of Asheville, NC with Gina, a predatory stranger with romantic intentions. She intends to explore the bustling art scene for new studio space, but instead runs headlong into a web of intrigue. The elderly potter Carl and the younger painter Ron with whom they stay have tensions and secrets of their own. Are they a gay couple? Does the widow Gladys want to marry Carl for his money, does eccentric Millie want to kill him for his art collection? What about the sinister outsiders—a Chicago gangster, the burly stranger stalking them, and the charming surfer dude with an agenda? Someone has murder on their mind, and Amanda lands squarely in the crosshairs.
While ducking unwanted sexual advances, targeted by the police and trying to stay alive, Amanda is both upset and relieved when Sara arrives in Asheville to try to save their relationship. Together can they solve the deadly mysteries that threaten to destroy both Amanda and her new friends? Can Amanda and Sara reconcile their differences, then survive to enjoy a second chance?
An Amanda Rittenhouse Mystery.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Asheville is magic. To New Agers it represents a spiritual vortex where ancient energy paths intersect, ley lines with stones and crystals to heal the soul. To nature lovers it offers the mystical mountains of the Appalachian—trails alive with flora, fauna, waterfalls and seasonal moods merging the hills with the heavens.
Writing about it gave me a unique cultural palette unlike any other. Some call it “the lesbian capital,” and my first visits there, long before gay marriage, startled me with the openness of women holding hands or kissing in public. It made me hope that someday I’d be courageous enough to act out that way.
With tie-dyed T-shirts, the occasional scent of incense or marijuana in the streets, import boutiques and vintage record shops, Asheville is a throwback to hippie culture. At the same time, it is youthful, progressive, and alive with political protest. It is exotic with global cuisine, sidewalk bistros and street performers.
By contrast, this part of North Carolina is also populated by folks living in poverty, by right-wing extremists and Evangelicals completely at odds with the liberal Asheville mindset. In short, the tensions make it a perfect setting for a mystery novel.
Because of my lifelong career as art gallery owner, the rich gallery scene and the River Arts District fuel both my passions and those of my fictional characters. So writing about it was a delightful opportunity to put all my actors on my favorite stage, with all the right props to hopefully bring them to life. I sincerely hope my readers will fall in love, as I have, with both the characters and the setting."
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Nick Rossi backed away from the pot of boiling pasta water, leaned against the doorjamb, and mopped the sweat off his face with a paper towel. Joey worked the grill, Rose stirred the sauce, and through the small window in the swinging door, Nick saw the dinner crowd streaming into his papa’s restaurant.
Summer in the city was not the best time to slave in a hot kitchen, but it paid Nick’s tuition to the American Academy of Art, an undertaking his father thought was verimento stupido—a complete waste of time. Today, Saturday, Nick’s special new friend from painting class was demonstrating against the Vietnam War in Lincoln Park. Nick longed to be with him, drinking beer and cursing President Nixon. Instead, he frowned as Joey propped the back door open, allowing the smells of grilling sausage, peppers, and onion to spill into the alleyway, while not a breath of fresh air came into the kitchen.
Out in the dining room, Papa, in a crisp white shirt, bow tie, and black trousers, greeted the customers with an obsequious smile. Nick was angry with Papa for groveling to the likes of Capo Alfonso and his soldiers, who were gathering in their favorite booth in the corner near the bar. Papa had risked his life fighting his former countrymen and fascism. He had been overseas when Nick was born, and Mama had died in childbirth, so now father and son resided in a low rent tenement serving spaghetti to the local lowlife.
As Nick fumed and dreamed of a better life, a black limousine pulled into the alley and four men climbed out. His heart jumped into his throat as he recognized Pietro Roman, better known as Milwaukee Pete, boss of The Chicago Outfit and bitter rival of Capo Alfonso.
“No, you cannot come in here!” Joey backed away from the grill and waved his spatula at Mr. Roman. Rose ran into the bathroom and locked the door.
But Roman and his men rampaged through the kitchen, automatic weapons attached to the sleeves of their dark suits like lethal hands.
While Nick attempted to block the door to the dining room, he absurdly noted that Roman was movie-star handsome in his expensive suit, with raven black hair and a swarthy complexion. His heavy cologne made Nick nauseous with fear.
“Step aside, Nicky.” Roman winked, shoving him away as the four charged into the restaurant.
Frozen by shock, Nick cowered behind the swinging door as people screamed. Gunfire shattered the night and scattered the patrons. Some fled into the street, while others dove under the tables. But Roman’s men had only one target—Capo Alfonso’s booth near the bar.
Every muscle in Nick’s young body turned to jelly as he sagged and covered his ears. In slow motion, Alfonso’s head exploded. Riddled by bullets, his soldiers danced like spastic marionettes before sliding to the floor.
Nick should have covered his eyes, because when it was all over and the intruders retreated back through the kitchen, into the alley, and the limo left the scene, five were dead. The carnage left the black and white linoleum tiles red with gore, and the fifth man, an innocent bystander, lay on his back. His arms were outstretched like Christ on the cross. His surprised eyes stared up at the tin ceiling as a bright crimson rose bloomed on his crisp white dress shirt.
Nick Rossi’s father was dead, and life would never be the same.
Fifty years later…
Amanda Rittenhouse backed away from the pot of boiling pasta water, leaned against the doorjamb and mopped the sweat off her face with a paper towel. Her lover, Sara Orlando, who usually did the cooking, was seated on the couch in their living room, whispering words of comfort and encouragement to their friend Maya. Beyond the tall French doors that opened to the deck, Lake Norman lay in steel gray silence beneath a frozen January sky. The frigid day perfectly matched the cold atmosphere inside. All was not well between herself and Sara, and for the life of her, Amanda could not understand exactly why.
Winter in North Carolina was not a great time to travel to Washington, DC, but Sara was going in two days—without Amanda. Maya’s lover Sharon, whom everyone called Shar, was their newly-elected US Congresswoman. She was the youngest woman ever chosen for the House of Representatives and was already residing in the Capitol. In spite of a government shutdown, she was vigorously protesting President McDonald, advancing her progressive agenda, making all kinds of mischief and a name for herself. Shar longed for Maya to be with her, drinking margaritas and cursing the Republicans, but Maya, Assistant District Attorney for the City of Charlotte, was not at all sure she was ready to join her—at least not in any permanent way.
Be careful what you wish for. They had all worked hard campaigning for their friend, had been shocked and elated when she won, but love was complicated. Now, when push came to shove, it seemed Shar’s victory might tear the couple apart. It also seemed that Amanda and Sara might become collateral damage.
When she carried the chilled wine into the living room, she saw their heads together; Sara’s long, silken black hair mingling with Maya’s close-cropped Afro—Sara’s porcelain cheek almost touching Maya’s dark one.
“I don’t know what to do!” Maya moaned.
“It’ll be all right. Once you’re face-to-face, you’ll work it out,” said Sara-the-shrink as her fingers brushed the back of Maya’s hand.
Amanda’s temper flared. Sure, Sara was a psychiatrist, while Amanda was just a starving artist, but how come Sara always got to be Comforter-in-Chief? Hell, Sara should be in the kitchen making the spaghetti sauce. True, Sara had known Maya and Shar forever, while Amanda had only been with Sara for five years.
Still Sara needed to get her priorities straight. This was not the weekend for her to leave. It was Amanda’s special weekend.
She set the wineglasses down hard on the cocktail table, interrupting the therapy session, and poured without ceremony, splashing a drop of blood red Chianti on the glass.
“What?” Sara blinked in surprise and moved away from Maya.
“What time do you leave Friday morning?”
“First thing. We talked about this, babe.”
Usually Amanda loved it, but at the moment, she did not want Sara to babe her. “Well, Moby Dyke’s running on empty. You’ll have to pay to fill her up.” Her old, white, whale-like van was a gas guzzler. Sara had commandeered it to help Maya haul Shar’s stuff to Washington. “Can I use your Miata while you’re gone?”
“Why not? I’d keep the convertible top up, though,” Sara answered uneasily.
“I’ll pay for all the gas, Mandy,” Maya said. “I really appreciate you letting us use your car.”
“No problem,” she grumbled ungraciously.
“And I am so sorry we’ll miss the unveiling of your sculpture,” Maya continued. “I know how hard you worked on that piece, and it’s absolutely awesome. I just wish the opening was next weekend instead.”
“So do I.” Sara gazed up at her with those amazing green eyes. “I would not have missed your opening for the world, you know that. But Shar is desperate. She’s down to her last pair of undies.”
So why is that our problem? Amanda wanted to scream. Why did Sara have to go? Why couldn’t Maya make the trip alone? Yes, none of them were rich enough to buy whole new wardrobes, and it would take several sets of strong arms to shift the dresser Shar had begged them to bring. But still…
“I’ll make it up to you,” Sara said seductively. “And as soon as I get back, we’ll visit your sculpture in its new home. I’ll take you to dinner and out on the town, I promise.”
Amanda wanted to be reasonable. She wasn’t jealous. And yet the whole idea of them leaving her alone to face the biggest art event of her young life—all those strangers—made her sick to her stomach.
“I think I’ve burned the garlic bread,” she mumbled, and then stomped back into the kitchen.
Into the night…
Maya hadn’t left until midnight, so Amanda was sleep-deprived. Consequently, the day of work had left her weary to the bone, yet each aching muscle was a badge of accomplishment. Her sore wrists and bruised hands marked the completion of a labor of love, because today she had mounted Icarus, her twelve-foot welded steel sculpture, into its marble base. Its soaring aluminum wings were polished, and a billowing silver drop cloth had been lowered from the bank ceiling on a long wire cord, clothing the artwork in secrecy until its unveiling tomorrow night.
Prepping for the big opening had actually been a blessing. The frenetic commute from Davidson into the city, the comradery and support from both the executives who had purchased her piece and the laborers who had helped install it, had taken her mind off the tensions at home. The day had allowed her to recalibrate her thinking, to regain her perspective and to count herself lucky.
To begin with, she’d never expected to sell Icarus to the same folks at Wells Fargo who had bought her first major commission four years ago. They had paid a price well beyond her wildest dreams. The monumental sculpture had required a year of intensive work. At the same time, she and her friends had been striving to elect Shar. The idea of electing a liberal lesbian in deep red North Carolina had seemed like a pipe dream. Indeed the effort had initiated an assassination attempt and a murder and had almost cost Amanda her life. So the fact that Shar had won was an unexpected gift and certainly not the cause of her current worries. Amanda was thrilled by the midterm results and the unprecedented number of diverse women elected to Congress. However, she sometimes wondered if either Sara or Maya, both ambitious women, wished they had run instead. With Shar embarking on her glamorous new career, did they feel jealousy or discontent?
Driving home as the sun set off her left shoulder, Amanda thought about how different she was from Sara. It had always been a huge part of the attraction. While Sara was professionally driven to help the addicts, parolees, and homeless she counseled for the City of Charlotte, Amanda was laid-back. If she didn’t feel like picking up a welding torch on any given day, she’d avoid her studio and kick back with a good book.
Sara’s Puerto Rican heritage gave her luminous porcelain skin, raven black hair and boundless energy. She was a small, buxom bundle of intense emotion. Amanda’s Nordic roots gave her pale blond hair, worn short as duck down, a tall, lanky build and skin prone to freckles. As for energy? Much of the time she was just plain lazy.
Sara was experienced, with many lovers in her past. Amanda, not so much—only one other, in fact. But so far these differences had served them well. Better than well. They were spectacular together. Sara was the love of her life.
Feeling much better, Amanda arrived at their condominium complex, pressed the remote, and the door to their two-car garage lifted. First she noticed she had plenty of room to drive Sara’s Miata inside, because her van was missing. Next, craning her neck around, she saw Moby Dyke backed up to their front door and packed to the gills. Funny. She’d thought the plan was for the girls to load up tomorrow morning, then leave for DC directly from Maya’s house. They must have changed their minds, decided to get a jump on things.
Likely they’d been working hard, just as she had, and surely Maya intended to spend the night. Bummer. She’d been looking forward to some quality time alone with Sara, a chance to rekindle the spark that had been missing these past few weeks. She wanted to tell Sara how amazing it felt to see her sculpture lifted and suspended in a glory of completion. Even though Sara would miss her opening reception, sharing the elation of today was maybe even more important. She had envisioned them cuddling together with wine and leftover spaghetti, then early to bed for a night of lovemaking.
Sex had never been a problem.
But now, as she trudged up the few steps to their door, weariness invaded each bone in her body, and she adjusted her expectations. Now they would share the food, the drink and the evening with Maya. Not what she had hoped for.
Inserting the key and twisting the lock, Amanda entered quietly to a dark foyer. Instead of the noise and laughter she’d expected, the silence was profound except for soft music, the seductive voice of Norah Jones, coming from the living room.
Had they already collapsed and fallen asleep? Not wanting to disturb, she tiptoed toward the music. The room was dark, but ambient light from the deck leaked through the fog at the French doors. The space was empty. She figured Sara was in the master, Maya in the guest bedroom. Feeling deserted and peevish, Amanda stared into the gloom and caught a shadow of movement from the corner of her eye. Then a dark shape lifted above the back of the couch—Sara’s head.
Her eyelids were heavy above startled green eyes as she shifted upwards to a sitting position. Amanda rushed around to give her a kiss, but then she saw the second head—Maya’s—nestled in Sara’s lap like a little black pussy.
Neither woman was asleep.
Quite the contrary.
Amanda could not breathe. Her chest constricted in what felt like cardiac arrest. She could not hear their words of desperate protest as she turned and somehow fled out the door and back into the night.
Too close to the sun…
Friday night was unseasonably warm as their car moved south on Interstate 77 toward Charlotte. Her mom, Diana, was elegant in an autumn rust pantsuit, cream blouse, and a silk scarf patterned with the colors of fallen leaves. Her stepdad, Trout, who was driving Mom’s old Crown Victoria, looked decidedly less comfortable in tan slacks, brown corduroy sportcoat, and a hated tie.
Amanda fidgeted in the backseat, wondering how she’d made it to her parents’ home the night before, blinded by tears and grinding the gears in Sara’s stupid little sports car. Luckily they’d both been asleep when she arrived, so she hadn’t had to explain her hysteria. Luckier still, they’d bought her excuse this morning—that Sara had left early for DC, so she’d figured she might as well come up to the lake cottage and ride to the opening with them.
Mom had purchased Amanda’s dress for the occasion—a low-cut, buttery silk sheath with vivid blue piping, flared sleeves and skirt—colors Mom swore brought out her hair and eyes. Her high-heeled sandals had lace wrapped around her toes and thin straps strangling her ankles. They were supposed to be the hot new thing, but they made Amanda feel like she was walking on tiptoe and did nothing for her destroyed self-image, especially if they caused her to trip during the presentation.
“Relax, honey.” Mom reached over the seat and patted her knee. “You look beautiful. Your speech will go fine, and it’ll all be over soon.”
Her reassurances did not help. The party could not be over soon enough.
As her stepfather parked outside the new Ballantine Wells Fargo branch office, she wondered how she’d get through a speech, when her tongue couldn’t get through the next sentence.
She hated being the center of attention, was scared of meeting strangers, suffered from stage fright, and was sick with depression. She had not spoken to Sara since the betrayal, but she’d accidently heard one voice mail before turning off her cell phone.
Please call me, Mandy! It wasn’t what you think. I swear!
Like hell it wasn’t!
“Look, Ginny, Trev and Lissa are here!” Trout pointed to the little family exiting a Subaru. Clearly the sight of them made him feel less a stranger.
It didn’t help her, though. Much as she loved her stepsister, who had proven to be a soulmate, adored the husband and her niece, tonight she wished they would all just go away.
On the other hand, if she could just hang with family rather than make idle chitchat with the society crowd, she might survive. She was grateful when Trout, always the southern gentleman, helped her from the car, and with Mom on his other arm, walked her toward the bank. Tonight she needed all the balance she could get.
As they moved up the freshly poured concrete sidewalk, expertly bordered by pansies, snowdrops, and phlox—blooms to take the landscaping well into a North Carolina winter—she couldn’t help being impressed by the modern architecture of the building that would be the permanent home for her sculpture. She was less happy with the full parking lot. The organizers had instructed her to arrive at eight, one hour later than the other guests and just in time for the unveiling, so she could make a grand entrance.
“Are you ready, honey?” Mom asked as they paused at the electronic entry doors.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” She took a deep breath and they stepped inside.
The large lobby was completely transformed for the event. Instead of the bright lights she’d used to supervise the installation, the space was now dramatically illuminated by a ring of tall, electric tiki lamps, which encircled the covered sculpture. Banquet tables bordering a makeshift dance floor were covered with silver cloths and laden with a feast of hors d’oeuvres, while waiters in tuxedos circulated with trays of drinks. A string quartet played upbeat classical music and well-dressed patrons milled around, laughing and toasting one another.
God help me! Sara, how could you do this?
“Oh, here’s the guest of honor!” Suddenly she felt a man’s hand on her arm. Spinning around, she recognized Peter Smith, the acquisitions scout who had purchased her work. The tall elderly man with a unique moustache beamed as she haltingly introduced her parents.
“I hope you all enjoy the party,” he said. “And I know you’re mighty proud of your talented daughter.”
As Mom and Trout mumbled in the affirmative, a second tiny hand tugged at Amanda’s skirt.
“I’m proud of Aunt Mandy!” Lissa piped up, her red curls bouncing. “But why aren’t there any other kids here?”
Everyone laughed as Ginny and her handsome husband, Trev, joined the group.
“Don’t worry, Lissa,” Trev said. “We won’t stay long, just until you see Aunt Mandy’s big bird.”
In spite of herself, she was touched that they’d taken the time to come. She knew Friday night was the busiest time at Buffalo Guys, the nightclub owned by Trev and Ginny, so they must have hired extra help in order to get away. And with an infant son at home, the gesture was even more impressive.
“I have a little bird!” Lissa held up a champagne glass filled with bright pink liquid and yes, a plastic cockatiel perched on her straw.
“Are you drinking a cocktail, young lady?” Diana frowned.
“You bet she is, Grandma.” Ginny winked. “A cranberry juice cocktail!”
At that point, Peter Smith bowed and took his leave, holding up a hand of fingers. “Five minutes till curtain. Get ready, Amanda. I’ll be calling you up to the podium.”
Before she had time to faint, Ginny drew her aside.
“Mandy, have you called Sara?” she whispered urgently.
Amanda miserably shook her head.
“Well, you need to call her. I don’t know what the hell happened, but she’s called me three times.”
Trev interrupted just in time and pulled Ginny away. “Sorry, Mandy, but we’ll have to leave right after the unveiling. Our little red-headed monkey here hasn’t eaten yet. We figure a quick trip to McDonald’s is in order.”
“No problem,” Amanda mumbled.
“Just call Sara!” Ginny hissed as Trev dragged her off into the crowd.
All too soon, the tiki lamps blinked and the quartet did its rendition of a drumroll. Peter Smith called out her name over a microphone and Trout escorted her to a spotlight near the base of the sculpture.
She clung to his arm. “Stay with me, Trout!” she pleaded.
“I’ll be right here, Manda Bear,” he promised.
The audience got quiet as a mechanical winch in the ceiling began cranking the cord and lifting the silver tarp off Icarus. Suddenly, the tarp flew completely away, a trumpet sounded, and a collective gasp went up as the sculpture was fully revealed in a theatrical flood of colored lights.
When Amanda turned to look, she was stunned by Icarus’s beauty—silver wings reaching upward, he seemed to spin skyward with grace and majesty. In that amazing moment, she had absolutely no recollection of giving birth to such a thing as her eyes flooded with tears.
Perhaps by loving Sara, I flew too close to the sun. Like Icarus, my waxen wings have melted and I will plunge to my death.
“Good job, girl!” Trout shouted in her ear.
Only then did she realize everyone was clapping.
Someone yelled, “Speech, speech, let’s hear from the artist!”
Her fingers trembled on the mic. “Thank you, everyone,” she choked. “All I can say is, hope you enjoy it.”
It was enough.
As the house lights came up, she was only vaguely aware of the crush of humanity congratulating her, shaking her hand. Dazed, she watched the beautiful people milling around the room, many smiling and nodding in her direction. Then suddenly she recognized a face she’d never in a million years expect to see at an art event.
Detective Rick Molerno from the Charlotte Homicide Division approached with a woman on his arm. He had spotted her and was heading in their direction like a determined funnel cloud, with the sexy woman in tow. He had not changed since she’d first encountered him while exhibiting at Metrolina—same short black hair, same square jaw with afternoon shadow, same rumpled suit.
Just seeing him brought back bad memories.
Bracing herself for his comments, she was shaken when his date initiated the contact. Even at emotional zero, Amanda noticed that the woman with a black buzz cut was hot. Maybe ten years older than Amanda, she was almost the same height. The woman was slim, energetic and tan. Her strapless violet gown showed plenty of cleavage, and her smoky gray-green eyes seemed to undress Amanda in a way blatantly unseemly for Rick’s date.
“Ms. Rittenhouse, I really love your work. Icarus is magnificent. It’s an honor to meet you.”
Her voice was as deep and smoky as her eyes. Amanda couldn’t decide if her over-the-top praise was sincere or snide. “Th-thank you,” she stuttered.
Rick wore his usual sardonic smirk, hands in pockets as he rocked back and forth in scuffed shoes. “Amanda, meet Gina Molerno,” he said. “Gina is an artist, too—paints crazy big abstracts. She’s the one who dragged me out tonight.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Amanda shook the woman’s hand, then turned back to Rick. “I didn’t know you were married, Detective Molerno.”
The man coughed out a laugh that turned a few heads. “Hell no, Gina’s not my wife. She’s my sister.”
Oh, Amanda thought as Gina held on to her fingers a beat too long. As those gray-green eyes continued to stare, she sensed trouble.
At the same time, Rick looked back and forth between them, seemingly amused. “So, Amanda, where’s your pal Sara Orlando this fine evening?”
Gina’s ears pricked. “Who is Sara?”
He offered a wolfish grin. “Believe it or not, I arrested Ms. Orlando about four years ago—the charge was murder.”
“The murder charge was insane!” Amanda longed to disappear. The terrifying incident had occurred when she and Sara had first met and were exhibiting together.
“As it turned out, your girlfriend was completely innocent. But it was exciting for a few weeks, wasn’t it?” The detective smirked.
“Why don’t you get lost and buy yourself a drink, Ricky?” Gina gave her brother a little shove toward the bar. “I’m sure they have hard liquor as well as this watered-down champagne. I’d like to chat with this woman on my own.”
The surly detective left immediately, claiming he had no interest in “art talk.” They watched him slouch off in search of scotch and soda.
“My big brother means well,” Gina said. “This isn’t his scene.”
“Not mine, either.” Amanda desperately wanted to shelter in her parents’ home, kick off her stupid high heels, and brood about Sara.
“Really? Don’t you enjoy basking in all this glory?”
She shot the woman a dark look, still not sure whether Gina was offering approval or making fun. “You paint abstracts? Where do you show your work?” she asked tiredly, not really caring about the answer.
“Hey, tonight’s not about me, Mandy. It’s about you.”
She’d never given Gina permission to use her nickname. The woman was unmistakably flirting. She looked for her parents, hoping to escape, but they were still out on the dance floor. Clearly they would not be leaving anytime soon.
“Listen, Mandy,” Gina continued. “I actually have an ulterior motive. There’s a woman here I’d really like you to meet.” She latched onto Amanda’s hand.
Having no choice, she allowed Gina to lead her across the room. Along the way, she noticed the party had turned from stuffy to raucous. A gang of young bank execs were playing an improvised game of beer pong, tossing small mint balls into plastic champagne glasses.
“She’s right over there…” Gina pointed to a tall, willowy woman in her late forties. She had flowing blond hair, wore a gown similar to Amanda’s, and was lost in earnest conversation with Peter Smith, who was keeping a wary eye on the antics of the Wells Fargo boys. “Amanda Rittenhouse, meet Lila Franken. Lila’s a sculptor, too.”
As Gina introduced them, Amanda pulled out of her funk and was awestruck. “Oh my God! It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Franken. I’ve studied your work and read your textbook…” She waved toward Icarus. “Can’t you see your influence? You’re the closest I’ve ever had to a mentor, but I never expected to meet you in person!” She realized she was gushing, but every word she’d uttered was God’s own truth. She had admired Lila Franken’s metal sculpture forever. “What in the world are you doing down here? I thought you worked out of New York.”
“I was in New York for many years, but circumstances beyond my control brought me to North Carolina…” Lila paused for a meaningful look at Gina. “I now have a studio outside my home on Lake Norman—just like you, I understand.”
“Mine’s not really a studio—more like a garage—and it’s only temporary,” Amanda confessed. “It belongs to my stepfather, and actually I’m looking for a bigger space…” She clamped her jaw shut. She’d been running off at the mouth, an unfortunate byproduct of coming face-to-face with one’s idol—a sculpture superstar. Embarrassed, she was grateful when Peter Smith came to her rescue.
“Lila is the new director of the Mooresville Art Guild,” he said. “Were you aware of that, Amanda? It’s close to where you live.”
“I-I wasn’t aware,” she stammered. Why was she behaving like a clueless groupie? Part had to do with the rumors she’d heard about her idol being a lesbian—making the hero-worship even more delicious. But when she looked from Lila to Gina, she thought, no way. Everything about Gina, from her in-your-face flirting to her funky sense of style was more like Ginny—while Lila had the grace and sophistication of Amanda’s mom. They just didn’t belong together.
Lila saw her staring and smiled. “So you are looking for new studio space, Ms. Rittenhouse? Maybe I can offer a few suggestions…”
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