In the not too distant future, Avgustin Juniper, a Russian artist living in the USA, is accused of murdering his model and lover Annabel Linton. His case reaches the attention of high-profile attorney, Cassandra Sharp. But the deaths aren't clear-cut: Annabel was attacked and mutilated in a way that the NYPD finds hard to fathom.
Soon, more strange murders occur. Juniper, now under Cassandra's wing, begins to have terrifying nightmares, only to learn that they are linked with the case. Worse, every time he paints a female model, she becomes the next victim. Soon Juniper is carried into a nightmare world, where his only support comes from the unexpectedly caring Cassandra. Leaning on her more and more, Juniper finds himself falling for his lawyer and only friend.
With his newfound infamy, Juniper's art is able to command extraordinary prices facilitated by gallery owner Joy Awen.
As the story unravels, four extraordinary women are revealed, along with their past, immortality, and their connection to the famous artist, Pablo Picasso.
Wonderful blend of suspense, mystery and the supernatural. Had me guessing until the very end. A new favorite that I will re-read.Amazon Review
I love this book! It starts out as a murder mystery, then evolves with a supernatural twist.Amazon Review
Sun streamed through his roof window offering Avgustin Juniper the perfect lighting. He was painting Annabel's portrait again. She was his muse: he really believed it. Hadn't everything just fallen into place as soon as he had met her?
"I've almost finished my degree," she told him. "I want to thank you. You have helped me develop so much as an artist, Avgustin," (she pronounced it "Awgustin") "and … in other ways too."
The portrait evolved while she spoke and it appeared to be so photographically perfect that Avgustin believed he was imagining painting it. Sometimes the creativity rode him, instead of him riding it. A spine-shuddering sensation would come over him, and he would feel as though he were being watched. At these times, a faceless being appeared to be standing beside him, hand swirling in the air in rhythm with his own brush strokes. Juniper felt that presence on this day too. Something was beside him, just flickering in his peripheral vision. Otherworldly hands turned and moved, painting in the air, and he was driven to work harder, faster, more intensely.
Annabel left her place—moved from the pose he had set her in. It didn't matter though, her image, her position, and the fall of the light was all still there: burnt into the back of his eyes like a photograph that would never fade.
"I love you, Avgustin," she said.
He came out of his trance to find her beside him. The paintbrush dropped from his fingers as she pressed her warm soft lips against his.
They went to bed. It wasn't frantic; it was slow, loving, beautiful. Everything he had imagined it would be.
Afterwards they lay side by side until the light outside faded.
The obsessive rollercoaster stream of consciousness had left him the minute Annabel kissed him, and so he had no urge to return to work. Still he climbed out of the bed and pulled on his jeans. Then he reached for his crumpled tee-shirt. It was lying on the floor where he had dropped it. He didn't notice the creases as he pulled it over his head.
"Where are you going?" Annabel asked sleepily. "Come back to bed.…"
"To get us some food, and vine too, if you like?" he said. His accent was heavily Russian, but his English was good.
"I'd love it. Maybe I'll use your shower while you're gone. "
"Okay. I von't be long. Just a short walk to the bodega …"
Juniper looked at her lying on the bed.
Street light filtered through the curtains illuminating her wonderful face. Juniper saw shadows and lines that he wanted to paint: another story for the canvas, another work of perfection that Annabel inspired. The compulsion to work surged up inside him again but he quashed it.
No more work today: he deserved a rest.
He placed a kiss on Annabel's lips. Then he hurried out, taking his wallet and keys from the bureau beside the front door.
At the store Juniper bought some wine, cheese, pâté and bread.
We'll have a picnic on the balcony, he thought as he hurried back through the sodium-washed streets towards his apartment building. He had some candles in a drawer in the kitchen and he could make the evening's romance last until they both wanted to make love again.
When he reached the street front door, he noticed that someone had left it on the catch again.
"No idea about zecurity!" he muttered, throwing the door properly closed behind him. It was probably the old lady on the first floor, leaving the door ajar for her son and daughter-in-law to visit. He just wished she would give them a key. It wasn't the safest of neighborhoods and it was only a matter of time before a local bor, a thief, realized that he could gain access to the building.
With the paper sack grasped against his chest with one arm, Juniper pressed the call button with his free hand and he waited in the small reception for the elevator to come. The mechanism made a noise but nothing happened. It was an old-fashioned contraption that was prone to breaking down. Juniper cursed under his breath.
A sense of urgency, a feeling that he needed to hurry, overcame him. Already his infatuation with Annabel was making him obsess.
"Soon I'll be able to afford a new place," he murmured. "Give her everything she deserves to have. Nothing but the best for Annabel."
But Juniper loved his studio and wondered if a better location could ever be found for him to work in.
As he climbed the stairs he considered how his life had changed. A few months ago, he had met an art agent and gallery owner by the name of Joy Awen, and now his first exhibit was planned. All was falling into place, his work, love life, and finances had dramatically improved. And it was all down to Annabel and the way she inspired him.
He reached the third floor and began to climb the stairs to the fourth and final level that led to his loft apartment.
Already there had been reserves of some of his paintings at the gallery, and Juniper had let his imagination and ambition run for the first time in his life. With Annabel by his side, his life would be fulfilled. They would make a great team. The Joy Awen Gallery would sell all of his finest works. People would pay for commissions. There was much to celebrate. Not many artists achieved that kind of success in their lifetime.
Juniper reached the top of the stairs and began to walk down the landing towards his apartment.
The front door was slightly ajar.
How careless! Juniper thought. Idiot! He cursed himself for being too distracted. I'm probably in love. I'm entitled to make some mistakes. Besides, no one ever came up this far. Juniper only had models calling, no one else. Until recently he hadn't had much money, but was careful not to get into debt. He had no enemies. And, although New York was known for crime, he hoped there was nothing of interest in this old building that might attract the wrong sort to come snooping—especially this far up. Despite his earlier irritation about the front door being left ajar, he had always felt safe here.
Juniper walked inside his apartment. The door opened up onto his working space. The lights were off, but moonlight poured through the starlight window. It illuminated the picture on his easel. The painting he was working on of Annabel, glowed with the same ethereal quality that she had when he looked at her. It really was perfect—almost finished. Just a few more strokes of the brush and it would be there.
He closed the door behind him, then placed the bag of wine and food onto the bureau along with his keys and wallet.
Juniper approached the easel. He almost stepped on the paint brush that he had dropped earlier. He smiled at the memory and then bent to retrieve it. He dipped the brush in spirits, rinsed through the hardening paint, cleaning it. Then he selected another brush from the jar next to the spirits and picked up a tube of dark blue oil paint. He squeezed a little onto his palette, ran the brush into it, then added a little white to lighten the color until he was happy that the shade matched the one he had used on the canvas.
The brush twitched in his fingers. The air beside him moved. Pressure built between his eyes as he tried to resist. He knew Annabel would be waiting in the bedroom for him, yet he had to do this. Just one, two, three, strokes. There! It was done. Now he could forget this until tomorrow.
A stifled sound, almost a cry, came from the bedroom. Juniper froze, startled, but also because he was unsure what he had heard. Maybe Annabel had turned off the radio beside the bed. Maybe it was the groan of the shower as the stop button was pressed. This old building often emitted sounds that Juniper had learned to live with but that sound, he couldn't quite place.
Juniper put the paint brush down on the table beside his easel. Then he walked down the narrow corridor, past the empty, dark bathroom and opened the door to the bedroom.
The bed was empty. Annabel was on the balcony outside, or at least that was what he thought. There was a shape there, strangely dulled, not illuminated at all in the street lights.
"I'm back!" he called.
The shape moved. Juniper knew that eyes watched him. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck stood up.
"I hope you missed me …" Avgustin said. His voice was soft, teasing.
A prickle of anxiety crept along his spine as Annabel didn't answer. A peculiar lethargy consumed his limbs. He stopped in the middle of the room as overwhelming tiredness swept over him. His eyes dulled, as though he was wearing sunglasses in the dark, but he could still make out a second shape. And this one he knew without doubt really was Annabel. Juniper blinked. He forced his arm to move, rubbed a softly clenched fist into one of his eyes. There was a blur, a flurry of movement and then a dull thud: a sound that would replay over and over in his head.
The tiredness began to leave him. It was as though some miasma had enclosed his body, but now the fog was clearing. Juniper had crossed the threshold onto the balcony. The whole space was lit up now, not only by the streetlight below, but also by the side light on his wall outside.
There was no one there.
He experienced a sense of confusion and then the sounds of hysteria floated up to him as though he were waking from a drug induced sleep.
He staggered to the railing, every step forced the paralysis farther away, and his eyes cast downwards, into the street below.
It was hard to make sense of what he saw at first. A weird shape in a robe. A twisted body—arms and legs at painful angles. And a face turned upwards that was somehow incomplete.
Four stories up, Juniper could not make out all of the detail and so he later told himself that his hysterical mind had created this bizarre image. It was as though something was gone—like a jigsaw puzzle awaiting its final piece. A part that had been lost. No! Stolen.
But it wasn't a puzzle that lay below him. It was Annabel, and something was wrong with the features that had inspired him. He thought he saw a triangle, not an irregular jigsaw shape after all. And it was missing from her face. As if a sharp pastry cutter mold had been stamped through her features.
"Annabel!" he screamed.
Below a man looked up and shouted. Juniper didn't understand his words. They did not make any sense at all because what the man was saying was wrong. Impossible.
"It was him!" shouted the man. "He threw her over."
Darkness swamped his vision again. Tears seeped like black rain. Juniper was blind. His heart a cold mass that hurt beyond endurance but still somehow continued to pump blood through his icy veins. He slumped to the ground and he stayed there until the uniformed police arrived at his home to take him away.