“What seems to be project for us, Laura,” asked Mark.
“Oh, I’ll show you,” said Laura, taking his arm, drawing him away from Dex.
“It’s outside, but there’s another issue, in the tower, the woodworking contractor thinks the railing isn’t up to code or something,” she stopped at the doorway to the morning room, flooded with cool northern light streaming in the wall of windows opening to the terrace that filled the fourth side of the house, light filtered only by the branches of leafless trees.
“What a perfect room for an artist,” said Dex.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” said the woman seated beside Ed at the dropleaf table off to the side of the room. She smiled, saying “and this must be Mark. I’ve heard so much about you, Laura thinks you’re a genius.” She raised her hand to Mark, who took hold with both hands. “I’m Samantha, but you can call me Sam.”
Dex inhaled sharply. The woman at the table was the twin of the woman in the drawing room portrait.
“My sister,” said Laura. “Younger sister,” said Sam, tilting down her head, looking at up at Mark through long, long lashes.
“So, Dex,” began Claire, “I think there may be a genetic link to our Lady of the Ruby Ring. Don’t you think?”
“Laura,” said Dex, “when I asked if you knew who the subject of that picture is, why did you say you didn’t know?”
Ed looked up from the table. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I see it now.”
“Now?” asked Dex.
“That picture’s been out for cleaning, it wasn’t hung till the day before you saw it,” said Laura. She shrugged. “I don’t know. There is some resemblance–”
Samantha laughed, one of those silvery, classic movie laughs, a Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett laugh, enchanting, charismatic, and calculatingly cold.
“Oh, Laura,” she said, “I’m sure Granny Speakman would be delighted to know that Philadelphia’s next best-selling author looks so much like her!”
“Maybe it is Granny Speakman,” said Laura, “but I wouldn’t be so happy about it, she came to a bad end. I think. Our family wasn’t big on genealogy. The portrait in the hall is definitely a relative, it’s identified.”
“Who’s the artist?” asked Dex, looking out at the tracks through the gardens left by heavy equipment, crushing the perennials and small shrubs.
“You’re a writer,” asked Mark, as Samantha stood, took his arm and began to draw him from the room.
“Maybe,” said Sam very softly, bending over to speak into Mark’s ear. “I’ve sent my manuscripts to several publishers. I think my series will be the next ‘Outlander’ or Debbie Macomber. Romance, liberally peppered with mystery.” She gave him another flash of brown eye from beneath lashes. “And sex. This is going to be my writing room, but I’ll be living in the gatehouse.” She took another step toward the door.
“But that’s a wreck!” said Claire, batting the third petit pain au chocolat from Ed’s hand.
“That’s why I wanted Mark here,” said Laura, looking pointedly at Dex. “Steve wants to know if it’s feasible to renovate. And if it’s not, a replacement plan. This is a historic property, and we want it done right. Maybe you could take some pictures or something, for Milton. There’s bound to be something you can do, since you’re so useless as a psychic.”
Dex looked at Mark, to see his reaction. She had the impression that the new project at Edgecombe Hall he described to her on the way over was a minor problem with the major work already in progress, not a whole new building.
Mark and Sam were gone. She looked out the wall of windows again, and there they were: walking arm in arm, heads together, toward the derelict gatehouse a quarter mile away, near the end of the old, disused drive.