After a career-stalling tangle with a fraudulent gallery owner, Art Deco expert Alexa Chambers is ready to get back in the game. But when she secretly consults on an exquisite collection for Arizona's luxurious Avalon Resorts, she doesn't know she will cross paths with enigmatic business titan J. L. Trask.
Years ago, Trask accused Alexa's stepfather of murder -- and vowed he would get revenge. Now, their meeting is inevitable -- and attraction immediate -- as they trade sizzling sparks and snappy repartee. But when a killer emerges from the shadows, these sensual sparring partners team up to solve a deadly crime from the past. Following a trail of clues to a trendy but decidedly strange New Age spa, Trask and Alexa don't need a crystal ball to see that their survival -- and their chances of bliss -- will depend on a little help from a higher power: a true and trustworthy love.
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December 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Eye of the Beholder by Jayne Ann Krentz
"Damn it, this isn't about opening another hotel, JL, it's about your obsession with revenge." Nathan planted his hands on the polished glass surface of the desk and scowled at Trask through the lenses of his gold-rimmed glasses. "This is about what happened to Dad all those years ago. Admit it."
"For the last time, I'm going to Avalon on company business." Trask leaned back in the gray leather chair and steepled his fingers. "I thought I'd made that clear."
Only Nathan still called him by the initials, JL. To the rest of the company and the world he was simply Trask, president and CEO of Avalon Resorts, Inc. It had been that way for five years, ever since he had left his position with Carrington-Towne Hotels to go out on his own.
"I don't like it." Nathan shoved himself away from the desk and thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers. He stalked to the window and stared moodily out at the soft rain that drizzled over Seattle. "You've been obsessed with that property down in Arizona ever since you managed to buy it from Carrington-Towne two years ago."
"I'm focused on it, not obsessed with it. There's a difference."
"There sure as hell is, and take it from me, your attitude toward this project definitely comes under the heading of obsession. There was no good reason for us to acquire the old Avalon Mansion in the first place."
"Yes, there was," Trask said. "It was a steal."
Nathan snorted. "Only because it's been a financial disaster for every hotel and resort development company that has ever tried to do anything with it. Dad wasn't the only one who went broke trying to make it work. Even Carrington-Towne decided it wasn't worth the cost of gutting the old mansion and turning it into a hotel."
"It won't be a disaster for us," Trask said with absolute certainty. He was not the dreamer Harry had been, but he knew that he was very good at the hotel business. "Dad always said that Avalon would eventually become the next Sedona. He was right. He was twelve years ahead of his time, but he was right."
Nathan raised his eyes to the ceiling, apparently seeking patience from on high. "I'm not arguing the point. And I'm not saying that the new resort won't fly. Unlike Dad, you can make it work."
"Damn right, I can make it work." Trask felt no particular obligation to be modest about what was a simple, incontrovertible fact. "I may not be the creative type, but I know a good fantasy when I see one. And that's what we're in the business of selling. Fantasy."
Avalon, Arizona, with its surreal landscape of sculpted red rocks, mysterious sandstone canyons, and shatteringly spectacular sunsets, had caught the attention of artists, writers, retirees, and the New Age crowd several years ago.
A handful of small inns and bed-and-breakfasts as well as a trendy metaphysical retreat called the Dimensions Institute had operated successfully for several years in Avalon.
The new Avalon Resort & Spa, however, would be the first large, world-class hotel designed to attract the increasing number of tourists who had begun to discover the region.
"Avalon is going to be very hot in the next few years." Trask watched the cold rain come down outside the window and thought of the heat of that Arizona night twelve years ago. "We'll be there to ride the wave."
"I'm not doubting your instincts for this kind of thing." Nathan glanced uneasily at him. "It's just that I have a feeling this property is different from the others for you. The closer we get to the opening, the weirder you get."
"There's nothing weird about my going down for the official opening of the resort. I go to every opening."
"Sure, but you don't make plans to hang around for a month or two afterward."
"You know that I've been thinking that it might be a good idea for me to spend more time in the field." Trask smiled. "What's the point of having an office and an owner's suite at each of the properties if I don't use them once in a while?"
Nathan swung around abruptly, intelligent eyes narrowed behind the lenses of his glasses. "Let me handle the opening down in Avalon, JL."
Trask tapped his fingers together very gently as he considered the best way to deal with his brother.
Nathan had graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in architecture. He was the creative power-house responsible for the unique design concepts of each Avalon Resort.
Their mother, who had died shortly after Nathan was born, had bequeathed not only her artistic flair but also her light brown hair and warm hazel eyes to her youngest son.
Women considered Nathan good-looking. He had never lacked for dates. But he had been politely oblivious to every woman who had come along until he had fallen like the proverbial ton of bricks for Sarah Howe. The two had been married within four months of meeting each other. Trask had had his reservations, the chief one being that he considered Nathan too young to marry.
But, then, what did he know about marriage? His own had been a carefully considered decision made with the same attention to detail he applied to all his business affairs. It had proved to be a spectacular failure.
Nathan and Sarah, however, seemed blissfully happy. Any day now they would become parents.
Parents. It struck Trask as very strange to think of his little brother becoming a father.
From out of nowhere, he had a sudden, searing memory of standing with Nathan at Harry's funeral. That was when it had hit him for the first time that Nathan was now his responsibility. It would be his job to make sure that his younger brother had a roof over his head, went to college, and got started in life.
Trask knew he would never forget the raw fear that had descended on him at that moment. He had just come from the lawyer's office, where it had been explained to him that Harry had died on the brink of bankruptcy. Every major possession left, including the house in Seattle, was in jeopardy.
With an effort of will, Trask blanked the screen inside his head. He wondered if he should be worried about the fact that the old images were coming back with increasing frequency.
He had thought that the disturbing mental snapshots had all faded to distant memories. They had not troubled him much in recent years, perhaps because he had been consumed with one major crisis after another. Back at the beginning there had been the basic problem of keeping Nathan and himself afloat financially. Simultaneously he'd had to deal with his brother's grief, as well as his own mixed bag of anger and guilt.
When the dust had settled after the bankruptcy, he had focused on his long-term goal, the creation of Avalon Resorts, Inc. He'd continued to work construction for a couple of years, the kind of hard, heavy jobs that had financed his and later Nathan's education. And then he'd gone to work for Carrington-Towne. His success with the dynamic hotel conglomerate had helped him launch Avalon Resorts, Inc.
The business had been a godsend in ways other than financial. It had provided an outlet for the restless energy that burned within him. It had forced the shards of memories to the distant corners of his mind.
But now the unpleasant pictures were becoming sharper and more vivid again. All of them had one thing in common. They were connected to his father's death.
He didn't need a shrink to tell him that it was the plan to return to Avalon that was causing the images and the guilt that went with them to flash across the screen in his mind.
Nathan stared glumly out the window. "I don't like this, JL. I wish you weren't going down there. I've got a bad feeling about it."
"You know Glenda wants me there. She says she's pulled in a lot of media because of the hotel's art collection, and she wants to take advantage of it."
"I know." Nathan massaged the back of his neck. "We'll get a tremendous amount of press out of that collection."
"You'd better be right. When I think of what we paid that consultant..."
Nathan smiled wryly. "Edward Vale was worth every penny. He's one of the best corporate art consultants in the country. He's got contacts throughout the art world, and that's what it takes to pull together a great corporate art collection. Contacts."
"All I care about is that the company gets its money's worth."
"Does it ever worry you that you might be a little too focused on the bottom line, JL?"
Trask contemplated that briefly. "No."
"We're talking about art here. There are reasons other than the bottom line for putting together a great collection."
"Not for a corporation."
"What about the prestige factor?" Nathan swept out a hand as he warmed to his topic. "What about good corporate citizenship? Responsibility to the community?"
"What about the knowledge that Avalon Resorts, Inc., will be doing its share to make a fine collection of art and antiques available for viewing by thousands of people who might not otherwise have the opportunity? What about the duty to preserve and protect some of the most interesting objets d'art of the early twentieth century for generations to come?"
"We operate hotels. Bookings are the bottom line."
Nathan gave him an exasperated look. "I'm not worried about the collection, I'm worried about your fixation with the new resort. I want you to swear to me on a stack of Avalon Resorts quarterly reports that you're not going back for revenge."
"I'm going back to open the hotel that Dad dreamed of creating in Avalon," Trask said softly.
He did not tell Nathan about the private investigator he had hired six months ago. He knew the information would only fuel his brother's concern.
He was not going back for revenge, Trask thought. He was going back to get the truth.
After he had the answers to his questions there would be plenty of time to think about revenge.