Below is the Rough Draft of the Original Opening Scene, which I deleted for two reasons: I needed to show the heroine in danger much sooner; and because it is mostly backstory and set up for what became the opening scene. Basically, I needed to write it to figure out my characters, but my readers didn’t need the information that soon. You’ll notice that Jennifer’s sister’s name was Jessica in this original draft, not Cassandra as it is in the book.
Gripped by the eerie feeling she was being watched, Jennifer Robbins glanced over her shoulder then grabbed the Art Gallery’s door handle. The near-empty street—unusual for downtown Seattle, even on such a muggy July night—only made her feel more uneasy.
Any other day, she’d chalk up the unnerving sensation to this morning’s rant from a rejected grant applicant at the charitable foundation where she worked, but she knew better.
Her palm turned slick on the door handle. The timing of Uncle Reggie’s dinner invitation was too coincidental. He must have heard she’d been secretly hunting for a buyer for the gallery. Or worse, he found out she’d been tipped off to his illegal activities…if the tip was true.
That’s what she needed to find out. That, and if her sister was in on it, too.
She drew a deep breath and yanked open the door.
At the familiar jingle, her heart hitched, as if she expected to see her parents’ smiling faces even now—almost eight years since their deaths. Her gaze automatically tracked to Mom’s favorite painting, Meadow at Sunrise, hanging on the left-hand wall. Jennifer had painted the piece at fifteen, mere months before the car accident. The image of two identical pig-tailed girls clutching bunches of daisies in their tiny fists, racing toward the sunrise, brought a clog to her throat.
She wasn’t sure why Uncle Reggie insisted on keeping the piece on display. It wasn’t close to the caliber of the other works, but he had a sentimental streak that the gallery patrons seemed to appreciate. For Jennifer, the painting was a picture of the life she’d lost when her parents moved to Seattle to open the gallery. A life she might regain if she could convince her sister to agree to sell.
But considering Jessica had worked at the gallery since the day they graduated high school, convincing her wouldn’t be easy. Jess loved everything about being a part of the gallery, whereas Jen avoided the place as much as possible, only attending opening nights of new shows because Uncle Reggie insisted it was bad for business if she didn’t put in an appearance.
Jessica emerged from the back room, carrying a small painting. “Jen? What brings you here?”
An uneasy feeling rippled through Jen’s chest. Uncle Reggie had given her the impression her twin sister was included in his dinner plans. “Uncle Reggie called. Said he was taking us out for dinner.”
“Oh right.” Jessica set the painting—a Trisha Romance landscape—on the counter between them. “Redge did mention that this morning. I forgot.”
Jen still couldn’t get used to hearing her sister call their former guardian Redge, instead of uncle. Not that he was really their uncle. They’d just known him since they were knee high and had always called him that.
Jessica, her wavy blond hair spilling over her shoulders, a mischievous glint in her eyes, inclined her head toward Jen and whispered, “I think he has a big surprise for us.”
“Really?” Jen squeaked out, visions of stolen paintings parading across her mind. She shook her head. All she had was a potential buyer’s word that Uncle Reggie was up to no good. He’d been the gallery’s manager for years before their parents died. If he were doing anything wrong, her parents would have known. And they never would have named him in their will as her and Jess’s guardian, let alone made him trustee of their inheritance until their twenty-fifth birthday.
Jen sucked in a deep breath. Two weeks. He wouldn’t be happy to learn of her plans once he lost his veto power.
“Yeah, probably something for our birthday.” Jess tested the wire strung across the back of the painting she’d brought in, then lifted it to the hook on the wall behind her. “I was thinking we should do something really big to celebrate.”
“Of course you were.” Some wild party, no doubt, with all her phony art friends. Friends who were only interested in separating her from her money. Money she’d finally have total access to.
“You used to be a lot more fun, you know. Before you started working at that charity and got all religious.”
Oh boy, the conversation was already going downhill and she hadn’t even pitched her idea of selling the gallery, yet. “Actually, I’m thinking of quitting.”
“Are you serious? I thought you loved that job.”
“Don’t tell me. You had another fanatic blow up at you because you turned down his harebrained plan to save the world.”
“I’d just like to get out of the city,” she said vaguely, not wanting to broach the subject of selling where Uncle Reggie might overhear.
Good thing, too, because he chose that moment to join them. “Why didn’t you tell me you were here?” He glanced from Jess back to Jen, his lips stretching into a grin that dimpled his craggy cheeks. “Let me guess. You two are plotting my overthrow. You’re going to toss me out on my ear at the stroke of midnight on your birthday.”
“You got that right,” Jess teased back. “You should’ve given me that raise I asked for.”
Uncle Reggie chuckled and pulled Jen into a hug. “It’s good to see you, again.”
Jen tried not to stiffen. There was nothing in his demeanor to suggest his attitude toward her had changed in any way. In fact, he’d never done anything to cause her to suspect him of wrongdoing. So why was she taking her prospective buyer’s word on it?
Uncle Reggie kissed her forehead, before releasing her. “Glad you could make it on such short notice.”
“Where are you taking us?” Jess piped up.
Reggie stroked his goatee. “Uh…there’s a slight change of plans. I made reservations for your favorite Italian restaurant, however, I won’t be able to join you. I have another temperamental artist, irate over lack of sales, that I need to soothe.”
“Then we’ll make it another time,” Jen suggested.
“No. You girls need to go. You have lots to talk about.”
Jen and Jess exchanged a glance. “We do?”
Uncle Reggie reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out two envelopes. “Yes, like what you’re going to pack for the Alaskan cruise I’m sending you on for your twenty-fifth birthday.”
Jess jumped up and down like a jubilant game-show contestant. “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”
“Wow,” Jen agreed, a little uncomfortable that he’d made such elaborate plans without consulting them. What if she couldn’t get the time off work?
“And don’t worry, Jen,” Uncle Reggie said as if he’d read her mind. “I already made sure you could get the time off work.”
“Oh. That’s great then.” She forced a smile to her lips, shoving away the thought that he’d heard about her potential buyer, and decided to thwart the deal by shoving them off to sea.
Uncle Reggie handed them each an envelope. “Your dinner reservations are for six at Antonio’s, and I’ve already taken care of the bill.” He gave them each a kiss on the cheek. “So enjoy your planning.”
The instant the door closed behind Uncle Reggie, Jess squealed again. “Can you believe this?”
“No…” Jen wished she could scrounge up the same enthusiasm as Jess, but something didn’t feel right about this. “Has he ever talked to you about going on a cruise?”
“Sure. Mar and Blake went on one last month and raved on and on about it to Redge. That must’ve given him the idea.”
“Oh.” That made Jen feel a little better. She’d actually always wanted to visit Alaska. Maybe she had it all wrong. Maybe she should be suspicious of her buyer’s motives, not Uncle Reggie’s. Maybe the allegations were a lie.
Jess glanced at her watch. “I have a few more things I should finish up before closing.”
“No problem. I’ll wander around. See what’s new.” Jen strolled along the walls, pretending to admire the paintings, all the while her mind racing. If Uncle Reggie dealt in stolen art, he wouldn’t hang it on the gallery wall. He’d store it in back, only offer it to people whose discretion he could trust.
Or maybe not store it here at all. Maybe he had a secret storage unit somewhere. She could check his address book or receipts. With Jess’s attention focused on tacking description cards next to their newest acquisitions, Jen meandered into the stock room.
Narrow painting-sized storage boxes were neatly lined up along the shelves, each one labeled in Jessica’s precise printing. thomas kincaide prints. karen hagerman prints. franz arthur original.
Her heart skipped a beat. Arthur’s name had appeared a few times on the FBI’s online National Stolen Art File she’d been studying all afternoon. She poked her head into the hall to make sure Jess was still preoccupied, then slid the oil painting from the box. The Sea Grotto.
Her heart raced at the familiar image. She pulled out her cell phone and quickly navigated to the bookmarked website to be certain. At the sight of the identical image on her phone, she gasped.
It was true. Uncle Reggie was a criminal.
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