The Widow
  • The Widow
  • The Widow

The Widow

3.8 8
by Anne Stuart

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Aristide Pompasse is dead. But the evil in the great artist's soul still haunts the vineyards and lurks in the corners of his Tuscan villa. Known as much for his fabulous portraits as his penchant for young mistresses, Pompasse had not let anyone go until Charlie, his young wife, had managed to escape.

Now Charlie is back, to lay old ghosts to rest, to find

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Aristide Pompasse is dead. But the evil in the great artist's soul still haunts the vineyards and lurks in the corners of his Tuscan villa. Known as much for his fabulous portraits as his penchant for young mistresses, Pompasse had not let anyone go until Charlie, his young wife, had managed to escape.

Now Charlie is back, to lay old ghosts to rest, to find the answers to who she was, to make peace with her past and her future. And there is no room in that peaceful future for a dangerous man like Connor Maguire.

Maguire knows what he wants. He is about to break the biggest story of his life—Pompasse's murder—and damn anyone who gets in his way. So why can't he keep his eyes and his hands off the old man's widow?

In the old house, where murder is a whisper away, and desire a dance in the moonlight, nothing is quite as it seems….

Editorial Reviews

Romantic Times
She takes intrigue, adventure and excitement, adds a hot romance . . . and the result is pure joy.
Library Journal
Jarred out of her life as a successful Manhattan restaurant owner by the murder of her ex-husband, renowned artist Aristide Pompasse, Charlie Thomas returns to his Tuscan villa, planning to settle the estate, lay the past to rest, and then get on with her life. But she finds instead a host of unanswered questions, a pervasive sense of evil, and a compelling stranger who is definitely not what he seems. A master at creating chilling atmosphere with a modern touch, Stuart takes a determined yet vulnerable heroine, a brash, sexy hero, and a diverse assortment of memorable secondary characters, gives them an idyllic setting, and then puts them in the middle of a complex plot with some sordid, almost Gothic twists. Great dialog and a touch of unexpected humor lighten the mood but don't detract from the overall feel of this nicely done tale of romantic suspense. Noted for dark, highly sensual romances, Stuart (Shadows at Sunset, Mira, 2000) is a member of the RWA Hall of Fame; she lives in Greensboro, VT. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Aristide Pompasse stood in his apartment in Florence,staring out into the street below, well pleasedwith his life. He was the world's greatest livingartist, and his paintings were worth millions. True,he hadn't been painting for the last few years. Andno wonder—he'd lost his light, his muse, his inspiration.

    But all that would change. She would be backsoon. He should have realized how much heneeded her, but Pompasse was not the sort of manwho needed people. He was accustomed to beingthe center of the universe, and the thought thatsomeone could actually, willingly leave still managedto astonish him.

    But now that he admitted how much he wantedher, it would be simple enough to get her back.And then he would paint once more.

    He should have taken care of that ugly little detailyears ago. It was nothing more than housekeeping.He'd allowed sentiment to role him. Othersmight call it vanity, but he knew he wasn't avain man. He simply understood that the preservationof his gift was worth any sacrifice. Even ifmost of those sacrifices were made by others, theywere blessed to be part of a greater calling.

    It should be almost finished by now. And onceCharlie knew what he had done for her she wouldcome back to him and all would be well.

    He looked around him, savoring the beauty ofthe elegant old apartment. Maybe Charlie wouldbe happier here in Florence, rather than at the villa.There were too many memories, too many peoplethere. He would keep her here, away from everyone,keep her all to himself. And she would nevertry to leavehim again.

    He turned from the window to stare up at thepainting over the marble fireplace in his bedroom.A masterpiece—one of his very best. But withCharlie back he would start again. She was hislight, his inspiration, and he'd been arrogant not toadmit it. From the first moment he saw her heknew he had to possess her, and as long as he'dheld on to her all had been well.

    Five years later he still couldn't quite understandhow she could have left him. How anyone couldleave him. Didn't he shower her with money andjewels and all the things young women usually delightedin? But Charlie hadn't cared about the gifts.

    He'd made her image world-famous, immortalizedher in his art. He'd never hit her, abused her.He wouldn't have minded if she'd taken lovers—hecertainly had. All he'd wanted was for her tostay.

    She would come back now, he knew it. She'dbecome stronger—strong enough to leave him—butshe wouldn't be able to resist. His charm waslegendary, and he would use all of it. And shewould return to him.

    The bells of the city rang out over the noise ofthe traffic. His ancient, beloved city of Florence.Pompasse was French, but he had the soul of anItalian Renaissance master. Tuscany was in hisblood, and as he looked out over the rooftops ofthe city he could see the Arno gilded in the sunlight.Two o'clock. It should be done, then.

    He needed a glass of wine to celebrate his newlife. He went out into the hallway, heading for thecurving marble stairs that led to the first floor ofhis duplex, and there was a bounce in his step, alightness in his heart. The deed was done, a newlife was beginning, and he felt like a young man.He would paint again, and he would live forever.

    He was whistling under his breath, but the soundstopped as he halted at the top of the stairs.

    She was standing there, the last person he everexpected to see. And he knew he was going to die.

Chapter One

Finding a dead body wasn't Connor Maguire'sfavorite way to start the day.

    He'd been breaking into an apartment in Florence,planning on a little discreet research, whenhe discovered the corpse of its owner. And not justany corpse. The apartment belonged to the greatAristide Pompasse, the world's most famous livingartist. Or at least he was, until maybe an hour ago,Maguire guessed. It didn't take any great powersof observation—he'd spent years as a war correspondent,in the Middle East, in Africa, in Kosovo.He knew a dead body when he saw one; and Pompassewas most definitely dead, though he hadn'tbeen for long. Maguire closed the door with a silentclick and leaned against it.

    "Well, hell," he said mildly enough. Somehowthe situation called for stronger language than that,but all he could think was what a stinking messhe'd gotten himself into.

    He was planning to write the tell-all book of themillennium. He'd spent the last five years grindingout stories for Starlight, Marc Gregory's internationallysleazy tabloid, but in Pompasse he'd foundnot only his meal ticket but his raison d'etre. Pompassewas a man with enough skeletons in hiscloset to support Maguire quite nicely. He'd beenworking on the story for weeks, and it was goingto be his ticket back to Australia.

    The body was lying on the marble floor in thefoyer, at the bottom of the curving staircase thatled from the bedrooms above. His dark, intenseeyes were blank, his skin as cold and lifeless asthe marble floor. There was no blood.

    Maguire made himself cross the floor and squatdown beside the old man. He didn't want to touchhim. It wasn't squeamishness. He'd lost any sensitivityyears ago—a life spent in the news businesstended to wipe out any tender sensibilities.The more he'd learned about Pompasse the morecontempt he'd felt for him—Maguire assumed itwas the last ounce of idealism in his own, otherwisetarnished, soul. The old man had deservedwhat was coming to him, and Maguire didn't givea damn who had dished it out. Except, of course,that it would sell more copies of the paper and,eventually, his book.

    He put his hand against the old man's neck.Cold, flaccid, dead skin. Maybe he'd been dead formore than an hour. He glanced back up at thewinding stairs. It would have been easy enough foran old man like Pompasse to make a misstep, particularlyif he'd had too much wine. One little slipand down he would go.

    Maguire sat back on his heels, reaching in hispocket for his cigarettes. That was one thing heliked about Italy—he could smoke anywhere hedamn well pleased, probably even in the Duomoitself if he had the insane urge to go there. No oneto frown at him and lecture him on the dangers ofsmoking.

    He lit the cigarette and took a deep drag,blowing it at the old man's still form. Yes, it wasan accident, easy to explain.

     So why did it feel like murder?


Excerpted from THE WIDOW by ANNE STUART. Copyright © 2001 by Anne Kristine Stuart Ohlrogge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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