Hello, everyone. I’m Cassie Dean. Sorry if I act a little sidetracked at the moment, but I’ve been poring over a computer file trying to spot art objects that have vanished into the ether.
I guess I should explain. I’m an art conservator/restorer, and up until recently I had an internship at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. My dream job. I originally wanted to be an artist, but found while I’m an expert at copying others’ work, I’ve never really developed a style of my own. This was a major disappointment until a friend, Laurel Beacham, dragged some family heirlooms into the dorm my second year of college.
Laurel was a year ahead of me at Cornell, and was born into an über-wealthy family. However, when she was in her teens her grandfather died, and what money didn’t go to trusts and foundations went to Laurel’s parents. Her mother died soon after, and her father went a little nuts and drank and gambled away all the money before disappearing over a mountainside. Really, no joke. In just a few years Laurel went from richy-rich with a supportive loving family, to broke orphan-girl trying to figure out how a budget works. She never has quite figured out the budget gig, as her credit card statements prove, but she did use money her grandfather left in a trust fund to pay for college. Now she’s the premier art recovery expert to the art world, and museums around the globe count on her to find their missing priceless treasures. She’s also one of the most approachable people I’ve ever met, and tries to help every underdog. Like she did for me.
Anyway, Laurel kind of mentored me along in college, treating me like the little sister she never had. When one of the family homes was auctioned off for debts, she smuggled out some favorite art works, paintings, small statuary, and a couple of pieces of furniture. Several items got a little scratched and dinged in the moving process. Laurel couldn’t afford to send the pieces for professional repair, so she checked out a stack of restoration books to see what she could do on her own. Laurel is extremely self-sufficient, but not particularly skilled at using tools like scalpels and camel-hair brushes for restorative tasks. I asked if I could help and found my true vocation.
My artistic eye for detail is not limited to reclaiming damaged art, however, and Laurel currently uses my trained eye to cross-check and cross-reference photos on a USB drive until I’m nearly cross-eyed. She discovered this backup drive while attempting to find someone she feared was kidnapped, and in the process uncovered what could ultimately be the heist of the century.
I can’t give you many more details—this thing seems to unfold into a bigger and more complex puzzle every day. While I’m in the office looking for leads, Laurel takes trains, planes and motorcycles to find the next point in the maze. Her instincts are legendary, despite having to maneuver around her skin-flint boss, Max.
Aiding Laurel in the field is Jack Hawkes, though we’re not sure if he’s completely trustworthy. Jack is not forthcoming with information about himself, but has a confidence and nerve that makes me glad he sticks close to Laurel. The guy is complex and probably lethal, but he’s the first person you’d choose to have your back. He infuriates Laurel by never confirming or disavowing any personal information, even when she asks a direct question. Yet despite all the exaggerations and half-truths he tells, and, yes, probably flat-out-lies, I think the guy is on the level, and pretty fascinating. Laurel, on the other hand, doesn’t trust him an inch, associates him on the same self-centered jerk-scale as her father, and tends to ignore whatever Jack says to do. Mostly he tries to keep her safe by telling her to stay back and let him take over. Like that’s ever going to happen.
When I became an art restorer, I never dreamed I’d live on the fringes of intrigue, but that’s where I stay most days. Laurel and Jack keep life exciting, and their verbal sparring is worth the price of admission. I can’t wait to watch the next scene unfold.
You can see what I mean and meet Laurel Beacham and Jack Hawkes by reading Counterfeit Conspiracies, the first book in the “Bodies of Art” Mystery Series, published by Gemma Halliday Publishing. Like all of Gemma’s books, this series is a fast-paced mystery with a lot of humor, a quirky plot, and a dash of romance to tie it all together. The novel is available at retail and online booksellers in both print and all ebook formats
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on December 25, and you will be entered to win a copy of Counterfeit Conspiracies. One winner will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.
Meet the author
Ritter Ames lives in a small town in the middle of America, but spends each day globe trotting the art world from her laptop, with her cat riding shotgun and Pandora blasting from the speakers. COUNTERFEIT CONSPIRACIES is her first full-length fiction. A second cozy mystery series, starting with ORGANIZED FOR MURDER will be released by Gemma Halliday Publishing in January 2014. She tries to blog regularly at ritterames.wordpress.com and uses her Pinterest boards at www.pinterest.com/ritterames to capture great places and ideas she wants to use in both series. Follow her blog and boards to learn more about Ritter and her upcoming books.
From December 24 until early January, the ebook version of Counterfeit Conspiracies will be only 99 cents.
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