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A long-lost Modigliani portrait, a grieving brothers blood vendetta, a Soviet secret thats been buried for eighty yearsParisian private investigator Aimée Leducs current case is her most exciting one yet.When Aimées long-term partner and best friend Rene leaves their detective agency for a new job in Silicon Valley, Aimée knows she can handle the extra workload. At least, that what she tells herself repeatedly.But all bets are off when Yuri Volodya, a mysterious old Russian man, hires Aimée to protect a painting. By the time she gets to his Montparnasse atelier, the precious painting has already been stolen, leaving Aimée smelling a rat. The next day, Yuri is found tortured to death in his kitchen. To top it all off, it looks like Aimée isnt the only one looking for the painting. Some very dangerous people are threatening her and her coworkers, and witnesses are dropping like flies. Now Aimée has to find the painting, stop her attackers, and figure out what her long-missing mother, who is on Interpols most wanted list, has to do with all thisfingers crossed she wasnt Yuris murderer, despite clues pointing in that direction.Obviously, Rene doesnt need to worry. Aimée has things under control.
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Cara Black is the author of ten previous books in the bestselling Aimée Leduc series. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son and visits Paris frequently.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Monday, Late February 1998, Paris, 5:58 p.m.
Aimée Leduc bit her lip as she scanned the indigo dusk, the shoppers teeming along rain-slicked Boulevard du Montparnasse. Daffodil scents drifted from the corner flower shop. Her kohl-rimmed eyes zeroed in on the man hunched at the window table in the café. Definitely the one.
Gathering her courage, she entered the smoke-filled café and sat down across from him. She crossed her legs, noting the stubble on his chin and the half-filled glass of limonade.
He sized up her mini and three-inch leopard-print heels. “Going to make me happy?” he asked. “They said you’re good.”
“No one’s complained.” She unclipped the thumb drive from her hoop earring and slid it across the table to him. “Insert this in your USB port to download the file,” she said, combing her red wig forward with her fingers. “Et voilà.”
“You copied the entire court file to that?” The thick eyebrows rose above his sallow face.
“Cutting-edge technology not even patented yet,” she said with more confidence than she felt. She wished her knees would stop shaking under the table.
“How do you do it?”
“Computer security’s my business,” she said, glancing at her Tintin watch. This was taking too long.
“We’ll just see to make sure, non?” He pulled a laptop from his bag under the table, inserted the thumb drive. More tech savvy than he’d let on. Thank God she’d prepared for that.
“Satisfied?” She fluffed her red wig.
A grin erupted on his face. “The Cour d’Assize witness list with backgrounds, addresses, and schedule. Nice work.” He’d lowered his voice. “Perfect to nique les flics.” Screw the cops.
She grinned. Glanced at the time. “Don’t you have something for me?”
Under the table he slipped an envelope, sticky with lemonade residue, into her hands. In her lap she counted the crisp fresh bills.
“Where’s the rest?” Perspiration dampened the small of her back. “You trying to cheat me?”
“That’s what we agreed,” he said, slipping another envelope under the table. Winked.
Thought he was a player.
“Count again,” he said.
She did. “No tip? Service compris?”
“Let’s do business again, Mademoiselle. You live up to your reputation. Glad I outsourced this.” He smiled again. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”
She smiled back. “Neither could Commissaire Morbier.”
His shoulders stiffened. “Wait a minute. What . . . ?”
“Would you like to meet my godfather?” She gestured to the older man sitting at the next table. Salt-and-pepper hair, basset-hound eyes, corduroy jacket with elbow patches.
“Godfather?” he said, puzzled.
“Did you get that on tape, Morbier?”
“On camera too. Oh, we got it all,” Morbier said. Two undercover flics at the zinc counter approached with handcuffs. Another turned from a table with a laptop, took the thumb drive and inserted it.
The man gave a short laugh and pulled a cell phone from his pocket. “Zut, that’s entrapment plain and simple. Never fly in court, fools. My lawyer will confirm . . .”
“Entrapment’s illegal, but a sting’s right up our alley, according to the Ministry’s legal advisor.” Morbier jerked his thumb toward a middle-aged man at a neighboring table, who raised his glass of grenadine at them. “Don’t worry, I had the boys at the Ministry of the Interior clear the operation technicalities, just to err on the safe side. Makes your illegal soliciting and paying for and reading confidential judicial documents airtight in court. ”
“Lying slut,” the man said, glaring at Aimée. “But you’re not a flic.”
She nodded. “Just another pretty face.”
“To think I trusted you.”
“Never trust a redhead,” she said, watching him be led away. Aimée removed the red wig, scratched her head, and slipped off her heels.
“Not bad, Leduc.” Morbier struck a match and lit a cigarette. The tang of his non-filtered Gauloise tickled her nose.
“That entrapment business, you’re sure?” She leaned forward to whisper. “I won’t get nailed somehow? Alors, Morbier, with such short notice . . .”
“Quick and dirty, Leduc. Your specialty, non? I needed an outsider.”
“Why?” What hadn’t he told her in his last-minute plea for help?
“But I told you.” A shrug. “He broke my last officer’s knees.”
She controlled a shudder. “You forgot to tell me that part.”
He shrugged. Not even a thank-you. And still no apology for what had happened last month, the lies he’d told about the past, her parents. A hen would grow teeth before he apologized. But she’d realized it was time to accept that he’d protected her in his own clumsy way. And make up for her outburst—she’d thrown caviar in his face at the four-star resto.
“So we’re good, Leduc?” The lines crinkled at the edge of his eyes, the bags under them more pronounced. His jowls sagged.
She blinked. Coming from Morbier, that rated as an apology.
She pulled on her red high-tops, laced them up. Scratched her head again.
“Au contraire.” She stood, slipped the wig and heels in her bag, buttoned the jean jacket over her vintage black Chanel. “Now you owe me, Morbier.”
Monday, 7:30 p.m.
In the quartier below Montparnasse, the Serb shivered in his denim jacket, huddled in the damp doorway, watching Yuri Volodya close and lock his atelier door. Why do they lock the doors and leave the windows open? Just foolish.
Yuri Volodya walked across the wet cobbles and disappeared up the dark lane. The old man kept right on schedule—he’d be out for the evening. Now for this simple snatch-and-grab job. The Serb noted a few passersby taking the narrow thread of a street—the shortcut to the boulevard—the general quiet and cars parked for the night. Perfect.
He peered over the cracked stone wall of the back of the old man’s place—part atelier, part living space. A small garden wreathed in shadows, the windows dark. He heaved himself up and over.
The garden was redolent with rosemary. The Serb waited a few seconds, moved without making a sound on his padded soles to the side window. He slid it fully open and slipped in. He reached into his pocket and checked the syringe filled with the tranquilizer, just in case the old man came back. All capped tight.
“Don’t kill him,” they had said. Would have been easier.
A couple of lamps were lit, so the Serb didn’t need his flashlight. The atelier was small enough to search quickly. He looked behind the worktable and under it, too—but nyet—no one would store a painting flat.
He had to think . . . What was wrong here? His eyes scanned the room and he noticed some fresh scuffing in front of the armoire, as if it had been moved back and forth—more than once, too.
He moved the armoire aside to find a locked door. He searched the armoire drawers for a key, and when he found it, he put it into the lock.
Then he heard a switch click, and the room plunged into darkness. The Serb sensed someone behind him. He flung out an arm, hoping to strike before being struck, but he tripped instead. Someone kicked him in the stomach. He felt gut-wrenching pain and the hypodermic needle rolled in his pocket.
His attacker went down on his knees and roped him around his neck, but the Serb fought him off. That’s when he felt the jab in his rear. The liquid ran cold into his muscle, and he felt the freeze go up his body. He went limp.
His attacker let him go, thinking his job was done. A small penlight went on and the key turned in the lock. The wall cabinet opened to reveal . . . nothing. The painting was gone.
The Serb’s attacker turned on his heel and walked out. The Serb, disturbed by the strange buzzing in his ears, knew he had to leave too. The simple snatch-and-grab complicated by a rival intruder, and then no painting. He stood, unsteady, and realized it was much harder to breathe. He needed to go outside into the fresh air . . .
He managed to unlock the door and stumble onto the sidewalk before he realized he couldn’t catch his breath at all. A rock-like weight pressed into his chest. Gasping, he reached out between the parked cars. His sleeve caught on something and the world went black.
Monday, 8 p.m.
In the overheated commissariat, Aimée signed her police statement. She took the last sip of Morbier’s burgundy, then dabbed Chanel No. 5 on her pulse points and slipped the flacon into her bag.
“You’ll need to testify against him, Leduc,” said Morbier from behind his desk. “So the rat won’t get up the drainpipe again.”
“Not part of our deal, Morbier.” She shook her head.
He waved his age-spotted hand. “Legally you’re covered. Sanctioned from the top. It’s all in my report.”
“Against the Corsican mafia?” She snapped her bag shut. “My identity becomes public knowledge and then a thug appears on my doorway. I disappear. Didn’t you tell me his history of intimidating witnesses?”
“Your testimony takes place in closed judges’ chambers. No leaks. No media.” Morbier stabbed out a Gauloise in the overflowing ashtray. “For three years the rat’s boss has evaded every conviction. Now the Corsican’s going down and I need you as a witness.”
She figured it linked to the corruption investigation that had almost cost him his career.
“More like someone you can trust,” she said. And someone he could dupe into assisting him. It always went like this with Morbier. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate right now after losing her business partner, René, to Silicon Valley.
The light of the desk lamp on Morbier’s sagging jowls illuminated how he’d aged. Despite her annoyance with him, her heart wrenched a little.
“Then you double owe me, Morbier.” She kissed him on both cheeks, then grabbed her jean jacket from the rack. She nodded to an officer she recognized from his undercover unit before she noticed Saj de Rosnay, the cash-poor aristocrat and Leduc Detective’s part-time hacker, standing at reception.
“You need bail, Aimée?” Saj worried the sandalwood beads around his neck.
“Non, just a ride, Saj. And I borrowed your thumb drive—owe you a new one. We’ve got work to do tonight. Feel like takeout?”
“But I thought you’d been arrested.” He sniffed. “Drinking?” His jaw dropped. “What the hell have you been doing?”
“Morbier and I made up, but I had to play his game.”
“Didn’t look like poker to me.” His eyebrow rose.
“He needed last-minute help with a sting. Long story.”
Outside on the dark, narrow street, the locked exit of the Catacombs glowed under a street lamp. The car was parked in front of an old forge, horseshoes visible high on the façade. Saj unlocked the door for her. He took the wheel of René’s beloved vintage Citroën DS, a classic entrusted to Saj temporar...
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