1 Chapter 1

“I’ve lost it.” Ellis stared at the canvas with a tired shake of his head. “Whatever passion I had when I was younger is gone. This has all the pizzazz of a paint-by-numbers kit from Woolworths. And damn, does thatdate me. There hasn’t been one of those stores around since before the turn of the century.”

Even as frustrated as he was, he still took the time to clean his brushes and pallet before leaving the room he’d used as his studio since he bought his house nearly thirty years ago. Back then he was just beginning to make a name for himself. A name that had gained prominence through the years. His paintings had been things of beauty and joy. Galleries fought to get their hands on them

“Now I’m old and…” He sidestepped to avoid tripping over Jive. The dog was, Well, dogging my footsteps as usual.For a moment Ellis smiled, reaching down to pat Jive’s head. “Old and burned out. The only reason anyone wants what I come up with now is so they can say they own an Ellis Williams, even if it’s dreck.”

Jive followed Ellis into the bedroom, watching silently while Ellis changed from the old jeans and tank he used when he was working into a clean pair of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt.

“Twenty years a child; twenty years running wild; twenty years a mature man,” he said, quoting an Irish proverb he’d recently seen. “I’m definitely mature, Jive, at least to look at me.” When the German pinscher shook his head, Ellis chuckled. “Disagreeing with me, my friend? Almost my only friend.” He sighed at that thought.

Ellis wasn’t a man who made friends easily. All of his time and passion was channeled into his work. He’d had lovers from time to time. Brief flings that ended badly when the men realized they came in a distant second to his art. But as far as real friends went, they were few and far between. Except for his housekeeper…which reminded him he’d better go see what was on the menu for supper.

As he started down the curving hardwood stairs, a wave of dizziness made him grab the railing. It wasn’t the first time it had happened and it ended as quickly as it came. So he passed it off as he always did—to the fact he was getting older.

Walking through the study into the living room, he felt his usual swell of pride that he owned such a lovely home. He had bought it on a whim when the owners of the small plantation—downriver from New Orleans—had been forced to sell. As the house had been in fairly bad condition, he’d thrown his heart and his artistic talent into returning it to its former glory. It wasn’t large—four rooms on the ground floor, and another four on the second. He had turned the master bedroom and bath into his studio—removing the wall between them—and taken the larger of the two remaining bedrooms for himself.

“Whatever you’ve made for supper smells delicious,” Ellis said as he entered the kitchen.

Janice Honeycutt turned from the stove to smile at him. “Roman chicken with peppers and prosciutto.”

“That’s new.”

She nodded, her white braid swinging with the motion, before returning to the skillet to add the last of the ingredients. “I found the recipe online and decided to use you as my guinea pig.”

Ellis laughed. “As always, and usually the results are well worth eating.”

“Usually being the operative word,” she countered. “Go, sit. It’s almost ready.” She looked at Jive. “You, stay. I’ll have your dinner in your bowl in a second.”

Jive immediately went over to the corner of the kitchen, sitting and then looking at her impatiently as if to say, “Why isn’t it here already?” With a grin, she paused long enough to take a pan from the counter. Going to his bowl, she emptied cooked chicken bits into it, telling the dog, “You’re spoiled.” Jive didn’t argue as he dug into his meal.

Ellis nodded and went through the wide archway separating the kitchen and dining room. The long, simple, dark oak table was set for two since Janice almost always ate with him, unless she had to leave early for some reason. He gazed longingly for a moment at the brick fireplace along one wall, wishing it was winter when the temperature outside would be cool enough to light a fire. Today however, being mid-summer, it would be foolish. It was hot in the room, even with the ceiling fan running, and all the windows and the patio doors open to let in errant breezes.

Going to the wine cabinet, he chose a bottle of pinot noir, uncorked it, and poured them each a glass. By then, Janice was carrying in a large platter which she set down on the table. She hurried back to the kitchen, returning with a bowl of salad and a plate of homemade bread.

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