Eight Days To Live

By: Iris Johansen


ONE


Paris

Day One

7:35 P.M.


SHE WAS LAUGHING, Jack Millet thought, enraged. Even as Jane MacGuire had left the sidewalk café, a lingering smile had remained on her lips.

He had to smother the anger, remind himself that she would not be laughing for very long.

Eight days, bitch. Just eight more days, and I’ll send you to rot in hell.

He had watched her sitting there in the café, staring out at the Seine, and the seething anger had been building steadily within him. She had no right to look that serene and content.

Liar.

Blasphemer.

He started after her, careful not to get close enough for her to know she was being followed. He knew where she was going. The Denarve Art Gallery was only two blocks away and tonight they were exhibiting Jane MacGuire’s paintings and would probably be heaping praise on her.

Blind. They couldn’t see the ugliness of the atrocity she had committed.

She moved lithely, gracefully, her red-brown hair shining as the sunlight burnished it. Everything about her shouted that she was young and vibrantly alive.

And that enraged him, too.

Dead. You should be dead. You should be burning in Hell.

Eight days. But he wanted it to happen now. It was a deep hunger that wouldn’t go away.

But if he could hurt her, it would help him to wait for that final glory. If he could rip and tear at her and destroy everything she valued and loved, he might be able to keep himself under control.

Take her, torture her, and make her scream with agony.

But he had to do it himself. He could order help in the taking, perhaps Folard, but after that, he couldn’t trust his brothers to be able to stop themselves from killing her before her time. Their souls weren’t as strong as his had become through all the years of service to the Offering.

She was quickening her steps as she approached the gallery. The sun was going down, and the rays of the setting sun were causing her hair to blaze with fiery highlights.

Blaze. Scald. Burn. Suffer.

Yes, fire is an exquisite weapon. Knives. Scalpels. Whips. There are so many ways to hurt you, Jane MacGuire.

I know them all.


MALEVOLENCE.

Overwhelming malice.

Jane stopped, stiffening, as her hand reached out to open the carved oak door of the Denarve Gallery.

For an instant she couldn’t breathe, and she instinctively glanced back over her shoulder at the street behind her.

Nothing. A peaceful Parisian street on a beautiful spring day. No threat.

Imagination. A trick of the mind. Maybe a little nervous reaction because of the show tonight?

But she didn’t usually have nerves.

She glanced over her shoulder again.

Nothing.

Imagination.

She pulled open the carved oak door and went into the gallery.

“There you are.” Celine Denarve turned to Jane and frowned with mock indignation. “I thought I was going to have to send the bloodhounds after you. Marie and I have been slaving with the preparations to make this exhibit the finest I’ve ever given for any artist, and you go strolling off as if it has no importance. It’s an insult.”

Jane grinned. “You know that you would have whisked me out of here if I’d offered to stay and help.” Celine was reacting with her usual sense of Gallic drama, and it always amused Jane. High drama was so far removed from her own practical character. She had flashes of intensity and recklessness, and that might be why she and Celine had so quickly become friends, but it was Celine’s basic shrewdness and kindness that had cemented that friendship. “How many times have you told me that an artist should paint and stay out of the business of selling her work?”

“Many times.” Celine turned to her assistant, Marie Ressault, who had come out of the office carrying an ice bucket. “Put it at the bar, Marie. If I give everyone enough champagne, they will forget that Jane’s not really the Rembrandt I’ve been hyping for the past month.”

“I believe those art critics may already be a little skeptical,” Jane said dryly. “Though if anyone could convince them, you could.”

“You’re right. I’m splendid.” She smiled brilliantly at Jane. In her late thirties, Celine was sleek and dark-haired and as attractive as she was shrewd. She might know every trick in the book about pushing a young-and-coming artist up the next rung of the ladder, but she did it with honesty and a bubbly exuberance. “That’s what it takes to make a starving artist an icon.”

“I hate to tell you, but I’m not a starving artist. I did have a few successful shows before you appeared in my life.”

“Yes, but those other gallery owners didn’t make you focus on the important things. They should have made you do publicity to make you a household name.”