Promise Not to Tell(7)

By: Jayne Ann Krentz

Cabot got a thoughtful look. “If Brewster went to ground on that island, how did you find her?”

“I didn’t,” Virginia admitted. “It never even occurred to me to look for her. When I was growing up, my grandmother made sure that I had no connection with anyone who had been associated with Zane’s operation. Not that anyone ever came around asking about me, as far as I know. But about a year and a half ago Hannah showed up at my gallery.”

Anson peered at her over the rims of his glasses. “Why?”

“She wanted to give me some of her serious paintings—not the notecard scenes. I knew her pictures would be tough to sell—they are quite large, for one thing. But when she told me who she was, and after I saw the paintings, I couldn’t turn her away. I assumed she needed money, so I took the pictures and gave her an advance. She accepted the payment but she insisted on cash. I don’t think she really cared much about the money, though. She just needed to get rid of her pictures.”

Anson’s bushy brows formed a solid line above his forceful nose. “Why would she do that if it wasn’t for the money?”

“Her paintings were scenes from her worst nightmare,” Virginia said.

Understanding heated Cabot’s eyes. “Scenes from her time in the cult.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Specifically scenes from the night Zane torched the compound,” she said.

Cabot’s jaw tightened. “I see.”

“Before she died she gave me a total of ten pictures of that night,” Virginia continued. “Each one is a little different, each is from a slightly different perspective. But if you saw them, you would recognize the setting immediately. She called the series Visions.”

“Did you ever sell any of her pictures?” Anson asked.

“No. After the first couple of pictures were delivered, Hannah decided that she didn’t want them sold to what she called ‘outsiders.’ She insisted they were only for those who understood their true meaning.”

“Survivors of the cult,” Cabot said.

“Exactly,” Virginia said. “In the end, I just collected them one by one. I keep them in a storage locker in my shop.”

“You don’t hang any of them in your own home?” Anson asked.

“No,” Virginia said.

“Of course not,” Cabot said. “They’re your nightmares, too. Who wants a nightmare hanging on the living room wall?”

Virginia gave him a long, level look. “You are very perceptive, Mr. Sutter.”

The corner of his mouth may or may not have twitched a little. “What can I say? You caught me on a good day.”

“I assume you only bill for services rendered on your good days,” she said politely. “I wouldn’t want to pay for time spent working on your off days.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Cabot said. “And the name is Cabot.”

Anson cleared his throat and looked at Virginia.

“Did Hannah Brewster always deliver the paintings to you personally or did she ship them to you?” he asked.

“She brought the first couple to me but I realized she truly hated having to leave the island,” Virginia said. “The outside world terrified her, so I offered to make the trip to Lost Island to pick up the pictures whenever they were ready. She was very relieved.”

Cabot raised his brows at that. “If Brewster didn’t use a phone or a computer, how did she let you know when a painting was ready for you?”

“Hannah had a very close friend on the island, Abigail Watkins, who ran the Lost Island B and B. Abigail did have a phone—a landline. She needed it for business purposes. She called me to let me know whenever Hannah had finished a painting. But aside from that landline, Abigail didn’t use any tech, either.”

“You say this Abigail Watkins was a good friend of Brewster’s?” Cabot asked.

“Yes. But I should mention that Watkins wasn’t Abigail’s real last name. She changed it years ago.”

“Why?” Cabot asked.

“Because she was connected to Zane’s cult, too, right from the start when he set up his first compound at the old house outside of Wallerton. Maybe you remember her as well. She was a little wisp of a woman who worked in the kitchen most of the time. Very delicate. Very lovely. Almost ethereal. She and Hannah were responsible for the cooking and housekeeping.”

Cabot’s eyes went cold. “Zane ran his cult like the business it was—a classic pyramid scheme. And, like any smart CEO, he only wanted people who could help him grow his empire. Everyone he lured into the cult had a purpose. Some of his followers handed over their life savings to provide him with capital. Others had business or technology expertise. And then there were the bastards who served as his enforcers.”

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