Excerpt from “The Ghost Painter”

(I’ve been busy working on my second novel, The Ghost Painter, a paranormal thriller set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The following is an excerpt in which the heroine — a New York artist — attends her first Santa Fe art opening.)

The level of chatter at the Cross of the Martyrs Gallery was rapidly rising. Too many bodies in too small a space, thought she, as she surveyed the crowded room while holding a small plastic glass in one hand and balancing some kind of tiny black-olive-cream-cheese-on-puff-pastry-thingamajig in the other. Never had she seen such a conglomeration of costume “get-ups” in one place without the occasion being Halloween. Nor had she seen so many females running the gamut of southwestern fashion choices. There was everything from Indian-style velvet broomstick skirts in rich colors of ruby-red, aqua, gold, and green, all topped off with high-necked or off-the-shoulder satin blouses, a preponderance of silver-and-turquoise jewelry, and fancy cowboy boots. Some flaunted their slim figures with sexy, skin-tight jeans, fringed sueded vests, and cowboy hats, along with the usual Indian jewelry. The men were no less flamboyant in their Western-style shirts, jeans with silver-buckled belts, high-heeled, alligator-skin boots, ostentatious hunks of turquoise-and-silver bolo ties, and the obsequiousness of the occasional Stetson. What a show, she thought. As for the main event, because of the crowd, Angelina hadn’t been able to get close enough to view the paintings hanging on the white-washed walls since she’d arrived.

Taking a bite of the puff pastry “thingamajig,” then swallowing, she felt herself immediately start coughing uncontrollably. At the same time she felt a strong tapping on her back, accompanied by the sound of a deep voice saying, “It’s okay. Here. This should help”, as the voice’s owner handed her a half-filled glass. “It’s the same as you were drinking. Chardonnay. It’s my glass. Yours just landed on the saltillo. Have a sip. Don’t worry. I’m healthy.”

Fitfully coughing, Angelina raised her tear-streaked face to squint at the man confronting her. “Oh, God,” she said in a choked wheeze. “Thanks.” She rummaged in her shoulder bag for a tissue. Darn. Where?

The man, tall, blondish, grinned at her as he handed her a Kleenex from a packet he pulled from his gray-suede Members Only jacket. She accepted, noting the black turtleneck he wore under the jacket, along with dark jeans. Ah, what a relief. No crazy competing for this fellow with the rest of the Southwest fashionistas.

“Guess you can tell I’m not used to the hot stuff they serve at openings here.” She smiled up at him, sipping the drink he’d handed her while dabbing at her dampened eyes with the Kleenex. “You came along just in time. I could’ve died coughing and they’d have to ship me back to New York in a box.”

“Over my dead body”, he joked with a straight face. Brightening, with a twinkle, he added, “Have you seen the paintings? Aside from you, they’re the best thing in the room.”

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