“Your collection is superb,” Suzan stated as she admired Ellen Lambert’s treasury of paintings, lithographs, prints and sculptures. “Of course, I know nothing about art, but these pieces could have come from a museum.”
Ellen laughed lightly. “Maybe I did steal them from the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid. But no, I acquired these pieces during my travels abroad. I am rather proud of my collection.”
“So you should be. Thank you so much for showing me your prized possessions.” Suzan had been admiring a painting by the modernist artist Gustav Klimt as well as a Cellini figurine, a lovely Roman woman sculpted from gleaming alabaster.
But one portrait in particular caught her attention that of a nude lady painted with exaggerated proportions. Disregarding the oval head and elongated neck of the model, Suzan could almost see a likeness to Ellen Lambert in the face, eyes and mouth. But the painting had been signed by Amadeo Modigliani, a painter she remembered from her art appreciation class in college. He had painted in the early part of the twentieth century and therefore could not have used Ellen Lambert as his subject.
Ellen’s smile radiated her pleasure. “I always enjoy showing off my treasures to those who truly appreciate the finer things in life. Now, Suzan, do you have the time to join me for a glass of sherry or wine?”
“I think I can spare a minute or two.” Suzan followed her hostess out of the storage room and then waited as Ellen locked the door using an electronic wall pad. She wanted to ask about the neighboring door and what room lay beyond it, but decided that her curiosity might be taken for snoopiness. Instead, she complimented Ellen on the lovely ambiance of the third-floor vestibule with its gleaming ivory and green tones.
“Thank you, but most of it was here when Charles and I purchased the house.” Ellen pushed the elevator button and waited as the Art Deco-embellished doors opened. “I just added to it with marble inlay and some paint.”
“Well, your whole house is beautiful, and one can tell it has been decorated with a knowledgeable eye for details as well as a creative flair.”
Ellen’s smile broadened appreciatively. “Again, you are too kind, doctor.”
As they rode down to the ground floor, Suzan enquired about Charles Lambert, her concern merely professional in nature. His condition had piqued her interest far beyond her usual professional interest in unusual cases.
“I’m afraid he’s not doing well,” Ellen confessed, her bright, enthusiastic expression darkening for a moment. “The last time we spoke Charles indicated that he wished to stay at the clinic for another few months and then extend his stay by traveling throughout Europe.”
“Oh, I see.” Suzan stopped herself from enquiring further about the state of the Lambert marriage, but Ellen opened up to her and explained the situation as if the natural thing to do.
“I am afraid that Charles and I have come to a parting of the ways.” Ellen held up her hand before Suzan could offer her sympathy. “Oh, don’t express your apologies on our account. The separation and possible divorce seem inevitable. After twelve years of marriage, we simply have nothing more in common. Our affections have played out and we have nothing new to say or give to one another.”
“Well, that’s plain enough. You certainly have a handle on the situation. A lot of couples try to work through their feelings and make it all so complicated instead of recognizing the main reasons they want to separate in the first place.” For a moment, Suzan wondered if she spoke from the depths of her own feelings concerning Davis. If she had a chance to end their relationship for whatever reason, would she do so quickly and neatly, without strings attached and drawn-out discussions? Suzan had to admit she certainly would.
As the elevator stopped and the doors opened to the hall that led to the living areas, Ellen indicated that Suzan proceed first. “Please have a seat, and I’ll bring us the drinks.” Donning a small frown, Ellen paused for a moment as she followed her guest to the living room. “Oh, I haven’t even asked you what you would like to drink. Would you prefer a glass of sherry or blush wine, or perhaps a glass of Calvados, an apple liqueur? It seems fitting for the fall weather.”
Because this afternoon seemed special to her, Suzan decided to splurge. “The apple liqueur would be lovely.”
“Excellent! I’ll have the same.”
When Ellen returned with their liqueur and sundries on a silver tray, Suzan rose to accept her drink in a delicate crystal aperitif glass. Besides the drinks, Ellen had added a plate of crackers with Brie cheese.
“Cheese and apples,” she stated as she set the tray on the coffee table and then took the remaining glass in hand. “They seem to go together quite nicely.” She held up her glass in a toast. “Well, here’s to us and many more pleasant times ahead! Salud!”
With a broad smile, Suzan held up her glass. “Salud!” The liqueur went down nicely, like liquid velvet with a sublime apple taste. Despite all of Davis’ sophisticated and cultured ways, he never offered her anything this delightful.
As Ellen continued to talk about art, Suzan listened with a breezy expression. The liqueur had done its job to put her in a carefree mood and she tried to forestall the runaway effect with a couple of crackers and cheese. Yet when Ellen paused to fetch the decanter with the Calvados, Suzan accepted another glass, despite her inner warning bell that told her to cool it on the alcohol. Yet she hadn’t felt this relaxed in a long time. Finally, she glanced at her watch and realized it was well after six. Davis would be home soon, and had probably called her to get her preference for take-out dinner, only to get her voicemail. Earlier, before she got out of the car, Suzan had turned off her cell’s ringtone. She wanted nothing to disrupt her time with Ellen.
“I need to leave,” Suzan blurted and set her finished glass on the table. “I’m sorry, Ellen, but it is getting late.”
Ellen’s pleasant expression never faltered. “Oh, yes, of course. I hadn’t planned to take up all of your time.”
Suzan stood, albeit a bit unsteady. “You haven’t, but dinner with Davis awaits. He’s probably called me several times and left a text.”
“Don’t let me keep you then. I’ll walk you to the door.” As Ellen came up to Suzan she slipped her arm around the doctor’s waist in a loving and intimate gesture. Suzan reciprocated, her arm hooked gently around the woman’s slender waist as they walked to the foyer. At the door, Ellen broke away but then placed her hands on Suzan’s shoulders to bring them face to face.
Suzan gazed into the woman’s eyes, their color and character akin to the rich and inviting amber liquid of the Calvados. She could easily swim in their warm liquid embrace. When Ellen leaned close, Suzan focused on the woman’s mouth, her lips like twin rose petals, parted slightly to reveal Ellen’s perfect white teeth. The lips moved closer and closer until they touched Suzan’s mouth. With an intake of breath, Suzan wrapped her arms around Ellen’s shoulders and eagerly deepened their kiss. She reveled in the feel of Ellen’s lips, like soft, smooth satin with an overlaying taste of apple liqueur.
In turn, Ellen caressed the small of Suzan’s back and then worked up to her neck with a tender yet titillating touch. Suzan shivered violently as if the woman had infused her with a wonderful electric shock that caused a chain reaction throughout her body. As Ellen cupped Suzan’s face, she gently pulled back so that her lips barely brushed the doctor’s eager mouth.
“Good night, my darling,” Ellen whispered. “Please come back soon to finish what we’ve started.”
“Tomorrow,” Suzan murmured, reluctant to part from Ellen’s warm, intoxicating mouth and touch. “I’ll leave work early again, if that’s all right with you.” Then, as a pragmatic thought struck her, Suzan forced herself to return to reality. “I won’t be encroaching on your music lessons, will I? I don’t want to disrupt your schedule.”
Suzan smiled sweetly and pulled back. “You won’t disrupt me in the least. I’ve suspended my lessons for the interim, at least until Detective Mears informs me one way or the other about my students, Autumn and Taylor. I feel partially responsible for their disappearance since they met here before running away.”
“You shouldn’t feel responsible or guilty,” Suzan counseled. “I’m sure they had already made up their minds to go off together no matter where they met. They could have just as easily rendezvoused in a park or a coffee shop and skipped out from there. Your home here and its significance in their dual passion for music, seemed the most comfortable, convenient and logical location for them.”
Ellen adopted a thoughtful expression. “I never considered their disappearance from that angle. Thank you for your valuable input.” Donning an appreciative smile, she turned on the porch light for her guest. “So, I will see you tomorrow, Suzan. I look forward to our meeting or should I say rendezvous?”
Suzan thought of the word tryst but figured it wasn’t quite appropriate for what they shared or didn’t share so far. “No matter the name, I look forward to seeing you again as well.”
She couldn’t help the silly, ecstatic grin that crossed her face, but she felt wonderful, so free and beautiful, and above and beyond the effect of the alcohol. “At four on the dot.”