Alex could only stare at her, the confusion mixing with anger and his desire. He left hours ago, puzzled by his attraction to her. Even with her laughing and painting, yet another, gruesome picture of death, he still couldn’t dismiss his feelings for her. No doubt, it would probably be difficult to make out what he was really thinking. Because what he was thinking was he wanted to wipe her smirk off with a kiss. He wanted to erase her fear with a smooth caress of his hands. He wanted to spank the bad humor out of her.
And he couldn’t do any of those things. Not until he fully cleared her as a suspect.
Jerking his finger at the painting, which he’d probably never erase from his mind, he said in a gentler and more controlled tone, “Do you think this is funny?”
She shook her head no, but said nothing else.
“I don’t get it.” And he really didn’t. “You paint such beauty.” His compulsion took over, glancing at the horrific painting once more. “Why do you paint this?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
His gaze slowly met hers. He didn’t want to admit he was afraid his gut was steering him wrong. Maybe she did kill that woman. Maybe she did have a hand in it somehow. When his eyes connected with her crystal green eyes, sparkling like a dazzling emerald, the pain was easy to see. It poured out in heavy waves, almost too much, as if she were about to keel over.
Without thinking, he moved closer and guided her to sit down on the couch. She didn’t resist his touch or the movement. He took a seat next to her as his hand slid down her arm and landed on her hand, slowly mingling his fingers with hers. She still didn’t fight him. If anything, her grip tightened, as if she were afraid he’d pull away.
“I want to understand.”
Although her eyes stayed fixed on his, she was a million miles away.
“Why do you paint such…” He couldn’t even put into words what she painted. It was brutal. It was horrific. It was downright…wrong.
“What do you see when you look at apples?”
She nodded once. “Do you see fruit? Do you see something you can eat? Do you see a red object? Do you see something delicious? What do you see?”
“It’s an apple.” He shrugged, honestly confused what she was trying to say. What did apples have to do with pictures of death? “I see something I can eat.”
“What do you see when you look at the painting behind you?”
He didn’t want to look, but he did anyway. A shiver rushed through his bones as he stared at the strangled woman, her naked body almost life like, it made him want to throw up. He hated the picture. But there was no doubt Ginny had talent as an artist. She made the picture come alive.
He looked back toward her. “I see a woman brutally murdered. I still don’t understand.”
She leaned closer, her grip tightening, almost crushing his fingers. “And you never will.” She yanked her hand out of his grasp and stood up, then walked around the coffee table to a stack of canvases that sat on the other side. She rummaged around the stack until she pulled one out and turned toward him.
In the center of the canvas was a bowl of apples. Bright red apples. The bowl sat atop nothing. Not a table. Not a counter. Not a floor. Just floated in the middle of the canvas. They looked alive, just as the dead woman did. He could almost imagine pulling one out and taking a bite. They looked real and delicious.
“What do you see?”
“I see you have talent. They look delicious.”
“But you don’t see the poison. You don’t see the death sitting in the core. These are poisonous apples. The same exact apples that took the life of my little sister.” She tapped the middle of the canvas hard with her fist. “You see what you want to see.” Her hand whipped to the other painting sitting on the easel. “I don’t see a woman brutally murdered. I see the darkness that lives inside of me finally released. I see hope.” She sighed as she dropped the canvas back to the pile next to her. “You’ll never understand that.”
He had a feeling she was right. He never would. Not if she didn’t let him in and explain the why behind it.
And he wasn’t about to let her get away with throwing out the little tidbit she did. The same exact apples that took the life of my little sister. What in the hell did that mean? That kind of shit only happened in fairytales.
“What happened to your sister?”
She laughed. “Weren’t you listening?”
“So she ate a poisonous apple?”
She cocked her brow in response.
“By the wicked Queen and a magic mirror?”
He couldn’t help but smile at the disgust and anger plastered on her face. She was trying so hard to act angry, but oddly enough, it was just making her look adorable for some reason. He shouldn’t smile or tease her, especially with what they were talking about.
She walked around the coffee table, not far within his reach. “In the café you said my real name was Ginny Appleby. Well, it’s my real name now. It wasn’t the name I was born with. You didn’t do your research well at all, and quite frankly, I’m not going to help you with that information either. That’s not who I am anymore.”
He preferred her anger over this attitude. Especially since it made him look like an idiot, which he was. How did he miss this?
“My sister did die by apples. My mother killed her. My little sister loved apples. Bright red, juicy apples that came from our tree in the back yard. Every day, she’d have an apple with her breakfast. Then, one day, my mother injected arsenic into the apples. Do you think I’m lying?”
By the dead vacant look in her eyes, no, he didn’t believe she was lying. But he was curious as hell about something.
“So you changed your name. Why would you change your last name to Appleby?”