The Girl Who Adored Rembrandt
By Belle Ami
One painting, two lifetimes, will her visions lead her to the truth?
A frightening premonition of the theft of a priceless Rembrandt family portrait pulls psychic art historian, Angela Renatus, on a hunt to uncover the truth about the masterpiece. Sensing a connection to the great master himself, Angela fears that another of her doomed past lives with her fiancé Alex Caine will reveal itself to her. And with that revelation comes the possible threat of losing Alex in this lifetime.
A former Navy SEAL turned private investigator of stolen art—Alex never backs down from a fight. When the FBI comes calling for Angela’s help to track down the powerful drug lord who masterminded the theft, Alex is determined to keep her safe. Angela is equally determined to unravel her visions about Rembrandt and the stolen painting—haunting visions about a long-buried secret in the Rembrandt family. A secret that could alter the course of her life…
October 12, 1662
“How dare those pompous ignoramuses return the painting! What do they know of art? Nothing!”
Hendrickje Stoffels jumped as a plate flew past her ears, smashing against the wood cabinet. She ran to her daughter, Cornelia, and swept her up in her arms.
“Vader, no,” the weeping child pleaded.
“It’s all right, Neeltje,” Hendrickje smoothed her daughter’s golden curls over her shoulder and kissed her cheek.
“The pandering vetzaks! Fat bags!” Rembrandt van Rijn raged, his voice shaking the rafters of the house. Neeltje clung to Hendrickje, her legs wrapped tight around her waist. Hendrickje prayed the painter’s venting would appease his temper and curb his assault on her good plates, or soon there would be nothing left to eat on.
She knew well it was better to let the bitter tirade run its course. What bothered her was seeing their eight-year-old daughter frightened to death by her father’s outburst.
“Those Godverdomme zakkenwassers, their taste is in their klootzakken!”
“Rembrandt, enough! Think of Neeltje!” She covered the child’s ears. Referring to the governors of Amsterdam as goddamn pocket-washers and assholes was not appropriate language for a child, nor was it going to solve the problem. What if Neeltje repeated it in front of a patron? Mijn God, the trouble would certainly rain down on them.
Rembrandt’s mouth clamped shut into a thin line. His hands fisted on his hips, and he glared at her. Her gaze dropped to the floor, where a massive rolled canvas filled the length of the room.
“What has happened?” The realization beginning to dawn on her.
“What has happened?” he repeated in a furious whisper. “What has happened is those idiots have returned The Oath-Swearing of Claudius Civilis, a painting, as you well know, I worked on for two years! It hung in the Town Hall for two weeks, and now they have sent it back without so much as a guilder for my trouble.”
Hendrickje covered her mouth to hold back the bile that rose in her throat.
It was a disaster.
They needed this commission—desperately. “What will you do?”
A red-faced Rembrandt stared at the bundle on the floor. “Damn them all. I’ll cut it into little pieces and stuff it down each one of their throats.” He ran up the stairs, his heavy footfalls thundering through the house—a minute later, he returned with a pair of large scissors in his hand. He pushed the furniture to the edges of the room and cut the jute that secured the rolled painting. He kicked the canvas until it lay flat on the floor. It was the largest history painting he’d ever done, and it took up every centimeter of space. He crouched, scissors poised, preparing to cut.
“Vader, please, no!” Neeltje cried. “Don’t hurt the painting.” Her face was wet with tears, and she sniffled, her small hand wiping her nose. Hendrickje’ s heart broke for Neeltje, who worshipped her father.
Rembrandt looked up at Neeltje’s stricken face and dropped the scissors—they clattered to the floor. Standing, he walked to mother and daughter, his shoulders slumped. “Mijn parel, my pearl,” Rembrandt murmured the affectionate nickname he called his beloved daughter. “Forgive me, Dochter, your Vader did not mean to frighten you. Cease your tears, I will not destroy the painting.”
The storm had passed, and the calm aftermath allowed Hendrickje to think. She studied the painting of the fearsome barbarian, Civilis, with his lofty jeweled crown. The Batavian conqueror was seated at a table with a gathering of common drunks, their swords raised in sworn allegiance to the man who’d freed them from the Romans. A monumental work of art, the painting was modeled after Raphael’s School of Athens in size and grandeur.
The burgemeesters of Amsterdam must have been stunned by the audacious interpretation of Tacitus’s text of what the Dutch considered a shining victory in their history. She could imagine the representatives of the city recoiling in horror at Rembrandt’s vision. Their pride was in the alliance of provinces of the Netherlands, governing themselves, not indentured to a sovereign like the rest of Europe. And here, Rembrandt had dared to paint their hero, as a king no less. Although Rembrandt’s immense talent had at most times swayed his naysayers—this time, it failed him.
It made her stomach turn, but she knew what must be done.
Hendrickje cupped her hand on Rembrandt’s cheek. “I’m afraid we must cut it down to a reasonable size. It’s the only way to salvage it and sell it.”
Rembrandt trembled, but he nodded. He drew Hendrickje and Neeltje into his arms and hugged them, pressing his lips to Neeltje’s forehead. When he released them, he knelt to the floor, scissors in hand.
Hendrickje put Neeltje down, and they knelt beside Rembrandt holding the edges of the painting and pulling it taut. The first incision brought a sniffle from Neeltje.
“It will be fine, mijn lieverd, the painting will be smaller, but your vader is a genius, and the men who built the new Town Hall are fools who will one day regret their foolish acts.”
Rembrandt mumbled under his breath, “They call it the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’ I call it the azijnzeiker huis.”
Hendrickje covered her mouth, unable to stifle her giggle, and Rembrandt chuckled as well. Calling the majestic Town Hall, a vinegar piss house was too funny. Neeltje’s cheeks brightened, and her laughter tinkled around them.
Laughter in the face of adversity had always stitched their love together, and it did so once again.
Rembrandt snipped away at the canvas, and Hendrickje did her best not to wince with each cut.
San Francisco, California
January 12, 2:00 a.m.
It was a cold, rainy night in the City by the Bay. The kind of night when furnaces around the city were blasting, and foghorns moaned a warning. A thick milky soup shrouded The Golden Gate Bridge, creating an optical illusion as though it floated on a cloud. The bay was invisible, cloaked beneath a blanket of white.
Anyone with half a brain was indoors on this inhospitable night.
A few miles away in Pacific Heights, five men jumped the fence of a Gothic-style mansion. Gloved, hooded, and wearing black thermal gear, they huddled together and checked their weapons. Before pulling his balaclava down over his face, their leader, Miguel Santiago, gave a series of hand signals, sending the men off in teams of two. Before they could break into the house, there was an armed guard they needed to subdue.
Miguel hid behind a clipped topiary hedge that resembled an upside-down ice-cream cone. Staring through night-vision goggles that turned the blackness of night to a green semblance of day, he waited for the security guard to make his circuit of the grounds. When the guard rounded the corner of the house, his flashlight beam danced across the lawn like Tinker Bell on steroids. In his other hand, he held the leash of a German Shepherd who froze with his snout in the air, sniffing. Call it his sixth sense, but Miguel could have sworn the guard looked directly at him. The dog strained on his leash, pulling his handler forward. Even if the guard hadn’t seen him, the dog had caught his scent.
Before the guard released the growling beast, Miguel aimed the rifle with its tranquilizer dart and fired. The guard staggered, grabbing for the dart in his neck. He was over six feet and muscled, but the drug was strong enough to bring down a bear. Before the stunned man’s hand could grasp the dart, he collapsed to the ground. When he fell, he let go of the leash, and the dog came charging toward Miguel. He reloaded and fired, cursing as the dog tumbled head over heels.
Miguel waved his hand to Fernando—his number two, ran forward, and swung a rubberized grappling hook and rope up to the roof eave. It caught with a dull thump, and the ninja-clad man grabbed the rope and scuttled up the side of the house with the agility of an acrobat. Miguel checked his watch and walked over to the dog. He knelt and laid his hand on its head and smiled, relieved as the animal’s chest rose and fell evenly.
While Fernando loaded gas into the ventilation system, Miguel crouched behind a tree and pulled his laptop out of his backpack. The gas wasn’t lethal, he’d been assured by his suppliers, but it would induce a deep comatose state when inhaled. Hours later, the victims would wake with a splitting headache and no memory of what had occurred.
The house was secured with a sophisticated alarm system and cameras that linked to the security company, the fire department, and the police department. Infrared motion sensors triggered individual alarms over most of the valuables. Miguel had spent weeks breaking the code, testing over and over again his ability to hack into the mainframe of the elite security system. He’d perfected his skill, reducing the time until he’d nailed it to under two minutes. Once he hacked in and deactivated the code, the system would automatically recycle, discover the error, and generate a new code in sixty seconds. Miguel figured out how to trip the system to give them ten minutes. If they weren’t out of the mansion before it reset, all hell would break loose, police and security guards would swarm the estate in a matter of minutes.
Miguel’s fingers drummed the keyboard, counting down the ten minutes on his watch for the gas to permeate inside. Fernando silently bounced down the side of the house, giving a thumbs up. Satisfied, Miguel’s fingers flew over the keyboard—a series of numbers scrolled across the laptop’s screen at lightning speed. He hammered away until the code locked into place. With a few more strokes to the keyboard, a red alert flashed, announcing the system was down. He set the timer on his watch, and the countdown began.
He ran across the manicured lawn toward the kitchen entrance, switching out his goggles to a full-face gas mask. By the time he got to the door, Diego had already picked the lock and opened it. Julian covered the entrance, and Fernando and Diego followed Miguel inside.
Miguel had only a vague idea of the downstairs plan, but based on the diagram of the security system, the painting would be above the fireplace in the living room on the first floor. The darkness and the gas mask made it difficult to see. The gas mask was a new model his agent had sold him—US SEAL Team Six had worn the exact masks when they offed Bin Laden. Military-grade or not, he should have had his men test it beforehand. Estúpido!
He stumbled in the entranceway losing his footing. Attempting to brace his fall, he knocked over a small table. He, the table, and whatever was on it crashed to the floor. He cursed as the shattering glass echoed throughout the entry. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement on the staircase.
“Madre di Dios!” He crossed himself and nearly fainted at the ghostly vision. A woman hovered over the stairwell, gazing down at him. Mesmerized, he couldn’t move. He sensed she could see through the mask right to his soul. All of his bodily functions staged a rebellion. His pulse surged, his heartbeat pounded, his lungs refused to expand, and his gut churned, filling his mouth with a noxious taste. And yet, somewhere in his tumultuous reaction, her beauty made an impact. He closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. When he opened his eyes, she was gone, but he would never forget her—long dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and lips made for love.
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The Girl Who Adored Rembrandt
Released 1st September 2020
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When Belle isn't working on her next book, she's most likely in the kitchen whipping up something delicious for her family to enjoy. In addition to enjoying gourmet cooking, Belle is also an accomplished pianist, skier, and world traveler. She lives in Newbury Park, CA with her wonderful husband and two kids. She also lives with Cindy Crawford and Giorgio Armani (who just happen to be a horse and a chihuahua).
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