Excerpt: An Army of Angels

Alex walked around the gallery, checking each painting, making sure everything was as close to perfect as he could manage. He still wasn’t comfortable about exhibiting the nudes, but it was too late to withdraw them now. He made sure each of them bore a SOLD tag so there would be no confusion. None of them were for sale, nor would they ever be.

He made his way to the Images of Hell series. He had no problem selling them. The sooner they were out of his sight the better. He begrudgingly admitted they were his best and most original work, but they gave him no pleasure, no sense of satisfaction. They gave him only a strong sense of fear, as if he really had glimpsed hell.

“Still nervous?” Robyn asked.

He put one arm around her waist. “I hope every damn one of them sells,” he confided. “I don’t want to ever have to see them again.”

“Think you’ll ever do any more of them?” she asked.

He took a deep breath and released it. “I hope not. They give me nightmares.”

“Alex, Robyn–come, we’re about to open the doors,” Brian Winters called out to them. “Places, everyone. Showtime!”

Robyn looked at Alex. “Ready?”

He forced a smile. “Ready as I’m ever going to be.”

Within minutes, the gallery was filled with people. Alex watched as they looked at the paintings, searching their faces for some hint as to their reactions. Robyn brought him a plate from the wine and cheese provided for the guests, but he was too nervous to eat.

Paulie snatched the plate from her hand. “If he’s not going to eat it, I will.”

“You never lose your appetite,” Robyn said, immediately turning her attention back to her husband. “You’re worrying for nothing. You’re going to be a huge success, you’ll see.” 

Brian Winters came rushing over to them. “We’ve sold the Images of Hell series!” he told them. 
Alex was surprised. “All of them?”

“Yes, yes. The buyer insisted they were too important, that they must be kept together,” Winters gushed. “Come, she insists upon meeting you.”

Alex hesitated. Robyn urged him on. “You just made a great deal of money here, love. It’s just good business to go say hello.”

Alex took his wife’s hand. “You have to come with me.”

“Proudly,” Robyn assured him.

Winters led them through the crowd to a tall woman dressed in black. Her hair, worn in a simple chignon, was as dark as her dress. Her eyes were so dark they appeared to have no pupils. The only jewelry she wore was a diamond-and-ruby bracelet. Her smile was almost feline.

“Ms. Adrian, may I present Alex Stewart and his wife, Robyn,” Winters introduced them.

The woman barely acknowledged Robyn. She took Alex’s hand and studied him for a moment. “You’re incredibly talented, Alex,” she said, dispensing with formality.

“Thank you, Ms.–” he began.

“Call me Cassandra,” she invited. 

He nodded. “Cassandra.” He glanced at Robyn, who took his other hand in a territorial gesture.

“The Images of Hell series is going to be your most important work,” she said confidently. “What was your inspiration?”

“My worst nightmares,” he answered.

She seemed pleased by that. “Have you ever experienced hell, Alex?” she asked.

Alex and Robyn exchanged looks. “Once or twice,” he answered.

“Ms. Adrian, we must take care of business,” Winters interjected then. He muttered an apology to Alex and Robyn, then led Cassandra Adrian off to finalize the sale.

Alex turned to his wife. “What do you make of her?” he asked.

Robyn scowled. “Mincemeat, if she even tries to make a move on you,” she said in a low voice.

He laughed. “You think she wants to–“

“I know a bitch in heat when I see one.” 


“I had no idea our baby sister was such a hottie,” Mike said as he and his brothers looked at the paintings of Robyn.

“You’ve seen her naked before,” Paulie said, grinning.

“Yeah–she was two and I was four at the time,” Mike reminded him.

Two men stood in front of one of the nudes, engaged in an animated conversation as Alex approached. “If I had her layin’ there naked, I sure as hell wouldn’t be painting,” one of them was saying.

The other laughed. “I wouldn’t mind dipping my brush into that,” he agreed.

Alex confronted them. “That’s my wife you’re talking about,” he snapped.

“You’re a lucky man, then,” one of them told him. “She’s a hot little–“

Before he could finish, Alex’s fist connected with his jaw and sent him crashing to the floor. The other man lunged at Alex, only to be intercepted by Paulie and Mike. Immediately, chaos erupted. People screamed and dodged the combatants. The table set up for the wine and cheese was overturned, everything spilling across the floor.

“Alex!” Robyn shouted, stepping aside as one of her brothers slid past her and crashed into a wall. 

“He’s over there somewhere,” Paulie said as he blocked a punch.

“Alex!” she called to him again. 

He came tumbling across the floor, coming to an abrupt stop at her feet. She helped him get up, but he was immediately knocked down again by J.J. and a man with whom he was struggling.

Finally, someone called the police.


“Look, Robyn–” Mike began as the five brothers left the police station with Alex and Robyn. She’d posted bail for the six of them within hours of their arrest.

“Not a word.” Robyn’s voice held a warning note. “I don’t want to hear a word from any of you. As a matter of fact, all five of you are banned from the house for the next month.”

“You’ll notice she’s not punishing him,” Paulie told his brothers as they crossed the parking lot to her SUV.

“What could she do, make him sleep in the studio?” Mike asked.

“She ain’t gonna do that,” Paulie said. “She’d be punishing herself if he were banished to his studio. She likes–”

“Shut up, Paulie!” Robyn snapped.

Alex walked beside his wife in silence. He wasn’t about to make excuses or promise never to do it again. The man had insulted her, made lewd remarks about her. If he had it all to do again, he would still have decked the jerk.

He hadn’t wanted to include his paintings of Robyn in the exhibit. They were private as far as he was concerned. He had never wanted anyone else to see them, any more than he would have wanted anyone to see her naked in the flesh. 

Alex’s only regret was allowing Robyn to talk him into letting them be shown.