Today, we welcome romantic suspense author Karen Kendall back to the lair to chat about the third in her ARTemis, Inc., art recovery series.
Welcome back, Karen! What have you been doing since you were last here?
Thanks! It’s good to be here. What have I been doing . . . well, promo and proposals and a Blaze manuscript and more. Always something!
Tell us about the hero and heroine of Take Me For a Ride.
I had a lot of fun with these two. Eric McDougal is the hero, and the book is really his story. Some readers may recognize him from the previous two books in the series (TAKE ME IF YOU CAN and TAKE ME TWO TIMES.) He’s known around the office as “McManWhore,” since he’s been, um, rather active with the ladies. LOL. But McD has some unusual reasons for being the way he is, and I think they make him sort of loveable.
Natalie Rosen is the heroine of TAKE ME FOR A RIDE. She’s a restoration artist who works on old tapestries. Nat’s a little shy until you get a couple of whiskies in her, when a whole new side of her personality reveals itself. She also happens to be an accidental thief. You see, she borrows something to show to her grandmother, who then refuses to give it back—which is what kicks off the action in the story.
The hero, in particular, is keeping secrets in this book. Can you tell us a little about that?
McDougal is definitely keeping secrets! He’s an art recovery agent who targets Natalie from the first scene in RIDE. She’s his mark, and he’s tracked her to a local bar in order to find out what she may have done with the missing and very valuable St. George necklace, a piece that used to belong to Catherine the Great.
But it turns out that Natalie is honest, and she’s gotten herself into a whole lot of trouble. And it also turns out that McDougal may have a well-hidden and completely inconvenient conscience.
You also have a quest story going here. What's the quest?
Well, the ostensible quest is to recover the necklace. But there’s also a quest for justice, since the St. George necklace was originally stolen from Natalie’s great-grandparents during World War II. Avy and Liam (main characters from TAKE ME IF YOU CAN) are working that particular angle of the book.
McDougal and Natalie must also find her grandmother before some nasty Russian thugs find the old lady first. And in a further twist, granny goes on a quest of her own for other family belongings still hidden deep inside a cathedral in Moscow.
Let’s see: how many quests is that? LOL. Four, I think.
How do you research the art recovery and restoration angles for this series?
I find the art recovery angles to be the most interesting. I’ve tracked down articles and books on various art recovery specialists—the most colorful of whom seem to be Robert Volpe, who worked with NYPD in the ‘seventies, Thomas McShane of the FBI and Charley Hill of Scotland Yard. Those guys had some adventures!
There are also big databases on stolen art such as the international Art Loss Register. Art crime is a fast growing, scary business. The old stereotype of the ‘gentleman thief’ no longer applies—it’s gotten rough and ugly out there. There truly are mob ties and drug cartel ties and terrorist ties and money-laundering angles . . . it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
Can we have a look inside Take Me For a Ride?
Sure! Here’s an excerpt.
From TAKE ME FOR A RIDE by Karen Kendall, Signet, copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Natalie Rosen was McDougal’s mark this evening. An art restorer and probable thief, she lurched left on the crowded Manhattan sidewalk between 92nd and 1st. The door of Reif’s opened and swallowed her.
Reif’s? She didn’t look the type for a seedy old neighborhood bar run by three generations of Irish. Reif’s was a blue-collar place in a now affluent neighborhood. North of 96th got dicey as it eased into Spanish Harlem, but south of 96th had become gentrified. Still, there were a few old hold-outs like Reif’s, where electricians and plumbers mingled with white collar yuppies and argued politics in a haze of dust mingled with decades of lingering, stale cigarette smoke. The Yankees, the Mets, the mayor, the weather . . . those were typical topics.
Reif’s was situated on the ground floor of a six-story apartment building. It smelled beer-sodden and mildewy but it was also homey and offered a sort of tobacco-stained comfort that suited McDougal . . . just not a girl like Natalie Rosen.
Natalie had dark, glossy, straight hair and dark, serious eyes that looked a little at odds with her snub, lightly freckled nose. She was cute in a repressed, academic sort of way. Not tweedy or preppy—more earnest and artsy. The chick wore a lot of black, but there was a difference between severe New York black and sultry Miami black.
New York black covered while Miami black revealed. New York black involved tights, turtlenecks, scarves and coats. Miami black involved thongs, skirt lengths just shy of illegal, spike heels and fishnets—particularly on some of those little Brazilian hotties, with their bras clearly showing under skimpy tops . . . oh, yeah. McDougal was a big fan of Miami black.
Focus. He frowned. What in the hell was a girl with an art degree from Carnegie Mellon doing in a beer-soaked joint like Reif’s? Surely not unloading a two-million dollar necklace that had once belonged to Catherine the Great.
It was his job to find out, but he needed to hang back for a few. Let her get settled. Have a drink or two. He pegged her for the type that would walk into a dusty place like Reif’s and order, say, white wine. A little naïve. A little out of touch with reality.
Twenty minutes later, McDougal shoved his hands into his pockets, crossed the street and entered Reif’s. He glimpsed her immediately: Natalie perched on one of the old, wooden, backless bar-stools, staring sightlessly into the dregs of a short glass of whiskey, rocks.
His opinion of her went up a notch—at least she hadn’t ordered a white Zinfandel in an Irish pub. Of course, his opinion of her didn’t matter much—he’d get what he came for, regardless. He always did.
In all that black, Natalie looked as if she’d smell of sulphur or mothballs, but as she dug into her nylon messenger bag for a tissue he caught a waft of fresh laundry detergent and a tinge of 4711, a cologne his sisters used to wear.
Over the bar hung a four foot by eight foot mirror, which reflected among other things Natalie’s drawn, downcast face. Something was on the lady’s mind.
McDougal nodded at the bartender and mounted the stool next to hers. It was covered in cheap green vinyl and had seen better days, but the upside of worn was comfortable. It announced his presence by creaking under his solid one hundred eighty pounds, but Natalie didn’t look at him.
Didn’t matter. She would. Women always did, eventually—not that in every case they liked what they saw. Some of the smarter ones summed him up as a player in one glance and dismissed him. Others focused on the bare fourth finger of his left hand. The fun ones started shoveling verbal shit at him immediately. Which type was she?
As Eric casually ordered a Guinness, he watched her in the mirror. Watched as her pointed little chin came up, she pushed some hair out of her face and cut her eyes towards him, her lashes at half mast.
Then came her first impression, the under-cover evaluation of his six-foot two frame, muscular forearms sprinkled with freckles and golden hair, his denim-clad legs. She took in the brown leather jacket and the reddish-brown stubble on his chin; then the grin that widened as he watched her.
That was when she realized that he’d seen her inspecting him in the mirror. Her gaze flew to his in the reflected surface and froze. A slow blush crept up her neck—a blush so fierce he could see it even in the dim light of Reif’s.
“Hi,” McDougal said, turning to face her with the full wattage of his grin.
She blinked, stared, then looked away as the blush intensified. She put a hand up to her neck as if to cool the skin off. “H-hi.”
She was a babe in the woods . . . without mosquito repellent. He prepared to feast on her tender young naiveté.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” McDougal said, taking his grin down a few notches, from wolfish to disarming.
She seemed to have no adequate response to that.
“It’s very normal to check out the guy sitting next to you. He could be a vagrant, a pervert, or a serial killer.”
She laughed reluctantly at that, and it transformed her face from mildly pretty to dazzling. She’d gone from librarian to . . . to . . . Carla Bruni in half a second flat. It was McDougal’s turn to stare. The French First Lady had nothing on her.
“So which one are you?” she asked, evidently emboldened.
“Me? I’m just a tourist, sweetheart. The only cereal killing I do involves a bowl of raisin bran or corn flakes.”
That got a smile. “Where are you from?”
“Florida,” she said, sounding wistful. “I’d love to be on a beach right now, not in the city.”
“You work here?”
Natalie nodded. “I’m a restoration artist.”
“A restoration artist,” McDougal repeated. “As in, they call you to touch up the Sistine Chapel?” He nodded at the bartender and pointed at her glass.
“Something like that. But I specialize in rugs and tapestries, not painting.” A wary expression crossed her face as the drink was set in front of her. “Um, I didn’t order—”
“It’s on me,” McDougal said.
“Oh, but . . .”
“What’s your name?”
She hesitated. “Natalie.”
“Natalie, it’s just a drink. Not a big deal. ‘Kay?”
“Thank you,” she said after a long pause. She curled her small but competent hand around the glass. “Actually, you have no idea how much I need this.”
Yes I do. First heist, honey? It always shreds your nerves. But all McDougal said was, “You’re welcome. I’m Eric.” And he proceeded to chat her up while she got lusciously tipsy on her second whiskey.
Really, he should be ashamed of himself.
Natalie Rosen’s eyes had gone just a little fuzzy, her gestures loose and her posture relaxed. She’d also gotten wittier. “So you said you’re a tourist. Are you an accidental one?”
He smiled. “Nope. I do have a purpose. Are you an accidental bar-fly?”
“No.” She averted her gaze, then looked down into her whiskey and murmured, “I’m an accidental thief.”
“Do tell,” McDougal said, showing his teeth and signaling the bartender again. If he had his wicked way, she’d soon be a naked thief.
(McDougal seems very sure of himself, doesn’t he? LOL. Just wait. He gets taken down a notch or two! )
Yes, and I don't want to spoil the fun for other readers, but I will say that part of the book, where all his sins come home to roost, was fabulous. What's next for you?
Well, I’m contracted for a Blaze trilogy, so I’ll be working on that. And I have an interesting new project up my sleeve! But I’m not ready to talk about that, yet. I’ll be taking a hiatus from the art recovery business for a while, though—even though I love it!
Characters from the other two books appear in this one, and the different plot threads come together. Can you give us a hint how all that works? And where Avy and Liam, in particular, are?
Avy and Liam, oddly enough, turn up in Moscow along with Natalie’s renegade granny and everyone else! Remember the quest for justice I mentioned earlier? Well, they’re there to recover something most unusual . . . something that Liam’s never dared to try recovering before. And Liam is no coward—if you’ve read the previous TAKE ME books, you know that he’s got a set of real brass ones! LOL.
This recovery will strain not only his nerves and his ingenuity, but Avy’s patience and her trust in him . . . which has been a bit shaky lately. Will their relationship survive? It’s anyone’s guess.
I hope you enjoy TAKE ME FOR A RIDE! And here’s wishing very happy holidays to everyone.
Karen is giving away a copy of Take Me for A Ride to one commenter today, so tell us: Is there a story involving art theft that you especially like? What's your favorite story of a bad boy doing penance after he's reformed by love? Who's your favorite bad boy hero?