"The claws come out in this family battle."
Reviewed by Sandra Wurman
Posted August 14, 2015
Romance | Women's Fiction
Elizabeth Lowell sets up another of her well-plotted
scenarios that will keep you guessing throughout her
newest blockbuster, PERFECT TOUCH. Reading through the
long list of stories by a truly talented author is like
revisiting old friends. Fans of Elizabeth Lowell all have
their favorites and I am quite certain PERFECT TOUCH will
wind up on many of those lists. It's a must read for this summer and a
welcome addition to
Elizabeth Lowell's romantic suspense bookshelf.
Sara Medina has devoted all her energy toward making her
business, Perfect Touch, a success. In order to do so,
anything even remotely resembling a personal life has
been put on a back burner. Sara has spent all her time
flitting from one potential client to another. She is
looking for the big one to really put her company on the
map -- and Sara has set her sights on the original
paintings by Custer. Sara has done her legwork and
developed a solid working relationship with the man who
stands to inherit those paintings -- Jay Vermilion. Much is at stake for both
Sara and Jay with the ownership
of the Custer's. Problem is, there are several other
parties with their eye on the prize and some are willing
to do anything to get their hands on the artwork.
So much more is truly is stake for Sara and Jay once it
is apparent that their relationship has evolved past the
artwork/client stage. Their friendship has definitely
morphed into something wonderful and unexpected. Jay's
future is on his ranch. Sara's is in the city with
Perfect Touch. The bridge between their life goals seems
too long to span without someone making a huge personal
Before they can tackle this new relationship, the rules of the game change.
Sara has more to lose than
the potential profit from the sale of this prized
artwork. Now her life is in jeopardy as someone seems
determined to scare her off and the list of suspects
grows every day.
Elizabeth Lowell has written what appears to be a simple case of
family greed as the central theme. But
you quickly realize this is not so simple or obvious.
PERFECT TOUCH showcases the talent of a longtime favorite author of mine:
Elizabeth Lowell. PERFECT TOUCH is a beautifully
written page turner sure to satisfy romance suspense
readers. Even though you think you've got the
culprit/culprits in focus, there's still the niggling
doubt over who is the kingpin. Genius. I won't tell.
The New York Times bestselling queen of romantic
suspense returns with a heart-racing tale in which a
soldier turned rancher and a beautiful designer race to
a vicious killer—a battle for survival that threatens to
explode in an intense and irresistible passion.
dealer and owner of her own design studio, Perfect Touch,
Sara Medina travels the world to find the ideal artwork
her clients. Her sophisticated, comfortable life in San
Francisco is light years away from the poverty of her
family’s dairy farm, and Sara will do whatever it takes
keep her business strong. A dedicated urban career woman
focused on her work, she doesn’t have time or energy for
family or distracting romantic entanglements.
Vermillion recently inherited Vermillion Sky, a working
ranch near Wyoming’s breathtaking Grand Teton Mountains—
the estates of the rich and restless. While he was
in two wars, his father tried to keep the homestead
until illness stole his fight and then his life. Jay’s
determined to restore Vermillion Sky, but first he’s got
settle a vicious battle with his former stepmother over
of his late father’s paintings. The last thing on his
is a finding a wife and creating a seventh generation of
When Jay hires Sara to handle his
father’s artwork, it’s love at first sight—a mutually
inconvenient attraction that is soon complicated by a
murder at the edge of the ranch and a potential betrayal
even closer to home. Working together to unmask a
Sara and Jay try to fight the intense heat between them.
Then the killer targets Sara. And suddenly, Jay, the
war-weary soldier, finds something he’s once again
to die for . . .
ExcerptThe motel room door was ajar.? I locked it, Sara Anne Medina thought.
She pushed the door open with her big purse and froze. The room had been
tossed ruthlessly. Her suitcase was upended and off the stand. Her clothes
were strewn across the worn carpet, her toiletries scattered, her underwear
and workout gear tumbled together. The lavender scent of her favorite
shampoo filled the air.
I was only gone for five minutes.
The take-out coffee she had bought was hot against her suddenly chilled
Some stranger went through my things. Did the tweaker get off on my
Is he still here?
The thought had her jerking back so quickly the coffee sloshed over
her cold-numbed fingers. She looked around the hallway. No one in sight.
I don’t have time for this drama. I have to be at the courthouse. I have to
finally meet my mystery man, so I’ll stop dreaming and get back to reality,
where I belong.
Where I want to be, even with the damn tweakers.
Using her foot, she kicked the door all the way open until it slammed
against the stop. No one was behind it. No one was in the room itself. The
closet was open, no place inside to hide. The bathroom door showed a view of
the toilet, shower, and sink. The mirror was smudged where she’d cleared the
shower’s steam with her hand just minutes ago.
Whoever had been here was gone.?The mess wasn’t.
It will have to wait. Then, They took my computer. It’s all backed up on the
cloud, but damn it!
The cord dangled from the wall, over the chair that had held her overcoat.
The coat, like the computer, had vanished.
Wonder how many pawnshops there are in Jackson, Wyoming? And why would they
take a woman’s coat? There aren’t too many women my height who are a size
With a hand that trembled slightly, Sara set down her coffee, took a pen out
of the bottomless bag that passed for her purse, and poked through the mess
of clothes on the floor to the suitcase half hidden beneath. The inside
pockets were still zipped closed.
They missed my little jewelry case. I’d rather they take the jewelry and
leave the computer, but they didn’t ask me, did they?
A glance at her watch told her she was out of time. Soon, a different
stranger would be deciding the fate of her career in a Jackson courthouse.
With a silent curse, she hurried to the front desk.
“I’m in room 101,” Sara told the woman there. “My room has been robbed.
Computer and coat missing. Tell the sheriff or whoever cares that I’ll be at
Leaving the woman stuttering questions behind her, Sara strode out the front
entrance into the chill streets of Jackson in the spring. Within ten steps
she was regretting the loss of her coat.
And she had forgotten her coffee.
Quickly she walked down what had to be the coldest sidewalk in town. The
wind rolled straight off the snow of the Tetons through the streets. The
chill was made worse by the fact that the sun was shining bright and hard
enough to look like summer.
An archway leading into a small park caught her eye. At first she thought
the arch was made of the bones of cattle that she’d seen as a child. But
these were different. They were more elegant and pointed, tapering out. They
didn’t feel like the finality of death, but more a symbol of life cycling
Antlers, she realized. Grown and shed each year in a cycle that isn’t birth
or death, but simply another way to be. Like Custer’s paintings, a beautiful
and eerie reminder that wilderness—wildness—isn’t all that far away.
Shivering, she hurried on.
I should be back in San Francisco, holding hot coffee from Murray’s Cafe as
I head up to the offices of Perfect Touch.
But then all I’d know about my mystery man is his voice.
So what? the practical part of her mind pointed out. The last thing I need
is a man.
Sara liked living her life on her own terms, doing what she wanted whenever
she wanted. As the only girl out of seven children, she’d had more than
enough diapers, housework, and babysitting to last her a life-time.
Wind with icy teeth bit at her black slacks and tugged at her red pullover
sweater. The only thing that kept the wind from billowing up her sweater was
the sleek black leather belt snugged at her waist. But it wasn’t enough to
keep her warm.
Damn that thief.
Then she reminded herself that it could be worse in so many ways. She could
be back home on the dairy farm—a plain, rebellious teen hauling a feed cart
through damp, drafty barns, then making the return trip leading a stubborn
At least there aren’t any holes in my boots forcing me to get up close and
personal with fresh cow flops.
The phone in her pants pocket rang.
If it’s the sheriff, he can wait.
Even as that irritated thought crossed her mind, she hesitated. The call
could be from Jay Vermilion, the man who had dozens of fine art paintings
that could kick her career up to the next level, paintings with the
potential to be so valuable that they’d been the part of an ongoing hotly
contested divorce settlement.
Maybe, just maybe, she thought, one of those paintings is the fabled Muse,
the only portrait painted by Custer.
That would explain why the legal battle had outlived the original owner of
the paintings, JD Vermilion. His much-younger ex-wife, Liza—who had begun
suing JD’s estate six years ago to gain access to the art her former husband
had begun collecting before she’d even been a teenager in braces—had, with
his passing, simply turned her lawyers loose on the primary heir to JD
Vermilion’s estate, his son, Jay.
Sara’s mouth curved slightly as she continued walking. I’ve never met the
infamous Liza Neumann, once Vermilion. But with possession being nine-tenths
of the law, I’d put money on Captain Jay Vermilion keeping his ex-
stepmother’s hands off the undiscovered Armstrong “Custer” Harris paintings
in the future.
The retired army veteran who had recently inherited the family ranch—the
fruit of generations of his Vermilion ancestors—had a grit and determination
to him that came right through the phone line.
You haven’t even met the man, Sara reminded herself. She fished the cellular
out of her tight front pocket at last, glanced at it, and saw the call had
gone to voice mail. She palmed the phone and gave a mental shrug. It wasn’t
a Wyoming number calling, which meant it wasn’t the sheriff.
Or Jay, damn it.
Think of the good captain like any other potential client who calls you
during business hours to get advice on western art, she told herself firmly.
Jay Vermilion might be a potential client, but he was also the man she had
been talking to half the nights for the past few months. At first it had
been all business, but somehow the conversations had quickly evolved into. .
I don’t know how I could talk about myself and my work and my dreams like
that with someone I’ve never met. And he talked to me, too, about the ranch
and weather and the western woman he hoped to find and marry, the woman who
would bear the seventh generation of Vermilions.
We have such different lives and goals, it’s surprising we had so much to
talk about in the first place.
Sara’s phone chimed and vibrated in her hand. She looked down, saw her
partner’s phone number, and connected. For a few minutes Piper Embry would
take Sara’s mind off the cold and the man whose deep voice wove through her
“Bought any great rugs lately?” Sara asked.
“I’ve got my eye on some that have me checking Perfect Touch’s bank
“What happened to consignment?”
“I’m working on it,” Piper said. “What’s this message you left about
“I wrapped up the Chens early and came to Jackson.”
“I thought you were getting tired of flying all over the place.”
“But you’re still lusting after those Custers? Or is it Jay Vermilion of the
“Wait until—if—I get my hands on those paintings,” Sara said, ignoring
Piper’s teasing. “They will wring the hearts and pocketbooks of at least
five of my clients, and go a long way toward reducing my world travel.”
Chilly air swirled hard against her, blowing her hair into a nearly black
cloud around her face.
“What’s that sound?” Piper asked.
“Wind. Spring here is long on bluster and short on cherry petals.” Sara
glanced around quickly, looking for shelter. All she saw was another odd
arch leading into another part of the park. Or maybe out of it. Whichever,
she opted to stay in the sun.
“You okay?” Piper asked. “Your voice is different. Kind of strained.”
“You know me too well. My room was robbed. Computer and coat are gone. But
I’m fine. Don’t have time right now for some junkie’s drama. In five minutes
the judge is supposed to finally deliver the verdict on the Vermilion case.”
There were a few moments of silence, then Piper asked softly, “Want me to
Sara hurried in the direction of the courthouse. “No need. I can handle the
Vermilion paintings alone.”
“Ah, yes, Jay Vermilion. He of the deep and delicious voice. Does he look
half as good as he sounds?”
“Haven’t seen him.” Sara glanced both ways and trotted across the street
against the light.
“Maybe he can warm up your . . . spring,” Piper said.
“If I get to handle the sale of the Custer paintings, my spring will be just
toasty. Yours, too. The Newcastle twins are dancing in place at the thought
of owning paintings seen in The Edge of Never.”
“Weepy contemporary movie about a young couple who doesn’t know how to love
and doesn’t have the sense to separate.”
“Ugh. If you have to be taught those things, you’ve got more problems than a
movie can solve.”
Sara laughed. “I hear you, but it rocked Sundance. That’s where the
Newcastle twins saw it and immediately huddled with the director, very hush-
hush. The movie is probably going to rock Cannes just as hard.”
“And Custer, the moderately well-known western artist, ties in how?”
“There’s a painting of his, Wyoming Spring, that’s featured prominently
throughout the movie, including the heartrending scene where—”
“Spare me the details,” Piper said quickly. “Merchant-Ivory movies make my
“Because of it—the movie, not your butt—the market for Custer’s works will
heat up like Vegas in July.”
“What about the big auction houses?”
“The Vermilion estate has probably half the Custers that were ever painted
and nearly all of them that aren’t yet in circulation,” Sara said. “We may
not need to go through a big public auction if we can act as the agents. No
“Go for it. I’ll get Lou to cover anything on this end for Perfect Touch.
She’s got some downtime.”
“What happened? Couldn’t Lou seal the deal with Najafi?”
“Lou’s good, but Najafi would try God’s patience,” Piper said. “How long
will you be gone?”
“If Jay Vermilion loses the paintings, I’ll be home tomorrow.”
“In that case, girlfriend, have a long stay in Wyoming.”
“You’ll nag me to come back after two weeks.”
“Not if there’s money involved. Bye. Go get those bucks!”
“Go get some yourself.”
Smiling, Sara pocketed the phone, flipped her hair out of her face, and
hurried along the sidewalk to meet her future.
With her fingers crossed in her pockets.
Perfect Touch – Chapter Two
Inside the wood-paneled hearing room, Jay Vermilion stretched against his
borrowed jacket, trying to loosen the leather across his shoulders.
Never thought anything of JD’s would be small on me.
But it was.
Henry Pederson said under his breath, “Quit twitching, boy. Remember what JD
said and never show anyone fear.”
Their attorney, sitting next to Henry, bit back a smile as he made last-
Jay gave his shaggy ranch foreman a sideways look. “I learned about fear and
stillness in places you’ve never seen.”
“Good thing. Liza about bled the ranch dry,” Henry said. He started to spit,
remembered where he was, and swallowed instead. “Hope the judge doesn’t
finish the job.”
“We’ll survive without the paintings.”
“Thought you wanted to meet Ms. Sara Medina,” Henry said, rub-bing his
mustache. “She sounds like a pistol.”
Jay hid the warmth that slid through him at her name, but he didn’t bother
to hide his grin. “Yes, she does. A lot of fire and intelligence, too. If we
get the Custers, we’ll owe her.”
“Damned painter. Never was worth much but trouble. Ranch was better off
But we’d be better off with his paintings, Jay thought. There’s so much the
ranch needs. I finally could fix all the little things that were let go
until it became a big, expensive, run-down mess.
He didn’t say anything aloud about the condition of the ranch. Henry was
seventy-four and thin as a fence post. As tough, too. He had done the best
he could to hold things together while Jay was gone and JD went into his
long, slow decline.
With a glance at his watch, Jay settled back. “No matter what the judge
finally decides, fence wire still needs tightening in the south pasture,
mineral licks need to be put out, irrigation trenches kept up, and cattle
moved to greener pastures. That’s real. The rest is just dogs bark-ing at
Henry rubbed his long, uneven mustache, more silver than black now, and
nodded. “Your daddy taught you good.”
“He must have. I’m alive.”
The foreman smiled crookedly. “Chip off the old stubborn block.”
“JD met his match with Liza Neumann.”?A grunt was Henry’s only answer. He
had never thought much of
JD’s second wife and had seen no particular reason to hide it.
While the second hand crawled around the old hearing room clock, Jay thought
of all the things he could be doing at the ranch. He wanted to grab his town
Stetson off the table in front of him, walk out of the court, and get back
to work. Then tonight, Sara Medina would call with a question, or he would
call her, and they’d talk. He’d tell her about the hearing room and the
judge and the verdict. She’d tell him about the sophisticated, pricey items
she searched out and bought for wealthy, demanding clients.
Give me an ornery cow any day, he thought.
He looked over to the plaintiff’s side of the courtroom. Liza’s pair of
attorneys waited as quiet as owls hunting for their next meal. He knew
exactly what her lawyers were being paid, since the Vermilion estate had
been footing their legal bill for the past six years.
Just like everything else in Liza’s life, Jay thought wearily. She spends.
Vermilion Ranch pays and pays and pays.
Not for the first time, Jay hoped the screwing his father got was worth the
screwing he got.
The hall door opened with a hollow sound that bounced around the bare
hearing room. Liza Neumann, formerly Vermilion, made her entrance on high
heels that stretched her five feet, five inches to five feet ten. Her
strawberry blond hair had turned to platinum, a finishing touch on the ice-
queen sheen. JD’s diamonds hung from her ears and glittered on her hands.
Unlike the Custer paintings, the jewelry JD had showered on his then-young
wife was an uncontested gift.
“Ma’am,” Jay said, standing when she passed around the side of his table.
Henry didn’t move.?Liza paused as she reached her seat. “Thank you, Jay,”
she said in a
husky, smoky voice. “Whatever JD’s many faults, he raised you polite.” Henry
waited until she was seated at the plaintiff’s table before he said to Jay,
“Wish JD was here.”
“Even if he was still alive, he wouldn’t be here in any way but physical.”
As Jay sat back down, he gave the buckskin across his shoulders one last
stretch. “He used to be okay most of the day. Then he started fading before
sundown. Then it was the afternoon. Then . . .”
“Hell of a way for a strong man to die,” Henry said, shaking his shaggy gray
head. “I get like that, just shoot me and leave me for the bears.”
The hall door opened again. Jay didn’t have to turn around to recognize the
quick sounds of his much younger half brother’s leather shoes making an
expensive tattoo down the aisle.
“That kid will be late to his own funeral,” Henry muttered. “Ain’t much of
JD in him. A mama’s boy through and through.”
“JD didn’t get much of a chance to raise him.” And I left for West Point
long before Barton could shave.
What’s done is done. Now we have to live with it.
Barton paused near the end of the aisle separating the plaintiff’s and
defendant’s tables. His delicate features and pale skin were blotchy and
flushed, as if he’d just run all the way there. He took off his black
overcoat, showing a lightweight cream suit beneath. Like everything else
about him, his clothes had an expensive eastern cut. In this case, New York
via Miami, where he had been trying to finalize a big real estate deal.
Or so people said.
Jay didn’t much care for gossip, but he could see that something was eating
on his brother from the inside out. Beneath the pink flush of exertion, his
skin was white and his shoulders hunched like a man hefting a heavy load.
His rust-red hair was barely tamed by the expensive razor cut. At twenty-
four, his light blue eyes had a look of permanent anxiety in them.
When Barton’s eyes darted toward the defendant’s table, Jay used his boot to
shove out a chair in silent invitation.
Barton looked toward Liza just as she turned to him and raised her eyebrows.
With an apologetic glance at Jay, the younger man went to the plaintiff’s
table. He reached to pull out a chair, discovered it was heavy, solid wood,
and had to put his back into the effort. A few moments later he flopped down
next to Liza.
She didn’t even look at him.
Jay shook his head slightly. A winter wind is kinder than that woman, and JD
was old enough to be Barton’s grandfather. Lousy way to raise a kid. Money
only fixed the things that money could. Barton’s childhood wasn’t one of
“Give it up,” Henry said. “The boy knows which side his bread is buttered
“If he did, he’d be sitting next to me. I keep trying to give him a chance,
to teach him about the ranch.”
“Can’t teach what a kid don’t want to learn.”?Jay didn’t argue with the
truth. “In one way, Barton is exactly like I was at his age. I wanted to be
hell and gone from the ranch.”?Henry’s gnarled fingers fiddled with the brim
of his going-to-town Stetson, started to put it on, then remembered why it
was on the table.
“You sure got what you wanted.”
“I sure did,” Jay said, and then turned his mind from the distant place that
had been dubbed the Meatgrinder by the troops who survived. “I guess lawyers
are more civilized than bullets. But being sued to death one inch at a time
gets tiresome. Thank God Sara—Ms. Medina—helped us fight for JD’s claim to
the paintings. Don’t know what we would have done without her. And you, of
course, helping to find those receipts.”
“Foolishness, sneezing through boxes of old stuff when the ranch needed
“It was what JD wanted.”
Henry sighed. “He was set on keeping those paintings. Never knew why. Pure
“It was the last thing he ever asked of me. If I can keep the Custers out of
Liza’s hands, I will,” Jay said simply.
It was the same vow he’d made every night to JD, a vow his father had to
hear before he slept. Then he would curl around the reassurance like a big
diamond as he slept.
Some diamond. It felt like an unsheathed blade to me, a cut that he mistook
Or maybe he liked pain.?It sure would explain Liza.?
“The man loved what he loved,” Henry said. “Wasn’t real smart about it,
Jay hissed out a breath. “I’m not sure that love had much to do with it.
Liza and JD fought to the death over these paintings. But custody of the
child? Settled in an hour. When I got old enough and left, Barton was stuck
with two parents who were too busy fighting to raise him.”
“Don’t feel bad for him,” Henry said drily. “Either way, he can go with the
Jay looked at his brother in his pale Miami suit and knew that Vermilion
Ranch wasn’t ever going to be home for him. But it was home for Jay and all
the hands who worked there. Now more than ever, it was his job to make the
In seven years, Barton gets a chunk of the ranch or I buy him out. If I have
A stir went through the room as Judge Flink was announced. Everyone rose
while the judge entered from the side and took her seat on the bench. When
people were seated again, she smacked the gavel sharply and began
summarizing the high points of the long case.
Good thing the military taught me patience, Jay thought, settling in to
listen to the facts he had long ago memorized.
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