'EXCUSE me, Charlotte.'
Ted Smyth, the owner of the prestigious London art gallery, gave the woman at his side a smile. 'But the prospective Italian purchaser of "The Waiting Woman" has just arrived. I must speak to him and get him to sign on the dotted line.'
'Of course.' Charlotte Summerville, Charlie to her friends and daughter of the artist whose works were being exhibited at the gallery, watched Ted vanish into the crowd and heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Alone at last. She glanced longingly at the exit. The bald old man who leered back at her must be the Italian purchaser Ted was chasing, she thought grimly. In fact, the whole event was grim to Charlie. Mingling with the top echelons of the London art world was not her scene, and she wondered how soon she could decently leave. Now would be good, she suddenly decided, and edged through the crowd towards the exit.
Jake d'Amato exited Ted Smyth's office having concluded a deal on a painting he had been determined to obtain from the moment he had discovered it existed. He had arrived in London a few hours ago from Italy, and gone directly to a business meeting. But as he'd checked into his hotel afterwards he had glanced over a stand of leaflets advertising forthcoming events, and the name Robert Summerville had caught his attention. He had unfolded the pamphlet announcing that an exhibition of the late artist's work was to open that evening, and an image of his foster-sister Anna had assaulted his vision. Filled with cold black rage, he had determined to prevent the showing.
A call to his lawyer had informed him that the artist's estate owned the copyright, and legally he could do nothing. Frustrated, he had realised he was
too late to stop the portrait going on display, but he had made an immediate call to the gallery owner and reserved the painting.
By the time he had arrived at the gallery he had control of his temper. He knew Summerville had a young daughter, and the executors of his estate were entitled to sell the paintings for her benefit.
But Jake had been surprised to discover from Ted that the same daughter had opened the exhibition. What had really captured his interest was the fact she was not the young girl Anna had described to him as a spoilt little selfish brat, but a shrewd businesswoman. It had been her decision to sell the paintings. Robert Summerville was dead and beyond his reach, but a mature daughter put a very different complexion on the situation.
'So which lady is the artist's daughter?' Jake asked Ted with just the right amount of curiosity in his tone. 'I'd very much like to meet her and offer her my condolences on the sad loss of her father.'
And ask her what she intended doing with the exorbitant amount of money she was going to inherit, if the price of the picture he had just bought was anything to go by, Jake thought cynically. Not that he needed to ask—greed, plain and simple, had to be her motivation. Why else would she expose her late father's lovers to public scrutiny without having the grace to inform them first?
He hated Robert Summerville, although he had never met the man. But at least Summerville had had the decency to keep the paintings a secret. Not so his daughter. Jake could have forgiven a young girl for being influenced by the executors of the estate. In his experience most lawyers would sell their own grandmother if the price was right. But for an adult female to have so little respect for the women
involved, and one in particular, Jake found disgusting.
His dark eyes narrowed. He could do nothing about the exposure the painting had already received. But he was going to put the woman down verbally and publicly, so neither she nor the assembled crowd would be left in any doubt as to his low opinion of her.
Charlotte Summerville deserved to be shown up for the avaricious bitch she was.
No trace of his tine feelings showed on his hard dark face as he watched Ted look around and then point to a woman at the far side of the room.
That's Charlotte, the blonde over there in black—standing by the portrait you've just bought, as it happens. Come on, I'll introduce you. I can remove the painting at the same time and have it sent to your home as we agreed.'
Musing on the vagaries of the artistic world, Charlie was totally unaware of the interest she had aroused in one particular male patron of the arts.
In life her father had been a modestly successful landscape artist, and it was only after his death that his private collection of nude portraits had come to light. Suddenly Robert Summerville was famous—or perhaps infamous was a better word, as it was rumored he had been the lover of all the ladies he had painted.
It was probably true. Because, much-as she'd loved her dad, there was no escaping the fact that he had been the most self-absorbed, self-indulgent man she had ever known. Tall, blond and handsome, with enough charm to woo a nun out of her habit, he had lived the life of the bohemian artist to the full. But he had never truly loved any woman.