By Sherryl Woods
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-24609-9
It had been one of those Friday-night gallery receptions that made Kathleen Dugan wonder if she'd been wrong not to take a job teaching art in the local school system. Maybe putting finger paints in the hands of five-year-old kids would be more rewarding than trying to introduce the bold, vibrant works of an amazingly talented young artist to people who preferred bland and insipid.
Of course, it hadn't helped that Boris Ostronovich spoke little English and took the temperamental-artist stereotype to new heights. He'd been sulking in a corner for the last two hours, a glass of vodka in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The cigarette had remained unlit only because Kathleen had threatened to close the show if he lit it up in direct defiance of fire codes, no-smoking policies and a whole list of personal objections.
All in all, the evening had pretty much been a disaster. Kathleen was willing to take responsibility for that. She hadn't gauged correctly just how important it was for the artist to mingle and make small talk. She'd thought Boris's work would sell itself. She'd discovered, instead, that people on the fence about a purchase were inclined to pass when they hadn't exchanged so much as a civil word with the artist. In another minute or two, when the few remaining guests had cleared out of her gallery, Kathleen was inclined to join Boris in a good, old-fashioned, well-deserved funk. She might even have a couple of burning shots of straight vodka, assuming there was any left by then.
"Bad night, dear?"
Kathleen turned to find Destiny Carlton regarding her with sympathy. Destiny was not only an artist herself, she was a regular at Kathleen's gallery in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Kathleen had been trying to wheedle a few of Destiny's more recent paintings from her to sell, but so far Destiny had resisted all of her overtures.
Destiny considered herself a patron of the arts these days, not a painter. She said she merely dabbled on those increasingly rare occasions when she picked up a brush at all. She was adamant that she hadn't done any work worthy of a showing since she'd closed her studio in the south of France over two decades ago.
Despite her disappointment, Kathleen considered Destiny to be a good friend. She could always be counted on to attend a show, if not to buy. And her understanding of the art world and her contacts had proven invaluable time and again as Kathleen worked to get her galley established.
"The worst," Kathleen said, something she would never have admitted to anyone else.
"Don't be discouraged. It happens that way sometimes. Not everyone appreciates genius when they first see it."
Kathleen immediately brightened. "Then it isn't just me? Boris's work really is incredible?"
"Of course," Destiny said with convincing enthusiasm. "It's just not to everyone's taste. He'll find his audience and do rather well, I suspect. In fact, I was speaking to the paper's art critic before he left. I think he plans to write something quite positive. You'll be inundated with sales by this time next week. At the first whiff of a major new discovery, collectors will jump on the bandwagon, including some of those who left here tonight without buying anything."
Kathleen sighed. "Thank you so much for saying that. I thought for a minute I'd completely lost my touch. Tonight was every gallery owner's worst nightmare."
"Only a momentary blip," Destiny assured her. She glanced toward Boris. "How is he taking it?"
"Since he's barely said two words all evening, even before the night was officially declared a disaster, it's hard to tell," Kathleen said. "Either he's pining for his homeland or he had a lousy disposition even before the show. My guess is the latter. Until tonight I had no idea how important the artist's charm could be."
Destiny gave her a consoling look. "In the end it won't matter. In fact, the instant the critics declare Boris a true modern-art genius, all those people he put off tonight will brag to their friends about the night they met the sullen, eccentric artist."
Kathleen gave Destiny a warm hug. "Thank you so much for staying behind to tell me that."
"Actually, I lingered till the others had gone because I wanted a moment alone with you."
"What are your plans for Thanksgiving, Kathleen? Are you going to Providence to visit your family?"
Kathleen frowned. She'd had a very tense conversation with her wealthy, socialite mother on that very topic earlier in the day, when she'd announced her intention to stay right here in Alexandria. She'd been reminded that all three current generations of Dugans gathered religiously for all major holidays. She'd been told that her absence was an affront to the family, a precursor to the breakdown of tradition. And on and on and on. It had been incredibly tedious and totally expected, which was why she'd put off making the call until this morning. Prudence Dugan was not put off easily, but Kathleen had held her ground for once.
"Actually I'm staying in town," she told Destiny.
"I have a lot of work to catch up on. And I don't really want to close the gallery for the holiday weekend. I think business could be brisk on Friday and Saturday."
Destiny beamed at her. "Then I would love it if you would spend Thanksgiving day with my family. We'll all be at Ben's farm. It's lovely in Middleburg this time of year."
Kathleen regarded her friend suspiciously. While they had become rather well acquainted in recent years, this was the first time Destiny had sought to include her in a family gathering.
"Won't I be intruding?" she asked.
"Absolutely not. It will be a very low-key dinner for family and a few close friends. And it will give you a chance to see my nephew's paintings and give me a professional opinion."
Kathleen's suspicions mounted. She knew for a fact that Destiny's eye for art was every bit as good as her own. She also knew that Ben Carlton considered his painting to be little more than a hobby, something he loved to do. In fact, as far as she knew, he'd never sold his work. She suspected there was a good reason for that, that even he knew it wasn't of the caliber needed to make a splash in the art world.
Excerpted from Treasured by Sherryl Woods Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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