Under the Brazilian Sun
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Roberto de Sousa sat opposite, smouldering in silence again across the table.
‘The value is unimportant. The painting is not for resale. My interest is the identity of the artist.’ He was silent again, as though turning something over in his mind. ‘If you would consent to stay to examine it,’ he said at last, ‘I would be most grateful—Doctor.’
Her first instinct was a flat refusal. But, conscious that she represented the Massey Gallery, and also deeply curious about the painting and its owner, Katherine changed her mind about a quick getaway. For pride’s sake she paused, as though considering her answer, and finally nodded graciously. ‘Since you’ve paid so generously for my time, I have no choice.’
‘Obrigado, Dr Lister. You shall see the painting in the morning.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘But now you must be tired after your journey. Please rest before joining me for dinner.’
So she was to have the honour of dining at his table. ‘Thank you, Mr de Sousa.’
He escorted her across the hall. ‘Ate logo—until later, Doctor.’
About the Author
CATHERINE GEORGE was born in Wales, and early on developed a passion for reading which eventually fuelled her compulsion to write. Marriage to an engineer led to nine years in Brazil, but on his later travels the education of her son and daughter kept her in the UK. And, instead of constant reading to pass her lonely evenings, she began to write the first of her romantic novels. When not writing and reading she loves to cook, listen to opera, and browse in antiques shops.
THE Oporto concourse was crowded, but as Katherine made her way through it with her luggage trolley she finally spotted a man holding up a sign with her name on it.
She smiled politely as she approached him. ‘I’m Dr Lister of the Massey Gallery in England.’
The man stared for a moment in blank surprise, then hurriedly took charge of her trolley. ‘Bem-vindo, Doutora. Senhor Sousa sent me to welcome you. My name is Jorge Machado. Please to follow me to the car.’
Katherine was only too pleased to let the man take over. Installed in a sleek limousine she relaxed against the butter-soft leather upholstery as they left the airport to head north into the heart of the Minho, an area of Portugal she’d learned was still deep-rooted in tradition. Once they left the motorway for a slower winding route along the River Lima they passed a cart drawn by plodding oxen oblivious of passing traffic, with two black-clad women pacing alongside, and Katherine smiled in delight.Real Portugal!
Originally, Katherine had intended hiring a car to sandwich in a brief holiday somewhere in the region once her mission was completed, but in the end she had taken her employer’s advice and accepted the transport provided. She would simply take a taxi to Viana do Castelo afterwards, and find a hotel for whatever time was left over from her mission. But for now it was good just to sit back and watch this picturesque part of the world go by as she speculated about what waited for her at journey’s end.
Some work was necessary, for a start. The unknown Mr de Sousa required an art expert to authenticate a recently acquired painting, and had paid all expenses and fees necessary to fly her boss to Portugal. James Massey was renowned and highly respected in the art world for searching out unrecognised works by major artists, and Katherine considered herself fortunate not only to work at his gallery, but for the benefit of his invaluable experience as he’d taught her how to differentiate between the genuine article and the fake. But James, to his chagrin, had gone down with influenza shortly before he was due to leave for Portugal and had asked Katherine to take his place. Elated that he trusted her to deputise for him, she’d dropped everything to make the flight.
The new man in her life had objected strongly when she put their embryo relationship on hold to take off for Portugal, not least because she turned down his offer to go with her. Katherine had been immovable. A client paying so generously for her services deserved her total concentration. The painting would probably need some cleaning before she could even begin to venture any kind of opinion and, dependent on its age and condition, this might take time. Andrew Hastings had taken the rejection so badly Katherine had been surprised to receive his text at the airport demanding she contact him as soon as she arrived. She shrugged, preferring to think about Mr de Sousa instead. James Massey knew surprisingly little about the client, other than his possession of a painting he believed to be of some importance, and his willingness to pay generously to find out if he was right. She fervently hoped that he was right. If the client’s find was a dud or, worse, a fake, she didn’t fancy breaking the bad news. That was a side of the business normally dealt with by James Massey.
‘We have arrived, Doutora,’ said her chauffeur, and Katherine sat to attention at the sight of high walls with a gated archway surmounted by a stone cross. He aimed a remote control at the wrought iron gates, which swung open to reveal a landscape so beautiful she asked him to drive slowly through acres of rolling verdant gardens ringed with mountain views. When the house itself finally came into view it outdid its surroundings. White-walled and red-roofed, two wings fanned out from a central stone tower wreathed in greenery. Before the car came to a halt in the circular courtyard the massive door in the tower swung open and a plump little woman came hurrying out, her surprise obvious as she set eyes on the visitor.
‘Here is Doutora Lister, L?dia,’ said Jorge Machado with emphasis on the title as he helped Katherine from the car.
‘Bem-vindo—welcome to Quinta das Montanhas, Doutora,’ the woman said, recovering quickly.
Delighted to hear more English, no matter how heavily accented, Katherine smiled warmly. ‘How do you do? What a glorious house.’
The woman smiled, pleased. ‘Senhor Roberto regret he is not here to greet you but arrives very soon. I take you to your room, Doutora.’
Jorge followed behind with the luggage as the friendly, bustling Lidia led Katherine through a vast cool hall with a high vaulted ceiling, and on up a curving stone staircase with a balustrade of wrought iron as delicate as black lace. The smiling woman showed Katherine into a big high-ceilinged room with louvred blinds at tall windows, and an armoire and massive white-covered bed in dark carved wood. And, best sight of all to Katherine at the moment, a tray with an ice bucket and mineral water on a table between the windows.
Jorge followed them to wheel Katherine’s luggage to the chest at the foot of the bed, then turned to leave. ‘When you are ready, Doutora, please to come down to the varanda.’
Lidia showed Katherine a door which opened into a bathroom. ‘You need, yes?’
‘I do indeed. Obrigada,’ said Katherine in relief, her thanks so fervent the woman smiled in sympathy.
‘I bring food now?’ she offered, but Katherine shook her head.
‘No, thank you; I’m too hot right now. I just need some water.’
Lidia promptly filled a glass for her. ‘I come back soon.’
Not sure what “soon” might mean, Katherine downed the water and made do with a wash rather than the shower she would have preferred. She brushed out her hair and pulled it back into a ruthlessly tight twist, and then exchanged her T-shirt and jeans for tailored black linen trousers and plain white shirt. Then with a wry little smile she added the dark-rimmed spectacles she wore for computer work. The efficient look would hopefully impress a man who was bound to be of a certain age if he owned a fabulous house like this and had money to spare for valuable paintings. Katherine sent brief texts to James and her friend Rachel, and last, guilty because it was an afterthought, another to Andrew, then began to unpack. Before she’d finished the roar of a car engine shattered the peaceful afternoon and Lidia hurried in, shaking her head in disapproval.
‘I do that, Doutora. You come now. He is here.’
Katherine followed the woman down the curving staircase and out onto a long veranda with a gleaming floor and carved stone pillars entwined with greenery. A man in A casual linen jacket and jeans leaned against one of them, looking out over the gardens. He was tallish and lean, with a mane of black curling hair and a profile any movie star would have envied. When Lidia spoke he turned quickly, with a smile which died abruptly at the sight of Katherine, his dark eyes narrowed in surprise.
‘Doutora Lister,’ announced Lidia with a touch of drama and withdrew, leaving total silence behind her.
‘You are Dr Lister?’ the man said at last.
At last, rejoiced her hormones. You’ve finally found him. ‘I’m Katherine Lister, yes,’ she said, proud of her composure as she smiled politely.
He sketched a graceful bow. ‘Encantado. Roberto de Sousa. I regret I was not here to welcome you when you arrived.’
‘Not at all. Your people made me very welcome.’
The client was a far cry from the elderly businessman Katherine had pictured—at a guess, only a few years older than her own twenty eight. And she could have sworn she’d seen him before somewhere. The overlong hair and dark eyes tilted above knife-edge cheekbones were puzzlingly familiar; unlike the eye-catching scar slashed down one side of his face, which was the once-seen never-forgotten kind. When the silence continued Katherine decided to break it.
‘Is there a problem, Mr de Sousa?’
‘I was expecting a man,’ he said bluntly.
Katherine stiffened. ‘I thought Mr Massey explained that he was sending me in his place.’
He nodded coldly. ‘He did. But he did not inform me that the expert Dr Lister is a woman.’
‘Even so,’ said Katherine, every hackle suddenly erect in protest, ‘I’m fully qualified to make the inspection you require, Senhor de Sousa. Not with as much experience as Mr Massey, it’s true, but with more than enough, I assure you, to give you an informed opinion of your painting.’ She waited, but no response was forthcoming. The attraction, it seemed, had not been mutual. ‘Of course, if you insist on a male expert I’ll leave at once. Though I would be glad of a cup of tea first.’
Roberto de Sousa looked appalled. He clapped his hands, and as if by magic Jorge Machado reappeared, bearing a tray. ‘Why has Dr Lister received no refreshment?’
‘Desculpe me, Doutora,’ said the man to Katherine. ‘I waited for the Patrao.’
‘You should have served my guest without waiting for me,’ said his employer, frowning. ‘Please sit, Dr Lister.’
Jorge filled one of the fragile cups with tea, the other with black coffee, and offered Katherine a platter of cakes she refused with a friendly smile for him as she sat down.
Roberto de Sousa sat opposite, smouldering in silence again across the table. This time, he could just sit there, lip-zipped for ever as far as she was concerned, decided Katherine irritably. Gorgeous he might be, but once she’d drunk the tea she’d ask for transport to Viana do Castelo.
‘Please tell me how well you know Mr James Massey,’ he said at last.
‘All my life,’ she said briefly.
‘He is a relative?’
‘No, just a close friend of my father. How do you know him, Mr de Sousa?’
‘By reputation and by information I acquired on the Internet. I contacted Mr Massey after my research showed he is the best man to authenticate my painting. I bought it for relatively little—a song, as you say.’
‘But you think it’s valuable?’
Roberto de Sousa shrugged indifferently. ‘The value is unimportant. It is not for resale. My interest is the identity of the artist and, if possible, the subject.’ He was silent again, as though turning something over in his mind. ‘If you would consent to stay to examine it,’ he said at last, ‘I would be most grateful…Doctor.’
Her first instinct was a flat refusal. But, conscious that she represented the Massey Gallery, also deeply curious about the painting, Katherine changed her mind about a quick getaway. For pride’s sake she paused as though considering her answer, and finally nodded graciously. ‘Since you’ve paid so generously for my time, I have no choice.’
‘Obrigado, Dr Lister. You shall see the painting in the morning in the full light of day, and tell me your requirements. Mr Massey warned there must be cleaning before any opinion is possible.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘But now you must be tired after your journey. Please rest before joining me for dinner.’
So she was to have the honour of dining at his table. And the mere mention of dinner reminded her that now her thirst was gone she was hungry. ‘Thank you, Mr de Sousa.’
‘De nada.’ He paused. ‘A small thing. If I am addressed correctly it is Mr Sousa.’
‘I see. I’ll remember that.’ She got up.
He escorted her across the hall. ‘Ate logo—until later, Doctor.’
She nodded politely, and mounted the curving stairs with back very erect.
Roberto de Sousa watched her out of sight, then returned, deep in thought, to the veranda. He sat down, absently rubbing the leg which gave him hell if he stood too long. His surprise at finding that Dr Lister was not a man had obviously—and unfortunately—offended his guest. But if she were fully qualified to give an informed opinion on his painting, in theory he had no problem with a female expert. His lips tightened. In practice, however, he deeply resented the need to welcome a woman to his home now he was disfigured; even an efficient intellectual in spectacles like Dr Lister, with her scraped back hair and masculine clothes. At the Quinta the only females in his life were on his staff, whereas at one time he had been surrounded on all sides by beautiful, willing women. His face set in harsh lines as he ran a finger down his scar. All that, and many other things, had changed forever the day his luck had finally run out.
Katherine’s equilibrium was in normal working order again by the time she settled down on the bed with a book. Roberto de Sousa’s reaction to her had been more of a blow than she cared to admit. Her mane of brown hair and opalescent green eyes were assets which generally did her no harm with the opposite sex. But from the reaction of her client she’d obviously disguised her assets too well in an attempt to minimise the figure which curved a little too much in some places for her own taste, but had never been a drawback where men were concerned. She bit her lip. The client’s preference for a male expert was another blow. If she informed Roberto de Sousa that his painting was a fake, or of no intrinsic value, he might refuse to accept her findings. She shrugged. Not the end of the world; she would simply rely on backup from James. Photographs of the painting would be emailed to him for his verdict—and earn her undying gratitude from Judith Massey for keeping her bored, convalescent husband in the loop.
Katherine had wondered beforehand whether she would be invited to join her host’s family for the meal, but so far no mention had been made of a wife, or of any other relative. Indeed, James had known so little about the client Katherine had speculated quite a bit about Roberto de Sousa during the flight, but nothing had prepared her for her reaction to him, which was a first in her life when it came to men. She had also been unprepared for his hostility too, which was as surprising as his relative youth and scarred, darkly handsome face. She shrugged. He might have wanted a man to pass judgement on his painting but she would soon show him she was more than equal to the task. Nevertheless, the prospect of dinner was a bit daunting.
Katherine had fully intended wearing a sleeveless leaf-green shift with a clever bit of draping to flatter her curvier bits, but she put it back on its hanger, her eyes glittering coldly as she chose minimising black linen instead. With no jewellery to soften the starkly plain dress and only the merest touch of make-up, tonight she would play the intellectual role to the hilt to dine with a man whose aura of sardonic melancholy was so intriguing—and surprising. She would have expected someone of his age and race to be more outgoing. Perhaps he had been before the scar.
A minute before eight the slightly panting Lidia arrived to announce that Senhor Roberto awaited his guest. Katherine put the glasses on and gave a last look in the mirror to make sure no strand of hair had escaped from its ruthless twist. At last, feeling like Boudicca going into battle, she followed the woman down the curving staircase to the hall, where Jorge was waiting to escort her out on the veranda, which looked even more inviting with soft lights glowing in the greenery wreathing the pillars.
Roberto de Sousa rose slowly from one of the cane chairs and stared at her in total silence, his spirits sinking at the sight of his starkly elegant guest. He recalled himself hurriedly and bade her good evening.
Did he ever say anything without thinking it over first? Katherine wondered.
‘Lidia is not pleased because I wished to dine out here,’ he said, leading her to a table. ‘The sala de jantar is big for two people. I thought you would prefer this.’ But in truth the preference was his, in the hope that his scar would look less prominent in the soft lighting.
‘I do,’ she assured him, noting that the table was laid for only two. No wife in evidence then; at least not here.
He pulled out a chair for her. ‘What will you drink? Gin and tonic, perhaps?’
Katherine glanced at the frosted bottle sitting in a silver ice bucket. ‘May I have a glass of wine?’
‘Pois e. This is the vinho verde of the Minho.’ He removed the cork with a twist of his wrist and filled two glasses. ‘I will join you.’ He gave her a glass and, reminding himself that she was his guest, touched his own to it. ‘What shall we toast?’
‘A successful outcome for your painting?’
He nodded. ‘To success.’
The cool wine went down like nectar, the perfect accompaniment to the dish of hot appetisers Jorge set in front of Katherine.
‘The national dish,’ Roberto informed her, ‘bolinhas de bacalhau. You have tasted these before?’
‘No, but they smell delicious.’ She popped one of the miniature cod balls in her mouth. ‘And they taste even better. I’ll remember my first food in Portugal with pleasure.’
Roberto sat facing her, his scar stark in his dark face against the white of his shirt, soft lighting or not. ‘You have eaten nothing since you arrived?’ he said, frowning.
She shook her head. ‘Lidia offered, but I was too hot and thirsty.’
‘Then you must eat more of these.’ He pushed the plate towards her.
‘No, thank you,’ she said firmly. ‘Otherwise I shan’t need any dinner.’
‘You must eat well, or the chef will take offence.’
The chef! Katherine digested that, along with the bolinha, and set out to be a polite dinner guest. ‘Have you lived here long, Senhor Sousa?’
‘I do not live here, Doctor.’ He smiled crookedly, the scar much in evidence. ‘The Quinta das Montanhas is the retreat I escape to for a holiday alone from time to time.’
Some holiday home! ‘This is such a beautiful part of the world,’ she remarked, ‘but totally unknown territory to me. Unlike the majority of my fellow Brits, I’ve never been to Portugal before.’
‘Then it is most important that you enjoy your first visit.’
Roberto de Sousa, however reluctant, was an attentive host, but Katherine found it hard to relax as they ate crisp grilled chicken fragrant with herbs.
‘Is the food to your taste?’ said Roberto, refilling her glass.
She nodded politely. ‘My compliments to your chef. He’s a genius.’
He eyed her in amusement. ‘I was joking. Jorge’s wife, Lidia, is cook here.’
‘Then she’s the genius,’ said Katherine, and smiled warmly at Jorge as he came to take their plates. ‘That was utterly delicious. Please tell your wife.’
He bowed, gratified. ‘Obrigado, senhora. You would like pudim?’
Katherine smiled regretfully. ‘I can’t eat another thing.’
Jorge returned the smile with warmth that won him a wry look from his employer. ‘Caf?, senhora? Or tea?’
‘Not even that, thank you.’
‘I would like coffee, Jorge, por favor,’ said his employer sardonically. ‘And bring agua mineral for the lady.’
‘Agora mesmo, Senhor.’
Once Jorge was assured later that nothing more was needed, Katherine sat back, gazing out at moonlight which added magic to the scene. ‘It’s so peaceful here,’ she commented. ‘I see why you think of it as a haven.’
His eyes shuttered. ‘Because I have never stayed here long enough to tire of such peace—until now.’ He looked up at her in enquiry. ‘I trust that taking Mr Massey’s place so suddenly caused no problems for you?’
She shook her head. ‘None that I couldn’t solve, Mr Sousa.’
‘Muito bem. I am most interested in your work. What, exactly, do you do at the gallery, Doctor?’
Katherine seized on the subject in relief. ‘My job mainly involves searching the Internet for sleepers,’ she began, ‘the unidentified or wrongly catalogued works that slip through the net unnoticed. It can be very exciting.’
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