Under the Brazilian Sun
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‘I hope that my painting is equally so.’
‘So do I,’ she said with feeling.
‘That was a most heartfelt remark!’
She smiled wryly. ‘When paintings are brought to us at the gallery, James breaks the bad news when they’re copies or fakes.’
He nodded, enlightened. ‘And you do not welcome the task of giving me such news.’
‘No. I don’t.’ She looked him in the eye. ‘But I will if I have to.’
‘Have no fear, Dr Lister. I will not blame you if my painting is a fake. Or doubt your findings,’ he added.
‘Thank you. I admit that worried me when—’ she stopped, flushing.
‘When?’ he prompted.
‘When you were so taken aback because I was a woman.’
‘Only because I had been expecting a man,’ he said smoothly. ‘But if Senhor Massey trusts you to pass judgement on my painting I shall do the same.’
‘De nada. Let me give you more wine.’
‘Just water, thank you. I need a clear head for my detective work in the morning.’
His sudden smile altered his face so much it cancelled all impression of familiarity. A smiling Roberto de Sousa was so breathtaking he was definitely like no man Katherine had ever seen before.
‘You regard your work as solving a mystery?’ he said, intrigued.
‘In a way. It’s hugely rewarding—and exciting—to reveal the true identity of a lost work of art.’
‘Perhaps my painting will be one of these.’
She hoped so. Fervently. ‘Do you have any idea who the artist might be?’
‘It is more hope than idea. But I shall say nothing until you give me your opinion. Do you rise early?’ he added.
‘During the working week, yes. I’ll start on your painting as early as convenient in the morning.’
Conscious that his initial reception of his guest had been anything but warm, Roberto steeled himself to make amends. ‘Before you begin tomorrow, perhaps you would like to explore the gardens—a short walk before your mystery-solving.’
Recognising an olive branch when she saw one, she nodded, smiling. ‘I’d like that very much indeed. And now it’s time I said goodnight.’
‘Your breakfast will be brought to your room. I shall await you here later at nine. Sleep well. Dorme bem, as we say in my country.’
She smiled politely. ‘My first day in Portugal has been so full I’m sure I will. Now I’m here, I can’t imagine why I’ve never been to your country before.’
‘Ah, but Portugal is not minha terra, the land of my birth,’ he informed her. ‘The Quinta das Montanhas is my retreat here in the Minho from time to time, but my family home is in Rio Grande do Sul in the south of Brazil.’ He gave her the graceful bow again. ‘I am a gaucho.’
She had an instant vision of pampas grasslands and cattle herded by men in flat hats and leather breeches. ‘You live on a cattle ranch?’ she asked, secretly impressed.
He nodded. ‘My father is patrao. I rode as soon as I could walk, but long hours in the saddle are not possible for me right now.’ His face darkened as he collected a walking stick to cross the hall with her.‘You have noticed I limp?’
‘No, I haven’t,’ said Katherine, surprised, with such obvious truth his face relaxed slightly. ‘An accident?’
‘A car crash.’ He shrugged. ‘But, as you see, I survived. Boa noite, Doctor.’
It took a long time to fall asleep in the wide bed. Katherine blamed the bright moonlight for keeping her awake, but the real culprit was Roberto de Sousa. She would have been a lot happier about his electrifying effect on her hormones if her impact on him had been anything remotely similar but, mortifyingly, it had not. She felt deeply curious about the accident that had scarred his face and left him with the limp she hadn’t noticed until he mentioned it. Other than the scarred, handsome face, her first impression of him had been coordination and grace—plus his obvious displeasure that a mere woman had come to pass judgement on his precious artwork. She sighed, praying that the painting was in reasonable enough condition for any kind of identification, let alone the one he hoped for. In one way she wished James Massey had come here to do it. But if he had she wouldn’t have come here to Quinta das Montanhas and met Roberto de Sousa, the most attractive man she’d ever met in her life, scarred and hostile or not.
She smiled suddenly, imagining the reaction if she described the charismatic client and his glorious house to Andrew Hastings. She’d known Andrew only a short time, but already he was displaying character traits which made it unlikely that their relationship, such as it was, would last much longer. Katherine enjoyed male company, but so far in her life had managed to keep her relationships light and undemanding, firmly secondary to her work. Orphaned in her teens, she was long accustomed to full autonomy over her life. Loneliness was no problem because she shared the house inherited from her father with two former college friends, both of them male. The three of them lived separate lives on separate floors of her three storey town house, and Hugh and Alastair paid their landlady good money in rent, but Andrew strongly disapproved of the arrangement and had lately begun urging her to share his house instead. Her obdurate refusal was an ongoing bone of contention between them, and her sudden dash to Portugal on the very day that he had tickets for Glyndebourne had been the last straw. But helping James out had been far more important to Katherine than a performance of The Marriage of Figaro, gala or not. Besides, she had no intention of moving in with a man whose outlook on life was so different from her own.
In spite of her restless night, Katherine woke early. She had showered and dressed in her usual working uniform of jeans and T-shirt and yanked her hair back in its twist by the time a knock on her door heralded the entry of Lidia with a tray.
‘Bom dia, Doutora,’ Lidia announced, beaming. She put the tray on a small table at the window and drew up a chair.
Katherine returned the smile warmly. ‘Good morning, Lidia. Obrigada.’
‘Is enough breakfast, or you like bacon? Eggs?’
Katherine laughed and assured Lidia that the array of crisp rolls and fruit was more than enough. ‘It’s perfect. Thank you.’
The woman smiled, pleased. ‘Eat well. I come back at nine.’
‘Could you ask Jorge to come with you, and take the tripod and work box downstairs?’
‘Pois e. I tell him.’
With time for the kind of breakfast she never bothered with at home, Katherine sat at the open window to eat at her leisure as she looked out on the acres of beautiful gardens. No matter what happened about the painting, she was glad she’d been given the opportunity to see this heavenly place—and make the acquaintance of Roberto de Sousa. The Gaucho, no less. Very sexy.
The man waiting for her on the veranda later, however, looked weary rather than sexy. The shadowed eyes below the tumble of damp curls conveyed pain to Katherine.
‘Bom dia,’ he said as she joined him. ‘You slept well?’
‘Very well, thank you.’
Roberto eyed her tripod and work box with interest. ‘These are for your work?’
She nodded. ‘I take photographs of the painting to record its original condition, and then more shots as I go along. The box contains the various tools and solvents for the preliminary cleaning. This can be a messy process, so I shall need a place to work where I won’t spoil anything. And with bright daylight rather than strong sunlight, if possible.’
He nodded. ‘I shall arrange it. Do you still wish to walk for a while before you start?’
‘Yes, please. I’ve been gazing out over your gardens while I ate breakfast. I’d love to see more.’ And postpone the stress of her first encounter with the painting.
‘Vamos, then.’ He picked up the walking stick leaning against a pillar.
‘Are you sure you feel like a walk today?’ she asked, and regretted it when his mouth tightened.
‘I assure you I can hobble—if that is the word—for a while without falling, Doctor.’
She flushed. ‘I’m sorry—’
‘No! It is I who am sorry.’ He forced a smile. ‘Forgive me. I swam too much this morning and now I pay for it. Come. I will show you the pool.’
On the leisurely stroll they encountered two gardeners, elderly men who looked up with smiles as their employer stopped to have a word with them each time.
‘They were very pleased to see you,’ commented Katherine.
‘They have known me all my life,’ he informed her. ‘Quinta das Montanhas was my mother’s childhood home. Now it is mine.’
Katherine was impressed. ‘Your mother left it to you?’
‘She gave it to me. My mother is still very much alive. But since their marriage, when my father stole her away to live in Rio Grande do Sul, she does not come here often. She dislikes the long flight.’
‘I sympathise with her! The flight from the UK to Oporto was more than enough for me. Oh!’ she said with sudden pleasure, as they turned down another path. ‘A tennis court.’
‘Yes, though not very well.’
‘Better than I—now,’ he said bitterly.
‘Forgive the personal question,’ she said with caution, ‘but can nothing be done for your limp?’
His mouth twisted. ‘Deus, yes! I do the punishing exercises, a physiotherapist tortures me, I swim and walk every day, and every day it is improving. Eventually, I am assured, I shall be normal. Whatever normal may be,’ he added savagely. ‘To achieve that I shall even endure plastic surgery on my face, so I do not give little children nightmares.’
Mentally kicking herself for bringing the subject up, Katherine was glad to reach the swimming pool, which was big enough to give any man a workout on his daily swim. ‘What a wonderful setting, with those trees in the background and the mountains beyond,’ she said brightly.
He nodded in brief agreement, but said nothing more until they reached a summerhouse on the way back to the house. ‘Before we return, let us inspect the estufa. Would this suit for your work? Here you have daylight, no one to disturb you, but you are near the house. Also,’ he added, ‘it revolves, for you to follow the light.’
Katherine ran up a shallow flight of steps into an octagonal room with a table and wicker chairs, a tiled floor and as much natural light from the windows as she could wish for. She beamed at Roberto. ‘This is perfect! All I need now is the painting, plus a large blanket and my equipment and I’ll get started.’
‘Coffee first,’ he said firmly, and waved his stick in the direction of the house. ‘We shall drink it on the varanda, where the painting awaits.’
It was frustrating for Katherine to keep to Roberto’s slow pace. Excitement and apprehension filled her now the moment of truth had finally arrived. Even if the painting was all he believed it to be, she might fail to identify the artist, which would be disaster after insisting that she possessed the necessary expertise. As they mounted the veranda steps the sight of the swathed package on the table accelerated her pulse.
‘Shall I unmask him?’ asked Roberto.
Katherine nodded, swallowing. ‘Yes, please.’
With care, he removed the wrappings from the un-framed canvas, then stood back. ‘A little dirty, nao e?’
‘Normal if there’s any age to the painting,’ she agreed, nerves suddenly gone as she looked down at the canvas, which showed a young dark-haired man in sober eighteenth century clothing. ‘Certainly no dandy,’ said Katherine slowly, ‘though he would look a lot more elegant without the layers of overpaint. The jacket is just a blob and there’s too much neck cloth.’
‘What does that mean?’ demanded Roberto, face tense.
‘The overpaint may be hiding a repair in the canvas, or an addition by another artist,’ she said absently, her eyes glued to the subject’s face, which had suffered less than the body. Itching to get started, she smiled absently at her client. ‘If you’ll have my gear sent over to the summerhouse—with a thick blanket to lay the painting on, please—I’ll get to work straight away.’
‘First you must drink coffee,’ he insisted as Jorge appeared to place a coffee pot on the waiting tray. Roberto gave him some quick-fire instructions, and the man bore the tripod and work box off to the summerhouse. ‘I shall carry the painting there myself when you are ready,’ he told Katherine, pulling out a chair for her.
Wishing she could get straight on with the job, she began pouring coffee. ‘After I’ve cleaned the painting with white spirit, I can remove some of the overpaint with solvent, if you wish. By then I might even have some idea about the artist.’ She had a pretty wild idea already, but had no intention of dropping names at this stage. Further investigation might prove her horribly wrong, and Roberto de Sousa’s faith in her opinion would be gone for good.
He sat down beside her. ‘You must not work too long without taking a break. Jorge will fetch you when lunch is ready.’
‘I won’t be able to face a meal in the middle of the day,’ she warned.
‘You must eat for energy. A small sandwich, at least,’ he said firmly. ‘I will join you here at one.’ He looked up as Jorge returned. ‘All is ready?’
Katherine found that the summerhouse had already been dusted and swept, and a second table brought in to hold a tray with glasses and bottled water in an ice bucket, also a large metal bell with a wooden handle and a thick brown blanket.
Katherine positioned the blanket where the light was brightest and Roberto laid the painting down on it. He stood back, his eyes on her face as she subjected the painted face to a close scrutiny.
Katherine took her time, her excitement mounting. He looked familiar. Could she possibly be right about the artist?
She turned to smile absently at Roberto. ‘Right. I’ll make a start now.’
He smiled wryly. ‘You wish me to leave you to your detecting, nao e?’ He touched the bell. ‘Ring if you need anything. Jorge will come. I shall see you at lunch.’
Alone with the portrait at last, Katherine took off the spectacles to peer through her magnifying glass. ‘Right, young sir. Time for your close up.’
She went over every inch of the painting, then took a photograph to record its original state. Her instinct was screaming at her to start cleaning, but she doggedly kept to her usual routine. Once she’d taken everything she needed from her box, she pulled on a builder’s mask and her binocular headband, drew in a deep breath and moistened the first cotton bud with white spirit.
KATHERINE could have sworn that only minutes had passed when Roberto himself arrived to say lunch awaited her on the veranda, by which time the bin liner at Katherine’s feet was piling up with swabs and she was in no mood to break off to eat. But she smiled politely and straightened her back as she exchanged the binocular lenses for her spectacles, aware of his obvious disappointment that she had so little to show for her labours.
‘I’m just taking off the dirt. You’ll only see a difference when I get to the overpaint.’
‘I did not expect him to look worse than before,’ he admitted.
‘I look worse, too,’ she said ruefully as they walked back to the house. ‘I need a scrub.’
‘I shall wait on the varanda,’ Roberto said. ‘There is no hurry.’
‘Yes, there is,’ she contradicted. ‘I must get back to work.’
His lips twitched. ‘You enjoy your detecting so much?’
‘I do.’ She could have added that in this case it was almost unbearably exciting, but said nothing in case she was wrong.
Over lunch, Roberto told Katherine that he would be out for most of the following day. ‘Be sure to stop and rest often. I shall tell Lidia to see to this.’
‘Oh, I will,’ she assured him.
‘Have you any thoughts yet about the hand that painted our young man?’ Roberto asked, filling their coffee cups.
‘At this stage it’s hard to tell. After I’ve cleaned the canvas I’ll remove some of the overpaint to look for signature brush strokes. They function like fingerprints to identify the painter. But I’ll only do enough to form an opinion. If the painting is valuable I’ll leave the rest to the restorer James uses most, a lady with the necessary experience. Unless there is someone else you have in mind, of course.’
‘I have not. It was my intention to leave all in Senhor Massey’s hands. But I would trust you to do all, Dr Lister,’ he added with formality.
That was a relief! ‘It’s very kind of you, but I’m an art historian, not a professional restorer. Besides, I can’t stay here that long.’
‘You are so eager to return to England? You have a lover waiting there for you?’ His eyes gleamed as colour rose in her face at the sudden descent into the personal.
‘I have a friend, yes. But I was referring to my job,’ she said frostily.
He raised an eyebrow. ‘I am sure Mr Massey would allow you to stay if I asked.’
Katherine finished her coffee and stood up. ‘That’s up to him.’
‘If he agreed, it would cause problems in your private life if you stay here?’ Roberto got up more slowly, jaw clenched at the effort.
‘None at all.’ None that mattered compared to the painting, anyway. She looked at her watch. ‘Time I got back to work. I’ll just run up to my room for my laptop.’
‘I shall see you at dinner. I will not walk with you to the estufa because I know well I am too slow for you,’ he said sardonically.
Guilty because he was right, Katherine managed a smile. ‘I’ll look forward to reporting to you at dinner.’
Not as much as I shall, thought Roberto, as he watched her racing up the stairs. His initial hostility towards her was receding rapidly, leaving him with a growing desire to know the efficient Dr Katherine Lister better. The Quinta was a beautiful, peaceful haven, but lonely. He smiled bitterly as he limped back to his rooms. At one time he had longed for privacy and time to himself. His mother had told him many times to be careful what he wished for in case the wish was granted. And, as always, she was right. He would gladly pay James Massey whatever he asked for more of Katherine’s time, if only to look forward to conversation with her over dinner. She was a rare type of woman in his experience, expert in the subject which interested him so greatly. And if his scar repelled her she hid it well. He smiled a little. It was unusual to meet a woman who made no effort to use her physical assets to attract him—a novelty compared to the old days. And she had obviously never heard of him, though this was not surprising. His career had been cut short before it reached the heights once hoped for.
Katherine remembered to have a word with Lidia on her way out again, and learned that there was a bathroom on the ground floor for visitors, which would be kept for her sole use during her stay.
‘Perfeito!’ Katherine said, smiling, having looked the word up in the pocket dictionary acquired for the trip. She settled down to work with new zest now the first stage of cleaning was over.
With a canvas in dirtier condition Katherine would have repeated the cleaning process, but due to the time factor she moved straight on to the next stage. Beginning on a section on the subject’s coat, she set down a piece of card with a small window cut in it, then dipped a cotton wool bud in acetone and set to work within the aperture. The effect was electrifying. The overpaint had obviously been applied well within the past fifty years or so because it dissolved like magic within the tiny frame, revealing much lighter pigment underneath. Katherine went on moving the cardboard frame fraction by fraction, applying acetone as she went, and then took a photograph to email to James for his verdict, and sat back in one of the chairs for a break.
James rang her almost at once. ‘You are having an interesting time. That’s genuine eighteenth century pigment by the look of it. But ten to one you’re going to find damage somewhere. Ask de Sousa whether you should carry on.’
‘He’s already talking about my staying on here to do that, if you’re agreeable.’
‘Is he now?’ There was a pause. ‘As a matter of interest, how old is he, and is there a Senhora de Sousa?’
‘He’s thirty-something, and if there is a wife she doesn’t live here. Bye for now.’
A shadow fell over the steps as she disconnected and Katherine turned, to find Roberto watching her.
‘Perdoa-me, it was not my intention to listen, but—’
‘You heard what I said.’ Her face heated.
He nodded. ‘Your lover is jealous that you are living in my house?’
‘I was talking to James Massey!’
His face relaxed slightly. ‘Your employer was asking about me?’
‘Yes. Sorry about that.’
‘Por que? It is natural he feels responsible for you.’ Roberto turned as Jorge arrived with a tray. ‘I shall join you here for tea.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘And check on what I’ve been doing?’
‘Exatamente,’ he agreed.
‘It’s not a lot. I go very carefully at this stage.’
Roberto leaned to inspect the small area she indicated. ‘You photographed only this small section?’ he said, astonished, and sat down next to her to look over her shoulder. ‘I can see that the paint is lighter there. That is important?’
‘Crucial. James agrees that it looks like genuine eighteenth century pigment.’ Katherine filled both cups as she began. ‘So do you wish to ship the painting to James’s restorer right away, or shall I carry on until I have a clearer idea of what’s under the overpaint before you send it away for repair?’
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