Under the Brazilian Sun
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‘Repair?’ he said sharply.
She nodded. ‘There may be damage of some kind, rips in the canvas, even holes.’
Roberto blenched. ‘Deus! If so, is repair possible?’
‘Oh, yes. The restorer James uses is a miracle worker.’
‘But if you remove this overpaint, Katherine, could you then give your opinion on the artist?’
‘I could probably do that much, yes. But it would just be an opinion,’ she warned. ‘So do you wish me to carry on?’
‘Yes. It would please me very much if you continue until our young man is revealed in his true colours. Further decisions can be left until then.’ Roberto got up. ‘I shall leave you to your detective work.’ He turned at the top of the steps. ‘When your Mr Massey rings again, tell him the only Senhora de Sousa in my life is my mother. I once had a wife for a short time many years ago it is true, but alas no longer.’
Katherine winced. ‘I’m so sorry—’
‘No, you mistake me,’ he said coolly. ‘Mariana is not dead. She divorced me.’ His eyes locked on hers. ‘Also tell Mr Massey that you are safe here. No harm will come to you in my house.’
Face still hot after he left, she found it hard for a while to resume her usual concentration. Next time James rang she would make sure no one was in earshot. But, to her intense annoyance, it was Andrew who rang a few minutes later.
‘Why the hell haven’t you called me, Katherine?’ he demanded. ‘Surely you knew I would be worried?’
‘I texted to say I’d arrived—’
‘Then obviously forgot all about me!’
‘You could have rung me if you were that concerned.’
‘It was your place to ring me, Katherine, in the circumstances. You took off with barely a word of apology about spoiling the trip to Glyndebourne!’
She gritted her teeth. ‘For heaven’s sake, Andrew, James was ill and needed me to take his place. It was an emergency! We can go to Glyndebourne any time.’
‘I see,’ he said stiffly. ‘James is obviously far more important to you than I am.’
Enough, thought Katherine. ‘I haven’t got time for this—’
‘No! Please. Don’t ring off,’ he broke in, his tone suddenly conciliatory. ‘I’m sorry, darling—’
‘Can’t talk any more now; I must get on. Bye.’ Before he could interrupt again, she switched off her phone.
Katherine felt so annoyed it took a while to get back into her groove again, but at last she began working at her usual speed, until a combination of fading light and a message from Roberto via Jorge brought her to a halt.
‘Senhor Roberto says perhaps finish now, Doutora,’ said the man tactfully.
Katherine looked at her watch and sat back with a sigh as she removed her goggles and mask. ‘I’ll just clear up and cover the painting. Can you ask where it should be stored overnight, please?’
‘Sim, senhora. Then I come back for your equipment.’
‘You can leave the work box and tripod here overnight. I’ll just take my camera and laptop.’ She grimaced as she indicated the overflowing bag of swabs.‘Sorry about the mess.’
He shook his head, smiling. ‘Nao importa.’
Katherine put her solvents and tools back in the box, then put her glasses on and turned back to the painting with mounting optimism. Tomorrow, she promised the young man silently, I’ll know for certain who painted you. Maybe—though this is a long shot—I’ll even know who you are.
‘Dr Lister,’ said Roberto, coming up the summer-house steps, ‘you have worked too long—’ He stopped dead as he saw the painting.
‘Don’t worry. I know it looks a mess like that, but by the time I’ve finished your boy will look a lot better, I promise,’ she assured him and began to wrap the canvas very carefully. ‘Where will you put him overnight?’
‘In the sala. Come, I shall show you.’ Roberto took the canvas from her so reverently Katherine had to hide a smile.
‘When you first saw the painting, what appealed to you about it?’ she asked as they crossed the hall. ‘It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’
‘Something about the subject’s face called to me very strongly, even through the medium of the Internet. I always visited art galleries whenever I could because painted portraits fascinate me. These days, I visit them through my computer.’ He paused before double doors at the end. ‘If you will open them, por favor, Katherine.’
She went before him into a large, formally furnished drawing room, where the painting to one side of the fireplace caught Katherine’s eye. The subject, a young girl in a gauzy white dress, smiled dreamily from the canvas. ‘Who is she?’
‘I do not know her provenance,’ said Roberto with regret. He crossed the room to lay his canvas down on an escritoire. ‘The label was “Portrait of a Young Girl”, artist unknown, and therefore cost little. She is charming, but to me she looks lonely.’
‘So you bought the young man as company for her?’
He nodded. ‘He would look good facing her, no?’
‘He will do when he’s been restored. Have you never researched your pretty lady?’
‘No. When I bought her I was ocupado—busy—and had no time.’
‘Whereas you’ve gone to great expense as well as time to find out more about your young man!’
Roberto nodded. ‘Because I hope I know the artist.’
‘Who?’ Katherine demanded.
His eyes danced, lighting up his face to an extent which made her blink. ‘Ah, no! I await your opinion before I risk mine, Doutora.’
‘Fair enough—you’re paying.’
‘Because this is true, I insist you rest before dinner.’ He gave her a commanding look. ‘Jorge goes with me tomorrow, but I have told Lidia to make sure you do not work too hard while I am gone.’
Had he indeed! ‘I get totally absorbed and forget the time,’ she admitted. ‘But when you see your young man again tomorrow he should look very different. Will you be away all day?’
He shook his head. ‘I shall return in time to dine with you.’
‘This is a beautiful room,’ she remarked as they moved towards the door.
‘But formal, no? I prefer my apartamento at the back of the house. I can be untidy there without risking Lidia’s wrath.’
She laughed. ‘That’s hard to imagine!’
Roberto nodded in wry agreement. ‘I am fortunate such good people care for me.’ He paused as he held the door open for her. ‘While you are here they will care for you also, and not just because it is my wish. Both Jorge and Lidia think you are a very charming young lady.’
To Katherine’s surprise, she felt her face flush. ‘How very sweet of them.’
Roberto regarded her with pleasure. ‘Que maravilha! A lady who can blush!’
‘Not something I do very often,’ she assured him, embarrassed.
‘Perhaps it is because you are tired. Rest now. You wish to dine on the varanda again?’
‘Yes, please.’ She walked quickly up the stairs, but this time turned to look down before heading for her room and, to her annoyance, found her face heating again as he gave that graceful bow of his before turning away.
In her room, Katherine stripped off her clothes impatiently. This blushing business had to stop right now. Overpoweringly attractive though her client might be, she was here purely on business. She ran a deep bath instead of a shower and lay back in it, frowning. It was only twenty-four hours since her first encounter with Roberto de Sousa. He had been put out at first because she was a woman, yet now, unless she was mistaken, he was beginning to enjoy her company. Of course that might not be such a big deal from her point of view. Maybe he’d not had much contact with women since his accident, due to the scar he was so bitter about. Yet she was so used to it, already she hardly noticed it. He must have been outrageously handsome without it—probably had to beat women off with a stick. But she was here purely to do a job. And tomorrow, by the time he came home from wherever he was spending the day, she should know whether her instinct was right about the artist. If it was, her job would be done and she could ask for transport to Viana do Castelo as her reward, a prospect which was not nearly as pleasant as it should have been.
A rest on her bed during the day was a novelty to Katherine. A lie in on Sundays was the nearest she ever came to one. But life here at the Quinta das Montanhas was dangerously addictive. It would be all too easy to get into the habit. She wondered if Roberto did the same. He’d mentioned an apartment at the back of the house so perhaps he had a ground floor bedroom—easier for his leg than tackling the beautiful stairs all the time. She was deeply curious to know what had happened, but it was pointless to get too interested in him. Once she’d finished here she would never meet Roberto de Sousa again. Besides, a man who came from a cattle-ranching background in Brazil, with a holiday home like Quinta das Montanhas at his disposal, lived on a different planet from Katherine Lister, art historian and researcher.
This conclusion did not rule out looking a bit more appealing to have dinner with Roberto. Katherine considered the sexy green dress, but in the end went for ivory linen trousers worn with heels and a bronze silk tunic. She let her newly washed hair hang loose to her shoulders, added a touch more make-up than before and, after a moment’s hesitation, decided against her glasses. She was ready and waiting when a pretty dark girl knocked on her door.
‘Pascoa,’ she announced, smiling shyly as she pointed to herself. ‘Senhor Roberto waits, Doutora.’
‘Obrigada, Pascoa,’ said Katherine, smiling, and followed the girl downstairs to the hall, where Jorge was waiting. ‘Good evening,’ she greeted him.
‘Boa tarde, Doutora. Lidia is cooking the carne de porco,’ he explained as they crossed the hall to the veranda. He opened the doors and ushered her outside. Roberto was leaning in his usual place at a pillar, his eyes on the garden. He turned quickly as she joined him, his eyes wide in involuntary shock which acted like balm on her bruised ego.
‘You look…most charming, Doctor,’ he said when he’d regained the power of speech. ‘It is hard to believe you have been working all day.’
‘Not all day. I’ve been lazing on the bed in the guest room for the past hour.’ She smiled. ‘Something I never do at home.’
Roberto pulled out a chair for her and gestured to the wine resting in its silver bucket. ‘You would like this again?’
‘I would. Thank you.’
‘So how do you spend your evenings in England?’ he asked as he filled their glasses.
‘At home alone, I make supper, do some ironing, watch television or read.’ Katherine pulled a face. ‘Nothing very exciting.’
‘And other times someone takes you out to dinner?’ he asked, easing himself down in the chair across the table.
‘Yes. Or I go out with friends—female gender,’ she added.
‘But one of your friends is a man, nao e?’
‘More than one.’ She grinned. ‘I share a house with two of them; an arrangement much disapproved of by the man who currently takes me out to dinner.’
Roberto’s lips twitched as he offered her morsels of toast spread with pat?. ‘He is jealous?’
Katherine thought about it. ‘Andrew wants me to move into his house instead.’
His eyes gleamed between enviable lashes. ‘Do you wish to do that?’
She shook her head. ‘Absolutely not. My house really is mine. My father left it to me. And my tenants pay me good rent to share it, and the three of us get together with other friends occasionally for a drink or a meal, which I enjoy very much. Great pat?, by the way,’ she added.
‘Pate de sardinha. Lidia made it, so eat more.’ Roberto leaned to top up her glass. ‘You say your father left the house to you? He is dead?’
Katherine nodded soberly. ‘Yes. My mother died when I was little. Dad brought me up single-handed and did a fantastic job of it.’ She cleared her throat. ‘Then, just after my eighteenth birthday, he had a major heart attack, which killed him.’
‘Que tragedia,’ he said softly. ‘You have other relatives?’
‘Dad’s younger sister came to live with me at the time, but eventually Charlotte met Sam Napier, the architect she’s married to now.’ Katherine smiled warmly. ‘They wanted me to make my home with them, but though I was deeply grateful to them I preferred to stay on at the house. Two of my fellow students were looking for somewhere to live so, with fantastic help from Sam, modifications were made to create three separate flats. The arrangement works so well Hugh and Alastair are still with me.’
‘And you do not wish to leave to join your lover,’ he remarked.
‘He’s just a friend,’ she said irritably, then caught her lip in her teeth.
Roberto eyed her in wry amusement. ‘You do not offend me, Doctor. It is I who do so with my talk of a lover. But that is how this man regards himself, nao e?’
‘I met him only a short time ago,’ she protested.
‘It takes only a moment to fall in love!’
She frowned, taken aback by the sudden descent into the personal. ‘From impartial observation I’ve noticed that it takes only a moment to fall back out again, too!’
All talk of love was abandoned as Jorge arrived to set down a platter of succulent pork slices flanked by an array of vegetables and a side dish of saut?ed potato slices.
‘This smells heavenly!’ Katherine said reverently.
‘We shall serve ourselves, Jorge,’ said Roberto, and smiled at him. ‘Thank Lidia for the batatinhas.’
‘What are they?’ asked Katherine as she helped herself.
‘The potatoes.’ He smiled. ‘They are my weakness prepared this way, but at one time I could not eat as many as I wished.’
‘You had to diet?’ she said, astonished. ‘That’s hard to believe.’
‘I had to take care with what I ate,’ he assured her. ‘Now, I do not.’
Katherine longed to know more as she went on with her dinner. ‘I always have to watch my weight,’ she said sadly.
‘E verdade?’ he said, surprised. ‘Why?’
‘Otherwise, my clothes don’t fit. So, as a basic matter of economy, I try not to eat chocolate, and puddings, and so on.’
Roberto leaned to refill her glass. ‘The wine will do no harm, I promise. Not,’ he added, ‘that I think the doces would harm you either, Katherine.’ He shot a look at her. ‘You allow me use of your name?’
‘Of course,’ she said quickly, annoyed because she felt flustered. ‘I was a bit overweight as a teenager, right up until my father died, when I found that grief was far more effective than any diet.’
His eyes softened. ‘You were close to him.’
‘Yes. I even followed his career choice. He lectured in art history. He met James Massey when they were at university.’
‘And now you work for your father’s friend.’
She stiffened. ‘Which is absolutely nothing to do with nepotism—’
‘I am sure it is not,’ Roberto assured her hastily. ‘But it would please your father to know that his daughter works in safe keeping with his old friend, I think.’
‘True. But I earn my salary, Senhor Sousa.’
He sighed. ‘Now I have offended you. Perdao! It was not my intention. Agora, please eat more or Lidia will also be offended.’
Katherine went on with her meal for a moment or two, then decided to take the plunge. ‘May I ask about your accident?’
Roberto tensed as though about to refuse, then shrugged, his eyes bitter. ‘I was in a car crash, and fortunate to survive. But for a while it was hard to convince myself of that.’
‘Because you were in such pain?’
His smile was sardonic as he refilled their glasses. ‘Also because of vanity.’
Roberto nodded. ‘My broken leg was in full length cast, I had bad concussion, black eyes, broken nose and teeth, and half my face held together with stitches. Frankenstein’s monster was prettier.’
‘Sounds as though you were lucky to be alive,’ said Katherine with a shiver. ‘Did you have any passengers?’
‘I was the passenger, Katherine. When the car swerved off the road on a bend the driver leapt clear. The car did not burst into flames as in the movies, gracas a Deus, but it suffered much damage as it crashed down a hillside into trees.’
‘What happened to the chauffeur?’
His eyes hardened to obsidian. ‘The driver was a woman, Katherine. I learned later that she had only a sprained wrist, also contusoes—bruises because bushes broke her fall. She ran from the scene in panic. It was left to a passing motorist to ring for help. I knew nothing of this. I woke up in hospital, with my parents by my bed.’
‘What a horrible shock for them to see you so badly injured.’ Katherine’s eyes were warm with sympathy, which hardened to something else entirely at the thought of the woman who’d left Roberto to his fate. ‘And the lady driving the car?’
‘She rang me eventually at the hospital, begging me to say I was driving,’ he said without expression. ‘But the answer was negative because the police already knew I was not driving. It took much time to free me from the passenger seat of my car.’
‘Why would she ask you to do that?’
‘We had a disagreement over dinner, and because of it we had taken more wine than was wise, so I insisted on ringing for a taxi. But she was in a great hurry to get away and snatched my keys.’ He looked suddenly grim. ‘We were still arguing in the car because she would not fasten her seat belt.’
‘So she was able to jump clear and leave you to your fate.’ Katherine shook her head in disbelief. ‘After that, she actually expected you to say you were driving?’
‘Yes. But even if I had been fool enough to agree, I could not lie because the police knew the facts, also that Elena had spent the evening with me from the publicity shots taken on our way to dinner. When the truth came out she was fired from a television soap she was appearing in. She had a minor role as an innocent young girl desired by a married man.’ He smiled sardonically. ‘When it was known that Elena Cabral had not only been drinking but jumped from the car to leave me to my fate, the press crucified her.’
‘Where did this happen?’
‘Near Porto. There were horrific pictures of me in the press.’ His mouth twisted. ‘My parents wanted to fly me straight home, but living at the Estancia would have meant much travelling for treatment, so I preferred to remain here to recover in the Minho. My father could stay only a short time with me, but my mother left only recently.’ He smiled. ‘My parents do not like to be separated for long, so finally I insisted I was well enough for her to leave me.’
Katherine gazed at him in silence. With an Estancia as the family home, the Quinta for holidays, and soap-actress girlfriends in the mix, Roberto de Sousa lived a very different life from hers—or from anyone she knew. ‘Thank you for telling me,’ she said at last. ‘I hope it wasn’t painful to talk about it.’
‘Not to such a sympathetic listener.’ He smiled suddenly, the effect like a light going on in a darkened room. He looked up as Jorge appeared to clear away. ‘Tell Lidia the meal was gostoso, as usual.’
Katherine nodded in fervent agreement and the man smiled, pleased.
‘You would like dessert, Doutora?’
‘No, thank you,’ she said with regret. ‘Could I have some tea, please?’
‘Pois e! I will also bring caf? for the Patrao.’
Roberto smiled wryly as the man left. ‘I must take the back seat with Jorge now you are here, Katherine.’
She laughed. ‘I don’t think so. Both Jorge and Lidia obviously think the world of you.’
‘My mother told them to take good care of me—and they do.’ He sighed. ‘Lidia feeds me well, and Jorge is a slave driver when I exercise, also he will drive me to Viana do Castelo tomorrow for a check-up with a doctor and session with the physio. I prefer to drive myself but for hospital visits Jorge insists he does,’ he added loudly as the man came back with a tray.
Jorge smiled. ‘Dona Teresa mandou,’ he said simply.
‘He said my mother ordered him to do it, so nothing I say will make any difference,’ said Roberto, resigned.
‘Thank you.’ Katherine smiled warmly at Jorge as he set the tray in front of her.
‘De nada, Doutora. Boa noite.’
‘So, Katherine,’ said Roberto when they were alone, ‘will you solve our mystery tomorrow?’
‘I certainly hope so, or you’ll have spent a lot of money for nothing in getting me here!’
‘And will pay more for you to stay longer!’ He rolled his eyes. ‘That does not sound good, I think. You must make allowances for my English.’
She shook her head. ‘You speak it very well. So do Lidia and Jorge to a lesser extent, though with much stronger accents than yours.’
‘We sound different because I am Brazilian and I was taught at school. Also I have travelled much. They are Portuguese and have not, but they have learned some basic English to deal with visitors to the Quinta das Montanhas. It is rented out for holidays for part of the year—the reason why I built the pool and the tennis court,’ Roberto added.
Katherine stared at him in astonishment. ‘You can actually bear to let the general public use your home?’
‘When I am not here, yes.’ He shrugged. ‘I am a practical man, Katherine. People pay very well to stay here, and it provides work for my empregados and money for the maintenance of the house. But not so many visitors are booked this season because I stay at the Quinta myself.’
‘Does Lidia cook for the guests?’
‘I do not allow this. Breakfast only is provided. There are good restaurants in the area.’ His jaw clenched. ‘For obvious reasons, I do not patronise them.’
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