Read The Art of Deception Page 2

  “We’ll show him tomorrow.”

  “He mustn’t see the Van Gogh.” Kirby planted her feet, prepared to do battle on this one point, if not the others. “You’re not going to make this more complicated than you already have.”

  “He won’t see it. Why should he?” Fairchild glanced up briefly, eyes wide. “It has nothing to do with him.”

  Though she realized it was foolish, Kirby was reassured. No, he wouldn’t see it, she thought. Her father might be a little…unique, she decided, but he wasn’t careless. Neither was she. “Thank God it’s nearly finished.”

  “Another few days and off it goes, high into the mountains of South America.” He made a vague, sweeping gesture with his hands.

  Moving over, Kirby uncovered the canvas that stood on an easel in the far corner. She studied it as an artist, as a lover of art and as a daughter.

  The pastoral scene was not peaceful but vibrant. The brush strokes were jagged, almost fierce, so that the simple setting had a frenzied kind of motion. No, it didn’t sit still waiting for admiration. It reached out and grabbed by the throat. It spoke of pain, of triumph, of agonies and joys. Her lips tilted because she had no choice. Van Gogh, she knew, could have done no better.

  “Papa.” When she turned her head, their eyes met in perfect understanding. “You are incomparable.”

  * * *

  By seven, Kirby had not only resigned herself to their house guest, but was prepared to enjoy him. It was a basic trait of her character to enjoy what she had to put up with. As she poured vermouth into a glass, she realized she was looking forward to seeing him again, and to getting beneath the surface gloss. She had a feeling there might be some fascinating layers in Adam Haines.

  She dropped into a high-backed chair, crossed her legs and tuned back in to her father’s rantings.

  “It hates me, fails me at every turn. Why, Kirby?” He spread his hands in an impassioned plea. “I’m a good man, loving father, faithful friend.”

  “It’s your attitude, Papa.” She shrugged a shoulder as she drank. “Your emotional plane’s faulty.”

  “There’s nothing wrong with my emotional plane.” Sniffing, Fairchild lifted his glass. “Not a damn thing wrong with it. It’s the clay that’s the problem, not me.”

  “You’re cocky,” she said simply. Fairchild made a sound like a train straining up a long hill.

  “Cocky? Cocky? What the devil kind of word is that?”

  “Adjective. Two syllables, five letters.”

  Adam heard the byplay as he walked toward the parlor. After a peaceful afternoon, he wondered if he was ready to cope with another bout of madness. Fairchild’s voice was rising steadily, and as Adam paused in the doorway, he saw that the artist was up and shuffling again.

  McIntyre was going to pay for this, Adam decided. He’d see to it that revenge was slow and thorough. When Fairchild pointed an accusing finger, Adam followed its direction. For an instant he was totally and uncharacteristically stunned.

  The woman in the chair was so completely removed from the grimy, pigtailed chimney sweep, he found it nearly impossible to associate the two. She wore a thin silk dress as dark as her hair, draped at the bodice and slit up the side to show off one smooth thigh. He studied her profile as she watched her father rant. It was gently molded, classically oval with a very subtle sweep of cheekbones. Her lips were full, curved now in just a hint of a smile. Without the soot, her skin was somewhere between gold and honey with a look of luxurious softness. Only the eyes reminded him this was the same woman—gray and large and amused. Lifting one hand, she tossed back the dark hair that covered her shoulders.

  There was something more than beauty here. Adam knew he’d seen women with more beauty than Kirby Fairchild. But there was something… He groped for the word, but it eluded him.

  As if sensing him, she turned—just her head. Again she stared at him, openly and with curiosity, as her father continued his ravings. Slowly, very slowly, she smiled. Adam felt the power slam into him.

  Sex, he realized abruptly. Kirby Fairchild exuded sex the way other women exuded perfume. Raw, unapologetic sex.

  With a quick assessment typical of him, Adam decided she wouldn’t be easy to deceive. However he handled Fairchild, he’d have to tread carefully with Fairchild’s daughter. He decided as well that he already wanted to make love to her. He’d have to tread very carefully.

  “Adam.” She spoke in a soft voice that nonetheless carried over her father’s shouting. “You seem to have found us. Come in, Papa’s nearly done.”

  “Done? I’m undone. And by my own child.” Fairchild moved toward Adam as he entered the room. “Cocky, she says. I ask you, is that a word for a daughter to use?”

  “An aperitif?” Kirby asked. She rose with a fluid motion that Adam had always associated with tall, willowy women.

  “Yes, thank you.”

  “Your room’s agreeable?” His face wreathed in smiles again, Fairchild plopped down on the sofa.

  “Very agreeable.” The best way to handle it, Adam decided, was to pretend everything was normal. Pretenses were, after all, part of the game. “You have an…exceptional house.”

  “I’m fond of it.” Content, Fairchild leaned back. “It was built near the turn of the century by a wealthy and insane English lord. You’ll take Adam on a tour tomorrow, won’t you, Kirby?”

  “Of course.” As she handed Adam a glass, she smiled into his eyes. Diamonds, cold as ice, glittered at her ears. He could feel the heat rise.

  “I’m looking forward to it.” Style, he concluded. Whether natural or developed, Miss Fairchild had style.

  She smiled over the rim of her own glass, thinking precisely the same thing about Adam. “We aim to please.”

  A cautious man, Adam turned to Fairchild again. “Your art collection rivals a museum’s. The Titian in my room is fabulous.”

  The Titian, Kirby thought in quick panic. How could she have forgotten it? What in God’s name could she do about it? No difference. It made no difference, she reassured herself. It couldn’t, because there was nothing to be done.

  “The Hudson scene on the west wall—” Adam turned to her just as Kirby was telling herself to relax “—is that your work?”

  “My… Oh, yes.” She smiled as she remembered. She’d deal with the Titian at the first opportunity. “I’d forgotten that. It’s sentimental, I’m afraid. I was home from school and had a crush on the chauffeur’s son. We used to neck down there.”

  “He had buck teeth,” Fairchild reminded her with a snort.

  “Love conquers all,” Kirby decided.

  “The Hudson River bank is a hell of a place to lose your virginity,” her father stated, suddenly severe. He swirled his drink, then downed it.

  Enjoying the abrupt paternal disapproval, she decided to poke at it. “I didn’t lose my virginity on the Hudson River bank.” Amusement glimmered in her eyes. “I lost it in a Renault in Paris.”

  Love conquers all, Adam repeated silently.

  “Dinner is served,” Cards announced with dignity from the doorway.

  “And about time, too.” Fairchild leaped up. “A man could starve in his own home.”

  With a smile at her father’s retreating back, Kirby offered Adam her hand. “Shall we go in?”

  In the dining room, Fairchild’s paintings dominated. An enormous Waterford chandelier showered light over mahogany and crystal. A massive stone fireplace thundered with flame and light. There were scents of burning wood, candles and roasted meat. There was Breton lace and silver. Still, his paintings dominated.

  It appeared he had no distinct style. Art was his style, whether he depicted a sprawling, light-filled landscape or a gentle, shadowy portrait. Bold brush strokes or delicate ones, oils streaked on with a pallet knife or misty watercolors, he’d done them all. Magnificently.

  As varied as his paintings were his opinions on other artists. While they sat at the long, laden table, Fairchild spoke of each artist personally,
as if he’d been transported back in time and had developed relationships with Raphael, Goya, Manet.

  His theories were intriguing, his knowledge was impressive. The artist in Adam responded to him. The practical part, the part that had come to do a job, remained cautious. The opposing forces made him uncomfortable. His attraction to the woman across from him made him itchy.

  He cursed McIntyre.

  Adam decided the weeks with the Fairchilds might be interesting despite their eccentricities. He didn’t care for the complications, but he’d allowed himself to be pulled in. For now, he’d sit back and observe, waiting for the time to act.

  The information he had on them was sketchy. Fairchild was just past sixty, a widower of nearly twenty years. His art and his talent were no secrets, but his personal life was veiled. Perhaps due to temperament. Perhaps, Adam mused, due to necessity.

  About Kirby, he knew almost nothing. Professionally, she’d kept a low profile until her first showing the year before. Though it had been an unprecedented success, both she and her father rarely sought publicity for their work. Personally, she was often written up in the glossies and tabloids as she jetted to Saint Moritz with this year’s tennis champion or to Martinique with the current Hollywood golden boy. He knew she was twenty-seven and unmarried. Not for lack of opportunity, he concluded. She was the type of woman men would constantly pursue. In another century, duels would have been fought over her. Adam thought she’d have enjoyed the melodrama.

  From their viewpoint, the Fairchilds knew of Adam only what was public knowledge. He’d been born under comfortable circumstances, giving him both the time and means to develop his talent. At the age of twenty, his reputation as an artist had begun to take root. A dozen years later, he was well established. He’d lived in Paris, then in Switzerland, before settling back in the States.

  Still, during his twenties, he’d traveled often while painting. With Adam, his art had always come first. However, under the poised exterior, under the practicality and sophistication, there was a taste for adventure and a streak of cunning. So there had been McIntyre.

  He’d just have to learn control, Adam told himself as he thought of McIntyre. He’d just have to learn how to say no, absolutely no. The next time Mac had an inspiration, he could go to hell with it.

  When they settled back in the parlor with coffee and brandy, Adam calculated that he could finish the job in a couple of weeks. True, the place was immense, but there were only a handful of people in it. After his tour he’d know his way around well enough. Then it would be routine.

  Satisfied, he concentrated on Kirby. At the moment she was the perfect hostess—charming, personable. All class and sophistication. She was, momentarily, precisely the type of woman who’d always appealed to him—well-groomed, well-mannered, intelligent, lovely. The room smelled of hothouse roses, wood smoke and her own tenuous scent, which seemed to blend the two. Adam began to relax with it.

  “Why don’t you play, Kirby?” Fairchild poured a second brandy for himself and Adam. “It helps clear my mind.”

  “All right.” With a quick smile for Adam, Kirby moved to the far end of the room, running a finger over a wing-shaped instrument he’d taken for a small piano.

  It took only a few notes for him to realize he’d been wrong. A harpsichord, he thought, astonished. The tinny music floated up. Bach. Adam recognized the composer and wondered if he’d fallen down the rabbit hole. No one—no one normal—played Bach on a harpsichord in a castle in the twentieth century.

  Fairchild sat, his eyes half closed, one thin finger tapping, while Kirby continued to play. Her eyes were grave, her mouth was faintly moist and sober. Suddenly, without missing a note or moving another muscle, she sent Adam a slow wink. The notes flowed into Brahms. In that instant, Adam knew he was not only going to take her to bed. He was going to paint her.

  “I’ve got it!” Fairchild leaped up and scrambled around the room. “I’ve got it. Inspiration. The golden light!”

  “Amen,” Kirby murmured.

  “I’ll show you, you wicked child.” Grinning like one of his gargoyles, Fairchild leaned over the harpsichord. “By the end of the week, I’ll have a piece that’ll make anything you’ve ever done look like a doorstop.”

  Kirby raised her brows and kissed him on the mouth. “Goat droppings.”

  “You’ll eat your words,” he warned as he dashed out of the room.

  “I sincerely hope not.” Rising, she picked up her drink. “Papa has a nasty competitive streak.” Which constantly pleased her. “More brandy?”

  “Your father has a…unique personality.” An emerald flashed on her hand as she filled her glass again. He saw her hands were narrow, delicate against the hard glitter of the stone. But there’d be strength in them, he reminded himself as he moved to the bar to join her. Strength was indispensable to an artist.

  “You’re diplomatic.” She turned and looked up at him. There was the faintest hint of rose on her lips. “You’re a very diplomatic person, aren’t you, Adam?”

  He’d already learned not to trust the nunlike expression. “Under some circumstances.”

  “Under most circumstances. Too bad.”

  “Is it?”

  Because she enjoyed personal contact during any kind of confrontation, she kept her eyes on his while she drank. Her irises were the purest gray he’d ever seen, with no hint of other colors. “I think you’d be a very interesting man if you didn’t bind yourself up. I believe you think everything through very carefully.”

  “You see that as a problem?” His voice had cooled. “It’s a remarkable observation after such a short time.”

  No, he wouldn’t be a bore, she decided, pleased with his annoyance. It was lack of emotion Kirby found tedious. “I could’ve come by it easily enough after an hour, but I’d already seen your work. Besides talent, you have self-control, dignity and a strong sense of the conventional.”

  “Why do I feel as though I’ve been insulted?”

  “Perceptive, too.” She smiled, that slow curving of lips that was fascinating to watch. When he answered it, she made up her mind quickly. She’d always found it the best way. Still watching him, she set down her brandy. “I’m impulsive,” she explained. “I want to see what it feels like.”

  Her arms were around him, her lips on his, in a move that caught him completely off balance. He had a very brief impression of wood smoke and roses, of incredible softness and strength, before she drew back. The hint of a smile remained as she picked up her brandy and finished it off. She’d enjoyed the brief kiss, but she’d enjoyed shocking him a great deal more.

  “Very nice,” she said with borderline approval. “Breakfast is from seven on. Just ring for Cards if you need anything. Good night.”

  She turned to leave, but he took her arm. Kirby found herself whirled around. When their bodies collided, the surprise was hers.

  “You caught me off guard,” he said softly. “I can do much better than nice.”

  He took her mouth swiftly, molding her to him. Soft to hard, thin silk to crisp linen. There was something primitive in her taste, something…ageless. She brought to his mind the woods on an autumn evening—dark, pungent and full of small mysteries.

  The kiss lengthened, deepened without plan on either side. Her response was instant, as her responses often were. It was boundless as they often were. She moved her hands from his shoulders, to his neck, to his face, as if she were already sculpting. Something vibrated between them.

  For the moment, blood ruled. She was accustomed to it; he wasn’t. He was accustomed to reason, but he found none here. Here was heat and passion, needs and desires without questions or answers.

  Ultimately, reluctantly, he drew back. Caution, because he was used to winning, was his way.

  She could still taste him. Kirby wondered, as she felt his breath feather over her lips, how she’d misjudged him. Her head was spinning, something new for her. She understood heated blood, a fast pulse, but not the clouding of
her mind.

  Not certain how long he’d have the advantage, Adam smiled at her. “Better?”

  “Yes.” She waited until the floor became solid under her feet again. “That was quite an improvement.” Like her father, she knew when to dodge and weave. She eased herself away and moved to the doorway. She’d have to do some thinking, and some reevaluating. “How long are you here, Adam?”

  “Four weeks,” he told her, finding it odd she didn’t know.

  “Do you intend to sleep with me before you go?”

  Torn between amusement and admiration, he stared at her. He respected candor, but he wasn’t used to it in quite so blunt a form. In this case, he decided to follow suit. “Yes.”

  She nodded, ignoring the little thrill that raced up her spine. Games—she liked to play them. To win them. Kirby sensed one was just beginning between her and Adam. “I’ll have to think about that, won’t I? Good night.”


  Shafts of morning light streamed in the long windows of the dining room and tossed their diamond pattern on the floor. Outside the trees were touched with September. Leaves blushed from salmon to crimson, the colors mixed with golds and rusts and the last stubborn greens. The lawn was alive with fall flowers and shrubs