The Dark Arts (The Dark Arts) by Kitty Thomas




1





Book One: The Con Artist





It was the fund raising event of the year at a hip up-and-coming gallery. Saskia wasn’t officially invited. She was a plus one to tech tycoon and art collector, Lachlan Niche.

It was twenty thousand a head just to get in to the night’s festivities. That didn’t include the VIP tour or the silent auction of the pieces on display. Even if she’d been invited, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it with only thirty-two dollars and eighty-eight cents in her bank account. If she didn’t get a cash infusion soon she’d be eating a lot of ramen to make that stretch.

The event was white tie—the theme demanding guests wear only black and white. The invitations had been engraved on fine linen stationery. Simple black lettering on the most subtle shade of eggshell.

The art was modern—bright splashes of reds and purples and blues and yellows and greens with the occasional smattering of orange, making statements the assembled could only guess about. The great thing about abstract art was how smart people could feel about themselves while saying ludicrous things about shapeless objects. Feeling smart was the important part.

If more care had gone into the event, perhaps guests could have worn all white. They would have moved in and out of the art pieces, looking like blank walls and canvases themselves—becoming a part of the paintings and installations.

Lachlan waved from across the room. Mr. Tall, dark, and handsome. He looked too dangerous to be at home surrounded by art. He was Saskia’s benefactor for the evening, allowing her to rub shoulders with the people who gave to charity primarily so they wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the frivolous things they did with the other ninety-eight percent of their money.

No, that wasn’t fair. A good portion of it was reinvested and making them more money to feel guilty about while they clinked their champagne glasses and had another toast point with caviar.

He grew insistent, calling her over now. There was that glint in his eyes that reminded her he always got whatever he wanted.

How nice for him.

What he wanted right now was to use Saskia as his conversation piece. Apparently there weren’t enough of those scattered about the gallery.

She squeezed past huddled insular groups talking bullshit about art they would never understand because they didn’t have the heart for it. Money didn’t buy comprehension or depth, but they were all good enough at faking it. My, aren’t the emperor’s new clothes stunning? Look at those golden threads!

Saskia knew more about art than most of these people could search on the Internet—or have their assistants search. Wouldn’t want them to have to put themselves out in the quest for knowledge.

“Saskia,” Lachlan said in that congenial patronizing tone one hears when they know they’ve just been the subject of a conversation. His arm stretched outward, pulling her into his claw-like embrace. On the surface, she was lucky to have his attention tonight. He was good-looking, wealthy, and at least seemed cultured to the untrained eye. Odds were good he wouldn’t belch out the National Anthem, at least.

“I was just telling them you’re an art forger.”

Of course he was.

There was polite, uncomfortable laughter as they waited for offense or denial. Saskia smiled mildly and took another sip of her champagne as the group pressed in closer.

“So it’s true, then?” one of the older ladies asked, her eyes wide.

“Don’t get too excited. I don’t pass them off as real. I sell them as reproductions. All long-dead artists. Nothing illegal about it.”

Except maybe this one she was about to do. The artist in question was still somewhat recently deceased. That made things tricky from a legal standpoint. But Lachlan assured her he’d gained permission from the artist’s estate to have the reproduction made. And as if by magic, he’d produced the official-looking paperwork to prove it. Saskia wasn’t sure if the papers were legit, but she was too hungry to grill him about it in any meaningful way.

One of the men seemed intrigued. He offered his hand as if at a business meeting. “Nolan,” he said. His grip was firm. He dropped Saskia’s hand a split second before she could pull away. “What’s the market for something like that?” he asked.

The night might not be a total waste after all. Lots of alcohol flowing and shallow people with money in their pockets to burn. Perhaps she could pick up some small potatoes. You could make potatoes stretch almost as far as ramen if you knew what you were doing.