The Dark Arts (The Dark Arts) by Kitty Thomas

She blushed, feeling somewhat pinned down by the intensity of his stare, the way he pulled her into him with such focus. There was something hawk-like in his features—which seemed fitting, given how much she felt like prey.

“More than you’d think. They make good conversation starters—novelties mostly. But there are dry spells as with any business,” she said.

Lachlan’s hand drifted down her back in a proprietary way, coming to stop just shy of public scandal. She shrugged out of his grasp and sent him a tight smile. He returned it with that same dark look she’d received from across the room only moments before.

“I’m trying to talk her into doing a piece for me,” Lachlan said as if it weren’t already a done deal between them.

“Oh, yeah, which one?” Nolan asked.

“The Joseph Quill piece.”

“Ah. So the owner won’t sell?”

Lachlan shook his head. “I offered more than it was worth. They still refused. So I’ve resigned myself to a fake that will look more real than the real deal. Or so I’m told by Miss Roth here.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to touch up my makeup,” Saskia said. The older woman in the group looked as if she might try to come along, but Saskia managed to extricate herself without an entourage.

She wandered down the dimly lit halls of the gallery, away from the buzzing din of voices and heels clicking on tile—away from the area the guests had been corralled into. It hadn’t been stated explicitly that they weren’t allowed in other parts of the gallery. Wouldn’t want to offend the generous donors. But it had been made to look as unwelcoming as a dirty alley strewn with used heroin needles, and the guests had taken the hint.

Saskia could barely stand to hear Joseph Quill’s name. She’d idolized him and had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his gallery showings when he was just beginning to become famous. Living artists rarely got so famous or claimed so high a price for their work.

She was sure she’d made a blubbering fool of herself that night and couldn’t even remember what idiotic things she’d said. She’d been shaking just from proximity to him.

Three months later, Quill was dead—a plane crash while traveling abroad. He’d been far too brilliant to die so young, leaving all the work that could have been... unfinished, languishing in the universal creative void just waiting for an artist far less talented to take up the mantle of a body of work far outside their range.

Saskia had mourned him as if he’d been a dear friend—even though she’d spoken all of four sentences to the man when she’d met him the one time. Sentences she wasn’t even sure had been coherent.

But she’d admired him so much. He’d inspired her. He’d painted the most haunting nudes she’d ever seen, some of them in far-too-compromising—even kinky—poses. But that wasn’t why people were drawn to the work.

It was the eyes.

Each woman he’d painted in his too-brief lifetime had a look about her as if Quill had taken and broken her apart, carved away all the pieces of her soul that didn’t appeal to him, and made her into something new that lit up the canvas like sunrise. Saskia was sure he’d slept with all of them—perhaps just before painting them. She’d spent nights fantasizing about being one of his subjects with all the dark eroticism she imagined such a position might entail.

Sometimes collectors were so captivated by the eyes of Quill’s women, they forgot to look at anything else, no matter how lurid the pose.

Saskia ducked into a bathroom at the end of the hallway and leaned against the counter. She’d convinced Lachlan that not only was she an excellent art forger, but a competent art thief as well. She’d regaled him with a few bullshit stories about a couple of low profile art heists that had never been solved, and he’d bought the story. Tonight was all about planting a seed so that when the real Quill nude hung in Lachlan’s home, all of his friends would think it was merely a clever forgery.

Or at least that’s how he thought it would play. Saskia could never steal the work of an artist she admired for a foul creature like Lachlan, but he couldn’t know he was her real mark.

She reapplied her lipstick and straightened the straps of the black dress. A strand of long dark hair had escaped her updo. She carefully pinned it back into place.

“You look lovely as you are.”

She spun, working to wipe any trace of startled guilt from her face.