Iris Johansen – Eight Days to Live

By SMW Staff

For an instant she  couldn’t breathe, and she instinctively glanced back over her shoulder at the street behind her.

Nothing. A peaceful Parisian street on a beautiful spring day. No threat.

Imagination. A trick of the mind. Maybe a little nervous reac­tion because of the show tonight?

But she didn’t usually have nerves.

She glanced over her shoulder again.



She pulled open the carved oak door and went into the gallery.

“There you are.” Celine Denarve turned to Jane and frowned with mock indignation. “I thought I was going to have to send the bloodhounds after you. Marie and I have been slaving with the preparations to make this exhibit the finest I’ve ever given for any artist, and you go strolling off as if it has no importance. It’s an insult.”

Jane grinned. “You know that you would have whisked me out of here if I’d offered to stay and help.” Celine was reacting with her usual sense of Gallic drama, and it always amused Jane. High drama was so far removed from her own practical character. She had flashes of intensity and recklessness, and that might be why she and Celine had so quickly become friends, but it was Celine’s basic shrewdness and kindness that had cemented that friendship. “How many times have you told me that an artist should paint and stay out of the business of selling her work?”

“Many times.” Celine turned to her assistant, Marie Ressault, who had come out of the office carrying an ice bucket. “Put it at the bar, Marie. If I give everyone enough champagne, they will forget that Jane’s not really the Rembrandt I’ve been hyping for the past month.”

“I believe those art critics may already be a little skeptical,” Jane said dryly. “Though if anyone could convince them, you could.”

“You’re right. I’m splendid.” She smiled brilliantly at Jane. In her late thirties, Celine was sleek and dark-haired and as attractive as she was shrewd. She might know every trick in the book about pushing a young-and-coming artist up the next rung of the ladder, but she did it with honesty and a bubbly exuberance. “That’s what it takes to make a starving artist an icon.”

“I hate to tell you, but I’m not a starving artist. I did have a few successful shows before you appeared in my life.”

“Yes, but those other gallery owners didn’t make you focus on the important things. They should have made you do publicity to make you a  house hold name.”

“Not my cup of tea.”

Celine made a face. “That’s why you make my life so difficult. I have to work twice as hard just to make you show up for an inter­view. I’ve begun to tell everyone that they have to forgive you be­cause, after all, you’re just an artist with a shy and sensitive soul.”


“It works,” Celine said cheerfully. “They don’t know you.”

“That’s obvious.” Sensitive soul? she thought with amusement. She couldn’t think of any term that would be less applicable. She hoped she was kind and caring and could see beneath the surface, but she was neither fragile nor temperamental. She was only a street kid who had been lucky enough to have been born with a certain talent and the drive to make that talent come alive.

She smiled as she thought about what Joe Quinn would have said about her sensitive soul. She had been a tough ten-year-old when she had come to live with Joe and Eve Duncan, and they had accepted her and made sure that she knew how to handle herself in

any situation. He was a detective with the Atlanta Police Depart­ment, and his teaching had been both thorough and intense. Karate, Choi Kwang Do, and, when she grew older, training in weaponry. Those lessons had forged a bond that had helped draw them closer, and it was her very good fortune that she hadn’t been a prissy kid who would have forced Joe to treat her delicately. No, he would have laughed himself silly at anyone thinking she was overly sensitive.

“You’re smiling.” Celine was studying her face. “What are you thinking?”

“That you must be very persuasive to make them believe that bullshit.”

“Yes, I am extraordinary.” She took a step back and tilted her head as she gazed at the paintings beyond the velvet ropes. “The lighting is perfect. That’s essential, you know.”

Jane’s lips quirked. “Yes, it makes even my humble paintings look good.”

“That’s what I thought.” She glanced away from the paintings to Jane. “But perhaps they’re not completely humble. I didn’t to­tally lie when I told those critics you  were the next Rembrandt.”


“No, you’re exceptional. You’re young, only a few years out of college. In another five years, you’ll rock the art world. If you’ll let me help you.” She shrugged and changed the subject. “Lighting may help your paintings, but no amount of lighting is going to help you if you’re dressed in those jeans and shirt. Not  here in Paris. Hurry. Go upstairs and change. The first guests should be here in forty- five minutes.”

“I’ll be ready.” Jane headed for the elevator. Celine maintained an apartment above her gallery, and she had insisted that Jane stay with her before the exhibit. “I promise.”