Iris Johansen – Eight Days to Live

By SMW Staff

“What?”

Celine nodded. “My darling Jane, you’re very successful, but you’ve not reached that particular pinnacle yet. We’d be foolish to refuse an offer like that. Money is important.”

“Yes, it is.” Jane glanced back at the canvas. Celine was right about its being an uncomfortable painting. Yet she had never been able to give it up. It owned her as much as she owned it.

But she didn’t like to be owned. She had fought it all her life. From the time she was a street kid just trying to survive in the slums of Atlanta.

“Jane?” Celine was softly nudging, wheedling. “I could give a release to the papers, and it would increase your status enormously. It would be a great career move.”

Everything Celine was saying was true. But, dammit, she didn’t like the idea of her career depending on how much money her paint­ing was worth.

For heaven’s sake, that was life. Forget the idealistic bullshit.

“May I sell it?” Celine asked. “Make me rich and yourself fa­mous. What do you say?”

Jane looked back at the tormented face in the portrait. She didn’t speak for a long moment. “I say that I may be crazy, but I’m not giving it up.” She finished her champagne. “And that I’m tired and want to go to bed.”

Celine shook her head. “You are crazy.” She shrugged. “But I will keep at you. Maybe I can get this California billionaire to go even higher. You hesitated for a moment.” She made a shooing mo­tion. “Go on upstairs and get to bed. I have to make a few phone calls, then I’ll set the alarm.” She filled her champagne glass again. “Though how you can sleep after such a victory is a mystery to me. I want to go out and celebrate.”

Jane smiled. “Then do it. You deserve a celebration. This is the

best show I’ve ever had, and it’s all due to you. You’re a brilliant woman, Celine.”

“Yes, I am.” She tilted her head, considering. “And I believe I will go out. Sacré Bleu, one of us should do it. I don’t know why I like you so much. You’re very boring.”

“True. But I had a rough week at home before I came back  here to your Never-Never Land. I could use a little peace and quiet.”

Celine nodded. “You should stay here in Paris. I know you told me how much you love your adopted parents, but they have to be very grim people. Your Joe Quinn is a police detective. And I’ve read about Eve Duncan and how famous she is for her forensic sculpting.” She gave a mock shudder. “But dealing with all those skulls? Very depressing.”

For Celine it would be depressing, Jane thought, so she wouldn’t attempt to explain how Eve’s work brought final closure to many parents of children who had been lost for years. “They’re not grim. They just live in the real world.” She looked around the gleaming marble floors and crystal chandeliers of the gallery. “And this is Cinderella’s ballroom.”

“The real world is what you make it,” Celine said. “And I pre­fer my world beautiful and full of wonderful toys. When I was a child growing up wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs, I swore I’d surround myself with nothing but things that were new and fresh and unique.” She added, “Like you.”

“My work?”

“Yes, yes. But they only reflect what you are. You’re like me. You grew up tough, but you didn’t let it poison you. You’re still full of curiosity and willing to take risks.” She nodded at the painting. “But refusing that offer is a very big risk. I’ll have to concentrate on showing you the error of your ways.”

Jane smiled. “You don’t feel like concentrating

on anything but celebrating tonight. Go party.” She headed for the elevator that would take her to Celine’s elegant suite. It was a charming apart­ment, beautifully decorated and totally private. Celine might be a social butterfly, but she clearly liked to divorce herself from the gallery when she got on the elevator and went to her apartment. As Jane punched the button, she glanced back over her shoulder.

Butterfly indeed. Celine was wearing a black Valentino dress that was the height of sophistication, but she was pulling on a red silk cape that made a brilliant splash of color and caused the ebony darkness beneath it to shimmer. “You look beautiful. Have a good time.” She added quietly, “Thank you for everything, Celine. You’re right, it was a wonderful show.”

“Yes, it was. I did splendidly, didn’t I? I can’t talk you into com­ing with me?”

“Not tonight. But I’d love to have dinner with you tomorrow if you don’t have plans.”

“Then we’ll have another celebration tomorrow. We’ll go shop­ping and buy you a midnight blue dress with many sequins, I think. It will be dazzling with that wonderful red-brown hair.”

“Sequins aren’t my style. And I don’t dazzle.”

“No, maybe not usually. But you’re beautiful and people stare at you and remember your face after they’ve forgotten all the dazzle around them. But I still think we need a little dazzle to set my Paris whirling.” She swept toward the door, with the red silk cape fl ow­ing behind her like a banner. “Go to bed, you boring person. I’ll set the alarm to keep someone from stealing you, but don’t expect me in before dawn.”

Jane was smiling as she got on the elevator. Celine might not be in before dawn, but she’d be up and working in her gallery by nine. As for Jane, she’d be packing and perhaps spending a few hours walking around Paris before she met Celine for dinner. She loved

this city though she never felt totally at home here. It was too spar­kling and effervescent. She had been much more at home in Scot­land at MacDuff’s Run though the castle’s grandeur should have intimidated her. Particularly since her time there had been filled with the overwhelming threat engendered by that bastard, Reilly, and his hunt for MacDuff’s lost treasure.