Of course Eva wasn’t going to turn down her invitation to the private viewing at the Hawley Gallery. Daniel Scott, enfant terrible of the international art world, was exhibiting in Brighton of all places.
She arrived fifteen minutes early, but the gallery was almost full. It seemed as if everyone who was anyone on the Brighton art scene had turned up for vast amounts of free drink and air-kissing. Eva waved to people she knew, and finally spotted her friend Lyndsey on the other side of the room in front of one of Daniel Scott’s canvases. Somehow, a glass of Prosecco had appeared in her hand by the time she had squeezed through the crowd to reach Lyndsey.
“Hello, gorgeous!” Lyndsey put her hand on Eva’s arm and leaned in to dart her lips to her cheek. As she did, she dropped her voice and whispered, “Not many laughs on these walls tonight!”
“Hello, darling!” Eva kissed Lyndsey back, her friend’s summery floral scent enveloping them both like a cloud. “No, his work’s not a laugh a minute, is it? But it’s so exciting that the exhibition’s here. And thanks so much for sorting me out with an invite.”
“I don’t actually understand what it is. I don’t think I like it.” Lyndsey peered up at the canvas before her. From it, something vaguely human glowered down, a twisted, misshapen silhouette of a human face in a mist of fog. She cocked her head to one side then the other and shrugged. Then she smiled and murmured, “It needs a kitten or two, then we’ll talk.”
Eva laughed. “Like the ones on tea trays that grannies used to have? You do crack me up! I love his paintings… I’m always drawing things in my illustrations. It must be so freeing to paint emotion.”
“I haven’t met him yet, but Rupert says he’s super intense.” Lyndsey took a glass of Prosecco from the tray of a passing waiter. “He wouldn’t let us so much as hang a single work until he’d been through the space a dozen times. We’ve had some tricky artistic types through, but nothing like this. Rupert’d let him paint the place neon green if he wanted, though, for the exposure we’re getting.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised that he’s intense. I mean, to produce art like this.” Eva recalled the photos she’d seen of him in newspapers and magazines, dark eyes like coals that seemed to burn through the paper. “Then again, I bet he’s been really spoiled over the years. Don’t you think? Mr Rockstar Artist!”
“I just want another lovely sculptress to come and give us all biccies like that one from Cornwall.” Lyndsey pouted. “She was so nice, like the perfect mum! I mean, nobody came to see her work but…that meant biccies for the office!”
“Sorry about that, Lynds… I was busy.” Eva hadn’t been, of course, but at the time she hadn’t wanted to go out and her own studio had been her sanctuary. “She sounds lovely, though. No biscuits from Mr Scott, I take it?”
“No, nothing from Mr Scott other than shirty emails from his people about the quality of the light and the spacing between the works.” She took a sip from her glass. “You know none of them are for sale, and we’ve had offers on every single one?” Lyndsey dropped her voice again and confided, “I can’t tell you how much because Rupert won’t tell me. He just says think of an insane number and then add at least one zero. Mr Man-in-Black apparently might let some go once the exhibition closes. Personally, I can’t think who’d want one! Would you want these things above your bed?”
“Possibly not!” Eva looked up again at the canvas. She had trouble turning away from it. She’d seen his paintings reproduced in books and everywhere else, but actually seeing his artwork up close—close enough to see each individual brush mark—made the emotion it represented all the more intense. “But imagine it in the lounge, it’d be quite the conversation piece at parties!”
“The problem is, to buy this you’d have to sell your house, so you’d have no lounge to hang it in!”
“That’s true!” Eva laughed. “Thing is, don’t you think he should, I dunno, up his game a little? Develop his style a bit? It is exciting seeing all these works up close, but it’s as if he’s painting to a tried-and-tested formula. The Daniel Scott Method!”
“Are you accusing our enfant terrible of painting by numbers?” Lyndsey affected mock outrage. “Tell me more, Ms da Vinci!”
Eva gestured towards the painting while she sipped a mouthful of Prosecco. “Well, I do paint myself, as you know, and I try to…do different things. I mean, imagine if he broke from type and did a landscape. Although I suppose if you get to be as famous as him you’re trapped in one style, because everyone expects to see a Daniel Scott, and this is what they want.”
“Oh, don’t stop there,” a male voice said from behind the two women. “I’m enjoying learning from a master.”
Eva didn’t recognise the voice, although it seemed familiar. Some annoying hanger-on, no doubt, who thought they were an expert. But when she turned, her eyebrow already raised in scornful retort, she was facing Daniel Scott himself.
His coal-black eyes held Eva fixed to the spot. “I…erm… My God, Mr Scott. If I’d known you were stood right behind me, I really wouldn’t have said all that. Sorry. Erm…” She swallowed, then held out her hand to him, an awkward grin on her lips. “Eva Catesby. I am actually an artist, before you ask! Not just an opinionated bystander.”
“Eva Catesby.” He took her hand very briefly and narrowed his eyes as though trying to recall her name. “Did I see you exhibited at the Met last season? Or was it the Tate Modern? You’ll have to remind me, I seem to have forgotten.”
Because, of course, he has to be an egomaniac.
Eva rolled her eyes. “How unfortunate that you can’t remember. By the way, you also appear to have forgotten your sunglasses. We are indoors.” She indicated his Ray-Bans, which were perched on his dark hair.
“Eva!” Lyndsey whispered urgently, no doubt seeing her job as PA to Rupert Hawley flashing before her eyes.
“That’s why they’re not on my face,” he replied, deadpan. “As you correctly say, everybody wants to see Daniel Scott and they’d be disappointed if I didn’t have my sunglasses. I’ve always been a people pleaser.”
“Is that so?” Eva arched her eyebrow again. He was dressed entirely in black. His suit, his shirt. Was it an act, and at home he tooled about in flip-flops and Bermuda shorts? “Of course, some people are much harder to please than others. And I’m one of those people, I’m afraid. What can I say? I’m sure you’re not all that fussed by the views of a provincial artist you’ve never heard of.”
“Mr Scott.” Rupert Hawley was suddenly beside them, as if conjured from nowhere. He was almost bowing, Eva realised, his hand extending to shake Daniel’s. “I was hoping to announce you, you managed to evade me!”
“I was meeting the locals,” Daniel told him. He subtly turned from Eva, angling his body away from her a little. “Tough crowd.”
Rupert glanced to the two women for just a moment, but word of the artist’s presence seemed to have spread and an interested crowd was gathering. Everyone was eager to meet the star in their midst and none of them, Eva knew, would tell him that he needed to try something just a little different next time he put brush to canvas.
“That’s Brighton for you.” Rupert managed to force a smile to accompany his words. He moved to put his hand on Daniel’s back as though to steer him away, but it hovered there before falling. He can’t touch the icon, can he? All he could do was wring his hands and say, “Let me introduce you to some people. Excuse us, ladies.”
“Ms Catesby,” Daniel addressed Eva, the hint of a smile chilling on his lips, “thank you for the notes. I’ll keep them in mind.”
“Oh my God,” Lyndsey groaned as they departed in a crowd of excited chatter. “Oh my God, oh my God. Why did you do have to do that? You didn’t have to do that!”
“Do what?” Eva sipped her drink as she watched Daniel walk away. Cocky sod. Although, she had to admit it, a very good-looking sod, which was probably part of the problem. A man who had lucked out thanks to the universe granting him both a handsome face and talent. “I was merely expressing an opinion. That’s the point of a private viewing, isn’t it? I mean, I know everyone really just comes out for the free booze and schmoozing, but there are paintings on the walls, and we’re allowed to comment on them. It’s not my fault he was eavesdropping. His work is great, but I just think… Bloody hell, if he pushed himself, it could be amazing.”
“It’s Daniel Scott,” Lyndsey reminded her. “His last exhibition was at the Pompidou and when he came back to England he didn’t go to the Tate or the National, he came to our humble little gallery. You were really rude to him, Eva, that wasn’t on. It costs nothing to be nice, you know.”
“I did apologise, but then he came out with all that egotistical bollocks, and I saw red.” Eva adopted a snooty tone. “I’ve exhibited at the Met, I’ve exhibited at the Tate Modern, I’m a great big poser with my sunglasses on my head, I dress in black because I want everyone to think I’m a badass, I still sleep with my teddy.”
“It was rude,” Lyndsey told her again. “And you were saying you loved his work, why didn’t you tell him that?”
“Because that’s all he ever hears!” Eva watched his progress through the room, handshaking with some of the most annoying people in Brighton. Everyone was smiling and fawning over the man. “Look, when I do outreach with those kids, I don’t just say well done to everything they paint. I’ll say, well done. And next time, what if you do this a bit differently. There’s nothing wrong with pushing people. As long as it’s a gentle shove.”
“He’s going to complain about you.” As Lyndsey spoke, Daniel glanced over his shoulder at them for a moment. Eva flashed him a sarcastic grin and momentarily raised her glass. He raised his own in turn, the red wine catching the light before he turned away again. “And Rupert will blame me for inviting you and I’ll lose my job. You know how moody Rupe can be. You’ll have to go out for drinks with him again and save my job!”
“Oh God, Rupe and his lacklustre snog.” Eva wrinkled her nose and giggled like a gossipy schoolgirl. “There’s someone I won’t be going on a date with again. Ewww!”
“Bless his socks, give him another chance.” Lyndsey laughed. “You know, in three years of working with him, he’s never had a girlfriend for more than a couple of months. You looked so cute together, and he still likes you!”
“He’s a nice bloke, but really…” Eva shook her head. “He’s not for me.”
Whereas Daniel Scott…