The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove (17 page)

BOOK: The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove
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Lia put her finger on Emma’s lips. “No. No need.” She broke away before embarrassing herself with a flood of tears, waving to George down the platform before boarding the car. Sandy came up behind her and helped her up.

“All aboard!” the stationmaster called.

They found their seats and Lia watched through the window as Emma, George, and Little Georgie grew smaller and smaller, until finally they dropped out of sight altogether. She opened the envelope and found five thousand dollars in crisp new bills. Smiling sadly, she tucked the money safely inside her purse.

A new century was days away. The world was changing and Lia was changing with it. A new home, a new name, a new life awaited. She was happy to be sharing the adventure with Sandy, but knew they could never be all that each other needed. The question was, could she find someone to love her for who she was? She hoped so, and held onto that wish with all the strength she had, bracing herself for what was to come, even if it meant facing her destiny with no one to share her heart.

PART THREE

The Art of Love

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

December 1902

San Francisco

A
ugust Wolff finished buttoning his shirt and watched indifferently as his lover, Angel Lindemann, sat on the edge of the bed rubbing lilac butter on her arms and legs. She glanced up to see him regarding her, straightened her shoulders, and made a show of slowly rubbing the flowery emollient on her generous, pale breasts. His cock wasn’t paying any attention, which was a good sign he’d made the right decision.

“Only twice last night. I must be losing my touch,” she demurred with a sly smile. She’d draped her long blonde hair over one shoulder, the curls begging to be touched. He waited for her to give him one of her trademark smoldering looks. Ah, there it was.

“Or maybe I am,” he said.

She rose and languidly put on the scarlet silk dressing gown he’d given her. “You? I beg to differ, darling. I’ve never had better and I never will.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Angel.” He put on his coat and reached into an inner pocket, bringing out a small, slender white box. He put it on her dressing table along with an envelope.

Angel frowned and looked up at him. “I don’t want that.”

He smiled slightly. “You don’t know what it is.”

“I know it’s a ‘you’re a beautiful woman but I’ve lost interest in you and this bauble should keep you happy until you meet a new protector’ kind of gift.”

“You’re half right. It’s also the deed to this house.”

Angel put her hands on his chest, her pretty lips forming a pout. “I’m not ready to let you go yet,” she said. “I’d like to talk some more about it.”

Gus reached out and took her chin gently in one hand. “Talking has never been high on our list, has it?” He took his hat and scarf from the bedpost and turned to leave. “It’ll go well for you to say you’ve thrown me over for your next conquest. Men like that, and I don’t give a damn how it plays in the press, so use it to find someone worthy of you.”

“What shall I do?” she cried.

“You’ll do what you always do. Sing opera beautifully and make love brilliantly. You were born to it.”

She started to yell something, but he’d closed the door, so he didn’t catch the words she’d flung at him. Probably just as well.

Last night after her performance, he’d escorted Angel home by hired carriage instead of his new Winton. She’d not been happy; she’d wanted to spend the night at his home on the hill. But experience had taught him that after ending an affair, it was better, always better, to be the one to leave. Besides, he knew he’d need to walk off the malaise.

Three years in San Francisco and twice that many liaisons, none of which satisfied for long. He could relate to the restless energy jolting through the place someone had called the “Insane Asylum of the World.” The city itself was like a newfound lover: gorgeous, fascinating, open to anything, like a pair of shapely thighs spread wide. Easy to take advantage of and milk for maximum pleasure. But hell, there had to be something else. Something that
lasts
.

Like his business partnership, for instance. After several blocks he caught a trolley down to his Montgomery Street office and his meeting with Will and the money boys. He checked his pocket watch. Right about now his partner would be softening up the old goats, reminding them in that classy way of his that sure they were doing business with a newly rich, social-climbing upstart like Gus, but they were also hitchin’ their wagon to an old-money family with social bona fides stretchin’ way, way back. Will was eleven years younger than Gus, but brilliant when it came to business and already richer than Midas at the age of twenty-seven. But even if he’d been a slouch he would have made it because his last name was Firestone—of the “San Francisco Firestones.” As far as Gus was concerned, the fact that Will didn’t sit on his butt and ride on his name made him golden.

As he walked into the conference room, he caught Will’s eye. His partner nodded slightly and straightened his spectacles, a signal that all was well. At least this part of Gus’s life—making money—was on the right track.

“I’ll have final documents sent round to your offices for signatures, gentlemen. In the meantime, I think this meeting is cause for celebration.” Will had an assistant bring in a tray filled with glasses of champagne and pass them around. He raised his own glass. “To the official launch of Pacific Global Shipping,” he announced.

“To Pacific Global,” the group echoed.

After handshakes all around, the investors filed out, leaving Gus and Will alone in the office. Gus went to the sideboard and poured himself a whiskey. It was a mite early for it, but what the hell. He offered one to Will, but his partner declined.

“I’ll finish the bubbly,” Will said, hefting the flute. “Congratulations. You’re now a shipping baron.”

“As are you. I’ll say one thing. You’re a hell of a sweet talker. Those gents were eatin’ it up.”

Will waved his hand dismissively. “Eh, I’ve been around men like them all my life. I just happen to speak their language.”

“Well, given that I’m the new kid on the block, I appreciate you running interference.”

“Look, I know a good investment when I see one, that’s what it’s all about.” He took a sip of his drink and began gathering up his papers. Without looking up, he added, “So…how did it go with Angel?”

Gus put down his glass and glared at Will. “How the blazes did you know about that?”

Will looked up and grinned. “Gus, I’ve been your partner for, what, almost three years? And I’m telling you, you’re like a finely tuned watch. You get involved with someone and tick tock, tick tock, tick—tock, a half year later, you’ve wound down. When our efficient Mr. Hansen mentioned he’d drawn up papers to sign the deed over to Miss Lindemann, I figured you were ready to reset your timepiece.”

“That comparison is a bunch of bull,” Gus said, pouring himself another two fingers of liquor. “But I can’t argue with your conclusion.”

“Tell you what,” Will said. “Meet me at William Keith’s studio on Friday night. It’s on Clay Street. Eight to ten p.m. He’s showing some of his recent work—much more emotive than his earlier pieces. Some critics don’t think it’s quite up to snuff, but I rather like it. I’m thinking for the right price he might part with one or two of them and you can start to warm up that drafty old mausoleum of yours.”

Gus snorted. “Standing around looking at pretty pictures sounds about as exciting as scratching yourself while you watch grass grow. That’s your crowd, not mine.”

Will downed his second glass of champagne. “Suit yourself. The
crème de la crème
of the bohemian crowd will be there—that means the ones with money. And I can guarantee there’ll be shoulders you wouldn’t mind rubbing with—” he winked at Gus “—some of them even female.” He shrugged and reached for his perfectly tailored jacket. “But if you’re really not up to it…”

“God almighty, you’re an ass. No, I’m not up to it…but nice try.”

“It’s all self-serving, you know.” Will heaved a melodramatic sigh. “You’re a hell of a lot easier to get along with when you’ve got a woman routinely in your bed.”

“There is that,” Gus muttered.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


P
rofessor, I think your
Bridal Veil Falls
would look better higher and to the right of
Bullfrog Lake
. What do you think, Mary?” Lia Starling stood on a small ladder, ready to make the change.

BOOK: The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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