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Authors: Alli Sinclair

Under the Spanish Stars

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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UNDER THE

Spanish Stars

ALLI SINCLAIR

www.harlequinbooks.com.au

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alli Sinclair is Australian-born but considers herself a citizen of the world. She spent her early adult years travelling the globe, intent on becoming an Indiana Jones in heels. She scaled mountains in Nepal, Argentina, and Peru, rafted the Ganges, rode a camel in the Sahara, and swam with sharks and eagle rays in Belize.

Argentina and Peru became her home for a while and it was there her love of dance bloomed. When she wasn't working as a mountain guide or tour leader, Alli could be found dancing the tango, salsa, merengue and samba.

All of these adventures made for fun storytelling and this is when she discovered her love of writing. Alli's stories combine her passion for exotic destinations, the quirks of human nature, and the belief that everyone has an adventure waiting to unfold. She is a sucker for family sagas, romances and mysteries.

Alli now lives in Australia with her partner and two children. New travel adventures are never far from her mind and Alli has every intention of her and the family achieving every one of them (a lottery win would help).

As well as writing fiction, Alli blogs about storytelling, culture and travel at
www.allisinclair.com

ALSO BY ALLI SINCLAIR

Luna Tango

For Nan—the most natural storyteller I've known.

Thank you for encouraging me to embrace the art of words

and for being an inspiration in my life.

CONTENTS

About the Author

Also by Alli Sinclair

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Acknowledgements

CHAPTER
1

Charlotte Kavanagh gripped the calico bag that safely concealed her grandmother's painting as she hurried across the grounds of Granada's
Escuela de Bellas Artes
, the School of Arts. Her heart raced faster than her feet while she skilfully dodged the students dressed in an array of styles—bohemian, casual chic, business or sporty—as they lazed on the green expanse, soaking up the sun while idly thumbing through textbooks or sharing a joke with classmates. Charlotte's low heels clacked along the smooth path and she longed for a moment to fully enjoy the glory of the intense blue sky, blooming gardenias and the sun warming her pale skin, although it was impossible to slow down when urgency shrouded this visit to Spain.

Taking the steps two at a time, Charlotte hastened through the art deco doors and down the long passageway. Sunlight attempted to penetrate further than the small windows but failed miserably, leaving the building in gloomy darkness. Squinting, Charlotte edged along the hallway, trying to make out the names and numbers on the doors.

‘Bingo!' She drew to a halt and filled her lungs with oxygen, exhaling slowly before rapping on the door.

No answer.

‘Damn.' Knocking harder, she adjusted the shoulder strap of her handbag. This last-minute trip to Spain had caused many complications, especially with work, but how could she say no to her beloved grandmother's request?

Rapping on the door again, she drew her lips into a tight line, about to resign herself to camping outside Professor Fonseca's door. Charlotte wiped the sweat from her brow, then reached into the handbag, grabbed a water bottle and took a long drink. The cool liquid brought her
temperature down and the frazzled feeling waned slightly.

High heels marching across floorboards echoed down the hallway. The owner of the stunning blue shoes was a petite woman in a stylish business suit, her hair in an immaculately tailored bob, her large brown eyes framed by perfect eyeliner and mascara. The woman stopped in front of the door and Charlotte straightened as she smoothed down her faithful jeans.

‘Excuse me, are you Professor Fonseca?'

‘
Sí
.' She shoved the key in the lock and it clicked open. The woman turned and narrowed her eyes as she looked over her black-rimmed glasses. ‘Admissions deal with foreign students. I cannot help with your application to my department.'

‘Oh, that's not what I'm here for.' Charlotte opened the calico bag and moved to pull out the painting.

‘Do not bother.' The professor made no effort to hold in a long sigh and muttered, ‘
¡Por Dios! Estoy cansada de esto
.'

Charlotte chose not to tell the professor she'd understood her comment about being tired of ‘this'. Whatever ‘this' was. ‘I'm sorry if you have lots of people turn up without an appointment but I have extenuating circumstances—'

‘I wish I had a euro for everyone who says this.' The professor held the door ajar, as if readying to barricade herself in the office against this loony Australian woman. ‘I have a lecture in half an hour and I am busy for the rest of the week. You return next Wednesday. Eleven o'clock.'

‘Please,' Charlotte resisted the urge to grab the professor's arm. ‘My
abuela
's had a major heart attack—she's in her nineties and is very unwell. Her heart could give out at any minute so she's sent me here to find out who this artist is. The painting holds a lot of significance for my
abuela
. It's not signed and all she knows is it was an artist from Granada.' For good measure, she added, ‘I've been told you were the expert in this field.'

Charlotte's attempt at buttering up appeared to have no effect as the professor crossed her arms.

‘You use
abuela
, the Spanish word for grandmother. Do you speak my native language?'

‘I understand it much better than I can speak, but I get by.' Good old high-school Spanish classes had been Charlotte's only avenue to learn. Her grandmother had refused to teach her offspring, even though she insisted
on being called Abuela. Yet another contradiction her grandmother clung to without explanation.

The professor's arms remained folded and in an authoritative voice said,
‘El español es muchísimo mejor pero lamentablemente todos creen que el inglés es el idioma número uno. No tiene ninguna poesía. Duelen los oídos.
'

The rapid fire of words zapped around Charlotte's head as she grappled to gain full meaning. What she picked up was that English wasn't poetic and it hurt the professor's ears.

‘I'm sorry,' Charlotte said. ‘I didn't get all of that.'

The professor shrugged. ‘Classroom Spanish is not the same as real life, no? So we speak English, you and me.'

‘Thank you, I appreciate this.' She held back a sigh of relief. When Charlotte had sent out the call to her network of colleagues in the insurance business, she'd expected to be given the name of a second-hand dealer in the backstreets of Granada, so it came as a pleasant surprise to be put in touch with the city's leading expert in obscure Spanish classical artists. Unfortunately, she hadn't been warned about the woman's prickly nature. Making a last-ditch effort, Charlotte said, ‘My great-grandfather gave Abuela the painting and promised to tell her the story behind it when she was twenty-one. Unfortunately, he passed away before he had the chance.'

‘Why has she waited until now to find out?' The professor took her hand off the key in the lock.

‘My grandmother was born in Granada, but moved to England in her twenties. I'm not sure when, exactly.'
Because Abuela always ensured the details of her life in Spain remained murky yet she freely spoke about her life in England.
Recently, though, her grandmother had revealed tiny snippets about Spain and, for the first time in Charlotte's twenty-seven years, she'd heard her grandmother speak about her country of birth with a hint of affection. ‘Later she moved to Australia with my grandpa. Abuela's only legacy from Spain is this painting. Her illness has spurred her on to tie up the loose strings in her life, and this is one of them.' Charlotte hoped Abuela wouldn't be upset with her divulging the next piece of information. ‘She suspects this has something to do with her family heritage.'

‘It is nice, this wishing to connect with her original country, but I
would say the painting is not signed because it was bought in a market and the artist was a nobody.'

‘I know this is asking a lot, but I've come a long way and if you could just take a moment to look. Please.' Charlotte didn't want to resort to begging but she didn't have much choice.

Professor Fonseca gave a half shrug. ‘Come back next Wednesday.'

‘Please.' Charlotte took a step forward and fumbled in the calico bag, her fingers numb as she withdrew the painting and turned it so the professor could see.

‘Next Wednesday.' The professor's gruff voice echoed down the hall, her eyes refusing to look at the artwork.

‘But—' Charlotte's handbag slid off her shoulder and as she pushed it back on, her grip on the painting loosened and the artwork made a dive for the floor. Catching it just in time, Charlotte righted herself and found the professor staring at the canvas.

‘May I?' The professor held out her hands, fingers twitching.

Charlotte dutifully handed over the painting. Sweat pooled in her lower back and she wasn't sure if it was from the muggy air or a sign of nerves. The sounds of doors swinging open and hitting walls reverberated as a crowd of students poured into the hallway, laughing and talking. The noise circled them and the professor cast her gaze up and down the hallway while clutching the painting. ‘Come.'

‘
Gracias.
' Charlotte followed the thin woman into the room adorned with dark wood panelling. The air felt ten degrees cooler and had a musty tinge, as if the windows hadn't been opened in decades. A large desk covered in yellowing files and photographs of spectacular landscapes filled half the room, while a small reading chair and sofa in matching burnt-orange fabric took up the rest of the space.

Professor Fonseca sat behind her desk and turned on the reading light as she studied the painting from various angles. She squinted, widened her eyes, brought it close then moved it away. Clasping her hands in front, Charlotte stood awkwardly, unsure whether to stand, or sit on the expensive-looking reading chair.

Placing the glasses on the top of her head, the professor said quietly, ‘Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez.'

‘Pardon?' Charlotte shuffled closer.

‘Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez,' Professor Fonseca said louder. ‘This
painting is at least one hundred years old. Look at this.' She pointed at the thick strokes of orange, red and yellow flames. ‘See the way the paint curves up instead of laying flat on the canvas? This is her signature style. It truly is unique.' Placing a finger near the bottom corner on the left-hand side, she said, ‘This small rip, what is the story?'

‘I don't know. The painting has been buried in a trunk under a pile of blankets for decades. My grandmother asked me to retrieve it only a few days ago.'

‘It has not been on show?' Professor Fonseca's eyes widened. ‘A painting of this historical value should never be hidden.'

‘For Abuela, it's the emotional value that's important.' A lump formed in Charlotte's throat as she recalled the last time she'd been with her grandmother. The buzz of the hospital had faded into the distance as they'd held hands in silence, their love for each other warming the cold, sterile room.

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