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Authors: Alli Sinclair

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BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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They finally reached Granada, the streets steaming after the late afternoon storm. Arriving at the hotel, Mateo got out of the car and opened the door for her. ‘I will see you tonight at Club Alegría. Nine o'clock, yes?'

‘Yes, that would be wonderful. Thank you for taking me out today.'

‘I am sorry it was not successful, but we knew this may be the case,' Mateo said.

‘so …' She bit her lip, silently cursing herself for being impatient. ‘About what Leila said before in regards to helping—'

‘We cannot discuss this now.' Mateo kissed her on the cheeks, then scooted around the front of the car and jumped behind the wheel. With a quick wave he merged into the traffic and once again, Charlotte stood on the curb watching life go by.

‘Bugger.' She turned on her heels and dodged the puddles, hurrying into the hotel and through the foyer, into the lift and up to her room. Throwing her bag on the bed next to the art supplies, she pulled out her phone and shot a text to her brother. It had been a day since she'd had an update and even though no news was good news, she still needed to know for sure.

A moment later her phone pinged with a text.

Abuela says she is fine, but am not convinced. She's greyer than ever. Any breakthrough?

Charlotte texted back:
Will be on next flight if need be. As for mission,
more difficult than expected. Am doing my best.

Steve replied with a smiley face and she laughed. Things couldn't be too bad if her brother used an emoji, something he rarely did. Putting the phone down, she crawled to the head of the bed and rested her back against the wall. The stupid art supplies beckoned her and even though she diverted her gaze to other parts of the room she kept looking back at the paints, brushes, and canvases vying for her attention. Mateo's speech about not giving up ricocheted in her head and as much as she wanted to ignore the conversation they'd had, his words of wisdom weighed down on her, more than the many years of nagging from Abuela.

‘Bloody hell.' Crawling on her hands and knees to the edge of the bed, she picked up a brush, slid off the plastic and ran the bristles lightly over her hand. The soft hair of the brush reminded her of the days when she was a kid hanging at Abuela's, painting for hours on end, stopping occasionally to have a tickle fight with her grandmother. The freedom of painting without angst had fuelled Charlotte's desire to create—until her father convinced her to undertake economics and business management degrees at uni and she got bogged down in her studies. Although, if she was entirely honest, the main reason she stopped painting was her lack of confidence.

Grabbing her supplies, she moved over to the window and rested the canvas against the glass while she placed the paint, brushes and palette on the sill. Laying a plastic sheet on the floor she contemplated how long it had been since the scent of oil paints had tickled her nostrils. How much time had passed since she'd revelled in the delight of creating magic with oils? And how long since she'd been paralysed by fear every time she attempted a new piece of work?

Do not quit before the finish line,
Mateo had said.

Her fingers caressed the tube of white paint as she unscrewed the lid and peeled off the foil seal. She dabbed a small amount onto the palette, then opened the blue and mixed them carefully, her fingers tingling with anticipation. She always started with blue as that was the most common hue in the seascapes she loved plus the peaceful colours put her in the right frame of mind.

There was nothing so exciting as a blank canvas, the chance to create a world from one's imagination, to pour out the feelings of one's soul. What had Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez felt when she'd painted the woman
leaping over the fire? What inspired her? What emotions were behind those beautiful and unique brushstrokes?

Putting the palette down, Charlotte picked up Syeria's painting and took her time to study every detail. The work was incredible. The way Syeria had managed to create a 3-D image from paint without it looking clunky was pure genius. Closing her eyes, Charlotte let an image of the woman in the painting materialise in her mind. Music and singing, laughter and clinking of metal mugs, young children squealing with delight, smoke from a burning fire, the woman's jasmine perfume … it unfolded like a movie reel before her. The guitars plucked out a melody followed by the wail of a singer, a melancholy, lonely guttural cry that morphed into a song about the inability to find a place to call home and living as an outcast. The woman in the red dress lifted the soft fabric above her knees as she danced into frenzy, readying herself to jump the flames. What had the professor called it?
La Leyenda del Fuego.

Charlotte quickly put down Syeria's painting, grabbed the red and yellow oils and furiously mixed them on the palette. Inspired, she laid heavy strokes of red, orange and yellow, creating a fiery background, not unlike the flames in Syeria's painting. The music of
zambra
echoed within, the rhythm and haunting melody reminding her of the very first song she'd heard Mateo play the night they met in the flamenco cave. For the first time in years, Charlotte felt connected to her work, but something else buzzed beneath the surface. A feeling she'd never experienced before, like she was coming home.

A bolt of alarm shot through her body and she dropped the palette and brushes onto the plastic sheet on the floor. The intensity of emotions overwhelmed her and she backed away from the canvas, collapsing on the bed, hot tears stinging her eyes. A deep sob surfaced as she looked up at the unfinished canvas, the bright colours shocking her. They looked nothing like the safe seascapes she'd always painted. Gone were the aquamarine oceans, blue skies and birds and in their place were thick strokes of blazing hues taking on a life of their own.

Grabbing her bag, Charlotte threw in her phone, purse and key card as she dashed out of the room, ensuring the door slammed behind, keeping the painting far away. Whatever had led her to start creating such a piece scared the bejesus out of her and right now she needed time for the emotions to settle. Plus, she needed a very stiff drink.

* * *

Pedro poured a bottle of Alhambra beer into a glass while Charlotte rested her elbows on the counter of Bar Alegría. Instead of the electric atmosphere of people enjoying flamenco music and dancing she'd experienced the other night, the bar had a casual café feel, crammed with small groups of two or three people at the tables who were enjoying coffee or a quiet beer. They spoke in low voices, the peace punctuated every so often with an outburst of raucous laughter.

Pedro lined up a shot next to the ice-cold beer. ‘Chinchón, good for health.'

She lifted up the shot glass, inhaled deeply then coughed as her nasal passages were assailed by aniseed and strong alcohol.

He pointed his chin in the direction of the clear liquid. ‘Made near Madrid. Seventy-four per cent proof. Drink up, live long.'

Placing the glass to her lips she tipped back her head and allowed the potent drink to slide down her throat. It burned on its way down. Slamming down the shot glass, she took a long sip of beer.

Pedro looked very pleased with himself as he passed over a plate of hot prawns bathed in olive oil, garlic and herbs. ‘Eat this—
gambas al pil-pil
. Delicious. Good drink, yes?'

‘Yes, good drink,' she rasped. ‘So when is Mateo due in?'

‘You arrange to meet him now?'

‘No. I'm here on the off-chance he'd be around.' She cautiously cleared her throat.

‘Not here for three hours. You want me to call him?' Pedro wiped down the already shiny and spotless countertop.

‘Yes, thank you.' She could have called him herself, but she'd hoped to track him down in person. Sipping her beer, she waited for Pedro to pick up the ancient wall phone. Instead, he moseyed to the door that led to the street, cupped his hands and shouted across the narrow laneway. ‘Mateo!'

A balcony door on the first floor of the apartment building opposite swung open and Mateo poked out his head, his dark hair slicked back like he'd just stepped out of the shower. ‘
¿Sí?
'

‘
La guiri
here for you!' Pedro turned around and winked, reassuring her the Spanish slang for foreigner had not been used in a derogative sense.

‘
¡Un momento!
' yelled Mateo and slammed the door.

Two beers and forty minutes later Mateo waltzed through the doors of Bar Alegría. ‘Sorry.'

‘For?'

‘Sorry I took so long?' He arched his eyebrows, giving the indication he felt he should apologise, but couldn't exactly figure out why.

‘Don't worry, I'm getting used to the Spanish clock. Beer?'

Mateo nodded and Pedro opened two bottles. Placing the glasses on the counter he poured the cold amber liquid then came back a moment later with fried chunky potatoes with spicy tomato sauce.

‘Hmm …
patatas bravas
,' Mateo said, using a toothpick to pick up one of the steaming chunks and pop it in his mouth.

‘I still can't get my head around this food that comes out with drinks. Who needs to go to a restaurant to eat?' She stabbed a potato cube and chewed on it, enjoying the spicy deliciousness.

Mateo looked out at the bright sunny day. ‘It appears to be earlier than nine o'clock. Is there an emergency?'

‘Not an emergency as such.' She'd been so intent on escaping the emotions tormenting her in the hotel room she hadn't given any thought as to what she'd do or say when she tracked down Mateo, who now possessed a foamy white beer moustache. She reached across with a fresh serviette and wiped it off, then realised she was being a tad too familiar. As if registering her embarrassment, he gently wrapped his fingers around her wrist and rubbed her skin with his thumb. ‘Do not be scared.'

‘I'm sorry.'

‘Do not be. We are friends, yes? I would hope my friend would stop me from looking like
un idiota
if I had this on my mouth.' He pointed at the beer froth in his glass.

‘Friends?'

‘Yes.'

‘Friends,' she said again, letting the word sit nicely in her mouth. ‘Well, as one friend to another, I thank you for taking me under your wing and helping me.'

‘That is what friends do.' He sipped the beer again and looked down his nose as if attempting to check whether he had another moustache.

‘You're safe,' she laughed. She liked that he didn't think of her as a charity case or annoyance, but Charlotte wasn't ecstatic about being called a friend either. Well, her practical side was, but the emotional side wished
he thought of her as something more. Although it would be fruitless because she needed to get home to Abuela and work as soon as she could. Spending time with Mateo made her realise how lonely she'd been since breaking up with her ex. Perhaps a little Spanish fling …
stop it, Charlotte!

‘This not-emergency-as-such … what is it then?'

‘I …' Where to start? ‘Dancing flamenco last night did something to me and I'm not really sure how to explain it.' He nodded for her to continue and she appreciated his silence because if he interrupted now, she'd chicken out. ‘You're right about the art supplies. Even though I haven't painted in years I felt an urge to buy them and so I started one of my paintings. I normally paint seascapes—oceans, birds, trees, beaches—but when I began it was …' She took a deep breath. ‘It was as if I was possessed. I found myself mixing reds, oranges and yellows and the smooth brushstrokes I've perfected over the years were jagged and thick.'

She chose not to mention the images that flashed before her when she held Syeria's painting because she needed to keep something to herself.

‘You have a flamenco soul.' Mateo said it with such certainty she almost believed him.

‘But I know nothing about flamenco.'

‘Your
abuela
, she danced flamenco, yes? It is in your genes. You danced very well last night, not like
una guiri
. And after a small exposure to flamenco it has affected the way you paint. There are many secrets in your soul, Charlotte Kavanagh. What else is waiting to be discovered?'

‘But I didn't know I had secrets!' She tried to keep her voice steady, but failed.

Mateo tilted his head to the side and gave a small smile. ‘It appears you have many secrets and I would like to be the one who helps you reveal them.'

CHAPTER
10

1944—Katarina

Adjusting her dress for the fiftieth time, Katarina nodded towards Raul and Salvador who were already on stage, waiting for Federico to give them the signal to start. She couldn't stop looking at Raul, who'd just proven
duende
could come from a single kiss.

With no time to find out what was behind Raul's actions and intent, Katarina turned her attention to the current crisis. She hoped they were right in going with
tango gitanos
as the African-and Caribbean-influenced music had always been a hit with the public. Traditionally danced at fiestas, performing it in the theatre was a risk, but Katarina felt it was the only way they could save what had so far been an unsuccessful theatre debut.

Letting out a long breath, she took her place beside Raul and waited for the curtain to rise. When it did, the stony-faced audience did nothing to quell her reservations. But she held her head high, straightened her back so it had the curve expected of a
flamenca
and waited for Raul to start with the guitar
falseta
. Katarina made her
llamada
to signal Salvador to start in with the
letra
.

Using the stage to her advantage, she swung her hips and clapped on the counter-beat. Raul played magnificently and when she made another
llamada
, Salvador's captivating tone floated through the theatre. She didn't dare look at the audience's faces in case she lost momentum, then it occurred to her the only ones who could decide if they were happy were the audience. She had no control over how they reacted. With that in mind, she relaxed her body and when the time came for her to move on to the
escobilla
, the elaborate footwork, she let the memory of Raul's kiss
wash over her. Closing her eyes, she transported herself to the moment their lips touched, his tender embrace and the sensation of his fingers resting on her lower back, gently stroking her spine. Passion and desire surged within as her body took flight, her moves more dramatic, her concentration intense. When the time came for the
llamada
she stamped her foot so hard it hurt. Pain shot up her leg, but she revelled in the feeling, alive in every molecule of her being. Holding her arms above her head, her pose perfectly still aside from her heaving chest, she waited for Salvador and Raul to take their cues and finish the
palo
with a flourish.

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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