It couldn't be him!
Abby had dreamed him in nightmares, memories suppressed and almost forgotten. A man's head and shoulders glimpsed across a room milling with art fanatics. Between them, the typical crowd of effusive, touchy women waving long cigarette holders and murmuring dahling; greasy-haired art students mouthing assessments of art works they wished they could emulate. Hard to say which was the dream and which reality, but Abby had a years-old memory of moving through the crowd, dullness in her heart and her mind.
It had been raining. The dampness of a London drizzle had clung to her long, blonde hair, making it heavy and uncomfortable. She had gone to that London gallery. Looking for comfort, perhaps, as if standing among the paintings could make disaster come right again.
Two exhibits. Benedict's impressionistic clouds and waves downstairs. Upstairs, photographic images of harsh, shocking reality.
He had been watching, his dark eyes narrowed. Lean and strong, relaxed against the big marble post with a stillness that told her he would move at any instant. Dark hair, sun-bronzed skin. A stranger, and yet she had known him, his eyes watching across a London gallery. His exhibit. He was the only one who could have brought those harsh images of reality to life with camera and cleverness. In the memory, he had moved when their eyes locked. Very tall. She remembered looking up to meet his gaze. As tall as Ben.
Of course she would not recognize him after all this time. A dream from a place on the other side of the world. A shadow on her life. Not even reality. Except that sometimes she had woken in the night believing that the dream was reality!
She turned away abruptly, felt her arm imprisoned by soft, clinging fingers.
"Abby, dahling!" Heather Steinway's lips made a kissing motion towards Abby's cheek.
Abby tried to smile. "Heather—"
"Daahling, it's been so long!" Artificial finger nails dug into Abby's forearm through the sleeve of her blouse. "Up-island is no place for dahling Benedict's wife. You should be in Victoria, close to your friends. The people who love you." Heather flung her free hand out dramatically. "Today—Such a significant event. Benedict would be honored. It should have come years ago."
Abby nodded agreement, knowing that honesty was not what this sort of event was about. Years ago, Ben's paintings would not have brought in enough to secure Trish's education—and no one but Trish could motivate Abby to go through the agony of this showing. Trish, and Benedict who had died too young.
Abby tried to shift away, but Heather's fingers clung more deeply. "Dahling, you simply must meet Thomas!"
Thomas looked like a hundred other art students. He glared at Abby with vacant eyes, his face ringed with longish, greasy hair. "Thomas has talent!" Heather announced. "You simply must—"
"Abby Stakeman! There you are!"
She turned towards the voice. If she could endure one more hour. She almost closed her eyes, picturing her small house on the waterfront. Peace. Quiet. She had not expected so many people today. Ben would have expected them. They had come because Benedict Stakeman's work was inspired, because he would never paint again.
Ben had always known greatness would come to him.
Abby submitted to another almost-kiss, found her eyes moving to that spot where she had seen the man a moment ago. A man leaning against a pillar, near the entrance to the gallery. A lean, long man, watching with eyes narrowed. Of course it was not him.
In London, his eyes had changed when they locked on hers.
She tried to concentrate on the words flooding over her. Another woman, standing too close, head armored by a rigid helmet of blonde hair.
"My dear, I know just how this retrospective must make you feel. All the memories!"
"Yes," Abby murmured.
Someone pressed a glass into her hand. She raised it to her lips. Too sweet. She disliked sweet wine. What was the woman's name? All the touching. All the people. Once it had been a game she shared with Benedict. Crowds of people. Women with too much money and too little reason for being. Critics. Hangers-on. Artists. Would-be-artists. Ben had loved it all, while Abby had been content to watch him accept the admiration.
She had been so young then, naively hero-worshiping the public image of the artist she had married, trying not to be disillusioned by the reality.
She saw the man again, a shockingly clear glimpse seen over the heads of strangers. Streaks of silver in his black hair. His eyes would be dark, always watching, narrowed.
Had he seen her?
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