Romance: The Art Of Love: A Billionaire Romance

BOOK: Romance: The Art Of Love: A Billionaire Romance
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The Art
Of
Love

Veronica
Cross

The Art
Of
Love

 

The Art Of Love

Copyright 2016 by Veronica Cross

First electronic publication: July 2016

 

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be
used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except
in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The
unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.

 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters,
places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been
used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to
person, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely
coincidental.

 

Warning: Due to mature subject matter, such as
explicit sexual situations and coarse language, this story is not suitable for
anyone under the age of 18. All sexually active characters in this work are 18
years of age or older, and all acts of a sexual nature are consensual.

 

Table of Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

 
1
 

It was a
beautiful morning in Cobble Hill. Through his office window, Clifford could see
sea gulls swooping low over the surface of the East River, snatching
slow-moving fish swimming too near to the surface, for their breakfast. He
watched them for a long moment, carefully ignoring everything that his
assistant Madison was saying.

His
coffee was hot and sweet, exactly how he liked it. He was drinking it from a
bowl he’d commissioned from Shiho
Kanzaki
. Like all
of Shiho’s work, it was perfectly balanced and exquisitely functional. She’d
glazed it in earthen tones that evoked the low rolling hills that surrounded
her hometown,
Koka
City.

Clifford
smiled. When Shiho had let him know his bowl was done, he’d immediately ordered
his pilot to fly him to her studio. His private helicopter had created quite a
stir. While air traffic over the Shiga prefecture was not uncommon, having a
craft touch down in the town square was.

“I don’t
see why you’re laughing,” Madison snapped. “Thirty-two million dollars is a lot
of money. You’ve made a laughing stock of yourself.”

“I would
have been a bigger laughing stock if I let an undiscovered Magritte go,”
Clifford replied. “And I wasn’t the only one interested. Ross had people making
inquiries.”

“That’s
not what I’ve heard. They’re saying they knew it was a fake the minute they
laid eyes on it.” Madison pressed her fingertips against the side of her
temple, perfectly manicured nails just brushing against the edge of her tightly
curled hair. Her brown eyes flashed. “Apparently it’s not funny enough to be a
real Magritte.”

Clifford
chuckled again. “Wilbur Ross wouldn’t know a joke if it walked up to him and
gave him a big juicy kiss.”

“And yet
he’s not the one with a bogus painting.” Madison shook her head. “You are.”

“It’s not
a bad little painting.” Clifford turned to regard the artwork in question,
which was currently leaning against his office wall. A stylized woman with
cube-like arms and a blocky torso played a violin. “It reminds me of Georgette
at the Piano.”

“It’s
meant to remind you of Georgette at the Piano.” Madison lit a cigarette, taking
several quick puffs. “That’s rather the point. If it didn’t look like a
Magritte, you never would have given it a second glance.”

“I don’t
know about that.” Clifford tilted his head, looking at the painting with
renewed interest. “It’s quite well-done.” He shifted his gaze to Madison.
“Anyway, I thought you told me that you gave up smoking.”

“I
started again.” It was Madison’s turn to stare out the penthouse window.

“Obviously,”
Clifford said. “I wish you wouldn’t. It’s a filthy habit. And it’s not very
good for your health.”

“Do you
know what’s not good for my health, Clifford?” Madison asked. “Getting calls
from Bloomberg reporters before the sun even comes up, about a painting I
didn’t even know you were considering…”

“For
goodness sakes, Madison. I was in Antwerp. Why in the world would I be there if
it wasn’t for the collection?”

Madison
rolled her eyes. “People do buy diamonds.”

“And who
am I going to buy diamonds for?” Clifford shook his head. “You want to talk
about a waste of money. The sums people put down for shiny rocks – it’s a
racket, pure and simple. But if I’d come back with some ridiculous stone, you
wouldn’t be complaining.”

“Sure I
would,” Madison snapped back. “If it turned out that stone was fake.” Her
expression softened, slightly. “It’s not a bad painting, boss. I’ll give you
that. But it’s not a Magritte, and it’s definitely not worth thirty-two
million.”

“I
trusted Hans.” Clifford shrugged. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Hans?”
Madison cocked her head. “I thought you bought this through Jan Mot.”

Clifford
shook his head. “He’s never around anymore. He’s putting all of his attention
into opening a gallery in Mexico City. What he thinks he’ll find there, I don’t
know.” He finished his coffee and sat the empty bowl carefully on his desk. “Hans
used to work with Jan; I remember him assisting us on some previous buys.”

“Which
buys?” Madison asked. “Because, forgive me, but I’d really like to have a
second opinion on those pieces as well.”

“I’m sure
they’re fine,” Clifford snapped. “I’m not going to have you upending everything
and causing chaos just because I made one bad buy.” He glanced at Madison’s
expression and proceeded more diplomatically. “Anyway, they’ve all been vetted
and insured for years now. I’m sure they’re fine.”

“So this
Hans is working independently?”

“That’s
my understanding.”

“And the
odds of us recovering any money from him…”

“He’s
willing to work with us, with the police, in making this right. He passed most
of the money along, of course, in the course of the deal.” Clifford shook his
head. “He’s just as much a victim in this as I am.”

“So he’s
returned his commission?” Madison asked.

Clifford
nodded. “Every penny.”

“Well,
that’s something.” Madison worked some numbers in her head. “That means you’ve
only lost twenty-two million or so.”

“Let’s
not say lost,” Clifford replied. “Let’s say temporarily separated from.”

Madison
rolled her eyes. “You can say what you want, but it’s not going to change the
fact that you can’t keep doing this. As your advisor, I’ve got to insist that
you take real, meaningful steps to protect yourself going forward.”

“And what
does that mean to you, exactly?” Clifford spread his hands. “Everything about
this buy seemed legit. We know some of Magritte’s stuff got squirreled away in
Antwerp during the war. The people who took possession then are dying now.
Their heirs don’t care about the art – they just want the money, and they want
it fast. They’ll sell this stuff to anyone, Madison. You know that. Even the
Chinese.”

“Forgive
me for not worrying about whether or not the Chinese buy fake paintings,”
Madison said. “I just need you to stop doing it.” She shook her head. “The
accounting is a nightmare.”

“I’ll be
careful.”

“You were
careful!” Madison protested. “Careful is not good enough. I want you to work
with an independent expert from now on. Someone who can double check what
you’re being told by the dealers.”

“I’m sure
that’s not necessary.”

“And I’m
sure it is.” Madison slammed her hand down on the surface of Clifford’s desk,
startling them both. “Listen, if you’re going to throw these tremendous sums of
money about, you need counsel. You wouldn’t go buy a company without having an
advisor doing the due diligence first. You don’t approve any investment unless the
team comes to you with results of research. All I’m asking is that you treat
your art collection with the same degree of seriousness and professionalism.”

Clifford
stared at her. He was clearly angry. His face was red, from his neck right up
to his blond hairline. His lips were pressed together, and the vein on the side
of his forehead was throbbing. Yet for a long time he said nothing.

“This is
too much money to trust to your instincts,” Madison continued.

“My
instincts are good,” Clifford said, clipping off each word, “most of the time.”

“And having
an independent expert verify that does us nothing but good. Buy what you want,
Clifford. I don’t care. But I want you to buy it knowing full well what you’re
getting.” Madison crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t want any more
pre-dawn calls from snarky Bloomberg reporters.”

“Fine.”

“Fine,”
Madison echoed.

They
stared at each other for a long moment. It was hardly the first argument the
two of them had ever had; in the decade Madison had been helping Clifford
manage the fortune he’d inherited from his mother, they’d had many
disagreements. But most of those conflicts had been about business decisions,
investments Clifford had or hadn’t been willing to make. Until now, his art
collection had been sacrosanct, a personal passion that didn’t fall under the
purview of Madison’s attentions. For her to insist of some level of control
over his purchasing was a significant shift in their relationship.

“How do
you see this working?” Clifford finally asked.

“We’ll
call one of the art houses – not Jan! – when we need something appraised,”
Madison answered. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to send someone over.”

“That
won’t work,” Clifford said. “I’m buying all the time. And sometimes these deals
come together so fast. I can’t wait around for Sotheby’s to have someone
available for me.”

“So what
do you suggest?”

“If I
have to have someone,” Clifford said, “I want to really have someone. Someone’s
who’s here with us, who will be available to travel with me, who’s all in.”

“That’s
going to cost a pretty penny,” Madison said.

“Do you
think it will cost thirty-two million?” Clifford said innocently.

“Don’t be
an ass,” Madison replied.

“And it
has to be someone I can work with, who I enjoy being around,” Clifford
continued, ignoring Madison’s comment. “How about this? You pick the house, and
I’ll pick the advisor. I’m sure you can make a deal come together on those
terms.”

“That,”
Madison said, picking up her phone, “sounds great to me.”

2
 

         
“You
have got to be kidding me.” Annette stared at Dieter, her boss and mentor. “Where
am I being sent?”

         
“It’s
really a plum assignment,” Dieter replied. “Clifford Stanhope is a very serious
collector. He’s very deep in the Surrealists and early Pop.” He smiled at the
change in Annette’s expression. “See? You’ll actually get to work with art you
enjoy.”

         
“But
what will I be doing?” Annette’s smile faded slightly. “It’s one thing to
catalog pieces and get them ready for sale, but I’ve never been on the other
side of that relationship.”

         
“Guiding
acquisitions is tricky,” Dieter admitted. “You have to understand the client’s
goals for the collection, and steer him toward pieces that meet those goals
while appealing to his taste. With Clifford, authenticity is a bit of an issue.
He’s put his foot right into it recently…”

         
“That
was him?” Annette asked, her eyes going wide. “That spent a fortune on the
phony Magritte?”

         
Dieter
nodded.

         
“Oh,
I bet his bankers were furious,” Annette said. She hadn’t been in the industry
for very long, but there had been plenty of time for her to understand the role
finance people had in art collector’s lives.

         
“Well,
that’s where you come in. You’re to do what you can, to the best of your
ability, to prevent any repeat performances.” Dieter grew quite serious.
“Understand that we are here to provide you with whatever resources you may
need to do your job. If you’re not certain of your ability to authenticate a
piece, or you have questions, call us.” He shook his head. “It’s not just your
reputation on the line here. It’s
Feigenbaum’s
. We’re
putting a lot of trust in your abilities and judgement.”

         
Annette
swallowed. “Why me?” Her voice came out much less certain than she’d intended.
“I mean, there are plenty of people here with more experience than me. Surely
one of them would be better suited…”

         
“That’s
true,” Dieter said, his tone kindly. “But Mr. Stanhope requested you
specifically.”

         
“I
wonder why,” Annette mused.

         
“The
fact you did your dissertation on
Miró
didn’t hurt,”
Dieter said. “And this assignment will require a lot of travel.”
Feigenbaum’s
acknowledged surrealism specialist, Walther
Holm, uses a wheelchair and was notoriously loathe to leave his office, much
less the city.

         
Annette
nodded. “I see.” She swallowed. “So when do I start?”

         
“Stanhope
is sending a car round shortly,” Dieter said. “You’ll be able to begin
familiarizing yourself with his collection today.”

 

         
Annette
stood outside of
Feigenbaum’s
and fumed. She’d
managed to pack most of what she considered essential to her work into her
Coach Metropolitan tote. The soft brown leather bag was her pride and joy, the
one splurge she treated herself to after getting her Master’s degree. More time
would have been very welcome. Annette didn’t consider herself a control freak,
but many of her friends did.

         
Who
was this Clifford Stanhope, anyway? Annette resented the ease with which her
entire professional life had been turned upside down. Landing a position at
Feigenbaum’s
had been quite a coup for her, and she’d only
just begun establishing herself as a valuable team player. Being pulled
off-site would completely derail her professional progress.

         
Still,
it wasn’t like she had much choice in the matter. Annette knew that balking at
the assignment would be much worse for her career than accepting it. Better to
go along and learn what she could during what Dieter promised would be a short
stint as Mr. Stanhope’s advisor.

         
She
wondered what he would be like. Most of the people who came to
Feigenbaum’s
had known Moshe, the founder and president,
for decades. They trusted him and his hand-picked team to help them find
fantastic artwork at unbelievable prices. Many buyers weren’t what Annette
would consider collectors at all but speculators, who hoped to sell high what
they’d purchased very low. She didn’t care for that side of the business, but
Annette’s parents had owned a gallery and she knew what the deal was.
 
Some rich people bought art to get even
richer; other rich people bought art because they really loved it. She hoped
Clifford Stanhope would be in the second camp.

         
A
burgundy Rolls pulled up to stop directly in front of Annette. The driver got
out and nodded to her. “Miss Lehrer?”

         
“Yes,”
Annette said, clutching her tote against her side. “That’s me.”

         
The
driver smiled. He had beautiful teeth and the skin around his eyes crinkled.
“You look just like your picture,” he said. He opened the back door, ushering
Annette inside. “Ms. Washington has come along to fill you in on today’s
agenda.”

         
Annette
took a deep breath. “Thank you.” She got into the Rolls as gracefully as she
could. A tall, thin, incredibly well dressed black woman was there, peering at
her smartphone. “Good morning, Ms. Washington.”

         
“Call
me Madison,” Ms. Washington replied. She looked up, taking in Annette’s
appearance, from the Gucci loafers on her feet to the carefully contained
chestnut curls on her head. She sniffed a little when she saw Annette’s bag.
“Coach,” she said with a smile. “That’s cute.”

         
“Thank
you,” Annette said.

         
“Let
me tell you a little bit about your role,” Madison said. “I’m sure Moshe has
filled you in on why we’re bringing you on board?”

         
“I’ve
been briefed,” Annette replied, “But the more information I have, the better.”

         
Madison
nodded. “Clifford fell in love with Salvador Dali’s work when he was thirteen
years old,” she began.

         
“That’s
the age for it,” Annette said with a smile. She’d been a young teenager herself
when she became entranced with the bright colors and quirky iconography of
surrealist art.

         
“Yes,”
Madison agreed. “And he’s been collecting to one degree or another ever since.
Paintings, mostly, although he does have a soft spot for ceramics.”

         
“Michael
Lucero?” Annette asked.

         
Madison
smiled. “You do know your stuff. Yes, we have two smaller pieces by him, and
given the chance, Clifford will buy more.”

         
“I
can’t wait to see this collection,” Annette said. “I understand he has two
Magrittes
.”

         
“Two
genuine
Magrittes
,” Madison said. “The third
one…well, you know that story.”

         
“I
will do my best to keep that from happening again,” Annette said, “and of
course, all of
Feigenbaum’s
resources are at your
disposal. If I can’t authenticate something myself, there’s always Mr. Holms.
He knows everything.”

         
Madison
smiled. “Walther is delightful. And I’m glad we have him available to us.
You’ll find that ninety percent of the battle is getting Clifford to slow down.
He gets excited and moves too fast. Having you there to introduce an element of
caution into the process…” Madison’s smile faded. “Well, I hope it will stop
him from buying more forgeries.”

         
“If
we can get him to stick to purchasing known works, that would help a lot,”
Annette said.

         
“It
would,” Madison replied, “but Clifford is passionate about discovering lost
works. He’s convinced that every house in Europe has art hidden in the walls.
There’s a masterpiece in every attic, just waiting for him to find it.”

         
Annette
shrugged. “He’s not necessarily wrong,” she said carefully, “although at this
point, I think that most of what’s out there to be found has been found.”

         
Madison
nodded. “But then Munich happened. And that really fired Clifford up.” German
authorities had discovered more than 1,300 separate artworks that the Nazis had
seized during the war in a prominent collector’s apartment. “He thinks that’s
was only the tip of the iceberg.”

         
“Well,
we shall see.” Annette patted her bag, hugging the resource texts she’d brought
along with her. “We shall see about that.”

BOOK: Romance: The Art Of Love: A Billionaire Romance
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