On Sunset Beach
The Chesapeake Diaries
I spent much of today contemplating ways to kill my husband.
“Whoa! Way to kick off a new year!” Carly Summit’s eyebrows rose as she read the entry dated 1 January, 1905, in the journal she’d received in the mail that afternoon.
If James continues to deny me my artistic pursuits—-as he so arrogantly professes he will do—- I shall be forced to do something . . . well, something dire. While he voiced no such misgivings before we were married, suddenly he fears that the reputation of an up--and--coming banker (such as himself) would be tainted should his wife accept money for her work. Have I not promised to never use my married name on my work, that the RYDER name would remain pure and unsullied by my craft? Is the man really so simpleminded that he believes an ultimatum such as the one he issued at dinner would have me put down my brushes and destroy my canvases? Is his ego truly so fragile that he fears societal censure should I accept payment for my paintings? Can he really expect me to choose him over my work?
Had I suspected his narrow--mindedness before the wedding, I swear this marriage would never have happened. As it is, I shall simply ignore him.
Hmm. My work . . . his life.
Sometimes I think the choice is simple enough.
Carly sighed heavily and jotted the date and the sentiment in the notebook she kept by her side. As an art dealer and owner of upscale galleries in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and managing partner of several abroad, she was well familiar with stories of women who had been discouraged or even forbidden to pursue their art. But Carolina Ellis’s story was more immediate and more intimate, partly because Carly was reading the story in its entirety in the artist’s own words, partly because the artist was the great--great--grandmother of Carly’s best friend, Ellie Ryder, and partly because Carly had recently discovered a cache of previously unknown works by this remarkable early--twentieth--century artist.
Carly had spent days examining each individual painting, but it had been through studying the collection as a whole that she was able to follow the artist’s journey. Carolina’s own words had opened a window into her very soul, a window through which Carly had been able to observe the artist’s growth as she experimented with different media while seeking to gain her creative footing. Starting with pastels, Carolina moved on to charcoal (which she’d pronounced “too moody”), then to watercolor, to oils, then back to watercolor again, where, her journal proclaimed, she’d found her best, most expressive self. Using the journals and the paintings that were available to her, Carly had created an artistic time line that permitted her to trace the progression and development of Carolina’s talent and ambitions. By putting the works in order—-only some of the paintings had been dated—-Carly felt as if she had been able to look over the artist’s shoulder to watch as different methods, media, and techniques were tried and discarded, until Carolina’s craft had been perfected.
Had there ever been such a find?
And the coolest part, as far as Carly was concerned, was that no one else knew the paintings—-or the journals—-existed.
Well, no one other than herself and Ellie. Okay, add Ellie’s fiancé, Cameron O’Connor, but he wouldn’t tell anyone. And Carly’s parents—-there was no way she’d be able to keep such momentous news from them, but she’d sworn them to secrecy. But no one else knew about the extraordinary find Carly had made while visiting the house Ellie inherited from her mother in St. Dennis, Maryland. There, Carolina had met and married James Ryder, raised their two children, John and Lilly, and scandalously defied her husband’s wishes by setting up an artist’s studio on the third floor of their home on the Chesapeake Bay, where she spent part of every day working at her easel.
Carly rested her elbows on the desk and continued reading.
“Amazing,” she muttered as she read on. “That this woman was able to produce such works while under this sort of domestic strain . . .”
She reached for the phone somewhat absently when it rang.
“Yes?” she said.
“That’s how you answer your phone now?” a familiar voice teased. “ ‘Yes?’ ”
“Oh, Mom. Hi. Sorry. I was deep into one of Carolina’s journals that just arrived this afternoon. Ellie found a box in the attic that held a few more and she sent them to me. My head is absolutely spinning.”
“Lots of fodder for your book, I imagine.” Roberta Summit was almost as fascinated by the Carolina Ellis story as her daughter. “I can’t wait for you to finish Carolina’s biography. Remember, you did promise that I could be your beta--reader.”
“Yes, but I need you to be brutally honest.”
“Not to worry. What kind of an editor would I be if I only told you what I thought you wanted to hear?”
Carly paused momentarily. Should she tell her mother that she’d hired a professional editor for her book, one who was already hard at work on the first half of the manuscript? Perhaps not. Roberta was so pleased at the opportunity to be helpful, to contribute to her daughter’s work. Carly decided to keep that fact to herself.
“I can email you the first half and you can let me know what you think of it so far, if you like.”
“Yes. Please. I can’t wait to read it.”
Carly opened her computer and attached the file to an email, which she addressed to her mother.
“It’s on its way, Mom. I want this book to be fabulous and to generate a ton of interest in Carolina so that when I open my exhibit, people will stand in line for the opportunity to see her work.” Carly straightened her spine to get the kinks out, then walked to the window. Outside all was dark. When, she wondered, had day turned to evening?
“The art world will be turned on its head when you announce what you’ve found. These paintings will create an absolutely deafening roar,” Roberta assured her. “After all, no one has any idea that these works even exist.”
“Every time I think about that, my brain threatens to explode. I can barely sit still long enough to write sometimes.”
“I can only imagine what it’s like to have made a find like this, and to have it all to yourself. Bless Ellie for trusting you enough to turn the entire project over to you, no strings. Of course, you were a good friend to her throughout all her troubles.”
“We’ve been best friends since sixth grade,” Carly reminded her mother. “The fact that her father was a crook is no reflection on her.”
“I absolutely agree, and you know we love Ellie. But the fact of the matter is that you stood by her when everyone else she knew walked away.”
“That’s what best friends do. Ellie’s at a very happy place in her life right now. Engaged to Cameron, living in that wonderful old house in St. Dennis—-and she’s learned a whole new skill set from Cameron. She can strip wallpaper and sling a hammer with the best of them now.”
“Whoever would have thought that the daughter of a Wall Street giant and one of the world’s first supermodels would end up working as a carpenter in some little bayside town on the Chesapeake?” Roberta mused.
“I know, right? But she’s doing exactly what she wants to do. If you could see how happy she is, you’d understand.”
“I’d love to see her and meet this wonderful man of hers.”
“Cam’s the best. Maybe you can visit sometime when I go to St. Dennis. And not to worry about that little bayside town. It’s quite the place. You should look it up on the Web,” Carly suggested.
“I think I’ll do exactly that. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”
“So when will you be home?” Carly asked.
“Your father still has some business here in Portland,” Roberta told her. “He’s personally been supervising the design of the new plant Summit Industries is building. You know how he is about the safety of his employees.”
“I do know. Everyone should be held to his standards.” Patrick Summit was well known for his progressive efforts in plant safety and employee welfare.
“How’s everything back in Connecticut?”
“Everything’s good. I appreciate you letting me move all those paintings into your house.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s your family home. You—-and your paintings—-are welcome anytime. Stay as long as you like.”
“Normally I would stay at my own place, but your security here is so superior to what I have at the town house. I think the paintings are safer here.”
“No need to explain. Though it does have me wondering just how good the security at your town house really is . . .”
They chatted for a few more minutes before Roberta said, “I should let you get back to your work. I know you’re eager to finish your book and start putting your exhibit together.”
“I know exactly where every painting will go. Well, at least until I change my mind again.”
“You’re still planning on debuting the collection in your New York gallery?”
“Absolutely. New York is the hub of the art world. I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else.”
“What about the other galleries? Who’s minding the store while you’re so focused on this one artist?”
“You know I have great people working for me. Enrico is running New York, Helena is running Boston, and Colby has Chicago under control. London is still closed temporarily while they’re making the repairs from that storm last month, but I’m seriously considering selling my interests in London and Istanbul. I’ve had long--standing offers on both, and I think it’s time to divest.”
“Are you sure that you want to close yourself off from the European market?” Ellie could hear the frown in her mother’s voice.
“I won’t be. Isabella is capable of handling London on her own. Though she’s made me an offer for my half, and I’m strongly considering it.”
“Do you need the money?”
“I need the time more than the money. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’ve realized that I’ve spread myself too thin. I’m finding that my focus is beginning to narrow—-I’m more interested in providing a showcase for women artists. Besides, I don’t feel that I need to prove myself anymore, not the way I did when I purchased those venues. I’ve made my name.”
“That you have. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision. Well, good luck with it all. I see your email is here. I’m hanging up so I can start reading immediately.”
“Let me know what you think as soon as you’ve finished it. Love you. Love to Dad.”
Carly stood and stretched after disconnecting the call. An unexpected yawn brought on an inner debate over whether or not to make a cup of coffee. Caffeine at this hour could keep her awake till dawn. On the other hand, she reasoned, she’d probably be reading till the wee hours anyway. She made the coffee and carried the mug back to her desk, then settled in and resumed reading.
She was halfway through one of Carolina’s journals when she came across a loose piece of folded paper. Curious, she unfolded it, read it, then reread it, then read it again.
“Holy shit. Could this even be possible?”
Her heart beating faster, her hands shaking, she reached for the phone and speed--dialed Ellie’s number.
“Ellie, there are more,” she said breathlessly when her friend answered. “She says there are more.”
Ellie laughed. “Who said there’s more of what?”
“Carolina. She made a list—-”
“Whoa. Slow down. Take a deep breath and start over.”
Carly inhaled sharply, exhaled, then repeated the process.
368 pages; ISBN 9780345546753
Title: On Sunset Beach
Author: Mariah Stewart