"It's a sign of anxiety, you know," Caitlin remarked from the other side of the pool.
Verity arched her eyebrows. "What is?"
"Waking up too early and being unable to get back to sleep. It can be very disturbing." Caitlin leaned her head against a towel Tavi had placed on the edge of the pool. She closed her eyes. "I have endured the problem for years. Night after night."
"I'm sorry." Verity wasn't sure what to say. She felt a sudden welling of compassion for this strange woman. She sensed painful depths in her and wished she could offer comfort. "Have you, uh, seen a doctor?"
Caitlin's eyes opened again and she looked at Verity with cold amusement. "There is no need to consult a therapist. I know exactly what is wrong with me. I'm aware of the source of the anxiety."
"I see." Jonas wasn't the only one with ghosts in his eyes, Verity thought.
Caitlin lifted a hand out of the water in a dismissive gesture and then allowed it to drop back under the surface. "It's not all bad, you know. I do some of my best work in the dawn hours. Isn't that right, Tavi?"
"Yes, Caitlin." Tavi's voice was soft as she spoke to her employer. There was a trace of sadness in the words, but Caitlin seemed oblivious to it. Tavi stood motionless, holding the stack of towels. "Some of your best paintings have been completed just before dawn. But I'm not sure that the money you have made from them has been worth the price you've paid to finish them."
Caitlin grimaced. "One of the reasons I have employed Tavi all these years is that she is unrelentingly honest with me. Honesty is a rare trait in this world."
Verity thought of Jonas. "It's nice to be able to trust the people one hires," she said grimly.
Caitlin gave her a speculative glance. "Are you having problems with your new employee, Mr. Quarrel?"
The temptation to confide in another woman almost overcame Verity. Caitlin was holding out the lure of mutual feminine understanding at a time when Verity badly needed some. She deeply appreciated the offer, but she managed, barely, to restrain herself. This was between her and Jonas. "No, not really.
He's a good worker. I can't complain about his dishwashing skills and he's good with the customers.
His background is a little unusual, though."
"An interesting man. He really was quite brilliant in his field, you know. I'll never forget that lecture I heard him give at Vincent, and that was just a routine classroom talk. He had the whole room in the palm of his hand, even those of us who had no real interest in Renaissance warfare. You could almost see the blood and guts and treachery. He had such a passion and a knowledge of the subject that you could even believe he might actually have lived the life of a condottiere."
"A Renaissance mercenary soldier?" Verity was suddenly fascinated. "Jonas reminds you of one?" She remembered that the bustling Italian cities of the time had squabbled constantly. The great families who governed Florence, Venice, and the other city-states had figured out quickly that it was easier and more economical to hire freelance generals with private armies to fight their endless wars than to rely on hometown loyalty and enthusiasm from the citizens. There was never any lack of work for an able-bodied mercenary during the Italian Renaissance.
Caitlin shrugged, her full br**sts rising and falling magnificently under the water. "As I said, the man had a passion for his subject. It showed."
The man had other kinds of passion too, Verity thought. She would remember the impact of his passion on her all her life. "I wonder how well Jonas would have taken orders from a Medici or a Borgia," Verity mused.
"The condottieri were an independent lot, as I recall. They took orders when it suited them and ignored them when there was a better deal being offered elsewhere."
Verity nodded as bits and pieces of history came back to her. "True. They were definitely entrepreneurs, weren't they? They worked for whoever paid the best. Yesterday's foe was tomorrow's client. They were mercenaries to the core. Some of them became very powerful, too, as I recall. And wealthy. A few even became heads of state."
Caitlin gave her a wry glance. "Whereupon they instantly elevated themselves to the status of gentlemen by investing heavily in art. It was a great era for artists. Great strides were made in technique. Lots of work was available. Everyone from ex-mercenaries and upwardly mobile bankers to popes was busy commissioning statues and portraits. The Italian cities of the Renaissance must have been fascinating, their homes, streets, and public places filled with art."
Verity chuckled. "It was during the Renaissance that the whole modern concept of collecting and investing in art originated. A fact for which everyone making a living in art today is no doubt grateful."
"Extremely grateful. But some collectors today are every bit as ruthless as collectors were back then."
Verity laughed and found herself relaxing at last. Caitlin was just what she needed this morning. After the disconcerting events of the previous evening, it was good to sit here in the pool and talk to another woman. Women needed other women, and in Caitlin, Verity discovered she was finding a friend.
"I meant what I said last night, Caitlin. I admire your work tremendously. Did you always know you wanted to paint?"
"I dabbled in paint and ceramics and a few other areas during my teen years," Caitlin said, focusing on the heaving water around her. "But I didn't commit myself to painting until I was in my early twenties.
That's what it takes to be successful, you know. A true commitment. It's rather like entering a convent, I suppose. Without a sense of dedication, there's little chance of becoming a success. Art is a harsh taskmaster."
"I understand. But I'm curious. What made you realize you were ready to commit yourself to such a demanding career?"
Caitlin's smile didn't even touch her eyes. The only thing that filled that cloudy gaze was distant pain.
"You could say that something happened that gave me a new perspective on life."
Verity sensed she was probing too closely, but her curiosity and growing sense of friendship drove her to push just a little. "The car accident?" she asked gently.
Caitlin looked momentarily surprised, as if her mind had been on another catastrophe altogether. "Yes, the accident had a great deal to do with it. I spent nearly two years in and out of hospitals. That sort of thing tends to realign one's priorities." Smoothly she reversed the conversation. "What about you, Verity? When did you know you wanted to open your own restaurant?"