Carly stood in the foyer of the very impressive Enright home and marveled that anyone would give away such a treasure.
“This place is beautiful. It’s hard to believe the man just gave it to the town.” Carly doubted that she’d ever feel so philanthropic that she’d do the same.
“It is unless you know the man.” Grace Sinclair, as a member of the committee that was to decide the fate of the proposed art gallery, met with Carly and Ellie at the property on Saturday morning.
“The Enrights have lived in St. Dennis for centuries,” Ed Lassiter, who was there in his official capacity as president of the town council, explained. “I think Curtis wanted to make certain that the property was maintained and that it never fell into disrepair. That’s the chance you take when you sell a property. You have no control over who buys it or what they’ll do with it. But if you gift it with strings, as Curtis did, you can ensure that it will be properly cared for.” He added, “At least until the money runs out.”
“The word is that he provided quite handsomely for the maintenance,” Grace noted, “so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“One hopes.” Ellie took Carly’s arm and steered her into the first room off the hall. “This was used as a living room, I believe. As you can see, there’s quite a bit of wall space to display paintings.”
Carly walked around the room, noting the abundance of windows.
“There’s so much light in here. If this room were to be used as a gallery, the windows would have to be heavily draped or you’d run the risk of the colors in the paintings fading. Plus with the light being uneven in the room, the paintings will be partially in shadow, which won’t show them off well. Artificial lighting would have to be installed and carefully placed if this room were to be used.” She paused in the center of the room. It was barely eleven in the morning, and already the temperature was in the eighties. “There’s no air conditioning?”
“Window units. The house was built long before duct work was in use,” Grace explained. “Hence all the radiators.”
Carly looked at Ellie almost apologetically. “If the temperature and humidity can’t be controlled, you can’t hang the paintings here for any length of time. They’ll be damaged, some perhaps irrevocably.”
Ellie nodded her head. “I understand.”
The entourage followed Carly back into the hall and watched her climb the first few steps of the stairwell.
“As grand as these stairs are, they really weren’t designed for the type of foot traffic you’re likely to have, especially during those first days of the exhibit. You’ll have people stumbling over each other and bumping into each other and the next thing you know, someone falls and there’s...”
“A lawsuit against the town.” Ed stated the obvious.
“Exactly. Also, there’s no real gallery space here. These are important works of art and they will need to be displayed in a specific way, and that wouldn’t be possible here.” Carly turned to Ed, who had the fullest, whitest head of hair Carly had ever seen. She tried not to stare. “I don’t really think this house is suitable, as magnificent as it is. I couldn’t recommend it as being an appropriate venue to display your paintings, Ellie. I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted to share them with everyone.”
Ellie nodded. “I understand.”
“That’s my assessment.” Carly’s voice reflected what she hoped would sound like the appropriate amount of apology. “And we still haven’t discussed possible security.”
“I know that Curtis has a system installed.” Grace pointed to a keypad on the wall near the front door.
Carly came down the steps to inspect it. After a moment, she said, “This is a very common system for residential properties, and I’m sure it was adequate for Mr. Enright’s needs. But when you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars — perhaps a million dollars or more worth of artwork, you need to be much more diligent. Any experienced thief could disable that system in seconds.”
“We simply can’t take that sort of risk,” Grace told Ed. “We can’t expose the town to that liability.”
“Well, there’s probably insurance that could be purchased to cover the paintings for theft, right?” Ed asked.
“Insurance would cover the financial loss, but it couldn’t replace the art.” Grace’s forehead creased with concern. “We certainly wouldn’t want to see Ellie lose the life’s work of her great-great grandmother. Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Which means our exhibit will consist of Elmer Dougherty’s water colors and Hazel Steven’s paintings of her cats,” Ed said dryly. “I’m sure those two will pack ‘em in when the exhibit opens.”
“I’m really sorry,” Ellie said. “I was hoping we could work something out.”
“I know you were, dear, but really, we can’t be careless with Carolina’s work.” Grace patted Ellie on the hand.
“Well, I guess there’s nothing more to say.” Ed went out through the front door, and the others followed. Once outside, he locked the door behind them and the four walked toward the driveway where they’d parked their cars.
“It really is a beautiful property,” Carly commented. “I love the way the gardens are filled with so much color and the way the beds are laid out.”
“Jason Bowers designed them,” Grace said.
“Sophie Enright’s guy,” Ellie told Carly. “You met him last year at Pirate Day.” She glanced sheepishly at Grace and Ed. “I mean, First Families Day. Mr. Enright hired Jason to recreate the gardens as they had been in the late 1800s.”
“I remember Jason. He did a beautiful job here.” Carly stood near the bumper of Ellie’s car and gazed at the property as a whole. “This place would be fabulous for weddings and as a community center.”
“All being considered,” Grace told her.
The stone structure at the end of the driveway caught Carly’s eye. She paused to study it. Two stories high, there were small windows on the first floor and a single, simple door in front.
“What is that building?” Carly asked.
“Oh, that’s the old carriage house. Mr. Enright hired us — that is, he hired Cameron’s company — to restore it.” Ellie smiled with pride. “We did a bang-up job inside and out, if I do say so myself.”
“What’s inside?” Carly asked.
“Not much. One big room - one floor, tall, open beamed ceiling.” Ellie shrugged. “I don’t know what Mr. Enright had in mind for it originally, but once he decided to give it to St. Dennis, he just had us finish the basic restoration. Walls, floor, roof, that sort of thing. Oh, and we had the exterior stone repointed.”
Carly turned to Ed. “Would you happen to have the key?”
“I don’t know.” He fumbled with the ring of keys. “Maybe one of these...”
“Let’s take a look inside,” Carly suggested.
“What are you thinking?” Ellie whispered to Carly as their pace took them well ahead of their companions.
“I’m thinking that there are probably a lot of blank walls in here.” Carly pointed to the side of the building. “And very few windows.”
“Just one on each side in the front, two on the back.”
They reached the door and waited for the others to catch up.
“I have a good feeling about this place,” Carly told Ellie. “A really good feeling. It gives off great vibes.”
“Wait. I can see where this is going.” Ellie grabbed her arm and pulled her aside. “Wouldn’t you rather display the paintings at your own gallery?”
“That was my first choice, yes, of course it was. But I have thought a lot about what you said, and I have to admit, the idea of displaying them in St. Dennis — right here, where Carolina painted many of the subjects that still exist — that really appeals to me. It’s a unique concept. I can think of only a few galleries that display works by famous artists where you can actually go and see the subjects. The Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania with its collection of three generations of Wyeth paintings is the one that comes immediately to mind. It takes my breath away to think that we have an opportunity to do something similar here. And as much as I wanted this exhibit in my gallery, I want to be fair,” she continued. “Which means we need to look at the spaces that could be available. Maybe this place won’t be any more appropriate than the house, but like I said, I have a really good feeling about this place.”
“Let’s see if any of these keys work.” Ed tried first one, then another key in the big iron lock. The fourth key opened the door.
Inside the carriage house, the air was very still. Dust motes drifted in the light that spilled in from the few small windows and the opened door.
“There’s a light switch on the wall.” Ellie pointed to it. “We had the electric brought up to code when we were working on the place.”
She switched on the lights and at once the place came alive. “We had a lot of detail work to try to preserve the old floor, so we needed as much light as we could get.”
Carly walked the entire length of the building, studying the height of the ceiling and the expanse of wall on each side.
“I wonder if it would be possible to install a sort of half-wall right down the middle,” Carly said to no one in particular.
“Like a partition?” Ellie asked.
“Exactly. Not to go all the way to the ceiling — the beams are gorgeous and it would be a shame to obscure them- but to divide the space.” Carly appeared lost in thought.
“It’s lovely,” Grace said. “Nice and airy and spacious.”
“I think this could work.” Carly joined the others near the door, where they still stood. “Ellie, could Cam work up a floor plan if I gave him some specifications?”
“You’re not thinking that this place could be the gallery?” Ed frowned.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking. The necessary elements for climate control could be installed here much more easily than in the main house, and at a fraction of the cost. The walls will need to be insulated — right now there’s only the exterior stone wall between us and the great outdoors, but that’s a simple fix. You can control the lighting and there’s only one door.” She frowned. “There should be another door. You can’t have people coming and going through the same doorway.”
“It’s not big deal to put another door in,” Ellie told them.
Carly pointed to the side wall. “Right here. If there were partitions down the center of the room, the natural egress is right here.” She walked to the wall and tapped on it for emphasis.
Grace followed Carly’s gaze around the room. “I think Carly’s right. I think this building could be perfect.”
“I don’t know.” Ed put his president of council’s hat back on. “We’d need to know what the cost would be.”
“Cam can work up the numbers,” Ellie assure him. “I feel certain that we can make this place work for way less money than it would cost to retrofit just the HVAC alone into the mansion. We’ll crunch some numbers over the weekend so that we can have them ready for Tuesday night’s meeting.” She paused to defer to Ed. “That is, if you’re okay with this idea.”
“Get us some numbers and we’ll see. I’m not sure how we could manage the expense.” He clearly was concerned. “There’s money for maintenance in the trust that Curtis set up, but not for improvements.”
“How would you have paid for the changes that would be necessary at the mansion?” Carly asked him.
“I don’t think anyone really considered that we’d be looking at huge expenses. I think we all just thought we’d hang up the paintings and charge people to come in and look at ‘em.” Ed shrugged. “But I understand why you made the suggestions you made, and I have to agree that we need to do this the right way, or we shouldn’t do it at all. I’m just concerned about the money.”
“Let’s wait and see what Cam and I come up with. Maybe it won’t be too bad.”
“If we’re going to charge for tickets to the exhibit, we could make up some of the money that way,” Grace said.
“There is one other way the money might be raised,” Carly offered. “I’m writing Carolina’s biography — actually, it’s almost completed. Perhaps I could share a portion of the proceeds from the book sales with St. Dennis.”
“That would be very generous, dear.” Grace was clearly taken with the idea.
“Do you have a publisher lined up? Have you sold it already?” Ed inquired. “Is the book finished?”
“No, but I don’t expect I’ll have much trouble selling it. Especially since the plan all along has been to put the book on sale in conjunction with the opening of a major exhibit.”
“That’s a bit optimistic, don’t you think? You’ll have to find a publisher and that will take time.” Grace spoke up. “Then it’ll have to be printed and so on. I don’t know exactly what’s involved, but I can’t think it would be all that easy.”
“I can publish it independently,” Carly told them somewhat defensively. “I’ve already looked into it. I can do this.”
“Well, without knowing what the renovations would cost, this is all academic,” Ed said. “And keep in mind, even if the numbers are reasonable, we’ll need council’s approve. They may just vote to pass on the entire idea of a gallery, or they may go ahead with exhibiting those cat paintings of Hazel’s and forget about Carolina’s.”
“I think they’ll need to give a great deal of consideration to this,” Grace said thoughtfully. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put St. Dennis on the map as a cultural destination. It would bring a new dimension to our little bay town, and would attract a different demographic. Art patrons, collectors of American artists, collectors of women artists, I would expect many would want to come to see such an important collection.” She looked at Carly for confirmation.
“I think we could publicize this in a way that would make the movers and shakers in the art world sit up and take notice. I think they’ll flock to St. Dennis if for no other reason than to say that they were here.”
“And a good portion of them will want to stay for the weekend. Think of what that could mean for the restaurants and the B & Bs.”
“Not to mention your family’s inn,” Ed said pointedly.
“The inn is always booked to capacity the week of the holiday tour.” Grace ignored the implication. “But for others in town, this influx could make a real difference in their bottom line at the end of the year. Plus, I expect that Dallas’s studio will bring in some VIPs. A trendy art gallery will give them just one more reason to stay.”
“Dallas MacGregor has opened her own film studio in town. She’s already cast her first movie and will be starting to shoot by early fall,” Ellie explained to Carly. “As a huge movie star herself, Dallas has a lot of influence with a lot of people. I’ll bet she’d be happy to invite some of her Hollywood friends to the grand opening of the gallery.”
“I’m certain she would,” Grace agreed. “Dallas loves St. Dennis and is always looking for ways to promote the town. She’s been a steady patron of Sophie Enright’s new restaurant out on River Road. Sophie tells me that the orders she has every day from Dallas’s studio is keeping her in the black.”
“I’ll have to bring all of this up to the others on council and see what they think.” Ed turned to Ellie. “Let me know as soon as you have some numbers to go over. If the costs are reasonable in proportion to the expense, I’ll back the project and see if I can bring the others in line.”
“We’ll do the best we can,” Ellie assured him.
“Hopefully,” Grace said, “it will be enough.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll be waiting to hear from you and Cam,” Ed said before turning to Carly. “I checked you out on the internet and it looks to me that you know your stuff. This would be a big move for a small town like ours. I’m trusting that you’ll be able to pull this off.”
“Thank you. I’m confident that this could be a big money maker for St. Dennis, and as Grace pointed out, a windfall for the town’s merchants as well.”
“Let’s hope you’re right.” Ed turned to the others. “Grace, Ellie, thanks for your time.”
“We’ll chat after we see the numbers, Ed.” Grace gave a half wave as the man headed toward the end of the driveway and his car.
“That went well,” Ellie said when he was out of earshot. “All things considered.”
vGrace nodded. “Better than I expected, particularly after you said the old house wouldn’t be suitable. Ed’s a tough nut to crack, so I was encouraged when he said he’d sign on if the numbers are good.” She tapped Ellie on the arm. “That’s your part in all this.”
“I can’t see the cost being prohibitive, which it certainly would be if we were to try to turn that old house into a proper art gallery.”
“Well, there may be some on council who don’t think the town needs an art gallery.” Grace frowned.
“I can’t wait to hear what they decide.” Carly said as the three walked up the driveway.
“Grace, about that list of paintings that Carolina gave away...” Carly began.
“Yes, Ellie gave me a copy. I’m afraid I haven’t had much time to study it. My son just recently arrived home and I’m trying to get this week’s paper out.”
“I understand.” Carly forced a smile. “Whenever you get a minute, if you could go over it with me, I’d appreciate it.” She reached into her bag and pulled out one of her business cards. “Just give me a call when you can. If there are other paintings out there, we should track them down. Who knows, someone in town might have a small fortune stashed in their attic or hanging on their guest bedroom wall.”
“That’s certainly a possibility. I’ll bet a few folks will be in for the surprise of their lives.” Grace chuckled as she put the card in her wallet. “Now, are you here for the week, Carly, or did you drive down only for the day?”
“I’ll stay tonight and leave sometime tomorrow,” Carly replied. “I hate to be away from the paintings for too long.”
“Of course.” Grace paused when they reached her car, which was parked in front of Carly’s. “If you have no other plans, try to stop over at the inn tonight. We’re having a welcome home party for my son, Ford, and we’d love to have you both join us. Cam, too, of course.”
“Cam did mention that Lucy had called with an invitation, so I think he’s planning on it,” Ellie said.
“Good. I know Ford would want to see him again. They were friends once upon a time.” Grace turned to Carly. “And I hope you do come along.”
“I don’t know your son, so he might think it’s odd.” Carly made a face. Would it be awkward to attend the welcome home party for someone you’d never met?
“I’m sure he’ll be delighted to meet you.” Grace patted Carly’s hands. “In the meantime, we’ll see if we can lobby more support for the gallery. I have the feeling that you’re going to do great things in St. Dennis.” Grace smiled. “Yes, I do believe there are great things waiting for you here...”
Carly and Ellie watched the older woman walk up the slight incline of the driveway to her car.
“Does she sometimes give you an odd feeling?” Carly asked under her breath.
Ellie shook her head. “Odd like how?”
“She just gave me this feeling that she...” Carly stopped. How to put into words, even to your best friend, that somehow something - something important — had just passed between her and Grace, and that she had no idea what it might have been.
“That she what?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. I probably imagined it.”
“The important thing is that Grace is behind us and will advocate for turning this building into the gallery that you want.”
“Does she have any influence with the council members?”
“I suspect she does,” Ellie said thoughtfully. “Remember she owns the only newspaper in town. She can use that as a platform to get people behind the project. Plus she knows everyone and is pretty much universally liked. I think she could help make it happen.”
“Assuming your numbers are right,” Carly reminded her.
“They will be.”
“You sound so sure of yourself.”
“I am.” Ellie nodded. “I know this building. I don’t carry prices in my head the way Cam does, but I think the cost will surprise everyone, and I mean that in a good way.” She looped her arm through Carly’s as they headed toward the car. “I’ve been hoping there’d be some way to bring you to St. Dennis to stay for awhile. If you think I’m going to let this opportunity pass me by...”
“Who said anything about staying here?”
“Do you think you can oversee this —“ Ellie waved a hand in the direction of the carriage house, “from New York? Uh-uh. We get the green light, toots, and you’re looking at a couple of months between now and the time the exhibit would open.”
“So who do you think is going to be supervising the job, making sure everything is exactly the way you want it? Who’s going to set up the partitions and place the lighting and the air vents and the paintings? Or are you going to delegate all that to someone else?”
“Good point.” Carly opened the driver’s side door and got in.
“Your galleries are covered, right? You have good people working for you?” Ellie slid into the passenger’s seat and fastened her seat belt.
“So you’re covered there. Besides, you’re less than a four hour drive from New York. You can go back any time you want.”
“True enough. Still, I hadn’t thought about staying here indefinitely.”
“Of course, the other option would be for you to go back to New York and do your thing, and we’ll find someone else take care of the business here. We could probably find someone in Baltimore or DC who’d love to be involved with our little project.”
Carly shot Ellie a withering gaze.
“Thought so,” Ellie said smugly. “So I suggest you make a six-month plan for your directors and your managers, because I have the feeling you’re going to be spending a lot more time here than there.”
Excerpted from On Sunset Beach by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2014 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.