Home > Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5)(10)

Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5)(10)
Author: Sara Shepard

The inside of the farmhouse smelled like freshly baked bread, and a Billie Holliday song was playing softly over the stereo. A waitress carrying a large tray of Bellinis swept past. Aria eagerly grabbed a glass. After she downed the whole thing, she looked around the room. There were at least fifty paintings on the walls, with small plaques bearing the title, artist’s name, and price. Thin women with angularly cut dark hair loitered in clusters near the appetizers. A guy in dark-framed glasses talked anxiously to a buxom woman with a beet-red beehive. A wild-eyed man with frizzy gray hair sipped what looked like a glass of bourbon, whispering something to his Sienna-Miller-look-alike wife.

Aria’s heart thumped. These weren’t the normal, local collectors who came to Rosewood art openings—people like Spencer’s parents, who dressed in business suits and carried thousand-dollar Chanel purses. Aria was pretty sure this was the authentic art world, maybe even from New York City.

The exhibit featured three different artists, but the majority of the onlookers were gathered around abstract paintings by someone named Xavier Reeves. Aria walked up to one of his only pieces that didn’t have an enormous crowd of people around it and assumed her best art critic pose—hand on chin and frowning like she was deep in thought. The painting was of a large purple circle with a small, darker purple circle in the middle.

Interesting, Aria thought to herself. But honestly…it looked like a giant nipple.

“What do you think of the brushstrokes?” someone murmured behind her.

Aria turned around and found herself looking into the soft brown eyes of a tall guy in a ribbed black sweater and dark blue jeans. An excited jolt shot through her body, leaving her toes tingling in her scuffed satin flats. With his prominent cheekbones and super-short hair that stood up in a tuft at the front, he reminded Aria of Sondre, the hot musician she’d met in Norway last year. She and Sondre had spent hours in a fisherman’s pub in Bergen, drinking homemade whiskey and making up stories about the mounted trophy fish that hung on the pub’s wood-paneled walls.

Aria assessed the painting again. “The brushstrokes are very…powerful.”

“True,” the guy agreed. “And emotional.”

“Definitely.” Aria was thrilled to be having an authentic art critic conversation, especially with someone so cute. It was also nice to not be around Rosewood people and have to listen to the constant gossip about Ian’s upcoming trial. She scrambled for something else to say. “It makes me think of…”

The guy leaned closer, smirking. “Suckling, maybe?”

Aria’s eyes widened in surprise. So she wasn’t the only one who saw the resemblance. “It does look a little bit like that, doesn’t it?” she giggled. “But I think we’re supposed to take this seriously. The painting’s called The Impossibility of the Space Between. Xavier Reeves probably painted it to represent solitude. Or the proletarian struggle.”

“Shit.” The guy was so close to Aria, she could smell his cinnamon-gum-and-Bellini-scented breath. “I guess that means the one over there called Time Moves Handily isn’t a penis, huh?”

An older woman in multicolored cat-eye glasses looked over, startled. Aria covered her mouth to keep from laughing, noticing how there was a crescent moon–shaped freckle right by her new friend’s left ear. If only she hadn’t worn the same pilled green cowl-necked sweater she’d lived in the entire winter break. She should’ve wiped the fondue stain off the collar, too.

He polished off the rest of his drink. “So what’s your name?”

“Aria.” She chewed coyly on the swizzle stick that had come with her Bellini.

“It’s nice to meet you, Aria.” A group of people swept by, pushing Aria and her new friend closer together. As his hand bumped against her waist, heat rose to Aria’s cheeks. Had he touched her by accident…or on purpose?

He grabbed two more drinks and handed one to her. “So do you work around here, or are you still in school?”

Aria opened her mouth, contemplating. She wondered how old this guy was. He looked young enough to be a college student, and she could picture him living in one of the shabby-chic Victorian houses near Hollis College. But she’d made that same assumption about Ezra, too.

Before Aria could say a word, a woman in a fitted houndstooth suit inserted herself between them. With her spiky black hair, she bore more than a passing resemblance to Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. “Mind if I borrow him?” Cruella looped her arm around his elbow. He gave Cruella’s arm a little squeeze.

“Oh. Sure.” Aria stepped away, disappointed.

“Sorry.” Cruella smiled apologetically at Aria. Her lipstick was so dark it was almost black. “But Xavier’s quite in demand, as you know.”

Xavier? Aria’s stomach dropped. She grabbed his arm. “You’re…the artist?”

Her new friend stopped. There was a naughty little sparkle in his eye. “Busted,” he said, leaning in to her. “And by the way, the painting really is a boob.”

With that, Cruella pulled Xavier forward. He fell into step with Cruella and flirtatiously whispered something in her ear. They both giggled before marching into the throng of the art elite, where everyone gushed over how brilliant and inspirational Xavier’s paintings were. As Xavier grinned and shook his admirers’ hands, Aria wished there was a trapdoor in the wood floor she could disappear through. She’d broken the cardinal rule of art openings—don’t talk about the work to strangers, since you never know who’s who. And for God’s sake, don’t insult an up-and-coming hotshot’s masterpiece.

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