One old distraction continued to plague Charles. Annalee Brockhurst
. If only there were a way to get her in a dark, secluded corner, up against a wall, his hands gripping her butt as he slammed inside—
A very boisterous and masculine laugh brought Charles back to the present, subduing the ache in his cock. A fragrant crowd had gathered around the artwork immediately behind him. He turned to see the spectators gawking at garish pastel studies of a woman’s breasts. An equally garishly attired man gesticulated nearby, describing how the artist tried to get the female form “just right,” how the delicate shading of white and yellow added such depth of realism that a man could just reach out and touch the soft globes.
. Had the windbag just said that out loud?
Charles let out an exhalation and caught a glimpse of the woman in blue and brown still entertaining her own clique, albeit they had somewhat thinned out. Surely she was not as ridiculous a lecturer?
Did he really want to find out if she would shatter his fantasies?
. I need to get away from them.
Well there was one place in Creslow’s ad hoc museum that would be quiet.
Charles shook his head at the breast-gazers and slunk off to the art library.
ROSAMUND CHAMBERS, THE Viscountess Threxton, was having a splendid time waxing philosophic regarding the lack of male nudes among the sketches displayed on the walls of Lord Creslow’s brilliant amateur gallery when Margaret Longacre—wearing a color one might consider a little too orange for her skin tone—joined her enrapt audience. While Rosamund considered Margaret a friend, the latter was something of a complainer and, consequently, a bore. Now the grande dame had decided to insert her meddlesome—although somewhat interesting—comments into the discourse. Her droning platitudes repelled those more interested in light conversation, which, it seemed, was most of the crowd in attendance. Minutes later, Rosamund and Margaret stood alone, Margaret jabbering away, Rosamund praying for an escape.
Rosamund glanced around while she nodded in assent to whatever it was Margaret was saying. Unfortunately, Jeremy was nowhere to be seen, having left her over an hour ago to chase “a flutter of beauty heading down the corridor.” She did appreciate her husband’s discretion in pursuing his affairs, and was quite used to being introduced to his amoureuse du jour
. Rosamund had recently espied her own flutter of beauty—an attractive blond man with a woman who looked as if she could be his sister. Perhaps that was wishful thinking. And now Margaret’s weighty presence had distracted her long enough that the man was nowhere to be seen.
If he were a wise man, he would be escorting his relative away from the lewd studies of female body parts to view the unfinished landscapes in the next room.
“Really, Rosamund,” Margaret rambled, “my dear Viscountess, you should be far more concerned with the abysmal showing of women artists rather than the preponderance of female subjects. If this is truly to be a Salon des Refusés
Margaret’s accent was impeccable.
“Then Viscount Creslow should have approached the Society of British Women Artists.” Margaret’s pitch went up an octave as her voice boomed louder. “Of course, if the viscount wants to be utterly outré
and shock the Academy, then he should find a woman artist who sketches male nudes. With all this display of female flesh—”
“I quite agree, Margaret.” She really did. Still, agreement was the only way one could interrupt what was quickly becoming a tirade. “And I will do my best to make such notions known to my uncle for next year’s Salon.”
Margaret stared wide-eyed as if stunned she had finally swayed someone to her side. “Why thank you, Rosamund. I very much appreciate your assistance.”
“I’m happy to oblige, Margaret.” Rosamund whipped her head to the right, hoping her feigned attempt at recognition was dramatic enough to be considered credible. “Oh, I beg your pardon, but I’ve just seen a client of my husband’s and I promised I would follow up on his assessment of the commission.” She smiled her most saccharine smile. “You understand, Margaret, don’t you? It is
an art exhibition, and my husband is a working artist. We must make the most of our opportunities to garner business.”
Margaret’s cheeks colored, veiny and red. “Of course, my dear Viscountess.”
Rosamund took off as quickly as propriety would allow, but with enough swiftness that left no time for Margaret to rescind on her acquiescence and start conversation anew.
Rosamund strode with purpose down one of the corridors covered with row upon row of figure studies in oil, her husband’s work standing out as the more palatable to the modern taste. She knew none of the gawkers—the middle class had turned out in droves to the gratis
event. But she had to find someone somewhere to chat with or she’d insult Margaret. Her tedious friend had the ability to cut a person from certain fashionable circles. For that reason she was tolerated.
The half-open door to the art library was her salvation. Rosamund ducked in. All around the room, rich mahogany shelves were lined with the gilt-decorated spines of leather tomes. A few scholarly chaps were scattered about, perusing books while seated at gleaming oak tables. Others thumbed through etchings or architectural plans housed in long, shallow drawers. Marble busts of learned men lined the shelf above the bookcases. Rosamund smiled. Lord Creslow, or rather Uncle Bradley, had never been a scholar, had actually railed against “tutors and dons,” yet now he was the proud owner of a true gentleman’s scholarly library.
She lifted and tucked up her veil. Just a few minutes in the comfortable, peaceful room, long enough for Margaret to think she was meeting with a patron, and then Rosamund would rejoin the unlearned masses.
THE SUSURRATION OF silk induced Charles to look up from leafing through Creslow’s landscape architecture plans. He couldn’t believe his luck. The woman dressed in robin’s-egg blue and chocolate brown had just walked into the library. She glanced around, then moved to the bookshelves, drawing a finger along the spines, alternately nodding or shaking her head with a wry smile. She walked down the row until she was right next to him, the flounce at her rear eye-level from his position bent over the drawer. He straightened, the action drawing her attention.
She smiled, the expression slowly transforming from a superficial mask to startlement curling her luscious lips and brightening her light-brown eyes. She held out her hand, exuding a natural sensuality that mesmerized Charles until the need to breathe forced him to respond.
He took her hand in his, the warmth from the touch shooting straight to his crotch. He bent his head and hovered, wanting desperately to touch his lips to the tips of her delicate fingers bejeweled with gemstone rings but naked at the end of her sheer lace half gloves.
He released her, too soon really, as she too seemed to want to linger. “Madam, I see you’ve discovered Lord Creslow’s library.”
“As have you, my good sir,” she responded casually. She glanced down at the drawer he had just closed, level with his burgeoning erection. “And might I find you in those drawers, or”—she waved her hand at the bookcases—“on these shelves?”
She was good. She’d guessed him for an artist. He chuckled quietly. “Ah, no, I fear not.”
“But really you should exhibit. For your career.”
Charles returned her gaze. The fine lines on her face revealed she was older, perhaps almost his age. She was an exotic beauty, with a subdued flirtatiousness that was enchantingly attractive. The smoldering spark of lust ignited. “I’m grateful for your concern. But you needn’t worry. I’ll be showing at the Summer Exhibition.”
And that was just a drop in the bucket. He was riding a wave of professional notice. Some Grand Prize winners eventually fell into utter obscurity. However, he had works spread throughout Europe—
He cringed. Peacocking his own accomplishments would get him nowhere with this woman. She was far more sophisticated than his usual fare.
She turned, a move so graceful and sensual he simply stared. “And what will you be showing?”
There was that sly smile again, tinged with cool awareness of his physical state. “At the Summer Exhibition.”
“Landscapes?” she said with a modicum of surprise. “In oil?”
“How colorful.” Her gaze took him in from head to toe, lingering about halfway. “And do you employ an assistant?”
“To mix your pigments? Stretch your canvases? Clean your brushes?” Her voice deepened ever so slightly. “Really, there is so much an assistant can do for you.” Her intonation was positively seductive.
She was teasing him. Lusciously teasing him. He leaned in a hair’s breadth. “Madam, let me explain something.” He kept his tone low with just a hint of sultriness. “When a client commissions my services, he expects me to do the work. I am an artist, not a manufacturer.”
She blushed to the roots of her golden-brown hair, the coloring provocative, not demure. “Of course, sir. I did not mean to insult.”
“No insult has been taken.”
The crack of a snort drew their attention away. A balding man with his hands on his copious belly had made use of a leather club chair and footstool as a bed. His overly loud yet peace-inspiring presence had emptied the library and seemed to keep newcomers at bay.
Charles was virtually alone with his newfound object of desire.
Should they introduce themselves? That was what one did at these sorts of events, wasn’t it? She could be the daughter of a famous art collector, or the wife—
Yes, of course. She could be a wife
. In that case, if she asked his name, he would offer. But he would follow her lead in the matter.
One should never seduce a wife unless one were absolutely certain she wanted to be seduced. Wives who wanted seduction were often married to men who wanted their wives to be seduced. It made for a happier marriage all around. One did not need to know details such as names.
Well, that was all well and good in theory. He’d never actually been with a married woman. The closest he’d ever gotten was with Annalee during her engagement.
His temptress sauntered away from the bookcase. “And what brings you to Viscount Creslow’s inaugural exhibition?”
He watched but did not follow her. “I have friends here, both on the walls and in the galleries.”
She glanced back, that smile playing upon her lips again, teasing, inviting. “How droll you are.”
He chortled. “Dare I ask you the same question?”
“You mean, am I a denizen of the art world, or merely a flatterer looking to advance my circumstances?”
“Those embedded in the art world are always looking for opportunities to advance their cause.”
She laughed softly. “Spoken like a true cognoscente.”
Charles shook his head in disgust. “You don’t want to know.”
She tilted her chin and pursed her lips as she studied him, providing him the opportunity to study back. Her bone structure gave her face angles and planes that would make her a marvelous model for one inclined to portraiture. She held herself gracefully, as if posing for a full-length figural painting, seemingly knowing exactly which assets a man might find most appealing. Her body could easily tempt him away from dispassionate landscapes in more ways than one.
She couldn’t possibly be a model, though. Her accent and knowledge implied a cultured, educated, aristocratic background.
She held out her left hand. “Maybe I do.”
Desire smoldered in his groin. Before him was an invitation from which he did not want to—no, could not
extract himself. Her magnetic draw was too powerful, and he too willing to be pulled right in. Perhaps he was too suggestible, his need for female companionship too easily quashing his reason.
And yet, his reason weighed in, there was something about her that was different from all the others. She understood his mind as well as his body.