Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 10

"Almost." She smiled, and his heart turned over. "You are very flattering, which is always a point in a gentleman's favor."
"I can be more flattering than that. I can tell you that your hair is a trail of fire, your lips sweeter than the finest wines, that your voice flows inside me and stirs all my desires."
A swallow moved down her throat. "A proper lady might be taken aback by such comparisons."
"I remember a proper lady who didn't mind me talking about the pillows of her br**sts and the glory that lay between her legs."
"Then she couldn't have been a proper lady," Isabella said softly.
Mac leaned to her. "Would the proper young lady be shocked to learn I'm in danger of taking her right here, uncaring of who might wander to our end of the terrace?"
Her lashes swept down. "I don't think such a thing would be practical in this gown."
"Don't tease, Isabella. I'm perfectly serious."
"I've never been able to resist teasing you." She gave him her coy little smile, and his limbs hurt. "But I have been thinking about this rather a lot, Mac. We have both closed in on ourselves, barely able to speak to one another, which has caused great strain. Perhaps if we grow more used to seeing each other, stop avoiding events where we both might attend-like tonight-perhaps we would become comfortable with each other."
Mac's bubble of hope dissipated. "Comfortable? What the devil does that mean? As though we were in our dotage, nodding to each other in our Bath chairs?"
"No, no. I meant that if we become used to each other's company, perhaps your wanting would decrease. We would be more civil to each other. As it is we are nervous. About everything. "
Mac wanted to burst into laughter, and then again, he wanted to rage. "Bloody hell, Isabella, do you think that the strain between us is all to do with me wanting you? Oh, my darling girl."
"Of course I do not believe it is so simple. But perhaps, if we agree to become more, well, easy with each other, perhaps we could catch sight of each other without simmering."
"I very much doubt that." Mac slanted her a hot smile. "I've been simmering for you since the night we met. I've never stopped, and I never will, no matter how many times I have the pleasure of taking you to bed."
Isabella's lips parted in surprise. Had she thought the solution to their unhappiness so simple? That if they grew bored with each other's company, Mac would cease wanting her and let her be? Some men-utter fools-did lose interest in a woman once they'd bedded her, but Mac couldn't imagine ever, ever losing interest in Isabella.
He let his smile grow predatory. "My dear Isabella, I will take your suggestion and show you what happens when you play with fire. I will make certain we see each other quite, quite often. And there will be no growing jaded with each other . Because you see, my dear, when I at last take you home again, it will be forever. No regrets, no games, no being 'comfortable.' We will be man and wife, in all ways, and it will be final."
Isabella gave him a haughty look. That was his Isabella. A firecracker, no whimpering miss. "I see. So the games we play must be ones of your choosing."
He touched her lips with his fingertip. "Exactly, my sweet. And when I win, Isabella, it will be for good. I promise you that."
Isabella opened her mouth to retort, but Mac silenced her with one hot, swift kiss. The taste of her was enough to crumble him to dust, but he made himself, just as swiftly, release her.
He ran his finger down her neck to the shadow of her cle**age. "Good night, my darling," he said. "Keep the coat."
Walking away from her, so delectable in that low-cut dress, his own coat draped over her shoulders, was one of the most difficult things Mac had ever done. At every step, he expected her to call after him, to beg him to come back, even to curse him.
Isabella never said a word. Mac's need berated him soundly as he kept walking the length of the terrace and stepped back into the overly stuffy house.
Mac's arousal hadn't died by the time he reached home and climbed the four flights to his studio. He stood in the middle of the room, absorbing the ruined picture still propped on the easel, the table strewn with jars and palettes, his brushes fastidiously washed and sorted. Even when Mac lost his temper and threw things about, he always took care of his brushes. They were an extension of the painter's fingers, the mad old artist who'd first trained him had told him. They needed to be treated with care.
The labored breathing of Bellamy sounded behind Mac as the valet puffed up the attic stairs. Mac absently pulled off his cravat and waistcoat and handed them over to the disapproving Bellamy when the man entered the room. Mac had conducted wild painting sessions in evening dress before, and Bellamy had said flatly in his East End accent that he wouldn't be held responsible for his lordship's clothes if his lordship insisted on mucking them up with oil paints.
Mac didn't much care, but Bellamy did, so Mac piled the man's arms high with his garments and told him to go. Once Bellamy closed the door, Mac pulled on the old kilt he kept up there to paint in along with his paint-streaked boots.
He tossed the ruined canvas facedown on the floor and propped a blank one in its place. His charcoal pencil nestled into his palm, and with the ease of long practice, Mac began to sketch.
It took only a few lines to draw what he wanted-the eyes of a woman, another few lines to fill in her face, more to depict the spill of brilliant hair down her shoulder. The beauty and simplicity of the drawing caught at his heart as he finished.

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