Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 11

He took up his palette, globbed on colors, and started to paint. Muted tones, many shades of white, the paint for the shadows mixed from green and umber and darkest red. Her green eyes toned down with black, the shine of them caught exactly right.
Dawn filtered through the skylights before Mac finished. In the end, he dropped his palette to the table, shoved his brushes into the cleaning solution, and contemplated the painting.
Something in him rejoiced. After so long-so long-the brilliance Mac's mentor had seen in him finally broke through once more.
A woman looked out of the canvas: her chin a bit pointed, her lips parted in a half smile. Red hair trickled down her shoulder, and her eyes regarded him with a haughty yet seductive look. Yellow rosebuds, painted the vibrant yellow of Mac's signature color, drooped from her curls as though she'd danced the night away and come home tired. He hadn't painted the gown she'd worn tonight, just suggested it with dashes of deep-shadowed blue that blended into the background.
It was the most beautiful thing he'd painted in years. The picture sang out of the canvas, the colors and lines flowing with effortless grace.
Mac let his blunt, paint-stained fingers hover above the woman for a few seconds. Then he resolutely turned his back on the picture and left the room.
Isabella settled the gloves on her fingers the next morning with quick jerks and checked the angle of her hat in the hall mirror. Her heart was thumping, but she was determined. If Mac wouldn't do anything about the forged paintings, Isabella would.
She nodded to her butler as he opened the front door for her. "Thank you, Morton. Please make certain his lordship's coat is cleaned and returned to him by this afternoon."
Isabella took her footman's hand and settled herself in her landau. Not until the vehicle had rolled into morning traffic did she droop against the cushions and let out her breath.
She'd slept very little after she'd returned from Lord Abercrombie's ball the night before. When Mac had walked away from her down the terrace, the pain of his leaving had struck her to the heart. She'd wanted to rush after him, to make him turn back to her, to beg him with everything she had to stay.
As it was, she'd had to make do with his coat. She'd laid it next to her when she'd gone to bed, where she could touch it and smell his scent on it. She'd remained awake and restless, craving him, until she finally drifted into dreams of his smile and that sinfully hot kiss.
In the morning, she'd tossed the coat carelessly at Evans, instructing her to tell Morton to look after it.
She directed her coachman to take her to the Strand, where Messrs. Crane and Longman, purveyors of fine art, kept a shop. There was no longer a Mr. Longman, he having died and left Mr. Crane the entire business, but Mr . Crane had never removed Longman's name from the sign.
Mr. Crane, a smallish man with soft palms and well-manicured nails, shook Isabella's hand when she entered, then began spewing forth praise of Mac Mackenzie.
"Mr. Crane, Mac is precisely who I've come to see you about," Isabella said when he'd wound down. "Please tell me about the painting you sold to Mrs. Leigh-Waters."
Crane pressed his hands together and tilted his head, which made him look like a small, plump bird. "Ah, yes, Rome from the Capitoline Hill. An excellent work. One of his best."
"You do know that Mac doesn't sell his paintings? He gives them away to whoever wants them. Did it not strike you as odd when this one came up for sale?"
"Indeed, I was quite surprised when his lordship instructed us to sell it," Mr. Crane said.
"Mac instructed it? Who told you that?"
Mr. Crane blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Who brought in the painting and told you his lordship wanted it sold?"
"Why, his lordship himself."
Now Isabella blinked. "Are you certain? Mac carried the painting in here and handed it to you himself?"
"Well, not to me, as a point of fact. I was out. My assistant received it and cataloged it. Said his lordship told him he didn't care what price he got."
Isabella's thoughts whirled. She had assumed her errand would be simple-point out to Mr. Crane that he'd sold a forgery and demand to know what he would do about it. Now she wondered. Had Mac actually painted it himself and sold it? And why?
"Does your assistant know Mac by sight?" she asked. "He didn't assume that the gentleman was Mac without asking?"
"My lady, I was as surprised as you are, but my assistant described his lordship precisely. Even that careless way he has of talking, as though nothing about his art very much matters. So charming, when he has such talent. Mind you, his lordship hasn't done much lately, so I was happy I could obtain something at all from him."
Isabella had no idea what to say next. She'd pictured herself interrogating Mr. Crane on who had brought in the painting, to scold him for letting forgeries pass through his hands. Now she did not know how to continue. She'd been so certain that Mac hadn't painted the scene, although come to think of it, Mac had neither confirmed nor denied it when she'd asked him.
"Ah, your lordship," Crane said brightly. "How propitious of you. We were just speaking of you and that lovely picture you did of Rome. Welcome to my humble shop."
Isabella whirled. Mac himself stood in the doorway, blotting out the weak sunlight outside.
He stepped across the threshold, swept off his hat, sent a smile to Isabella that weakened her knees, and said, "Now then, Crane. What have you been up to, selling forgeries of my blasted paintings?"

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