Kissing her tonight, feeling her skin under his fingers, breathing her warmth, had ramped up Mac's desires until he thought he'd die. He'd seen her glance at the door near them on the landing, had guessed that her bedroom lay behind it. It had been all he could do to stop himself snatching her up and running inside it with her, tossing her on the bed and tearing off that beautiful satin gown. He'd done such a thing before, and those times, she'd surrendered to him with laughter.
Mac jammed a brush into dark brown paint and scrawled "Mackenzie" across the bottom. Chasing Isabella to London suddenly seemed very foolish, the way in which Mac was sure to lose the rest of his sanity.
He tossed the brush onto the table just as he smelled the first heavy odor of fire.
Mac opened the studio door to see a black wedge of smoke issuing from the door opposite. Snatching up a heavy drop cloth, Mac hurried across the landing and opened the door.
He looked into a cave of flames. Fire crawled from a pile of broken furniture in the middle of the room, eating the dry board floor and the stack of discarded drapes from the last redecoration Isabella had done. The flames had already caught the furniture that remained whole-a heavily carved chest of drawers, an old chaise, a cradle.
Mac rushed inside. He knew it was hopeless even as he unfurled the drop cloth and beat at the fire. He'd taken too long to notice, been too absorbed in his painting, and now the flames were out of control.
At Bellamy's shout, Mac ran out, slamming the door, and shoved open the door of the next room, where two maids lay sleeping. "Up!" Mac roared at them. "Get up and out. Hurry!"
The two girls screamed, first at being jerked awake by the master of the house in nothing but a kilt, then again when they saw the smoke.
Mac left them to it and ran back to his studio. Every foul word he'd ever learned poured from his mouth as he gathered up the three paintings he'd finished. He stacked them carefully, using the drying rack he'd designed to separate them. There would be some smearing, but hopefully he could repair the damage. He wrapped the entire bundle in a sheet and carried it out in time to run into Bellamy coming up the stairs.
The hall was thick with smoke, the fire consuming the attic door. Mac coughed, and Bellamy said frantically, "Mary and Sal ain't come down yet."
Mac shoved the wrapped canvases at him. "You get those out. I'll get Mary and Sal."
"No, my lord. You come down. Now!"
"Bellamy, those canvases are worth my life. You guard them with yours. Go."
He released the pictures so Bellamy would have to grab for them. Giving Mac a despairing look, Bellamy retreated down the attic stairs, the sheet-wrapped bundled clenched in his big hands.
Mac pushed open the door to the maids' room again. The wall between their bed and the attic was in flames, the smoke thick. Both Sal and Mary were on the floor, Sal coughing-both had lingered to try to dress
Mac grabbed Sal around the waist. "Come on. Go."
"Mary," Sal sobbed.
Mary lay unmoving on the floor. Mac stooped and lifted her over his shoulder, at the same time shoving Sal out into the hall in front of him.
The landing was bathed in flames. Mac heard a creak and a groan as the stairs to the lower floors gave way.
Sal screamed at the top of her lungs, "We're trapped. We're trapped."
"My lord!" Bellamy stood below, looking up in anguish.
"Damn you, Bellamy. Get those paintings out. We'll escape through the roof."
Mac pushed Sal into his studio and slammed the door on smoke. In a matter of seconds, the fire would jump to this room-a room filled to the brim with paints, oil of turpentine, and other things that liked to explode.
He dragged his table to the middle of the room, leapt upon it, and pushed open the skylight. He grabbed Sal first, boosting her up through the opening. Sal bravely grabbed the roof slates and rolled out, pressing a foot against Mac's shoulder to help.
Mac jumped down and lifted Mary, who was starting to come 'round now that she was out of the smoke. Her eyes fluttered open and she gasped at him in stark terror.
Mac gave her an encouraging grin. "No time for screaming, my dear. Up you go."
Sal reached down and helped Mac get Mary through the opening, Sal pulling the girl up and onto the roof. Mac jumped, grabbed the sill, and slithered through the skylight just as the fire burst into the studio.
"What do we do now?" Sal wailed. "We're so high."
"We get away from here before that fire gets to all my paints. Onward."
Mary started to cry, staring across the roofs in sheer terror. Sal was a little more resilient, quietly seizing Mac's offered hand in a desperate grip. Both girls clung to him but allowed him to tow them across the sloping roof to the roof of the house next door.
The house was currently empty, Mac knew, the family away in the country. The skylight was latched, not yielding to Mac's tugging. He jerked the gypsy scarf from his head, wrapped it around his fist, and punched through the pane. The glass was thick, and it took several tries. He cut his hand badly, but at last he reached through the hole he'd made and released the catch.
The cold, stuffy attic, free of smoke, smelled good as Mac lowered himself into it. He reached up to catch first Mary then Sal as they slithered after him. He led the two maids out of the attic room and down the long staircases to the front door.
The two girls were sobbing in relief when Mac unbolted and threw open the door. People had poured out of nearby houses, neighbors and their servants already forming a bucket chain. Mac joined them until the clanging of bells announced the arrival of the fire brigade with their water pump and hoses. The machinery might not save Mac's house, but it could prevent the fire from spreading down the street.