Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 39

Hart might be the second-most important peer in the realm, but here in his own demesne, the villagers he'd grown up with talked familiarly to him, giving him advice, laughing when he made a joke. The publican's wife pressed Isabella about the annual harvest festivities that would be held at the "big house" for the villagers and neighboring estates. This would be Beth's first, and Beth asked questions with interest.
The postmistress had no shyness about seizing Mac by the arm and peering into his face through her thick spectacles. Her husband was crippled with rheumatism, and Mrs. McNab looked after him with cheerful spirits. Her routine was to glean information about the lives of her neighbors and relay it all to Mr. McNab.
"Are ye and her ladyship Mr. and Mrs. again?" Mrs. McNab asked, her voice carrying across the platform. "Such a shame ye parted ways, when it was clear to see ye were so much in love, even if she is an English lass."
Mac winked at her. "I am moving things back in that direction, good lady."
"See that ye do. This parting of husbands and wives might be fashionable in the cities, but it's no' but a scandal. What the pair of ye needs is a passel o' bairns. That will make her happy, ye mark my words." Mrs. McNab had six sons, all grown now, towering over their petite mother and terrified to death of her.
Mac saw Isabella's back stiffen, but she gave no other indication she'd heard as she glided out of the station. Mac patted Mrs. McNab's hand, thanked her for her advice, and strode after Isabella.
He wasn't quick enough to get into the coach with her and Ian and Beth, so he rode in the second chaise with Hart. He didn't see Isabella when they reached the house, but Kilmorgan Castle-not really a castle anymore but a sprawling monstrosity of a house-was so gigantic, she could be anywhere. He changed out of his soot-stained suit in his own wing of the house then knocked on the door to the chamber next to his. This room used to be Isabella's, but he found the suite empty, the bed stripped, the grate cold.
"She's staying in a chamber down the hall, milord," Evans said, walking by with an armload of dress boxes. "Her ladyship's instructions."
Two weeks ago, Isabella's decision to use a different room might have angered Mac; now it amused him. If she thought moving down the hall would thwart him, she was sorely mistaken.
He continued his search for her and at last found her on the top floor in his studio. She stood with her back to him, studying three canvases propped against the far wall. Mac could see them quite clearly, the three paintings of Isabella that Mac had done in secret before his studio burned down .
"Bloody hell."
Isabella heard Mac's low exclamation but didn't turn. She couldn't turn from the three images of herself that glowed like goddesses from the canvas.
One painting showed her face, neck, and hint of bosom, her hair piled high and laced with yellow roses, as it had been the night of Lord Abercrombie's ball. Another showed her sitting on the floor, bare with her legs stretched out, her hair obscuring her face. The third had her asleep, head on her arm, red hair curling over her naked body.
"I never sat for these," Isabella said without turning around.
"No." Mac closed the door. "I painted from memory."
The pictures were done in muted hues highlighted by Mac's characteristic touches of reds and yellows. The women in these paintings lived and breathed, were real. They were her.
"When?" she asked.
"In London, before my house burned."
"Three paintings in a week?"
"I was inspired." Mac's voice was tight. "And they're not really finished."
She finally turned to look at him. Mac remained by the closed door, his hands stuffed into his pockets. Gone was the charming, smiling man who'd determinedly chased her these last few weeks. Here was the somber Mac she'd seen since their separation, the one who'd abandoned drink and his arty set, who'd holed himself up at Kilmorgan or his London house and stayed put.
"These aren't for that wager you made, are they?" she asked. "The one about the erotic paintings?"
He looked outraged. "Good God, no. Do you think I'd allow blackguards like Dunstan and Manning to cast their lust-filled gazes upon my wife? If you think that, you don't know me at all, Isabella."
She hadn't really thought that, but Mac had changed so much in the last three years, she could be certain of nothing. "Did I ever really know you?"
"I thought you did. Once." Mac moved to the paintings. "I'll destroy them."
Isabella stepped protectively in front of them. "You will not. These are beautiful."
His brows shot up. "You are happy that your estranged husband painted pictures of your naked body? Perhaps to gaze at what he couldn't have?"
"Is that why you painted them?"
Mac scrubbed his hand through his hair. "No. Or yes. I don't know. I had to paint them. They clawed their way out of me. But they're not important now. I'll have Bellamy burn them."
"Sweetheart, they're the idle indulgences of a frenzied mind. Or do you mean you'd rather rip them apart yourself? I have a knife about somewhere."
"You will not destroy them, because they're the best things you've ever painted."

Back to Table of content

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.