Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 40

Mac ran his hand through his hair again. "I agree, they're not bad."
"Not bad? Mac, they're genius. They're the same kind of picture you did the day after I married you. When you first showed me your studio, I was awestruck. Miss Pringle taught us all about great art, and I saw that yours was too."
Mac made a derisive noise. "These are hardly Rubens or Rembrandt, my dear."
"No, more like Degas and Manet, like Mr. Crane said."
"Crane would flatter an ant that tracked paint across a canvas if he could obtain a commission on the sale. Besides, you name highly scandalous and despised men. Respectable society shares your opinion that I'm in the same class as they."
"Will you take this seriously? These are lovely paintings, and I won't let you burn them or cut them up or anything else. In fact, if I have to buy them from you to protect them, I will."
"You know I never sell my paintings. Have them if you like them so much."
Isabella chewed her lip. Mac always brushed off compliments to his talent with carelessness, or so she had thought until she'd realized that it simply didn't matter to him what other people thought. Mac loved painting for its own sake and had no interest in what the world said about what he produced. That was why he gave the canvases away and didn't fight for the approval of the Royal Academy. Mac had no self-pride about his genius. It was simply a part of him, the same way his eyes were the color of copper and his voice retained a slight Scots accent.
"You truly don't care what becomes of them?" Isabella asked.
Mac's gaze went to the paintings with a kind of hunger. "Of course I don't care."
"That is a lie, pure and plain."
"What do you wish me to say? That yes, these are the best things I've ever done, that they come from part of my soul that craves what it can't have? That they scream what I see when I look at you?"
Isabella's face heated. "I only meant you should admit that they are good."
"They are bloody wonderful. They're the only things I've been able to paint in years."
Isabella stared. "In years? What are you talking about?"
Mac turned away, rubbing his head again as though it ached. "Why do you think I've not fussed about this chap who's forging my work?-not until he burned my bloody house down, anyway. I wasn't joking when I said he painted better than I did. You saw that travesty I was doing of Molly. I haven't been able to paint anything since I stopped floating through life on malt whiskey. Everything I attempted after I sobered up was horrible. I conclude that my talent lay in drink, and without it, my ability is nothing."
"Not true-"
"Of course it's true . The last things I painted were Venetian canals until the sight of a gondola made me physically ill. I threw the last painting and my remaining bottles of Mackenzie malt into the Grand Canal the same night. Never tell Hart about the whiskey, by the way-he'd kill me. I headed back to England after that and found that I couldn't paint a stroke. Mind you, in the first months of temperance, my hands were too shaky to let me hold the brush, let alone button my own shirt."
Isabella had a sudden and vivid image of Mac alone in his studio at the top of the Mount Street house, angrily hurling canvases across the room when the paint would no longer form into beautiful pictures. The realization must have broken his heart.
"You never told me," she said.
Mac laughed. "Told you what? That I was a wreck of a man whose dust you should have shaken from your boots long ago? Even when I grew used to being sober, I couldn't paint a shadow that wasn't muddy, a line that wasn't wrong." He blew out his breath. "Then I did these."
And they were genius. When Isabella had first entered the room, the paintings had been hidden inside the large wrapped bundle she'd seen Bellamy lug into her London house after Mac's fire. She hadn't paid attention, but today when they'd arrived at Kilmorgan, she'd gotten curious as to what Mac had been working on. She'd found Bellamy up here unpacking things and had urged the man to unwrap the paintings.
Bellamy must not have known what the pictures were, because when they came out, he turned red, mumbled something, and hastened out the door.
At first Isabella had been angry. What business had Mac to paint her without telling her? It was as though he'd peeped through a keyhole and drawn what he'd seen.
Then it had struck her how extraordinary they were. Mac's talent shone in every brushstroke, every color. The Royal Academy had never admitted Mac's work, claiming that his paintings were base and scandalous, but the Royal Academy could go hang as far as Isabella was concerned.
"Is that why you said you'd forfeit that wager?" Isabella asked. "Not because you couldn't paint an erotic picture, but because you couldn't paint at all?"
"You saw." Mac met her gaze squarely. "I'd rather forfeit and let them laugh at me than reveal what has happened to my talent."
"You won't forfeit," Isabella said. "You'll win that bloody wager. If all you can paint is me, then you'll paint me."
Mac's neck reddened with sudden anger. "The hell I will. I told you, I will not let my so-called friends look at paintings of you. These weren't meant for anyone's eyes but mine."

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Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.