"Good heavens, it's actually warm in here," Isabella said in wonder. "I wore my warmest dressing gown, but it seems you stoked the fire."
Mac kept his gaze resolutely on the paint he mixed. "Bellamy did. Can't have her ladyship catching her death, can we? Lock the door, love, unless you want members of my family blundering in to catch you in your altogether."
The lock clicked, and Isabella's dressing gown whispered as she crossed the room. "Am I to sit here?"
Mac busied himself mixing the exact shade of yellow that had made him famous. "Mmm hmm."
"I'll just make myself comfortable until you're ready, then."
Mac worked his palette knife through the paint in hard strokes. He dribbled in some green-far too much. Damn. He threw the batch into a scrap bucket and started again.
"My ride this morning was quite fine, thank you," Isabella said, the blasted dressing gown rustling some more. "Such brisk weather. Refreshing."
A touch more cadmium yellow and it would be perfect. "Mmm hmm."
"Hart rode with me. We had a long conversation. He asked me if I thought it a good idea if he married again."
Mac's muscles worked as he kneaded the large glob of paint to just the right consistency. Anyone who claimed painting wasn't hard work was a bloody fool.
Isabella went on. "We also saw a few pigs flying. Which likely explains what I'm doing up here with you in nothing but a dressing gown."
Mac finally turned.
Isabella was sitting on the edge of the chaise like a debutante at her first tea party. She had her feet primly on the floor, her hands in her lap. Her red hair was pulled into a simple knot, a few tendrils escaping it. The dressing gown was voluminous, but the silk clung to her bare body, and a curve of breast peeked coyly from the opening.
Mac had set the backless chaise in front of a crimson brocade curtain. One end of the chaise was raised so a lady could recline, half-sitting, half-lying. Mac had piled it with white silk draperies and cushions of brilliant gold. A bowl of bright yellow roses stood on the table next to it. Some of the rose petals had already drooped and fallen.
He drew a sharp breath and made himself turn away. "Lie down and pull the white cloths over your middle. I'll begin in a minute."
He'd barked similar instructions at many a model, feeling nothing as they slid out of their garments and draped themselves over whatever piece of furniture he'd provided. To Mac models were things of light and shadow, lines and colors. The best ones could breathe life into those lines and colors-without talking, wriggling, whining, or trying to flirt with him.
He moved to his easel with his charcoal pencil, keeping his gaze on the canvas
. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Isabella calmly undo the fastenings that held her gown closed. His heartbeat rocketed.
You've painted her before. This is a picture, nothing more.
He had to look-how was he supposed to paint her without looking at her?
Mac looked. And stifled a groan.
Isabella lay propped on one elbow, her body half-turned toward him, the white sheet trickling across her abdomen. Her creamy br**sts were tipped with dusky red, and coppery orange prickled from between her thighs. When they'd first married, Isabella had been eighteen, and her br**sts had been high and round, firm little peaches. Six and a half years later, her br**sts hung a little lower and her hips were rounder-womanly curves replacing the straight lines of the girl. She was so beautiful he wanted to weep.
"Mac?" Isabella lifted her hand and snapped her fingers. "Are you still here, Mac?"
"Mesmerized." Mac made himself give her a clinical glance, as though she were a bowl of fruit he'd set up to paint. Fruit. Lord help me. "This is an erotic picture. Your pose is too tame."
"Well, I don't know much about erotic pictures, do I?"
Mac steadied his voice with effort. "Pretend you've been ravished repeatedly by your lover and then left on your own."
"Ah." Isabella sat up, tucked her feet under her, and mimed writing something on her lap.
Mac stared. "What the devil are you doing?"
"Writing a letter to my solicitor, naming my ravisher in a suit, and outlining the amount I expect to receive in damages."
His heart started thumping again. "Amusing, love. Now lie back down. And sprawl."
Her brows arched. "Sprawl? How does one sprawl?"
"Do you mean to tell me that the art of sprawling was never taught at Miss Pringle's Select Academy?"
"Neither was taking off one's clothes to be painted," Isabella said. "Nor how one looks after one is ravished. Perhaps I should speak to Miss Pringle about amending the curriculum."
Mac laughed. "I dare you. And please let me be there when you do."
"I imagine that by ravished, you mean disheveled." Isabella rubbed her hand through her hair. More tendrils fell from the bun and straggled across her cheek.
She was going to kill him. They were speaking rapidly and lightly, as though none of this truly mattered, but both of them were nervous. Or at least Mac was. Isabella, as always, looked cool and composed.
"More than disheveled," he said. "You have been thoroughly spent by a night of grand passion."
"I will have to use my imagination then. I'm not sure what that is like."