They settled into a routine-though settled was a bad word for it, in Mac's opinion. Each morning, they'd eat breakfast and read their correspondence, then Isabella and Mac would climb to the nursery to say good morning to Aimee and sit with her while she had her breakfast. Afterward, Nanny Westlock would begin Aimee's activities for the day, and Mac and Isabella would retire to the attic.
Mac worked on the paintings, and while he did so, he made sketches of Isabella's face for a portrait he wanted to complete later. They'd make love two or three times each sitting, neither of them able to keep their hands off the other. Perhaps the forbidden nature of what they did charged the air. After all, they were hiding from the rest of the household and making naughty pictures together.
After each painting session, they parted ways to write letters or take care of their own errands, although whenever Isabella needed to leave the house, Mac went with her. They'd run their errands together, he cheerfully carrying Isabella's parcels, she looking tolerantly bored as he settled accounts at the bank or spoke with Gordon about whatever business. No more mention was made of reversing their separation.
Mac didn't mind dawdling outside the ribbon shops or the elegant trinket stores in the Burlington Arcade while Isabella shopped. He was a man smitten with his beautiful wife, and he noted that smirks from passing gentlemen changed to looks of envy whenever Isabella emerged from a shop and took Mac's arm.
In the afternoon, they'd walk in the park or drive in the landau, depending on the weather or on what courtship activity Mac asked Isabella to do that day. They attended museum exhibits in bad weather, gardens and parks in good, or went sightseeing to the Tower or Madame Tussauds when the fit took them.
Payne had made himself scarce after accosting Isabella in the park, and Mac hoped against hope that the man had gone back to Sheffield and ceased his masquerade. Payne had never returned to the rooms he'd let, and Fellows had to admit that he'd reached a dead end.
Mac still wanted to kill him, but what he mostly wanted was the man out of their lives. Payne could fade into obscurity, and Mac could return to pursuing life with Isabella.
They'd ceased arguing about their separation, or about why Isabella had left him, or about the pain each of them had gone through. All of that was in the past. This was now, a new beginning. Aimee, of all people, had brought stability to their life, and Mac was going to enjoy it as much as he possibly could. He knew it would come crashing down, because everything in Mac's life crashed down sooner or later. But for now, he could admit to being happy.
By mid-October, he had finished four paintings of Isabella.
Isabella surveyed them critically as Mac varnished the last one. "They're very good," she said
. "Vivid. I can believe this is a lady who enjoys her lover."
The first painting was of Isabella lolling back on the chaise. She dangled one leg from it, her foot brushing the floor; the other foot was propped up with her knee bent, fully exposing the goodness between her legs. She'd lifted one arm over her head, her br**sts standing up in firm peaks.
The second painting showed her leaning over the back of the chaise, hips stuck out, head bowed, ready for her lover. In the third, she sat upright on the chaise, her hands cupping her br**sts, ni**les poking through her fingers. The fourth was her spread-eagled on a bed. Her right wrist and left foot were tethered to the posts with slackly tied ribbons; ribbons crumpled on the bed in the other two corners as though torn off in exuberant play. Mac and Isabella's coupling had been enthusiastic when he'd painted that one.
A jar of yellow roses appeared in each painting, either in full bloom, or drooping with petals falling. The famous Mackenzie yellow balanced the scarlet hues of the draperies and ribbons.
None of the paintings showed Isabella's face. Mac had painted her either in shadow or obscured by a fall of dark hair. No one viewing these pictures would realize that Mac had painted his wife.
Mac tossed his brush into a glass jar filled with oil of turpentine. "They aren't bad."
Isabella gave him a look of surprise. "What are you talking about? They're gloriously beautiful. I thought you said you'd lost your ability to paint."
"I had." Mac wiped his brush on a rag, then stood the brush upright in a jar to dry.
"An inspiring subject, perhaps. A woman ripe for play."
"An inspiring model."
Isabella rolled her eyes. "Please don't pretend I'm your muse, Mac. You painted brilliantly before you ever met me."
Mac shrugged. "All I know is that when you left me, and I ceased to be a drunken sot, I couldn't paint a stroke. Here you are, and here's what I've done."
They were erotic paintings, yes, but not in the crass or crude way in which his friends thought of erotica. These were some of the most amazing things Mac had ever painted.
Drink might have been the thing that gave his paintings force before he met Isabella, but after meeting her . . . Mac had the right of it; she had become his muse. When he'd had neither drink nor Isabella, his talent had vanished. Now it had returned.
These paintings gave Mac giddy hope, excited him beyond happiness. He could paint without having to be drunk. He only needed to be intoxicated by Isabella.
Isabella studied the pictures. "Well, at least you'll be able to make the awful Randolph Manning eat his wager. You've won."
"No," Mac said in a quiet voice. "I've lost. I will find my friends and tell them I forfeit."