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Authors: The Painted Lady

Grahame, Lucia

BOOK: Grahame, Lucia
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The Painted Lady by Lucia Grahame

A DESPERATE BEAUTY TRAPPED BY FATE

Sadness shadowed Fleur Brook's lovely, famous face. Because of her
young husband's success as a painter, all of Paris and London's beau monde
recognized the proud, dark-haired woman who had not only been his wife but his
most inspiring model. Few knew the secrets behind his untimely death and the
terrible betrayal that had left Fleur without a penny and with a heart she felt
had turned to stone.

A DARKLY BROODING NOBLEMAN ENSNARED BY PASSION

Reserved and understatedly elegant, Sir Anthony Camwell could not
have been more different from the exuberant Frederick Brooks -- except in his
captivation by the exquisite Fleur. Now, newly widowed, she had reluctantly
accepted Sir Anthony's proposal of marriage, although she remained indifferent
to his touch ... not noticing the flame that burned behind his cool gray eyes.

A BARGAIN BORN OF DESIRE

Amid the lavish surroundings of the Camwell ancestral estate he
was fire, but she was unmelting ice. Then he made his stunning offer: her
freedom and a fortune to live on if she agreed to his terms -- five nights of
unquestioning, unrestrained surrender to what he planned to teach her ... the
exquisite art of love.

 

Surrender of the Heart

At last Anthony leaned over me, but without touching me.

"You're so compliant tonight," he said, almost tenderly.
"You must be very hungry for your freedom,
mon fleur du miel."

I felt a twist of sadness. For an instant I thought he had used
Frederick's nickname for me. But he had called me something quite different—a
flower not of evil but of sweetness... honey.

He brought his hand to my cheek and stroked it softly. I closed my
eyes. Only the sudden sharp intake of my breath could have told him of the
effect of that light touch.

He bent his head. I caught the scents of mint and smoke and my own
secrets as his mouth moved close to mine. How long I had resisted those kisses!
Now I craved his mouth, wanting to savor and prolong every sensation.

He barely grazed my lips with his.

"You are free now," whispered my husband at last,
releasing me, "to do as you like.... How will you use your liberty?"

For an answer I put my arms around his neck, pulling him down to
me, and brought my wild mouth to his....

 

FANFARE are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam
Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993 by Susan Andres.

Cover art copyright © 1993 by Wendi Schneider.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 92-39009

ISBN 0-553-29864-X

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

PROLOGUE

PARIS, SEPTEMBER 1888

"Who is that woman?" murmured Anthony Camwell, just as
his dining companion, Philip Harborough, broke off a monologue in midsentence
to take another swallow of wine.

The two young men were sitting at a corner table in the
low-ceilinged dining room of the Coq d'Or in the Rue Montmartre. Both were
English, but Philip, who had come to Paris a few years earlier to study at the
School of Decorative Arts, now made his home there. Anthony was merely a
visitor.

"Woman! What woman? You haven't heard a word I've said!"
exclaimed Philip. He had shaggy brown hair and a drooping moustache, and his
sack coat, though obviously well made, looked as if he had slept in it.

Anthony leaned back in his chair with a cool, amused smile. He was
fair-haired and clean-shaven, and the flawless tailoring of his impeccable
evening clothes whispered of Savile Row.

"You are unjust, Philip," he said, subtly mimicking
Philip's aggrieved tone. "I have been hanging upon your every syllable as
if my life depended on it."

Yet even as he spoke, his gray eyes traveled back across the room
to a table where an exuberant party of six were clinking their goblets—five of
champagne and one which appeared to hold nothing stronger than
eau min
é
r
à
le.
It was the abstemious member of the group who had captivated Anthony's
attention. She seemed, in a way, so familiar; he might have known her for
years. But he had never seen her previously; he was certain of it, for had he glimpsed
her only once before, she would not be a stranger to him now. He would not have
allowed her to be.

"You liar! Your eyes have been wandering for the better part
of an hour! I'll stake a bottle of Château-Lafitte that you have no idea what
I've just told you!"

"Very well, but I won't hold you to it," was Anthony's
unruffled reply. "You've been boasting that the man to whom you have
rented half of your studio—I assume it was the divanless half—is the greatest
unsung genius in all of Paris. I congratulate you. At least now one may hope
that
something
of value will emerge from your atelier."

Philip sputtered for a second. Now and then he produced exquisite
pen-and-ink sketches of Parisian life, but having an independent income, he
worked only when he felt like it, which was not often.

"So you think my white nights produce nothing of value!"
he cried.

"They might, Philip, they might," Anthony told him.
"But only if you would put down your glass, send the ladies home, and take
up your pen once in a while. However, tonight I will not lecture you. For once,
I want to discuss a far more serious matter than your poor, wasted talents— who
is that woman at the far end of the room sitting across from Marguerite
Sorrel?"

Philip twisted in his chair to follow his companion's gaze.

"You don't know Frederick Brooks!" he cried. "Now
there's
a man who can paint! And the woman with him? His wife, of course! And favorite
model, as
you—"

He was halted midstream by the expression on Anthony's face.

"That's
Fleur Brooks?" exclaimed Anthony
with mingled wonder, disbelief, and ill-concealed dismay.

"As
you
ought to know!" concluded Philip. Then,
immensely gratified at having gained his companion's full attention, he added,
"I'm shot, Tony, if I've ever seen
you
thrown! What's done it to
you?"

He
had
been thrown.

So that black-haired angel who'd fired his imagination in ways no
other woman had ever done was Fleur Brooks.

Anthony had recognized the famous Madame Sorrel from evenings at
the theater, but how had he failed to place her lovely companion? His own
cousin, Neville Marsden, had helped to lift Frederick Brooks from rags to
riches by buying up one canvas after another. And Fleur Brooks must have
modeled for at least half of them. How often had those haunting green eyes
gazed down upon him from the walls of his cousin's home in London! But even
Frederick Brooks's consummate skill had not done justice to the roses in her
cheeks, much less conveyed her air of gentle, effervescent joy, as enveloping
and seductive as the scent of Spanish jasmine on a summer night's breeze.

For the last hour he had watched her showering subtle,
affectionate attentions upon the high-spirited fellow at her side, and he had
felt the unfamiliar sting of envy. He had sensed, rather than heard, the soft
ripple of her easy, generous laughter at her companions' unintelligible jokes.
He had been a silent witness to every tender favor she bestowed. Even now he
felt his pulse race as she reached up, almost as if she could not help herself,
to smooth her husband's thick, reddish gold hair with graceful, delicate
fingers. Then she leaned forward to whisper something into Brooks's ear, and
Anthony saw her lips brush his cheek.

He pulled his eyes away.

For not only were the Brookses one of the handsomest couples in
Paris, they were uncontestably the most happily mated.

But in the end, he could not keep his gaze from straying back to
her. The enchantment was too strong. Across the room, she glowed quietly, like
an unwavering beacon.

"Frederick Brooks is a lucky fellow," observed Philip,
following his friend's eyes once again.

"A lucky fellow, indeed," murmured Anthony.

"Would you care to visit their table?"

"What! Do you know the Brookses?"

"No, but I do know Théo Valory—La Sorrel's husband. He is
ignoring me tonight because we have quarreled. But it's been three weeks
already, and if I were to pretend that I had been in the wrong, I could
probably patch things up with him this very instant!"

"Oh, don't think of swallowing your pride on my
account!" protested Anthony hastily. "Besides," he added with a
wry smile, "you
are
my friend, I hope, and it could hardly be
counted as an act of friendship to urge the moth closer to the flame."

He spoke lightly, but in fact he was feeling so helplessly
corroded with envy, an emotion he had always regarded as far, far beneath him,
that he was ashamed. He would have gladly forfeited his birthright, his name,
and his bachelor freedom for the privilege of walking home in Frederick Brooks's
shoes. To think of leaving the tavern with that woman on his arm, of leading
her to a moonlit bed beneath a skylight in a breathless, silent room, and of
losing himself in her warmth and sweetness until the sun rose upon them
both.... Oh, if he were the man at her side,
he
would never have
lingered so long at the Coq d'Or! He would not be calling now for yet another
bottle!

But it seemed that the ebullient group was at last starting to
break up. The two young men who'd completed the table of six were rising to
their feet and had begun to make their farewells.

"That's Guy Hazelton," observed Philip, tipping his head
toward the dark-eyed one with the mane of chestnut hair. "He was at school
with Brooks back in England, but lately he's become even better friends with
Madame than with her husband."

Anthony shot his friend a quelling glance. Surely Philip, who knew
everything about everybody, could not be insinuating some illicit liaison
between Fleur Brooks and Hazel-ton? The woman was obviously head over heels in
love with her husband. It was impossible to mistake that look upon her face.

"And
that's
Lord Harry Boulmer," Philip went on,
warming to his subject. He dropped his voice. "It's not widely known, of
course, beyond their intimate friends, but he and Hazelton are lovers."

Anthony felt the muscles in his face relax. His enormous faith in
his own astuteness would have been rudely shaken had Philip persuaded him that
a woman could smile at her husband the way Fleur Brooks did while carrying on
an affair with another man.

But what difference could it make to him whether Fleur Brooks was
a faithful wife or an unfaithful one, whether her circle of friends was wide
and generous or narrow and exclusionary? If it were ever wide enough to include
him, he was certain his life would become a hell as well as a heaven.

Although the number at his table had shrunk, Brooks still seemed
intent upon making the party last. Now he was trying to fill his wife's glass
with champagne, but she'd covered the goblet with her hand and was shaking her
head and laughing up at her husband with a look that Anthony would have sold
his soul to have aimed at him.

After a short while, he managed to persuade Philip to move on to
the Cafe Nouvelle-Athènes, which was already filled with some of the city's
most spectacular women.

But tonight Anthony Camwell
barely noticed them.

 

At the Coq d'Or, Fleur Brooks, who had abstained from the
champagne, was intoxicated with happiness.

They had come to the tavern, one of the oldest in the quarter,
ostensibly to celebrate a commission that Frederick had just won, but for Fleur
every such occasion—and lately there had been many—was also a celebration of
her own impending joy.

More than five years had passed since a benevolent twist of fate
had brought Frederick Brooks into her life, and so much that was equally
amazing and wonderful had happened since....

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