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Authors: Emily Bryan

Stroke of Genius

BOOK: Stroke of Genius
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Stroke of Genius
Emily Bryan

LEISURE BOOKS   
   NEW YORK CITY

A Matter of Principles

Crispin noted that Grace was wearing a perfectly virginal wrapper with a nightshift that tied under her chin, but she was bathed in moonlight. And that made her a creature of night and desire.

Her face glowed luminously, her eyes enormous. Even her long plait was kissed by the shaft of liquid silver spilling into the room after him.

It left her looking almost exactly as she did when she visited his dreams. Barring the virginal wrapper and nightshift, of course.

“What is so important that you take such a risk to come to my window in the middle of the night?” she demanded in a furious whisper.

He swallowed hard. Why
had
he come? The moonlight made it hard to remember exactly.

Oh, yes. To see if she’d allow him to.

The game was always the same at its heart. Strip away a person’s wealth and power and what’s left? Only their principles.

Would Grace surrender her principles for him?

A book never happens without the help of a number of people.

First, I’d like to thank my husband who lets me freely borrow from him to give to my heroes!

Then my wonderful editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, who didn’t flinch when she saw Crispin Hawke, my genius hero, a fellow who’s been called the Regency’s answer to “House.” Of course, Crispin has less meanness and more charm, but the comparison is apt. You’re the best, Leah.

Thanks to Jane Lange, who entered the winning name in the Name a Character Contest on my Web site (www.emilybryan.com) last summer. My readers voted and Brice Wyckham was chosen as the name for Crispin Hawke’s faithful gentleman’s gentleman. Thank you, everyone who entered a name and everyone who voted for your favorite! Please drop by my Web site often. You never know when I’ll run another wild and wacky contest!

And lastly, I’d like to thank you, dear reader. You have many choices for entertainment. Thank you for picking up my book. You make it all possible. I love to hear from you, so please drop me a note through my Web site or blog!

Hope you love
Stroke of Genius!

Hugs,

Emily

Chapter One

Long ago, when the world was dewy fresh and ever so much younger than now, there lived an artist whose sculptures lacked only breath to give them life. The artist’s name was Pygmalion.

Starting from the well-formed foot and ankle, the long line of the man’s muscular leg ended in a disappointingly small fig leaf.

How typical,
Grace Makepeace thought as she squinted at the illustration.
Psyche must cavort about without a stitch, but Cupid’s most bewildering parts are always covered. And since whatever it is fits so neatly behind that tiny leaf…really, one wonders what all the fuss is about.

“For heaven’s sake, Grace, you must hurry or he’ll leave!”

“Mother, calm yourself.”

Grace didn’t lift her nose from her new copy of Reverend Waterbury’s
Mysteries of Mythology,
but she did flip quickly to the next page. If her mother had the slightest inkling of the number of scantily clad gods and goddesses the good reverend had included in his scholarly tome, she’d have an apoplectic fit on the spot.

“Why should I care if the fellow does leave?” Grace asked.

Astonished, Minerva Makepeace put a hand to her ample bosom. “Because, darling, Crispin Hawke is the best. Simply the best and we dare not settle for less. Why, the man is a bona fide genius with marble. The
world is watching, dear, all the time. If we set so much as one foot wrong—”

“We may as well go home to Boston,” Grace finished for her for the umpteenth time. She closed the book with a resigned snap.

“Precisely,” her mother said. “Oh, I’m so glad you understand how essential this interview is, dearie.”

Minerva either didn’t hear the sarcasm in Grace’s tone, or chose to ignore it. She never scolded or became cross, but when her mother set her heart on something, she wore her family down as surely as a determined drip leaves a dent in stone. Minerva’s heart was set on a titled husband for her daughter. And if acceptance by the
ton
of London hinged on having the fashionable artist Hawke “do” Grace’s hands in marble, then Minerva Makepeace would move heaven and earth to see it done.

Her mother shepherded Grace down the hall from the light-kissed library to the heavily curtained parlor.

“I don’t see why we need meet Mr. Hawke’s approval. We’re paying him, Mother,” Grace reminded her. “That means he’ll work for us.”

Minerva shushed her.

“Which means
I’ll
be the one doing the interviewing,” Grace finished as they neared the parlor door. But she didn’t say it loudly enough for her mother to hear.

Minerva swept into the parlor with a theatrical flourish, bunching the small train of her pale muslin gown in one hand. Grace followed, steeling herself to settle this as quickly as possible so she could return to the library.

“Mr. Hawke, we’re delighted, simply delighted that you’ve come.” Minerva swanned across the room with the borrowed elegance of the nouveau riche and extended her bejeweled hand to the man who rose from
the settee. His footman, resplendent in mauve livery with silver buttons, stood at attention in the corner.

Now I see what has the
ton
in a tizzy,
Grace mused.

Broad-shouldered and tall, Crispin Hawke didn’t seem the sensitive, artistic type. His raw, angular features didn’t fit the current vogue for male beauty, which called for a man’s eyes, nose and mouth to be smaller and more refined, almost pretty.

No one in their right mind would call Mr. Hawke that. Arresting, certainly. Rough-hewn, yes, but not pretty. Strong jaws, firm, well-shaped lips, unusual pewter gray eyes beneath dark brows—if he didn’t redefine the word “male,” Grace didn’t know who would.

Crispin Hawke was like a total eclipse. Dangerous. The backs of Grace’s eyes burned just looking at him.

If his person exuded a feral masculinity, his dress suggested utter civility. Grace would have guessed Mr. Hawke a duke at the least if she’d seen him on the street. His coat was cut in the first stare of fashion, draping over his lean hips in a Brummell-esque inverted U. His brocade waistcoat was in rich midnight blue.

Grace glanced at his skin-hugging buff trousers.

Bet he’d need a much bigger fig leaf.

His outfit was completed by Hessians glossed to a spit shine. Crispin Hawke might have stepped directly from a fashion plate. But Grace noticed he leaned more heavily on his walking stick than one would on a mere accessory. His curly dark hair was unstylishly long.

His gray eyes widened in what looked like recognition, but the expression was gone so quickly Grace decided she’d imagined it. Besides, if they’d met before she’d have remembered. No one would forget Crispin Hawke. His image was already burned in her mind alongside other wonders of the world.

His unhurried gaze traveled over her. The almost imperceptible twitch of his mouth gave her the distinct impression she’d been weighed in the balance. She couldn’t tell whether he found her sadly wanting.

“Such a pleasure to finally meet you, sir. Grace, this is Mr. Hawke. Mr. Hawke, may I present,” her mother indicated with a wave of her hand, “my dear daughter, Miss Grace Makepeace?”

Even though the mystery of Crispin Hawke commanded her full attention, Grace would always blame what came next on the upturned corner of her mother’s new Oriental rug. As she approached to offer her hand, palm down, as her mother had taught her, Grace caught the toe of her slipper under the carpet and fell headlong onto the Hakkari weave.

“Grace,” the footman murmured. “Aptly named.”

“Wyckham, I usually appreciate your scathing wit,” Mr. Hawke said over his shoulder to the footman as he knelt to help her rise, “but perhaps you might save it for a more deserving subject.”

Cheeks aflame, Grace tried to pull away from his grasp, unwilling to meet his gaze. But he didn’t let her go.

When she raised her eyes to him, he was looking down at her with such intensity, her belly clenched. A whiff of his scent—a brisk, clean, soapy smell with an underlying note of maleness—crowded her senses.

Grace was accustomed to slumping since her mother constantly reminded her that her height might be “off-putting” to potential suitors. Now she straightened her spine, but Mr. Hawke was still able to look down his fine nose at her.

The footman Wyckham cleared his throat and the spell was broken. Mr. Hawke released his grip on Grace’s arms.

“I trust you’re now capable of remaining upright, Miss Makepeace.” One corner of his mouth curved into a crooked smile.

“Oh, please do sit down, sir.” Her mother made a distressed little noise and fluttered over to a chair across from the settee like a wounded sparrow. “Come, dear, and mind your feet,” she said in a half whisper to Grace as she patted the chair next to her before turning her attention back to the artist. “I fear we’ve kept you waiting, Mr. Hawke.”

“Nonsense, madam.” He lounged on the settee, filling the space with his larger-than-life presence. “If you feared keeping me waiting you wouldn’t have done it.”

“Oh!” Minerva blinked hard at his bluntness. Grace sank into the chair next to her, wishing she could disappear into the red velvet. Or better yet, back into the books she loved. “Well, as I was saying, this is my daughter, Grace, the one whose hands you’ll be sculpting—”

“That, madam, has yet to be determined.”

Grace’s head snapped up. What sort of artisan was he, picking and choosing his commissions as if he were doing his patrons a favor by accepting their money?

He was still staring at her with single-minded intensity, his dark brows drawing closer together over his nose. Fashionable or not, all his features blended together to form a most harmonious face, even when frowning. He might have stepped from Reverend Waterbury’s pages as Mars, the god of war.

Her skin tingled under his intrusive gaze. She disliked the sensation. It was almost as if he knew more about her than he ought, as though he’d read her secret journal or sneaked into her dreams.

“Mr. Hawke, I’m newly arrived in your country, so perhaps you might clarify something for me.” Grace raised her chin slightly. The
ton
might be delirious over
Crispin Hawke, but she didn’t have to be. “Is rudeness what passes for genius in England these days?”

Mr. Hawke made a noise somewhere between a snort and a chuckle. He flicked his gaze toward her mother. “Leave us.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I didn’t tell you to beg, madam, though it may come to that if you cannot follow a simple directive. I told you to leave.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” Minerva said. “It wouldn’t be proper—”

“Mrs. Makepeace, we’ve only just met, but I perceive in you a very earthy imagination.” He arched a knowing brow. “What
do
you think I intend to do to your daughter in your absence?”

Grace’s mother erupted in a coughing fit.

“My man Wyckham will remain with us. The proprieties will be observed at all times, but if you wish me to accept your commission, you
will
allow me to speak to Miss Makepeace without your presence.”

“Oh, oh…” Minerva was rarely at a loss for words, but the unconventional Mr. Hawke nearly reduced her to incoherence. “But how will I explain to Mr. Makepeace?”

“If you need tell him anything, tell him you succeeded in acquiring my services. At half my usual fee.” He raised a cynical brow. “That should suffice.”

Grace watched in surprise as her proper mother rose and abandoned her to Mr. Hawke.

“Kindly close the door behind you,” he said, his rumbling tone more pleasant now that he was getting his way.

“Mother!”

“I won’t be far, dear,” Minerva said through the narrow slit in the door before it latched behind her with a loud click.

Crispin Hawke chuckled softly. “Dear me, Miss Makepeace, I do believe you mother thinks I’ll throw you to the floor and swive you right here in her very proper parlor.”

Grace gaped at him. She wasn’t completely sure of all the details involved in swiving, but she knew a casual obscenity when she heard one. Shocked, she began pacing the room to avoid looking at him. Even unpleasant as he was, Crispin Hawke was still too striking to consider for longer than a blink.

“Why did you bully my mother like that?”

“Because I could.” He propped his arms across the back of the settee, claiming the space as if by right. “Mind the rug, Grace. If you end up on the floor again, I might be tempted overmuch and I almost promised your highly esteemed mother there’d be no swiving today.”

“Stop saying that word.” She shot him a glare that should have reduced him to cinders, but he only laughed. “You manipulated her for your own amusement.”

“You’re remarkably astute for a spoiled little rich girl from Boston,” he said, managing to compliment and berate her in the same breath. “I bullied your mother because it interests me to learn how much value people assign to my work. As you deduced, it’s only a game, but a game with purpose. Money is nothing. But if someone surrenders their principles, that’s something. How else can I know my services are sufficiently appreciated for me to extend them?”

“That’s despicable. This
game
of yours is thoroughly
un
appreciated.” She flounced back onto her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t expect me to surrender anything for your services.”

“Of course not.” He leaned forward and reached toward her. “Give me your hands.”

“What?” Was this another of his games?

“Your hands, Grace.”

She might have found his smile charming if he’d not behaved so abominably, first to her mother and then to her.
Throw me down and swive me in the parlor, indeed, you conceited swine.

There was a disconcerting flutter beneath her ribs at the thought of sharing the Hakkari carpet with Mr. Hawke.

“I must see your hands, Grace. How shall I sculpt them otherwise?”

She thrust them toward him, but made a great show of looking away, staring with complete absorption at the ormolu clock her mother had recently installed on the fireplace mantel.

“Square nails, an ink stain, a bit of a callus on your third finger.” He cataloged her hands’ attributes as if they were inanimate objects somehow disconnected to the rest of her. “You favor your left hand.”

“What of it?”

“I do, too, which makes us a pair of rare birds. I perceive you are a writer of wicked penny novels.”

She glowered at him, but couldn’t fault his skills of observation. When she wasn’t reading, Grace was secretly writing what she hoped would be her first published work. And it was no penny novel!

“You should know that I don’t flatter my models.”

“How very surprising.”

“I only mean to warn you that your hands are not your best feature.” Despite his words, he continued to massage her wrists and hands with his rough, thick fingers. When he followed her lifeline to its end at the base of her thumb, pleasure licked her palm. “Would you like to know what is, Grace?”

“You are engaged to sculpt my hands. I care nothing for your opinion on the rest of me,” she lied.

He was outrageous and vulgar and totally impertinent. But she burned with curiosity about what he might find most pleasing about her. Asking, however, would only allow him to play yet another game.

“You should call me Miss Makepeace, you know.”

“Yes, I really should. And yet, I’ll call you Grace,” he said pleasantly as he traced between her fingers and turned her palms down to draw his thumbs over her knuckles. A little faerie of pleasure danced up her arm. “And you’ll call me…Mr. Hawke.”

“I certainly will not.” She pulled her hands away, her imaginary pleasure faerie disintegrating in a righteous puff of indignation. “If you insist on informality between us, it will go both ways, Crispin. Or should it be Cris?”

His wince was quick, but Grace caught it.

“Crispin will do,” he said.

“And yet,” she said with an arched brow, “I’ll call you Cris.”

He rose to his feet, leaning on the ivory-headed walking stick. “Come to my studio tomorrow. Eight of the clock sharp. Keep me waiting again, and it will be the last time.”

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