London’s loftiest lords and ladies packed the ballroom in the duke’s mansion for the wedding breakfast of Dominick Manton and his new bride, Jane. But despite the number of pretty women among them, Jeremy Keane, American artist and rumored rakehell, wanted only to flee.
He shouldn’t have attended. He should have stayed upstairs in his guest bedchamber doing preliminary sketches for his painting, even though inspiration eluded him and he still hadn’t found the right model. Anything would be better than enduring this paean to domestic bliss.
Thunderation. He hadn’t expected it to unsettle him so. Seeing a bride and groom smile adoringly at each other shouldn’t continue to bring back the past, to plague him with the guilt of knowing—
Muttering a curse, he snatched a glass off a tray held by a passing footman and downed champagne, wishing for something stronger. He couldn’t take much more of this.
With purposeful steps, he headed across the ballroom toward the entrance. He had to escape before he said or did something he regretted.
Then the woman of his imagination entered, and he stopped breathing. She was magnificent. She wore a dress of emerald silk that shimmered in a shaft of sunlight as if the heavens had opened to show her to him.
He couldn’t believe it. She was exactly the model he required for his latest work.
As he watched, the brunette glanced about her. Tall and luxuriously figured, she towered over the delicate Englishwomen simpering their way through the crowd. With her strong features, jewel-green eyes, and generous mouth, she was the very image of the Juno in Gavin Hamilton’s Juno and Jupiter. She even carried herself like that majestic Roman goddess.
She was absolutely perfect. It was not only in her looks, but her stance, at once self-effacing and imbued with drama. It was in the wariness lurking in her eyes.
He must have her. After months of looking for the right model, he deserved to have her.
That was, assuming she would agree to his proposition. She looked old enough to be her own woman, but he couldn’t tell from the cut of her ball gown if she was unattached, widowed, or married. He hoped it was one of the latter two. Because if she were a rank innocent, he’d have a devil of a time convincing her family to allow her to sit for him.
He started toward her.
“Jeremy!” cried a female voice behind him. “There you are!”
He turned to find Zoe, his distant cousin as well as the pregnant sister-in-law of the groom, waddling toward him. Damn. He was trapped. Worse yet, when he glanced back for his goddess in green, she’d vanished. Of all the blasted bad luck. In a mansion like the Duke of Lyons’s, there was no telling where she’d gone.
Stifling a curse, he faced Zoe. “Good evening, coz. Nice to see you again.”
After bussing him on each cheek, she pulled back to glare at him. “I haven’t laid eyes on you in three months and that’s the insipid welcome you give me?”
“I’m still tired from the trip,” he lied. “I just arrived from Calais yesterday evening, you know.”
“I’m so sorry you and your apprentice had to stay with Max and Lisette last night, instead of at our house. But what with the wedding—”
“You had too many other guests to juggle. I know. And t"With every book, Jeffries grows into an even more accomplished writer whose memorable characters and unforgettable stories speak to readers on many levels."