His lust for revenge will be his downfall…
London, 1815. Eliza Somerton has a dangerous secret. As the daughter of the infamous art forger who duped half the ton, she’s rebuilt her life under a new name. But when an old forgery goes up for auction, her father’s enemy, Grayson Montgomery, outbids her and presents her with an unimaginable choice: help him find her father or he’ll ruin her.
For years, Grayson, the Earl of Huntingdon and one of London’s top art critics, has sought justice. His well-laid plans finally come to fruition when he learns of his enemy’s beautiful daughter. But Eliza possesses a sensuality and independent spirit that weakens his resolve, and as the heat between them sizzles, what started as revenge soon blossoms into something sinful…
“Do you like what you see?”
Eliza spun around at a masculine voice. Lord Huntingdon stood in the doorway—tall, broad, and compellingly male. Her heart started to pound. Goodness! In the afternoon sunlight from the drawing room windows, he was even more handsome than at the auction. He was dressed in a meticulously tailored jacket of navy superfine, buff-colored trousers, and shiny black Hessians. His dark hair curled around his collar, and he appeared to be a gentleman of fashion that matched the artwork in his drawing room.
But Eliza wasn’t fooled. There was a predatory gleam in his dark eyes that simmered beneath his polished veneer.
How long had he stood there observing her?
“I was told you weren’t receiving,” she said.
“I wasn’t. Until my butler informed me I was to buy artwork from you.” His tone held a note of challenge.
She forced herself to smile, all the while wondering if he would have her thrown out.
But the earl strolled into the room and held up her card. “The Peacock Print Shop. What precisely do you sell?”
“Paintings, engravings, and decorative items. Work from aspiring, local artists.”
“You compete with Ackerman’s in the Strand?”
“Not its clientele. Our customers are well-to-do merchants who wish to own a piece of art, but not pay Ackerman’s exorbitant prices,” she said.
She looked at the frames on the drawing room wall and struggled to maintain an even, conciliatory tone. “I don’t see the Jan Wildens painting that you purchased at the Tutton auction.”
An appealing smile curved his lips. “Ah, I knew there must be more to your visit than you led my butler to believe, Mrs. Somerton. For a moment, I thought you liked me.”
Could he tell she found him attractive? She struggled to calm her racing heart and gave him a pointed look. “Let us speak plainly, my lord. I don’t believe you truly desire the Wildens painting.”
He tsked. “Untrue. I plan on hanging it in my private gallery. Would you like a tour?”
She’d love one. She could spend hours in a museum if she were not a struggling tradeswoman. “Thank you, but no. I truly am here on business.”
“Business?” He arched a dark eyebrow as if the mere thought of a woman visiting for business purposes was ludicrous.
“Yes. I have a proposition for you.”
He walked closer, his smooth movements reminding her of a jungle cat. “A proposition? What an interesting choice of words.”
Her pulse skittered alarmingly at his nearness. “A business offer, my lord.”
“You have my interest.” He gestured toward a pale gold settee. “Please sit, Mrs. Somerton. If we are to discuss your offer, let’s be comfortable.”
He ignored a nearby armchair and sat beside her on the settee. Leaning against the cushions, he stretched his long legs, his polished Hessians shining in the sunlight streaming from the windows.
Eliza was not easily intimidated. She was no longer a young girl straight from the schoolroom, but a woman who worked for her living. But Lord Huntingdon was an imposing man…a big man. Everything about him was alarming, from his height of over six feet, to his broad shoulders, and his chiseled features. He was rumored to be immensely wealthy, a much sought-after bachelor who could be charming when it served him, and highly intelligent.
It was the last trait that concerned her.
“It’s not every day a beautiful lady visits with a business proposal.”
His voice, deep and sensual, sent a ripple of awareness through her.
She took a breath. “It should come as no surprise to you that I want the Jan Wildens painting.”
“It’s not for sale.”
She placed her leather case on a dainty end table and withdrew an engraving. “I plan to sweeten the deal. As I stated, I sell works from aspiring, local artists. They are exquisite pieces. As an influential art critic and enthusiastic collector, I’m sure you will be interested.”
Just as she thought, his curiosity was piqued at the mention of the artwork. The engraving was of a religious scene, Madonna with child, and the work painstaking and impressive. The artist, an unknown laborer, displayed his work at Eliza’s shop. Once sold, they would split the earnings.
Huntingdon sat forward and studied the piece. “The detail is quite astonishing for a new artist.”
Hope blossomed in her chest. “You can have it plus the fifty pounds I had planned to pay at the auction in exchange for the Wildens painting.”
Pushing the engraving aside, his dark eyes studied her intently. “It’s not enough.”
Her heart sank.
Then he leaned close, very close, until she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. Her pulse quickened and a disturbing tingling began in the pit of her stomach. She’d been wrong about his eyes, she realized. They weren’t black, but a rich, coffee brown.
“There are other types of beauty,” he said, “living beauty which I crave.”
Her heart thundered at his outrageous words. “How dare you! I’m not for sale, my lord.”
“Ah, but you are, Mrs. Somerton. You are very much for sale, and I—”
She came to her senses and reached up to slap him. But he was too quick, grasping her wrist before she made contact with his cheek.
His eyes narrowed. “The Jan Wildens oil is a forgery, albeit a meticulous and frighteningly good one,” he said, his voice cold and exact.
A cold knot formed in her stomach. “I don’t know what you’re—”
“You’re very good. At first I thought it was your father’s work, but the brushwork is slightly different, the signature not a perfect match. You were taught well. I’m not surprised since you’re Jonathan Miller’s daughter.”
She felt as if her breath was cut off. He thought she had created the forgery. She’d go to her grave before she confessed it was her sister’s work.
Her voice wavered. “You can’t prove it.”
“I am an expert.”
“You were wrong before, as I recall,” Eliza said sharply.
She could have bit her tongue the moment the words left her lips. His face hardened like granite at the mention of the past when he had been fooled by her father.
His fingers tensed on her wrist. “I lost my credibility as a critic at the Royal Academy because of your father. It took me years to earn back my reputation. Jonathan Miller was never found and tried for his crimes.”
She was right; Huntington thirsted for revenge. She’d come here to prevent disaster, but had caused it instead. She suppressed the panic rising in her chest. She couldn’t give in to it now, not when she needed all her wits about her to survive.
He released her wrist suddenly. “Your choice of artwork to forge is interesting. The Flemish painter Jan Wildens—an artist who often painted backgrounds for the popular Peter Paul Rubens.”
“I’m duly impressed by your artistic knowledge.”
He ignored her sarcasm. “Wildens is someone your father would have chosen. Miller never copied the masters, but less acknowledged artists, oftentimes a master’s students or assistants. That way the history of a painting’s ownership was much more ambiguous and could be concocted by a crafty and shrewd art broker.”
It was true. Amelia had followed her father’s reasoning when she’d chosen to forge Jan Wildens.
Despite her inner turmoil, Eliza lifted her chin and boldly met his gaze. “Since you’re certain of your opinion, I shall see myself out—”
“Oh no, you won’t. You’ve come to bargain, remember?”
“I have nothing you want.”
He gave her body a raking gaze. “To the contrary, I like what I see.”
An alarming heat curled low in her belly. Could she do it? Trade her body for the painting…for their survival?
Yes, if it means protecting Amelia and Chloe.
She swallowed hard and looked into his eyes. “Just what are you proposing?”
His mouth twisted wryly. “As tempting as I find the offer, Mrs. Somerton. I’ve never forced a woman into my bed. I’ve never had the need.”
She felt her face grow hot with humiliation. Had she misinterpreted so badly? “Then what do you want?”
About the Author
Tina Gabrielle, an award-winning author, is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. She's the author of adventurous Regency romances In The Barrister's Bed, In The Barrister's Chambers, Lady Of Scandal, and A Perfect Scandal from Kensington Books. "A Spy Unmasked" is the first book in her new Regency romance series, "In The Crown's Secret Service," and will be released from Entangled Publishing on November 10, 2014. "At The Spy's Pleasure" will be available in April 2015. Tina's books have been Barnes & Noble top picks, and her first book, Lady Of Scandal, was nominated as best first historical by Romantic Times Book Reviews.