Lady Lucinda Malcolm Pembroke pulled
the hood of her gray mantle around her face and hurried down the
nearly empty halls of the art gallery ahead of the morning crowd.
halt until she reached a full-length portrait of a laughing
gentleman on a galloping white stallion.
Not precisely a gentleman, she
supposed, trying to be honest with herself. Romantic fantasies
be gentlemen. Looking up, she fell under the spell of the subject=s
mysterious dark eyes all over again. It was as if he looked just
at her and that they shared a wonderful secret. She=d
painted the portrait, so she knew its secret: the dashing
exist anywhere except in her imagination.
But that wasn=t
how rumor had it.
With a sigh, she admired the
exotically dark complexion, rakish smile, and unsettling eyes.
She loved the contrast between his scarred, piratical features and
his elegant clothes. She=d
deliberately given him a romantic white stallion and painted the
innocent background of a family fair to contrast with his aura of
d=anger. Amazingly, the playful setting seemed to suit him.
The man didn=t
exist. If he had, she would never have embarrassed herself and the
subject by entering the oil in the exhibition. She had even
signed the painting with just her initials, to avoid any potential
harm, except that there were enough people familiar with her style
to set rumor rolling. She would never understand why people saw
more in her art than she intended.
imagine why the Earl of Lansdowne would want to ruin her triumph
and this magnificent painting with his scandalous accusation. If
suffered an apoplexy immediately after seeing the portrait and
making his furious allegations, she would demand an apology. She
would never paint a murderer.
The sound of footsteps warned her
that the first arrivals at the gallery were approaching the back
hall more quickly than she=d
expected, probably heading directly for the scandal of the moment
rather than examining the better-known works in the front hall.
She had no intention of making a spectacle of herself by appearing
in public with the portrait. Looking around, she located a small
niche across the hall where she could sit, unobserved.
Her fingers itched for the
sketchbook and pencil in her pocket. She=d
like to have a drawing of the exhibition for posterity. After this
episode, her father wasn=t
likely to let her enter another oil, and she couldn=t
blame him. She=d
never meant to achieve notoriety. She=d
only wanted others to admire the portrait into which she=d
poured her heart and soul.
She peered around the corner of the
niche as a tall man strode determinedly in her direction, the
skirt of his elegant coat rippling about his legs with the
strength of his stride. The coat was tailored to fit shoulders and
a chest wider than that of most gentlemen. The lapels and cut
were of precisely this year=s
fashion, except that the coat was black. No gentleman wore black
in London, not even for mourning. How very odd.
His neckcloth was a pristine white
with just the right amount of starch for crispness without an inch
of foppery. His breeches were of a tawny silk that matched the
elaborate embroidery on the coat=s
lapels and pockets. His long vest matched his breeches and was
embroidered with black in a simplicity that caused her to sigh in
admiration. More gentlemen should accent their masculinity in
this way instead of dressing as peacocks.
But when he was close enough for her
to see his face, she gasped in horror and drew back as far into
the niche as she could go.
Crossing his arms over his new,
correctly tailored and damned expensive clothes, Sir Trevelyan
Rochester studied the ridiculous portrait hanging in the Royal Art
Gallery for the entire world to see. Fury bubbled at the outrage
perpetrated on a perfectly respectable piece of canvas that would
have been better used in making sails. He dropped his gaze to the
signature, LMP, and his ire flared anew. The coward hid behind
spent twenty years working his way up from impressed sailor to
owner of his own ship, and not one man in those twenty years had
dared insult him in such a flagrant mannerCnot
and lived to tell about it, anyway. He=d
defeated bloodthirsty pirates, captured French privateers, gained
his own letter of marque from the King of England himself, only to
be humiliated by an unknown artist on the other side of the world
who could not possibly know more than rumors of his exploits.
Had it not been for his desire for
peace and a home of his own rather than preparing for yet another
senseless war with France over the colonies, he would never have
walked the streets of London again. Had the artist counted on his
not returning to England?
He would make the damned man walk
the plank at sword point and dispense with the gossipmongering,
scandal-provoking scoundrel as a favor to society. It was the
duty of any self-respecting privateer to rid the world of enemies
to king and country.
resigned his commission and wasn=t
a privateer any longer, and Mr. LMP had provoked only him and not
king or country.
A deep scowl drew his eyebrows
together as he studied the details. It was his likeness, all
right, unless he had a twin somewhere he didn=t
know about. Given the propensities of his noble family, that was
possible but not likely.
The painting depicted himCSir
Trevelyan Rochester, knighted by His Majesty for action beyond the
call of dutyCriding
a prissy white horse adorned with red ribbons on a beach in the
midst of what appeared to be a summer fair. Trev assumed Mr. LMP
had intended to poke fun by decking out him, a feared privateer,
in macaroni attire of fluffy lace jabot and useless cuffs that
spilled lace past his fingers. The artist had given him boots
instead of clocked stockings, but the boots were cuffed and shiny
and foolish for riding.
The subject of the portrait was
defiantly hatless and wigless. A deep blue riband tied his hair
back, and one black strand blew loose to fall across his
battle-scarred cheek. Trev had to admit the artist had captured
his olive complexion and sharp features with painful accuracy.
mixed Jamaican heritage could not be denied. Brushed with tar,
his noble grandfather had called his coloring, just before he=d
let the Navy take him to do with as they would.
Still, the painting was hopelessly
silly. The man in it managed to look romantically dashing despite
a touch of savagery behind his flashing dark eyes. Trev didn=t
mind that so much, but the contrast between the man and the
frivolous white horse was laughable.
No wonder people were talking.
Still, he did not see what had sent his cousin=s
widow into such fits when he=d
arrived at her door. He=d
spent all his adult years on the other side of the world, and she
know him from Adam, but she had barely given him a minute to
introduce himself before slamming the door in his face.
It was James, their old butler, who
had sneaked out to explain about the portrait all London was
talking about. The preposterous painting was so well known that
word of it had spread even to the rural village in the south of
England where his late cousin=s
family resided. James hadn=t
had time to explain why the portrait was so scandalous. Or
perhaps he hadn=t
Trev hated being the center of
scandal before he=d
even set foot in England. He=d
come home hoping to turn his prize money into a respectable
merchant fleet so he could live out his remaining years in the
peace of England rather than the perpetual warfare over the West
Indies. He wanted the solidity of land beneath his feet for a
foolishly hoped that his wealth would pave his way despite his
mixed heritage and the earl=s
refusal to acknowledge his legitimacy. If he didn=t
know better, he=d
think his grandfather had planned this humiliation.
He studied the portrait, trying to
determine why he=d
been slandered and shut out before he could do anything to deserve
The painting made him look a fop, he
supposed, but he hadn=t
been in England to sit for it. He could see no reason for alarm,
except for the smirch on his masculinity. That could cause
difficulty in his search for a wife, but he doubted any sensible
woman in his presence would question his virility.
He was about to spin around and
stalk out when a whisper from the crowd gathering behind him
caught his ear. During years of living by his wits, he=d
learned to keep his senses tuned to all about him. He
say the earl had an apoplexy right on this spot.@
The whisper was distinctly feminine and horrified. Trev crossed
his arms and pretended to study the portrait.
a Malcolm prediction, of a certainty,@
another voice said in awe.
that boat sinking in the corner? It=s
The red is quite recognizable. They say he=s
been missing at sea for months.@
Trev ground his molars and
waited. Malcolm? The M in LMP stood for Malcolm? He would know
the full name of the blackguard who=d
put his face upon a wall without permission.
could be other red yachts,@
a male voice said scornfully.
the man certainly looks a pirate. No wonder the earl recognized
been in England since childhood,@
the first female voice protested.
could the artist have painted him so accurately that the earl
could recognize him, without having seen him?@
hold fairs on the shore in Sussex,@
a bored male voice drawled.
agree more. The silly little boat in the painting was hardly
noticeable. The grieving widow standing on the rocky shoreline
was buried in veils and could be anyone. An artist=s
ploy, contrasting laughter with grief or some such flummery. His
cousin had gone down at sea months ago, so to add his yacht to the
background was the artist=s
deliberate scandal-mongering, not foretelling.
Now he understood why his cousin=s
widow had slammed the door in his faceCthe
portrait showed him laughing as his cousin=s
yacht sank. He=d
have to wring the artist=s
neck after all. Laurence had been a good, decent man, and his
death was no laughing matter.
shire held a fair this year,@
a timid voice countered.
new Duke of Sommersville sponsored one. That is when the yacht
The crowd murmured more loudly as
the conversation picked up in several places at once.
looks dangerous enough to have murdered his cousin,@
someone said in response to a comment about his scar.
Trev snorted. No self-respecting
murderer would wear that much lace, he wagered. It would get all
bloody. Just try using a sword with lace wrapped around the
that the viscount=s
gone, if the earl dies, Rochester could claim the title,@
said a female, followed by a horrified,
man should hang!@
Trev figured neither spectator knew
what she was talking about since Laurence had left an infant son
as heir and his grandfather had declared him illegitimate. Truth
never fazed good gossip, though.
Both comments overrode the more
sensible voice that said,
the man says he just arrived in England, and the viscount died
know Lady Lucinda,@
a timid female interjected.
always paints one of her kittens into the landscape. See the
orange tabby in the tree? It died of old age in April. That oil
was painted last winter, well before the viscount=s
yacht went down. I saw her working on it.@
A gasp of awe escaped the fascinated
crowd, and Trev gritted his teeth at this nonsense.
the Prophetess painted it, then it must be true,@
said another woman. AShe
painted Pelham in his grave before he died.@
painted my mother walking across Westminster Bridge before it was
Roxbury fainted when she saw the Prophetess in the parkC
painting Roxbury with a woman that wasn=t
her and children that weren=t
know his mistress is bearing his child,@
someone else murmured.
The whispers grew riper and louder,
but Trev disregarded all the gossip except the relevantCa
woman artist! Rocked by the enormity of such perfidiousness, he
had only one thought in mindCto
locate this attention-seeking Prophetess who had painted him as
murderer and throttle her until she admitted to all London that
the painting was a hoax. Furious, he swirled around to cut a path
through the crowd.
Confronted with the man in the
portrait come to life before their eyes, the crowd recoiled in
Feeling as murderous as they
believed him, Trev stalked off without looking right or left.
Lucinda slid deeper into the shadows
of the alcove and held her breath until Sir Trevelyan swept past,
bronzed features scowling, Spanish eyes flashing, and manly
Her gaze dropped to the lethal
rapier emerging from his coattails, and she trembled.
Foolishly, her traitorous fingers
itched for her paintbrushes. This time, she wanted to paint him
as a thundercloud in the form of a man. She could see now that
her first attempt was sadly lacking in comparison with the
The man actually existed! The Earl
of Lansdowne had been right. She couldn=t
believe it. How could she have painted a man in her head, only to
see him walk out of a crowd like that? Could the other gossip be
true then? Had that man, that pirate, been in England during the
fair as she=d
painted him? Could she have actually seen him last winter, when
filled her dreams?
think she wanted to be around to find out. He looked angry enough
to commit murder, but oddly enough, she=d
been drawn to the sadness in his dark eyes. There was something
in the way he held himself. . . She couldn=t
put her finger on why he fascinated her.
what she deserved for listening to romantic tales of heroes and
villains told by silly women with nothing better to do. She really
ought to know better than to waste her time in ballrooms and
salons listening to the chatter of simpering misses. It had been
the fashion this season to admire heroes. The tales they=d
told of commanders at sea and warriors on land and knights of old
had given her dreams until she=d
had to capture them on canvas.
She supposed they had talked of
privateers like Sir Trevelyan, who had captured a renegade French
warship that had blocked a British harbor a year or so ago. She
remembered the story anyway, but she=d
not been thinking of it when she=d
painted the portrait. At the time, she=d
thought the painting showed a fantasy hero with a romantic, fun
loving nature. She=d
thoroughly enjoyed the contradictions of character she=d
She could dash that foolery right
now. She couldn=t
imagine anyone less romantic or more dangerous than the man who=d
just left the gallery. Perhaps there was some truth behind the
rumor of his being a murderer after all. After all, privateers were
licensed to kill.
She shivered, and, tucking the hood of
her mantle more securely over her distinctive white-blond hair,
hastened to a back exit.
If rumor were true, Sir Trevelyan
Rochester had murdered his cousin to claim the title and estates his
grandfather had denied him.
If rumor were true, her painting
provided evidence that Rochester had been in England when he had
said he was not, destroying his credibility and alibi.
She knew the last rumor was based on
false assumptions, but how would she ever explain the coincidence of
the resemblance? She couldn=t.
And now a dangerous privateer knew her name.
caused scandals enough in the past but none of this magnitude. It
was past time she left London before the privateer stormed the walls
of her home to murder her.
Copyright 2005 Patricia Rice