Authors: Stefanie Sloane
“Clarissa,” he pleaded in a low husky tone, finishing with the wrap. He forcefully removed her hands from his arms, his darkened gaze fixed on hers. “There is no point in dredging up the past.”
She closed her eyes, swaying with relief at being able to draw deep, unfettered breaths with the wrap removed. James caught her and held her against him, his hands settling at her bare waist. Clarissa set her own hands on his. “I assumed that you wanted all of me too. How could I have been so wrong?”
She opened her eyes and looked at him, catching her breath at the depth of emotion that played over his face. He felt the pain too, deep down in his heart, where she couldn’t have known it was hiding.
And then he kissed her hard, his lips bruising hers as he demanded more. His tongue forced her mouth open, plunging with a possessiveness that both terrified and excited Clarissa. He picked her up, the strength of his arms wrapped around her, crushing her bare breasts against his chest. She laced her hands behind his neck as he walked toward the bed, her tongue meeting his with matching ardor.
Then he tossed her in the air and she landed, sprawling on the soft, overstuffed bed.
“Good night, Clarissa,” he uttered in a barely measured tone, his breathing labored.
Her head was spinning and she closed her eyes, certain she’d misheard him. But when she looked again, he was gone. She was alone in the beautifully decorated blue room.
The Devil in Disguise
The Angel in My Arms
The Sinner Who Seduced Me
The Sinner Who Seduced Me
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books Mass Market Original
Copyright © 2011 by Stefanie Sloane
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration: Alan Ayers
No flowery words or clever turns of phrase.
Just know that you own my heart
and you always will.
Late Summer 1811
“Crimson?” the male voice drawled in disbelief. “
Lady Clarissa Collins steadied her hand as she brushed the bright hue onto the canvas. She stepped back and narrowed her violet eyes critically over the voluptuous female model draped across the blue damask divan. The elegant sofa was placed several yards away from her easel and angled toward the outer studio wall. The late morning sun poured through the windows that made up the southern wall of the space, bathing the nearly naked woman in warm golden light.
Clarissa considered the canvas once again and used the tip of her little finger to barely smudge the fresh paint before nodding with satisfied decisiveness. “Now, Bernard, observe. Would you like to ask me again?”
Bernard St. Michelle, preeminent portrait painter of Paris and indeed all of Europe, frowned, lowered his thick black eyebrows into a forbidding vee, and turned toward the model. “You may go.”
The woman lazily reached for her dressing gown and rose, nodding to both before disappearing down the hall.
Bernard meticulously unrolled a white linen sleeve down one lean forearm and then the other. “Clarissa,
how long have I been a painter?” he asked, his Gallic accent more pronounced.
Clarissa dipped her brush into a jug of turpentine and vigorously swished the bristles back and forth. She knew the answer to Bernard’s question, of course. In fact, she knew the entire conversation that was about to take place, since they’d had it too many times to count.
“Longer than I,” she answered, tapping the brush hard against the earthenware pitcher before dunking it a second time, resuming the swishing motions with more force.
Bernard adjusted his cuffs just so. “And while you were learning to dance and capture the attention of unsuspecting young men in London, what was I doing?”
Clarissa pulled the brush from the jar and rubbed the bristles with a paint-stained rag. Her grip was too tight, the pressure too fierce, and the slim wooden brush handle broke in two. “Destroying your tools?” she ventured, tossing the snapped end of the brush handle to the floor.
Bernard sighed deeply, ignoring the broken wood as he walked to where Clarissa stood. “I was working in London too, cherie, honing my craft during the Peace of Amiens. Even when the war broke out, I painted night and day—”
“Until returning to Paris—in the hull of a blockade runner, no less,” Clarissa interrupted. “I know, Bernard. And I will remember if I live to be two hundred and two.”
“Then you know that when I question your work, you must listen? I believe that I’ve earned such respect. Don’t you?”
He was right, of course. Since returning to Paris, Bernard’s popularity with the ton had grown, his limited availability making him only more desirable. Sheer genius
combined with the adoration of the elite was difficult to deny.
Clarissa eyed the other brushes in the pitcher, the urge to break wood calling to her like a siren. “But I was right, Bernard. The touch of crimson to define the subject’s lip line is exactly what was needed.”
“That is hardly the point, my dear—and you know it.” Bernard pushed the table with the pitcher of brushes and the clutter of stained rags, paints, and palette knives beyond Clarissa’s reach. “How can you expect to grow as an artist if you do not allow the world—and others with more experience—to inform your work?”
His midnight black hair had escaped its queue and feathered about his temples like so many brushstrokes, piled one atop another.
No matter how hard she tried, Clarissa could never stay angry at Bernard—especially when he was right. And since the day she’d met him, he’d been right about everything, unlike the long list of French painting masters who, despite her talent, had refused to take her as an apprentice because she was female.
Five years earlier, when their world in England had come crashing down, Clarissa had agreed to flee with her mother to Paris. The prospect of studying with François Gérard or Jacques-Louis David had held all her hope for the future. When both artists scoffed at her request simply because she was a woman, Clarissa dismissed them as the idiots they clearly were and moved on, working her way down a list of suitable teachers in Paris.
Despite her impressive portfolio of work, everyone she approached refused, until she was left with one: Bernard St. Michelle, the highly respected and, arguably, most talented painter on the European continent. She’d not placed St. Michelle higher on her list, having overheard
that even male artists of her caliber could not secure a position with him.
But when she’d found herself with nothing to lose, she’d had her finest painting delivered to him—signed “C. Collins”—and St. Michelle had granted her a personal interview. Clarissa had procured suitable men’s clothing and made her way to his studio, intent on letting her art speak for itself rather than her sex doing all the talking.
He’d agreed to take her on and, with a handshake, the deal was sealed. Clarissa had taken particular pleasure in ripping the beaver hat from her head and revealing her topknot of glossy black curls.
Bernard had only sighed deeply and instructed her to arrive by eight in the morning—no earlier, no later—then told her to go.
Though he was her senior by only a handful of years, Bernard had become a mentor and friend, father and confidant. As trustworthy as he was endlessly talented. And he’d taught her more about her art and her life in the last five years than she’d learned in the previous nineteen.
The memory of just how much she owed this man had Clarissa sighing, her annoyance evaporating. She placed the flat of her palms on Bernard’s cheeks, cupping his face, and gently squeezed. “At least I did not throw the brush this time,
He raised a thick black eyebrow in agreement. “Nor did you shout. Improvement, indeed, my dear. The fire in your heart is beginning to meld with the sense in your head. One day you will be the finest portrait painter the world has ever seen. Such self-possession will be of great value when working with the aristocracy.”
“That, and my beaver hat,” Clarissa replied teasingly, playfully pinching Bernard’s face before turning to attend to the remaining brushes.
The sound of the front door slamming below followed by the heavy tread of feet on the stairs caught Clarissa’s attention.
“Jean-Marc?” she asked, referring to Bernard’s paramour.
“No.” Bernard shook his head, waving her toward the dressing screen in the corner. “He attends to his mama today,” he whispered. “Go.”