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Excerpt

The British Museum, London
April 1817

"We want to see the Rosetta Stone," two feminine voices chorused.

For the third time in the last quarter hour.

"Just a few more minutes," Lady Corinna Chase promised her sisters, her gaze focused on her sketchbook.

"A few is three," Alexandra, the oldest, pointed out. "Or maybe five. But certainly not thirty. You said 'a few more minutes' half an hour ago."

"And half an hour before that," Juliana, the middle sister, added.

The squeak of wheels threatened Corinna's concentration. Alexandra was rolling a perambulator back and forth in hopes of soothing Harold, her infant son. It was all but unheard-of for ladies to cart their babies around town—most aristocratic mothers happily left their children in the care of wet nurses and nannies. But Alexandra had insisted on buying one of the newfangled contraptions, because she rarely let little Harry out of her sight.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. "How can you gaze at statues for so long?"

"I'm not gazing. I'm drawing." Corinna sketched another line, following the curve of a muscled male thigh. "And in case you haven't noticed, the Elgin Marbles aren't all statues. This particular panel is part of a frieze from the illustrious Parthenon in Greece. Even more important, the figures are anatomically correct."

Which was why she was here, of course. Why she'd been willing to drag herself out of bed at an ungodly hour to sketch. Corinna wanted nothing more than to study human anatomy. Unfortunately, the anatomy classes at the Royal Academy of Arts were entirely forbidden to women.

Entirely.

Forbidden.

It was infuriating. Corinna's fondest wish was to be elected to the Royal Academy, an honor no woman had attained since 1768. Though she harbored no dreams of accomplishing this goal at her current age of twenty-two—for one thing, Academicians had to be at least twenty-four years old—getting nominated and eventually elected was a long, involved process, and she hoped to take her first step within a matter of weeks, by getting one of her paintings accepted for the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.

That was something women did accomplish on a regular basis, although not usually with portraits. Traditionally, ladies painted only landscapes and still lifes—painting people was considered fast and unseemly. Regardless, Corinna's heart lay in painting portraits. She was drawn to the human form, compelled to render personalities in oil on canvas.

But how was a female supposed to accurately paint people if she wasn't allowed to attend anatomy classes?

"We cannot stay much longer," Juliana said. "I need to make sure everything's in place for Cornelia's wedding." Cornelia, Juliana's mother-in-law, was marrying Lord Cavanaugh at her home later that evening. "And I want to see the Rosetta Stone," she added for the fourth time.

"So go see it."

"And I want to see the gems and minerals," Alexandra said. "And the jeweled—"

"Go see it all. Go see everything in the museum." Corinna flipped a page, refocusing on the nude form of the gorgeous Greek god before her. "I'll be right here."

"That would take an hour or more." Squeak. Squeak. "We cannot leave you here in the Elgin Gallery alone."

"I'm not alone. There are people everywhere." Too many people, constantly jostling her and blocking her view.

"The Rosetta Stone is in the main building."

"It's perfectly proper for two married ladies to cross the museum grounds together." Unlike Corinna, who was known as a bit of a rebel, her sisters were always concerned with being proper. "I knew I should have brought Aunt Frances along instead. She's more patient than either of you."

"She's also nine months gone with child." Alexandra sighed. "We'll be back in an hour."

"Make that two or three," Corinna muttered as they left. Hearing the pram squeak-squeak toward the door, she smiled and licked her lips. She and the Greek god were alone at last.

Holy Hannah, he was magnificent.

If only she could find a real man who looked like this

Not that she was planning to wed anytime soon, much to her brother Griffin's chagrin. He wanted nothing more than to marry her off, to have her—his last unwed sister—out of his house and off of his hands. To make her someone else's responsibility.

To that end, he'd insisted on shoving her toward eligible men at all the balls this year. He'd also been dragging her to Almack's and every other social event on the calendar. The season had been underway but a few weeks, yet she felt as though she'd met more men this month than the rest of her life combined.

It was annoying, to say the least.

She did enjoy balls, and she also liked men, of course. She'd especially liked kissing the few who had managed to get her alone. Although artists were supposed to be passionate creatures, she'd sadly lacked passion in her life until recently. Her grandmother, father, mother, and eldest brother had died in succession, keeping her from socializing for four long years.

Now that she'd finally experienced some passion, she'd found men's lips to be softer and warmer than she'd expected, and the closeness had proved positively exhilarating. Enjoyable indeed. But right now her art was more important than searching for love.

Unless she were to find one of these Greek gods…

Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she used her pencil to shade the fascinating muscles on the god's toned bare chest. Then, looking up, she spotted two gentlemen heading in her direction. As though some higher power had read her mind and sent him to fulfill her fantasy, the taller one seemed to her a Greek god come to life.

Flipping to a new page, she started sketching the real man instead of the stone replica. Quickly, before he disappeared from view.

His angular, sculpted face was framed by crisp black curls that grew long at the back of his neck…long enough to make a woman's fingers itch to comb through them. His eyes were the greenest she'd ever seen. Unfortunately, he was rather more clothed than the marble gods, but having sketched quite a few of them, she fancied she could imagine what he looked like beneath his well-made but conservative trousers, waistcoat, and tailcoat. Her pencil outlined broad shoulders tapering to narrow hips—

She froze midsketch as the two men walked right up to her.

"Good afternoon," the shorter one said.

Like the taller man, he was dark-haired and green-eyed and good-looking. And he was much more fashionably dressed. But all in all, she decided, not nearly of the same Greek god caliber.

Still, she swallowed hard. She wasn't accustomed to handsome gentlemen introducing themselves. Good manners dictated they ask permission of a young lady's chaperone, who would then provide the introduction.

She might have kissed a few men, but none who hadn't gone through the proper channels to meet her first.

"Good afternoon," she returned guardedly. "Mr.…?"

"Delaney," he said smoothly. "Sean Delaney, at your service. And this," he added, indicating the taller man, "is my good friend Mr. John Hamilton. Having noticed you sketching, he wished to be introduced to a fellow artist. You've heard of him, I presume?"

Had she heard of him? Corinna's sketchbook and pencil fell to the floor as her jaw dropped open. Everyone had heard of John Hamilton, the renowned, reclusive painter of landscapes.

She turned to him, positively stunned. Her Greek god was John Hamilton—John Hamilton!—and he'd requested an introduction. To her, Corinna Chase, possibly the most unrenowned artist in all of London.

"Mr. Hamilton," she gushed, "I cannot tell you how much I admire—"

"Please stop," he interrupted, bending to scoop up her supplies. He straightened and, with a roll of his gorgeous emerald eyes toward Mr. Delaney, handed the items to her. "I'm sorry, but I'm not John Hamilton." His lilting accent was distracting. The deep, melodious Irish voice didn't quite mesh with the Greek physique. "I'm Sean Delaney. And I'm afraid my brother-in-law here—the real John Hamilton—has a horrible sense of humor."

"Now, Hamilton." The other man dolefully shook his head. "There's no need to hide your identity from this charming young lady."

"It's your identity in question, and you hide it from everyone." The Greek god drew a line in the air that traced the other man from head to toe. "You'll note he's the one dressed in artistic style," he pointed out to Corinna before brushing at his own, much plainer clothes. "I'm merely a common man of business."

"Please forgive Mr. Hamilton." Mr. Delaney—or perhaps he was Mr. Hamilton—raised a brow toward Corinna. "He's much too self-effacing."

"Blarney!" the Greek god shot back. "You're a dunce, Hamilton."

Corinna had observed a tennis match once, and she now felt like that little ball bouncing back and forth between the two men. She didn't know which one to believe. But since she didn't expect to see either of them ever again, she figured it didn't signify.

While they'd volleyed, she'd regained her senses enough to remember Mr. Hamilton was a member of the committee that chose artwork for the Summer Exhibition. That was what truly mattered.

She clutched her art supplies to her chest. "I'm an oil painter myself," she told both of them, praying one really was John Hamilton. "I'm here sketching the marbles to learn anatomy so I can improve my technique for portraits. It's my fondest hope that one of my canvases will be selected for this year's Summer Exhibition."

"I'm certain Mr. Hamilton will vote for it," the shorter man assured her gravely.

"I will not." The Greek god's fists were clenched, and his Irish lilt came through gritted teeth. "I mean, he won't. Or perhaps he will, but I'm not Hamilton."

"Pshaw." The other man waved a smooth, graceful hand. "He's—"

"Corinna!" She looked away to see her sisters hurrying near, the pram squeaking its way toward her. "I'm sorry we took so long," Alexandra said. "Are you finished yet?"

Corinna smiled in relief, certain Juliana would figure out which man was John Hamilton. The meddler in the family, Juliana had a skill for weaseling out secrets. "I'd be pleased for you to meet Mr. Hamilton," she started, turning back to the men.

They were gone.

Lifting her sweet baby boy from the pram, Alexandra frowned. "Mr. Hamilton?"

"The landscapist, John Hamilton. He was just here." Corinna scanned the crowded gallery, to no avail. "He looks like a Greek god. Or perhaps it's his friend who looks like the Greek god, or his brother-in-law—"

"Whatever are you babbling about? John Hamilton never appears in public." Looking sympathetic, Juliana touched her arm. "I think we should go. I must get home well before my mother-in-law's wedding, and in any case, you've clearly been sketching too long."


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