When handsome spy Trevelyn Deveridge comes to the house of young widowed duchess Artemisia Pelham-Smythe, an accomplished painter, she assumes he is there to be her new nude model. He complies with her request in order to get the information he wants, and they soon develop an immediate, potent attraction to each other. As Trevelyn tries to learn more about Mr. Beddington, the business manager who has a key to Artemisia's father's safe, the spy finds himself falling in love with the spirited duchess. Meanwhile, Artemisia hides secrets of her own related to her professional ambitions, forbidden to Victorian women. Bryan has a great handle on the material and her characters, creating a charming, colorful story with an intricate, fast-paced story line. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A widowed duchess and aspiring artist becomes embroiled in an international intrigue when the man she thinks is her latest nude model turns out to be a spy for Queen Victoria.
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Distracting the Duchess
By Emily Bryan Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2008 Diana Groe
All right reserved.
Chapter One I'm going to have to shorten his willie."
The artist stepped back from her easel and regarded the offending member with a critical eye. Her name was Artemisia. "Sounds like amnesia," her father had complained when her mother insisted upon the unusual moniker. Artemisia Dalrymple Pelham-Smythe, to be exact. Such a heavy load might have been a burden for some. But Artemisia was a duchess, so most people simply called her "Your Grace."
"Of course, it's absolutely true to life," she said finally, closing one eye and holding her thumb upraised to do a rough comparative measurement. "The proportions are accurate to the model, but critics tend to find well-endowed males in art to be prurient. I can't imagine why. A willie is just a willie, after all. What do you think, Cuthbert?"
"On the subject of art, Your Grace, one is of no opinion." Cuthbert set down the silver tray and poured out a steaming cup of tea with extreme dignity. "But if one may be so bold as to suggest, perhaps madam would do well to be more delicate in her speech."
Artemisia took the offered cup and sipped the aromatic blend. It was almost as good as the tea she had grown up with in Bombay.
"I was being delicate, Cuthbert. That's why I called it a willie instead of a pe-"
"Your daily reading, Your Grace," Cuthbert interrupted smoothly, handing her a neatly folded newspaper.
Hiding her smile, Artemisia set down her teacup. She knew she shouldn't purposely try to irritate her butler, but his ears turned such a charming shade of purple when she did.
Artemisia ran her gaze over the headlines. "The Tattler?" She tried never to read the ubiquitous scandal sheets, and The Tattler was the worst of the lot, laden with juicy on dits and sly innuendo. "You know I've no time for such drivel."
"Indeed. Then perhaps madam should refrain from giving the writers so much fodder. The article just below the fold could not escape one's notice. Will there be anything else, Your Grace?"
"No, I think that's quite enough," Artemisia said wryly.
The butler bowed and retreated with dignity. Almost as an afterthought, he stopped and turned back.
"A gentleman is waiting to see you, madam."
"Ah! That will be the model Mr. Phelps is sending round today. I'm ready to start sketches of Eros now that Neptune is finished. Nearly finished," she amended, silently reminding herself that there was yet a willie to be shortened.
"It is highly unlikely that this man is one of your young gods." Cuthbert shook his head solemnly. "He dresses like a proper English gentleman."
"There are so many secondhand clothing shops in London, a stable lad can fit himself out like a lord if he wishes."
Artemisia bit her lip. She realized she was sounding just like the writer in The Tattler who last week bemoaned the fact that class distinctions could no longer be made by dress-not with so many ladies' maids larking about London as well turned out as their mistresses. It irked her that she should be mouthing the sentiments of a scandal sheet. Artemisia made a mental note not to read The Tattler again even if Cuthbert shoved it under her nose.
She consulted the ormolu mantel clock above her fireplace. Even in summer, she burned a fire for the comfort of her models. Goose bumps did not become an Olympian, after all. "Send the man in."
Once Cuthbert closed the French doors to her studio, Artemisia released a pent-up sigh. Perhaps she should encourage him to retire, but the crusty gentleman's gentleman probably wouldn't hear of it. Cuthbert's family had been with the estate for two generations. He had served Artemisia's late husband, the Duke of Southwycke, as his father had served the duke's father before him. Even though his master was dead and Cuthbert not-so-tacitly disapproved of his unconventional mistress, he lived to serve Southwycke. Anything else was unthinkable.
Artemisia donned a paint-daubed smock over her simple day dress and began assembling her materials. Today she'd do a few preliminary sketches and experiment with poses. Once she settled on a composition, she'd transfer her ideas to canvas with her brushes and pallet knife. As she arranged her tools, one of the soft sticks of chalk rolled from the table's edge and she bent to retrieve it. She was so intent on her task, she didn't even hear the door swing open behind her.
Trevelyn Deveridge had been warned that the duchess had a well-earned reputation for the unexpected, but he certainly didn't anticipate being greeted by the sight of her bottom first.
And a bottom as ripe as a plum, he almost said aloud. She wore no crinoline, no contraption of horsehair and wires to enhance her form, just a simple shift covered by a short smock, nothing to obscure what was a decidedly shapely derriere.
Stick to business, he ordered himself. You're here to find Beddington, not to see the sights.
Wiping off his salacious grin, Trevelyn cleared his throat.
"Oh!" She straightened and turned abruptly. Trevelyn's first impression was that the duchess was much younger than he expected and far more comely. Several locks of her raven hair had escaped from the loose chignon, teasing her delicate neck, the curls off on jaunts of their own. She looked as if she'd just risen from a rousing tussle on a feather tick. He flexed his fingers, imagining threading the silky tendrils through them. As if she read his thoughts, a becoming flush kissed her cheeks. Then her delicately arched brows lowered in a frown.
"You're late," she accused.
"Your pardon, Your Grace, but-"
"Spare me your excuses. Surely Mr. Phelps explained that punctuality is essential to your position. I don't want to lose the morning light."
"Clearly there's been a misunderstanding, mum," he began in his best imitation of a rough country burr while he made an old-fashioned courtly leg to her. He'd been trained to adopt an assumed identity when the situation called for one. Trevelyn had already decided this was a job for Thomas Doverspike, his less aristocratic alter ego. "Allow me to introduce myself, an' it please you. I'm-"
"No names, please," she said crisply. "At least, not until the painting is well underway. I find calling you by the title of the work enables us to maintain professional distance." The duchess beckoned him closer with a wave of her slim fingers. "Well, don't just stand there. Come here so I can get a good look at you."
Amused by her abrupt manner, Trevelyn swallowed his retort and strode forward. The first lesson drummed into him when he joined Her Majesty's corps of intelligence officers was to listen more than he spoke. He might learn a wealth of information if he simply let his subject talk. The duchess had obviously mistaken him for someone seeking employment. Once she realized her error, she'd be embarrassed enough to tell him anything.
Even where to find the elusive Mr. Beddington.
She eyed him carefully, walking a slow half-circle around him. Finally she stopped and pinned him with a direct gaze. Her eyes were a deep moss green, and a faint streak of blue chalk was smudged near her temple. The scent of oleander, mingled with oil paint, wafted about her. He inhaled her sweet fragrance, surprised to find his soft palate aching for him to plant a kiss on the chalk smudge.
She shook her head. "No, I'm afraid you won't do at all."
Trev blinked in surprise. Women usually found him most agreeable. "An' it not be too forward to ask, how do I disappoint you, Your Grace?"
"The fault is not yours. I shall have to speak to Mr. Phelps about this. I specifically requested blond curls and a soft, cherubic face for my Eros. While there is a hint of a wave in your hair, the color is definitely chestnut, and the planes and angles of your face are far too jarring to belong to the god of love. With those brooding dark eyes and that strong jaw, you're much more a god of ..."
She stopped, and her eyes seemed to go out of focus for a moment, as if she was seeing something other than him. One of her brows arched.
"There's nothing else for it," the duchess said. "You shall be Mars, my god of war."
"I've been called many things, Your Grace. Never a god of anything." He inclined his head slightly. "Expect I should feel honored."
"You will," she said with certainty. "When I'm finished, your face and form will be immortal. Now then-let's begin, shall we? The dressing room is through that door. There's a robe in there for you. Remove your clothing-all of it, if you please-and return in the robe. Pray be quick about it. The sun waits for no one."
And neither, evidently, did the Duchess of Southwycke. She wanted him naked as God made him, did she? Trevelyn never expected to have to pose as a figure model to serve his Queen, but he'd done far more difficult things for the sake of Victoria Regina. Besides, when a lady asked so prettily for a gentleman to disrobe, how could he in good conscience refuse?
Especially when the lady is a well-favored, widowed duchess, Trevelyn decided. No marriage trap here, even if the session ends in something more involved than etchings.
He might have thought better of it if the duchess had been a wrinkled old hag, but a leisurely morning spent unclothed in the company of a lovely woman would be far more interesting than the quick interview he'd expected. And if all went well, the job would certainly provide him with an opportunity to spend enough time with her to glean all the information he sought, probably without her ever knowing his true business.
He squared his shoulders and decided to play the hand dealt him. Trevelyn headed for the dressing room, whistling "Rule Britannia" between his teeth.
The things one does for one's Queen and Country ...
Artemisia tapped her toe with impatience, waiting for her newest subject to emerge from the dressing room. She could see why Cuthbert had confused him with a true gentleman. His doeskin breeches were soft and clean-looking, but her keen eye spotted the slightest shininess of wear on his waistcoat, and once he spoke, his accent clearly marked him as a young man trying to dress a notch or two above his station.
Pity her time in London had taught her to look for such distinctions. The rules were much more relaxed during her upbringing on the frontier of British India. She was used to gossiping with her Indian nursemaid, visiting the Maharajah's daughters, taking tea with the viceroy's wife and dancing with enlisted men all on the same day. In London, she had to be ever mindful of her place or the scandal sheets would flay her for some breech of acceptable behavior.
Her gaze fell on The Tattler still on the tray next to her teacup. She knew she shouldn't, but her curiosity got the better of her.
"Well, let's see what's got the wind up Cuthbert's drawers, shall we?" Artemisia said to the marmalade-colored cat sunning itself on the windowsill. She perched on the settee and spread the scandal sheet across her knees. The tabby leaped from the sill and tiptoed across the back of the settee, hovering near Artemisia's shoulder to rumble unquestioning approval in her ear. A smaller gray cat crept under the settee to weave about her shins. She leaned down and scratched beneath his chin absently while she read.
London's favorite Merry Widow, the infamous Duchess of S, made quite a splash Sunday last-literally. She was found cavorting in the St. James fountain with unnamed associates of the lower sort. The peeress with pretensions to artistic inclinations claimed to be researching how a water nymph feels for her current work in progress-rumored to be a scandalous set of paintings of the entire Greek pantheon in the altogether.
Truly, the bon ton would delight in shunning the feckless widow, if only Her Grace hadn't stolen the march on London society and shunned it first.
"At least they got the subject of the paintings right, Castor," she said to the orange cat near her shoulder. "But precious little else. Isn't that right, Pollux?"
She lifted the gray cat to her lap and let him knead her thighs till he was ready to settle in a furry ball. The scandal sheet's words stung. But even to herself, she wouldn't admit vulnerability, so she took refuge in irritation.
"'Pretensions to artistic inclinations,' indeed."
When she was barely old enough to hold a quill, her ayah recognized her innate talent. The Indian nursemaid reported Artemisia's skill to her father, who engaged drawing tutors for his precocious eldest daughter. By the time she was twelve, her portraiture was in much demand among the wildly eclectic British community associated with "John Company" in that remote outpost of the Empire. Now that she was grown, she wanted more than anything for her work to be recognized, not as that of a gifted child, but as an artist in the full bloom of her talent.
So far, London society had done its best to discourage her. The proper range of subject matter for female artists was forget-me-nots or sparrows, certainly not scantily clad or-perish the thought!-naked young men.
"Nude, not naked. There's a world of difference," Artemisia murmured. "Honestly, Pollux, you'd think the ton had nothing better to do than peep and snicker over its peers. Busybodies, every one of them."
Artemisia cast the scandal sheet to the floor and purposefully trod it underfoot on her way back to her easel. What did she care what they thought?
And yet her chest ached strangely.
Growing up riding elephants on tiger hunts hadn't prepared her for dealing with the sharp claws of the bon ton. When her husband had been alive, his exalted rank and impeccable decorum insulated her from society's scratches. Now that Artemisia was on her own, the self-appointed arbiters of acceptable behavior lost no chance to express their disapproval. The young Duchess of Southwycke was judged decidedly odd. Small wonder she became reclusive. When she did venture out, it was often in the company of those considered far beneath her station.
The romp through the fountain was probably ill-advised, especially since she hadn't anticipated how transparent wet muslin became, but she credited the outing with infusing her Neptune with a wonderful sense of motion.
"Ah! There you are." Artemisia looked up when she heard the door hinge squeak. Ordinarily, she'd speak to Cuthbert about such a defect, but now she was grateful for the warning. She was not in the habit of greeting her models posterior first, and the incident had thrown her strangely off balance.
The new fellow sauntered toward her, a tuft of dark hairs peeping from the deep vee in his robe, hands in his pockets as if he were in his own dressing room. Unlike her previous models, he seemed totally at ease.
"Let's just try a pose or two before you disrobe, shall we?" she said, determined to ease him gently into the work. "Most of my models find it more comfortable to get into character prior to-"
"I have my share of faults, Your Grace, but my old gaffer always told me it don't pay for shyness to be one of 'em," he said as he shrugged out of the plush velvet dressing gown she'd provided for him. He let the garment drop to the parquet floor.
He cocked his head at her. "How do you want me?"
Excerpted from Distracting the Duchess by Emily Bryan Copyright © 2008 by Diana Groe. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Emily Bryan’s novels have been translated into multiple languages, including German, Dutch, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Also known as Diana Groe, she is the winner of the 2009 Romantic Times K.I.S.S. Award, as well as a finalist for Book Buyers Best and Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence.
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'Distracting the Duchess' is the first novel by Emily Bryan, but not the last, which is good news! This is just the kind of romance that I enjoy most: interesting and individual characters, quickly enmeshed in a story which includes some suspense and a mystery in need of solving, with lots of spicy sexy interludes and a good dollop of humor and whimsy. I don't think one can ask for much more than that in a romance novel! Artemesia is a wonderful heroine, determined to do her best by her family and also by the artistic gift she's been given -- both of which demand she behaves in a manner contrary to that of a 'normal' well-bred young widow. The 'how and why' of her meeting with our hero immediately thrusts the reader into a fast-paced adventure, and sets the scene for these two fascinating peoples' journey toward a bliss that neither expects to find. Emily Bryan is the not-so-secret pen name of Diana Groe, also the author of historical romances set in Viking times. In each of those three books ''Maidensong', 'Erinsong', and 'Silk Dreams' -- if you haven't read them, I recommend them highly', I saw a distinct improvement and growth in her story-telling and her writing, and have been eagerly awaiting the next 'rung on the ladder' of her talent. With this first Emily Bryan book, I see quite clearly that upward climb and with more overt sensuality, characters of more subtlety and depth, and stories of more complexity and sophistication, I'm intrigued and satisfied. Ms Groe is clearly a writer of more than one story-telling voice, something not often found, in my experience. And in those authors who do attempt to write in several genres and voices, it's even more rare to find one who can do so successfully and seamlessly 'Jayne Ann Krentz comes to mind'. My guess is that there are several more 'voices' gestating in Ms Groe's fertile mind right now, and I can't wait to hear them!
At twenty-five years old, the Duchess of Southwycke Lady Artemisia has been a widow for two years. Because of her Bombay childhood in which a female could be publicly active Artemesia runs a business but to avoid becoming the Ton pariah, she uses the alterego of Mr. Bennington. Only her brilliant assistant James Shipwash knows otherwise and understands a key part of his job is to hide his employer¿s gender.--------- When her father Angus recognizes that he is losing his mind, he sends a last note to Home Office Secret Service operative Lord Trevelyn Deveridge that says succinctly 'Beddington holds the key'. Trevelyn begins to search for the elusive Beddington, but no one seems to know who he is and Shipwash is vague and uncooperative. A desperate Trevelyn travels to Southwycke estate to see if Angus¿ daughter can help interpret the message. Immediately attracted to one another, she assumes he is the male model she hired to pose naked for her next painting. As they fall in love, someone else seeks the key that Beddington holds, but Artemisia has no idea what her father meant.--------- This a much more complex historical espionage romantic suspense than that described above as there are several more key subplots that all converge into a fabulous tale. The fast-paced story line hooks the audience the moment that Artemisia mentally strips Trevelyn who almost immediately takes it off and never slows down until the final confrontation with some bad dudes. Fans will appreciate this exciting thriller as the adventures keep on coming.------------- Harriet Klausner