Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait

Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait

4.0 17
by Grace Burrowes
     
 

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A gorgeous Regency Christmas romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes.


A freshly wrapped Regency Christmas romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes.


Through hard work and persistence, Elijah Harrison has become a

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Overview

A gorgeous Regency Christmas romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes.


A freshly wrapped Regency Christmas romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes.


Through hard work and persistence, Elijah Harrison has become a successful portraitist. To gain a nomination to the prestigious Royal Academy of Artists are some portraits of juvenile subjects. He's accepted a commission to paint the Viscount Rothgreb's grandchildren, and finds that their aunt, Lady Jenny Windham, has offered to assist him.


Elijah recognizes Lady Jenny Windham's artistic talent. He also realizes that he paints much better when she's nearby...

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
10/15/2013
When portrait painter Elijah Harrison appears at the country house door, bedraggled and half frozen in the icy rain, Lady Jenny Windham, an aspiring artist herself, has no idea that he is going to change her life. Elijah needs assistance with an upcoming commission, and Jenny steps in and agrees to help him in return for eight hours of instruction, a decision Elijah may come to regret as Jenny's talent becomes more and more apparent. VERDICT A brilliantly artistic heroine and a talented but conflicted hero find fulfillment and love in this complex and engaging tale that simmers with sexual tension, radiates the holiday spirit, and beautifully wraps up the exceptionally enjoyable Windham saga. Burrowes (Lady Eve's Indiscretion) lives in rural Maryland.
Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
The eighth and final book in Burrowes’s Windham Regency series (after Lady Eve’s Indiscretion) embraces the spirit of Christmas and the power of love to draw families together. Lady Jenny Windham’s parents and siblings have always smiled indulgently at her little painting hobby, but Jenny takes it seriously, longing to move to Paris and pursue art training. As she’s preparing to leave, she meets Elijah Harrison, Earl of Bernward, a skilled portraitist. He hopes that painting Jenny’s nephews will boost his career and free him to return to his estranged family. The two connect immediately over their shared love of art, but since one is seeking to leave home and the other to return to it, compromises will have to be made. Burrowes describes the journey more than the destination; while not breaking new ground, the well-told story is elevated by warmth and intimacy. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"A lovely regency story centering on the deep values of the holiday showcases Burrowes' talents for creating unforgettable characters and telling stories that shine with the joy of the season. 4 Stars" - RT Book Reviews

"An enchanting holiday romance... Jenny is a complicated, refreshing, faceted heroine with a romantic past, similar to the smart, feisty females created by Amanda Quick. Her conflict between her career and her love, coupled with their family issues, give this wonderful, emotionally charged Regency romance modern resonance." " - Booklist

"The eighth and final book in Burrowes's Windham Regency series (after Lady Eve's Indiscretion) embraces the spirit of Christmas and the power of love to draw families together... the well-told story is elevated by warmth and intimacy." " - Publishers Weekly

"A charming conclusion to a truly wonderful series that's full of spirited, talented women and the strong, handsome, and supportive men who love them." - Heroes and Heartbreakers

"Complex and engaging... Simmers with sexual tension, radiates the holiday spirit, and beautifully wraps up the exceptionally enjoyable Windham saga." - Library Journal

"Grace Burrowes has written a beautiful romance filled with Christmas miracles. " - Fresh Fiction

"[Grace Burrowes's] subtle humor and her understanding of family dynamics make the story pulsate with life." - Long and Short Reviews

"Burrowes never disappoints and LADY JENNY'S CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT is actually a gift one gives themselves in order to experience true excellence in story telling, plotting and above all entertainment!" - CK2's Kwips and Kritiques

"If you want a bit of Christmas cheer, you should really read this one." - From the First Page to the Last

"I just couldn't put it down. It's a perfect book to curl up with. It has romance and family, determination and historical context. " - Davidson Snippets

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402263842
Publisher:
Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Publication date:
09/24/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
48,751
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

One

Either Lady Genevieve Windham didn't recognize Elijah Harrison with his clothes on, or she had reserves of self-possession he could only envy.

"Sir, may I be of assistance?" She hovered in the door, a blond angel on a miserable winter night, not welcoming him inside and not refusing him entry-a succinct metaphor for Elijah's dealings with Polite Society.

"I must beg your hospitality, my lady, for my horse has gone lame, and the weather is worsening. Elijah Harrison, at your service. I left the last posting inn some miles back and have seen no other hostelries along the way."

He shivered in the wind and sleet and tried not to let his teeth chatter. He was ready for her to refuse him or tell him to go 'round back and seek entry of the cook. The very fingers by which he made his living-and a number of other parts-were long since numb, or he would not have knocked on even this door.

The lady stepped back and gestured him inside. "Gracious heavens, Mr. Harrison, come in this instant. I hope the grooms are seeing to your horse?"

Her green eyes were lit with concern, and not-bless her-for his horse.

"My thanks." He passed into the warmth and quiet of the Earl of Kesmore's country house as she closed the door behind him. "When last I saw him, the beast was being led into a cozy stall, his limp improving apace at the prospect of straw bedding and a ration of oats."

"I'm Jenny Windham," she said, and that she would eschew her title-as he had eschewed his-caught his curiosity. "The servants are quite done in, today being Stirring-Up Sunday. Let me take your coat."

She hefted the sodden wool from his shoulders and hung it on a hook, spreading the capes and sleeves just so, the better for the garment to dry. This attention to Elijah's outerwear gave him a moment to study her the way a portrait artist was doomed to study all others of his own species.

Her hands had a competence about them he would not have expected from a duke's daughter. She dealt with wet fabric as any yeoman's wife might, then held out a hand for Elijah's scarf.

"I've never seen it rain ice," she said. "An occasional sleety afternoon, yes, but not this... this"-she grimaced at his scarf-"unending mess. Nobody will be going anywhere if they have any sense. I hope you hadn't far to go?"

Again the concern in her eyes, and for an uninvited guest who had no business inconveniencing her.

Elijah focused on peeling off damp wool and sopping gloves. "A few more miles yet, but I'm not familiar with the neighborhood, and nothing good ever comes of forcing a lame horse to soldier on."

"Nothing good at all. You must accept our hospitality tonight, Mr. Harrison. You'll come with me to the library."

She did not explain to him that the earl and his countess would be down shortly to welcome him properly, though Elijah well knew this was Joseph Carrington's house. He would not have presumed to knock otherwise.

And yet he followed Lady Genevieve down a dimly lit corridor without protest, watching the way her carrying candle and the mirrored sconces moved light and shadow across her feminine form. By the time they reached the library, Elijah's feet were starting the diabolical itching that accompanied a thawing of limbs too long exposed to winter's wrath.

"You can warm up in here, and we'll have a room prepared for you," Lady Genevieve said as she set her candle on a delicately scrolled chestnut sideboard. When his gaze fell upon an embroidery hoop left on the sofa, Elijah realized the lady herself had occupied the library earlier.

"You're burning wood." The sweet tang of wood smoke blended with other scents-beeswax, cinnamon, and something floral, an altogether lovely olfactory bouquet.

"Lord Kesmore prefers to burn wood, and his home wood is extensive. If you'll give up those boots, Mr. Harrison, I'll have somebody take them down to the kitchen for a polishing. Leave it any later, and the boot boy will have gone to bed."

Stirring-Up Sunday saw the plum pudding tucked into its brandy bath. The kitchen had no doubt been a merry place for much of the day, and the help would need to sleep off the results of their exertions.

How he loathed Christmas in its every detail.

"I'll wrestle my boots off, but please don't put anybody to any trouble. I would not want to impose on his lordship's staff unnecessarily."

He did not elaborate, leaving her another opportunity to explain that his lordship wouldn't find it any imposition, and would be told immediately of his visitor.

"I'll see to some sustenance for you, Mr. Harrison. Please make yourself comfortable."

She bobbed a curtsy; he bowed. The moment she left the room, Elijah picked up the embroidery hoop to study the gossamer-fine chemise it held. The itching was climbing from his feet to his calves, and would soon overtake his thighs, but he'd seen such needlework only on his mother's very own hoop, and the artist in him had long grown used to ignoring all manner of bodily inconveniences and urges.

***

Jenny returned from the kitchen to find her guest standing before the fire in his stocking feet and shirtsleeves, her embroidery hoop in his hands.

Which would not do. It would not do at all.

"Come eat, Mr. Harrison. I gather the making of the plum pudding occasions something of a celebration among the staff, and so the larder boasted impressive offerings. They'll be decorating the house tomorrow in anticipation of the Yule season."

His dark brows lowered and, more importantly, he set her embroidery hoop on the mantel. "I apologize for my state of undress, but my coat was damp."

Said coat-more sopping than damp-was now draped over the back of a chair set close to the fire, steam rising from the fabric.

Which accounted for the wet-wool scent accompanying the cozier fragrances wafting through the library. Jenny set the tray on the low table before the hearth just as the eight-day clock in the hallway chimed the hour.

"Don't stand on ceremony, Mr. Harrison. You must be famished."

And as for his state of undress... Jenny knew firsthand that for all his height, he was lean and hard, every muscle and sinew in evidence when he was naked. Every rib, every pale blue vein, every dark, curling hair on his chest... and elsewhere.

"May I pour for you, sir?"

"Please."

She took a place on the sofa while he remained standing, which reminded her that whatever else was true about Mr. Elijah Harrison, he had the manners of a gentleman. "You must sit, or you will get crumbs all over the countess's carpet, and she will not be pleased."

He came down on the sofa, making the cushions bounce and shift with his weight. "I gather mine host and his countess have already retired?"

A maiden-aunt-in-training ought to expect such questions.

"I would not know. They are from home, and I am keeping my nieces company in their absence. How do you take your tea?"

He was given to silences, which Jenny should have expected from a man who painted for a living. Some artists were so mentally busy trafficking in images that words came to them only reluctantly-a sorry, second-rate form of communication.

"Lady Genevieve, if I know we are without chaperonage, then I will mount my lame horse and find other accommodations. I account Kesmore among my few friends and would not want to give him offense."

To go with his beautiful body and his beautiful hands, he had a beautiful, masculine voice. She could have listened to that voice recite Scripture and still pictured him without his clothes.

"My aunt is abed on the next floor up." She paused midreach for the teapot. "You used my title."

His mouth didn't shift, but something in his eyes suggested humor. "I make a habit out of attending many of the London social functions. Because I must work in all available daylight hours, I spend most of my evenings dozing in the card room. Even so, I have observed you often from a polite distance."

Something about the way he used the word observed had Jenny fussing with the tea things. She was rattled by his disclosure, so rattled she fixed her own cup of tea first, with both sugar and cream.

Did he know she'd observed him as well, for hours, when he'd worn nothing but indolence and an offhand sensuality?

"You are prescient," he said, lifting the full cup. "You know how I like my tea."

The humor had found its way to his voice, which made Jenny curious to see what a smile would look like on that full, solemn mouth. For all the parts of him she had seen, she had never seen him smile.

"A lucky guess," she said. "Just as finding your way to Kesmore's doorstep tonight must have been good luck for you."

"And for my horse." He saluted with his teacup, his fingers red with returning circulation.

"Eat something." Jenny passed him an empty plate. "Chasing the chill from your room will take some time, and you have to be hungry."

As he filled a plate with as much buttered bread, ham, and cheddar as any one of Jenny's brothers might have consumed at a sitting, Jenny indulged in closer study of her guest. His dark hair was damp, and around his eyes, fine lines gave him a world-weary air. He was not a boy, hadn't been a boy for years.

She'd had particular occasion to admire his nose. The nose on Elijah Harrison's face announced that no compromises would be made easily by its owner, no goal casually cast aside for costing too much effort. Had she not seen the entire rest of him, she would have chosen that nose as his best feature.

He paused between assembling his meal and consuming it. "You're not eating with me, Lady Genevieve?"

He'd said her name with a little glide on the initial G-"Zhenevieve"-the way a Frenchman might have said it. He had studied in France. Somehow, despite the Corsican's protracted nonsense, Elijah Harrison had managed to study in France. She envied him this to a point approaching bitterness. "I'll nibble some cheese."

"Like a starving mouse?"

"Like a woman who had a decent meal not that long ago." Like a woman who knew it was time to have done with visually devouring her guest. "What brings you to our neighborhood, Mr. Harrison?"

"Work, of course. Some sentimental old fellow has taken it into his head-or perhaps his lady wife has taken it into her head-to have portraits done of his youngest progeny. If I'm to present myself to the world as a well-rounded portraitist, then I must add children to the subjects in my portfolio."

He said this as if painting children was an occupational hazard, like napping in card rooms.

"Is it difficult to paint children?" Between one heartbeat and the next, Jenny realized Elijah Harrison knew a great deal that she wished she could learn from him. He'd travel on in the morning, but for as much as the next hour, she could interrogate him to her heart's content.

He didn't answer immediately. Instead, he put bread, cheese, and some apple slices on a plate and held it out to her. His gaze held a challenge.

Over a simple meal? Abruptly, Jenny wondered if he'd recognized her.

She took the plate and tossed her list of questions aside.

***

Genevieve Windham was not pretty, she was exquisite.

Pretty in present English parlance meant blond hair and blue eyes, regular features, and a willingness to spend significant sums at the modiste of the hour.

Unless a woman was emaciated or obese, her figure mattered little, there being corsets, padding, and other devices available to augment the Creator's handiwork. Failing those artifices, one resorted to the good offices of the portraitist, who could at least render a lady's likeness pretty even if the lady herself were not.

Lady Jenny left pretty sitting on its arse in the mud several leagues back. Her eyes were a luminous, emerald green, not blue. Her hair was gold, not blond. Her figure surpassed the willowy lines preferred by Polite Society and veered off into the realms of sirens, houris, and dreams a grown man didn't admit aloud lest he imperil his dignity.

The itching over Elijah's body faded in the face of the itch he felt to sketch her.

She had certainly sketched him, after all.

"Have some sustenance, my lady. For me to eat alone would be rude, and I intend to consume a deal of food."

Lady Jenny took the plate, and though he was ravenous, he wanted to watch her eat more than he wanted to fill his belly. "My thanks, sir."

So... small talk. His livelihood depended as much on his ability to make small talk as it did on his talent for slapping paint onto canvas. "How fare my lord and lady Kesmore?"

"When did you first know you wanted to paint portraits?"

They'd spoken at the same time, though he'd put his question to her, and she'd directed hers to the plate of gingerbread on the tray. Elijah added a slice to her meal and waited.

"Lord and Lady Kesmore are in good health and wonderful spirits. They look forward to the holidays, as do their children."

Not an answer, but rather, a recitation.

He offered reciprocal superficiality. "I was born with an interest in the arts."

She glanced over at him, her expression suggesting he was a plate of holiday treats she must not be caught snitching from. "An interest in the arts? A general interest only?"

His answer was the one he gave whenever members of the Royal Academy asked the question Lady Jenny had. The Academy boasted sculptors as well as painters, and one was elevated to membership by vote of the Royal Academicians. A general interest had struck him as the more politic reply.

Lady Jenny was not considering him for membership in the Royal Academy, and would never be in a position to do so.

"Painting has been my preoccupation for as long as I can remember," he said. "When the other lads were clamoring for a pony or playing Robinson Crusoe or longing to explore darkest Africa, all I wanted to do was paint."

In some regards, he would have been better off in darkest Africa. Rather than ponder that unhappy truth, he popped a bite of gingerbread in his mouth.

"And where did you study, Mr. Harrison?"

This mattered to her, or mattered more than ham, cheese, gingerbread, apples, and hot tea. "Might I prevail upon you to pour again, my lady?" Because he'd downed his tea in one hot, indecorous gulp.

"Of course."

"I studied here and there. I have French cousins on my mother's side, and while Paris was no fit destination for an Englishman for quite some time, my cousins sought refuge in Italy, Denmark, and Switzerland. I made a royal progress of visiting them and their drawing masters. My mother spoke French to me from the cradle, so France was not as risky for me as it would have been for others."

Her Exquisite Ladyship fixed his second cup of tea, while he forgot his meal and instead focused on how firelight reflected off the tea service and off her hair. Lady Jenny was not a woman of angles; she was a woman of curves-an elegant curve to her spine in particular suggesting she'd eschewed stays due to the lateness of the hour, or perhaps-being in the country-she had settled for stays without boning.

The teapot was not the tall, silver, decorative variety, but rather, a round, porcelain confection with pink roses and green vines twining about the glaze. The curve of the pottery spout mirrored the curve of Lady Jenny's neck and shoulder. The green of the leaves was only a shade lighter than her eyes, and the gold tracing on the teacups a near match for her hair. If he were painting her, he'd find ways to echo the lines and colors, in the pattern of the curtains, the curl of a cat's tail, the foliage of some lush, flowering houseplant or-

"Your tea, and I can find you a book to take upstairs with you tonight."

She passed him the cup and saucer and decamped for the rows of shelves at the other end of the room.

Being a gentleman, he couldn't very well remain on the sofa if she wanted to wander the room, despite the fact that he was damp, hungry, and exhausted. He followed her between two rows of shelves, bringing a candle with him.

"You'll need some light, unless you have Kesmore's library memorized?"

She didn't take the candle, so he held it higher, the better to illuminate books, titles, and one lovely, if shy, woman. "One could not memorize the contents of Joseph and Louisa's library. They're always acquiring more books, lending this volume, trading that. Louisa is mad for books, and Joseph is mad for his lady."

"Their collection is to be envied," he said, studying the titles at eye level. Elijah's estimation of Kesmore rose-or perhaps widened-as he regarded the spine of an illustrated volume of erotic Oriental woodcuts. Beside that was some French erotic poetry, and beside that-

Lady Jenny was not as tall as he'd first thought her. The titles he regarded would not have been visible to her.

Mentally, he shook his imagination by the scruff of its shaggy neck and wagged a finger in its panting, eager face: small talk. "I enjoy Wordsworth." As a soporific, anyway.

"His poetry is lovely. I'm partial to-"

She fell silent as the library door clicked open, followed by the rapid patter of what sounded like small feet.

"Let's be quick, Manda. Papa always keeps it in his desk for when we rescue him from the ledgers."

"Hush, Fleur." The little feet crossed the library. "If Aunt Jen finds us, she'll be disappointed in us."

"I hate when she's disappointed in us."

Lady Jenny started forward, clearly ready to rain down disappointment in torrents, but Elijah caught her with an arm around her waist.

"Wait." Whispering in the lady's ear meant he had to bend close, close enough to catch the light, lovely scent of jasmine.

She turned her head to whisper back. "They should have been in bed hours ago. Let me go."

The sound of a drawer opening carried across the room. Through the stacks of books, Elijah saw two small girls, both dark-haired like Kesmore, both swathed in thick flannel dressing gowns. They plundered their father's desk, intent on some mischief.

"Aunt Jen won't be mad when we draw the pictures. She'll help us with them and make them ever so much prettier." This came from the smaller of the two, Fleur. "And Papa won't be mad when he opens our present."

"Mama can help us make it into a book, just like her books."

Against Elijah's body, Lady Jenny felt as if she were quivering with a need to herd these juvenile felons back to the nursery, while Elijah quivered with something else entirely.

Her scent was marvelous; her curves were marvelous; her focus on the children and complete lack of awareness of him was not marvelous at all, though it was exactly what he deserved.

"Which is your favorite?" Amanda asked as they closed the drawer.

"I like them all. I wonder which is Papa's favorite?"

Elijah's favorite was the manner in which Jenny Windham's backside fit exactly against the tops of his thighs, though the way she'd gone still and relaxed against him made a close second.

"Probably the one about the crow who fills the pitcher of water with stones. Papa likes cleverness and not giving up. Per... Per-something."

They trundled out, discussing the moral merits of various of Aesop's fables, while Elijah realized he'd been trapping his hostess against his damp self for far longer than was wise.

He let her go and retrieved the candle from the shelf where he'd perched it.

"Those are your nieces?"

For a moment, Lady Jenny remained with her back to him. When he should have been plucking a book from one of the lower shelves, Elijah instead studied her perfect, downy nape.

And was still studying it when she turned. "Amanda and Fleur are Joseph's daughters from his first marriage, though Louisa dotes on them shamelessly, and they love her dearly."

"And Kesmore dotes on the lot of them."

He ought not to have said that, because all this doting and loving among Kesmore's brood put hurt in Lady Jenny's eyes.

"He does. And the baby. They all adore that infant. We all do."

She blinked, as if taken aback by the forlorn quality in her own voice.

Elijah slipped past her with the candle, took her hand, and led her away from the shadows and all that intriguing erotica, back to the warmth of the fireplace. "The holidays make everything worse, don't they?"

She tugged her hand free and looked at him as if he'd recently escaped Bedlam. "I beg your pardon?"

"I beg your pardon. I am tired, and I have not yet done justice to all this scrumptious fare. I was asking if the holidays made being around family particularly difficult, but you will ignore this question. Tell me why Lord Kesmore's offspring think you will abet their Christmas schemes?"

***

Elijah Harrison was like a horse. His body mass was so great, the heat of it would dry out a damp blanket from the inside. He had the sleek musculature of a horse as well, all too evident beneath his damp shirt and breeches.

Jenny stopped herself from drawing any further equine analogies, though held against his body, her back to his chest, at least one more such comparison lurked in her awareness. "Shall we resume our meal?"

"Of course." He gestured toward the sofa, a gentleman in stocking feet and damp clothing, who posed difficult questions. "I take it you enjoy drawing?"

Very difficult questions. He settled on the sofa beside her, tucking into his food with unabashed enthusiasm, unaware of the havoc he wrought with her composure.

"I do like to draw, and you must like children."

He paused with a bite of yellow cheese halfway to his mouth. "I don't think one likes children or dislikes them. One rails against them or surrenders to them, surrender being the more prudent course. Aren't you going to eat?"

She was hungry-hungry to sketch him, hungry to know what he knew.

"Of course. What did you mean about the holidays making everything worse?"

He paused with a slice of apple in his hand. "I am from a large family, though I'm the oldest, which meant I could get free the soonest. My first objection to the Yuletide holidays is that they fall just as the worst of winter's weather is getting its grip on the land. Who would position a holiday thus? Travel is difficult; moving goods to the shops for holiday shopping is difficult. Absent gross extravagance, there are no fresh fruits or vegetables to facilitate holiday feasting. All in all, the timing is very poor."

While he spoke, he gestured with the apple slice, not grandly, but with the languid eloquence of a thoroughly Gallic wrist. He probably shrugged like a Frenchman too.

Jenny took a sip of her tea, but it was tepid and weak compared to the man beside her. "Have you other objections?"

"I do, but I would rather hear about your drawing, Lady Genevieve. Your nieces were convinced you had some skill."

Some skill. That was all she had-little training, and less hope of acquiring any unless she took very drastic measures indeed.

"I enjoy it."

He munched the apple slice into oblivion far more tidily than a horse would have and reached for another. "You, my lady, are prevaricating."

On so many levels. "How do you know?"

"Your eyes. They truly are the window to the soul, and that window closes a little when we dissemble. Most people glance down and left, others-some women-acquire a particularly vapid expression when they lie. You aren't one of them."

He held the second apple slice up to her. "Tell me about your sketching."

Temptation loomed irresistibly. When Jenny had sneaked into Antoine's classes, she'd loved the time spent immersed in creation, but she'd loved just as much the discussions that followed.

"I dabble, though I love the dabbling. I can sketch for hours, and when I'm not sketching, I want to be painting. If I can't sketch or paint, then I can embroider. The tedium of the embroidery, the stitch-by-stitch pace of it, can be meditative, but it's frustrating too."

The entire time she'd spoken, he'd held the apple slice up before her and kept his gaze on her. Now he took a crunchy bite and held the half remaining before her again, his focus on her mouth.

She wanted to lean forward and take what he offered with her teeth; instead, she took it with her fingers, dodging whatever dare he'd posed.

"You're still holding back on me," he said, helping himself to the gingerbread. "You want nothing but to spend your days creating, studying the masters, or reading about their lives and works. You long to travel the Continent, I'm supposing, and feast your eyes on the treasures there-what treasures the Corsican didn't acquire for himself. Am I right?"

Jenny could not tell if he disapproved of the person he described or was merely familiar with such creatures.

"You have never been so afflicted?"

"I was so afflicted." He dispatched another crispy apple slice, followed it up with a few bites of ham, then set about buttering a slice of bread. "Inside every professional artist a passionate amateur lies entombed. Enjoy your frustration, my lady."

The arrogance, condescension, and lurking bitterness of his pronouncement made Jenny want to spit out the apple he'd just shared with her. "Are you mocking me?"

He paused with a dollop of butter on a wooden knife poised above the bread. No, not bread. They'd baked the year's first batch of stollen today, a holiday sweet bread made according to Jenny's German grandmother's recipe.

He set the stollen on her plate. "I am envying you, dear lady. I trust you enjoy butter."

"Of course." She did not precisely enjoy his company, though being around him made her feel more... more. "If you're unhappy with your art, why not give it up?"

The same question she'd asked herself countless times.

"I am not unhappy with my art, and now you are trying to distract me." His tone was gentle, coaxing, and implacable. "Tell me about your drawing. When did you become interested, and when did you become aware you were different from the other girls?"

Those who sat to him said Elijah Harrison was a comfortable fellow to spend hours with. Jenny had found the notion preposterous. Elijah Harrison was big, quiet, and self-assured. He moved through life with a knowing, confident quality that struck her as incompatible with comfortableness.

She'd come to that conclusion without ever having talked to the man, though, and here, late at night, over informal victuals, his coat gently steaming two yards away, he regarded her with such, such compassion, that she wanted to entrust him with all her silly secrets and dreams.

When she had sketched him, his eyes had been bored, lazy, and slightly mocking: Here I stand, more confident in my nudity than you lot cowering in your fashionable attire behind your sketch pads.

In hindsight, and with the passage of a few years, she had realized that in a room full of young men with varying degrees of artistic talent, he'd adopted that attitude more for their ease than his own.

"Genevieve?"

Zhenevieve? She ought to remonstrate him for his presumption, but the sound of her name on his lips was too lovely.

"I've always been different. I'm different still. Everything you said... that's who I want to be. I am a duke's daughter, though, and probably more significantly, the daughter of a duchess. Were I to give vent to my eccentricities, it would break my parents' hearts."

A quantity of food had disappeared, and now Mr. Harrison appeared content to feast on her silly notions. "So you choose instead to break your own heart?"

She left off staring at his hands and rose to tend the fire. His question had not been challenging, but worse-far worse-gently pitying.

"One can love others, Mr. Harrison, or one can love one's own ambitions. A woman who chooses the latter is not highly regarded in our society. A man who chooses the former is regarded as weak or possessed of a religious vocation."

He did not pop to his feet when she knelt before the hearth and arranged an oak log on top of the stack already burning. Oak was heavy, though, and the weight of the additional log collapsed the half-burnt ones beneath it, sending a shower of sparks in all directions.

"Careful. Your skirts might catch."

He'd seized her under the arms and hauled her away from the hearth in one smooth, brute maneuver. When she ought to have been offended or unnerved, Jenny was impressed.

"Thank you. While you finish your meal, I'll check on your room."

She left him there by the fire for two reasons. First, she'd offered him quite enough of her confidences for one night and had failed utterly to wring any from him-professional or personal.

The second reason Jenny fled into the cold, dark corridor was that she liked standing close to Elijah Harrison far too much.

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