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Portrait of a Lover
By Julianne MacLean
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Julianne MacLean
All right reserved.
"That shawl is entirely too young for her," Aunt Millicent said as she smoothed her skirts on the train seat. "She's turning seventy-five, after all. The color is too daring, and it's not even fashionable. Speaking of which, why in the world did you wear that hat? It's the worst thing I've ever seen. It looks like a purple haystack on your head."
As always, Annabelle ignored her aunt's narrow-minded taste in millinery, because she was not giving up the hat. It was satisfyingly unique. "I suppose it suits our surroundings," she added with a self-important, haughty tone. She glanced around the Second Class carriage, looking down her nose in repugnance at the merchants and tradesmen.
Annabelle ignored her aunt's snobbery as well, for they'd had no choice about the traveling accommodations. First Class was full, and they couldn't possibly wait for another train, for they were already late for Aunt Sadie's birthday party as it was.
"The shawl is a very tasteful shade of blue, Auntie," Annabelle replied, trying to distract Millicent from her discontent. "It's like the sky. It will accentuate the vivid color of her eyes."
"Her eyes do not need to be noticed in that way. Not at her age."
Growing frustrated, for she knew Aunt Millicent wouldn't budge about the blue shawl, Annabelle turned her gaze toward the window. They were slowing down. The train was screeching to a halt at the Leicester station to pick up passengers.
Steam spurted and hissed from the engine as a crowd gathered on the platform. Annabelle looked down and smiled at a family -- a young couple standing in the shade of the station overhang with their baby in a brand new pram. The woman, wearing a fashionable green plumed hat, raised a gloved hand and waved, and Annabelle waved cheerfully in return.
"Now that is a lovely hat," Aunt Millicent said, wagging a finger. "See how it fits in with all the others?"
Continuing to ignore her aunt's harangue, and thinking they might be stopped for more than a few minutes, Annabelle reached into her bag for the book she'd packed. She was leaning forward, quite distracted by the inconceivable mess inside the bag -- when in the world had she put a cigar cutter in there? -- when the door to their carriage suddenly swung open, startling her, for she was seated right next to it. She jolted upright.
"I do beg your pardon," a man said, stepping up and looking around the full carriage.
An elderly woman came along and entered behind him, and he helped her up, then gestured to the seats facing Annabelle and Millicent. "These appear to be the last available seats. If you don't mind?"
Naturally, Annabelle left it to her chaperone to respond, but even if she had been the one required to reply, she wasn't sure she would have been able to speak, for her heart was racing in her chest and her mouth felt strangely tingly inside. Because the man standing before her, removing his black overcoat right in front of her eyes was, in a word, magnificent.
The elderly woman behind him removed her coat, too, but Annabelle was only aware of the man -- tall, broad-shouldered, and dark. His hair was shiny black, his eyes dark brown. He turned to face her again, and she had to struggle to keep her eyes downcast, though she did glance up briefly to observe the fine lines of his shoulders and back as he assisted the elderly woman by hanging her coat with his on a nearby hook.
Then all at once he turned and glanced down at Annabelle's feet -- his eyes lingering there for a moment.
For the first time in her life Annabelle was embarrassed by her boots. They were made for boys, and they were absolutely not fashionable, but they were so much more comfortable than ladies' boots, especially when she spent most of her time tramping around the countryside with her easel under her arm.
She quickly drew her feet under her skirts.
When the man finally took the seat facing her, he smiled politely, first at Aunt Millicent, who was looking down her long, aristocratic nose suspiciously at him, then at Annabelle, who managed to smile casually in return.
She hoped she wasn't blushing. That would be mortifying.
Determined not to stare, she raised her book and opened it, pretending to read. Yes, pretending, because she could hardly concentrate with such a handsome man sitting not three feet away from her, facing her squarely.
Trains could be so decidedly awkward sometimes.
The train blew its whistle and they lurched forward, rocking back and forth as the locomotive began to slowly move away from the station. Annabelle looked out the window at the young family again, and watched them through the spiraling coal dust until she couldn't see them anymore.
Soon they were under way, the pistons hammering fast beneath them as they gained speed on the tracks.
Feeling the chugging sensation beneath the soles of her boots, Annabelle peered over the top of her book to steal another glance at the man across from her. He was gazing absently out the window, so she recalled her artist's mantra -- there is no substitute for close observation -- and studied his face more meticulously.
Of course, it was pure perfection -- a straight nose, a strong chiseled jaw, and high cheekbones. Yet, along with all those sharp, manly angles was a set of full, moist lips that looked quite agreeably soft.
What she wouldn't give to paint him.
It was an odd thought, because she never painted people. She only did landscapes, preferably rugged ones, which was perhaps where this marked fascination came from. He, too, was rugged, like the jagged English coastlines that captured her imagination more than any other place or thing. She loved the sound of the sea, surging and crashing up against the rocks, and she loved to try and capture the unfathomable depths and distances that were an intrinsic part of the ocean.
Excerpted from Portrait of a Lover by Julianne MacLean Copyright © 2006 by Julianne MacLean. Excerpted by permission.
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