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Misty Urban | Exclusive Excerpt: THE PAINTER TAKES AN EARL

Excerpt from The Painter Takes an Earl by Misty Urban

 

The key to the garden gate was exactly where the gardener she’d spied on earlier that day had left it when his work was done. Harriette wouldn’t have asked someone to prop the door open for her. London’s all too active criminal element wouldn’t refrain from attempting to rob a house with dozens of people in it. The city’s thieves were wildly inventive, according to Jock, her groom. Men slid into houses during the day and then hid to let their cronies inside at night. Boys were pushed through windows to open an inside door, or lamplighters enjoined to leave ladders against the sides of houses. How Jock knew all of this, she couldn’t guess, since his former profession had been respectable.

She could, of course, have chosen the simpler but more unreliable approach of milling around Grosvenor Square waiting for Renwick to step outside his house. She could still try to stroll inside with the other guests and ask the butler to announce her.

And what would he say? “Miss Harriette Smythe of Shepton Mallet, presumed bastard daughter of a refugee foreigner posing as a noblewoman. Would-be painter.” No wonder Lady Renwick had not called back when Harriette left her card.

Ren had not called, either.

The tree was not a strong one, and Harriette scrabbled with hands and feet to haul herself onto the lowest branch. It bent dangerously under her weight, and for a moment her heart stopped. Going in through the front door was a much better idea after all. A shadow moved across a second-floor window, tall and threatening against the glass, and her heart shrank and quivered. She risked her life continuing upward if someone thought she was a housebreaker indeed, but she couldn’t see a way down. She would be stuck in this tree until dawn came or she cried for someone to get her. Oh, why had she assumed seeing Ren would be as easy as scaling the old Blinder Wall at the Manor House in Shepton Mallet?

The shadow moved again, and her heart thumped. Ren. She had to see him. She clenched her teeth and pulled herself up through the foliage, feeling her skirts catch in a hundred places, hoping the fabric proved heavier than the clutching branches. She crept along an upper branch and finally threw a leg over the decorative railing that lined the upper floor. It held her weight, thankfully, and she swung both legs over, then inched along the tiny platform until she came to the window where the shadow moved.

Her heart slammed her chest with the force of her excitement, nervousness, and fear. Before her mind could cast up the many reasons this was all a terrible, terrible idea, she forced her way over the threshold of the window and into the room.

The man stood at the far side, his back to her. Her heart stopped beating. He was tall and intimidating and his stride was firm and long. He wore a small white wig and the black ribbon tied back a small queue that hung down a back that was broad and very firm looking under a tight expanse of dark blue silk. The tails of his coat brushed a rear that was equally firm and well-shaped, and the blue silk breeches and white stockings fitted legs that were muscled and straight.

This couldn’t be her Ren, but perhaps he knew where Ren was, and whoever he might be, he was a well-formed fellow. Harriette held her breath waiting for him to turn around. She’d risk being thrown out on her ear, or into the watchhouse, just to see what kind of face went with such a splendid, well-proportioned body.

He appeared to be pacing the room, a large dressing room, probably his, and when he reached the end of it he wheeled around. Harriette’s breath stopped altogether.

His face was a gift from the gods, strong-featured, clean-lined, with the kind of elegant symmetry perfected in ancient Greek sculpture. Strong jaw, straight nose, and a noble, thoughtful brow that drew into an immediate scowl when he spotted her. He froze, and they stared at one another while the rest of the world melted away. The blue of his suit made his eyes searing, brilliant. They burned into her, scattering thought.

“Well, that’s luck,” Harriette breathed. “I got the right room. Hello, Ren.”

He’d grown into a man, but she knew those eyes. She flung herself across the room at him, wondering if he’d feel as good as he looked. She lifted her hands to slip them around his neck, thoughtless in her relief and surprise and something else, something unnamable and unknown, that shook her powerfully at the sight of him.

Faster than her eye could follow, his hand moved. He caught her wrists and held them away from him, hauling her up short. His eyes were the blue of deep ice and his frown forbidding.

“You presume much, miss, when we do not know each other.”

Her mouth fell open. The cool, distant expression on his face doused her like a cold rain, freezing her veins. In every scenario she’d run through in her head, never had she thought of this one.

She tried to tug her hands free. He was much, much stronger than she was, holding her wrists in his powerful grip. She stared into his stony face with astonishment and despair.

“I know you,” she whispered. “You’re Renwick. How can it be you have forgotten your Harriette?”

 

© Misty Urban

The Painter Takes an Earl, published by Oliver Heber Books (May, 2024)

THE PAINTER TAKES AN EARL by Misty Urban

Ladies Least Likely #3

The Painter Takes an Earl

Eleven years ago, ragtag near-orphan Harriette Smythe made a lifelong friend when she defended the young Earl of Renwick from the village boys persecuting him for his stammer and clubfoot. When Ren returns to London with all the polish of his Grand Tour and the need to take up his duties, he finds a woman in crimson silk shimmying through his window: Harriette, all grown up into a delectable woman, who offers him a startling proposal.

Harriette, now an artist, has been helping support her eccentric household with salacious sketches that have made her notorious, but she needs to redeem herself with a respectable—and rich—clientele if she wants to keep a roof over their heads. She offers Renwick a trade: she’ll help him select a bride from London’s marriageable maidens if he agrees to sit for a portrait.

Ren soon falls back under the spell of wild, willful Harriette, the only person who thinks he’s perfect just as he is. But winning the one woman he cannot have will mean risking his life to free her from the grip of her past and the forces bent on tearing them apart.

 

Romance Historical [Oliver-Heber Books, On Sale: August 20, 2024, e-Book, / ]

Buy THE PAINTER TAKES AN EARLKindle | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Misty Urban

Misty Urban

Misty Urban is a medieval scholar, freelance editor, and college professor who likes to write stories about misbehaving women who find adventure and romance. She holds an MFA and Ph.D. from Cornell University and lives in the Midwest in a little town on a big river.

Ladies Least Likely

 

 

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