When the estranged sons of wealthy eccentric Randolph Blackwood return home for his funeral and discover he has left them a private collection of three amateur oil paintings, they have no idea how this simple bequest will change their lives. The notorious Blackwood brothers are not known for their appreciation of fine art, but they are familiar with their father's love of elaborate pranks. Yes, the old man is still laughing at them from beyond the grave. For in order to collect their share of Randolph's fortune, they must return— in person— the three scandalous, nude portraits to the women who once posed for him. And that turns out to be a little more complicated than a simple delivery.
Once they were Randolph Blackwood's muses; now they've moved on with their lives. Lina is widowed and trying to lead a quiet, harmless life, while hiding a dark secret about her true desires; Daisy struggles to manage a respectable hotel against family opposition and overwhelming debt, and Claudine runs the 'Whitechapel Improvement Committee', a mysteriously busy charity home for handsome young men, funded by some of the most elegant and unhappily married ladies of Victorian London.
As the three Blackwood brothers set out to complete their task, they only have business on their minds and no intention of being distracted. But their father knew them better than anybody and he chose these three ladies for a very special reason. The true inheritance this mischief-maker leaves to his sons is neither the paintings nor his fortune. It is something far more valuable.
NOTE: This is a previously published work. Originally, the three novellas were published separately as Engraved, Entangled, & Enraptured. They have been edited for Twisted E-Publishing.
Leaving him asleep in the bed, his tousled head turned away from her, she quietly pulled on her chemise. He made no movement, no sound to show he heard or felt her leave the bed, and she tiptoed carefully from the room. The house was quiet, even the usual creaks and groans of the old beams seemingly at rest this evening.
Making her way down the stairs and into the narrow passage, she caught her dim reflection in the long mirror above the console table. She was a ghostly apparition in her white chemise with her hair tumbled over her shoulders in wanton disarray. But she also looked young, nineteen perhaps. He did that to her. It was as if all those dull, unhappy years were washed away and she was back again, a young girl, imbued with hope and romantic expectations. She smiled guiltily at the idle fancy and hurried to the kitchen.
He wasn’t staying. In the morning he’d be gone, and she’d told him never to come back again, so there was no point letting other foolish ideas crowd in. It was difficult enough now to keep herself from singing with all this strange giddiness thrumming through her bones.
She lit an oil lamp and took it with her into the larder where she assembled a hasty feast of cheese, leftover steak pie, cake, and ale. Working quickly among the shelves and the muslin covered pots, she was completely unaware of any other presence until he said, “Need help?”
Adam, barefoot, dressed only in his trousers, stood in the larder doorway, forearms pressed to the wooden frame as he leaned in, looking for her. She almost dropped the lamp.
“I didn’t hear you come down.”
“I thought perhaps you were running out on me.”
“Why would I do that?”
He said nothing, merely looked at her, devouring her slowly with his crow-black, pitiless eyes.
Evangeline handed him the oil lamp while she carried the tray out into the kitchen and set it on the long table. There they sat on this extraordinary occasion, in their scandalous state of undress, with no cutlery and no plates, hungrily consuming the first meal either of them had ever fully enjoyed. Alone together they forgot the long-instilled nursery rules about no elbows on the table and bringing a glass perpendicular to the lips. In fact, Adam drank directly from the ale jug. The impropriety only made it all that much more delightful.
Watching him in the amber, smoky light, she thought he, too, looked younger. Although, of course, he had a head start on her. Naked from the waist up, he resembled a savage from an old illustrated encyclopedia she had as a child. The light gleamed across his wide shoulders, accentuating the hard muscle, drawing her eyes across and then down, reminding her of those wondrous hours already gone.
Thank goodness they still had until morning. Then it would be over. There would be no regrets. They would go their separate ways and have this pleasant memory shut away in their minds like a love knot kept in a silver locket.
Love knot? Her heart slowed. Why would she even think of love? Why let that word in? This wasn’t love. It was lust and Adam Blackwood getting his way. A few hours ago she’d even considered it blackmail, although she couldn’t now, with any good conscience, refer to it any longer as a crime. He was too skilled, too stunning, too generous a lover…
This, she thought helplessly, is what he did to other women. Made them forget themselves so utterly they forgave him anything, let him treat them abominably just because he was so talented in bed. She forced herself to remember why they were there together in the first place. Because he refused to return her painting unless she succumbed.
That was blackmail, wasn’t it? How could she forget and forgive?
He swigged ale straight from the jug again and a little of it dripped down his chin. When she leaned across the table to wipe it for him with the sleeve of her chemise, he caught her wrist in his long fingers, brought her palm to his lips, and kissed it, his eyes melting hers.