Crispin Hawke is revered by the ton. His brilliant sculptures are celebrated in every fashionable parlor, and tales of his fiery bed skills whispered behind every fashionable fan.
Grace Makepeace is determined to wed a titled lord, but her Bostonian bluntness leaves much to be desired. To gain acceptance by the ton, she commissions the incomparable Crispin Hawke to sculpt her hands–and to give her love lessons on the side.
Crispin agrees to school Grace in flirting. But when she catches the eye of a marquess, he realizes he’s done his job a little too well.
Can an artistic genius transform an awkward heiress into the most sought-after Original without falling for her himself?
Long ago, when the world was dewy fresh and ever so much younger than now, there lived an artist whose sculptures lacked only breath to give them life.
The artist’s name was Pygmalion.
Starting from the well-formed foot and ankle, the long line of the man’s leg ended in a disappointingly small fig leaf.
How typical, Grace Makepeace thought as she squinted at the illustration. Psyche must cavort about without a stitch, but Cupid’s most bewildering parts are always covered. And since whatever it is fits so neatly behind that tiny leaf, one wonders why it’s considered so astounding.
“For heaven’s sake, Grace, you must hurry or he’ll leave!”
“Mother, calm yourself.”
Grace didn’t lift her nose from her new copy of Rev. Waterbury’s Mysteries of Mythology, but she did flip quickly to the next page. If her mother had the slightest inkling of the scantily-clad gods and goddesses the good reverend had included in his scholarly tome, she’d have an apoplectic fit on the spot.
“Why should I care if the fellow does leave?” Grace asked.
Minerva Makepeace put an astonished hand to her ample bosom. “Because darling, Crispin Hawke is the best. Simply the best and we dare not settle for less, not with so much depending upon this. Why, the man is a bona fide genius with marble. The world is watching, dear, all the time. If we set so much as one foot wrong—”
“We may as well go home to Boston,” Grace finished for her for the umpteenth time. She closed the book with a resigned snap.
“Precisely,” her mother said.
Minerva either didn’t hear the sarcasm in Grace’s tone, or chose to ignore it. She never scolded or became cross, but when her mother set her heart on something, she wore her family down as surely as a determined drip leaves a dent in stone. Minerva’s heart was set on a titled husband for her daughter. And if acceptance by the ton of London hinged on having the fashionable artist Hawke ‘do’ Grace’s hands in marble, then Minerva Makepeace would move heaven and earth to see it done.
“Oh, I’m so glad you understand how essential this interview is, dearie.”
Her mother shepherded Grace down the hall from the light-kissed library to the heavily-curtained parlor. Brocade faded so abominably, her mother always lamented. Minerva was determined to keep the public areas of their leased townhouse above reproach from the ever-seeing eyes of the ton.
“I don’t see why we need meet Mr. Hawke’s approval. We’re paying him, Mother,” Grace reminded her. “That means he works for us.”
Minerva shushed her.
“Which means I’ll be the one doing the interviewing,” Grace finished as they neared the parlor door. But she didn’t say it loudly enough for her mother to hear.
Minerva swept into the parlor with a theatrical flourish, bunching the small train of her pale muslin gown in one hand. Grace followed, steeling herself to settle this as quickly as possible so she could return to the library. The parlor’s oppressive red wall coverings always made her feel as if the room were collapsing in on her.
“Mr. Hawke, we’re delighted, simply delighted that you’ve come.” Minerva glided across the room with the borrowed elegance of the nouveau riche and extended her bejeweled hand to the man who rose from the settee. His footman, resplendent in mauve livery with silver buttons, stood at attention in the corner.
Now I see what the fuss is about, Grace mused.
Broad-shouldered and deep chested, Crispin Hawke certainly didn’t seem the sensitive, artistic type. His raw, angular features didn’t fit the current version of ‘handsome,’ which called for a man’s eyes, nose and mouth to be smaller, more refined, almost pretty.
No one in their right might would call Mr. Hawke that. Arresting. Dangerously attractive, but definitely not pretty. Still, Grace had no doubt his face and form drew plenty of feminine eyes.
If Grace judged a man merely on his wardrobe, she’d have guessed Mr. Hawke an arch-duke at the least. His coat was cut in the first stare of fashion, draping over his lean hips in a Brummel-esque inverted “U.” His brocade waist-coat was of rich midnight blue. His skin-hugging buff trousers were so close fitting Grace was certain he’d require a much bigger fig leaf than Rev. Waterbury’s Cupid. The black knee boots were glossed to a spit shine. Crispin Hawke might have stepped directly from a fashion plate.
But Grace noticed he leaned more heavily on his walking stick than one would on a mere accessory and his curly dark hair was unstylishly long. A roadmap of lines gathered at the corners of his eyes, though she’d bet her best brooch he hadn’t seen thirty winters. His gaze traveled over her quickly and the quick twitch of his mouth gave her the distinct impression she’d been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
“Such a pleasure to finally meet you, sir. Grace, this is Mr. Hawke. Mr. Hawke, may I present,” her mother indicated with a wave of her hand, “my dear daughter, Grace?”
Even though the mystery of Crispin Hawke commanded her full attention, she would always blame what came next on the upturned corner of her mother’s new Oriental rug. As she approached to offer her hand, palm down, as her mother had taught her, Grace caught the toe of her slipper under the carpet and fell headlong onto the Hakkari weave.
“Grace,” the footman murmured. “Aptly named.”
“Willoughby, I usually appreciate your scathing wit,” Mr. Hawke said over his shoulder to the footman. Then he knelt with a soft grunt to help her rise, “But perhaps you might save it for a more deserving subject.”
Cheeks aflame, Grace tried to pull away from his grasp, unwilling to meet his gaze. But he didn’t let her go.
When she raised her eyes to him, he was looking down at her with such intensity, her belly clenched. A whiff of his scent, a brisk, clean soapy smell with an underlying note of maleness, crowded her senses. His ice-gray eyes narrowed in scrutiny.
So must a wolf eye the doe he intends for a meal.
Grace was accustomed to slumping since her mother constantly reminded her that her height might be “off-putting” to potential suitors. Now she straightened her spine, but Mr. Hawke was still able to look down his fine, straight nose at her.
The footman Willoughby cleared his throat and Mr. Hawke released his grip on Grace’s arms.
“I trust you’re now capable of remaining upright, Miss Makepeace.” One corner of his mouth curved into a crooked smile.
Her mother made a distressed little noise and fluttered over to a chair across from the settee like a wounded sparrow. “Oh, please do sit down, sir. Come, dear and mind your feet,” she said in a half-whisper to Grace as she patted the arm of the chair next to her. “I fear we’ve kept you waiting, Mr. Hawke.”
“Nonsense, madam.” He lounged on the settee, filling the space with his larger-than-life presence. “If you feared keeping me waiting you wouldn’t have done it.”
“Oh!” Minerva blinked hard at his bluntness. Grace sank into the chair next to her, wishing she could disappear into the red velvet. “As I was saying, this is my daughter, Grace, the one whose hands you’ll be sculpting—”
“That, madam, has yet to be determined.”
Grace’s head snapped up. What sort of artisan was he, picking and choosing his commissions as if he were doing his patrons a favor by accepting their money?
He was still staring at her with single-minded intensity, his dark brows drawing closer together over the nose, which she noticed now was fine and straight if a tad over-sized.
Her skin tingled under his intrusive gaze. She disliked the sensation. It was almost as if he knew more about her than he ought, as though he’d read her secret diary or sneaked into her dreams some night.
“Mr. Hawke, I’m newly arrived in your country, so perhaps you might clarify something for me.” Grace raised her chin slightly. The ton might be delirious over Crispin Hawke, but that didn’t mean she had to be. “Is rudeness what passes for genius in England these days?”
Mr. Hawke made a noise somewhere between a snort and a chuckle. His gaze flicked toward her mother. “Leave us.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“I didn’t tell you to beg, madam, though it may come to that if you cannot follow a simple directive. I told you to leave.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” Minerva said. “It wouldn’t be proper—”
“For God’s sake, woman, do you think I intend to throw your daughter on the floor and swive her here in your parlor?”
Grace’s mother erupted in a coughing fit.
“Willoughby will remain with us. The proprieties will be observed at all times, but if you wish me to accept your commission, you will allow me to speak to Miss Makepeace without your presence.”
“Oh, oh, . . .” Minerva was rarely at a loss for words, but the unconventional Mr. Hawke nearly reduced her to incoherence. “But how will I explain to Mr. Makepeace?”
“If you need tell him anything, tell him you succeeded in acquiring my services. At half my usual fee.” He raised a cynical brow. “That should suffice.”
Grace watched in horror as her proper mother rose and abandoned her to Mr. Hawke.
“Kindly close the door behind you,” he said, his rumbling tone more pleasant now that he was getting his way.
“I won’t be far, dear,” Minerva said through the narrow slit in the door before it latched behind her with a loud click.
Grace stood and began pacing the room. “Why did you bully my mother like that?”
“Because I could.” He propped his arms across the back of the settee, claiming the space as if by right. “Mind the rug, Grace. If you end up on the floor again, I might be tempted over-much and I did promise your highly-esteemed mother there’d be no swiving today.”
She shot him a glare that should have reduced him to cinders, but he only laughed. “You manipulated her for your own amusement.”
“You’re remarkably astute for a spoiled little rich girl from Boston,” he said, managing to compliment and berate her in the same breath. “I bullied your mother because it interests me to learn how much value people assign to my work. As you deduced, it’s only a game, but a game with purpose. Money is nothing. But if someone surrenders their principles, then I know my services are sufficiently appreciated for me to extend them.”
“That’s despicable. Please know that this game of yours is thoroughly unappreciated.” She flounced back onto her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t expect me to surrender anything for your services.”
“Of course not.” He leaned forward and reached toward her. “Give me your hands.”
“What?” Was this another of his games?
“Your hands, Grace.”
She might have found his smile charming if he’d not behaved so abominably to her mother. Throw me down and swive me in the parlor, indeed, you conceited swine.
There was a disconcerting flutter beneath her ribs at the thought of sharing the Hakkari carpet with Mr. Hawke.
“I must see your hands, Grace. How shall I sculpt them otherwise?”
She thrust them toward him, but made a great show of looking away, studying the Ormolu clock her mother had recently installed on the fireplace mantle with complete absorption.
“Square nails, an ink stain, a bit of a callus on your third finger.” He catalogued her hand’s attributes without emotion. “You favor your left hand.”
“What of it?”
“I do too, which makes us a pair of rare birds. I perceive you are either a writer of wicked penny novels or you keep up a lively correspondence with a number of distant friends.”
She glowered at him, but couldn’t fault his observation. When she wasn’t reading, Grace was writing.
“You should know that I don’t flatter my models.”
“How very surprising.”
“I only mean to warn you that your hands are not your best feature.” Despite his words, he continued to massage her wrists and hands with his rough, thick fingers, following her lifeline to its end at the base of her thumb. “Would you like to know what is, Grace?”
“You are engaged to sculpt my hands. I care nothing for your opinion on the rest of me,” she lied. He really was outrageous, but she burned with curiosity about what he might find most pleasing about her. Asking, however, would only allow him to play yet another game. “You should call me Miss Makepeace, you know.”
“I really should. And yet, I’ll call you Grace,” he said pleasantly as he traced between her fingers and turned her palms down to draw his thumbs over her knuckles. A little faerie of pleasure danced up her arm. “And you’ll call me . . . Mr. Hawke.”
“I certainly will not.” She pulled her hands away, her imaginary pleasure faerie disintegrating in a righteous puff of indignation. “If you insist on informality between us, it will go both ways, Crispin. Or should it be Cris?”
His wince was quick, but Grace caught it.
“Crispin will do,” he said.
“And yet,” she said with an arched brow, “I’ll call you Cris.”
He rose to his feet, leaning on the ivory-headed walking stick. “Come to my studio tomorrow. Eight of the clock sharp. Keep me waiting again, and it will be the last time.”
He strode toward the door with a slight limp.
“Perhaps that hour will not suit me,” she said, fighting the urge to follow him. She wasn’t some lake trout to be reeled in for the hooking. “Are your patrons your slaves to be ordered about?”
“No, I am the slave, but not to you, by God.” His footman scurried to hand him a top hat. He popped it on his head and inclined toward her in the shallowest of bows. “My master is the light. And it will not wait. Not for all the Boston Brahmins on the Charles.”
He threw the door open, narrowly missing Grace’s mother, who crouched at the keyhole.
“Good day, madam. You may rejoice. Your daughter has sufficiently impressed me. And without a swiving on the floor.” A wicked grin split his face. “This time.”
He turned back to Grace. “And scrub off that ink stain before tomorrow.” Then he disappeared around the corner into the foyer.
Minerva’s mouth opened and closed like a carp out of water. “What did you do, Grace?”
“I don’t know, Mother. He doesn’t seem to like me a bit.”
“Perhaps not, miss,” Willoughby said before he followed his master out. “But you interest him. And not much does.”
* * *
As Willoughby held the door of the curricle for his master, he leaned to whisper, “Did you notice—”
“Yes, damn it, I’m not blind.” Crispin climbed into the conveyance, stepping up with his left foot and lifting his right leg with a hand beneath his thigh, tucking it in quickly so as not to attract undo attention to his debility. “It means nothing.”
“But they’re as like as two peas.”
Crispin seized his servant by the cravat and brought him nose to nose. “Willoughby, if you value your position, you will shut your mouth and refrain from speech for the rest of the day unless you can present a different topic of conversation. This one is closed.”
And so was Willoughby’s mouth.
“Crispin Hawke is awkward, dashing, self-assured, rude, everything you’d expect from Georgette Heyer, or even Jane Austen. Mia Marlowe is the mistress of saucy historical romances, and Stroke of Genius is pure delight!”
“Stroke of Genius is, in one word, page-turning. It could easily be described as Pygmalion Meets Cinderella.”