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Authors: Amanda McIntyre

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BOOK: The Master & the Muses
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Chapter 2

IT WAS ODD TO SEE MY SHADOW AS I WALKED
along the cobbled lane to work. Between the constant downpours and the stench from the river that hovered over the city like a hazy specter, the sun was a strange sight. Its warmth lifted my spirits, but the idea of seeing Mr. Rodin had improved my mood long before I set foot outdoors.

I turned the corner, scanning the block before me, disappointed when I saw only the familiar store managers putting out their wares.

“A fine day to you, miss.”

I took a step back, taken by surprise at Mr. Rodin's sudden emergence from a closed storefront. “Are you always this forward when in pursuit of potential models, Mr. Rodin?” I squared my shoulders, making sure he thought I did not appreciate him accosting me in this manner. In truth, however, butterflies had taken flight inside me.

He bowed. “Forgive me. I only came to inquire whether you might have seen my hat. I have apparently misplaced it.”

My brave response was prompted by my secret delight in seeing him again. “And you did not wish to encounter Mrs. Tozier
again, I presume?” It was as close to flirting with a man as I'd ever done.

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a wicked grin. “How astute you are, Miss Bridgeton. I pray you know me all too well.”

“Oh, Mr. Rodin, something tells me that I have barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless, I did find your hat before Madame Tozier did.” I handed him the round box, which he held high, turning the beribboned container this way and that.

“I can't say when my old chapeau has ever looked better,” he remarked.

“I quite agree, Mr. Rodin,” I responded with a genuine smile. “If you'll excuse me, I must get to work.” I started around him.

“Um…excuse me, Miss Bridgeton. May I inquire of your plans this evening after work?”

I stopped and looked over my shoulder. True it was that I did not belong to an aristocratic circle where gentlemen used calling cards to request a lady's company. Regardless, I was somewhat surprised by his unconventional manner. Then again, what should I expect from a man who had skulked around watching me for days before speaking? I thought of what I would do for one of my sisters. Would I give up easily if I thought they truly needed something? “You must adore your brother very much, Mr. Rodin.”

He pried open the hatbox lid, offering a lopsided grin as he plopped the bowler on his head.

“Indeed, I do, but what makes you say so?”

He had not noticed that I had carefully trimmed the frayed edges of his hat. “Because it is clear that you are not to be put off, isn't it? No matter how rude I am.”

His blue eyes regarded me with new interest. “Are you being rude?”

“See there, you wouldn't even know!” I replied.

He laughed and the sound of it was so carefree that I daresay I found my mouth twitching to smile.

“Miss Bridgeton, I assure you that my intentions are honorable. Are you not old enough to accept a simple invitation for a walk in the gardens, maybe to enjoy an ice cream with me?”

“For what purpose, Mr. Rodin?” I knew to accept meant I would hear more about this proposal. Moreover, I feared that my interest was not merely in his proposal, but in seeing him again.

“Very well, Mr. Rodin. Shall we meet at the west gate of the Cremorne Gardens, then? Around five?”

“I look forward to it, Miss Bridgeton. You can ask then all the questions that I'm certain are mulling around that beautiful head of yours.”

 

We'd taken our ice cream and walked past the dancing platform to get away from the crowd and the loud music of the outdoor stage. It was a pleasant early evening at the gardens. The lights, hung by lanterns in the trees, flickered in the dusky wane of sunlight. A gentle breeze blew, mercifully keeping the lingering stench of the city at bay, at least for a while. “Tell me about your brother, Mr. Rodin.”

I used a spoon to scoop up a bite of the refreshing ice cream infused with lemon. An arched tunnel overgrown with wisteria and vines led to another part of the park. I thought we would be able to talk quietly there.

We walked through the tunnel in silence, the cool shadows as welcome as the treats we ate.

“What would you like to know about him?” Mr. Rodin asked.

I confess my head felt light for no reason I could think of other than the handsome gentleman at my side. Unnerved by my reaction to his proximity, I sought to find a question about his brother that could possibly interest me more than Mr. Rodin. “Why don't you tell me about his work?”

A small blob of ice cream slid off my spoon and landed in the middle of my chest. I grimaced and Mr. Rodin offered to hold my cone while I rummaged through my bag for a handkerchief.

“There now, Miss Bridgeton. I've got it.”

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and swiftly wiped away the mess. I felt the slight brush of his fingertips over my breast. A gasp tore from my throat. “Please, Mr. Rodin!”

“My apologies, Miss Bridgeton. It seemed simple enough to remove without touching your—”

My brows shot up. “I receive your meaning, Mr. Rodin. You needn't embellish.” I took his handkerchief and dabbed at the place where the ice cream had seeped through to my skin. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Perhaps we could find a place to sit down?”

“Oh, yes, of course. Here, this looks like a suitable spot.”

He waited as I sat, and I shook my head when he offered me the remainder of my cone. He tossed both cones into a receptacle nearby and sat down beside me.

“Please continue, Mr. Rodin. You were telling me about your brother.” I took a breath and patted my hair, trying not to look too disheveled.

“About Thomas—” he tapped his long fingers together “—he's a complex fellow, as most men of his position are. His passion is his art and that is what drives him, I suppose.”

“Forgive me, but is he any good? Does he exhibit his work publicly?”

He turned to look at me, his expression curious. “You've truly not heard of him?”

I shook my head. “I'm sorry, I have not.”

“His earlier works have been on exhibition at the Royal Academy gallery. I believe one or two still hang in a permanent wing at the insistence of one of the academy's wealthy contributors.”

“His accomplishments sound most impressive. You must be quite proud.”

“I told you, Miss Bridgeton, he is gifted man. Not perfect, mind you, but bright and determined. He is a romantic at heart. His work is largely of women, using poetic imagery, religious stories and legends from which he derives his ideas. Though, in truth, his inspirations are his muses.”

“May I ask what you mean by ‘his
muses'
?”

“Let me make one thing perfectly clear, Miss Bridgeton. My brother has a deep, abiding love of women. A reverence, I daresay. Thomas regards women with the same awe that other men reserve for the stars, or a sunrise.”

“My, what a lovely thing to say, Mr. Rodin.” My eye caught the shadowy figures of a couple hurrying into the dense foliage beside the tunnel. There was little doubt in my mind what mischief they were engaging in. I forced my attention back to Mr. Rodin. “Are there many members in this brotherhood, Mr. Rodin? Any other models?”

“There are a handful of us—other artists like Thomas, me, in design…we also have amongst us a poet, a journalist and an author, as well as a few other individuals. You need not take concern, Miss Bridgeton. We are a close-knit group and very watchful of one another.”

A woman's lusty sigh came from the other side of the wall. I kept my eyes on Mr. Rodin's face. He continued, despite the distracting animallike sounds coming from nearby.

“There is a certain amount of pride in what we believe in, what we aspire to. Each of us has a purpose, a goal we want to achieve, but we are—”

“Oh, yes…yes, that's lovely,
guvner.
” The woman emitted a loud sigh. “Here now,” she said, “let's see what gift you've got for me.”

I heard the soft baritone of a man's chuckle. “You are an eager one.”

Images of what the couple were engaged in leaped into my imagination and I licked my lips.

“—professional and discreet,” Mr. Rodin finished

My face felt flushed, feverish. I fisted my hands in my lap, trying to stay as detached from the events on the other side of the wall as it seemed Mr. Rodin was. I wanted to ask him if we should take our conversation elsewhere, but he appeared to be perfectly content and I did not wish to convey to him that I was as unsettled as I truly was.

“Discreet?” The word squeaked from my throat. “Oh, yes, an admiral trait, certainly.”

A deep-throated groan wafted through the flowers and I saw the instant Mr. Rodin recognized it. His mouth curled slightly at one side and he averted his eyes for a moment.

“Did you have any other questions, Miss Bridgeton?” he asked.

“Oh, dear lady! What extraordinary skills you possess!” the man growled from inside the bushes.

I turned my head aside, covering my mouth to hide my smile. I cleared my throat, loud enough, I hoped, to alert the couple they were not alone. It did not seem to deter them.

“There now, hold it still,
guvnor.
You're plenty ready.”

“But I paid for an hour,” the man remarked with slight agitation in his voice.

“Is that my fault, then? Besides—” she cooed “—there's no sayin' that we can't find us another lovely spot to 'ave a go at it again, if you get my meaning?”

A deep chuckle followed.

I was so entranced by their repartee that I had all but forgotten Mr. Rodin was seated beside me. My eyes flickered to his steady gaze. “Oh, my, what is it that you asked, Mr. Rodin?”

His grin curled upward, deepening that delightful dimple. “If you had any more—”

“Ah…ah, oh, yes…there, that's good, guvnor.
Real
good.”

The trellised latticework wall bowed inward with each punctuated sigh coming from the woman.

“—questions,” Mr. Rodin finished as he glanced at the heaving wall. He removed his hat and suppressed a grin.

“Perhaps we should leave?” I whispered, as the sounds of the couple's passion escalated. I'd never heard such noises before. A warm, damp feeling formed at the juncture of my thighs. My palms, too, were moist—indeed, my whole body seemed to come alive listening to their lusty cries.

“Are you quite sure? Just when things are getting interesting?” Mr. Rodin smiled openly.

“I think before they get too much more interesting.” I stood, finding the backs of my knees weak.

“Very well, I could use a good walk myself.”

He offered his arm and we continued to the other end of the breezeway. As we reached the open lawn beyond, I took a deep breath of fresh air. I felt as if all the blood had drained to my toes.

“Are you all right, Miss Bridgeton?” Mr. Rodin patted my hand, still tucked through his arm.

“Yes, I'm—”

A man's loud groan wafted on the breeze along with the music behind us. Few others were in the area as, by now, most people had taken to the dance floor.

I glanced over my shoulder. “I'm well, thank you. Um…might we resume our conversation? I believe you were about to answer my question regarding other models.” He cast me a side look.

“Of course. Models… Normally, our artists do not employ more than one model at a time. Once a theme is chosen, the artist begins to look for the face that will complete his vision.”

Mr. Rodin eased my arm from his and I felt awkward once more. We strolled together to the pond and watched silently as two swans swam by, gliding effortlessly side by side. I thought about the story of the ugly duckling that my sisters and I were told when we were young, of how the strange little duckling was turned into a beautiful swan. I felt such a complexity of emotions. In the wake of overhearing the couples' tryst, I was more aware than before of my attraction to Mr. Rodin.

“Perhaps you'd like to see some of my brother's work?” he asked, his eyes on the birds. “It might help convince you that my intentions are honorable.”

“Oh, Mr. Rodin,” I said, not wanting him to think me immature or indecisive. “I do believe you are being truthful. Please understand that I am interested—very interested. It's only that my family is not entirely agreeable to the idea of my modeling for an artist—any artist.”

“I could speak with them, if you like,” he offered.

I held up my hand. “Oh, no, that would not go over well, I'm afraid. My family's opinion of artists is much worse than even Madame Tozier's.”

He frowned. “That is a problem.”

He looked away and I feared he was about to end our association. “However, perhaps I could meet you at the gallery sometime and you could show me your brother's work?”

He glanced down, a smile lighting up his face. “Splendid. Yes, that would be most enjoyable.”

I breathed a quiet sigh. “Wonderful,” I replied, offering him a smile in return.

“Can you meet me on Saturday, then?” he asked, removing his hat. A slight breeze lifted an errant lock of hair, blowing it across his forehead. My fingers twitched to brush it from his eyes.

“Oh? So soon?” I fretted over whether I could quickly devise an adequate excuse to get out of my Saturday chores. “I—I'm not sure I can make arrangements on such short notice.”

“Your family?” he asked.

I nodded. He faced me then, and rested his hands on my shoulders. “I cannot deceive you into thinking that the members of the brotherhood are saints. We are flesh and blood, young and sometimes reckless, and we have the same drives as all men.”

He searched my face for a moment. “Please go on, Mr. Rodin.” I was grateful he held me upright, as my knees threatened to buckle.

“But our passion does not make us unsavory characters to fear. It is embracing that passion that gives the world its beauty. Do you understand?”

BOOK: The Master & the Muses
3.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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