Vanquished, p.9

Vanquished, page 9



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  "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry." Her eyes were sad-- sad for him.

  He shrugged to indicate it wasn't important, and yet for whatever reason, being the object of her pity hurt him, rather profoundly. "It wasn't a bad place. Quite the contrary, in fact. It was in the country, and in time I made three friends there, one of whom lives in London now."

  "And the other two?"

  "There's a big, braw Scot, Patrick, though we called him Rourke after his surname. The last I heard, he was somewhere in northern Scotland working on the railways. The little girl, Daisy, was adopted by a husband/wife acting team and whisked off to parts unknown."

  "So you were left all alone?"

  The way she said it brought back how very much it had hurt to find himself abandoned yet again. "For the most part, yes." He punctuated the admission with a shrug and then busied himself with changing out the exposed plates for blank ones. Aware of her watching him, he looked up and asked, "What are you thinking now?" not because he was playing her but because for whatever reason he genuinely wanted to know.

  She turned to face him, a smile on her lips--lips he suddenly wanted to kiss rather badly. "That it is growing markedly colder not to mention coming on time you fulfilled your end of our bargain."

  He'd wager the whole of his twenty-five hundred pounds that wasn't what she'd been thinking at all but rather than press, he said, "Time to pack up and pay the piper, is it?" Straightening, he stepped away from the camera. "Ah well, it is cold, I'll grant you that. The lens of my camera is starting to fog. What say you to that cup of tea I promised the other day--Callie?"

  When he'd invited her back to his flat for tea, he hadn't really expected her to agree. As a rule, well-bred women such as Caledonia Rivers simply did not consent to go to a man's lodgings, even if those lodgings did set above a shop. In point, he'd prepared himself for, if not a battle precisely, mulish, unequivocal refusal. Instead she'd sent him a worried look, a longer than usual pause, but in the end, she'd nodded that brisk nod of hers and answered "very well then."

  But then beneath those high-necked shirtwaists and stiff, starched skirts, Caledonia was a woman after all.

  As he was a man.

  They walked back in silence, a state that seemed to suit them both. Once indoors, Hadrian kept his shop's sign on CLOSED and twisted the key in the lock. He turned about to find Callie roaming his studio, making a show of perusing his framed works even though she'd surely seen them when she'd sat for him before.

  As if sensing his eyes on her, she moved away from the wall to face him, and he felt something inside him give way as though he was about to steal something he'd no right to so much as touch. "These are very fine. I meant to say so the other day. I am no expert in the photographic arts, but you are very talented."

  He regarded her, arms crossed. "There are those who say that photography is no art but craft at best."

  She smiled at him, that small Mona Lisa smile of hers that did funny things to his insides. "If you'll pardon my saying so, you don't strike me as a man who cares overmuch for what others say."

  "True enough, and yet I think I might care a great deal what you say, what you think." The moment the sentiment escaped, he would have given the world to reclaim it although, oddly enough, he'd meant it--every word.

  She surprised him by asking, "Precisely how does it function?"


  She crossed the room toward him. "The mechanics of the thing, it boggles my mind how something viewed through the lens of your camera can be transformed into a physical representation I can hold in my hand, perceive with my own eye?"

  Ridiculously pleased she should care, he beckoned her to over to the camera he'd just set down on the worktable. Pointing to the pertinent parts, he explained, "The process requires the alignment of three components: light; a closed chamber with an opening through which light can pass; and a light-sensitive medium--in this particular case, a glass plate coated with a gelatin emulsion containing light-sensitive salts."

  She nodded. "But how do you get the image to fix?"

  A canny question, that. How to keep the image from fading away was the very conundrum that had bedeviled early pioneers such as Sir Humphrey Davy and Thomas Wedgwood as far back as 1802. "After exposure, I use a chemical agent to fix the image, and then the plate is left to dry."

  Her brow furrowed. "It sounds a rather lengthy process."

  He shrugged. "Minutes give or take."

  She shook her head, face quietly lovely in the midday light, eyes reflecting an almost childlike wonder. "To think that in mere minutes you can make something that will last forever, perhaps change the world forever."

  "Changing the world, that's your mission, not mine." And yet there'd been a time not so very long ago when he'd thought to employ his photographic skills to do just that. "At any rate, nothing really lasts forever, does it?"

  Idealist that she was, she took issue with that as he'd known she would. "What of the Parthenon, the Tower of Pisa, the . . . ?"

  He tamped down the urge to seal that lovely open mouth of hers with his own. "As I haven't seen any of those places with my own eye, I'll have to take your word for it. Though I've seen a photograph of the tower at Pisa--wasn't it leaning, and quite precariously, in fact?"

  She laughed then, releasing that lovely wind chime sound he hadn't heard since their first haphazard meeting. "Well, then, several hundred years or more . . . give or take." Shrugging, he said, "My work will end up in the rubbish heap long before then."

  "Why do you say that?" She cocked her head and regarded him.

  "It's the shadow side of human nature, I suppose, to value only what has cost us dearly. Much of my portraiture work involves tintypes, and they carry little artistic weight, I'm afraid. Galleries snub them and many of the more established photographers refuse to make them altogether on the grounds that something so easy to produce and therefore accessible to the so-called masses couldn't possibly be high art."

  "That seems foolish."

  "Ah well, perhaps and perhaps not."

  He doubted the likes of Fenton had ever to worry over where to find the funds for the coming month's rent. Certainly he'd never had to sell his soul to a devil like Dandridge. And it wasn't just his soul Hadrian had bartered but Callie's, too. The latter made him truly sad.

  Before melancholy might soften him, he seized on the opportunity to say, "But really the only way to understand the process is to undertake it oneself. Perhaps you'd care to try your hand at picture making?"

  His motive in issuing the invitation was twofold. On the one hand, he was genuinely eager to share his life's passion with a bright and willing pupil; on the other, the large closet that served as his darkroom was upstairs--as good an excuse as any to lure her into his private rooms.

  She hesitated. "You should know I've never been terribly . . . artistic."

  "You'll be taking a picture. No watercolors or sketchpads, I promise. Ten minutes, surely you can spare that much for science?"

  He was openly teasing her but rather than take offense, she smiled. "All right, then, if you're sure you won't mind my bumbling about."

  "Bumble away, Miss Rivers, but first let me see about that tea I promised."


  "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."

  --Seneca Falls Declaration, 1848

  It was cold in his upstairs flat, or at least chilly. Hadrian closed the door behind them and turned about, making an effort to see his surroundings as Caledonia Rivers was seeing them, the furnishings sparse and uniformly secondhand--a rope bed tucked behind a teakwood screen, the table where he took his meals, a divan covered in moth-eaten velvet that served as a staging area for his more intimate boudoir portraits.

  Seeing her rubbing her hands together, he moved to make good on his promise of tea. He had a small gas cook stove, a gift from Ga
vin he'd felt almost embarrassed to accept but in the end had, mostly to forestall a fight. Thankful for it now, he lit the paraffin burner, filled the kettle from the tap and set the water to boil, and then measured out what he hoped was the right amount of tea leaves for a proper pot.

  She drifted over to his table and bent to inhale the fragrance from the centerpiece of roses, which he'd got from the local flower seller at an extravagant price. Later, if the afternoon followed according to plan, he would be dragging one of those blood red blooms across her very white, very bare skin.

  But first there was the pretense of tea to be got through. Accordingly, he poured the boiling water into the china teapot he'd begged from his landlady along with the dainty teacups and saucers she'd sworn to break his arm over if he so much as chipped. Tossing the oven mitt aside, he called out, "You'll have to tell me how you take your tea."

  "With cream if you have it and sugar, lots."

  He didn't have cream, only milk. Hoping it hadn't spoiled, he opened the door to the icebox and gave the pitcher a sniff. Satisfied, he poured a small measure into both cups, dropped in several lumps of sugar, and then carried them out to the living area.

  He found Callie seated on the divan and petting Dinah, who'd seen fit to hop up on her lap. Charmed at the sight, he handed her a cup. "So it's not only children you're fond of. Apparently small, furry animals find favor with you as well?"

  She accepted her tea with a nod of thanks, sniffing the steam before venturing a small sip. Putting down the cup, she said, "I'm very fond of animals of all sizes, horses especially though I haven't ridden in some time."

  He thought of the horses stabled at Roxbury House, most of them too old or infirm to be ridden. Like lost children, the orphanage had provided them safe haven. Helping the groom who tended them had been one of his chief pleasures.

  Slipping onto the cushion next to her, he took a sip of his tea and teased, "Shall I photograph you on horseback next? Rather like a general commanding her troops."

  He felt her tense; whether from his flippant remark or his nearness or both, he couldn't say. She gave a quick glance to the watch pinned to her shirtwaist. "My lesson, I almost forgot."

  "An eager pupil, the very best kind." He set his tea on the table next to hers and got up, gesturing for her to join him at the camera he kept stationary on its stand.

  Lifting the camera cloth, he motioned for her to slip beneath. She hesitated and then ducked under.

  Arranging the cloth to cover her head and shoulders, he couldn't get beyond the lovely floral fragrance of her hair. "Looking through that small screen shows you what the camera lens sees. That is how you frame your shot."

  A few seconds passed and then her muffled voice called out, "Ah, I see now. But it's so very small."

  He smiled at that. "Beyond that, the direction of the main light is the most important factor in establishing the overall look of the picture. The stop otherwise known as the aperture of the lens is responsible for controlling how much light is let in. Too little light, and the picture will be shadowed; too much and you risk blighting your image with flares--light that appears as streaks or stars." To demonstrate, he reached around to the camera front, fiddling with the focus.

  Caught up in the lesson, she couldn't know how her amazing bottom tilted upward, a bare inch from pressing against his groin. Leaning in, she shifted position, and her hip brushed his thigh. He felt his mouth go dry with anticipation, with want. Bad show, Hadrian. In this cat-and-mouse game he was supposed to be the predator, the one on the hunt. He wasn't supposed to feel things in response-- that was most definitely not allowed.

  Clearing his throat, he continued, "The very first thing to be done after checking your equipment is to position your subject--in this case, me."

  Slipping out from beneath the cover, she straightened and turned to look at him. "You are my subject?"

  Thinking how delightful she looked with her hair mussed, he nodded. "Unless you fancy photographing inanimate objects such as that now empty divan, I suggest you place me in any position you will. I promise I'll not move so much as a muscle. Unlike some persons, I can hold still."

  "Is that so? We shall see about that, shan't we?" The sudden smile breaking over her face, delightfully devilish, had him grinning in return, temporarily forgetting that this wasn't sport but a game he must, at all costs, win.

  He walked over to the divan, swung back toward her, and stretched his arms out at his sides much as she had done earlier in the park. Only they weren't out-of-doors in the public eye any longer, but rather tucked inside this very small, very private space. "Do with me as you will."

  She hesitated and then crossed toward him. Only Hadrian didn't move, only stood there staring her straight in the eye, for getting her to touch him was the object of the game, after all.

  "Very well, sit."

  He shook his head, refusing to budge.

  Exasperated, she pressed a light hand against his chest, pushing against him. He pretended to sprawl back against the seat, which had her shaking her head and laughing with delight.

  Enjoying himself, he said, "But the photographer is not only a scientist. He or she," he added purposefully "must also view the scene with the eyes of an artist, taking into account any number of small details that contribute to the overall composition of the piece."

  "What sort of details?"

  "Subject contrast, for one. By way of example, setting my white shirt against a white backdrop would yield very poor contrast whereas setting it against a black backdrop would result in a contrast that was maximal but perhaps overly stark. By way of striking a happy medium, taking up one of those blooms from that vase on the table might make for just the proper point of interest."

  Taking the hint, she glanced back to the table. Going over to it, she plucked one of the roses from the chipped earthenware vase. She returned, snapped off a portion of the thorny stem, and handed it to him. "This would look smashing tucked into your lapel, don't you think?"

  She really was beginning to catch on. "I can't see myself as you can, so I think you'd best do this for me," he said both because it was true and because coaxing her into touching him was the aim of the exercise.

  She fixed it in his buttonhole and then stood back to study him. "I think I'd like your arm draped along the sofa back."

  "Like this?" He kept his arm deliberately stiff, creating an awkward if not unnatural angle. "No, not quite, more like . . ."

  A hand on his wrist, she bent over him, her full mouth pursed in concentration, peppermint-spiced breath fanning his face, her amazing bosom rising and falling beneath the starched shirtwaist. Hadrian sobered, suddenly realizing how very much he wanted to lean up and kiss her. Not because kissing her, seducing her, was his job, but because under other circumstances, honest circumstances, it would be his very great pleasure.

  And because he wasn't a good person at all, because he was a very bad fellow indeed, when she turned to adjust the bud in his lapel, he contrived to brush her breast.

  She jerked back her hand as though she meant to slap him. Bracing himself for the blow, he caught sight of the pinpoint of crimson on her index finger and realized she'd pricked herself.

  He hadn't counted on that any more than he'd counted on his reaction. Though he hadn't even touched her skin to skin, already his cock had begun to thicken and thrum. The flash of awareness in her eyes told him she'd felt it, too, that the possibilities of that brief contact weren't lost on her, either setting his fevered mind to wonder what diorama of pictures she might be playing out inside her own mind.

  Looking up into her furious face, Hadrian said, "No need to break the crockery over my head. It was an accident, I assure you."

  "Accident or not, a gentleman would beg my pardon." Taking in that dark-eyed gaze and moist, trembling mouth, it wasn't anger Hadrian read so much as naked yearning, unadulterated desire.

  "But then again I'm no gentleman, am I, Callie? And I never beg." He reached for her hand and took
her bleeding finger inside his mouth.

  "I think your cat may be jealous of me." Lying atop Hadrian on the divan, her chin resting lightly on his chest, Callie glanced above them to where the black-and-white cat perched on the sofa back. Tail flicking and ears pinned, the feline looked poised to pounce.

  Hadrian followed her upward gaze. "No one fancies being usurped, and Dinah's got spoiled from being on the receiving end of my undivided attention."

  Pushing up on one elbow, Callie smiled down at him, feeling deliciously wanton and wholly alive for the first time in . . . well, forever. Abed or the nearest thing to it with a man who was not nor would ever be her husband was the very last place she should be, and yet she couldn't find it in herself to regret it for so much as a moment. "I can't say as I blame her."

  He slid his hand to her nape, pulling her back down to him and capturing her mouth in another of those long, languorous kisses that set her pulse pounding, her sex pounding, so that she wanted to rip off every stitch of his clothes if only she dared. Pulling back, he said, "In the event you've failed to notice, my attention, like my eyes and lips and hands, has been occupied solely with you for the past hour or so."

  Despite his declaration that he was no gentleman, once he'd brought her down atop him, Hadrian had acted nothing but, not pressing her for more than she was willing to give nor undoing so much as a single button of hers.

  "An hour is it? I suppose I never did get 'round to taking your picture."

  Grinning, he reached up and stroked the side of her face. "You can take my picture or indeed anything else of mine whenever you wish, though it would be a shame to bury all this beauty beneath a cameraman's cloth. You belong in front of the lens, not behind it."

  She slid kneading fingers into his hair. "Now you really are laying it on with a trowel."


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