Dukes did not paint. Duchesses might daub, and dowagers might dabble. Peers might play at being patrons and collectors and critics, but dukes did not paint.
Kennard Wyndgate Cartland was in his shirtsleeves, in the attic, in a pawky house in an unfashionable part of London, intending to work on his latest painting, in oils. Kennard Wyndgate Cartland was a gifted portraitist. He was also, to the misfortune of future generations of art lovers who would never get to see his magnificent paintings, the Duke of Caswell.
His Grace to most, Caswell to some, and K.C. or Kasey to very few, the gentleman was a deuced magnificent duke. Despite having come into his honors at an early age, Kasey well understood his responsibilities to king and country, and to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of people dependent upon him and his family. He was conscientious about his position in Parliament, knowledgeable about his vast lands and investments, generous to deserving causes, devoted to the well-being of his remaining family, and loyal to the honorable and ancient name he bore.
Out of great respect for that same heritage, and far less respect for his scapegrace younger brother, Kasey was lately contemplating marriage, now that he was nearing the end of his third decade. Should anything untoward befall the title-holder, not that Kasey was expecting an early demise, the Caswell dukedom could not be left to a hey-go-mad gambler. Lord Jason Cartland, Junior to the family, could not be trusted to preserve the family fortunes. The nodcock could barely be trusted to preserve his own neck, between curricle races and choleric, cuckolded husbands. No, like so much else, the posterity and prosperity of the Caswell line weighed heavily on Kasey's own shoulders. Luckily they were broad and well-muscled, if paint-spattered.
The young woman His Grace was considering for the position of his duchess had been bred for the role. Lady Phillida Granleigh was the daughter of an earl, a graduate of the finest academy for young females, an ornament of Polite Society now that she had three Seasons in her dish. Kasey had known her long before she took the Town by storm, since their estates marched along one side, although she was naturally closer to Jason, being nearer in age to Junior's twenty years than Kasey's eight-and-twenty. Aside from the inducement of a dowry that consisted of that same unentailed estate, Lady Phillida was indisputably beautiful, reasonably intelligent, and assuredly chaste.
She was not the woman he was painting.
He had, with some trepidation, once asked her to sit for him.
"La, Kasey," she'd trilled. "Are you still scribbling? I thought you gave up carrying charcoal crayons around when you went to university."
She'd been too busy to pose, what with dress fittings and dance parties, Venetian breakfasts and balloon ascensions. Besides, her father was arranging one of the fashionable artists to paint her likeness. Unspoken was the understanding that the portrait was to be a wedding gift.
He had not asked her again, nor had he yet asked for her hand in marriage.
The notion of Lady Phillida as one of his subjects was ludicrous anyway. The women Caswell painted so lovingly were lush and languorous ... and lacking clothes. They were, in fact, less than ladies. His models were warm-blooded, full-bodied, sensual creatures who made the notion of taking an earl's prim and proper offspring to his bed equally as ludicrous as painting her naked on the chintz-covered divan, although not quite as laughable.
The subject of His Grace's current work was his current mistress, a Titian-haired Bird of Paradise. Dolly Malton, of course, was not aware that her portrait was being so painstakingly painted, no more than Phillida knew, or the rest of the Beau Monde. They knew about Kasey's mistresses, a long line of high flyers. They knew about his love nest in Kew, near the Botanical Gardens. They did not know, and never would, about the Duke of Caswell's greatest love and grandest passion, his fervor, his devotion to his art, because dukes did not paint.
Many a gentleman about Town kept a cozy dwelling apart from his family home, where he could entertain persons he would not introduce to his aunts and younger siblings. Bachelors and Benedicts alike were wont to install their convenients in a conveniently private location, so Kasey's bijou raised no eyebrows. His exquisite, expensive mistresses raised envy in the breasts of less wealthy men, but no one found the duke's actions the least bit odd.
Even if people knew that the top floor of the Lonsdale Street house was kept locked, or that his mistresses seldom spent the night, no one but the highest stickler could question his conduct, not by Society's norms. If one of his previous Paphians whispered that His Grace liked to make love by candlelight, lots and lots of candles, well, so what? He could afford the expense. And if, perchance, a past paramour told a girlfriend what a slow, deliberate, generous lover he was, that girlfriend would be standing in line for when the position, and the house, were vacant.
Kasey's mistresses thought he was unselfishly worshipping their bodies; he was memorizing them. Every crease and curve, every pattern of light and dark, every texture and tint had to be carefully studied with his eyes and hands and lips. Then he sent the females away.
Another man would have slept, satiated, while his servant drove the women home. A less athletic fellow would have been exhausted, but Caswell sped up to the attic as soon as the door shut behind his trusted butler, Ayers, and his barque of frailty.
To the duke, painting was more reinvigorating than sleep, more rewarding than his successful investments, more thrilling than the fastest horse race, more satisfying than sex. Usually, at any rate. Most nights the paint simply flowed with almost effortless motions, filling the canvas with broad strokes of vibrant colors. Two entire rooms of the attic were stacked with his completed canvases, a testament to his skill as a painter, and his stamina as a lover.
Tonight, however, His Grace was having difficulty capturing the auburn glints in Dolly's flowing hair. Burnt sienna was too dull; alizarin crimson was too purplish; red was too ... red. The complexion was not quite right, either. Stepping back from the easel, Kasey poured himself a glass of wine, contemplating his painting. Then he lit more candles, replicating the bedroom's brightness. No, something was decidedly wrong, like a piece of meat that looked fine and smelled fine, but tasted slightly off. The woman reclining on the couch in his painting was Dolly to the inch, to every luscious, rosy inch, but Kasey was still dissatisfied.
When it came to his painting, the duke trusted his instincts. His life might be ruled by cold logic and law, duty and deliberation; his art was sheer feeling. Kasey added indigo blue to the hair coloring, burnt umber and Lincoln green, sensing immediately that the darker color was what he'd been aiming at, all unbeknownst. He made the complexion less pink, more porcelain, and straightened the nose while he was at it. Dolly's turned-up nose had never pleased him anyway, being too reminiscent of his aunts' pet pug. He repainted the lips a softer carmine, fuller, but with less of that cat-in-the-cream-pot grin Dolly had been wearing last. Now she was awaiting her lover, not waving good-bye. Her eyes ... Devil take it, they no longer matched the hair, so Kasey laid a brown wash over the green, and added ocher flecks, like gold in an autumn forest.
Yes, now he liked the painting much better. The woman was beautiful--but she was no longer Dolly. Kasey shrugged as he took another sip of wine. She was definitely not a member of Polite Society, or he would have a name to put with that so-seductive smile. She must be some female he'd seen in the street, Kasey decided, a flower-seller who had caught his eye momentarily, or a nursemaid in the park. He was always studying pretty women, and this one was prettier than most. Odd that he had not scraped up an acquaintance and an improper offer. Most likely he'd been escorting Lady Phillida at the time and could not broadcast his interest. Either that or he'd merely glimpsed this altogether fetching female in a passing carriage.
No matter. No one was going to see the painting, whether it was Dolly or the Duchess of Devonshire. Kasey painted for himself, for the utter joy of creativity, the heady intoxication of imagination. Still, the notion of painting an unknown and unknowing woman in such a blatantly sensual pose suddenly seemed dishonorable, as if he were a voyeur or something unclean. Dolly hadn't a shred of modesty to her name, but this young woman might.
With a rag soaked in turpentine and linseed oil, Kasey wiped at the woman's legs, then repainted one slightly raised, shielding her privacy. Yes, that sat better with him, suiting the less lascivious smile.
He used his rag again to change the woman's hair style. Dolly had long, flowing hair he loved to see spread across his pillow, tumbling down her shoulders in rippling waves. He erased them, picturing how this female would wear her chestnut curls. He thought of Lady Phillida with her smooth blond locks, always twined into a perfect coronet atop her head, with nary a tress daring to escape confinement. Even as a moppet in pinafores, Lady Phillida had worn her pigtails in dignified, orderly braids. Kasey wondered if the woman he was considering as a bride would let her hair down on their wedding night. He doubted it. He doubted if he would care, either.
Putting thoughts of Phillida and the future aside, Kasey considered his incognita on canvas, knowing her for an earthier sort, willing to forsake her modesty for the right man--or the right price. He started painting her hair up, with wispy ringlets framing her cheeks. He decided to gather the curls with a comb, perhaps, or a single flower, something more exotic than a rose. He'd scour the flower stalls tomorrow, under the guise of selecting a bouquet for Dolly and, he supposed, one for his possible fiancee, if he was going to pursue either affair.
When the hair was filled in to his satisfaction, Kasey set aside some of that mixed color for later, for when he intended to paint one wanton curl trailing down the woman's bare shoulder. That curl would lead a man's eyes to where his fingers itched to be, to caress the sienna-tipped, creamy globes Kasey was eager to paint.
His Grace loved a woman's breasts, big, small, upthrust, or pendant, falling into a man's waiting hands. Smooth, soft, pebbly textured at the nipples, surely a woman's breasts were one of God's finest creations, mankind's fondest delights, and a painter's greatest challenge.
He started to paint over the area where Dolly's hair had covered her chest, using the more golden tones, less pink than a near-redhead's skin color. He got as far as the neck and shoulders, hovering with lover-like attention over that little hollow between a woman's collarbones. Without conscious thought, Kasey made his unknown model less fleshy than his mistress, but still a cozy armful.
He stepped back and narrowed his eyes, studying his work before going on. It would do. He dipped his brush again to begin on the bosom, but dash it, he must be more tired than he thought. He'd used the hair color instead of the flesh tones, leaving a brown streak across the bare chest.
Blotting at the painting again with his rag, Kasey could feel weariness seep into him. Even his legs were tired from standing at the easel so long. He'd simply have to finish tomorrow night. No, he was supposed to escort Lady Phillida and her mother to a series of balls and rout parties tomorrow evening. Those nights could last for days--that's how they felt to the duke, anyway--but certainly into the morning hours. Damn. Besides, he did have the base skin color mixed in one of his shallow tin paint pots. He yawned and began anew.
This time the brush slipped, tracking flesh-colored paint down the canvas. Hell and damnation, Kasey cursed, reaching for the rag. Even if he didn't finish tonight, he could not leave the picture to dry this way. The scrap of soft linen he was using, however, was so soaked with paint by now that the duke's efforts merely succeeded in smearing the various colors around, adding a bit of blue and gold from the chintz sofa and green from the draped background.
Kasey tossed the rag to the floor and reached for the hem of the old shirt he wore as a smock. He carefully dipped it in the oil, then in the turpentine, and began to dab at the smudged area, not wanting the solution to make more of a mess by dripping down the canvas.
There, the chest was almost cleared of browns and reds and blues and greens, enough that he could safely paint over it, without muddying the milky flesh tones. He raised his brush.
"Not on your life, bucko."