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Thorn

Chapter Twelve

India could glimpse sanity on the far horizon. Soon the drawing room walls would be covered with Lyonnaise silk, hand-painted with apple blossoms. One of her favorite Italian painters would finish work in the dining room by afternoon; he had first painted it gray-green, and now he was almost done gilding the painted swallows that swooped across its walls.

India had sent Adelaide—whose taste was impeachable—back to London to choose furniture from Thomas Sheraton’s and Jean-Henri Reisener’s showrooms. They would have to accept whatever was available, but she had a very good relationship with Mr. Sheraton, in particular, and was reasonably optimistic that he would give her whatever he had and tell his customers that the pieces they’d ordered had been delayed.

A man specializing in Italian glass had arrived the day before, carting with him a true treasure: an enormous Venetian blue-glass mirror, along with the alabaster mantelpiece that would be installed after the silk was on the drawing room walls.

And she had borrowed a master gardener from Lord Pendleton’s estate in the next county. (Pendleton was still very grateful to her for the successful birth of his child, in which frankly—since she hadn’t been the woman in labor—she had played no real part.) The sound of men working in the gardens drifted through the open windows. Already the lawns had been weeded, neatly mown, and rolled smooth enough for a tennis game. The flowerbeds had desperately needed pruning; now they looked presentable, though rather bare.

When Thorn jumped from his carriage that evening, she was waiting respectably in the drawing room, rather than leaning in the doorframe like a night-walker. She had also taken the time to bathe and put on a gown without a speck of plaster or dust or paint on it.

The moment Thorn walked into the drawing room she could tell that something was wrong. His body was vibrating with pent-up emotion as he strode toward her. She started to drop into a curtsy, but he leaned forward and brushed his lips over hers. As if they were siblings. Not that she had a sibling, but she imagined they kissed like that.

“We must be quick, India,” he said without further greeting. “Show me the floors you’ve paved in gold, and I’ll be back on the road.”

“You are not merely walking through the house and leaving!”

“Yes, I am.”

She shrugged. “Fred plans to serve the dinner sent by the innkeeper here, if that changes your mind. We might begin in the ballroom. It turned out well.” That was an understatement. The walls had been stuccoed in the faintest pink, and the decorative molding was gleaming white. She’d had wall sconces installed with pale green blown-glass shades, a tint that matched the delicate chairs. She thought it was perfect.

He walked through the door, looked around, and said, “It looks good. What’s next?”

India’s mouth fell open. She put her hands on her hips. “This room is not good!”

“It isn’t?”

“It is utterly gorgeous. It is better than Versailles. It is better than any ballroom you’ve seen before!”

A germ of amusement lit up his eyes, which just irritated her more. “It’s hardly my forte,” he said, not sounding in the least apologetic.

“I had workmen in here day and night! The night before last, none of us slept because—”

At that, his scowl matched hers. “What do you mean, you didn’t sleep?”

“Francisco and I had to paint the stucco before it dried,” she explained. “If you don’t finish painting—”

He took a step toward her. “Francisco and you?” His voice dropped a level, and all that anger he was carrying in his body channeled right into his words. Maybe he wasn’t as controlled as she’d thought.

“Francisco Bernasconi,” she said, holding her ground. “He’s a master of stucco, the best in all England. Three or four years ago, he showed me how to do it, and now I always help.”

“I didn’t hire you to do manual labor!”

“It’s one of the reasons I’m successful,” she explained. “If I have to, I can bake bread. I can show a cook how to make mayonnaise and not break it. I can paint stucco, I can move furniture, I can—”

“The hell with that,” he growled. “How old is this bloke?”

India frowned. “That is irrelevant.”

“It’s not irrelevant. How old is he?”

“Barely thirty, I suppose. But his age doesn’t matter: what matters is that he trained in Florence under a maestro. He’s an artist.”

“I suppose he’s in high demand?”

“Always. It was a miracle that we were able to get him here on such short notice.”

His eyes flared. “He came because he’s in love with you. I suppose they all are.”

“Francisco has never said a single inappropriate word to me, ever. You do him a huge injustice to suggest it!”

He looked at her lips and then straight down her body. “Were you wearing that?”

“Of course I wasn’t wearing this gown!” India was beginning to feel truly incensed. Thorn had been in a mood when he’d arrived, and now he was being absurd—as if he were jealous or protective, which he had no right to be.

“Well, at least that’s something,” he muttered.

“What are you talking about?” she shouted at him, now losing her temper altogether. “I didn’t wear this gown, because I wore another gown, and what does that matter anyway?”

“He watched you bend over. All night long.”

“I wasn’t bending over!” she retorted. “Not that it makes any difference.”

He closed his eyes for a moment. “India, tell me that you weren’t on your knees.”

She didn’t speak to that, because of course she had been on her knees. Francisco and his men worked on the upper walls, on the delicate leaf work around the moldings, and she worked below. “You are an extraordinarily rude man,” she said, turning to leave. “I’ll show you the dining room walls, after which you can return to London.”

“Those walls were painted by another Italian—Manocchi, wasn’t it? Did he too give up everything when you begged him?”

“Mr. Marconi and I have worked together many times, and he is very loyal,” India said, tossing her head because she didn’t like his tone. She looked over her shoulder and said, with distinct satisfaction, “Moreover, you paid him half as much again his usual rate.”

“He is in love with you as well,” Thorn stated. “Bloody hell.”

“I can see that you’ll just make rude remarks about the dining room, so you might as well get into your carriage now.”

“I changed my mind. I’m having supper with you,” he said. “We’ll stare at the birds on the walls while we eat. I want to make sure to get my money’s worth.”

Chapter Thirteen

Thorn’s day had started badly and had become progressively worse. Rose informed him at breakfast that she hated the governess he’d hired, after which she disappeared. Two hours of rising panic ensued as the household searched for her; it wasn’t until Mrs. Stella unearthed her from her hiding place under his desk in the library that he knew she was safe.

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