It Takes Two to Tangle (Matchmaker Trilogy) Online - Theresa Romain

One

July 1815

Tallant House, London

It was no good. The canvas still looked as though a chicken had been killed on it.

Henry Middlebrook grimaced and stepped back, casting his eye over his work. In the cooling light of early evening, his vermilion paint looked ghastly.

He dragged his brush over one corner of the canvas and regarded it again. A slight improvement. Now it looked as if someone had killed a chicken on it, then tried to clean up the evidence.

No matter. He could fix it later somehow. Or hide it in an attic.

As he stepped forward again, ready for another artistic attack, Henry’s foot bumped the fussy baroque table on which he’d set his palette. The palette rattled perilously close to the edge of the table, and Henry swooped for it before it tipped. He lost his grip on his paintbrush and could only watch, dismayed, as the wide brush flipped end over end and landed with a faint thump on the carpet.

Well, damn.

“How lovely!” came a cry behind him, and Henry turned.

His sister-in-law Emily, the Countess of Tallant, was standing in the morning room doorway smiling at him. She wore a gown the watery, fragile pink of rose madder, with some part of it pinstriped and some other part of it beaded, and her auburn hair arranged with a quantity of pink-headed pins.

Henry did not understand all the details of women’s fashion, having spent the past three years learning the significance of shoulder epaulets, forage caps, and stovepipe shakos. Still, the effect of Emily’s ensemble was pleasing to anyone with the slightest eye for color—which Henry had, though no one looking at his canvas would possibly think so.

“Good evening, Emily,” he said, shifting his foot to hide the fallen paintbrush. “I might say the same to you. You look very well.”

“Nonsense, Hal,” she said. “This gown is a full year out of fashion and is suitable for nothing but lolling around the house. I must go change for the ball, as must you. What I meant was that it’s lovely to see you painting again.”

She craned her neck to look behind him. “And it’s even lovelier to see you resting your palette on that dreadful table. Jemmy’s Aunt Matilda gave it to us as a wedding gift. I can only conclude she must have hated me.”

Emily walked over to Henry and held out her hand for the paintbrush, which he sheepishly retrieved from the floor. She scrutinized it, then began to daub the gilded table at Henry’s side with red curlicues.

“I’m not the expert you are, of course, but the texture of this red seems a bit off.”

“Yes, it’s too oily. I’m out of practice.”

“Well, that’s easily enough fixed by time. I’m glad we still had some of your supplies left from… well, before.” Emily signed her name with fat, bold brushstrokes to the ruined tabletop. “There, that’s the best this table has ever looked. If you can stand the sight of the beastly thing, then you must have it for your own use while you paint. Surely we can find a studio for you somewhere in the house. You could even keep painting here in the morning room if you don’t mind rolling back the Axminster, of which I’m rather fond.”

Henry looked at the heavy carpet guiltily. A splotch of warm red paint marred the fine sepia pattern of scrolls and bouquets. “I should have done that first thing. I’m sorry, Em.”

She waved a hand. “I understand artists are remarkably forgetful creatures. Once the creative mood seizes you, you cannot be responsible for your actions.”

“Are you giving me an excuse to be an aggravating guest? This could be entertaining.”

Emily’s mouth curled into the cunning smile that meant she was plotting something. “You’re much more than a guest, as you know. But you’re right. I should demand that you pay me a favor for spilling paint all over my possessions.”

Henry took the brush from her and laid it carefully across the palette, atop the newly adorned table. “Let me guess. You already have a favor in mind, and you are delighted I have ruined your carpet, since now you can be sure I’ll agree to whatever you ask.”

Emily looked prouder than ever. “Excellent! We shall slip you back into polite society more easily than I could ever have hoped. Already you are speaking its secret language again, for you are correct in every particular of your guess.”

“I’m overjoyed to be such a prodigy. What, precisely, have I guessed?”

“Tonight, I am going to