Sold into Marriage(4)

By: Ann Major


Adam’s mother had assumed the unscrupulous, paparazzi-seeking Barnardo had been her lover, that a woman like her would not discriminate. He thought once more of Abigail Morgan. She was the kind of wife any man would be proud to call his own.

Adam didn’t travel well, and France was overrated in his opinion. The disdainful waiters were negligent; the taxi drivers hellishly rude—insane, really.

He did like his plump landlady, however, even though she’d tried to shortchange him. An inveterate gossip, she’d been more than willing to tell all about Mademoiselle Navarre.

“La petite keeps to herself. One man. Lucas. Not a boyfriend. Friend, think, poor little thing. She paints. She works. She brings me little presents her students make.”

He’d been digging for dirt, not empathy. Still, it was good that the landlady thought the romance was in the beginning stages.

Because of the holiday crush and an ice storm in Austin, his plane had been ten hours late. Instead of being ready to tackle Miss Navarre, he was dead on his feet with jet lag.

If he’d gotten here this morning as scheduled, he would have marched straight into Ms. Navarre’s gallery and written her a check to bow out of Lucas’s life.

If only that were the case, the Ryders would be happily rid of Miss Navarre, and he wouldn’t be spying on the delectable Miss Navarre as she pranced about her messy apartment nibbling blueberries and sipping red wine.

What the hell was she painting? Dissected body parts?

Too bad the untalented of the world rarely recognized their meager gifts for what they were—worthy of a hobby maybe, but not a career. And yet the violence and the mess of all those colors made him think of sex.

Wild, uninhibited sex with her.

Lust hit him hard and low and made his skin burn. With immense effort, Adam forced himself to think about his brother.

Lucas had come home raving about Paris, Hemingway, his novel and his plans to marry a Miss Josephine Navarre, who was obsessed with gargoyles.

“That’s wonderful, dear,” Marion, their mother, had said too sweetly. She rarely revealed her true concerns to anyone except Adam. “What’s she like, dear?”

“She’s an artist from New Orleans, living in Paris because her house on the bayou was flooded.”

No mention of Barnardo.

“All her paintings were ruined. She was abandoned at birth by her mother, too.”

Lucas had always had a soft spot for strays.

“What sort of artist?” Adam had demanded.

“Contemporary.”

Adam had cut to the chase. “Is she making a living at it?”

“She’s managing a gallery for a friend and teaching.”

“Who are her people?”

“They’re upper-class Creoles. At least her brothers and her mother are. Nobody knows who her biological father was.”

“So, she’s a bastard, dear?” Marion had whispered in that dangerous, saccharine tone of hers.

“From what I hear her stepfather was the bastard. Dominating. Impossible to please. Like our old man.”

Marion’s lips had thinned, and she’d gotten that haunted, defensive look only Adam understood. Lucas, who was rather imperceptive for a writer, had no inkling of his mother’s feelings.

“When her mother’s husband died, her mother told her sons that she’d lied about their baby sister dying at birth, that the little girl, Josie, had been entrusted to a devoted nurse, who’d then disappeared. The mother had hired a private detective who’d found Josie living in a swamp with illiterate trappers, the nurse’s brother’s family apparently. Before the nurse had died, she’d tried to contact Josie’s mother but had reached her husband instead who’d insisted the child be left in the trappers’ care. Josie’s mother sent her sons to get her daughter. Josie was so filthy and wild, they weren’t sure they’d ever tame her.”

A little investigation into Miss Navarre’s background was all it had taken to convince Marion Ryder, who adored and shamelessly spoiled and “protected” dear Lucas, that Josie was all wrong for her son.

The next day Marion had caught Adam alone.

“A low-class, Cajun swamp girl? A life-size video portrait of her naked in a public installation at the modern art museum? Can you imagine? Everyone in New Orleans has seen her without a stitch on!” Marion’s eyes had widened in horror. “At least Celia’s never sunk that low.”

“Maybe we should wait to hear Miss Navarre’s side of the tale.”

“Always the lawyer! Don’t you dare defend her! Do something!”

“I’ve got a lot going on. It’s Christmas. Why don’t you talk to Lucas?”

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