Published by JA / AG Publishing on November 14th 2017
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Alec Mackenzie earns a living in exile as an art instructor, a cover for his search of several countries for his missing brother. Lady Celia, an Englishwoman who refuses to marry gentlemen her martinet mother chooses for her, is sent to Alec, the mysterious Scottish recluse, for drawing lessons–her family commands her to learn a skill if she’s put herself off the marriage mart. Alec decides that the courageous Celia needs to expand her talents in painting the human figure, especially that of the male …
Celia is intrigued by the man who pretends his name is Mr. Finn. He’s a Scotsman, she deduces, but he can’t be one of the Highlanders who rose against the king, else she’d be allowed nowhere near him, and he’d be under arrest or already dead.
But as Celia lets her curiosity guide her, she uncovers more about Alec, including his name, his title, and the fact that he was indeed one of the Highlanders at Culloden. She sees the loneliness in Alec, his terrible sense of loss, his tenderness toward his daughter, and realizes he’s a complex man trying to survive now that his home has been destroyed. She also wonders why he’s left the safety of France to come to England, and the learns that he believes she’s the key to finding his missing brother.
But Celia unravels too many secrets, which put not only her life and Alec’s but also her heart in grave danger.
Note: Alec Mackenzie is the brother of Malcolm from The Stolen Mackenzie Bride. He is an ancestor of the Mackenzie family whose story begins with The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.
Celia jumped, tried to rise, and fell back to the settee in a flutter of skirts. Alec caught her, stifling his laughter as he helped her up and steadied her on her feet.
Bless the lass. Celia had driven away some of the hatred in his soul and returned Alec the painter, Alec the ardent lover. For that he’d be forever grateful.
Lady Flora’s icy stare flowed over them. “Mr. Finn, you will make yourself scarce. I suggest the back stairs. Celia, remain here and compose yourself. And straighten your cap. It is awry.”
After snapping her commands like a battlefield sergeant, Lady Flora swung away and strode out the door, the slam of it rattling the gilt-framed paintings on the walls.
Celia planted her hands over her face, her cheeks reddening, her eyes wet. But she wasn’t crying, Alec realized after a moment. She was laughing.
He caught her around the waist and pulled her down to the settee once more. Celia landed half on his lap, her laughter ringing out.
She had a beautiful laugh. Alec gathered her against him, basking in the vibration of it.
She smelled of sherry and spice, clean silk and linen. Alec kissed her neck, inhaling her beautiful scent. Celia made a soft sound in her throat, her hand on his shoulder relaxing.
Alec nuzzled the line of her jaw, kissed her cheek, and resisted kissing her lips. If he began that, he’d wrap her in his arms and never let her go.
“Lady Flora is right,” he said, brushing a kiss to her cheekbone. “Let’s have you neat as a pin before your mum finds you.”
“Botheration to the lot of them.” Celia jumped to her feet, no falling or fluttering this time. “I am a pawn, Mr. Finn, in my mother’s games and whatever Lady Flora is currently plotting. Do not look so amazed—Lady Flora is always plotting something. Well, I am tired of being a useful but easily discarded piece on their chessboards.”
Alec rose with her, her vehemence exhilarating. He’d worried for a moment that she knew about Alec’s and Lady Flora’s plans but then realized she spoke generally. Lady Flora was always scheming—it was how Will had come to know her.
He tugged Celia’s cap straight and tucked a stray lock of hair beneath it. “A pawn can bring down a king,” he said into her ear. “Remember that.”
Celia slanted him a look, her eyes so near. “His royal majesty is in no danger from me. Even Lady Flora cannot make me cross the line of treason.” She flushed. “Oh, I did not mean—”
“I for one am happy King Geordie remains on the throne. I was only a reluctant Jacobite, to protect my asinine brothers, little good it did me.” Alec gave her cap another tug and straightened her fichu on her shoulders.
He lingered as he touched her skin beneath the lace, and he couldn’t stop himself leaning down to brush her lips with the briefest kiss.
Celia’s mouth was pliant and warm. The kiss threatened to turn deeper, and only the hiss of a guttering candle reminded Alec not to lose himself.
He released her with reluctance. Celia’s lips parted, moist and pink, and her eyes held a quietness Alec needed. He longed with all that was within him to draw her into his arms and answer her silent plea for more kisses, but he forced himself to step away.
“I’ll leave ye now, lass. I humbly thank ye for your help. Come to lessons tomorrow, and I’ll have something special for you.”
Celia blinked, popping her mouth closed. “You are still willing to teach me?”
“Of course. I told you—ye have talent. It just wants bringing out.”
Celia took a step closer to him and lowered her voice. “Are you truly an artist famous throughout France?”
“Oh, aye. Commissioned by Madame du Pompadour herself to paint a rhinoceros for her.”
More blinking. “I beg your … Did you say a rhinoceros?”
“I did. Haven’t ye heard of her? Clara is her name. Brought back from India by a Dutch sea captain, and now she’s having a grand tour of Europe. I was commissioned to seek her out and paint her portrait for the royal collection. Louis is trying to bring Clara to Versailles, but I was sent forth in the meantime. Haven’t caught up to the beast yet.”
Her tone told Alec Celia did not quite believe him, but he spoke the truth. Clara was all the rage on the Continent and already had sat—or rather, stood—for several portraits. She’d even been modeled in porcelain at Meissen.
Celia shook out her skirts, sending a wave of brocade over Alec’s shoes. “Well, I must decide whether teaching a duke’s daughter is one step up or down for you from painting a rhinoceros.”
“Ye ponder that all ye like,” Alec said. “I already know what I prefer. Come tomorrow at the appointed hour, and see what you will see.”
“Not a rhinoceros, I take it?” she asked lightly then her eagerness returned. “Actually I’d quite like to see her. Do you think Clara will come to London?”
“I have no doubt. When she does, we’ll visit her, and I’ll fulfill my commission for the King of France’s mistress. She’s been installed less than a year and already wields more power than any queen.”
“The famous Madame du Pompadour?” Celia asked. “Or the rhinoceros?”
Alec did not contain his laughter. “Ye are good for me, lass. Ye keep me on this earth. I’ll be leaving ye now, before I kiss you again, because I very much want to. I doubt your mother would try to force you to marry me if she caught us.”
“Of course not. I’m only to fall for rakes if they are highborn and have grand estates.”
Alec moved himself to the door but for some reason, he couldn’t turn the handle to open it. He was highborn and from a grand estate—but he was also Alec the itinerant painter as he now pretended to be.
“God bless you, lass,” he said quietly, and finally made himself leave her.
His last glimpse of Celia, watching him with her hazel eyes, her hands in fists, her lips awaiting another kiss, did nothing to calm him. Alec took the vision with him up the back stairs to his chamber, kept it next to him after he kissed his sleepy daughter good night, and let it sustain him in the dark loneliness of his bed.
Jennifer wants to know…..
What makes Scottish romance so popular and so special? Is it the kilts? Or more? While historical romance periods go into and out of fashion, we’ve been reading Scottish romance for decades (at least I have). Why do you think it has endured? (It’s the kilts, right?)
Comment to enter the giveaway! For a signed copy of The Stolen Mackenzie Bride the previous book in the series), plus a signed copy of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (the first book of the series).
~~Review by AnnMarie~~
Alec Mackenzie’s Art of Seduction is the ninth book in the Mackenzies & McBrides series by Jennifer Ashley. I hadn’t previously read any of the other books in the series so can happily say that you can read this book easily as a stand-alone one.
Since the battle of Culloden, which the author managed to portray both sides of superbly, Alec Mackenzie lost some of his brothers. His father, himself and surviving brothers went into hiding after making sure their names were on the ‘dead’ list. Alec was living in France but has had to return to England after finding out his brother Will is still alive but is being held captive somewhere. Time is of the essence because even though Will may be alive, he will soon be heading for the hangman’s noose.
Lady Celia Fotheringhay refuses to marry the man her mother deems appropriate for her. A ‘disaster’ occurs which puts Celia into the bad books of her mother and society. Her aunt, Lady Flora, persuades Celia to take some art lessons from a famous artist who is lodging with her, arguing that she could get back into society’s good graces by being able to paint their portraits. Celia is happy to oblige and it pleases her mother as well. What neither realises is that Lady Flora has more than Celia’s wellbeing in mind when she makes the arrangements.
Alec is a supposed impoverished French artist, living at Flora’s earning money be teaching art. He needs to earn Celia’s trust in order to get information from her. It is her father who Alec believes knows exactly where Will is being held!
Their lessons begin, but from the very first moment, there is a huge attraction between our couple. It isn’t long before Alec is questioning having to use Celia as Lady Flora has suggested. But what is he do, he NEEDS the information about his brother, but he also needs to not hurt Celia. How can he manage both things, can he save his brother, or will it be too late anyway?
This was an amazing story from the very first page. I love Alec, he is such a good man and a very sexy Highlander. I love how Celia could see through his disguise from day one, not surprising really as he oozed ‘warrior’ from every pore. It is no wonder that Celia fell for him hook line and sinker. I love her determination and that she is a strong enough character to deal with the things she finds out during this story. Love gives her a strength that surpasses any she had before. As for Alec, he finds Celia to be a much needed calming influence, and to watch their relationship flourish was a delight. Every part of this story kept me riveted, as I am sure it will you too. I absolutely recommend this story and am myself going back to make a start on all the wonderful ones I have missed.
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced readers’ copy of this book.