Read an Extract
Talitha Grey shivered delicately and risked a glance downwards.
A single length of sheer white linen draped across her shoulder
and fell to the floor at front and back: beneath it her naked
skin had a faintly blue tinge. Tallie strongly suspected that
it was marred by goose bumps.
With a resigned sigh she flexed her fingers on the gilded
bow in her left hand and fixed her gaze once again on the
screen of moth-eaten blue brocade which was doing duty for
the skies of Classical Greece. Perhaps if she thought hard
enough about it she could imagine that she was bathed in the
heat of that ancient sun, her skin caressed by the lightest
of warm zephyrs and not by the whistling draughts which entered
the attic studio by every door and ill-fitting window frame.
Tallie exerted her vivid imagination and summoned up the
distant sound of shepherds’ pan pipes floating over
olive groves to drown out the noise of arguing carters from
Panton Square far below. She was concentrating on conjuring
up the scent of wood smoke and pine woods to counteract the
distressing smells of poor drainage and coal fires when a
voice behind her said peevishly, “Miss Grey! You have
Taking care to hold her pose and not turn her head Tallie
said, “I assure you I have not, Mr Harland.”
“Something has changed,” the speaker asserted.
Tallie could hear the creak of the wooden platform on which
Mr Frederick Harland had perched himself to reach the top
of the vast canvas. On it he was depicting an epic scene of
ancient Greece with the figure of the goddess Diana in the
foreground, her back turned to the onlooker, her gaze sweeping
the wooded hillsides and distant temples until it reached
the wine-dark Aegean sea.
There was more creaking, the muttering which was the normal
counterpart to Mr Harland’s mental processes and then
the floorboards protested as he walked towards her. “Your
skin colour has changed,” he announced with a faint
air of accusation.
“I am cold,” Tallie responded placatingly without
turning her head. Frederick Harland, she had discovered, took
no more and no less interest in her naked form than he did
in the colour, form and texture of a bowl of fruit, an antique
urn or a length of drapery. When in the grip of his muse he
was vague, inconsiderate and sometimes testy but he was also
kindly, paid her very well and was reassuringly safe to be
alone with – whatever her state of undress.
“Cold? Has the fire gone out?”
“I believe it has not been lit today, Mr Harland.”
Tallie wished she had thought to insist on a taper being set
to the fire before they had started the session, but her mind
had been on other things and it was not until the pose had
been set and the artist had clambered up onto his scaffold
that she realised that the lofty attic room was almost as
chill as the February streets outside.
“Oh. Hmm. Well, another ten minutes and then we will
stop.” The boards groaned again as he walked back to
the canvas. “In any case, I need more of that red for
the skin tones, and the azure for the sky. The cost of lapis
Tallie stopped listening as he grumbled on, his words indistinguishable.
A slightly worried frown creased her brow as she resumed her
own thoughts. At least in this pose she did not have to guard
her expression, for she was standing with only a hint of her
right profile visible from behind, her long, slightly waving,
blonde hair falling free to midway down her back.
Her feet were bare. A fine filet of gold cord circled her
brow, its trailing ends forming a darker accent in her hair,
and the linen drapery revealed her left side, the curve of
her hip, the swell of her buttock and the length of her leg.
All of which normally delightful features were now unmistakeably
disfigured by a rash of goose bumps.
Still, at half a guinea a sitting she could hardly complain,
for Tallie had no option but to make her own living and the
guineas from Mr Harland paid the rent. The fact that she was
engaged in an occupation which was entirely beyond the pale
for any lady and which would be regarded by almost every right-thinking
person as scarce better than prostitution, did not concern
It was fortunate, both for the artist and for Tallie, that
he was not only the possessor of a modest inheritance but
also had a flourishing and lucrative business in portraiture,
an occupation he despised as mere craftsmanship. On three
days a week he indulged his Classical passion. For the rest
of the time he painted Society portraits in the rather more
salubrious studio on the first floor of the ramshackle house.
It was a tribute to his work that the ton were prepared to
make the journey to the shabby house in the decidedly unfashionable
street just off Leicester Square to have their likenesses
Tallie was mentally casting her accounts in an effort to
decide whether she could see the winter out without replacing
her hair-brown walking dress and pelisse or whether her other,
publicly acknowledged, occupation required her to make an
investment in a new outfit.
This financial review was more than enough to account for
the crease between her brows but the frown vanished to be
replaced with an expression of real anxiety at the sound of
the knocker thudding four floors below, soon followed by the
sound of a number of male voices echoing up the uncarpeted
With an exclamation of impatience at the interruption Mr
Harland cast down his palette with a clatter and, clambering
down from his post, flung open the attic door.
“Mr Harland doesn’t receive clients on Wednesdays
gentlemen. Tuesdays and Thursdays are his days. You can’t
go up there now, sir!”
“Dammit, I wrote to say I would call to arrange my
aunt’s portrait and I have no intention of trailing
back another day at Harland’s convenience.” The
drawling voice was arrogantly dismissive of the colourman’s
protests. “Are you saying he is not here?”
“Yes, sir, I mean no, sir, he is here but he…”
“Perhaps he is with someone?” It was a new voice,
carrying easily up to Tallie far above. A coolly sardonic,
rather bored voice which made the previous speaker sound affectedly
“The man has just said that Harland does not have clients
on a Wednesday, Nick. Step out of my way, fellow, I have no
intention of standing here banding words with you all afternoon.”
“But the master’s working with a model, sir!
You can’t go up there!” From the rising note of
Peter’s voice the speaker had pushed past him and was
already on the stairs.
A female model? Now that is more the thing! Come on, you fellows,
this should be good sport.” The voice had lost its drawling
arrogance and held a note of excitement which made Tallie’s
chilled skin crawl. They were coming up, and it appeared that
there were several men in the group.
Tallie had disrobed in a room on the floor below, having
learned from experience of the effect that the dusty attic
had on her small wardrobe, and her only covering was the fragile
length of linen. She cast round wildly, her heart thudding.
The attics, although essentially one large open space, rambled
around corners made by the construction of racks of canvases
and piles of dusty props and in one corner, shielded by the
largest rack, there was a large cupboard with a door to it.
“I will hide in the closet,” she said urgently
to the artist who was exclaiming in irritation at the interruption.
“Whatever you do, Mr Harland, do not let them know I
am here or I will be quite ruined.”
He nodded distractedly. “Yes, yes, into the closet
with you. I wonder if any of the gentlemen would care to buy
an historical canvas?”
Tallie did not stop to argue but ran on bare feet across
the splintery boards. She whisked round the corner of the
racking as the voices outside neared the attic and jerked
open the cupboard door. The key which had been on the outside
clattered to the floor.
Tallie scrabbled for it but it was nowhere to be seen. With
a sob of frustration she abandoned the search and pulled the
door to behind her. The closet was lit by a tiny window, begrimed
with dirt and cobwebs but sufficient for her to see that the
space contained nothing in which she might cover herself and
nothing to wedge the door with. Not, she realised despairingly,
that wedging it would have done any good, for it opened outwards.
The men had reached the attic now. Through the warped boards
which framed the closet she could hear at least four voices.
The arrogant man and the sardonic man she recognised from
their voices far below; their companions had equally well-bred
tones and in them she could recognise a kind of febrile excitement
at the thought of what they were going to find in the studio.
Tallie felt quite ill with apprehension and scrabbled to
pull her linen draperies around herself in some gesture towards
a decent covering. Her fingers closed on air and chilled skin.
The length of fabric had gone. Wildly she cast around the
little closet as though three yards of white cloth could be
hiding in an empty space, then she recalled the slight tug
at her shoulder as she had hastened around the racking.
Harland’s voice was clearly audible as she stood there
shivering with cold and fear, her ear pressed against the
door panels. He sounded flustered. “Gentlemen, as you
can see, I am alone, but really not in a fit state to receive.
However, now you are here, what can I do for you, Mr Lynley?
Something about a portrait of your aunt I believe you wrote?”
“Alone?” The owner of the arrogant voice –
Mr Lynley, she deduced - appeared to take no notice of the
artist’s question. “Your man said you had a model
“He is mistaken. I was working from the nude earlier,
“Nude, I’ll say! See here you fellows!”
This voice was younger, excited.
“Take care, my lord! That platform is not very stable!”
So, one of them had climbed up to the canvas.
“Bloody hell.” It was Lynley, his voice strangely
flat with what even Tallie in her innocence could recognise
as lust. Then the excitement came back to his tone. “I’ll
bet she’s still here, Harland, you dog. Come on men,
yoicks and tally ho!”
“For heavens sake, Lynley.” The sardonic man
sounded utterly uninterested. “How much longer do you
intend hanging around in this squalid attic? Oh, very well,
if nothing will satisfy you but to search, let us search.
I will look over here, you and the others take the rest. Doubtless
we will discover some large spiders, a dead starling or two
and any number of mice.”
The voice was getting closer as he spoke. Tallie thought
wildly of seizing the door handle and holding on if he tried
to open it but the possibility of being dragged out into the
open in such an undignified way only added to the horror.
The approaching footsteps halted. From the far side of the
attic there was the sound of boisterous searching, excited
cries and the occasional “Do be careful of those canvasses
gentlemen!” from the agitated artist.
The footsteps resumed, rounded the corner of the racking
if her straining ears were correct, and stopped outside the
closet. Tallie turned her back on the door, moved as far away
from it as she could and, wrapping her arms around her shrinking
body, awaited the worst.
Her hair fell on either side of her bowed head giving her
the fragile illusion of shelter and anonymity. But even that
vanished as the door creaked open sending light from the studio
flooding into the small space. It defeated the glimmer from
the closet window and spilt the shadow of a man across the
floor beside Tallie’s feet.
He did not move. Tallie could hear his breathing, steady
and even, but she had also heard the sudden catch in it when
he had first seen her. He was under control again now, standing
there silently watching her. She could not drag her eyes away
from the long shadow.
The unseen regard felt as though it was burning into her
back. Tallie was well aware of just what he was seeing and
a wave of scalding humiliation washed up her body. She was
going to be sick, she knew it.
get it over with! she screamed silently. How can you torture
me like this? At any moment he was going to call out and the
whole pack of them would be there, leering, touching, jeering.
Like an animal at bay she turned in upon herself, her mind
too frozen with terror and shame to allow her coherent thought.
The shadow at her feet shifted. The man moved and something
touched her shoulders lightly. It was a hand resting warm
on the shrinking skin. The soft whisper of cloth brushed down
her back and over her buttocks. Tallie choked on a scream
and his voice - very soft, quite dispassionate - said, “Here,
your wrap was caught on a nail. Be very quiet and everything
will be all right, I promise you.”
I promise you. She believed him. The hand was lifted but
she realised he was standing very close just behind her, close
enough to whisper in her ear without the sound penetrating
outside, close enough for her to feel the warmth of his breath.
There was the sound of a long indrawn breath and Tallie had
the strange sense that he was inhaling the scent of her. When
he spoke again there was an edge to the controlled voice,
the merest hint that he was finding her proximity unsettling.
“I am putting the key in the lock on the inside: as
soon as I am gone, turn it.” No, she was imagining it:
he sounded practical, aloof, unaffected by the sight of the
naked girl shivering before him at his mercy.