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In RITA® Award–winning author Gwyn Cready’s fun and sexy new time-travel adventure, an ambitious writer discovers that bad-boy painters are as timeless—and irresistible—as their art. . . .
Art historian Campbell Stratford is about to make a name for herself with her scandalously sexy tell-all “fictographies” of famous seventeenth-century artists, but she’s more iintimately familiar with her subjects than her eager readers can imagine. Thanks to a time portal she accidentally discovered, she has caused quite a stir in the Great Beyond. To save their reputations, the Guild protecting dead artists convinces playboy Peter Lely, portraitist to the king, to sabotage Cam’s latest project. A few hours posing on Sir Peter’s modeling chaise leads to a night of seductive passion—then Cam returns home and discovers his betrayal. But before she can turn her angry pen on her lover, Sir Peter makes a surprise visit to the future and transforms Cam’s twenty-first-century life into chaos of classic proportions. . . .
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Gwyn Cready is a writer of contemporary, Scottish, and time travel romance. She's been called "the master of time travel romance" and is the winner of the RITA Award, the most prestigious award given in romance writing. She has been profiled in Real Simple and USA Today, among others. Before becoming a novelist, she spent 25 years in brand management. She has two grown children and lives with her husband on a hill overlooking the magical kingdom of Pittsburgh.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
COVENT GARDEN, LONDON, 1673
Peter pressed an exquisitely cobbled shoe against the side of the desk drawer and rubbed his aching temples. Despite all the appointments of success—the fine clothes, the freedom to paint when and what he chose, the admiration of a highly appreciative king, row upon row of apprentices at his command, a full waiting room and an even fuller account with his bankers—he felt nothing but despair. Even the fat emerald ring, once such a prize, was a torture, for it reminded him of Ursula and how he had treated her. It had been heartbreaking to live through that part of his life the first time. And now to be asked to live through it again was a sorrow so exquisite he could barely speak.
“Peter,” Mertons said, “I hope you know how much the Guild appreciates this.”
Peter grunted. The Executive Guild managed the souls passing through the Afterlife, specifically those within the artists’ section, and Mertons was the time-jump accountant who had been assigned to this case. Time-jump Accountant was his official title, but Peter knew the unofficial reason the Guild had sent him was to ensure the moody, unreliable painter they’d enlisted managed the mission properly and stayed within the prescribed rules, so perhaps nursemaid would be more appropriate.
“It wasn’t as if I had a choice.” Peter slitted his eyes and let the dying November sun warm his face. The evenings were the hardest. During the day he could lose himself in painting, but at night ... At night, all he had was wine and his memories. How could he have once held success in such esteem?
Mertons shrugged. “You will get what you want, Peter—a new life as an artist.” The Guild had the power to choose the new life into which a member of its constituency—in this case, painters—would arrive, bundled in his or her new mother’s arms, with only an obscure hint of the sadness or joy of their former life to tint their memories.
And while Peter desperately wanted a new life as an artist—he couldn’t imagine himself, or at least his soul, spending the next sixty years as a barber or dairyman—what he really wanted was a chance to redeem himself, which he knew he would never find. He had finally agreed to slip back into the pinched, desiccated skin he had sloughed off at his death two years earlier for one reason only—to try to return Ursula’s good name to her, an intention he had purposefully not shared with Mertons, who had been assigned by the Guild to accompany him and who monitored the attacks on his precious time-travel constraints with the ferocity of a mother lion.
“Tell me again what we know.” Peter had heard the story several times since their arrival a week ago. Nonetheless, Mertons liked to tell it, and it would give Peter time to prepare for acting out his plan. He glanced at the clock and then at the small storage room off the office. Just before five. Good.
Mertons sighed and looked down at his clipboard. “To be honest, we know very little. The writer’s name is Campbell Stratford—a Scot,” he added as if that provided a significant detail to the understanding of the event. “The book will be an embarrassment to the Guild—”
“An embarrassment to Van Dyck, you mean.” Peter had immense respect for the work of the man he had succeeded as royal portraitist, Van Dyck to the court of Charles I and he to that of Charles II, but it irked him that the Guild would jump through hoops to help certain of its dead members but not others.
“An embarrassment to one of our members is an embarrassment to the Guild, Peter. We do not want Van Dyck’s ill-considered contretemps with a few women outside his marriage to overshadow a career that should be judged strictly on its professional merits—merits, I might add, that are both numerous and laudatory.”
A few women? Peter, who had known Van Dyck well, rolled his eyes. “I expect the Guild doesn’t particularly like the idea of someone on Earth running around with access to a time tube, either.”
The muscles in Mertons’s jaw contracted. The Guild, like every organization that managed souls in the Afterlife, had a stake in ensuring the tubes were tightly controlled. Representatives of the Guild, or, like Peter, those chosen to serve their needs, were the only people allowed to travel the tubes as conscious adults, and then only under very special circumstances. That this Stratford fellow would find a way to breach the tube terrified the Guild, who claimed that alteration of the fabric of time could be as dangerous as an asteroid hit. No one on Earth had done it in decades. Peter didn’t doubt there was some level of danger, though he suspected the Guild’s concern was just as much about retaining power as averting chaos.
“No, Peter, the Guild does not care for it, and neither should you. The results would be unimaginable.”
Peter made an ambiguous noise. A few more minutes, and then all he’d need was a brief distraction. “Tell me, how did you come to know the writer would be traveling here?” This was the one part of the story Mertons had not shared with him, and the calculations showed in the man’s eyes. Fortunately, Peter thought, there’s nothing like a time-jump accountant for long-winded self-aggrandizement, especially when it comes to the intricacies of time travel.
“I probably shouldn’t be telling you this—”
Peter gave him a conspiratorial nod.
“—but it was me. Dawson, the associate in External Affairs, was reviewing the daily log and saw Stratford’s book had spiked a seven-point-three on incongruity. Normally you’d ignore something like that unless it happened again, but when Dawson brought it to me, there was just something odd about it. Over a seven on an art biography? An art biography by an unknown author? I got permission to check it against the Alexandrian tables, the safest way for someone in the present to examine future occurrences, and the book—that is to say, the book that Stratford will write if we don’t stop him—was filled with details knowable only to someone who’d been back in time.”
“Perhaps he guessed. Some writers are very good at that, I hear.”
“Perhaps he guessed Van Dyck liked his eggs poached in cream and sprinkled with nutmeg? Perhaps he guessed Van Dyck entertained his closest friends with a portrait of Lord Harwich painted with horns and a snout?” Mertons lowered his voice to a whisper. “Perhaps he guessed Van Dyck needed a brisk paddle to ensure the structural integrity of his ‘monument to Cupid’?”
“And it’s worse than that.”
“I’d rather not hear.”
“Stratford gave himself carte blanche to fill the rest of the book with whatever lies he wanted. He calls it a ‘fictography.’ Do you see? A fictional biography. An abomination, if you ask me. Why can’t writers stick to the truth?” Mertons returned his gaze to his ever-present clipboard. As tall as a boat pole and nearly as thin, with a crown as hairless as a baby’s, he looked about as much like an apprentice painter in 1673 as he did a centurion at the Battle of Thermopylae. Nonetheless that was the cover the Guild had instructed Peter to provide him.
“And why does Stratford come to me?”
Mertons shuffled his feet. “We don’t know.”
“Don’t know?” Peter cultivated surprise. This was his favorite part of the story since the answer could not be found on the clipboard or anywhere else.
“No. Perhaps he’s broken the security algorithm. Perhaps he’s found a tube we’re not aware of. All we know is this biography—pardon me, fictography—will change the way thousands of people feel about Van Dyck. So our job is to stop Stratford from writing that book. The book is nothing but lies.”
“Nothing but lies? You mean Van Dyck didn’t pass around a portrait of Lord Harwich?” Peter had seen it himself once. He declined to call to mind the other, more picturesque details of his colleague’s personal life.
Mertons flushed. “There’s a difference between telling a story and appealing to the prurient interest of readers. Stratford takes the story, embellishes it, and with The Girl with a Coral Earring makes the entire seventeenth-century art world seem like some sort of giant sultan’s tent in which artists run, satyrlike, over pillowed beds, chasing willing and unwilling women to their reputational doom.”
Peter considered the artists he had known, including himself before the settling influence of Ursula, and found the description to be more accurate than not.
“I see you are amused.” Mertons crossed his arms. “I wonder if you would feel the same if the subject of the biography was you.”
Peter stiffened. He hated to admit it, but Mertons was right. Seeing his own life splashed across the pages, stripped bare for the amusement of a reading public who would not care what parts were true, or regretted, so long as the salacious bits of intrigue kept them turning pages, would be more than he could bear. There was a special place in hell for a writer like Stratford, who picked the bones of the dead to further his own career, and Peter supposed he should be glad he’d have a hand in bringing the blackguard down. But the thought brought him little joy, trapped as he was in one of the most unhappy times of his former life. He wished another artist in the Afterlife had been given the unusual opportunity. He glanced again at the clock. “And here, in this studio, in this particular time, is the only—what do you call it?—point of intersection?”
“No, there are a number of intersections in Van Dyck’s life as well, but the Guild is just about to place him in his new life, and, as you know, we cannot retrieve him once that has been done. You, being between lives, are available. Though perhaps when you said ‘in this particular time’ you were referring to this time in your own life?” Mertons unclipped the mass of paper in his hand and fanned it. “In that case, the answer is no as well. There were two intersections in your own life, each approximately equal in likelihood, but the other, you may recall—”
Peter remembered and held up a hand to stop him. “I recall. Thank you.”
The other likely intersection point had been eight years earlier, when Peter and Ursula had been happy. While Peter hadn’t told Mertons or the Guild the reason why, he had flatly refused even to consider returning to such a time. To live through that again burdened with the knowledge of what was to come would destroy him. He’d rather feel the lash of guilt and sorrow in this, the aftermath of his vanity, than to see it coming like a runaway carriage, about to crush him. He gazed at the emerald on his finger as one would a malignant tumor.
Mertons was observing him closely. “Peter, is there something I should know?”
But Peter hadn’t told anyone in the Afterlife about his despair, and he wasn’t about to start. “Only that it’s been a week, and I told you I would give you two, no more.”
Mertons sighed and examined another sheet of paper. “I’ve reconfirmed the coordinates. There may have been a little trouble with our original calculation, but I can assure you the writer is within striking distance.”
Peter had no interest in Mertons’s coordinates or any of the dozens of other numbers the man routinely reviewed. “Well, it must end soon. I can’t even take a piss without your approval.”
“My dear Peter, it is not that I wish to constrain your freedom. As I have explained, it is that the Guild has given us a range of deviation of only plus or minus three point oh six two four seven. That is an average for the entire trip, which means the overages we anticipate with the writer’s arrival must be balanced with something approaching zero deviation as we wait now.”
“Hang on. Did you say three point oh six two four seven?” Peter scratched at a loose sheet with his quill in a fair imitation of a time-jump accountant. “No wonder this isn’t working. You know I can’t work at less than three point oh six two four nine two two.”
“Jest if you will,” Mertons said icily, “but the limits exist for a reason. Jumps are a risk. We must strive to ensure your days are lived exactly as they were the first time through. Unscrupulous or unthinking trippers could reorder time. We’re lucky a novice like you was allowed to attempt it.”
“I count my blessings hourly.”
“Your intercourse with the rogue will cost us at least five points of deviation, and that’s right off the top. Which means the rest of our time here must be kept below two point six.” He scribbled on his paper. “Two point seven at the most. How revealing do you intend the intercourse to be?”
Peter considered both the question and Mertons’s susceptibility to a double entendre, but abandoned his ambitions and said only, “I shall endeavor to bring it in under five.”
Peter turned his attention to a stack of mezzotints and reached for the pot of ink and his chop.
Mertons caught his sleeve. “What are you doing?”
“Placing my chop—my mark—upon them,” Peter said. “They’re for the king. Gifts for the envoy from Sicily.”
Mertons held tight. “Were these done in your original life?”
“Aye,” Peter growled. “I have not forgotten the proscription against new marks.”
Mertons pulled a sheet of paper from the sheath and looked at it. “‘Eleventh of November,’” he read. “‘Mezzotints of Charles II: Eight.’” He scanned the stack of mounted prints, counting, then relaxed. “Leaving your mark in this place—a child, a bride, your name on a painting, anything that was not marked before—will bind you here forever.”
“Aye. I remember.” Peter shook his arm free. There was no place he’d less like to be bound.
“Your best bet is to stay as close to me as possible. That’s why I’m here, Peter. To be your guide.”
“As Virgil through the circles of hell.”
“And you are certain you recall what you are to do when you finally meet him? Shall I review that as well?”
“No,” he said with exquisite politeness, “thank you.” He stretched his long legs. Now was the time. “How is my patronage looking, Mertons?”
Peter hadn’t been exactly eager to deal with his customers since returning, and the surprise showed on Mertons’s face. With a tilt of his head, the thin man peered into the long hallway.
“You have a considerable line out there.”
“Excellent,” said Peter, who, in fact, couldn’t have cared less. “But ...”
“I admit I am concerned, most concerned, about the appropriateness of each patron as far as our limits are concerned. Might you be willing to size them up, so to speak, from a jump risk point of view?”
Mertons’s forehead creased, and he shuffled through the papers before finding one in particular. “I assume they’re the same people you saw when you lived this day in your life before.”
“Quite likely, aye.” Peter carried the prints to the storage room. “But the point is one can’t be sure. We assume the writer will be disguised, but what if there is more than a single man with access to the unsecured time tube? What if there is a conspiracy to unravel the time fabric?”
Mertons paled. “You’re right. There’s a Robert de Manville on t...
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Book Description Pocket Books. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 1439107246 . Seller Inventory # Z1439107246ZN
Book Description Pocket Books, 2010. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1439107246
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Book Description Pocket Books, 2010. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111439107246