Priceless – Chapter One



For Amanda

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set her  free…

 —Michelangelo(1475 – 1564)



 I began to write this story over two years ago.  It was envisioned and outlined before I ever penned Naked.  Yes, it’s true.  I have my composition book with the original notes to prove it.  It’s all there in black and white.  I treasure that simple book with the handwritten ideas and scribblings about a reluctant Lord of the Realm and a stubborn art conservationist.  Of course, it all got put on hold when I found my inspiration for Ethan Blackstone and Brynne Bennett’s story in the Blackstone Affair … but I never forgot about my original characters of Gaby and Ivan.  In fact, I placed them smack dab in the middle of my Blackstone world on purpose so I couldn’t forget about them.  I wrote their beginnings into the climax at the end of All In so that I’d be forced to tell their story at some point.  I’ve fielded questions from loyal readers for the past two years asking patiently when might they get to finally know what was going on with those two all this time.  Well, you’re about to find out, so THANK YOU to my adoring readers.  This one is all because of YOU.

xxoo R


Chapter  1



29th June



CHARITY galas.

Bloody horrific if you ask me, and a perfectly accurate descriptor for them.  Since I was about to give up my evening for one, I could call it whatever I liked.

The annual Mallerton Society bun fight would surely be no different, so I imagined surviving the next couple of hours would be mission number one for me.  Well, I did have a little entertainment to look forward to near the end of the evening and that was about the only redeeming part.

I pulled into the National Gallery, queued for valet service, and checked my mobile for the details.

There it was.  I read it twice and attempted to memorize who, what, and where.  Maria will be wearing an emerald green gown. Victorian Gallery 9:00 p.m.  Terms per contract.  We wish you both a very pleasant evening.

The escort service I used was one that didn’t have a name and you never talked to anyone by voice.  Everything was transacted by text.  Simple.  Efficient.  Anonymous.  No strings attached to get all tangled into a cocked up mess, and when the date was over everyone went home satisfied.

The less time I had to think about what I was really doing, the better.  I wasn’t proud of my behavior, but the reasons were justified in my mind.  I was just exploiting what was offered in order to get by.

Betrayal does that to a man.

By the time I made my way inside and found the venue, I was pleasantly surprised to see I’d missed the dinner.  The polite conversation required at these kind of events was sheer torture for me, and I often wondered how on earth that I, out of all of the eligible men in England, could have ended up inheriting a directorship on the board of the National Gallery.  There couldn’t possibly be a worse choice than me.   I knew next to nothing about paintings, and possessed no inclination to begin learning about them, either.  Being ‘Lord Rothvale’ in the twenty-first century was a pretentious millstone around my neck.  Having patrons address me as ‘my lord’ and bowing upon introduction made my skin crawl.

I was left having to fake it.

I did that a lot.

The pretense grew very tiresome to me because my whole life had been turned upside down by lies.  Hung, drawn and quartered by the media.  Yeah, pretty much.  At least it sure felt like it at the time.  Now I was rather more numb than anything.  The Bombay Sapphire worked wonders.


Where in the bloody hell had they set the bar up in this place?

I wandered a bit, trying to appear focused on the exhibit and praying nobody recognized me for fifteen minutes.  Hell, I’d be happy with five, if I could grab even that.

The landscape changed for a pleasant turn when I spotted the lovely Brynne Bennett presenting a painting of a woman with a book.  It looked like it could be a Mallerton in the midst of the conservation process.  It was being repaired or preserved so it could last another hundred years or so without losing its colors and clarity of image.  Yes, I’d managed to absorb a few bits of knowledge about what needed to happen to old paintings by default.  I’d much rather enjoy the view of the stunning conservator giving the presentation of the art, though.

Brynne was very easy to look at, but she was also very taken.  By no other than my obsessively protective cousin.  Ethan runs a security business so I give him credit for the protective part.  He has excellent taste in women.  I give him that too.

“Enjoying the show?” I wasn’t surprised when Ethan’s voice came from behind at my shoulder.  I should have known he’d be within striking distance of his beloved.

“Probably more like wondering when in the hell I might be able to escape the show,” I answered.  “I was just thinking about you, cousin.”

“Really,” he drawled.

“Indeed.  Think of the devil and he appears as if by magic.”

“Glad you could make it tonight,” he said sarcastically.  “We’ve been wondering when you’d finally grace us with your presence.  Brynne wants to introduce you to her friend.”  He looked around as if he were searching the crowd for someone.

“Brynne looks very busy right now.” I glanced over at his girlfriend admiringly.  “Maybe later, I need a drink.”

Ethan’s jaw hardened.  “Look, Ivan, there was a pseudo threat delivered to my office today.  I’m not horribly concerned but I want you frontloaded on the details.”  He handed me an envelope of photos.

Ethan and I had done this plenty of times before so it wasn’t anything new.  Eight-by-ten black and white photographs of Brynne and me chatting at Gladstone’s, where I’d met the two of them for lunch a few weeks back.  Me kissing her on the cheeks, as I put her in the car.  Me leaning in to speak to the both of them, and waving them off.  Me on the street after Ethan had pulled the car away.  Me waiting on the street for my own car to come ’round from valet.

I grunted at the photos as I ran through them a second time, flipping over the pictures one by one.

Nothing written.

Until the last one:  “Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide” scrawled on the back.

Another fan sending me love notes.  I’d forgotten how fucked in the head some of them were.  Here was my reminder.

I’d seen this kind of thing throughout my career.  It had to be taken seriously of course, but more often than not, it was some lunatic fringe who had an axe to grind on the back of a notable they perceived to have caused offense to them personally, and with cruel intent.  Sports figures especially suffered this kind of crap.  I had offended a ton of people in my time and had the gold medals to prove it.  Even though I was retired from the sport, I was still hounded by the media all the time.  The hounding had grown especially fierce with what had recently happened in my private life.  The upcoming Olympic Games being hosted in my home country didn’t help either.  It put me back on the radar and the timing couldn’t have been worse.  I’d be announcing men’s archery for the BBC in less than a month.

“Another super fan come to pay his respects,” I said dismissively.  The real truth was I counted my blessings having Ethan as blood family.  That alone would have earned his protection regardless, but I certainly kept him busy. After a minute I handed the whole lot of ridiculousness back to him as if it didn’t matter.  The honest part of me knew it didn’t really.  I was past the point of getting worked up over tedious shit, and far too used to this brand of attention to get really upset.  I was realistic enough to know this wouldn’t be the last time I received a threat.  They arrived as regular as estate taxes.  “Thanks, E, for looking out.  I’m sure it’ll all blow over when the Olympics are but a memory.”

He nodded slowly, his jaw tight as he glanced over at his girl once more as she presented her conservation technique to a rapt audience.

I looked at the drink in his hand and decided that getting one for myself was a bigger priority now than it had been earlier.  And two G & T’s was a far more accurate estimate than just the one if I wanted to feel even a little better.

“At least I can hope, true?”  I acted like I didn’t care about the threat.

“It’s all any of us can do, mate.”  E clapped me on the back with one hand.

“I need to have something along the lines of what you’re having.”  I waved off and left for the bar, in a worse mood than I’d been a few moments ago.

If that was even possible.






WEARING a new dress is always fun, and I loved how this one felt against my skin.  Halter neck with a floaty skirt.  Brynne’s aunt Marie had taken us both to a fabulous shop in Knightsbridge that sold vintage gowns.  The emerald floral silk moved so well as I walked, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the superior artistry.  It definitely paid to buy quality.  I’d bought the gown specifically for tonight’s occasion and figured it was wise to invest in something I could wear to other formal events I’d be required to attend through the university. And the party was as beautiful as ever.  The Annual Mallerton Society Gala for the Arts in honor of Romanticist painter, Sir Tristan Mallerton, was something I’d attended four years running.  I knew his birthday as well as I knew the birthdays of my own family.  June 29th.  I ought to know.  His work was the basis for my masters in Art History at University of London.  Inspiration in the form of a painting handed down through the generations of my family, and that I had loved my whole life.  It was a minor work of Mallerton’s, but it would belong to me one day, and had sparked the seed of interest for my studies and hopefully my life’s work.

I knew every catalogued painting Mallerton had done, and had seen a good portion of them with my own eyes.  The National Gallery had custody of the largest collection of his work on display in Britain, but it was a safe bet there were plenty of unknowns in private homes and in storage that had never seen the light of day.  Mallerton had been a prolific painter during his lifetime.  Most of those pieces were in the hands of people who had no idea what they owned, and sadly, no interest in finding out either.  Occasionally a painting would come onto the market from a private collection and go to auction though.  And it was my job to get it evaluated and into the database.

I stopped at an equestrian portrait that I counted among my top five favorites out of all of his work.  It was a happy painting, and every time I saw it I wanted to smile.  Mallerton had executed it perfectly, the moment preserved in time for all to enjoy.

The subject was a young bride with long dark hair seated on a magnificent pale horse adorned with garlands and ribbons and bells throughout his tack.  Even though she wasn’t smiling at all like a person would today when posing for a picture, the expression of joy captured so exquisitely in her expression made you a believer.  There was no doubt that this girl was a happy bride.  It was titled simply, Mrs. Gravelle, and always made me wonder what Mr. Gravelle was like.  He’d won a beautiful bride that’s for sure, and I dearly hoped he’d loved her as he should have.

Even the most unsophisticated observer could see the emotion in Mallerton’s work.  The ability to make people emote is a true artistic gift.  Tristan Mallerton was blessed with that ability without a doubt.  It was the thing that had drawn me to his work in particular when I’d begun my studies.  That, and the fact my father owned an original Mallerton portrait.  Passed down through the years of Hargreave descendants, it was of Sophie Hargreave, my great, great, great, grandmother, and would someday be mine.

I loved the formal pose of her in a gorgeous blue and white gown, her incredibly long mahogony hair artfully arranged to the side, but it was her expression that ruled the portrait.  There was an air of amusement to her smile.  The elegant Sophie possessed a mischievous twinkle in her pretty eyes that suggested she wasn’t all seriousness and convention.

And Mallerton’s rare talent of portraying the subjects of his paintings in such a way that had you wondering about who the people were, and their life’s story, just made the portrait all the more interesting.  Something for which Mallerton was known for.  Quite simply, his art left you craving for more.  Who were the people in his portraits?  Whom did they love?  Why was a particular pose or setting chosen for the subject?  These very questions, still asked today, were the exact essence of Mallerton’s talent which had given him such acclaim, both in his lifetime, and now, two-hundred-four years later.

Two hundred years.  Four years.  They might as well be the same thing.  A lot could change in just four years…

You’ve changed.

I tried not to think about what I’d lost, but my self-imposed loneliness got the better of me sometimes, and I’d be lying if I couldn’t admit I longed for even a portion of what Mrs. Gravelle had in her painting.

The chances of you ever finding someone who will inspire you look like the bride in that painting are slim to none—

“I found you,” a smooth voice said behind me.

I turned to see who was speaking to me and got an eyeful of beautiful.  The man before me was six feet plus of dark, lean and sexy with green eyes the color of my dress.  He flashed me a smile that could only be described as wicked.

“Are you sure you were looking for me?”  He appeared to have money because I’d bet my extravagant new gown, that the tux hanging off his fine form was most certainly bespoke.  No doubt about it.  Was he a patron in need of a gallery tour?  A large contributor VIP?

“Oh yes, it’s definitely you,” he purred, “the beauty in the green dress.”  He leaned forward.  Close but not touching, his face tilted toward my neck.  I backed up.  He followed…until I was pressed against the wall.  “And they were so right,” he said in his silky voice.

“Right about what?” I asked, mesmerized by his features and his delicious scent, totally overpowered by how close he was to me.  My God, he smelled good.  “Um…d-did you want a t-tour?” I stuttered, amazed that coherent words were even forming from my lips.

“Mmm hmm,” he said, nodding slowly, drawing his gaze up my neck, “I definitely want your tour.”

Why are you speaking like that to me?  I was clearly at a disadvantage in this situation and could definitely feel the weirdness coming at me from all directions. Who was this Greek god trapping me against the wall, looking like he wanted to devour me?  And was it bad that the thought of him actually doing some devouring made a long shiver roll down my back?

Mr. Man-Beauty didn’t appear to be in any hurry, his green eyes tracking over my body, roving over everything they could see.

I swallowed hard.

“Who—who was it that sent you to find me, ah…mister—?”

“—Ivanhoe.  The service notified you, right?”  He inhaled and moved a fraction closer, just staring with a confident half-smirk on his face.  “You’re definitely who I’m supposed to meet tonight.  Nine o’clock, and wearing a green dress, which by the way, is very…very…nice.”  The last three words were spoken slowly as his eyes raked up my dress until he landed somewhere around my lips.

“Nine o’clock,” I repeated dumbly, overwhelmed by his maleness, and his friggin’ gorgeous…everything, to the point I had apparently lost the ability to carry on a conversation.

Wait.  Service?

“So you are Mr. Ivanhoe, and you want me to give you the tour.” I said a tad too sarcastically, wanting to slap myself for the ignorance that kept spouting out of my mouth.

I was in utter and complete bewilderment of what was going on with him though.

I knew for a fact I hadn’t been informed about any VIP named Mr. Ivanhoe needing a contributor’s tour tonight during the gala.  But clearly that’s what he was expecting, standing boldly, looking like a man who was very sure of what he wanted.  I couldn’t just say no and blow him off.  That would be incredibly rude and possibly get me into trouble with the university.  And that was the thing with VIPs.  They tended to be less predictable and often just showed up, expecting special treatment.  Their deep pockets were what kept the charities going though, and offending a big donor was a big no-no.

He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes just a bit, his brow wrinkling for an instant.  “Call me that if you wish, I don’t mind, and yes, I want whatever you have arranged for me.”  He brushed back his hair with a hand and held it there gripping at the back of his neck, his elbow coming up and framing me in even more.  “I’m ready to begin if you are.”  He smiled.

Whatever I have arranged?  I had nothing planned.  I had no idea why any of this conversation between us was even happening.  I knew nothing.  Well, I knew one thing—I couldn’t take my eyes off his hair.

Mr. Ivanhoe’s hair was dark and straight, worn deliciously long in the European style, hitting just above where his broad shoulders met his neck.  I wanted to touch.

He’d been blessed in more ways than just his wallet.  An alien perhaps?

“All right,” I said carefully, swallowing hard again, and wondering just how the next thirty minutes were going to go with the each of us staring and speaking in some kind of mysterious code.  “Where would you like to start, Mr. Ivanhoe?  What are your main interests?”

He offered his arm, which I accepted and let him lead us into the hallway.

“Beauty interests me right now.”  He looked down at me and smiled darkly, his lips slightly parted and my arm tucked firmly under his.

It interests me too.  “Well, there is plenty of beauty here to show you,” I said.

‘I thought so.”  He stopped us at a door.  “I can’t wait to see it all and experience it for myself.”

He opened the door and led me inside a darkened anteroom.  Various works in progress of restoration and archival rooms were down this way.  I was about to ask him if he wanted a tour of the conservationist wing when he shut the door and pressed me back against it.  “Bloody perfect,” he mumbled.

“What—?” was all I managed to get out before he took my face in his hands, slammed his mouth down over mine and started kissing me with that beautiful mouth of his.





MY “date” was interesting tonight.  Sexy as all get-out but mysteriously illusive with what sounded to be an American accent.  And so damn beautiful my eyes were stinging.

We really needed to get this party started, and we couldn’t very well just stand here in a quiet gallery hallway mentally undressing each other now could we?  That would be wholly inappropriate and someone was bound to come by and see eventually.

I don’t usually go in for public shags but was far too gone in attraction to my “tour guide” to care very much.  I’m a man of action.  Give me a problem and I will do my damndest to find a solution.

Like right now for instance:  Where can I find a place to get Maria alone and see what she’s got hidden beneath her sexy gown?

Was Maria really her name?  I tried to remember the text I’d received, and thought I was right, but details like that slip my mind consistently.  I was however, well aware that escorts didn’t like for clients to use their working names anywhere where somebody might hear.

I always followed the rules with the ladies, still shocked that this beautiful creature was even an escort in the first place, and not a model for Vogue or Harper’s.  She could be, in a heartbeat.

A door appeared in front of me, so I opened it and brought her in with me.  Dark, empty, private.  “Bloody perfect,” I said.

I pressed her up against the door and took her face in my hands.  Her eyes were a stunning dark green, almost the same color as mine were, but I just had to get to know that luscious mouth of hers first.

I could look into her eyes once we were shagging in a few, and I planned on it.

I wanted a taste of those lips mostly, and then I’d move on to other parts.  I knew what I was doing and I was totally confident she did too.

“What—?” she murmured, just as I descended.

The time for talking has well passed, lovely thing.

When I covered her mouth with mine and got a first taste, something switched on inside me and I sort of lost my normally maintained control.

I just wanted to push my way in and get lost in her for a while.

She froze at first and sucked in a breath, but then she seemed to soften and go with the program, and started to kiss me back.  She tasted like a delicious wine I couldn’t seem to get enough of, so I just delved deeper and held her firmly.

It took a moment, but I felt her response grow to the point where her hands got into the action and buried in my hair.  Once that started happening I knew everything was good.  We had chemistry together and I was sure of one thing—I’d be getting Maria’s number so we could do this again.

I moved a hand down to sweep under her skirt and slid my palm up her thigh and right between her legs.  I felt lace.

And a bundle of hot, sexy female.

“Ahhh…” she moaned, standing up on her toes and throwing her head back when I touched her.  I moved my mouth to her throat and down the deep neckline of her dress.  My fingers dove under the lace of her knickers and found my target, skimming back and forth where it counted.

That she was totally turned on and primed for action, was never in question.  I had the proof of that all over my fingers.

This goddess in my arms, wearing a green dress I wished I could strip her out of was about to come on me.  Fucking hot.

I gripped her face with my free hand and brought her back to face me.  “Open your eyes.”

She complied instantly, her lashes flipping up and revealing those green beauties I’d admired earlier.  Her breathing was coming in heavy pants now.  Time to hit a bull’s-eye with Miss Maria, I decided.

I moved two fingers into position and buried them inside her.  In the same moment I seized her mouth and impaled myself there too.  She was totally mine to conquer and I relished the control in moments like this.  I was all about control when it came to sex.

Especially now.

I matched the stroking of my fingers, with the pace my tongue was keeping, and in no time I had her riding the wave of an orgasm as she rode my hand.

I swallowed her tensing cries with my mouth, and slowed everything down for her until she was completely melted against the door, fighting for breaths.

Mission accomplished.

“God, you’re beautiful.”  She widened her eyes and focused on me, a look of utter satisfaction simmering in them as she breathed against the door.  What I wouldn’t give to have her in my bed right now.  The possibilities flashed in images through my head as I moved my fingers slowly out, retreating carefully from her body.  She gasped softly and rolled with my movements, coming down from the rush to stand on her own again.  Her head was slightly tilted and resting on the back of the door.  My hand still on her face, I lowered it down to her shoulder, caressing as I went.

“My turn,” I told her.

Her eyes flared at me in the dim light for an instant, as if she were considering my request, but the afterglow of pleasure boiling in her eyes told me she was very into what we were doing.  We were just getting started on where I planned for this to go.

She sighed in contentment and dropped down to her knees gracefully before me, her fine hands reaching forward to work on opening my trousers.  She pulled out my shirt and found my cock, which was more than ready to meet her pretty mouth.  I couldn’t hold back the groan that came out of me and closed my eyes in anticipation.

It had been a while and I was definitely going to enjoy this.

When she touched me I thrust into her hand.  She gripped the shaft and stroked, pulling me closer.  I felt the softness of her tongue slide over the tip of me and welcomed the hot burn of pleasure.

My fantasy lover was just getting into the groove, and doing a superb job I might add, when our timing went to complete shit.

The emergency light above the door began to twirl a flashing red paired with a siren wail of ear-deafening decibels.  Over all of that, the loudspeaker announcement demanded the building be exited immediately for safety precautions.

Well, damn, this certainly sucked.

Or not.

Maria was off me and out the door, before I could get myself tucked back into my trousers.

By the time I managed to stumble out of our little love nest, she was nowhere to be seen, but Ethan was sprinting down the hallway.

I ran for it, coming up behind him.  He turned back and saw me.

“Bomb threat.  That’s what this is.”  He gestured to the flashing lights.  “Everyone’s being evacuated.”

I just exploded in anger, unbelieving that someone would hate me so much they would blow up a museum to get to me.  Disgruntled fan or not, an act of terrorism was way out of bounds.  “Are you fucking kidding me?!  All this because of me?”

“I don’t know details.  I was out having a smoke when the alarm went off.  Neil said in-house security got a bomb threat called in and they’re closing everything down.  We’ll sort it later.  Just get the fuck out!”

So that’s what I did.

I looked for Maria but I never found her in the crush of people swarming the front steps of the National Gallery.  I thought I saw her at one point because there was a woman wearing a similar color green dress, but she was blonde and definitely not the fiery goddess I’d been with in that room earlier.

I would have asked her home with me and paid double for her services without a second thought.  Maria was definitely worth it.

A bottle of Bombay and a session with her would’ve topped off my evening just perfectly.  I texted Ethan to let him know I was leaving and to ring me when he had a chance.  As I drove home to my solitary existence I wasn’t content and I certainly wasn’t satisfied.

I felt pretty much like shit and there were plenty of other reasons for that, unfortunately.  The only nice thing to happen tonight had been the encounter with a beautiful creature whose sexy scent was still clinging to my hand.

I brought the back of the fingers I’d used on her up to just under my nose where I could breathe in the unmistakable lingering of female.  Lovely…and fucking sexy.

The scent of pussy and my unsatisfied cock was not a good combination though, and it put me into an even darker mood.  Damn.  Wanking off was not something I envisioned as part of my scheduled evening, but I’d end up doing it tonight.  Something had to take my edge off.

I was determined to find Maria again, and had no doubts I would, too.  We had unfinished business to conduct, and the service owed me a date.  I would make sure they knew to send her as soon as it could be arranged.

I wouldn’t be able to forget her until I sampled all that she had to offer.  Until I have her right where I want and at my mercy, taking my cock.

I grinned as I turned onto my street in St. James and drove through the gates.

I know myself pretty well.  When I want something, I won’t stop until I’ve conquered the challenge.  Right now my challenge was a green eyed beauty who had, for whatever reason, bewitched me this evening.



*End of Chapter 1*