Date Published: November 20, 2020
He’ll pay any price to win her. But her artist’s heart is not for sale.
Raised in a squalid factory, Evan Tagget has battled his way to the top. Now a multi-millionaire, he runs a global empire of telecommunication devices, mechanical dragons, and clockwork gadgets. Evan can buy anything he wants. Except the love of the brazen artist who barges into his life.
Violet Dayton has made her living painting forgeries, scrimping and saving toward her true passion: a grand Paris art exhibition to display her work and the art of the friends who have always looked out for her. But a corrupt police inspector knows her secrets, and the only way to escape his clutches is to track down the master art thief plaguing museums across Europe.
With the aid of Evan’s money and connections, Violet knows she can catch her thief, but she hadn’t counted on her powerful attraction to the arrogant millionaire, or the complex, passionate layers beneath his cool exterior. With enemies everywhere, she’ll have to trust Evan with her life. Her heart, though, she guards closely. And the only way he’ll ever win her is to prove he knows the true value of love.
“I have a proposition for you, Mr. Tagget.”
His neatly trimmed eyebrows twitched. “Excellent!”
Ack, that smug smile. The man was too handsome for his own good, and he knew it. Vi didn’t know whether she’d rather kiss that mouth or punch it.
The grainy magazine photograph she’s scrounged up hadn’t done him justice. It made him look older, more serious. It didn’t show the single stray lock of hair curling across his forehead or the dimples at the corners of his mouth, too prominent to hide beneath his short goatee. It failed entirely to capture that wicked glint in his eye. He wasn’t the cold, merciless industrialist she’d imagined. His blood ran hot.
She’d also imagined him to be quite a bit taller. Standing here, staring at him, they looked exactly the same height.
“You and I are going to enter a partnership, Mr. Tagget.”
“Oh, are we?” He managed to both leer and sound suspicious.
“You have heard, I assume, of the rash of art thefts over the past few months?”
“That fool who styles himself ‘l’Exploiteur’? Is he the mastermind he claims, or just a braggart?”
“I’m told he has stolen near to fifty works of art, mainly from private collections and small galleries. His thefts grow bigger and bolder, and he has begun to taunt major galleries and museums with the promise of the greatest heists ever seen.”
“Well, that does sound dire, though I fail to see how it is of relevance to myself.” His dark brows quirked again. “Unless you are this Exploiter? If so, then I absolutely agree to join you on your next heist. What are we stealing?”
“No!” Vi put both hands on her hips. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, I’m not an art thief.”
“More’s the pity. I could use an interesting challenge.”
“I’m an artist,” Violet huffed. “I create, I don’t destroy. I want my work on display, where it can be enjoyed by all.”
Tagget stroked his beard. “Hmm. What, then, is your concern with this pilferer of cultural treasures?”
“I’m trying to learn his identity and put a stop to his crimes.”
“How noble,” he chuckled. “Standing up for the dead masters who can no longer defend their works?”
Obnoxious ass. She really was going to punch him right in his pretty mouth, then storm out and find herself a different assistant.
Violet clenched her fingers. Rich businessmen with questionable ethics and worldwide communications networks couldn’t be found loitering on any street corner. She was lucky to even have the opportunity to speak with him.
“I was asked to help in this case because of my own connections in the art world,” she explained, trying not to glower.
He frowned at her, causing a small furrow in his brow. “Your connections? What sort of connections would a lady artist have that would be of any use in this situation? Unless…” The frown twisted into a smile. “You’re involved in illicit dealings yourself, naturally. A forger, perhaps?” He twitched. “Well, I’ll be damned. Are you Vérité? But of course you are. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’ Though you look rather youthful for someone who they say has been working for fifty years and faked three hundred paintings.”
“Ten years, twenty-seven forgeries. Many haven’t been discovered, and many works have been incorrectly attributed to me.”
With her police file as thick as a Bible, Violet didn’t see any need to hide her deeds, and she was proud of the work she had done. Tagget looked momentarily surprised by her admission, then his smile returned.
“Fascinating. You made a deal with the authorities, I presume? But you need assistance. Why me?”
“I heard you were kicked out of the United States for spying.”
Tagget’s green eyes twinkled. “Now, my lovely blossom, you mustn’t believe every rumor you hear. I bent some laws, perhaps, but didn’t precisely break them. People did take exception, however, so I thought it best to focus on my European interests until the furor dies down.”
Violet turned up her nose at him. “I don’t care about the details. I care that you’re a teletics expert. Can you or can you not record information over a telephone or telegraph line?”
“I can. Most of it is irrelevant chatter. Sifting through is usually a waste of time.”
“And you’re an inventor?” she pressed on. “You can build things, and understand how machines work? You could dismantle them if necessary?”
A smile of a different sort touched his lips. More boyish, maybe even happier. “I could break through that mechanical door behind me with no more than a screwdriver, given enough time.”
“Then you’re the man I need.”
He fixed her with a heated stare. “I’m pleased you think so.” The husky timbre of his voice sent a shiver down her spine. “I accept your proposal. When do we begin?”
About the Author
Catherine lives in Michigan with her husband and three rambunctious girls. She loves steampunk and Oxford commas, and can often be found dressed in Renaissance Festival clothing, drinking copious amounts of tea.