He doesn’t trust her, but they have to work together
After eight years of the Marriage Mart, Lady Prudence is finished with Society. There is no man for her, and she will spend the rest of her life as a doting aunt to her many nieces and nephews. She will also pursue her art, a passion that has consumed her since girlhood. After the prestigious Goddard and Reeves Art Gallery offers her an art show, she is thrilled to finally see her dream come true.
Keeping her from total happiness, however, is the sharp-tongued Mr. Ashton Reeves who views her with contempt, and overly polite formality. Ashton Reeves, the unacknowledged bastard son of the Earl of Stanhope holds nothing but disdain for the haut ton after the way his mother had been treated by Stanhope. The last thing he wants for his gallery is a showcase for a Lady of Quality who would no doubt treat the entire event as a lark and quickly give up her art for marriage to a lofty lord.
With swords crossed and arrows aimed, the artist and the gallery owner must work together to have a successful show.
Lady Prudence Sterling straightened her spine and with her papers clasped firmly in her hand, entered the library where her mother and stepfather enjoyed an evening libation before retiring to their bedchamber, as was their habit.
She’d given this a great deal of thought and spent a lot of time going over her appointment books for the last several years. She was armed with all the information she needed.
“Good evening, sweetheart.” Her mother looked up from the embroidery she worked on. “I thought you would be preparing for the Emerson’s ball right now.”
Mother placed the embroidery aside. “Is something wrong, Prudence?” She stood and placed her palm against her forehead. “Are you unwell? Shall I have Cook prepare a tisane for you?”
“No, Mother. I am not unwell. However, I am not attending the Emerson ball this evening, either.”
Mother and Papa glanced briefly at each other. Papa put his glass down on the small table in front of them. “What is amiss, my dear girl?”
Prudence sat and smoothed out the papers in her lap and began to read. “In the past eight years, I have attended eighty-three balls, seventy-four soirees, one hundred and eleven garden parties, forty-two musicales, nineteen trips to the theater, too-many-to-count rides in the park, and literally hundreds of afternoon social calls.” She stopped and looked at up them. “I have also turned down over a dozen marriage proposals.”
“You are quite the social butterfly, darling girl.” Papa smiled warmly at her.
Prudence sighed. “You miss the point, Papa.”
“And what is that point?”
“I am done.”
Mother looked alarmed for a moment and placed her hand on Papa’s. “What do you mean, dear?”
Prudence stood and began to pace. “I am finished with Society. I have spent eight years having my feet trod upon, suffered dozens of appointments with the modiste to prepare for each Season, drank gallons of warm lemonade, smiled and encouraged the most boring men on the planet, gave a set-down to a number of young men in dark gardens—”
“Now wait a minute, my lovely daughter. Who—”
She waved her hand in dismissal. “It doesn’t matter, Papa.” She stopped and faced her parents. “I will no longer attend social events. I have spent eight years in the supposed search for a husband. All my sisters are happily married and producing offspring at an alarming rate. Not one single man in all this time has appealed to me enough for me to wish to sit across from him at the breakfast table for the rest of my life.”
Mother sucked in a breath and clutched her throat. “Oh my dear, you are not going to go on one of those trips around the world?”
“No. Absolutely not,” Papa said. “That is much too dangerous for a young woman. I would insist you take several footmen to guard you.” He stopped and considered for a moment. “Wait. No, traveling with several men would be even worse.”
“Papa.” Prudence held up her hand. “I am not planning on a trip around the world.”
“Well, thank goodness for that.” He took another swallow of his brandy.
Prudence sat. “However, I do have other news for you.”
Mother turned quite pale. “What is that, dear? I can only take so much in one evening.”
“I am going to have an art show.”
“An art show.” Mother repeated the words.
When they continued to stare at her, she said, “As you both know, I have been painting in the lovely art studio Papa set up for me.”
“Yes, dear. I am so pleased you have this hobby. But whatever does that have to do with you leaving Society?” her mother asked.
Prudence leaned forward. “I wanted to know if my art was any good or if I was just dabbling in a silly hobby—as you put it. I took one of my paintings to Reeves and Goddard, the art gallery on Bond Street. When Mr. Goddard saw my painting, he asked to see others. So, I brought him several of what I thought was my best work.”
She hopped up again, hugging herself, unable to contain her enthusiasm. “Mr. Goddard loved my work and said he wanted to do an art show featuring my paintings! He said they would sell very well because the art world is always looking for new, talented artists.”
Mother and Papa both broke out in bright smiles. “That is wonderful, my dear,” Papa said. “I have often remarked to your mother that I thought you had a great deal of talent.”
“When will this show be?” Mother’s eyes sparkled, much to Prudence’s relief. Not that she had expected her parents to forbid her to do it, but there was always the possibility that they would discourage her.
“Mr. Goddard is planning it for a month from now. He wants me to continue working so there will be more pieces for the show.”
“I am confused. As wonderful as this news is, what has it to do with you no longer moving about in Society?” Mother asked.
“I need the time to work. To prepare for the show. I can’t be up and working early in the morning when the light is best if I have been out all night dancing.”
“Maybe one or two garden parties?” Mother asked. “Are you planning to give up altogether on having a husband, a home of your own, children?”
“Mother, my focus from now on will be on my work as an artist. I am six and twenty years old. My last sister married six years ago. You and Papa have ten grandchildren, and it doesn’t look like that will end any time soon. You don’t need my contribution to the horde.”
Mother stood and cupped her cheek. “My dear, I am not thinking about how many grandchildren your Papa and I will amass. I’m thinking about your happiness.”
“If I can be released from the burden of attending any more balls and watching the giggling fresh-from-the-schoolroom young ladies whisper behind fans about someone as old as me still unmarried, then I will be very, very happy.”
Papa stood and placed his arm around her shoulders. “I agree, my dear. You must do what makes you happy.”
“You did what?” Ashton Reeves glared at his partner, Theodore Goddard, as if he’d just grown another head.
“You heard me quite clearly, Ash. I contracted with Lady Prudence Sterling to display her work at a show in a month’s time. Furthermore, since when do you question my decisions when it comes to evaluating artwork and setting up shows?”
Ash ran his palm down his face. “Of course, I respect your decisions when it comes to artwork, but a lady, Ted? Do you have any idea what they are like? I’m sure this is all a flight of fancy for her. Those women are never serious about anything except the next ball and which gown they will wear. They spend all their time husband-hunting. There isn’t a genuine bone in their bodies.”
Ted stared at him, open-mouthed. “Where did that all come from? I know you were never fond of the nobility, but this sounds personal. Did a lady break your heart?”
His smile annoyed Ash more than his words.
“No. I have never in my life associated with them.” The distaste on his face had his partner raising his brows.
“So, if your opinion does not come from a firsthand experience, what is the basis for your comments?” Ted leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms, looking as though he was settling in for a lengthy explanation.
“I have had enough contact with them and their ilk as customers. Do you forget, as a bastard, I am unwelcome into their lofty throngs?” He couldn’t believe Ted would agree to sponsor a show for a female member of the ton. “Princesses, all of them. They hunt for the highest title, the most money, and then once married and duty performed by presenting their husbands with an heir and spare, they proceed to hop from bed to bed.”
Ted shook his head. “Of course, I have not forgotten your beginnings, since you deign to remind me at least twice a week, but you are judging Lady Prudence and finding her wanting without even having seen one of her paintings. And, I might add, you haven’t met her. She is not one of your young simpering misses. She is intelligent, and her art is incredible.”
“Ha! And by next year, she’ll be betrothed to some poor sap and forget all about her art.”
“Not this one. I’ve seen true artists, those with the fire and commitment. Lady Prudence is one of the few who really has the talent and desire to succeed.”
Ash smirked. “Oh? Your short acquaintance with her assures you of this?”
Ted regarded him as if he were a youth unable to understand the simplest arithmetic problem. “Lady Prudence is beyond the first blush of youth. If I had to guess, I would say she is probably four or five and twenty. She is quite pretty—”
Ash jumped right in. “Ah, now I see why you are her champion. She has mesmerized you with her beauty.”
“Leave off, Ash. Instead of all this quibbling, come upstairs with me where I have several of her pieces. See for yourself.”
Grumbling, Ash followed his partner up the narrow staircase to the room where they stored numerous pieces of art. He hated his bitterness toward the ton, but after the way his father had treated his mother, he had no love for any member of the nobility.
Rotters. All of them.
They entered the studio, and Ash’s spirits immediately improved. The smells, the stacks of canvases leaning against the walls, and his own little corner where he dabbled in art himself always soothed him. He loved artwork and had been surrounded by it his entire life. His mother was an artist and he, himself, had done quite a bit of painting. His work, however, lacked the spark to set it apart from common pieces.
His mother had that genius touch he’d rarely seen anywhere else. She had encouraged him in his endeavors, but one look at his paintings compared to hers had forced him to relegate his art to a hobby and concentrate instead on owning and running an art gallery for his living.
“Here we are. See for yourself.” Ted whipped off a piece of linen covering a painting leaning against the south wall.
Ash had to blink several times and lean forward. He was dumbstruck. It was impossible to believe any frivolous, shallow, vain woman had painted the work of art in front of him. The colors were vibrant, the scene compelling. He felt as though he had stepped into the field of daisies the artist had painted. He swore he could even see the flowers waving lazily in the wind, smell their sweet scent, and feel the fresh air. The soft melody of laughter coming from the barefoot chubby little girl running through the field, clutching a handful of flowers, teased his ears, bringing a smile to his lips.
Although totally different from his mother’s work, it was definitely on a level that his honesty would not allow him to disparage.
“I see this has left you speechless. The first time I ever remember that happening.” Ted grinned at him.
Ash gave him a dismissive wave. “All right. I agree. This is truly exceptional.” He studied it from different angles. Then he picked it up and moved it to the east wall where the sun was setting and casting a bright light through the west window onto the canvas.
Beautiful. Remarkable. Absolutely stunning. He shook his head. “As wonderful as this painting is, I still contend that no lady of the ton would be, and remain, serious about her art. It’s just not in their blood, Ted.”
His partner removed the canvas from Ash’s hand and returned it to the spot where it had been. “I am surprised at you. How many times have you groused about being judged a certain way because you were born on the wrong side of the blanket?
“And how often did you point out that a person is not what he was born to be?” Ted adjusted the piece of linen back over the painting. “Hasn’t your rise from your beginnings proven that? At least meet the woman. I think you will be as impressed as I am.”
Ash ran his fingers through his hair and let out a huge breath. “Well, if you have contracted with her for a show—without my input—then I guess there is nothing to be done except for me to meet her.”
Ted slapped him on the back. “Good. She is bringing some more of her work tomorrow at ten.”
“I will be here.” Ash waved his finger in his partner’s face. “I hope for both our sakes we are not launching a new artist on the art-loving public only to have her disappear in a few months, leaving us looking foolish.”COLLAPSE
MichTeach, Amazon wrote:
I enjoyed this delightful novella because of it's well developed characters, it's well developed story line and the author's writing skills.
Keti, Amazon wrote:
Never a dull moment in the novels Callie writes!
A beautiful story of unconventional ton family...Wonderful plot and characters... Some surprises that will warm your heart...A young lady, with a lot of artistic talent... A owner of a famous gallery...A book for all that love Regency.