The Viscount And The Artist - Alyson Pearce
Length: 299 pages
Andrew Cardwell is a man driven by duty to his country and to his family. After the death of his uncle, he's determined to provide security and stability for his family as the new Viscount Cardwell—even if that means marrying and producing an heir. Surprising himself, Andrew decides to sponsor a young artist named Jeremy for the season, to help him find a patron. What he doesn’t anticipate is how well Jeremy fits in his bed…and his life.
Jeremy Leighton knows what it’s like to be a disappointment. The only son of a vicar, he's refused to follow the path his father set for him, choosing his passion for art, instead. He accepts Andrew's proposal, hoping to prove to his father—and himself—that he can succeed as an artist. After spending time with Andrew in and out of bed, Jeremy struggles not to fall for the damaged viscount, knowing the season will likely end in Andrew's engagement.
Between a meddling cousin, a widow on the hunt for a new husband, and their own doubts about the relationship, how can Andrew and Jeremy shed the expectations of others to find true happiness?
Sitting in the carriage outside Boodle’s, Jeremy fiddled with his coat buttons. A cold sweat had started along the back of his neck. Talking about finding a patron was one matter. Actively looking for one was completely different. He looked over at Andrew. The man was the embodiment of fashionable: his jet black tailcoat was expertly tailored, the waistcoat beneath adding a touch of colour and pattern. Even his cravat was tied in a perfect Osbaldeston. Next to him, Jeremy looked like a simple country boy, wearing clothing his father had bought him when he entered Oxford. His stomach rolled, and he regretted eating such a large dinner.
“You’re going to be fine,” Andrew said.
Jeremy fastened his buttons for a third time.
“Just relax. Hands at your sides. Deep breaths. Follow my lead and stay by my side.”
Nodding, Jeremy let his hands drop. He waited until Andrew opened the carriage door before climbing out. The sight in front of him was formal and imposing, and Jeremy wanted nothing more than to climb back into the carriage. The ground floor exterior was a white stone, while the upper levels were brick. The showpiece of the building, though, was the large, domed window in the centre, trimmed by white, scalloped stone.
Andrew clapped Jeremy on the shoulder and steered them toward the door. It felt rather like he was being marched to the gallows. As they passed through the columned entrance, Jeremy balled his fists at his sides.
“You have to relax, Jeremy,” Andrew murmured. “No one is going to come and escort you out. You are here as my guest, and therefore you belong here. Unclench your fists. Drop your shoulders. Remember, every man you meet here is a potential patron. Treat them as such. Be respectful, but be yourself.”
Jeremy nodded, forcing his shoulders down. “All right. Where to first, Cardwell?”
“Let’s start by finding friends.”
After a giving Jeremy a quick tour of the ground floor, Andrew led him up the steps, toward the salon. A number of men had already started to gather at the card tables, and Jeremy stayed as close to Andrew as he possibly could. A large man with a bulbous nose and beady eyes broke away from the rest and started toward the both of them, favouring his left leg.
“Thomas Stanhope,” Andrew whispered. “A member of the Commons and not someone you want to work with.”
“Cardwell!” The man’s voice was thin and raspy, and his gaze darted between Andrew and Jeremy. “Back just in time for the Season, I see. Is your uncle with you?”
Andrew’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Uncle Richard passed a few weeks ago. You sent a letter expressing your condolences.”
Stanhope’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “Did I? I…You must forgive me. My mind is not what it once was.”
“Of course.” The words came out clipped. “Stanhope, allow me to introduce my friend, Mr. Jeremy Leighton.”
A flicker of emotion crossed Stanhope’s face, though Jeremy couldn’t place it. Whatever it was made him uncomfortable.
“Leighton…” The man frowned, as though he were trying to piece together a puzzle.
“It’s a pleasure,” Jeremy said, shaking the man’s hand.
“The pleasure is mine.” Stanhope didn’t release his grip. “Tell me, how did you become acquainted with our Cardwell, here?”
The man’s palm was sweaty and Jeremy longed to pull away, but when he tried, Stanhope simply tightened his grip. “My father was friends with Lord Richard Cardwell. I’ve been acquainted with his family since birth.”
The confusion twisted into something like satisfaction, and Stanhope smirked, a gleam in his eye.
“I see. And how—”
Jeremy looked over Stanhope’s shoulder to see a man taller than Andrew walking over. When he looked back at Stanhope, the man’s expression had soured.
“Excuse me. I look forward to seeing you again, Mr. Leighton.”
Stanhope walked away, his expression clouded. Andrew breathed a sigh of relief and the tension visibly eased.
“Perfect timing, Percy,” Andrew said. “I thought I would have to cut Jeremy’s hand off to get him away.”
“You looked like a caged animal.” The man embraced Andrew and then pulled away. “I wondered if you would be here for the Season. We placed bets on whether or not you would turn up. Thaddeus put you down as sitting out.”
Jeremy blinked. How could he be so crass?