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Romancing the Artist

Romancing the Artist

Narrated by Marian Hussey

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A budding artist, a gentleman-in-training, and a fake courtship that takes both of them by surprise.

Caroline Clapham, a farmer's daughter and a gifted artist, spends a transformative summer at the Countess of Inglewood’s coastal estate. She aspires to capture the world's beauty on canvas, but fears returning to her modest life unchanged.

Meanwhile, Edward Everly is poised to inherit management of his family's estate and an unwanted marriage. A chance meeting between the two changes everything.The beautiful young artist agrees to enter into a pretend courtship with him, but before summer’s end, Edward’s emotions are far from feigned.

As the season wanes, their contrived affection evolves into genuine emotion. Torn between family obligations and newfound love, will they risk heartbreak or defy expectations to find true happiness? 

This is the first book in the Return to Inglewood series and can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. Readers of clean and wholesome Regency romances will enjoy this series.

Main Tropes

  • Duty vs. Dreams
  • Fake Relationship
  • Friends to More


Caroline Clapham isn’t a world renown artist—she’s simply a farmer’s daughter possessed of natural talent with a paintbrush. Talent that her mentor, the Countess of Inglewood, is happy to foster for a summer at her beautiful seaside estate. Caroline wants to see the world and commit its beauties to canvas, but she fears that the season will end and she will return home as insignificant as ever. The lure of an adventure and the enchanting Inglewood estate keep her dreams alive, but when she meets Edward Everly and agrees to fake a courtship with him, those dreams begin to change.

Mr. Edward Everly is preparing to take over the management of the estate from his father. His new responsibilities are many and varied, and include marrying the girl his parents have selected for him. Unfortunately, the chosen bride is in love with another, and Edward would rather help her cause than champion his own. When he stumbles upon Miss Clapham painting in the woods, he hasn't any idea the upheaval she will cause to all his plans. The beautiful young artist agrees to enter into a pretend courtship with him, but before summer’s end, Edward’s emotions are far from feigned.

Though it starts as a ruse, Caroline and Edward’s relationship quickly deepens into something neither of them expected. Edward has a role to fill, and Caroline’s lifelong dream is almost within reach. Will their pretend courtship have the chance to blossom into more, or will Edward follow the wishes of his family and risk breaking more than his own heart?

Intro to Their First Meeting

“Have you seen Edward?” 

The moment he heard his mother ask that question, Edward paused in his steps. He’d been about to open the door from the Blue Room, the west-facing sitting room, and step into the adjacent music room. His mother’s voice had come from across the narrow corridor where his father’s study was located. 

“Not for hours.” His father’s tone was low, and he seemed distracted. “Have you need of him?”

“Mrs. Kimball and her daughter are coming to visit at 2 o’clock.”

Edward’s eyes darted to the mantel in the room behind him, noting it was but a quarter hour until the scheduled visit. He grimaced.

“I was hoping he might sit with me while they are here.”

He slowly backed away from the door, alarm rising as he made his way to the open window. He needed to get out of that room, and out of the house, before his mother found him. As of yet, he’d not come up with a viable plan—to show his parents how unsuitable a match he and Miss Kimball were for one another—and if his mother asked him to stay, he had no reasonable excuse to deny her request. Mrs. Everly was too good a mother to easily reject her wishes. Edward sacrificed much to see his mother happy.

And she knew it. 

“Perhaps he is in the music room. You know he likes to practice the pianoforte on occasion.”

Edward’s eyes darted to the door he had nearly passed through. 

“Yes, of course. I will look there.” His mother’s voice drew closer. 

If she stepped into the music room, it would be quite natural for her to try the sitting room next. Perhaps he could leave through the smaller door that led to the dining room—

“Would you like to join us, too, my dear?” His mother asked of her husband.

The door to the sitting room cracked open.

His mother meant to access the music room through the very room in which Edward stood! He held his breath, staring at the six inches of open doorway, glimpsing his mother’s fingers on the handle as she waited for her husband’s reply to her invitation. 

In a moment of sheer madness, Edward leaped to the open window, then launched himself out of it, vaulting his legs out first with little care as to how he landed. His feet hit the ground, hard, and his knees nearly buckled underneath him. He looked up and winced. 

The window had to be at least nine feet off the ground, and he’d hurled himself out of it like a rat leaving a sinking ship. Really, he ought to be ashamed of himself. 

“Edward?” his mother’s voice called again.

He pressed himself to the wall and winced. Did hiding from his mother make him a coward, or merely a poorly behaved son? 

He didn’t linger to debate the matter with himself. Instead, he kept close to the house as he went around it to the back, the better to avoid the arriving Kimballs. He’d need to leave his family’s house by a way other than the road, or else risk an awkward encounter. The stables weren’t out of reach, but he hadn’t thought to take a hat with him. Nor was he dressed for riding. 

A walk, then. Even if walking about bareheaded might be rather daft. He’d manage. Taking a route that would lead him off his family’s property altogether seemed the safest course. 

“I’ll walk to the beach,” he muttered aloud. One could walk on the beach without a hat, especially in fine summer weather. 

He tilted his chin up and set the goal firmly in his mind. Two miles would take him off his family’s inland property, down a road that was little more than a lane for carts, and to the Earl of Inglewood’s property. As the earl and his wife were friends of the Everly family, they certainly wouldn’t mind if he accessed the shoreline via their estate. All told, he would have a fine jaunt on a fine day, and he wouldn’t return for an hour or more. Long enough for the Kimballs to have come and gone. 

Proving to his parents that Mariah Kimball wasn’t the right match for him wouldn’t be a simple matter. He’d already tried reasoning with his father, and he’d dropped hints to his mother. But they wanted him to marry.

And for some reason, they had decided Miss Kimball was the very woman Edward needed. And Mariah wasn’t about to tell anyone she had no intention of marrying Edward, because the man who held her heart would be deemed unsuitable by her family.

What was she hoping to achieve by buying more time? Would it truly make a difference in the grand scheme of things? He found himself uncertain of the outcome, questioning the effectiveness of their arrangement. Yet, he was willing to comply with her wishes, to honor her plea for secrecy regarding her unrequited love. For now, he would play his part, keeping her confidence without fully understanding the reasons behind her actions.

He kicked a large rock into the brush. His frustrations mounted, and his feet took him down the path faster than normal. He knew the way and navigated it without paying heed to his surroundings. What did it matter if the sky above was cloudless and blue? Or if the birds sang especially bright notes from tree to tree? 

If only he had spent more time abroad before coming home. If he’d had an adventure or two more, perhaps he’d feel ready to settle. And then he’d choose a bride of his own rather than have his parents thrust the nearest neighbor into his way at every opportunity. 

“Perhaps I could go to London,” he said, glaring at the ground as it changed from the hard-packed earth to softer, grass-strewn dirt. He stepped beneath the shade of birch trees, their leaves full and green for the summer. The cool shadows cast by the tree’s limbs, combined with the heavier feel of the salty sea air, made Edward realize sweat had broken out across his brow. That awareness made him grimace, and he looked upward for the first time since leaving his home.

After two o’clock in the afternoon, on a cloudless day in June, meant he’d been walking through the heat. Without a hat. But in a coat more suited to a cool parlor than the summer sun. He grumbled and tugged at buttons and sleeves until he had the coat off and tucked beneath his arm. 

A breeze carrying the scent of the sea brushed by him, instantly cooling his skin.

Edward closed his eyes and leaned into the soft caress, then kept walking. 

As a child, he’d thought it terribly unfair that his family lived so near the sea without having a beach of their own. He loved the water, the sand, the pebbles, all of it. He had sneaked away from lessons as a child to make the two and a half mile walk from his home to the nearest beach, on the Inglewood property. 

He’d driven his governess and his parents to fits of worry when he disappeared, and he’d received lectures and punishments when he returned hours later with sand in his shoes and salt on his skin. 

The freedom of childhood had given way to the responsibilities of an adult, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d walked barefoot on the sand. 

At the same moment the melancholy thought sailed through his mind, he stepped into a small clearing within the Birchwood. A familiar old boat, small enough that someone dragged it far inland, waited with empty seats and faded paint on its side, declaring the boat and its place in the world The Silver Birch Society

A group of children, three decades ago, had pulled the broken boat to its current place. Painted it. Spent hours and hours sitting on its benches and dreaming up games and futures that they now lived. Edward’s sisters, Grace and Hope, had been two of those children. The other three were men Edward, and the community, respected and looked up to. He’d been too young to follow them to this place, though he’d ventured there often enough in his youth and on his own.

On this day, the boat wasn’t the only thing in the clearing. 

A young woman sat against a tree, a blanket spread beneath her, and a sketchbook in her hands. She’d propped the book against her knees, and she’d drawn her legs up close to herself. She peered over the edge of that sketchbook, looking at him with two dark eyebrows raised. 

Perhaps twenty feet separated them. 

“You are rather loud, sir.”

Edward stared at her. “I beg your pardon?”

“And so you ought. I suppose I will forgive you for disturbing my peace, and you may go on about your business.” She waved toward the trees from which he’d emerged, then turned her attention back to her sketch, dismissing him with her manner as much as her words. 

Who was this strange sprite, sitting all alone, and with enough confidence to dismiss him from a place he had as much right to be as she did? He’d never seen her before. Nor had he heard that Lord Inglewood expected guests. 

Edward took a step toward her, and her gaze came up. 

“Yes?” She tilted her head to the side. “Was there something you needed?”

What a strange person. “Not from you, Miss…?” He waited expectantly for her to provide a name. 

“Then I’m not certain why you linger. I am quite busy.” She tapped the top of her sketchbook with her pencil. “I did not settle out here in hopes of a conversation with a stranger.” This time, Edward caught something else in her expression. Not the indifference he thought he’d seen, but a slight twist to her lips and the barest narrowing of her eyes that suggested at a sense of humor. 

He’d amused her, merely by happening upon her in the birchwood. 

“We could introduce ourselves. Then it would not be a conversation between strangers.” Though he found his proposal rather clever, the young woman shook her head with an unimpressed toss of her dark curls. 

“I am afraid that simply isn’t done, sir. If we are not properly introduced, it wouldn’t count, and we must remain strangers even while knowing one another’s names. It is a hopeless matter.” She pointed to the boat. “Much like the idea of that boat ever making it out to sea again.”

“This boat? It’s been here twenty years or more.” He looked it over, vaguely remembering his older sisters bringing him to the boat to play when they were tasked with his care. He’d liked the beach more than an old boat. “I’d like to think an introduction won’t take us that long to obtain. Perhaps, if you tell me who you are visiting, I can appeal to them to right matters between us.”

She sniffed daintily and bent over her sketchbook. “Now you go too far, sir. You assume I am a visitor. How do you not know that I haven’t recently purchased the whole of the grove? Indeed, I might intend to live here the rest of my days.” 

Edward’s smile twitched into a grin. “You have a gift for making ridiculous statements, miss.”

“If only my gift in artistry was as well practiced.” She sighed, somewhat dramatically. Then she adjusted her grip on the sketchbook and held it toward him. “Here. See what you think of this.”

Cautiously, Edward approached. He accepted her sketchbook and turned it about to peer down at her subject matter. It was, unsurprisingly, a sketch of the boat at rest among the trees. An incongruous scene, made somehow sad on her paper. The boat appeared lonely. “It looks like enough.” He turned to study the boat, then the paper. “I’d say this shows at least a little talent.”

“Thank you,” she responded, tone somewhat dry. 

She made as if to come to her feet, and Edward held his hand out to her, as he would assist any woman coming from sitting on the ground to standing. She accepted his hand, her own as bare as his, and when his fingers wrapped around hers—Edward’s stomach tightened. A strange buzzing began between his ears as he looked down into dark brown eyes that glittered up at him with good humor. 

This close, he realized that she wasn’t a tiny sprite. She had delicate enough features—wide eyes, a nose that turned up the barest bit at the tip, and pink lips that tilted a little to one side when she smiled. But she was tall. Nearly as tall as he was. And when he’d pulled her to her feet, he’d felt strength in the arm and hand that came from more than plying a needle or playing a pianoforte.

Who was this woman? Her accent wasn’t familiar. Educated, but not clipped. She had the bearing of a lady, now that she stood, but when she’d sat on the ground she’d not seemed to care at all about posture or display. And her skin wasn’t the pale alabaster so many women of his age and acquaintance strove to protect. Instead, she looked as though she’d spent a fair amount of time in the sun.

“Again, thank you.” She took her hand back and used it to brush back a curl from her forehead, tucking it behind a braid that looped from one ear to the other atop her head. “Look.” She pointed to her sketch, at the hull of the boat. “As you said, the image is accurate. But I feel it is missing something.”

“Really?” He forced himself to look away from the sun-kissed cheeks of the mystery woman and back to her drawing. “What could you add that isn’t already there? Color, perhaps.”

“Color comes later.” She tapped the paper again. “First a sketch, then an outline on canvas, and then the color. I have to know all the lines and details first.” She studied her work and shook her head. “Do you know what time it is?”

The question caught him off guard, and it took his mind a moment to form an answer. “Half past two, or a little more, I think.” 

“Oh, bother.” She turned and looked about the ground, then turned over a corner of the blanket she’d sat on, revealing a wide-brimmed straw hat. Not a lady’s hat. It was too simply made and lacked any kind of embellishment. But she still put the thing on her head and kept it in place by tying a dark blue ribbon under her chin. “I must be going. I have an appointment at three o’clock.” She gathered up the blanket, rolling it up tightly before tucking it under one arm. She held her free hand out, and he put the sketchbook into her grasp. 

“It was…interesting. To meet you, I mean.” He’d almost said it had been nice, but really she had made him feel so wrong-footed he wasn’t certain he could use the word with any honesty. “Will you be here long?”

“What, in the woods?” She laughed. “Of course not. But if you mean to ask if I will be in the neighborhood, then yes. I am here all summer.”

“Oh.” He tried on a smile, and then laughed with her. “Good. Then perhaps we will be lucky enough to have a proper introduction in the near future. And then I’ll know your name.”

She gave him a considering look, and her eyes still danced with humor. “Perhaps. I am told I will meet all sorts of people while I am here. I suppose you could be one of them.” She turned in the direction of Inglewood Castle. 

He couldn’t let her leave without another word. It didn’t feel right. Edward called out to her, after she’d stepped into the trees. “I hope I get to see your finished scene—with the color added.”

She peeped from behind the tree she’d barely passed. “Have you a great interest in art?”

Her strange boldness inspired some of his own. “When it is created by pretty ladies, I suppose I do.” The moment the flirtatious comment left his lips, Edward felt his ears turn warm. Why had he said such a thing to a woman he’d known less than ten minutes? A woman who hadn’t even given him her name, in point of fact.

She neither laughed nor took offense. Instead, she bestowed a slow, curious smile upon him. One that made the warmth leave his ears and fill his chest instead. “Is that so? How interesting. Farewell for now, Sir Stranger.” She left without another word, and Edward stared after her for several long moments. Wondering if he had imagined her, so quickly had she gone.

Until he realized how stupidly he had behaved. “I could have offered to carry her things,” he muttered aloud to the clearing. Would it be odd if he hurried after her? Yes. Yes, he felt certain it would. 

He took a different path to the shore. One that wove around the edge of the Inglewood estate rather than through it. Because coming upon the lovely woman a second time in the same afternoon, without a proper introduction, would likely turn him on his head. 

No matter how pretty the woman, he ought not flirt with her. Even if curiosity about her tugged at his thoughts.

The waves crawled upward to the shore, slowing and leaving remnants of white foam before hurrying backward again, back to the sea. The gulls overhead dipped toward the water, then let the wind take them up again. For a time, Edward stood still, breathing in the salt-heavy air and closing his eyes.

He had no plan. Despite his ramble through the woods. And instead of trying to untangle the mess of his mind, he was thinking about the sprite in the woods.

It was Mariah Kimball he had to worry about. His friend had asked for his help in keeping a secret. A secret that had taken root in his life, despite the fact that it belonged to another. How best could he assist Miss Kimball whilst still keeping his parent’s expectations in check?

He opened his eyes again, staring out across the blue-gray water to the horizon, where a ship sailed far in the distance. Steadily forward, on course in a way Edward’s life ought to be.

He needed to devise a plan to convince his parents that marriage wasn’t on his agenda. And soon. He turned on his heel to return home, but Inglewood stood before him, the woods just behind it.

The mysterious woman’s smile, tilted and teasing, remained painted upon his mind, surfacing the moment he let his guard down. And he couldn’t help returning the imagined smile, even as he shook his head at himself. “Stop being a fool, Edward,” he muttered aloud, and above him a gull burst into its laughter-like call.

* * *

Caroline’s heart didn’t slow its rapid pace until she walked through one of the side doors of the castle, out of the sun and away from any possibility of that man coming upon her again. She’d acted ridiculously. All the lessons her grandmother and mother had given her, trying to teach her how to look and behave ladylike, had emptied from her head the moment that man had stepped out of the trees.

He’d made an awful noise, stepping on leaves and snapping twigs beneath his feet. She’d known someone was about to interrupt her quiet sketching, and she’d prepared herself to greet either a noisy child or a loose donkey. 

When a man had appeared, without hat or coat on his person, Caroline hadn’t quite believed her eyes. 

Hadn’t anyone ever taught him how to move quietly in the woods?

And then he’d come closer, his attention on the boat before he looked her way, and Caroline had found herself staring at a tall, broad, handsome gentleman with chestnut brown hair and eyes the color of the sea on a bright summer’s day. His bearing, his clothing, marked him as a gentleman. But the figure he cut—it quite addled her thoughts.

Until he looked at her directly, and Caroline realized what he saw. 

She walked up one of the smaller staircases, trying not to breathe like an overburdened ox and still keep hold of both blanket and sketchbook. Climbing two flights of stairs after crossing what felt like a mile of property just to enter the house, Caroline wondered how the countess ever accomplished anything. The lady likely spent most of her time traveling from one destination to another. 

She paused for breath at the top of the stairs, realizing she still had half the length of the castle to cross before she came to her room. 

The man in the woods had seen her sitting on the ground, in a plain brown dress she’d brought from home, without gloves, parasol, or even a bonnet atop her head. She’d looked like a country mouse, no doubt about it. Not like a guest of the earl and his wife. 

Caroline glowered at the bust of a man with more curls in his hair than she’d ever managed on her own. Even with tongs. 

“I cannot keep acting like a farm girl,” she told the stone figure, then gave his stern scowl a deep nod. “You are quite right. It is most unbecoming.” An artist learning her trade ought to try for a measure of sophistication in her appearance. Even when working out of doors.

Lady Inglewood came around the corner at that moment, and Caroline hastily straightened her posture before dipping a polite curtsy. “My lady.”

“Caroline.” Lady Inglewood put a hand over her heart. “Goodness, where did you come from? Here, let me help you.”

“That isn’t necessary, my lady.” Caroline hugged both book and blanket tight to her chest. “I was outside, sketching. But I think I must be late for our meeting in your workroom.”

“Time runs differently in a large home, does it not?” Lady Inglewood gestured for Caroline to walk with her. “We will go in together. And I’ll have someone fetch the blanket for you.”

Caroline’s cheeks burned. She’d created work for the staff, carrying things about with her. And nearly arrived late to the first lesson of the summer. Lady Inglewood had spent the morning with her housekeeper, and then given time to her children, and kept another appointment with her husband. She had told Caroline the details of her schedule the evening before, ensuring that Caroline knew she could spend her morning hours on her first full day at the castle however she wished. 

And still, even with all that time, Caroline had arrived late, disheveled, and out of breath. 

They went down a long corridor, Lady Inglewood’s gentle voice filling the vast space. “I am terribly sorry I wasn’t available this morning, but it will not happen again. I have made certain that we will spend much more time together the rest of the week. There is so much I wish to know about your work. And I have a surprise for you, too.”

“A surprise?” Caroline repeated, walking down a different, wider flight of stairs to the ground level. “You needn’t go to any trouble, my lady. I have no wish to disturb your schedule.”

Lady Inglewood responded with a cheerful laugh. “My dear, this summer, you are my schedule. We will spend as much time on art as we can stand, and then we will walk the beach for inspiration and create even more. We will visit my friends, so I may tell them how accomplished you are, and they will visit us here to better marvel at your skill.” 

Tingles of anticipation crept up Caroline’s neck, down her arms, and made her fingertips twitch. She clutched the sketchbook tighter. Was she ready for this amount of focus on her work?

“But that is not the surprise, of course.” Lady Inglewood pushed open the last door between them and Caroline’s favorite room in the castle. Lady Inglewood had called it the Solarium. It was her workroom for her art, a room filled with light. Glass panes made up half the ceiling, allowing sunlight to flood the room. Easels stood in half a dozen places, along with comfortable but paint-speckled couches and high-backed chairs. Potted plants stood on columns, trailing ivy down to the floor. The windows stood open, letting in a breeze that came directly off the nearby sea. 

The moment Caroline passed through the door into the room that smelled of the sea, of linseed oil, and earth, her soul expanded and all the pressing concerns in her mind lightened. In that room, anything was possible and most of her worries slipped away.

Caroline caught the countess’s secretive smile from the corner of her eye. “Do you not wonder about your surprise?”

She released a happy sigh and turned her full attention to her hostess and mentor. “Yes, my lady. I do very much.” 

“I have invited Sir Thomas Lawrence to stay for a week at the end of August.”

For a long moment, Caroline could do nothing but stare. The name sank into her mind slowly, the significance of it not immediately present. Her tongue loosened when her thoughts finally caught up. “The president of the Royal Academy?” she whispered. “I will meet him?”

Sir Thomas Lawrence, a portrait painter, was the most talented and sought after artist in England. His advancement to president of the Royal Academy, patronized by members of the royal family, had occurred three years before. 

The countess appeared positively giddy and rather unlike her usual graceful self as she rocked forward onto the tip of her toes. “Indeed. And we will show him your work. With what you have brought with you, and what we will work on this summer, we should have an excellent sampling of your capabilities.”

Caroline dropped the blanket on the floor and took a step back, then another, and slowly lowered herself into one of the chairs. She wasn’t ready. Her work wasn’t nearly good enough. Why would anyone connected with the Royal Academy give her even a moment’s attention? The humiliation of a man like Sir Thomas seeing her childish attempts at painting would surely make it impossible for her to ever hold a brush or appear in public again. 

“Oh dear.” Lady Inglewood approached slowly, one hand outstretched in a calming gesture. “I have shocked you. Frightened you? Caroline, you are quite pale.”

Caroline’s first attempt to respond was merely a squeak, but then she managed to whisper, “No, my lady. I am all right. It is only that it is a most unexpected piece of news.” She started to babble, a thing she couldn’t stop herself from. “Sir Thomas Lawrence is rather famous, isn’t he? Everyone knows who he is. Of course you would be friends with an artist such as himself. And he must enjoy looking at your work, my lady. It will be such an honor to meet him.”

“Perhaps you will feel better about it when you have grown used to the idea.” The countess sounded hesitant rather than hopeful. “Your art is beautiful, Caroline. We will work to improve where you struggle, and Sir Thomas may help you find your purpose in art when he visits.”

That was the crux of the matter. Caroline wanted to find a home for her talent. Would it only ever be an amusement for her? Could she teach others? Would anyone ever commission her to create artwork for their homes?

She swallowed back all those fears as well as she could, but a sizable lump remained at the back of her throat. Forcing a smile, and hugging her sketchbook to her chest, she said, “I am certain you are right, my lady.” But she couldn’t speak of the impending visit and judgement a moment longer. “What are our plans for today?”

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