Laurie's painter (sweet regency romance)

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Laurie'sPainter© 2013 byAlice M. Roelke  All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious;any similarity to real people or events is coincidental and unintended. Thisstory is not to be reproduced without permission from the author in writing.  CoverArt © 2013 by Alice M. Roelke using an image fromCanstockphoto.com(photographer:prometeus)  First ebook edition: May 2013

Acknowledgements:With many thanks toKeanan Brand,jay Dixon, and Trish Glavinfor their help and kindness!  :)  I also found helpful "TheWriter's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian Englandfrom 1811 to 1901," by Kristine Hughes,as well as "Georgette Heyer's RegencyWorld," by Jennifer Kloester.  All historical inaccuracies are my fault.

 

 

Laurie's Painter

by Alice M. Roelke

Chapter one

Jenny paced the small roomfrom the tiny window to the portrait, with its nearly finished woman and dogs,the background still wet from her brush. No time to work on it now; it was toodark.

But where's Henry?

She moved to the smallwindow and peered out. A streetlamp had been lit nearby, but it showed littlein the fog and gathering gloom. It would be unthinkable to go out alone afterhim. Henry and Jenny lived in a rough part of town, because it was all the siblingscould afford.

But with his cough...She pressed her handstogether tightly.What if something happened to Henry? I wouldn't even knowwhere to look for him.The thought of her brother, prone in the street,coughing helplessly, filled her with horror.

Her mouth tightened as shereached a decision.If he doesn't come in ten minutes, I'll go out and lookfor him, hang the danger!

She gazed out again withtrepidation at the darkness. Two men walked by, laughing and weaving. A glassbottle smashed against the cobblestones, shattering into dangerous shards. Shedrew back quickly.

Oh, Henry. Please comehome!

~*~

"You still haven'ttold me your name." Laurie smiled at the young, weary-looking painter.

"Henry Wilkenson,"he said, sounding half defensive, half apologetic. Again he coughed.

They were both guests atthe home of Gervais Catchpole, an indolent man Laurie had known since they wereat school together. This angry, sickly-looking man was taking Catchpole'sportrait, but he seemed too ill to do so. And Catchpole was too selfish tonotice.

The painter coughed again,a terrible cough. Laurie thought with a brief pang of his sister's illness, andtore his mind away from the still-fresh pain of losing her.

I shall have to send himhome myself.

"I grow weary of thatcough," said Laurie, rising from his seat. "And lord, it's late! Youshould be off home and finish another day."

The painter rose slowlyand glared at Laurie over the top of the canvas. "I was just about thesuggest it. I'msosorry my illness offends you."

"Well, it does, youknow. You shouldn't be working till you're feeling better." He strode towardHenry, softening his words with a smile.

"And how do youpropose I pay my bills without working?" asked Henry, goaded into argumentand betrayed by yet another hacking cough. This one was worst of all and causedhim to clutch at a chair to keep his balance.

Laurie moved quickly tohis side. The painter looked pale and could not seem to catch his breath. "Howdid you intend to get home?"

"Walk," said theyoung man.

"Where do you live?"

The painter hesitated.

"Come on, Henry! Thinkof the old school. I'm hardly going to burgle your home."

Henry's indignant gazeflew to his face. Laurie met it, smiling. He waited.

Mumbling an address in theworst part of town, Henry dropped his gaze.

"Well, what acoincidence. I'm going that way myself. I'll drop you off. Come along."

He waited till the paintswere put away, ignoring both Gervais's words to stop being a shocking bore and Henry'sgrumbling, offended pride. He was smiling about it, but in the end things wenthis way. The butler fitted Henry into his coat and promised the canvas wouldnot be touched. He moved Henry along with an air of gravity that includedhelping him into Laurie's carriage, tucking the blanket around his legs, andshutting the door firmly after him.

By this time, Henry's lipswere compressed in a fine, angry line and his face was so very pale. Lauriekept silent, allowing the young man to regain his breath and strength beforesaying anything that could encourage hostilities to begin. Thin, bloodlesshands gripped each other tightly in the young man's lap. His painter's case satat his feet. Every once in a while, he coughed. It was an angry, painful soundingcough.

Laurie looked out thewindow until he felt a hot, angry gaze on him. Then he turned and smiled at Henry."Ready to rip me apart? Have I bullied you into accepting a ride?"

"You know you have. Idon't take kindly to being bullied. Even if you meant it for the best reasons,which I doubt, I needed to finish that picture today. I have another portrait Ishould've begun already and I need the money."

"Shall I float you aloan?" asked Laurie with wide, innocent eyes, inviting Henry's anger.

Blue eyes narrowed. Henry'smouth opened, then shut abruptly. He shook his head. "You're wicked. I don'tcare if Catchpole thinks the world of you!"

Laurie laughed. "Oh,I promise you, he doesn't! He thinks the world only of himself." Hegrinned his best kind yet naughty grin and waited for the rejoinder that wassurely coming.

"Well, I promise youI have not the least interest in being your charity case! Or of offering youany sort of gratitude or amusement."

Laurie's smile died away. "No,I promise you—I want nothing from you. But I couldn't let you sit there andsuffer just because Gerry would never notice."

Henry's thin lip curled. "Oh?And why did you notice? You are just the kindest of men, I suppose?" Hiseyes held the scornful, angry distrust of someone who's learnt to expectnothing but kicks from the world and to distrust kindness most of all.

"Well, I am, really,"said Laurie, with another grin. "But it was my sister, you know. She hadthe—the same sort of symptoms. Grew abominably tired before anyone noticed, ifshe didn't take care." It was harder to keep his voice level and lighthere, so he affected to look out the window. Smiling all the time was certainlyeasier than letting other emotions out. Other, less displayable emotions, suchas grief.

"Oh," said Henry."I'm sorry."

"Well you needn't be.Now, have you a servant at home? Plenty of coal and someone to build up thefire?"

Henry's face, which hadrelaxed and grown quite human, stiffened up again in a look of outrage. "That'snone of your—"

"No, no!" Laurieheld up a hand. "I'll tell you another sad relative story! You mustn't cutup or I promise I shall."

Henry seemed to suppress alaugh, and then had to bury his mouth in a handkerchief. Beneath his coughing,Laurie thought he heard the muffled word "Outrageous!"

"But I am. It's myonly hobby, you know. I like to think of it more as virtue than vice."

"Everyone likes tothink—that—about...themselves," said Henry, breathless and drained.

"Indeed." Laurielooked out the window and kept his face averted, because his smile haddisappeared completely.

The horses' hooves cloppeddutifully onward and a fine mist had begun to sift down. When they alightedfrom Laurie's carriage, Henry had begun to shiver, and though he scorned ahelping hand, he clung tightly to a handhold on the carriage.

Laurie strode up to Henry'saddress and knocked. Immediately the door sprang open.

"Oh! Have youforgotten your key again? I was so worried! You should've been home awhile ago!"

The young woman stoppedabruptly and closed her mouth, which had fallen open. Laurie gazed down into greeneyes the colour of clean, deep water, and smiled at the shocked face of a youngwoman. She could only be Henry's sister; something about their faces was thesame, and one could not mistake her for a servant, no matter what she wore.

"Excuse me if I don'tbow, but I think it would do well to get your brother indoors, Miss Wilkenson."

"Oh! Indeed!"

Her brown hair, not in thebest of array, tumbled down to her shoulders and beyond. While the curls would'vebeen the envy of some women, had they been arranged, these appeared to have amind of their own. They had either resisted arrangement or been given upaltogether.

The young woman stood backand held the door open.

Laurie noticed withinterest that she wore a painter's smock over a plain brown gown, that bothwere spotted with paint, and that none of the above took away from her finefigure. She was small, neat, slender and moved as quick and energetic as abird, but without a bird's nervous energy.

The invalid moved into thehouse, though not without grumbling and attempting to shake off his sister's solicitoushands and take his coat off alone. Here Laurie and Miss Wilkenson conspiredagainst him, helped him out of his coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. Then they sathim in a large, sagging chair by a small fire burning weakly.

Laurie put another scoopof coal on, ignoring the disapproving looks from the siblings. "There. Weshall be cosy in no time." He took off his gloves and put them in hispocket. Shabby furniture and an easel, canvas, and paints occupied the smallroom. A small table by the easel had several paintbrushes, spots of paint, anda pot of turpentine on it.

The canvas on the easelcontained a partial portrait of a woman with two small dogs that resembled her."I see you are painting Mrs. Wainscott. How singularly apt your portraitis."

Henry nodded vaguely, notopening his eyes.

The sister cast Laurie aconcerned look, her slim brows drawn up and worried. Her hands pressed togetherin front of her smock. Laurie smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner;she needn't think he'd point out that the canvas and paints were far too wet tohave been used by anyone but the young woman herself.

"I don't recallinviting you in," said Henry in a cold voice, weak and thin.

"Oh, but you're notsuch a fiend as to send me away! Think of the old school."

"We've norefreshments to offer you," said Henry, turning to look into the fire. Hecoughed again into his handkerchief.

At this his sistercoloured. "We—we have some port. Will you have some, Mr...?" Shelooked at Laurie humbly. "I'm afraid I don't know your name. Are you oneof Henry's old friends?"

Henry was too weak toanswer, but he cast an outraged look at Laurie.

"No, I am one of hisvery newest friends." Laurie smiled down at the girl. He accepted the handshe held out and bowed over it. He felt slim fingers, paint stains, andcalluses such as might come from holding a paintbrush. "I'm LaurenceJoysey. But everyone calls me Laurie. And you must tell me your charming name. Orshould I guess it? I'm thinking something dreadfully exotic, such as January. No?Perhaps Aurelia."

She flushed slightly underthis teasing quiz, and drew back her hand. "I'm afraid it's nothing sospecial as that. I'm Jenny."

"Jenny! A littlebrown bird. Why, I am very pleased to meet you, and you're quite better lookingthan your namesake." He smiled at her irrepressibly with his eyes.

Her gaze cast down, andshe blushed. "Oh—well I don't know about that. Thank you for bringing mybrother home."

"Don't let him teaseyou," said Henry in a croaking, weakened voice, scowling darkly. "He'sa rake of some sort, I'm sure of it." He seemed to be holding himself uponly barely by the arms of the chair, as if he would sink into its depths andbe swallowed at any moment.

"Henry,"implored his sister, casting an agonised look at their guest, silentlyapologising for her brother. "When he feels poorly, it ruins his manners. ButI beg you won't—"

"I won't,"promised Laurie. "And now I believe I've overstayed my welcome. See youtomorrow, Henry."

"Oh! You shan't!"exclaimed that incensed person from his chair. And he coughed again, obscuringwhatever else he meant to say.

"Yes I shall, for I'vesuddenly developed an urge to have my portrait taken. I'll be round tomorrow tosee you about the details and payment—and I'm not sure when I'll be free tocome round, so mind you're here, waiting for me." He raised his gloveslazily and strode for the door.

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