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Authors: Laura Lee Guhrke - An American Heiress in London 01 - When the Marquess Met His Match

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Victorian

When the Marquess Met His Match

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Dedication

For my friend and wonderful fellow writer

Elizabeth Boyle, who always finds a way

to inspire me, especially when she

oh-so-carelessly says things like,

“Why don’t you write a matchmaker?”

This one’s for you, my friend.

Chapter 1

T
he primary difficulty with being a matchmaker wasn’t the unpredictability of human nature, or the contrariness of love, or even the interfering parents. No, for Lady Belinda Featherstone, known by wealthy American families as the finest marriage broker in England, the true difficulty of her occupation was the romantic heart of a typical eighteen-year-old girl. Rosalie Harlow was proving a perfect example.

“Sir William would make any woman a fine husband,” Rosalie was saying, her voice conveying the enthusiasm one might reserve for a visit to the dentist. “But . . .” She paused and sighed.

“But you don’t like him?” Belinda finished for her, and felt the inclination to sigh, too. Sir William Bevelstoke was one of many well-connected English gentlemen who had expressed a romantic interest in the pretty American heiress since her arrival in London six weeks earlier, and was not the only one to elicit a lukewarm response. To make matters worse, Belinda suspected Sir William’s feelings went deeper than attraction.

“It isn’t that I don’t like him,” Rosalie said. “It’s just that . . .” She paused again, her brown eyes giving Belinda an unhappy look across the tea table. “He isn’t very exciting, Auntie Belinda.”

Belinda wasn’t the girl’s aunt, but she was as close to the Harlow family as any blood relation could be. Like her own father had been, Elijah Harlow was one of the many American millionaires who, upon striking it rich in railroads or gold mines, found the lure of Wall Street irresistible and moved their families to New York only to find the doors of social acceptance slammed in the faces of their wives and daughters.

Like the Harlows, Belinda had faced that situation when her own father had brought her to New York from Ohio the year she was fourteen. Mrs. Harlow, a kind and loving woman, had felt great compassion for her young, motherless fellow outcast and had taken the painfully shy girl under her wing, an act of kindness Belinda had never forgotten.

The summer she was seventeen, Belinda had married the dashing, handsome Earl of Featherstone after a six-week whirlwind courtship. It had proved a disastrous union, but Belinda had managed to carve out a successful place for herself in British society. Five years later, when Mrs. Harlow had desired to spare her eldest daughter Margaret the stinging snubs of a New York debut, she had asked Belinda’s help to launch the girl in London. Belinda, though happy to assist, was well aware that a rushed marriage to an impoverished scoundrel could well be the consequence. She had placed the girl in the path of the amiable, warm-hearted Lord Fontaine, and as a result, Margaret had become both a social success and a happily married baroness, and Belinda’s reputation as a matchmaker had been launched.

Since then, many New Money American girls, cold-shouldered by the rigid social hierarchy of Knickerbocker New York, had found their way to London and Belinda’s modest house on Berkeley Street, hoping to follow in Margaret Harlow’s footsteps. Rosalie, now done with French finishing school, was here to do the same, but Belinda feared she would prove more difficult to match with a good man than her sensible sister.

Belinda placed her teacup back in its saucer as she considered what her reply to Rosalie should be. Though she was a widow now and very grateful for the fact, she was also well aware that the only way for girls like Rosalie to achieve social acceptance was through matrimony. She wanted to prepare these girls for the practicalities of husband hunting without destroying any of their romantic ideals in the process, and Rosalie was a girl stuffed to the brim with romantic ideals.

“Sir William may not be the most exciting of men,” she said after a moment, “but my dear Rosalie, there is so much more to a happy marriage than excitement.”

“Yes, but shouldn’t marriage be based on love? And,” Rosalie rushed on as if afraid Belinda would disagree, “how can there be love if there is no excitement? To love is to burn, to feel as if one is on fire. Sir William,” she added with another sigh, “does not set me on fire.”

Before Belinda could point out the dangers inherent in such thinking, Jervis entered the room. “The Marquess of Trubridge has come to call, my lady,” the butler informed her. “Shall I show him in?”

“Trubridge?” she echoed in astonishment. She did not know the marquess except by reputation, and that reputation hardly impelled her to make his acquaintance. Trubridge, the son of the Duke of Landsdowne, was well-known as a rakehell, a man who spent most of his time gallivanting about Paris, spending his income on drink, gaming tables, and women of low moral character. He was also a friend of her late husband’s brother, Jack, and that fact gave her even less desire to make his acquaintance. Jack Featherstone was as wild as his brother had been, and both men had done plenty of carousing with Trubridge on the other side of the Channel.

Belinda wasn’t surprised Trubridge would break rules of etiquette and call upon a woman with whom he was not acquainted, but she couldn’t imagine his reason. Trubridge was a confirmed bachelor, and such men avoided Belinda as if she had the plague.

Still, whatever his reason for coming to see her, she had no interest in finding out what it was. “Jervis, please tell the marquess I am not at home.”

“Very good, my lady.” Jervis withdrew, and Belinda prepared to return to the subject at hand.

“Do not dismiss Sir William so quickly, Rosalie. He is quite well placed in Her Majesty’s government. His knighthood was granted due to his excellent diplomatic skills over some tricky business in Ceylon.”

“Ceylon?” Rosalie looked a bit alarmed. “If I were to marry Sir William, would I have to live in foreign places?”

The fact that she lived in a foreign place now, and a hotel at that, didn’t seem to bother her, but Belinda fully understood the reasons for her concern. “Possibly,” she was forced to concede, “but such posts are seldom for long, and they are an excellent opportunity for someone of your position to make an impression. A good diplomatic hostess is welcomed everywhere.”

“I don’t want to live in Ceylon. I want to live in England. Does Sir William have an estate?”

“Not at present, but if he were to marry, I’m sure he could be persuaded to purchase such a property. Still, it’s far too early to think of that now. The point is that he is a very nice young man, well mannered and well-bred. And—”

A discreet cough interrupted her, and she found her butler once again in the doorway. “Yes, Jervis? What is it?”

The butler looked apologetic. “The Marquess of Trubridge, my lady. He has asked me to inform your ladyship that despite your words to the contrary, he knows for a fact that you are at home.”

“Oh, does he?” Belinda was indignant. “What makes him presume to know anything of the sort?”

Her question was rhetorical, but Jervis supplied an answer anyway. “He pointed out that it is a dark afternoon, and your lamps are lit, but your curtains are not drawn, making him able to see you quite easily through the window from the street below. He once again requests a few moments of your time.”

“Of all the high-handed arrogance!” She didn’t know him, had no desire to meet him, and saw no reason to accommodate him. “When a lady says she is not at home, she may be in residence and yet not at home to
visitors
, a social custom any marquess ought to be well mannered enough to know. Be so good as to point this out to him, if you please. And also remind him that a lack of prior introduction prevents me from seeing him in any case.”

“Yes, my lady.”

The butler once again withdrew, and Belinda returned her attention to Rosalie. “Now, about Sir William—”

“Who is this Marquess of Trubridge?” Rosalie interrupted. “He appears most insistent upon seeing you.”

“I cannot imagine why. I don’t even know the man.”

“Is he unmarried? If so, surely his reason for coming to you is obvious.”

“Trubridge is a bachelor, yes, an adamant one. It’s common knowledge he has no intention of ever marrying. He is also a man no respectable young lady ought to become acquainted with. Now about Sir William . . .”

She’d barely begun a glowing description of that worthy young man’s potential future as a diplomat before a movement from the doorway caught her attention, and when she looked up, Jervis was once again standing there. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t the man gone yet?”

“I am afraid not, my lady. He said to tell you he cannot imagine what he has done to give such offense that you would cut him in this manner by pretending you have never met him before, but whatever he has done to wound you, he offers his most sincere apologies. He again requests a moment of your time.”

“This is nonsense. I’ve never met the man in my life, and I fail to see what is of such urgency—” She broke off, struck by a thought that trumped other considerations.

Perhaps something had happened to Jack. Her brother-in-law and Trubridge did share the lease on a town house in Paris, and the marquess would be the first to know if Jack had met with an accident. Jack was known for committing the wildest, stupidest, most reckless acts imaginable, and it would not surprise her if he’d come to an untimely demise. It would also explain what had brought Trubridge here without a proper introduction.

She bit her lip, considering for a moment, then she said, “Ask Lord Trubridge if he’s here because something has happened to Jack. That is, to Lord Featherstone.”

“I will inquire, my lady.” Jervis, who was proving himself today as the most forbearing butler in London, bowed and withdrew. During his absence, she did not return her attention to her companion. Instead, she stared at the door, waiting for the butler’s return, a knot of apprehension in her stomach.

It wasn’t that she was fond of Jack. She wasn’t. He was too much like his brother—too inclined toward carousing with bad company, too fond of high living, and completely careless about his responsibilities at home. But though she did not approve of her late husband’s brother, she sincerely hoped nothing untoward had happened to him.

“Well?” she prompted when Jervis reappeared. “What did he say? Is Jack . . . is he dead?”

“Lord Trubridge wishes to know—” Jervis hesitated, as if the message were so important as to warrant being conveyed as accurately as possible. “He has asked me to ask you if Jack’s meeting with an accident would enable you to grant him an interview. If so, then yes, Jack has definitely come a cropper.”

Beside her, Rosalie choked back a giggle at this absurd reply, but Belinda could not share her amusement. Like Rosalie, she suspected Trubridge’s tongue was firmly in his cheek, but it was best to be sure.

“Oh, very well,” she said, giving in to the inevitable. “Put him in the library, wait ten minutes, then show him up.”

“Yes, my lady.” The butler departed to carry out these latest instructions, and Belinda turned to her companion.

“I’m sorry to cut our visit short, dearest, but it seems I am forced to see Lord Trubridge after all, if only to confirm that my brother-in-law has not come to harm.”

“But why make the marquess wait in the library? Why not simply have him come upstairs?”

The idea of that man anywhere near a sweet innocent like Rosalie didn’t bear contemplating. “I cannot allow you to meet him. Lord Trubridge is not a gentleman.”

“Not a gentleman? But he is a marquess.” Rosalie gave a little laugh, understandably confused. “I thought a titled British peer was always a gentleman.”

“Trubridge may be a gentleman in name, but he is not one in deed. There was a scandal years ago, a girl he compromised but wouldn’t marry, a young lady of good family. And . . .” She paused, striving to remember what else she’d heard about the marquess. “I believe there was another girl—Irish—who went running off to America because of him though I don’t know the details, for his father managed to have it all hushed up.”

“Ooh,” Rosalie breathed, her eyes widening with even greater curiosity. “He sounds terribly notorious.”

Belinda studied Rosalie’s rapt expression and wondered, not for the first time, what it was about rakes that young girls found so captivating. By all rights, Rosalie ought to be repulsed, but no. She was all the more keen to meet him because of his wicked reputation, and Belinda wanted to bite her tongue off for having discussed the wretched fellow at all. Still, the damage was done. All she could do now was try to mitigate it and get Rosalie out of the house as quickly as possible.

“He isn’t notorious enough to be interesting,” she answered with a deprecating smile. “He’s just an odious man with a sordid history who has no business calling on me when we’ve never met.”

“But he says you have met.”

“I’m sure he is mistaken, or he’s teasing for some obscure reason of his own. Either way, I must see him, it seems.” She stood up, pulling Rosalie to her feet as well. “And you, my dear, must return to your hotel.”

“Oh, must I go?” She groaned. “Why can’t I meet this Lord Trubridge? I am supposed to be mingling in British society. This man is a marquess, so I think I should meet him, don’t you?”

Absolutely not
. Still smiling, pretending a casual indifference she was far from feeling, she picked up Rosalie’s gloves from the settee and handed them to her. “Another time, perhaps,” she said, and began steering the girl toward the door. “But not today.”

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