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What happens when a carefree, disreputable, stone-broke bachelor is forced to find a wife in a hurry? He hires a matchmaker, of course. What happens when the matchmaker doesn’t want to help him? Well, that’s when the fun begins…
Nicholas Stirling, Marquess of Trubridge, loves his life just as it is: dissolute, scandalous, and deuced good fun. His father, the Duke of Landsdowne is not amused, and when he cuts off Nicholas’ trust fund, the fun-loving marquess is forced to find an alternate source of income—in other words, he has to marry an heiress.
Every new-money American heiress knows Lady Belinda Featherstone is the key to social acceptance. Once a new-money nobody herself, Belinda discovered first-hand how heartbreaking the game of love and matrimony could be after a reprobate British earl married her for her money. Now a respectable widow, Belinda has become England’s most successful matchmaker, guiding young American heiresses through the hazards of the London season and helping them to find husbands worthy of them. To her mind, the Marquess of Trubridge is nothing but a fortune-hunting scoundrel and she has no intention of allowing him to charm his way into any American girl’s heart, including her own.
Why do you need to read this book? I LOVE this story! Nicholas, the Marquess of Trubridge is just simply delightful!! Belinda, Lady Featherstone – equally delightful. I loved their love story – full of simple pearls of wisdom. A Must Read!
When the Marquess Met His Match is available from Amazon
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Excerpt (from the author’s website):
Nicholas’ first thought upon seeing Belinda Featherstone was to curse both her husband and her father for their penchant for heavy gambling. If John Featherstone hadn’t loved cards and racehorses to an obsessive degree, and if Jeremiah Hamilton hadn’t staked and lost his entire fortune on America’s Wall Street, the solution to Nicholas’ problems might have been standing right in front of him, for Belinda Featherstone was one of the loveliest women he’d ever seen.
He hadn’t expected that.
He’d been twenty years old when he’d attended her wedding breakfast, a decade had passed since then, and he remembered little of the event. He had only glimpsed the bride from across the room, and his recollection of her was vague—a painfully thin girl too young for Featherstone and swathed in too many yards of silk illusion and too many strands of diamonds. He hadn’t seen her since, for he spent little time in England, and when he was here, he had never happened to run across her. Lady Featherstone’s social circle had always been too staid for his taste and too respectable to welcome his company.
In deciding to bring his matrimonial situation to her, Nicholas hadn’t given much thought to what her appearance would be like now, but he’d probably have envisioned merely an older version of the unremarkable bride he’d glimpsed ten years ago. And he’d have been dead wrong, for time had transformed the gawky girl of his memory into a beautiful woman, a fact about her that Jack had somehow failed to mention during the past decade.
Large eyes in a heart-shaped face stared back at him, eyes of clear, sky blue surrounded by a thick fringe of sooty lashes. Irish eyes. Another thing about her he hadn’t expected.
Once again, Nicholas’ mind flashed backward, nine years instead of ten, to a different dark-haired, blue-eyed girl, and a summer in County Kildare. His heart twisted, just a bit, in his chest, and for a moment, he felt as if he was twenty-one again, filled with dreams and ideals, and all the other claptrap that only young love could inspire.
He shoved the feeling aside at once. This was no Irish hillside, he was no longer a callow youth, and his dreams and ideals, like his love, had turned to dust a long time ago.
This woman’s black hair was not a riot of corkscrew curls blowing loose in the wind off the Irish Sea. Instead, it was sleek and straight and caught back in an elegant, complicated chignon that had clearly been fashioned by a lady’s maid.
Belinda Featherstone might have the same coloring as the girl he’d once loved, but the similarity in their looks ended there. And besides, from all he knew of Lady Featherstone, she was brimming with scruples and rectitude, two qualities Kathleen Shaughnessy had never possessed.
In fact, Lady Featherstone possessed one of the most pristine reputations in London, and though that fact would definitely benefit him in his quest, it nonetheless seemed a pity. Her mouth was dark pink and eminently kissable with a tiny mole at one corner. There was an unmistakable sensuality there, a quality that must have been there even when she was a young bride, but it was clearly something her philandering husband had clearly not appreciated. It was also another thing about her Jack had failed to mention.
He took a glance down her figure, noting that the stick-thin frame of the girl swathed in tulle had given way to a figure of much more luscious proportions. Even her loosely-fitted tea gown of ice blue silk could not hide the round fullness of her breasts and the undulating curve of her hips. No, he decided, as his gaze traveled slowly back up her body, there was nothing gawky about Lady Featherstone anymore.
He paused at her throat, appreciating the bare skin exposed by the open, lace-edged vee of her gown for a moment before he returned his gaze to her face, and when he looked again into her eyes, heat flooded through his body, the unmistakable heat of desire. For him to be aroused by a woman certainly wasn’t an uncommon thing, and black hair and blue eyes were a combination to which he was particularly susceptible, but given the reason he was here, any desire he might feel for Belinda Featherstone was damned inconvenient.
Not that his feelings seemed to matter much anyway, he thought in amusement, watching as those stunning eyes narrowed. It was clear the stirrings in his body had been perceived, and were not reciprocated, nor even welcomed.
Ah, well, he supposed that was for the best. There were widows happy to set aside the propriety that had been required of them during marriage, but to his knowledge, Lady Featherstone had never been one of those. Her reputation as a widow was as untarnished as the one she’d possessed as a wife. Besides, he knew from Jack that the late Earl of Featherstone had spent every penny of his wife’s dowry prior to his death, and her father had lost his entire fortune in the American crash of ’73, so these days, Belinda Featherstone was a woman of modest means. Nicolas—alas—could no longer afford to become entangled with women who didn’t have money.
“This is a most unexpected surprise, Lord Trubridge.”
Her voice brought him out of his reverie, and with regret, he put aside any lustful thoughts about Lady Featherstone. “A surprise perhaps, but a pleasant one, I hope?”
She made no reply beyond an insincere little smile that made him regret he’d asked the question. Despite her admission of surprise at his presence here, her face displayed no curiosity, and as silence once again fell between them, Nicholas appreciated that this wasn’t going to be an easy interview.
He supposed a woman like her was bound to disapprove of a man like him, but such animosity from the fair sex. Perhaps it was conceited of him to expect more favorable reactions than this, but if so, he was being duly punished for his conceit. The disdain that emanated from her was palpable, and made him feel deuced awkward.
His rather cavalier way of gaining entrance to her drawing room had probably not helped matters, but he’d seen no other way to manage an interview after her initial refusal to see him. It wasn’t as if they were invited to the same parties.
He waited for her to say something, anything, but as the silence lengthened, with the only sound the tick of the clock on the wall, it became clear he would have to take the lead. He gave a slight cough. “Might we sit down?”
“If we must.”
Not at all an encouraging reply, but the best he was going to get, it seemed. He gestured to the celadon green settee behind her with an inquiring glance. She hesitated, as if trying to find a way to avoid settling in for a conversation, but at last, she resumed her seat.
“Lady Featherstone,” he began as he took the chintz chair opposite her, “my thirtieth birthday was four days ago.”
The dryness of that perfunctory reply was not lost on him, but he persevered. “When he turns thirty, a man is often forced to consider his future in ways he would not have done earlier in life. I am at that crossroads.”
“I see.” She cast a pointed glance at the clock on the wall and began drumming her fingers against her knee.
“Hence my decision,” he continued valiantly, “that it is time for me to marry.”
She leaned back, folding her arms, eyeing him with skepticism. “From what I hear, you are not the marrying sort.”
“Jack told you that, I suppose.”
“No, but it would hardly be necessary for him to do so. Your reputation precedes you, sir.”
Having spent a great deal of time and effort cultivating that reputation for reasons of his own, he couldn’t find cause to regret it now. Still, though a few days ago Nicholas would have been happy for a matchmaker to deem him as an unsuitable candidate for matrimony, everything was different now.
“I have not been inclined to marriage, that is true,” he said, “but I have come to a change of heart on the subject.”
“Indeed?” One delicate black brow arched upward. “A mere birthday and a bit of circumspection have been sufficient to motivate this…change of heart?”
Nicholas threw tact to the winds. “Lady Featherstone, I realize custom dictates delicacy in discussions such as this, but I’ve never been much good at beating about the bush. Might we speak frankly?”
Without waiting for an answer, he spread his arms and admitted the truth. “Four days ago, my father, the Duke of Landsdowne, cut off my trust fund, and I am forced to the marriage state by circumstance.”
“And on your birthday, too,” she murmured with what he feared was wholly false sympathy. “How dreadful for you.”
“It’s more than dreadful, madam. It’s damnable. To my mind, no one should be forced to marry for material reasons. But I have no choice. The income from my trust was bequeathed to me by my mother before her death, but my father managed to force…” He paused, trying to think of a more delicate way of phrasing things, but there was none. “He managed to force my mother on her deathbed to make him sole trustee of my inheritance. I had no idea of his power over my income until he cut me off.”
“So it is a change in your pocketbook, not a change in your heart that has brought about these reflections of your future?”
He stirred in chair, feeling suddenly defensive. “The former has induced the latter,” he said. “Bachelorhood is no longer an option for me, which is why I have come to you.”
She frowned. “I’m not certain I comprehend your meaning. What have I to do with whom you marry?”
“Lady Featherstone, everyone in society knows you arrange these things.”
She unfolded her arms and leaned forward, and her gaze skewered him like an icicle. “By ‘arranging things’, what you mean is that you want me to find you a wife rich enough to provide you with the income your father has cut off?”
Nicholas studied her hostile countenance, and he wondered how this woman could possibly make a living as a marriage broker when she seemed so resentful of the concept. “Well, that is what you do, isn’t it?” he asked. “You bring wealthy girls of no background over here from America and pair them with eligible peers in need of money.”
She stiffened, seeming to take offense at this assessment of her profession.
“You needn’t poker up so, Lady Featherstone. You have carved out for yourself an ingenious role in society, and a very necessary one in light of our beastly agricultural depression. I would imagine many a peerage has been rescued from disaster due to your efforts.”
She lifted her chin a notch. “I facilitate the introduction of various American acquaintances into British society, hoping that in my small way, I can help to smooth their path. Whether or not such introductions have the happy result of matrimony is not within my control.”
He couldn’t help grinning at that. “Is matrimony ever a happy result?” he quipped without thinking, but the moment the words were out of his mouth, her cool gaze became absolutely frosty and Nicholas reminded himself that making light of marriage to a marriage broker was probably not a good idea. “I must marry. I have no other choice if I am to have an income.”
“I don’t suppose you could try earning it?”
“Careful, Lady Featherstone. You’re showing your American blood when you say things like that. You know the son of a duke doesn’t earn his living. It’s not done.”
“And you care so much what people think of you.”
He smiled in the face of her sarcasm. “Actually, I don’t give a tinker’s damn,” he confessed with cheer. “But I’m open to suggestions.”
She shrugged. “You have an estate.”
“You know full well land rents are not enough to cover the costs of running an estate these days. Between the sale of the barley, wheat and hops grown at Honeywood, the land rents and the lease of the house, I am able to pay the operating expenses, but there is nothing left over for me to live on.
She shrugged, seeming wholly unsympathetic. “Get a job.”
“Doing what, madam?” He forced a laugh. “What on earth would anyone hire a man like me to do?”
She tilted her head, studying him. “I can’t think of a thing.”
Strangely, that hurt. He didn’t even know her, and yet, her words bruised him deep down in the place where his dreams had once been. But a lifetime of training in how not to show hurt kept his smile in place. “Quite so,” he said. “And even if I were able to obtain some sort of job, it would hardly be one sufficient to support me.”
“Given your hedonistic lifestyle, I should imagine not.”
She made him sound quite depraved. “Lady Featherstone, I realize that my past is somewhat…checkered, but surely that does not make me a wholly undesirable parti. I am a marquess, after all, and the only son of a duke.”
“And do you not think persuading your father to reinstate your income would be a more practical course?”
He gave a laugh. “I doubt it, since my father and I have—by mutual choice—not exchanged a word in person for nearly a decade.”
“But it would be a less unsavory way of obtaining an income than marrying for money.”
“I’m not the first person to seek marriage for that reason, madam,” he shot back, nettled, defensive and genuinely bewildered by her attitude. Shouldn’t a matchmaker with an eligible bachelor in front of her be more amenable? “As for my father, I would crawl to the devil before I would ask Landsdowne for a brass farthing. I realize that a marriage based on material considerations is not ideal, but as I said, I have little choice. I can live off of my credit for a short while, but after that, I am destitute. In the normal course of events, coming to a marriage broker is not how I would go about finding a wife, but I have few options. There—”
“How would you go about it?” she interrupted. “Finding a wife, I mean? In the normal course of events?”
“Not society’s way.” Before she could probe further, he went on, “And I fail to see how that matters at this stage. As I said, I must marry, and as quickly as possible. I haven’t the time, nor—I must confess—the inclination to engage in society’s tedious rituals of proper courtship.”
“And you believe that coming to me enables you to avoid those rituals?” She stared at him as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You think it’s as simple as that?”
“Isn’t it?” Nicholas frowned, truly becoming baffled by her attitude. “You are a marriage broker. I am the son of a duke. I wish to engage you in the task of finding me a suitable wife—that is, one who is rich, preferably pretty, and willing to part with some of her wealth in order to obtain a higher place in society, and later, a duchess’s coronet. I will, of course, pay you a handsome commission out of the marriage portion. This seems to me a straightforward business arrangement, and something you have facilitated many times before. Call me thick, but I fail to see what is complicated about it.”
She made a sound of derision. “You, sir, are nothing but a fortune hunter.”
“At least I am prepared to be an honest one,” he countered. “I am willing to lay bare my situation for my future bride. If you can manage to find me one who is also prepared to be honest about her motives, there should be no cause for concern. It’s not as if you’ve shown any compunction about arranging material marriages in the past. The Duke and Duchess of Margrave, for example, or—”
“The duke and duchess made no material arrangement! And neither have any of the other couples I have brought together.”
“Surely you don’t believe that,” he said, but she was glaring daggers at him, and he gave an incredulous laugh. “By God, perhaps you do believe it. Lady Featherstone, how can you have lived in England this long, arranged matches for countless peers, and still believe that that marriage on this side of the pond is anything but a material arrangement? It’s certainly not an affair of the heart. Believe me,” he added, unable to stop the bitter edge that entered his voice, “I know.”
“I, too, know all about marriage on this side of the pond, sir. I do not need you to explain it to me. And let me assure you that I am not in the least romantic. I am practical. I fully recognize that money plays a certain part in British matrimony, but my friends and the men they married formed unions based on far more than material considerations. These couples had affection—”
“Affection?” he interrupted, diverted and a bit amused by her choice of words. “Well, I daresay affection would impel any man to the altar.”
She set her jaw. “Laugh if you like.”
He was trying hard not to. “No, no, your approach sounds very logical. But you do make me wonder…” He paused and his gaze slid to her gorgeous mouth. “What of passion?”
A rosy tint washed into her cheeks, showing that he’d rattled her cool complacency at last. “Passion is not really relevant to matrimony.”
This time, he did laugh. Her comment was so absurd, he couldn’t help it. “Since most British peers marry in the hope of producing an heir, I think passion is highly relevant.”
Her expression hardened again into indifferent implacability. “Passion does not last. Therefore, it makes an inadequate basis for matrimony. To those who honor me by seeking my advice, I recommend they base marriage on a solid foundation of sincere affection, shared interests and like minds.”
“As I said, I am prepared to be honest with any potential bride about my circumstances and my reasons for marriage. She is then free to make an informed choice about whether or not to accept me. If one is honest from the start, what is the difficulty?”
She sniffed, unimpressed by his assurances of honesty, and he gave it up. The only person with whom he needed to discuss his motives was his future bride, and it wasn’t Lady Featherstone’s business to judge either him or the woman he married. It was only her business to bring them together.
“Can we at least agree that marriage should be approached sensibly?” he asked. “From that standpoint, surely you would be able to arrange several suitable introductions.”
“I think not.” She rose to her feet. “I do not assist fortune hunters, even supposedly honest ones. I cannot help you, Lord Trubridge.”
Nicholas tilted his head back to look up at her, and he considered what his chances might be of changing her mind by further discussion. About nil, he decided. Still, her decision didn’t alter his course. Lady Featherstone could have smoothed his way back into British society and helped him bring this problem to a quick resolution, but it wasn’t to be. He’d have to find his wife another way.
“Very well,” he said and stood up. “I shall have to conduct my search without your assistance.”
“Terrible of me to expect you to find your own wife, I know,” she said, her voice taking on the dulcet sweetness of sarcasm. “I fear you shall now be forced to endure those tedious, proper courtship rituals, despite your contempt for them. I must confess I shall quite enjoy observing your attempts, Lord Trubridge.”
“I shall endeavor to be as entertaining as possible for you.”
“Do.” Now she chose to smile, and it was a smile of satisfaction, as if she’d won some sort of victory. “But I feel compelled to warn you that I shan’t make your quest an easy one.”
“So, if I take your meaning, you are not only refusing to help me, you intend to block my efforts?”
Her smile widened. “In every way possible.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said and meant it. Lady Featherstone had a great deal of influence in society, particularly among the Americans, and he preferred a American wife, partly because he liked Americans, partly because most of the girls were remarkably pretty, and partly—it must be confessed—because the prospect of an American as the next Duchess of Landsdowne was certain to offend his father’s snobbish, class-conscious sensibilities.
Belinda Featherstone could have been of great assistance to him, and in choosing to work against him, she could very well make things much more difficult. But if she hoped her words would intimidate him into giving up his quest, she was mistaken. “Are you threatening me, Lady Featherstone?” he asked, smiling back at her.
“Take it any way you like.”
“Very well then, I shall take it as a challenge. And I have never been able to resist a challenge. But I’m not sure what you can do to stop me,” he added, baiting her, hoping she would reveal her strategy so he would know just what he would be up against. “I appreciate that you are disinclined to help me, but I fail to see what you could do to prevent me from finding a wife by my own efforts?”
Her smile vanished, and her eyes flashed like cool, polished steel. “I shall make sure that any young lady you are considering knows just what sort of man you are, of your scandalous past, the dishonorable reasons for your courtship, the mercenary quality of your intentions, and just what a horrible husband you would make.”
“You must do as your honor dictates, of course,” he said in his most amiable fashion, “but now that the gauntlet has been thrown, let me say that I don’t think your mission will prove quite as successful as you imagine.”
“No. You are assuming I will follow society’s customary courtship rituals, but I have no intention of doing so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will not be conducting a proper courtship at all. In fact,” he added, his smile widening as he relished her shocked face, “I believe I shall conduct one that is as improper as possible. It’s more fun that way.”
“Oh, you are a devil,” she breathed, her hands clenching into fists at her sides, her expression one of barely controlled outrage. “A wicked, black-hearted rake.”
“No point in denying that,” he said with a shrug. “Most people came to that conclusion about my character long ago, including you, it seems.”
“With good reason, sir!”
She knew nothing about the circumstances that had led to the tarnishing of his reputation nor his reasons for allowing the rumors to stand, and he damned well wasn’t going to launch into explanations now. “Either way, it won’t make a particle of difference. Women love a rake that’s willing to reform. Especially,” he added before she could interrupt, “if he can also evoke her passion.” His gaze slid to her mouth. “Mutual affection, like minds, and shared interests be damned.”
She sputtered, but he gave her no chance to fire off a reply. “Thank you for your time, madam,” he said with a bow. “I wish you good day.”
He turned, but her voice followed him as he started toward the door. “I’ll stop you any way I can.”
“I’m sure you’ll try,” he countered and left the drawing room.
She might choose to work against him, but she couldn’t change the fact that many American girls wanted titled British husbands and were willing to pay for them. So let her do her damnedest. Her challenge only strengthened his resolve.
As he went down the stairs, he contemplated pitting his wits against those of Lady Featherstone, and he found, much to his surprise, that he was savoring the battle ahead. As he’d told her, he never could resist a challenge.