About the book
She swore never to love and he swore to love her until the end of time...
Matchmaker extraordinaire Alexandra Evans lives by one rule: never fall in love.
Having watched her mother wilt away after her father’s untimely passing, she has vowed to dedicate herself to her flourishing business and never fall victim to that kind of painful loss.
Maxwell Hayes, Duke of Gatterlen, feels like an ensnared hare when his mother announces that she has found a suitable match for him. That is until he meets the matchmaker tasked with making it happen.
With her walls crumbling one by one, courtesy of one dashing Duke, and someone ransacking her home, Alexandra decides this just might be the first match she’ll walk away from.
Only, she never gets the chance to. And when he goes looking for her, all that’s left behind for Maxwell to find is a single silver pendant…
Alexandra walked along the road, her shopping basket heavy in the crook of her left arm. She watched enviously as carriages passed by. She wished she’d taken a hackney from the market. Most days she did not mind walking, but it was a bleak day. Smog hung low in the London sky and a chill was in the air.
She knew spring was around the corner, given that it was already the middle of March. It could not come soon enough. Though what she truly longed for was the fall. Oh, how she wished for the beautiful days of fall. True, the Season, from January until the middle of August, was always the busiest for her matchmaking agency, but she still looked forward to autumn. She loved when the colorful leaves covered the streets. As a child, her mother would take her for long walks where Alexandra would take much pleasure from jumping into and kicking up piles of leaves, much to the chagrin of the street sweepers who would glare at her and shoo her away. Alexandra smiled at the memory.
Perhaps autumn was simply her favorite because her mother had loved it so.
“Yoohoo!” A voice called out from some distance away, breaking her out of her thoughts. Alexandra looked up and saw a lady coming her way from the direction of the linen draper. She wore a pale blue morning dress and a matching bonnet embellished with flowers. The woman removed one hand from the silver muff she was carrying and waved at her, prompting Alexandra to wave back. She shielded her honey-brown eyes against the sun and squinted. When the woman came closer, Alexandra finally recognized her.
“Lady Chatterley,” she called out to the woman.
“Good afternoon, Miss Evans,” the lady replied with a pleasant smile. “I thought it was you. You look well, my dear.”
“As do you,” Alexandra replied, unable to look away from the lady’s bulging belly. The woman placed her hand over her midsection.
“Ah yes, thanks to you, all is well.”
Alexandra smiled, touched by the kind acknowledgement. Lady Chatterley was another of Alexandra’s growing number of success stories. The previous summer, Alexandra had matched Lady Chatterley. Then she matched Lady Isabella Brown, daughter of the Earl of Worthington, with the Marquess of Chatterley. A glorious match, merging two of the most influential aristocratic families in the country. The match had been a boon to Alexandra’s matchmaking business, which had grown ever larger since she had taken it over from her mother.
“I am pleased to hear all is well, My Lady. How is your sister, Lady Elizabeth?” Alexandra already knew that Lady Chatterley’s sister had not fared well in the matchmaking department. In fact, she had been left just days before her wedding, causing quite the scandal. Rumors about the reasons for the sudden end of the engagement flew around the ton, though nobody knew what had occurred. This, in turn, caused more rumors.
In Alexandra’s opinion, Lady Elizabeth’s chosen suitor had been a poor match from the start. Had she been the one to make the selection, she would never have put her with the volatile Earl of Dorrington in the first place. Alas, the match had been made long ago by a now-retired clergy matchmaker.
Ever the shrewd businesswoman, Alexandra always had her eyes and ears on the ton, and she had seen this unfortunate event coming. Now that she was in good standing with Lady Chatterley, perhaps she could land herself another high-profile client.
“I am sure you have heard all about the unfortunate affair by now. Poor Elizabeth, to be left in such a manner.” Lady Chatterley shook her head in dismay.
“It is rather a shame. Perhaps I can be of assistance once she has recovered from the shock.” Alexandra put on her sweetest smile and placed a hand on the lady’s forearm. Lady Chatterley patted Alexandra’s hand.
“You are very sweet. However, it may be some time. Elizabeth’s health has taken a turn for the worst. She is at sixes and sevens, prone to crying fits and fainting spells. We may have to send her to Scotland for some time, to recover in the fresh air. Perhaps that will restore her and lift her spirits.”
“Oh, the poor dear. Such a tragedy.” Alexandra felt badly for the young woman. Her antics were a little theatrical, but she could understand how difficult it had to be for the young woman to see a promising match fall apart. While an unsuccessful match was unfortunate, most of all for the matchmaker, it was Alexandra’s policy to simply move on and find a better match. It was a pity Lady Elizabeth was not in a condition to do so.
“Perhaps once she has regained her strength, we will call on you. I am certain you will have much more success in finding her a suitable husband. Oh, Miss Evans. You and your mother have been a true blessing.”
She flashed a big smile at Alexandra who gave her a courteous nod. The mention of her mother was like a thorn in her heart. It had been two years since she had passed away and left Alexandra, her only child, the matchmaking agency Evans United Hearts. Already a great success at the time she took over, Alexandra had poured all her passion and energy into it and grown the business even more. Her ultimate goal was to be known as the matchmaker whose matches always worked out.
She was close to her goal and would have achieved it already if not for an unfortunate event last winter. A groom, hesitant to get married to begin with, turned down every one of her matches and then took off with his brother’s governess. She still hoped to find another client of Lady Chatterley’s standing to make the public forget that unfortunate incident. Today was not the day, it seemed.
“Well, I shall take my leave, my dear. I hope to see you soon.” Alexandra gave a nod and began to walk away when Lady Chatterley stopped her.
“It nearly slipped my mind, Miss Evans. Lady Frances Stewart will be calling on you this afternoon. She is the daughter of the Earl of Cladborough. The Earl has been most impressed with the stories he’s heard about you and will be sending Lady Frances to engage your services. She is rather keen to wed. Lady Frances is a lovely young woman and I assured her she could trust your fine judgement.”
Alexandra’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, really? That is lovely. Thank you for the recommendation, Lady Chatterley.”
“It is my pleasure, Miss Evans. You have brought me much luck and fortune, and I am grateful to be able to repay you.”
With that, the ladies parted ways, and Alexandra headed toward her home.
Alexandra turned at Foxberry Lane, which led directly to her little house. She and her mother had lived in the house for as long as she could remember and ran their joint business from the office located within. Just south of Piccadilly, it was close enough to be convenient for the nobility to seek out their services, but far enough away to not cost too much.
Money had been tight all her life, but they’d managed. Somehow, when they were truly in dire straits, what they needed would always turn up. Her mother had always been lucky that way.
Although, that was as far as her mother’s luck stretched. Alexandra force herself to stop thinking about her mother. The memories brought nothing but sorrow. Oh, how she wished she could remember her mother with joy and happiness, rather than with such sadness. When she thought of her mother, it was rarely of the successful woman who strived to provide security and happiness to lonely people. It was hardly ever of the woman who was respected by her clients and held in high esteem by her peers.
No. It was of the woman who spent her evenings alone, sitting in her armchair, overlooking the hustle and bustle on Foxberry Lane, often a glass of ale in her hand, which she’d sip from over the course of the evening. After a long day of providing a prosperous future, of chaperoning young couples, and of ensuring the best possible unions for her clients, Lily Evans spent her evenings alone, in solitude.
Alexandra knew where her mother’s thoughts had been during those lonesome evenings. With her father. Her father had passed away of consumption before her birth, and his loss had scarred her mother. She was never whole again after his death.
Watching her mother and the pain she endured over her lost love had been the driving force behind Alexandra’s vow to never fall in love. No, like her mother, she’d devoted her life to bringing happiness to others as best she could.
With a heavy heart, she passed Holmes’s Fine Art, the jewelry shop next to her house. Just like her mother and herself, the owner, Mr. Holmes, lived above his shop.
She peeked inside and saw the old man standing at his counter with a customer. She recognized the man as Lord Alderth, a frequent visitor to the jewelry shop. She didn’t know much about the Earl other than that he was a recent widower, he was not looking to remarry, and he had no children. Thus, he was not a prospective client of hers, and so these were the only things she cared to know about the man.
Presently, the Earl and Mr. Holmes were looking at a case containing rings. Mr. Holmes glanced up for a brief moment. When he saw her, a kind smile spread across his face and he waved at her. Alexandra couldn’t remember a time when Mr. Holmes had not been part of her life. He’d lived next-door to them for as long as she could remember, acting like a surrogate father to her and a trusted friend to her mother.
Often times, when her mother was called upon to chaperone a potential couple, Alexandra would stay with Mr. Holmes. She’d help him polish the silver and sweep the store. She was never allowed to touch any of the jewelry, but she would stand in front of the cases, watching the light reflect off the precious stones.
To this very day, Mr. Holmes remained a trusted confidant. Most days, she would stop in the little shop to have a chat with the old man, always making sure he did not have a customer at a time. In turn, he would frequently check up on her, peeking his weathered, friendly face into her office window.
They had developed a routine, checking in on one another. Often, in the evening, they would join one another for a meal and catch up on the events of the day. It was nice to know that there was somebody who cared about her. Especially now that her mother was gone.
She had fully intended to stop in the shop, not least because she had picked up an extra supply of fruits and vegetables at the market for the old man. He had the most atrocious eating habits. If left to his own devices, he would eat nothing but bread and pottage or porridge, even though he could afford to buy meat and other fine foods. Alas, since he had a customer, Alexandra kept on walking until she reached her front door. She would stop back by later to bring him his groceries.
She entered the house and removed her coat. Her impulse was to head to her office which was at the front of the house, overlooking Foxberry Lane and search her records for a potential husband for Lady Frances. Despite not having met the young woman, she wanted to be prepared. She hated nothing more than appearing flustered or unprepared in front of clients.
Alexandra had a tendency to get lost in her work and she knew if she went to the office right away, the groceries would sit on the floor and soon be forgotten.
To that end, she postponed the search and attended to her shopping first. With a sigh, she lifted the basket and carried it to the kitchen, which was in the back of the house just past the tiny guest room that now functioned as a waiting area for clients. The kitchen, compared to the office and waiting room, was sparsely decorated and furnished, with only the bare necessities. All the best furniture and artwork was used in spaces clients could access, not leaving much for the rest of the house. Even her bedroom, which was directly above the office, was bleak compared to the luscious furniture downstairs.
When her shopping was neatly put away, she hastened to her office. She sat at her small desk and pulled out a wooden box. It contained calling cards with information about her clients and their preferences for potential matches.
Given that Lady Frances Stewart was the daughter of an earl, and an influential earl as such, she would have to find a husband of equal or higher standing. That ruled out any barons and viscounts she had on her roster. No, for the daughter of an earl, Alexandra needed to find an earl, or better yet, a marquess.
The best any of her clients could hope for was to wed a duke. Since there were only a limited number of dukedoms in the country, and since the Crown was not in the habit of creating new dukedoms, eligible dukes were hard to come by. At present, Alexandra had not even a one on her roster. The highest ranking noble she was actively seeking a wife for was the Marquess of Farnborough.
She doubted he would be a very good match for Lady Frances. The Marquess was almost forty years old, and the reason he had yet to wed despite his grand title was twofold. It was well known that he was a rather poor businessman and had squandered a lot of his family’s fortune on terrible investments. Besides, he was also quite a lonesome fellow, and prone to violent outbursts. He had been a client since her mother was alive.
Eventually, she was sure she would find him a match, but she suspected that Lady Frances was not it. She had not met the lady yet, but she had heard of her. Alexandra was familiar with most of the nobility, especially the single ones. Lady Frances was a typical aristocratic lady and her father, Lord Cladborough, was a rich and powerful earl. She had to make sure whoever she selected to court the young lady was of impeccable manners and reputation. Lord Farnsborough was of neither.
Frustrated, she shut the box and returned it to the drawer. She needed to recruit new clients. This was the downside to being as successful as she was. She had made so many matches the previous Season that her client base was somewhat depleted. She was sure once the Season was in full swing, she would gain many a client, but for right now, the options were sparse.
If only I could get invited to one of the big balls, maybe at Almack’s, even. Mother always found many a client at private balls, but getting an invitation is rather difficult.
It was late afternoon when the lady finally arrived. Alexandra hastened to open the door to greet her long-awaited visitor. She was a petite woman with flaxen hair that she kept tucked inside her capote. Alexandra scanned her quickly from head to toe. She’d learned from her mother to assess her clients based on their attire. Lady Frances, for example, at first glance appeared to be a typical lady of the ton.
Upon closer inspection however, Alexandra could tell she came from a wealthier background than most. Her attire gave it away. Beneath her long pelisse she wore a pale peach-colored dress made of fine silk. Her hands were covered by thin yellow gloves, limerick gloves, if Alexandra was not mistaken. Yes, this lady was not only of high standing, but from an extremely well-to-do family.
“Lady Frances, I presume.” Alexandra stepped aside to let the lady in.
“Indeed, I am. It seems you have been expecting me.” The Lady’s voice was soft, and she spoke in a halting manner as though she was unsure of herself. As Alexandra closed the door, she noted the barouche stopped outside. The hood was up to protect the Lady against the cold. The afternoon chill had taken a turn for the worse, and she felt bad for the driver, who was left to stand outside in the cold.
“I saw Lady Chatterley earlier in the day, and she informed me you would be stopping by today,” Alexandra said as she closed the door.
“Oh, I see. I do apologize for the lateness of the hour. I do not often venture so far south of Piccadilly, so my driver had trouble navigating through the roads.” She looked around the office. “You have a lovely home. Very quaint.”
Cheap is what she means. Why don’t these people ever say what they think? Alexandra thought to herself. While she loved the little house and the memories it contained, she did sometimes wish she could afford a grander home, closer to Mayfair, where the members of high society spent their days. It would certainly improve business to be closer to where the aristocracy lived. Maybe if she was able to establish another fine match, like the Chatterley match, she would be able to do so.
“Thank you,” she said out loud. “Would you like tea?”
“That would be lovely, Miss Evans.”
Lady Frances sat on the plush velvety chair, legs crossed at the ankles. Alexandra served her tea in her mother’s best china, which was reserved for clients.
“Lady Chatterley cannot stop talking about her admiration for you, Miss Evans. She thinks of you as a gift and urged my father and I to seek your services.”
Alexandra raised her eyebrows. “I am pleased to hear it. I am rather surprised your father is not with you. Will he be joining us?”
The Lady took a sip of tea, pursing her lips as she did and only consuming a tiny drop, the same way Alexandra always did to savor every bit of the expensive beverage. Then she sat the cup down.
“He is not, unfortunately. He wanted to, but he has been occupied. He is to have tea with Lord Byron to discuss the Luddite violence in Nottinghamshire.”
Alexandra glanced at her guest, rather bemused. She was not sure if the Lady was attempting to remind Alexandra in a subtle way just how powerful her father was, or if she was truly interested in current events. Before they could delve into this matter further, Lady Frances handed Alexandra a letter. “My father asked me to give this to you.”
She took the letter. It was not sealed and appeared to have been written hastily. She scanned the content and then folded it up and placed it in her lap. It was a standard outline of what the Earl expected. She would be getting to know the young lady and take her wants into consideration, but it was really her father’s needs and demands that would dictate the search for a match. And his demands were many. He wanted a man of high birth, as she’d expected, an earl or better. One with a large, prosperous estate and plentiful lands, someone who could provide for his daughter. She sighed. Essentially, he wanted somebody ridiculously rich.
Alexandra conversed with the Lady for some time. She was smart and had a good heart, Alexandra could tell. Unlike her father, she did not have such high demands for her future husband. She was not looking to increase her standing or marry into money just for the sake of marrying into money.
“I simply wish for a husband who can maintain my lifestyle,” the woman said as she sipped her tea. “Someone who can ensure my future and that of my siblings. I have six sisters not yet of marriage age and no brothers. Should my father, heaven forbid, pass before they are wed, it would fall to my husband to care for them.”
“Do you not have any uncles who would assume the Earldom from your father?”
She shook her head and a strand of her hair came loose.
“My father had only sisters.”
Alexandra nodded. Under the peerage system, if the title holder passed away without a male heir, the lands and title reverted back to the Crown. She understood now why the Earl was so insistent on an impeccable match.
“I understand. It will be our top priority.”
The young lady fixed her gaze to the floor and chewed her lips. Alexandra smiled.
“What qualities are you looking for in a husband?”
The girl looked up, a sparkle back in her eyes.
“Oh, if it were just up to me, I would like someone who is kind, who would enjoy going for a walk with me and to talk. One who would not mind a wife who is interested in the world and who likes to learn. I so enjoy learning new things. I love the pianoforte, so a husband who enjoys music would ever so wonderful.”
She fell silent and retreated into her thoughts. Alexandra sat back and gave her time to think. Sometimes her job was difficult. So much of her business was about matching people so that it benefited them and their family. Often this mean matching people who she knew would never be a love match, but rather would be convenient for each other. Lady Frances appeared to be one of those unfortunate souls who would long for love and romance all her life, trading that for the benefit of her family’s fortunes. At last, the lady looked up again.
“I would love a man I can like and who can like me. Someone I can enjoy being around.”
Alexandra leaned forward and took her hand.
“I promise you, I will do my very best to find you a wonderful man. I cannot promise I will find you a man who is all you want and also all your father wants, but I will do my very best. Do not worry, you will have a husband who can provide for you and care for you.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Evans. You are a treasure.” The light had returned to the young lady’s eyes.
After they had finished their tea, Alexandra walked her guest to the door. As the barouche rode away Alexandra waved at the lady and closed the door.
She stood with her head against the door. Now where was she supposed to find a husband for this Lady that incorporated everything she and her father wanted? It was an almost impossible task. She had to find a solution and find her a good match, otherwise she’d never become the number one matchmaker in the city. She was resigned to look through her calling cards again. With a heavy sigh, she lifted her box out of the desk and sat on the floor, cards spread out in front of her.
Maxwell sped around the corner, the horses neighing as they went. He loved the freedom of driving his phaeton through the countryside. He missed it immensely during the Season, when he was required to spend the bulk of his time in London.
Whenever time permitted, he liked sneaking back to his family estate, Hawthorne Hall, in Kent, to relax. He loved breathing in the fresh air after the smog in London. Additionally, he so enjoyed spending time with his brother, Charles, who still lived at the beautiful manor home with their mother, the Dowager Duchess.
It was his mother who stood at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the manor when he slowed the horses and handed the reins to a footman. He gave the horses a pat before they were taken to the stables and only then did, he approached his mother. She shook her head in a disapproving manner.
In a fine mood as always, I see. Just the thing I need now.
“Must you drive this contraption? And at such speeds. You are bound to break your neck one of these days.”
“And good day to you, Duchess.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek, which she tolerated. His mother was not an affectionate woman and had become even worse since his father had passed away last year. Maxwell sighed.
“Good day. You did not answer my question. Is it really necessary to drive this monstrosity?”
“I had not realized you were asking a serious question, Mother. I assumed you were being facetious.”
She narrowed her blue eyes and glared at him.
“I am never facetious, as you well know.”
He nodded in agreement.
“True enough. My mistake. Let me assure you, the phaeton is perfectly safe. The Prince Regent himself is known to enjoy riding in one. If it is safe enough for the Prince Regent, I reckon it is safe enough for me.”
His mother scoffed. “The Prince Regent indulges in many an activity high society would frown upon were he not who he is.”
“That may be. However, I rather enjoy it and I shall keep enjoying it.”
His mother shook her head. “If only you had an heir to ensure our family line, perhaps then I would feel more secure in you engaging in such frightful sports.”
Ah, here it is. Mother’s favorite subject. The never-ending debate about the state of my bachelorhood.
She raised one gloved hand to silence him. He may be a duke and among the richest and most powerful in the country at that, but when his mother raised her hand, he instantly fell silent as if he was still a young boy.
“You know I am right. What should happen to our family if you fell off this thing and died? We’d be ruined. It would be the end of the line for us.”
Maxwell shook his head. “It’s not as though we do not have an heir to succeed me. Charles would become Duke and after him Uncle Thomas.”
A carriage arrived in front of the house.
“Your father hated your uncle. He would rather see the entire Estate returned to the Crown than let Thomas take the reins.”
Maxwell shrugged and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Well then it is lucky he’s not the next in line and that I’m not dead.”
“Your brother…” His mother sighed dramatically. They both knew his brother would never be able to take the responsibilities of the peerage. Despite being twenty-five years old, he had the mind of a child. While he was a sweet, kind-hearted person they all knew he would never be able to run the Estate and it would fall to their mother and, eventually, Uncle Thomas. The Duchess placed one hand on Maxwell’s arm.
“I am due to return to London tomorrow. Please let me look for a wife for you. You know as well as I that is the only way to secure our family.”
“Oh, Mother.” She raised her hand once again and he fell silent.
“You know it is your duty. Being duke is not all about the privileges. It’s first and foremost about responsibility.”
“I know, Mother. I was raised to become a duke. All my life, all I ever heard about was my duties and responsibilities. I didn’t ask for this. I was born into this. I know my duty. I will wed. I will produce an heir. I’ll ensure the line. But please, let me enjoy myself a little first.”
She pursed her thin lips. “You have enjoyed yourself quite enough this past year, or so I hear.” The accusation hung in the air. Shame rose up in him. He had indulged in some dandy ways this past year but only because it was how he was coping with the death of his father and his new responsibilities. Finally, she broke the awkward silence and spoke again.
“And you are not getting any younger.”
His mother sure knew how to drive the dagger ever deeper into his heart. He had turned thirty only a month prior. The number bothered him as it was, but it certainly didn’t help that his mother never tired of reminding him about his advancing age.
“By that age, your father and I had already been married for ten years, and we had four children, with another on the way.”
Her eyes clouded over, having finally talked herself into exhaustion. Maxwell knew the topic of her father and their lost children was difficult for her, and when the conversation turned to that part of her life, she often ended it. As she did today.
“I am late for tea with Lady Cavendish. Please think about my words.” She extended her hand. He kissed it briefly and let go. Then she turned and ascended into the carriage.
Maxwell watched the carriage drive down the sandy driveway and turn the corner toward town. Only then did he head into the house. His steward, James, greeted him at the door, a glass of ale at the ready.
“Thank you, James. I know we have business to attend to, but would you give me a few moments?”
“Certainly, Your Grace.”
He stepped back as Maxwell continued into the drawing room where he sat, ale in hand, and stared at the large family portrait above the fireplace.
There were six people in the portrait. His father was painted in his best outfit, standing straight and looking stern. Maxwell always found that amusing because his father was nothing of the sort. He was loving and kind, soft-hearted and encouraging. His mother, on the other hand, was painted in a maternal, soft light, holding a baby, his brother Charles. The painter had given her a loving glow that gave her an ethereal, nurturing look she did not possess in real life.
Maxwell was in the middle, beside his father. He didn’t remember how old he was when the portrait was created but by the looks of it, he guessed he was about ten. The two other people in the portrait were his siblings, Sophia and Edward. Edward, two years his junior had died later that year when he drowned on their vacation in Bath. Sophia, his elder sister, had died in similarly tragic circumstances two years after Edward.
Then fifteen years old, she had been thrown from a horse while riding, falling headfirst onto a rock. He had not been able to see her, but by the look on his father’s face, it was for the best.
His mother had not taken the loss of her children well, understandably. Sadly, these were not the only children she had to bury. There were three more graves with the names of Gatterlen children in the family cemetery. These were children who never had the chance to grow. A baby boy, born after Maxwell, and twin girls, the last children his mother bore. All three were stillborn. Maxwell often wondered if it was this, the loss of her children, that caused his mother to be the way she was.
He leaned back and took a gulp of the ale. He did not wish to marry, and he hated the burden this placed on him. He pitied the lady he would end up with, for he knew he would have to marry eventually. Well, soon. He did not have a choice. It was true, his brother would never be able to take over should something happen to Maxwell. The Estate, the title, and the lands – all would fall to his Uncle Thomas, the Marquess of Penthall.
Unlike his father, his uncle was not a kind person, and he knew the farmers and tenants on his lands often suffered under his control.
A few years ago, when a cold snap destroyed much of the crop, his father had come to an agreement with the tenants, allowing them to remain on their lands rent free, until the fields could be recovered. Then, and only then did they have to repay him and even then, he reduced their dues to almost nothing and often simply took goods in exchange for money. Anything to help the people living on his land. That was his father.
On the other hand, his uncle had forced anyone who could not pay off his lands, no matter the circumstance. People had become homeless and helpless. That was just one example of his uncle’s character. No. Maxwell could not allow that to happen. He could not let everything his father built go to waste just because he had an aversion to marriage.
He’d allow his mother to begin searching for a bride once she returned to London. He’d do his duty. Although he already pitied the lady he was to marry, for he knew he would make a poor, unwilling groom.
He wondered how his mother intended to search for a bride. He had never been very interested in the details of this curious courtship scenario. He knew there were matchmakers you could attend to, but how did that even work? His thoughts were interrupted by a shout.
“Your Grace!” Rapid footsteps approached and James’s voice sounded from the hall. “Your Grace, hurry!”
Maxwell rushed toward the steward.
“What is it?”
James was pale and out of breath.
“It’s the Duchess. She’s been injured. You must come at once!”
Mother? What could possibly have happened to her between leaving the house and now?
As his heart pounded with panic, Maxwell ran alongside James toward the front of the house.
Alexandra sat on the floor, her calling cards spread out in front of her like a puzzle. She’d just added one for the Lady Frances. It read Daughter of Earl of Cladborough. Must marry above her station. Must marry wealthy gentleman. She’d left a space where she could write down the potential dowry the prospective husband could expect. This was not part of her usual duties but it often helped her because if the dowry was below the standard sum, certain gentlemen were reluctant to even consider a woman.
Beneath the requirements for Lady Frances’s match, she’d added a line Lady wants to marry for love, but duty is first. Kind, generous man to share her life with. She sighed. The wants never outweigh the needs, of course. She glanced at her cards again and picked one up when someone disturbed her by banging on the door. Frustrated, she rose, calling card in hand. When she opened the door, it was none other than Mr. Holmes, come to fetch his groceries.
“Have I called on you at an inopportune moment? I can return at a later time if it suits better.”
“Don’t be a silly goose. Come on.” She waved him in and rushed to the kitchen, followed by the old man. “Here are your items I fetched from the market.” She handed him the basket when his glance fell on the calling card. He tiled his head to ready.
“Viscount Hendley? Have you found a match for that dear boy?”
She shook her head. Her light brown curls hung loose around her face. Not a look she would usually present to the world, but she had not been expecting company at this late hour. She led Mr. Holmes back to her office where he took a seat in her stuffed chair.
“I wish. He is a lovely fellow.” She picked up the card for Lady Frances. “I have the perfect match, where it not for one problem.”
“Lord Hendley’s precarious financial situation?”
Alexandra nodded. Lord Hendley was not on her priorities list for matches simply because he was in a terrible financial position and not known to handle his estate well. No wonder, he had not been raised to inherit the title. He had not been the heir apparent or even second in line.
In fact, three brothers were ahead of him to inherit the estate and he had spent his life enjoying his family’s wealth, living the life of a dandy. That was until one night a fire broke out at their home, Westerly Castle, and the entire family perished save for Lord Hendley and his two younger sisters, who were on a visit to their maternal grandparents in Derbyshire.
Suddenly orphaned and in charge of the family, Lord Hendley had done his best to take on the responsibility. Abandoning his dandy ways, he’d begun to rebuild. However, due to the cost of renovating the castle along with some unfortunate business dealings his father had undertaken, the good Lord found himself under much financial strain.
With Alexandra’s help, he’d been able to find a match for his sister Sophie which took quite an effort, given that he could not provide a large dowry. His other sister was also a client of Alexandra’s but given her young age, sixteen years old at present, there was no rush. Alexandra hoped by the time she was of age, the viscount may have rebuilt his fortune.
“It is such a shame. He would be ideal for Lady Frances. He is a lover of nature and music, as is she. He has a sharp mind and enjoys good conversation, as does she. If only he were at least an earl and still had his fortune.” She sighed heavily and returned the calling card to the pile.
“Perhaps if you give it some time. He may well continue to prosper and be suitable then.”
“No, they do not wish to wait. The Earl left a rather stern note with his requirements and one of the notations was that I must find a match quickly. He wishes to host a wedding before the end of the year, by beginning of next Season for sure.”
Mr. Holmes’s eyebrows rose. “Is that so? He’s rather in a rush, isn’t he?”
Alexandra nodded; she’d felt the same way. She’d only glanced at the note Lady Frances had given her at the start of her visit. Since Lady Frances’s departure, she’d had more time to read the Earl’s demands in detail. He’d given a tight deadline.
“I do not have anybody matching the description among my clients. Oh, Mr. Holmes, what if I do not find a good match? This is my chance. Lord Cladborough is such a high-profile man; making a successful match for his daughter would make my name known across all of London. Everyone would come here. Evans’s United Hearts would be the number one matchmaking agency at last, just like I promised Mother it would be.”
The old man heaved himself out of the chair and joined her on the floor. His joints cracked as he did so.
“Your mother would be ever so proud of you. If you match this girl or not, she wouldn’t care. She’d see only the hard work you are putting in, putting yourself last, as always. Now, perhaps I can help.”
“You?” She appreciated the offer, but how would an elderly jeweler be able to assist her?
“Yes, me, my dear. Do not look so surprised. As luck would have it, I have recently become acquainted with the Duchess of Marlborough. You may know that she is one of the Lady Patronesses at Almack’s on King’s Street.”
This did indeed interest Alexandra a great deal. Almack’s was an exclusive establishment where balls were hosted on a weekly basis. It was also a huge marriage hub. Many eligible bachelors attended the club in order to find a match and, in turn, many potential brides frequented the balls. For a matchmaker, it was the perfect atmosphere to attain clients. Alexandra had, for a number of years, attempted to obtain a voucher for Almack’s, but because of her low standing in society, she had not received an invitation. It was near impossible to be admitted, even if just for one ball.
“Go on,” she urged Mr. Holmes, who had a habit of dragging stories out unnecessarily.
“Well, I was able to procure for her a rather precious stone she had been after for some time, and she is ever so grateful. She called to collect it yesterday and I so happened to mention that I had a young lady neighbor who has a keen interest in joining Almack’s.”
“She knows very well who I am. I have applied many a time, only to be rejected each time. I am not rich enough, or powerful enough, to register.”
They might hire me to secure their futures, but I’ll never be seen as their equal. Never good enough to be allowed into a place like Almack’s. Or has Mr. Holmes managed to bring about a miracle?
The old man smiled. “Well, I believe if you were to apply again, you may find your application will be approved this time. Would it not be most fortunate if you were able to attend the upcoming ball? It will only be the third ball of the Season, and many a bachelor will be there, no doubt grateful for your services.”
It would indeed be wonderful. Alexandra went to bed that night with a feeling of relief in her belly. If Mr. Holmes was true to his word, and she was able to visit Almack’s, she’d possibly be able to find not just the perfect match for Lady Frances, but many other new clients.
Two weeks later, Alexandra found herself exiting the hackney on King’s Street. She paid the jarvey and walked half a block. She’d exited the coach early on purpose, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that she did not arrive in her own carriage as everyone else did. It was dark and, as she glanced up, she saw the evening sky where the smog had given way to the stars. It was beautiful.
Supper at Almack’s was served at 11 p.m. and she had it on good authority that she was not to be late. After 11 p.m., nobody would be admitted, no matter their status. She clutched the voucher she’d received from the Duchess. It was good for the month of April only, rather than for the entire Season. Alexandra did not mind. She could do what she had to in one night, if necessary.
When she arrived at the entrance, the street was lined with carriages. Women and men in their finest attire could be observed strolling in and out of the building. She approached the door and saw two women meticulously checking the vouchers. Her heart sank when she saw how carefully each new arrival was inspected. Due to her lack of funds, she could not afford a gown as lovely as those she saw on many of the ladies.
She was dressed in a rather simple white gown with a lace overlay and matching white, elbow-length gloves. If one did not look too closely, one would not notice that the dress was made from a cheap material. Not by a seamstress either. Her mother had made it for her, straining her eyes in the candlelight with the hope that Alexandra would one day wish to find herself a husband and would have occasion to wear a dress like this. Well, tonight, she did.
Upon entering the hall, she found herself under intense scrutiny from the Lady Patronesses at the entrance. It was only lucky that she had a voucher signed by the Duchess of Marlborough, for she was by far the most popular and powerful of the ladies.
Alexandra roamed the halls, recognizing many of the attendants. Some were clients who appeared rather surprised to see her there. This was not the type of environment you expected to meet your matchmaker.
“Miss Evans?” She turned around and recognized Lady Chatterley. The lady was dressed in a fine gown which had room for her growing belly. “What a pleasure to see you twice in one month! I would not have expected to see you here!”
Alexandra smiled, “I received a most unexpected opportunity by way of the Duchess of Marlborough.”
“Ah, say no more. Well, what good fortune. You will certainly find a great number of bachelors and ladies in need of your services. I would be happy to assist. Or perhaps this time, you are in search of a husband of your own?”
“Oh, goodness gracious, no! I would rather end up a spinster than to ever wed!” The words shot out of her mouth before she could stop herself. Lady Chatterley’s eyes were the size of saucers and Alexandra feared she’d done real damage to her reputation. To her great relief, the woman broke into a fit of laughter.
“A matchmaker, and such a skillful one at that, and she doesn’t want to find a husband for herself. You are a riot, Miss Evans.”
Alexandra was surprised when Lady Chatterley took her by the arm and proceeded to walk her around the building. Supper was being served in one room of the great mansion while another was reserved for dancing.
“Lady Frances informed me she called upon you and that you were of great comfort to her.” They stopped in the dance hall and watched the proceedings.
“She is a lovely young woman. I intend to find a match for her to rival your own.”
“You sound confident.”
Alexandra looked at the woman. “I am. And judging by your own match, I believe you agree.” Lady Chatterley nodded.
“Certainly.” She pointed at a man on the dancefloor, dressed in a blue and white striped waistcoat under his jacket. “Lord Pendelton is in search of a wife. I’ve heard him talk of it earlier today. Odd fellow, but rich.” Lady Chatterley continued to point out various eligible bachelors and bachelorettes on the dancefloor while Alexandra paid close attention. That was, until something caught her attention.
“Oh, how elated I am. The Duke has agreed to allow me to look for a suitable woman for him. At long last.”
The voice belonged to an older woman who sat to the right of her, encircled by three other ladies of similar age. The speaker, with her gray hair pinned up and silver and gold embroidered lappets running down the back of her head, had a curious facial color. Alexandra squinted to see better. The right side of her face, around the eyes, appeared to be a rather odd black and blue, as if she’d had a bruise there and attempted to cover it up—badly.
“That is such wonderful new, Duchess!”
“Indeed! And all it took was for me to be viciously attacked by Luddites on my way to high tea!” The woman laughed, although Alexandra did not find it particularly funny.
“Do you have a lucky lady in mind?”
“Oh, if only it were so easy. I have to be most careful with my selection. I do not wish to bring a social climber into the family, or one of ill repute. And then there is the matter of the Duke. He is of such a sour composition when it comes to marriage, I fear it will be a taxing undertaking.”
Alexandra turned to her companion.
“Is that the Duchess of Gatterlen?”
Lady Chatterley nodded.
“Indeed, it is. Did you hear about the unfortunate event? How terrifying.”
Alexandra had indeed heard. She’d read about it in the paper. Some weeks ago, the Duchess had been on her way to tea when a group of Luddites stopped her carriage on the road, extracted the lady and tossed her on the ground. As it turned out, they had been waiting for her son, the Duke of Gatterlen, a strong opponent to the Luddite cause. Although, what they had intended to do with him once they caught him was unclear. However, evidently upon discovering the carriage contained only the Duke’s mother, they’d abandoned the scene, leaving the Duchess and her driver rather the worse for wear.
“Terrible story,” Alexandra said but her attention was no longer on the Lady. She was focused now on the Duchess. Lady Chatterley smiled.
“I can see the wheels in your brain going around and around. Let me introduce you to the Duchess, shall I?”
“I would much appreciate the introduction, Lady Chatterley.” With that, the two women walked the few steps toward the seating area where the Duchess was holding court. She was in the midst of sipping a cup of tea when she noted them approaching.
“Ah, Lady Chatterley. How nice to see you.” The Duchess placed her cup and saucer on the table in front of her and motioned for the women to sit. In order to do so, one of the women who had kept the Duchess company was forced to give up her seat, which she did when the Duchess waved her hand. Alexandra took note of this, clearly the Duchess was well aware of her power and influence. Alexandra would have to approach her accordingly.
“How are you? I was most disturbed to hear of the vile way in which you were treated by those brutes.” The Duchess clutched the pearl necklace she was wearing and closed her eyes.
Alexandra noted that the bruises on her face were more visible now they were closer to her. The candlelight helped so they were not as prominent, but she could only imagine what the woman looked like in broad daylight. Lady Chatterley sat down to the left of the Duchess, leaving Alexandra to take the seat two removed from her. She noted that she had yet to be introduced.
While Lady Chatterley was a lovely woman and always kind and appreciated of Alexandra, she was also aware of the social classes which divided them. During her courtship with the Marquess, they had spent a good amount of time together and she’d always enjoyed her time with her. She did sometimes wonder if, had they been of equal social standing, they might have been friends. Alexandra thought they might, but she would never know.
“It was the most horrid experience. Terribly frightful. I cannot imagine what would have happened if those men had actually found my son in the carriage. What would they have done to him? I don’t wish to imagine.”
Alexandra wanted to jump into the conversation, but as she had not been introduced, it would have been improper.
“Just look at the condition they have left me in,” the Duchess pointed to bruises on her arms. “Dragged me from my own carriage as if I was a common scullery maid.” She sighed heavily but then her gaze fell upon Alexandra. “I do not believe we have met.”
“Oh, how rude of me. Let me introduce you. This is my …” Lady Chatterley paused awkwardly. No doubt unsure how to introduce Alexandra. “This is Miss Alexandra Evans; she is one of the most formidable matchmakers in all of London.”
“A matchmaker? At Almack’s? How curious.” The Duchess eyes her, clearly assessing her outfit for clues as to how a commoner had made it past the rigorous inspections of the Lady Patronesses.
“I have the good fortune of being acquainted with the Duchess of Marlborough. She was kind enough to extend me an invitation. She is a most generous woman.”
And if I ever get the chance to actually meet her, I shall tell her so myself.
The Duchess rolled her eyes. “Ah. Mary. She has always had the heart of a commoner.”
Alexandra cleared her throat and forced herself not to let her sharp tongue get in her way, for she had many a cutting response to the Duchess’s cruel remarks. Alas, she was here for business and so had to swallow her words.
“It may well be that this commoner is the answer to your problems, dearest Duchess,” Alexandra said in the sweetest tone she could muster.
“Oh?” The old woman picked up her teacup and eyed her as she sipped the tea.
“We could not help but overhear your conversation earlier, in regards to your search for a wife for the Duke,” Lady Chatterley explained. The Duchess did not take her eyes off Alexandra as she spoke. “Miss Evans is most skilled at finding the right match. Perhaps she could be of assistance.”
“A matchmaker is what you say you are? And you are the one who made Lady Isabella Brown into the Marchioness of Chatterley?”
“Indeed, I am. I am also the one who created the match between the Duke of Glowester and Lady Mary Hester, the daughter of the Marquess of Dunstable. I am responsible for the forthcoming wedding between the Earl of Cheshire and the daughter of the Earl of Yona. In addition…” The Duchess raised her hand.
“I understand. You are very accomplished.” She thought for one moment. “Those are indeed magnificent matches and I must admit, I fear I may lack the stamina to thoroughly examine each prospective lady that may wish to wed the Duke. Perhaps employing a matchmaker would be simpler. Especially one who appears skillful enough to receive an invitation to Almack’s, as a commoner at that.”
She took a sip of tea, watching Alexandra carefully over the rim of the cup. She dabbed the corners of her mouth with a handkerchief when she was done and folded her hands in her lap.
“Alright. I shall arrange a meeting between myself, the Duke, and you. We will discuss the requirements for a wife. As you can imagine, she would have to be of impeccable upbringing, unquestionable reputation, educated, well-mannered, and have a significant dowry. I would expect someone from a respectable family. Does this sound like too much for you? I’d rather you tell me now that waste our time with …”
“Your Grace, excuse me for the interruption, but I already have a young lady in mind that I believe is an ideal candidate.”
Alexandra leaned back with a cup of tea and sipped, a wide grin on her face.
“I believe, Your Grace, you will find the young lady a perfect match for your son. Are you familiar with the Earl of Cladbourough?”
The Duchess eyes widened with surprise. “Why, of course. He is but one of the most respected members of the House of Lords. A strong man, very resourceful.”
“Well, as it happens, his daughter, a lovely, well-educated young lady, has just recently become a client of mine and is in search of a suitable husband. I believe your son just might be it.”
The Duchess leaned back, teacup in hand and a sly smile on her face. “Well, that is very fortunate indeed. Now we must only convince my son of this match and all shall be well.”
“Fret not, Your Grace. I will ensure the match is successful. As are all my matches.” Well, most of them. We shan’t speak of the unfortunate incident with the governess…
Alexandra looked at Lady Chatterley who’d watched the exchange with interest.
“Indeed,” the Lady confirmed. “Indeed, they are.”
Alexandra spent the rest of the evening feeling rather pleased with herself. Not only would she be able to present Lord Cladborough with a match for his daughter when she met him later in the week, but she’d impressed the Duchess of Gatterlen enough to earn herself an introduction to several other ladies at the ball. This in turn resulted in her recruiting a small but impressive roster of new clients.
By the time she left for the night, Evans United Hearts had gained four new lady clients, an earl, and two wealthy viscounts. In addition to the duke who was, of course, the biggest accomplishment of the evening. She would be very busy for the next few weeks. However, her focus had to be on the Duke of Gatterlen and Lady Frances. This match had to be a success, for it would cement her reputation and ensure her future. Perhaps she’d even be able to purchase a property closer to Mayfair and increase her visibility among the upper class.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
Perfectly Mismatched with the Duke is live on Amazon now!