The Heiress Objective, Book 3 in the Spy Matchmaker Series
May 1999 as The Bluestocking on His Knee (ISBN 0-8217-6209-5, Zebra Regency Romance)
Electronic version 2008 by Regency Reads
Revised and reissued August 2017 by Edwards and Williams
Wealthy Regency heiress Eugennia Welch is afraid to tell her bluestocking friends the truth: she secretly wishes a handsome prince would ride in and propose marring. When charming Corinthian Kevin Whattling does just that, she is stunned. He claims to have admired her for some time, but only came forward now because he must marry an heiress to discharge his debts. How can she believe anything he says?
Once one of the most successful intelligence agents among the aristocracy, Kevin Whattling gave up his commission when his younger brother was killed in an illegal boxing match. Now deep in debt, his only hope is to marry a wealthy wife. But as he tries to convince Jenny he is besotted, he finds himself falling under her spell. When a danger from Kevin's past threatens them both, they must trust each other to win a love far greater than any fortune.
"Ms. Scott crafts a zesty courtship romance featuring a delightfully eccentric heroine and a sinfully attractive hero." -- RT Book Reviews
"Very entertaining story with a fresh approach." -- Rendezvous
"A quirky, charming novel. The Bluestocking on His Knee is the sweet story that the title suggests, and as such, is worth reading." -- Numbers on the Spine blog
Finalist, Bookseller's Best Award for Best Regency of 1999
After hours of pouring over the figures of his much-diminished finances, Kevin Whattling pushed back one of the last three of his mahogany dining chairs, rose, and stretched. Giles Sloane and Sir Nigel Dillingham, his friends since childhood, stared up at him, dazed.
Nigel shook his close-cropped sandy-blond head. "Don't see how you can be so relaxed, old man," he murmured with a frown. Since Nigel's eyebrows were remarkably bushy and his nose singularly imposing, his frowns were known to curdle milk.
Kevin merely shrugged.
"I agree, Kevin," Giles chimed in. "I've known you to face calamity with a laugh, but this, this is something else entirely." With his round face under a thatch of red hair and equally round frame, Giles was more likely to be found consuming milk than curdling it. Nonetheless, his chubby cheeks, pale and quivering, had more effect on his friend than Nigel's heavy frowns.
Kevin clapped him on the shoulder. "Buck up, my lad. Things may look a trifle difficult…"
"A trifle!" Nigel rumbled. "Penury he calls a trifle!"
Giles snatched the crosshatched piece of paper off the table and bent over it again, pudgy fingers running down the columns. "Perhaps we subtracted incorrectly. Is that it, Kev? Tell me you have other assets. Perhaps a rich uncle you never told us about?"
Kevin smiled ruefully. "Sorry, Giles. Everything I have is written on that sheet. And as you can see, I am completely penniless. The very furniture on which you sit will be auctioned off tomorrow. And that doesn't count the two thousand still owed to George Safton, not that I begrudge making him sing for it."
Nigel stared at him. Giles shuddered. "If only we could help you. But my inheritance barely covers expenses."
Nigel eyed his friend's considerable bulk. "We all know where your funds go. As I don't eat mine, I have a bit more to spare. I can spot you enough to keep up the rent on your rooms for a month or so, Whattling. Unfortunately, I don't have enough to pay off Safton, worse luck."
Kevin shrugged again. "You needn't bother, Nigel." Now that he knew the worst of it, he found it difficult to be morose. There was a strange sort of freedom not having to keep up appearances any longer. Of course, he still could not divulge all his activities for the last few years. Lord Hastings had been firm on that score.
He reached to the center of the small table and poured three goblets of port from the decanter there. Passing them to his friends, he raised his own in a toast.
"Gentlemen, have no fear. As Napoleon was defeated so recently on the Peninsula, so shall we defeat this specter of poverty. To success!"
"Here, here!" Giles agreed. He dashed back the port, obviously carried away by Kevin's show of enthusiasm.
Nigel humphed and sipped his instead. "You're mighty cheerful for a man so deep in dun territory."
"That, my dear Nigel, is because I have a plan."
Giles poured himself another glass with glee. "I knew it! Trust Kevin to think his way out of any scrape."
He had no idea of the scrapes Kevin had escaped while serving under Lord Hastings, England's spymaster. But that was the point, wasn't it? Only a few knew that Kevin gathered information to pass on to the War Office. Amazing how many secrets the ton bandied about.
Nigel eyed Kevin dubiously, grey eyes shrewd. "A plan, have you? You aren't exactly known for planning. Besides, what, pray tell, could you possibly plan that could raise the necessary blunt? I thought you'd sworn off gambling. Or did you give in to Safton's lures?"
He shook off the blow and made himself do nothing more than raise a brow. "Do you think so little of me, Nigel?"
Nigel had the good sense to study his port while answering. "It isn't a matter of what I think. George Safton is a manipulative, conniving wretch. There's a good reason the ton calls him the Snake. But you paid little heed to the warnings Giles and I tried to give you, until…" He shifted in his seat, twirling the cut-glass stem of the goblet between long fingers. "Sorry. Unsportsmanlike of me. Never mind."
"You needn't fear to say it," Kevin replied, fingering the black armband and making sure neither of his friends saw what an effort his nonchalance cost him. "If I had listened to either of you, Robbie might still be alive."
"Oh, Kevin, never say so!" Giles' blue eyes were wide. "You did what you could. You know I thought quite highly of your brother, but he simply couldn't turn down a wager. And Safton can't turn down an easy mark. They were the worst possible combination. But you mustn't see it as your fault that your brother was led astray."
"Only that I did part of the leading," Kevin reminded him. "I paid his debts again and again with no more than a brotherly scold. I even went along with most of their ridiculous schemes."
"So did half of the ton," Nigel put in. "You have to give them this: They were an entertaining pair."
"Until the very end," Giles agreed, but he shuddered again.
"You don't have to wrap it up in clean linen, gentlemen," Kevin insisted. "I have nothing to say in my own defense. I've been an idiot and a dastard. I've lost my only brother, nearly ruined our family name, and have run myself nicely into dun territory. In short, I've made a mess of my life, and now I have the ignominious pleasure of trying to get myself out of it."
"Which you'll do with style and wit," Giles assured him.
Kevin spread his hands. "Is there any other way?"
"This is getting us nowhere," Nigel grumbled. "You said you had a plan. Will you tell us about it, or not?" Giles suddenly looked worried. "You didn't apply to those advertisements in The Times, did you, Kevin? I shouldn't think a gentleman could find suitable work that way."
"You'd be surprised what one can find in The Times," Kevin told him. "Unfortunately, all the responses I received indicated that there was nothing for which a failed Corinthian is suitable. You would hardly hire me for a companion, and I'm far past the appropriate age for an apprentice in any trade." "And your friend Lord Hastings?" Nigel put in with more delicacy then he was usually capable.
So Nigel knew that much. Kevin shook his head. "His lordship understands my need to leave his service. He's encouraged me to find a bride, not realizing the extent of my indebtedness. And it isn't as if there would be much more for me to do what with Napoleon being exiled to Elba." He shrugged. "Of course, I can always work below stairs. I'd make a strapping footman, don't you think?"
This time both Nigel and Giles shuddered.
"Never fear, gentlemen," Kevin told them in consolation. "I have decided on a less onerous approach." He felt sure enough of himself to grin at both his friends, pausing dramatically until he was certain he had their full attention.
"Gentlemen, I plan to sell the last asset I own-myself. I will marry an heiress."
Giles choked on his port. Nigel gaped, but was the first to recover.
"Nonsense," he said with a snort.
"Oh, I say, a poor joke, Kev," Giles seconded, mopping wine from the broad front of his linen shirt with a handkerchief. He stopped his ablutions long enough to peer up at his friend. "Are you foxed?"
Kevin's grin widened. "Not in the slightest. I know exactly what I'm about."
"Can't be done," Nigel proclaimed. "Too much against you."
"Such as?" Kevin challenged.
Nigel ticked his reasons off on his fingers. "One-you've no title, which the papas of most heiresses hang out for. Two-you've no fortune or estates, although I admit you had a respected family name, if they do not count this recent business. Three-it's becoming increasing well known you've been living beyond your blunt, not to mention your fondness for gaming, boxing, and racing. Four-"
"That's quite enough," Kevin said with a laugh, holding up his hands in surrender. "Your logic is flawless. I have only two small credits to counter your long list of debits. I understand the ladies consider me to be reasonably kind on the eyes, and I have been told I possess a certain amount of charm."
Nigel snorted again. Giles cocked his head thoughtfully. Kevin held his smile as they both looked at him with appraising eyes.
He knew the image he presented. At six feet, two inches tall, he towered over both of them, as well as most of the other men in his class. Unlike the thoroughly round Giles or the endlessly angular Nigel, his shoulders were broad enough, his waist narrow enough, and his legs powerful enough to carry off the latest fashion of cutaway coats and skin-tight breeches with polished style. His practices at Jackson's, although less frequent of late, guaranteed his muscular build. He had heard the rumor that his shock of honey-gold hair, which curled in natural artistic disarray, had once caused Lord Byron to sack his valet when that poor fellow failed to match it.
His eyes were a deep, warm shade of blue that seemed to invite the ladies to look closer and offer confidences. He thought his high cheekbones, long nose, and slightly pointed chin lent his face character when he was solemn, and they certainly seemed to encourage others to grin along with him when he was pleased. Besides, good looks aside, he had a ready wit and an easy grace. Until the incident with his brother, most of his friends would have called him easygoing by nature, which had made him the first person on many a hostess' guest list. Of course, it was that easygoing nature that had landed him in the fix he was in, but he steadfastly pushed that thought aside.
"He has you there," Giles was saying with a nod to Nigel. "Devilishly attractive, that's our Kevin. Seen many a gel swoon at his feet."
Kevin flicked a speck of lint off the lapel of his black evening coat, trying not to show his relief that his friends' assessments matched his own. "Well, perhaps not swoon," he demurred with just the right amount of humility.
"I still say it takes more than good looks and a ready wit to sway an heiress," Nigel insisted.
Giles had clearly been won over. "Have you picked the gel yet, Kev?"
Kevin rose and wandered to the mirror near the door of his small suite of rooms and made himself busy retying his cravat. He hadn't expected them to be won over quite this quickly. Perhaps his plan wasn't as lack-witted as he had feared. Or his time serving secretly for Lord Hastings had made him a better actor than he had thought.
The true test, however, would be their assessment of the woman he had chosen to pursue. He knew he'd have to face them sooner or later and decided the time might as well be now. "Yes, I've identified my objective, though I doubt either of you will approve."
"Fanny Brighton is tolerable," Giles offered.
"If you don't mind a laugh like a horse," Nigel complained. "Besides, she wouldn't have you. I have it on good authority that no less than a duke may be offering for her quite soon."
"Evalina Turnpeth, then," Giles suggested.
"Rusticating in the country until the summer," Nigel replied.
"What about that cit Sir John nearly wed?"
"A cit!" Nigel exploded. "Are you mad?" He threw back the last of his port.
Giles sank lower in his chair.
Kevin turned to his friends with a rueful smile. "No, not a cit, Nigel, never fear. The lady I have in mind is a blueblood through and through. She also happens to be a bit of a bluestocking. I thought I'd try my luck with Eugennia Welch."
"Eugennia Welch!" his friends chorused, their faces awash in horror.
So much for their support. Kevin faced them with determination, refusing to be swayed so easily. "You see, I told you that you wouldn't approve." Again, Nigel recovered first. "I can see the attraction. She's known to be quite odd, so you won't have to put up with a lot of nonsense about dresses and balls and the like. But who could stand her insane activities?"
"I don't see them as insane," Kevin protested. "What has she done? Invited the Egyptian expedition to conduct a practice dig in her rear yard? That seems far more practical than trying to accompany them all the way to Egypt."
"That was nothing compared to the time she descended upon Weston to learn how a man's coat was cut," Nigel declared. "I can still see Lord Bellington's face as he stood there in his short sleeves with Weston pointing out the various tucks needed. Poor Bell hasn't been the same since."
"He was never all that bright to begin with," Kevin replied with a shrug. "Not much of a loss if you ask me."
"And don't forget," Giles put in, "she was the one who convinced the printers to go out on the ice last year when the Thames froze. She claimed the crowds should have something to memorialize their visit to the Frost Fair, as if any of them could read or would know what to do with the paper in the first place."
"I notice you had your leaflet framed, Giles," Kevin pointed out.
"All that aside, Whattling," Nigel insisted, "it is well known she despises everything you stand for-gaming, pugilistic displays, horse racing."
"I'd like to think I stand for a little more than that, Nigel," Kevin chided.
"What else is there?" Nigel demanded.
"Not to mention that she's past her last prayers," Giles added.
"She can't be over six-and-twenty," Kevin responded. "Lord Jeffers threw her a quarter century birthday party. Remember how the ladies gasped that anyone would be willing to admit her age in public? It was the same month Robbie arrived in town and that was nearly two years ago." The thought unnerved him for a moment, as any thought of Robbie was wont to do even three months after his brother's death, but he plunged ahead.
"I've thought this through very carefully, gentlemen. Eugennia Welch has an income of forty thousand pounds per annum, a princely fortune even I would be hard-pressed to squander. She purportedly has withstood offers from an earl and a marquess, so she cannot be hanging out for a title. Her father died six years ago, and she has no other male relatives, so I shall not have to fight a dubious family. She seems to prefer the town life, so my lack of a country seat should not dismay her."
He felt his grin reappear as he remembered the last time he had seen her. "Besides, I stood up with her at a country dance last Season, and I rather enjoyed the experience. Despite all your protests, she is a lady through and through. So, unless you have further suggestions, I plan to call on her tomorrow and begin my trip toward the altar."
Giles solemnly poured the last of the port into the three glasses.
"To success?" he offered hesitantly, handing them around.
"No," Kevin corrected, accepting his and raising it high. "To Miss Eugennia Welch. May she soon fall under my heiress objective."
"To Miss Welch," Nigel and Giles chorused, and this time all three glasses were enthusiastically drained.
Wonder what it was like to box in the Regency period? See what Kevin really had to go through in this article.