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Catch of the Season
November 1999 (ISBN 0-8217-6390-3, Zebra Regency Romance)
Allison Munroe had no idea that her fate was being sealed. She had concerns of her own as she accompanied her sister Genevieve shopping for gloves to match the gown Gen was to wear to Allison's come out ball. She was having a difficult time looking forward to the event, where only three months before she had been anxiously awaiting it. And even though she was ready to admit that her change in attitude was closely connected to a certain young man, marriage was the farthest thing from Allison's mind. She had only a faintest of premonitions that it might be on the Marquis DeGuis's mind. Of course, that was exactly what the Marquis had intended when he had sent the note to her mother a few days previously. He considered it highly improper for the young lady to know his intentions before her parents did, and the Marquis was never improper.
"I must meet with you on a matter of some importance," the carefully worded note had read. "It concerns your daughter's future happiness. Please return word of a time when we might meet in private. Sincerely yours, Thomas, Marquis DeGuis."
The Widow Munroe was certain she knew what the important matter was. While Allison seemed oblivious, her mother thought the Marquis had been rather marked in his attentions to Allison since their arrival in London two months ago. She hadn't wanted to attribute too much to the drives in the park or the occasional afternoon call, but when he had asked Allison to dance three times at Grace Dunsworthy's come out ball last week, Mrs. Munroe was sure he had made his intentions clear.
Ermintrude Munroe's gray-blue eyes gazed off into space as she sat waiting for the Marquis in the sunny sitting room of the London townhouse they had rented for the Season. She still could not credit how her daughter could have attracted such a man as the Marquis. Dashing, wealthy, and titled, he was one of the most sought-after bachelors on the marriage mart that year.
Allison was lovely, there was no doubt about that. Unfortunately, she was nearly as tall as most of the men of the ton. Thankfully, the fact that she tended to look the men boldly in the their eyes did not seem to bother them as much as her mother had feared. But to her mother's mind, Allison had a regrettable tendency to speak without thinking and rather loudly at that. Her lanky figure made her a tolerable dancer and an excellent horsewoman, but her grace when moving about a withdrawing room or taking dinner with company left something to be desired. Mrs. Munroe hoped her daughter hadn't mentioned that she kept a pet ferret with an annoying habit of escaping at exactly the right moment to create total chaos in a social situation. And, of course, the Marquis wouldn't have had time to learn that her embroidery consisted of knots and ill-placed threads, the only words she had mastered in French were those no well-bred young lady should claim to know, and, if left to her own devices, her choice in reading material could only be called original.
Mrs. Munroe certainly hoped that the Marquis was willing to overlook such deficits and focus on Allison's one shining trait: her kind heart. Allison was considerate with everyone, and with those in need most of all. Furthermore, once she had made a friend, Allison was loyal to the point of obsession.
Look at how she had practically adopted that oaf Geoffrey Pentercast last Christmas when all the world thought him the veriest villain. As it turned out, he was as innocent as Allison had claimed him to be, but that was beside the point. Another young lady of their circle, Mrs. Munroe was sure, would have had nothing to do with him after he had been accused of being the village vandal. But Allison had ever followed her own heart. It was her mother's duty to make sure that when it came to something as important as choosing a marriage partner, the choice was made with more thought than someone as young, loyal, and heedless as Allison could provide.
She heard the sound of the door knocker and absently patted an iron-gray hair back into place. Another woman might have glanced about the small, satin-draped room to make sure the servants had dusted the correctly placed collection of Chippendale arm chairs and matching sofa, knowing the man she was about to entertain had a reputation for being fastidious. But Ermintrude Munroe was nothing if not fastidious herself, and no room she had owned had ever not been properly dusted.
Another woman might have paused to wonder whether the floral patterned walls, upholstery, and Aubusson carpet were perhaps too obvious for a gentleman who was known to pride himself on his subtlety. However, the Widow Munroe considered the soft roses and ivories and the cool blues the perfect choice to tone down the sunlight coming through the gauze curtains. The whole decor gave the room a gentle feeling of femininity that satisfied her as an appropriate place in which to discuss marriage.
Another woman would have at least sat a little straighter in the scroll-backed arm chair, knowing she was soon to be in the presence of the aristocracy, but Ermintrude Munroe was already sitting ramrod straight. She had her own reputation to maintain, the reputation of keeping her poise in the face of the most dire calamity. An event as minor as an interview with a prospective son-in-law was hardly enough to cause so much as a tremor. Her classic features were composed, her lavender silk day dress showed nary a crease. She was the epitome of refined womanhood, and that was exactly what the Marquis noted with approval as he entered.
"The Marquis DeGuis, madame," Perkins intoned with a bow of his equally ramrod straight back. Hiding a smile of satisfaction, Mrs. Munroe inclined her head in recognition of the peer. Even though she had hired Perkins only for the Season, she was seriously considering taking him back with her to Wenwood Abbey, their home in Somerset. A butler, she had always felt, should reflect the good taste and refinement of his employers. One simply could not find fault in Perkins' dignified tread, his spotless black coat and knee breaches, or his noble profile. The Marquis, of course, did not indicate that he noticed what a paragon of servitude Perkins was, but that was only to be expected.
"Mrs. Munroe," Lord DeGuis murmured, moving to take her hand and bow over it. "Thank you for receiving me."
"Always a pleasure, my lord," Mrs. Munroe assured him, noting that Perkins had taken up his place to one side of the doorway and stood as silent and immobile as a Grecian statue. "Please," she nodded to the Marquis, "won't you sit down?"
"Thank you," the Marquis replied, seating himself on a chair not far from her. It gave her a moment to appreciate the precise cut of his short raven hair, the sapphire gaze, and the composed, chiseled features of his handsome face. It also gave her a moment to note with approval the perfect cut of his immaculate navy coat. It could only have been done by Weston. The Marquis was every bit as polished and refined as she had first thought. And every bit too refined and polished for a young hoyden like her Allison. She wondered again whether she could have misinterpreted his motives.
"And how are all the Munroes?" the Marquis asked dutifully, diamond stick pin glinting from the folds of his perfectly but elaborately tied cravat. "I understand from Miss Munroe that her sister has been unwell?"
Mrs. Munroe let the tiniest of sighs escape. "Yes, she was, but we are all in satisfactory health now. Thank you for asking. I am persuaded it was only the rich London food that upset Genevieve's constitution for a time. She is used to the plainer fare one generally gets in the country."
"Quite understandable," the Marquis agreed. "And how is Miss Munroe enjoying her sojourn in London?"
"Very nicely, thank you," she replied. "She is at this moment out shopping with her sister for the come out ball," she added, hoping to assure him that they would not be disturbed, if he was indeed going to ask something of a personal nature. "She is quite looking forward to it, as you might imagine."
"As am I," the Marquis assured her. He eyed her for a moment thoughtfully, then straightened his broad shoulders. "Mrs. Munroe, might I speak candidly?"
"Certainly," Mrs. Munroe granted him. "You and my daughter seem to have become friends. I hope you can speak to me as you would to her."
He smiled. "Well, perhaps not entirely. Your daughter is remarkably quiet in my presence."
Mrs. Munroe struggled not to show her surprise. "Indeed?"
"Indeed. I find her delightful in that regard. So many young ladies deem it witty to prattle on about the most nonsensical things. Your daughter has the great virtue of knowing when to remain silent. In fact, Mrs. Munroe, your daughter is quite the most perfect specimen of womanhood I have had the pleasure of meeting."
The man was obviously besotted; there was no other way to explain his assessment. Allison, remaining silent? She could not imagine how he had gotten that impression. She had never known Allison to remain silent above a moment. "Of course it does a mother's heart good to hear her daughter praised, my lord," she managed.
"Who could not praise her? She is lovely, unassuming, and the most docile of creatures. Yet she dances and rides with a spirit few can show. In short, Mrs. Munroe, I find that your daughter would make an excellent Marchioness. What can I say or do that would convince you to grant me her hand in marriage?"
It was one of the few times in her life that Ermintrude Munroe was ever tempted to leap to her feet and shout for joy. Instead, she forced herself to remember her duty to her daughter. If Allison had somehow managed to attach him, Mrs. Munroe must do nothing that might cause him to have second thoughts.
"I am aware of your family connections, my lord," she replied with the proper deference. "It is well known that the DeGuis are descended from the Normans. Your excellent reputation for handling your estates proceeds you as well. Having seen you with my daughter, I can safely say that you would make her an excellent husband. Have you mentioned your feelings to Allison?"
The Marquis sat even straighter, blue eyes flashing. "Certainly not! It would be most improper of me to speak to Miss Munroe without speaking to you first."
Mrs. Munroe inclined her head in acknowledgment, pleased by his response. "Of course. Forgive me. I am very glad to hear that you feel as I do about the proper course of matters. A decision about marriage is better made with more experienced heads than my daughter's."
"Then I can count on your support?"
Mrs. Munroe held up her hand, making sure he listened as she stated her case. "In general, my lord, you may. You have my permission to marry my daughter. However, as I'm sure you will understand, this Season is very important to her. It will properly introduce her to Society. It will allow her to meet a number of young ladies she may count on as friends in the future. And it will give her the social polish you will need her to have as your Marchioness. She will do much better if you do not announce your engagement until the end of the Season."
The Marquis frowned. "But if she does not know she is engaged to me, she may form an attachment to some other fellow."
"My dear Marquis," Mrs. Munroe smiled indulgently, "as long as you dance attendance, what young lady could possibly look elsewhere?"
The Marquis' frown turned into a satisfied smile. "Very well. I can understand what this Season must mean to Miss Munroe. As long as I have your solemn word that your daughter's hand is mine within the year, I will remain silent for now."
Mrs. Munroe offered him her hand, and he bowed over it again. "My lord, you have my word. Allison will be your bride before Parliament starts in November. You will be a most welcome addition to the family."
Copyright ©1998-2015, Regina Scott