regina scott

The Marriage Campaign

By Regina Scott

Peter Quimby had never been able to resist a cry for help. His current assignment at the Duke of Bellington's house party was proof of that. Here Quimby had assisted his employer and good friend, Whit Calder, Earl of Danning, to find the perfect wife, and off Whit went on honeymoon. What had supposed to be a well-earned holiday for Quimby had been interrupted by a plea for assistance as the duke was short-staffed at this important event. So here was Quimby, working. He truly did need to break himself of the habit of riding to the rescue.

And Monty Dermont needed to break his habit of sneaking away from the party for a cigar. Quimby wrinkled his nose as he carried the vile-smelling coat out of the bedchamber to be cleaned. Monty may have been rusticating in America for nearly a decade, but surely he remembered that Society too-often judged a man by his clothing. A well-fitted coat, impeccably clean, and an elegantly tied cravat could go a long way to the making of a man.


Two steps into one of the vast silk-hung corridors that wound through Bellweather Hall, and Quimby stopped. The lady standing in front of him needed no adornment to shine. She had midnight black hair set in tousled curls about her alabaster face, eyes as pale and clear as the morning sky, and a lithe figure gowned in white, the muslin embroidered with tiny clusters of daffodils. Once he had been close enough to call her by her first name, as she had just used his. Now he could only smile and incline his head, dropping his gaze respectfully below the level of her expressive eyes.

"Miss Dermont. How might I be of assistance?"

"Come now, Peter," she chided. "You mustn't stand on ceremony. We've known each other far too long. What are you doing here? Father said you were on Lord Danning's staff. I'd assumed you'd be in London, preparing for the next session of Parliament."

Her father had obviously wanted to shield her from the truth. A promising gentleman like Peter Quimby, demoted by circumstances to the role of servant? The situation had all the makings of a tragedy. Or a farce.

"I have the pleasure of serving as Lord Danning's valet, miss," he said. "And I have been tasked with helping your brother at this party."

"Oh." She shifted from one foot to the other as if uncertain whether to flee. He imagined it must be rather unsettling to find one's childhood friend suddenly much lower on the social scale. He had met several old friends over the years, and he'd thought he'd grown used to the tense silences, the quick withdrawals. Somehow, seeing Lucy here, was much worse.

He glanced up to find her studying him, head cocked, one of her dark curls teasing her cheek. "Do you like being a valet?"

In truth, when he'd started fifteen years ago, it had been a lark. Whit Calder, then Lord Worthy and now Lord Danning, was as upright and considerate as they came. Quimby had been the one to plot their activities, from racing a yacht down the Thames to climbing the tallest peak in the Lakes District. Danning had the money, Quimby the appetite for adventure. Together they had been unstoppable.

But now, Danning was married and going places Quimby couldn't follow. Life felt rather flat. What he needed was a new challenge, and managing Monty Dermont's questionable wardrobe hardly qualified.

"There is nothing quite so fine as a well turned out gentleman," he told Lucy. "If there is nothing else, miss, I should be about my duties."

She took a step closer, fingers knotting in front of her embroidered muslin gown. "Actually, Peter, er, Mr. Quimby, I very much need your assistance."

He could feel the tension in her. Impossible not to react to it. "What's happened?"

Her gaze avoided his. "You may have heard that the duke and I... that is Father has hopes..." Her gaze darted up. "Oh, Peter, I don't know what to do!"

He couldn't help reaching out, touching her supple fingers. Once he had imagined performing magnificent feats for her, composing a symphony, slaying a dragon, discovering a new continent and laying its riches at her feet. If she needed help, he would do whatever was needed.

"Never fear, Lucy. We'll muddle through. Tell me what's troubling you."

She drew in a breath as if prepared to launch into a litany. "I am supposed to marry the duke, and I cannot seem to bring myself to the sticking point. I thought if you knew him, you might offer me some advice as to his character and preferences."


Lucy Dermont nearly cringed as the words came out of her mouth. What was she doing, begging help in courting from a man she'd once dreamed would court her? When she was a girl, she'd considered it an honor to be included in the company of her brother's friends from school. Two years her senior, Lord Worthy, Peter Quimby, and Nicholas Rotherford had seemed the most amazing beings, full of knowledge about the world and with habits her governess would have been appalled to know Lucy aped when they were gone. Riding, dancing, climbing hills--she joined them in every one. They were endlessly courteous, tremendously kind. She had been their queen, and they her noble knights.

But shortly after they had finished school, her father had demanded that she and Monty accompany him to America so that he could supervise some business dealings there. Months had turned to years. Through letters from friends in England, she had learned that time had changed all her former playmates. Nicholas was a famous scientist, knighted for his work. Danning was a budding politician and noted philanthropist. Her brother tended to run with the sporting crowd, racing carriages, supporting pugilists. And Peter, her astute, clever Peter, was a ... valet?

She should not take advantage of that. She should have wished him well, pretended not to notice him for the rest of the visit so that she would not embarrass him. But he was her beloved Peter, and she was desperate.

His smile remained pleasant. "So you're the young lady who caught the duke's eye. Congratulations."

His tone was reserved. Did he disapprove of her reaching so high above her station? A plain miss from a respected family, long past her first Season, should not think of marrying a duke, yet here she was. Her father was in alt, or had been until this visit.

"Congratulations may be premature," she told Peter. "His mother has already announced she finds me a dead bore, and his sister has insinuated that I am nothing but a title hunter."

As if he agreed with them, he dropped her hand. "The duchess and Lady Prudence are known for their unique personalities and outspoken natures. I'm sure you'll grow to appreciate them."

"But that's just it!" She caught herself worrying her fingers and forced her hands to her sides. "I haven't the time. This house party is only to last a week, and we're already two days in. Have you spent more time in their company? Do you know how to please them?"

"It is widely held that a gentleman in my position must learn to please," he said. "Happily, Lord Danning has extremely low expectations."

She knew he was being flippant. Danning had been an exacting young man with impossibly idealistic expectations, even as a youth. The Martyr, her brother had dubbed him. If Peter could please him, he could please anyone.

From around the corner came the sound of voices. Peter did not so much as stiffen.

"I am certain such weighty matters must occupy your mind, Miss Dermont," he said. "I have found it useful in those circumstances to take a stroll. His Grace's gardens are magnificent. I believe you will particularly enjoy the folly by moonlight." With a bow, he disappeared into a narrow doorway that likely led to the servant's stair. The corridor seemed somehow emptier as she turned to see who was approaching.

Down the thick carpet came His Grace and her brother. Though both were blond, they could not be more different, in temperament or in looks. The Duke of Bellington was a barrel-chested behemoth of a man with a booming voice. Monty was slight and slender, with a melancholy cast to his soft-featured face. His friends had named him the Poet, although he rarely composed odes anymore. He seemed to think that if he raced or danced or gambled hard enough, Society would account him a great gentleman.

"You really should come with me to Gentleman Jackson's," he was telling the duke as they drew closer. "I imagine few men could match your reach."

The duke spread both arms in front of him, clasped his hands together, and cracked his thick knuckles. "Truer words have never been spoken. But I dislike showing up a fellow in his own establishment. Poor form, that."

He dropped his hand and inclined his leonine head toward Lucy as they reached her side. "So this is where you ran off to, Miss Dermont. Mother wondered at your absence."

Very likely. She'd also wondered about Lucy's upbringing, abilities, and intelligence, loudly and at length. It was all Lucy could do to remain pleasant.

"I must thank Her Grace for her concern," she said, wondering how quickly the moon might rise so that she could slip away and continue her conversation with Peter.

"I will take you to her," the duke offered, sending her spirits plummeting. "It's far too easy to lose your way in this pile. Why, my sister disappeared in the west wing one summer, and we didn't find her for two days." He bellowed a laugh that set the crystal chandelier above them to chiming.

Perhaps that explained his sister's penchant for illness. Since Lucy had arrived, Lady Prudence had complained of bilious boils, suffering sinuses, and a tortuous toe. Yet she never missed an outing or even a meal. His Grace had made it clear to Lucy that he hoped his sister and her brother might hit it off, but so far the two refused to do more than offer each other frozen smiles.

"Come along now," the duke said, putting a hand on Lucy's elbow and steering her forward. "Your brother wishes to meet my hounds, and I dislike keeping him waiting for such a treat."

"I shall suffer a few moments more so we can escort Lucy back to the drawing room first," Monty assured him with a smile to his sister.

"Nonsense," Lucy said, digging her heels into the carpet to slow her movement. "I'd be delighted to meet the hounds as well."

His Grace laughed again, the bump of his knuckles against her back propelling her toward the stairs. "Certainly not. Gents to the gentlemanly pastimes, ladies to ladylike pursuits. That's how it's always been done in my family."

Not for the first time, Lucy wondered about the advisability of joining his family. "Surely your mother and sister might accompany us, then," she suggested, thinking that then at least she might find safety in numbers.

At the top of the stairs, the duke paused to gaze down at her, frown gathering on his golden brow. "My mother and sister know what is expected of them in their positions. Any woman I marry must do the same." He swept down the stairs ahead of her as if assuming she would follow.

Monty paused beside her as well. "Are you certain this is what you want, Sister? He strikes me as singularly uninspiring."

Lucy took a breath and raised her head. "Uninspiring he may be, but he is a duke, and marrying him makes me a duchess, not a spinster." She swept down the stairs after the man all Society would deem her wise to marry.


Quimby was very careful in traversing Bellweather Hall for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Meeting Lucy again so soon would only make him wish for other circumstances. His lot had been cast the day his father had died and left Quimby and his mother with nothing to pay their creditors. Quimby had had no money to purchase a commission in the Army, was too old to join the Navy. His wit, which tended to pop out at unexpected times, made him an unlikely candidate for a reserved member of the clergy, and he had no hope of a sponsor there in any event. And what politically minded gentleman would take on a boy fresh from school as his personal secretary?

But then Danning's father had died as well, and his friend had offered him a job as steward of the vast estates that went with the earldom. It had been a heady thought, that power, but Quimby had told Danning the truth.

"Who's going to take orders from a fifteen-year-old? Make me your valet. They get to go everywhere their masters do. We'll have some fun, count on it."

A shame the future didn't look like so much fun now.

But though it was easy to avoid Lucy among the 253 rooms and innumerable corridors of Bellweather Hall, Quimby could not escape thoughts of her.

From the moment he'd met her when his friend Monty had invited him home on holiday to their estate just outside London, he'd thought she embodied all that was bright and good about English womanhood. She'd seemed years ahead of the girls her own age, years ahead of her brother and his friends for that matter. She could sit and converse on many subjects, take tea with charm and polish, and still race him across the fields on horseback. She could play a sonata and help him find the secret tunnel underneath the stables. He'd always assumed she'd held court in America before choosing an equally talented husband who would dote on her. The Duke of Bellington may not know it yet, but he was a very lucky fellow.

"The heather coat for dinner," Monty ordered, coming into the bedchamber and loosening his already wrinkled cravat. He didn't even glance at Quimby, who had been serving him for a full day now after the duke's valet had complained of too many duties. Monty had been one of his closest friends fifteen years ago, but he hadn't noticed Quimby. Neither had Lucy's father when Quimby had passed him in the corridor. Lucy had been the only one to see the man instead of the servant.

"Might I suggest the black coat, sir," Quimby replied. "I believe Her Grace is planning to spend the evening in the Egyptian Room, which boasts a great deal of green, and it wouldn't do to clash with the decor."

Monty went so far as to stare at him. "I cannot like your tone, fellow."

"And I cannot like your execrable sense of style," Quimby replied, "but we are neither of us likely to change the situation."

Monty blinked, frown growing. "Do I know you?"

"Certainly not," Quimby said, turning for the dressing room and resolving to burn the horrid green coat before he allowed his friend to step foot outside the bedchamber in it. "Why would the Poet know a humble valet?"

"It's you!" Monty seized Quimby's arm and spun him around. "Quimby!"

"I must ask you to unhand me, sir," Quimby said, making sure his nose was suitably high that his friend wouldn't notice the twinkle that was no doubt forming in his eye. "His Grace is determined that only he should have the honor of mistreating the servants."

Monty shook his head, though he released his hold. "You're no servant! Why are you play-acting? If you wanted to attend the house party, you had only to ask. I'm sure His Grace would be delighted to include you, as an old friend of the family."

Quimby sighed. "Not nearly so delighted as you would imagine."

Monty was frowning again. "Why? What have you done?"

"Remember when we left school? I told you I'd accepted a position. It was as Danning's valet."

"You valet for Danning?" He shook his head again. "I knew I should have come home from America sooner. Still, I suppose you must be good at it. You were the only one of us who could ever master a cravat, and everyone says Danning dresses top of the trees."

He was rather proud of both facts. "If you appreciate his style, I suggest you take my advice."

"Oh, I plan to. You were always the one we came to with our problems. You either had a solution, or a very clever quip that made things seem somehow not so bad. Good old Quimby." He dropped his gaze and cleared his throat. "And I have a singular problem at the moment, old friend. Have you heard? They intend me for Lady Prudence."

Over the years, Quimby had heard any number of stories below stairs, including the oddities of Lady Prudence. As valet, he was viewed as superior to the other servants, so he made it a point not to further gossip. "Then I suppose congratulations are in order."

"No, not in the slightest!" Monty set about pacing the bedchamber. "She's such a delicate flower, the least breeze oversets her."

He had seen enough of the lady to know she had the constitution of a horse, for all her imagined ills. And he rather suspected the litany of complaints served a purpose. "Perhaps her temperament was forged in an attempt to stand out from the forceful personalities of her mother and brother."

"No, no," Monty insisted, pausing to run a hand back through his hair. "She is the true picture of English womanhood, refined, cultured, pure." He turned anguished eyes to Quimby. "I shall never be worthy of her, but I must try. Tell me, how can I possibly win her hand?"


The moon was riding high by the time Quimby escaped to the folly that night. He didn't truly believe Lucy would be there. He had, in effect, suggested that she risk her reputation. A lady might shop with a male servant in tow, but to meet one alone after dark was questionable. On the same token, he could hardly stroll into the family portions of the house and request a moment of her time.

"Really, sir, it is unlike you to keep a lady waiting." Lucy's smile warmed her face as she slipped out from behind a pillar. Tonight she was dressed in an ice blue satin that set her eyes to sparkling like the stars.

Quimby sketched a bow. "I humbly beg your pardon, my dear. Only the utmost urgency kept me from your side."

"Ah," she said, moving closer. "Were you advising the duke on matters of state?"

"No, I was attempting to convince your brother that a black coat will never compliment blue pantaloons. Sadly, I lost the battle."

"But you will win the war, I've no doubt." She gazed at him, eyes crinkling up. "Dear Peter, always with the quip." Her smile faded. "I wish you had some words for me now, for I feel quite undone."

He could think of a dozen witty ways to respond, but once again the concern under her words touched him. "Are you determined to wed the duke, then?"

She moved along the balustrade of the stone folly, fingers trailing across the marble. The building was designed to resemble a Greek temple, with massive fluted pillars holding up the pediment, and a view in all directions across the impressive grounds. Somehow Quimby thought the most impressive sight was standing here in front of him now.

"Father thinks it an excellent match," she said. "I was rather satisfied with the prospect until we arrived." She glanced back at him, dark lashes shuttering her blue gaze.

"What changed?" Quimby asked, leaning his hip against the balustrade.

Her sigh was as soft as the night. "A great deal, I'm afraid. He cut a fine figure in London, but he seems so much more full of himself here."

The duke was a man of strong opinions and stronger ways of asserting them. Rumor had it he exiled his mother and sister to the country when he felt their behavior cloying in London.

"He is a duke," Quimby pointed out. "His position allows him a certain authority."

"I suppose." She sounded rather disheartened by the fact. "Perhaps I've been in America too long. But even if I make allowances for him, there is his family. Have you heard they call Lady Bellington and her daughter The Terrors in London?"

They were called by the same unkind name here in Derbyshire. "Surely they do not terrify you," Quimby countered.

She laughed. He had forgotten how the sound could warm him. "A little," she admitted. "But what terrifies me more is losing what I have worked so hard to gain. It wasn't easy coming home, starting over, particularly when so many think me on the shelf."

"Anyone who imagines you an ape leader is blind and deaf or an imbecile," Quimby replied. "I would speak slowly and be kind to them when you explain the errors of their ways."

Her smile bathed him in light. "I wish everyone in Society saw me as you do. You all called me the queen when we were young. Do I not deserve a duke?"

How was he to answer that? In his mind, she deserved a king, a conqueror who would lay the world at her feet. He wasn't sure he knew how to be that person anymore.

But he knew he lacked the courage to tell her how to find another husband.


Once again she was saying words she'd never thought to speak aloud. It had been how she'd felt when she'd been left behind, shunted off to America. She'd been forgotten, an afterthought. Monty and his friends had careers, adventures. Her lady friends had husbands, children, their charities. She didn't fit in. At times she felt her life was tighter than her corset.

Then, against all odds, Monty had introduced her to the Duke of Bellington. Here was a man who commanded attention. That he chose to give her his was very flattering. It was her chance to make her way in the world, to be her own person at last, if only the duke was really the man she'd thought him.

"A duke is a considerable come down for you," Peter said. "I know a prince or two who might make a suitable consort."

Lucy smiled at him. "A bird in the hand, my dear Peter. What do you advise?"

He clasped his hands behind his back and paced across the stone floor. One of the things she'd always admired about him was his elegance. From his perfectly tied cravat to the shine of his evening pumps below the white stockings and black knee breeches, he was sophisticated, contained. The only thing that indicated the adventurous heart beneath the cultured air was his pale blond hair, which tended to stick out at odd angles as if wishing to be free.

"I believe you are correct that the chief reason His Grace has yet to wed is because his family has not been won over," he said. "But capturing the interest of Lady Bellington and Lady Prudence will not be easy." He paused to eye her. "Are you prepared to flatter and cajole shamelessly? To put yourself in the background in every situation and promote their interests before your own?"

The approach sounded horrible, the very antithesis of what she'd hoped to accomplish. "Is that what is necessary?"

"Quite likely. You will not have to be as self-effacing as a servant, but you might have to compromise your values if you wish to wed His Grace."

Lucy stiffened. "Peter, that's awful! If that's what you have had to endure as a valet, I cannot imagine why you didn't quit."

"I had little choice." The sadness in his voice nearly broke her heart. "You, however, do. So I ask you again. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to win your duke?"

She was set to refuse. The more she became acquainted with His Grace, the less she enjoyed his company. But being around Peter, a man who listened, who took her needs seriously, who was willing to help her pursue her dreams, was exhilarating. Perhaps there was another way after all.

"Yes," she said, raising her head. "I am. Tell me how to impress a gentleman."


Quimby left the folly after having watched Lucy float back across the garden like a cloud on a sunny day. He was a fool. He should have taken her in his arms, told her she had no need to be a duchess when she'd always been his queen.

But he couldn't. He had nothing of material value to offer her.

So, he'd prosed on about mounting a marriage campaign.

"Show interest in his pastimes," he'd advised as she'd hung on every word, hand on his arm and face turned up to his.

Her fingers traced the fold of his cravat. "A shame he hasn't your sense of style."

"Few do." He adjusted the cravat to force her back a little. One more breath of that perfume of hers, scented like orange blossoms, and he would be undone. "And always allow him to win, but not by much."

"By how much?" she asked, cocking her head.

"Enough to be a challenge," Quimby offered, and she nodded sagely. "I would also advise agreeing with his opinions if you can, but at least allow him to believe he has influenced yours."

"I never thought of it that way," she said, brightening.

"As for Lady Bellington," Quimby continued, "if she sees her son happy, she may well change her opinion of you. Leave Lady Prudence to your brother," he added, knowing that the advice he'd given his old friend was likely to bear fruit soon. "Focus on the man you wish to marry."

Her dark lashes fluttered. "I will. Thank you, Peter."

She'd stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss against his cheek. It had taken every ounce of control he'd cultivated over the years to merely smile and let her go.

The night was long, dark, and lonely. He had never felt so confined in the bed he'd been given in the servant's quarters at the top of the mansion. As it was, he was in no mood to be conciliatory when Monty dawdled over his morning ablutions. Quimby rattled open the shutters, shook out the Navy coat with a snap, and dropped Monty's red-topped boots on the carpeted floor with a thud.

"I say, is something troubling you, Quimby?" Monty asked on his way out the door and considerably better turned out than on previous days.

"Nothing that need concern you, sir," Quimby replied, standing rigidly at attention.

Monty shrugged. "If you say so. I'll be back later to change for the afternoon. I'm to join His Grace and Lucy on a promenade about the garden this morning. I can only hope Lady Prudence will consent to join me." He'd wandered out in a state of anxious hope.

Quimby knew he should leave matters alone. Lucy was a clever girl. If she intended to bag the duke, she had all the right ammunition and skill. Quimby had coats to clean, a sock to darn, cravats to starch. Yet some part of him had to know.

If he was meant to be no more than an overlooked servant, perhaps it was time he used his invisibility to his advantage.


Lucy promenaded beside the duke along the pebbled path of the garden, not a little stunned by what she'd just seen in a private grotto among the greenery.

"I had no idea your brother was such an impassioned fellow," the duke remarked, stride so long she had to scurry to keep up. "Down on one knee, spouting poetry. You'll never find me in that position."

Lucy shook herself. This was her chance to put her plan in motion. "I think a gentleman who speaks the language of love greatly to be admired."

The duke patted her hand where it lay on his muscular arm. "That's a woman for you."

Lucy's resolved tightened with her fingers. "I cannot believe only women appreciate the complexity of a good poem. Are not some of our greatest composers men? Byron? Keats?"

"A more ninnyhammered lot you are unlikely to find," the duke replied with a shake of his head as they walked along a tall box hedge.

"Come now," Lucy argued. "You must find Mr. Wordsworth a gentleman."

On the other side of the hedge, apace with them, someone coughed.

Lucy frowned at the sound, but the duke did not appear to notice. "On the contrary. I have it on good authority he is the worst sort of libertine, with radical ideas of governance."

Lucy stopped and put her hands on her hips. "Who told you that? Your mother?"

The cough sounded again, louder this time and with urgency, as if the poor person had swallowed a bee.

The duke stopped as well, barrel chest struck out farther than usual. "What do you mean by that?"

Someone was digging through the greenery. She could see the bushes shaking. But she was having entirely too much fun to allow it to concern her. "You must have noticed, Your Grace, that your mother is a terrible gossip. And by terrible I mean that she listens to far too many stories and never repeats one correctly."

The duke stared at her, open mouthed.

Somewhere at his right elbow came the bay of a hound, echoing across the grounds. The duke started, peering into the hedge. "Did you hear that? One of my dogs must have escaped the kennel. I'll have that keeper's head!" He stormed off in the general direction of the stables.

"I would sack the man," Lucy called after him. "And sell the pack. I do so detest dogs." She could not stifle her giggle.

Quimby crawled out from the middle of the hedge, standing up and flicking a leaf off his lapel as if he normally encountered her in such a position. "I was certain I taught you better than that."

Lucy grinned at him. "Oh, you taught me well. I thought my performance was perfect. Didn't you?"


Quimby shook his head. How could he applaud her? If she truly wanted to marry that ridiculous duke, she was doing everything possible to destroy her chances. Knowing the duke was off to the kennels and Monty and Lady Prudence were busy gazing into each other's eyes, he could afford a moment to help her. He just couldn't quite convince himself he should.

"I thought you wanted to win the man of your dreams," he countered.

She set about walking again, this time in the opposite direction from where the duke had gone. "I do, I promise you. I'll keep up the campaign. Perhaps at dinner, I'll insult his horse as well."

Quimby stared at her as he walked beside her. The smile on her face, the ease of her carriage, told him she was insufferably pleased with herself. "Did you heed nothing I said? I advised you to be a challenge, not a harridan."

Her merriment vanished as if he'd struck her. "I assure you, I know what I'm doing."

Laughter heralded the approach of her brother and Lady Prudence. "Meet me tonight at the folly," Quimby said. "We'll see what we can do to fix this mess."

She stopped on the path. "I may meet you," she said, voice cool as the breeze coming down from the peaks in the distance, "but I see nothing that requires your assistance, Peter." She turned and went to join her brother, and all Quimby could do was stride around the hedge again before anyone saw him and commented on his presence.

He could not understand her attitude. The scene in the garden remained on his mind as he went about his duties the rest of the afternoon. Lucy could not have mistaken his instruction. She'd given them all a merry chase when she was younger, even Rotherford, and he was accounted a genius. So how could she have acted so very counter to her own wishes?

He was returning Monty's thoroughly polished evening pumps to his bedchamber when he found Lady Prudence wandering down the corridor. As was required of his station, he kept his head down and attempted to melt into the background. But the lady stepped into his path.

"Mr. Quimby, is it not?" she asked.

Quimby bowed. "It is, your ladyship. How kind of you to remember. Did you have need of me?"

"No indeed," she promised him. "You have already made my life so pleasant that I merely wished to thank you."

Despite his best efforts, he met her gaze. Her hair was set in curls about her face, giving her normally mousy brown hair a glow he had not noticed before. The smile on her face brightened her gray eyes and brought a bloom to her sallow complexion.

"And what have I done that requires the thanks of such a lovely lady?" he asked.

Her smile broadened. "You told Monty how to court me."

For one of the few times in his life, he felt his cheeks warming. "I'm sure Mr. Dermont needs no instruction on how to present himself to a lady."

She dropped her gaze to her gloved fingers, resting properly in front of her muslin gown. "Perhaps not. I thought him rather prepossessing the moment I saw him, but a lady does not say such things. My brother is rather firm in that regard. My brother is firm on many things, such as not attending the theatre, not reading books that might give one incendiary ideas, not walking or talking in such a way as to draw attention to oneself."

Small wonder the woman resorted to inventing new medical complaints. What else had she to do? "I'm glad you and Mr. Dermont are getting along so well," Quimby said.

"Not well. Amazingly well. I have never had a gentleman recite poetry to me before, poetry he penned, in my honor." She glanced up, and her eyes swam with tears. "It was the most wonderful moment of my life. Thank you."

As if ashamed of her display, she hurried off down the corridor, and it was only after she'd gone that Quimby realized she had never once mentioned an illness.

At least he'd done something of worth here. He entered Monty's bedchamber and went to set out the fellow's evening clothes. Monty had heeded his advice, and both he and Lady Prudence seemed happier for it. Lucy, on the other hand, had done the opposite of what he'd suggested.

As if on purpose.

In the act of draping the cravat over the end of the bed, he paused. Was that the answer? Had Lucy chosen to drive the duke away? Yet she'd said she was intent on her marriage campaign. If he was seeing things clearly at last, her actions could only mean one thing. Was he willing to gamble that he was right?


Her Grace the Duchess of Bellington was bored. She'd been so excited to hear her son was bringing home a bridal candidate at last. She'd imagined a constant companion, lovely, clever, and full of witty anecdotes about life on the ton, someone to share the secrets her daughter seemed so determined to ignore. Prudence simply didn't understand the joy of a good story, especially when it came in the form of gossip. Her daughter-in-law, she'd hoped, would be more amenable.

Miss Dermont, however, was not what she'd expected. Oh, she was lovely and well mannered, with a certain wit when she chose. But she was considerably older than the dewy young debutantes who normally flirted with her son. And, like Prudence, she refused to play the game. Therefore, she would simply have to go.

Unfortunately, she had not been able to convince her son of that fact. Bell seemed quite determined where the girl was concerned, and once Bell made up his mind, she knew from experience, there was no changing it. She had thought to run off Miss Dermont instead, but she had been the most horrid she was capable of being and the girl was still in residence. She would have to take drastic action soon if she was to avoid a marriage.

She had had her maid dress her for dinner in a purple silk gown with lace across the shoulders and was nearing the main stairs to the ground floor when a strange man stepped from behind a suit of armor along the wall to greet her. She ought to be alarmed at his sudden appearance, but his smile was affable, and he offered her his arm with such a charming bow that she was putting her hand on his before she thought better of it.

"Forgive the interruption, Your Grace," he said in a polished tone she'd often wished her son possessed. "My deepest apologies for joining your house party unannounced, but if you would indulge me with a few moments of conversation with your guests before dinner, I promise you a story you can dine out on for months."

Finally! A man after her own heart. She beamed at him as they started down the stairs together. "Do go on, dear boy. I wait on your good pleasure."


Lucy descended the main stairs on her father's arm. The duke had spent the afternoon with his master of hounds, she'd heard, combing the grounds to be certain no stray had wandered off the property. He had sent word that he would see her at dinner. Very likely it was the closest she'd ever come to receiving a love letter from him.

"I won't marry him," she murmured to her father as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Even if he insists."

"Likely he will," her father said. He gave her arm a squeeze. A slight man, like her brother, his pale blue eyes missed nothing. "But we've dealt with more difficult sorts and survived. I only want your happiness."

Lucy blinked. "Pardon me for saying so, Father, but that's not your usual style."

"Course it is," he protested as they started down the corridor together. "As soon as I heard Peter Quimby had gone into service, I sent you off to America. I thought surely you'd forget the fellow by now, but it seems I was mistaken."

Lucy stopped on the carpet, bringing him to a halt as well. "You took me to American to keep me away from Peter Quimby?"

"Certainly!" Her father shook his graying head as if he wondered why it was so hard for her to believe. "I didn't want you to follow him. You might have ended up no more than a lady's maid. And the boy had too much pride for me to offer him a position worthy of you."

Lucy shook her head as well, trying to clear fifteen years of mistaken notions. "I don't think I would have made a very good maid, Father, but I wish you would have let me try to win him."

Her father eyed her. "From what I hear from my valet, you've been trying now."

Lucy's cheeks felt hot. "I have done nothing untoward."

"Never said you did. You'd be no daughter of mine if you had. I cannot like what he's become, but he was a good man once. It remains to be seen whether he can be again."

Lucy was so surprised by his response that she allowed him to lead her into the room without another comment. And then words failed her.

Seated on one of the gilded arm chairs was Peter. His black evening coat was fitted to his slender frame; the elegantly tied white cravat brought out the blue of his eyes. A golden goblet dangled from his long fingers. He rose and set it aside at the sight of her, then offered her a sweeping bow. From another set of chairs, the duke and her brother stood as well, leaving Lady Prudence gazing up at them as if wondering what would happen next.

Lucy could barely force her feet to propell her into the room. What was he doing? Didn't he know they would sack him once they understood what he was?

"What do you make of our new arrival, Miss Dermont?" Her Grace asked with a cackle, leaning back in her own chair at the front of the room as if she was watching an excellent play. "He claims to have made your acquaintance previously."

Was this some trick? She glanced from the duke to her father, then back to Peter, who strode forward to reach her side.

"It is no doubt too much to hope that I made a favorable impression on you, Miss Dermont," he said with a smile.

"No, indeed, sir," Lucy said, feeling as if she'd somehow wandered into the wrong story. "I remember you quite well."

The duke moved to her side and took her hand in his. "Mother refused to say a word until you arrived," he explained, and the gruffness in his voice told her how little he'd liked that fact. "Introduce your friend to me, Lucy."

Peter did not frown, but she felt him stiffen. She had never given the duke permission to use her first name. Once she would have been in alt at the gesture. Now she pulled her hand away from his.

"Allow me to be so bold, Your Grace," Peter said as if understanding the position in which he'd placed her. He bowed again. "I am Peter Quimby, Lord Danning's valet."

"His valet?" Lady Bellington squealed in delight, then quickly clapped her hands over her mouth as if afraid she'd ruined the spectacle.

His Grace shook his head as if he suspected something had lodged in his ears and affected his hearing. "I must have misunderstood. Did you say you were a valet?"

"I am a valet," Peter corrected him. "And a rather good one, if the attempts to hire me away from Lord Danning are any indication. I take pride in providing good service, so please allow me to do the same for you." He smiled to Lucy. "If I may, Miss Dermont?"

Lucy had no idea what he was up to, but she nodded agreement. As the duke stared at him, he strolled over to Lady Prudence and rested a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him, obviously fascinated.

"Your sister is a woman of rare taste and refinement," Peter said, and Lucy thought her brother muttered a heartfelt, "Indeed." "According to the stories I've heard, she has protected you from several rather cunning fortune hunters over the years, and you have repaid her by shunting her off to the wilds where she must resort to visiting physicians to keep herself amused."

Lady Prudence shook out a lace-edged handkerchief and pressed it to one eye. "It really was unkind of you to send us away, Bell."

The duke frowned, but Monty rushed forward and went down on one knee before the lady. "Never again," he vowed, taking her hand in his. "I shall wipe away every tear you cry and pledge myself to your joy until the day I die."

"Oh, Monty," she said with a delighted sigh.

"Poppycock!" the duke proclaimed. "No sister of mine is going to marry a fop."

"He isn't a fop!" Lady Prudence hopped to her feet, eyes flashing. "He's a poet. And if you oppose this marriage, I will declare myself pox-stricken and see you quarantined to the hall for the entire duration of hunting season!"

Lucy grinned at the girl, and Lady Bellington let out a whoop of support.

The duke's countenance darkened. "Mr. Quimby or whoever you are, you will leave my home. Now."

The anger simmering in the duke's voice made Lucy's smile slip. But Quimby's never wavered. "In good time," he replied, leaving Lady Prudence's side to stroll over to her mother. Lady Bellington watched him like a child expecting a present. He came to a stop beside her and smiled down at her. "This is a lady who craves a good story, but your insistence that women should not read nor partake of the theatre has driven her to resort to obtaining her entertainment at other's expense."

Lucy thought Lady Bellington might take umbrage, but her eyes turned misty. "Oh, the theatre! I'd forgotten how much I miss it."

"It would be my honor to escort you and your lovely daughter when next you are in London, Lady Bellington," Monty assured her.

The duke glowered. "I am still the head of this family, and my rank provides me with certain privileges."

"As well as responsibilities," Quimby reminded him. "How likely is your line to continue if word of your treatment of the ladies in your family were widely known? Servants will gossip, you know."

"Not often enough," Lady Bellington said with a sigh.

"My servants wouldn't dare tell tales about me," the duke all but growled.

Quimby merely smiled. "Alas, I am not your servant." He turned away from the duchess. Lucy's heart started beating faster as she realized he was coming to her side.

"Finally," he said, gaze on hers, "there is the woman you brought here to court. She wanted only to please you."

As if he suspected what was coming, the duke slipped an arm about Lucy's waist and pulled her close. "And she has. No one ever stood up to me like she did."

"Apparently they should have," Lucy said, pushing away from him.

The duke stared at her. "You cannot believe this charlatan. I've humored him, but enough is enough. Charles!" He nodded to a footman who was standing on duty by the door. "Throw this creature out!"

Lady Bellington popped to her feet. "You will do no such thing! Mr. Quimby is here as my guest, and I want to know what he has to say about Miss Dermont."

"So do I," Lady Prudence said.

"Hear, hear," Monty agreed.

Her father moved to the duke's side. "In America, they have a saying, Your Grace. It seems you're outnumbered."

Though Bellweather Hall was hardly a democracy, the duke shut his mouth in a grim line and waved the footman back to his place. "Very well. But don't expect me to listen to this twaddle." He stormed from the room, and no one seemed overly concerned at his leaving.

"What about you, Lucy?" Peter murmured. "Do you want to hear what I have to say?"

Lucy nodded, unable to take her gaze from his. "Yes, Peter. I do."

He took her hands in his. "I know what you were trying to do this afternoon. And I'm enough of a coxcomb to hope I know the reason. But you must realize that I have only a ready wit and a loving heart to offer you."

"You forgot an impeccable sense of style," Lucy said with a smile.

His smile brushed hers. "That too. I have no idea how we'll get along, for Lord Danning will have no choice but to sack me after this incident becomes known. But I will do everything in my power to make sure you smile every day and never regret your decision to marry so far below the prince you deserve. Lucy Dermont, will you marry me?"

"Think carefully, girl," her father cautioned, leaning closer. "You're no heiress, and Monty cannot keep the two of you if he's to take a wife."

Lady Prudence and Monty exchanged glances. Lady Bellington leaned closer as well, face rapt, as if to make sure she didn't miss a word.

"There's nothing to think about, Father," Lucy said. "I've been dreaming about this moment since I was fourteen. Yes, Peter Quimby. I will marry you."

He gathered her in his arms and kissed her. And all at once, she was a queen again, admired, loved. She couldn't know what the future would hold, but as long as he held her in his arms, she knew there was nothing they could not master.

From far away, she heard applause. Lady Bellington stopped as Peter broke the kiss. "Oh, this is marvelous," she warbled. "You are as good as your word, dear boy. Indeed, you exceed every expectation."

Peter smiled at Lucy. "I have a reputation to uphold, Your Grace."

"And I have one to break," Lucy's father said. "There is something I've been wanting to say for fifteen years, and I think I'm finally likely to hear the answer I want. Peter Quimby, will you work for me?"


Peter eyed his soon-to-be father-in-law. He still couldn't believe Lucy had accepted his proposal, and a part of him was a little worried about how they would get on.

"I fear my days as a valet are behind me, sir," he said.

"Quite right. Time you moved up in the world." Mr. Dermont gave a brisk nod. "I've properties in America that need minding, and it seems my son is determined to settle in England."

"With your blessing, Father," Monty agreed.

His father waved a hand as if that were a foregone conclusion. Lady Prudence brightened.

Peter glanced at Lucy. "What do you say, my love? I gather you were none too pleased with America."

"I was none too pleased with America because you were in England," Lucy replied with a toss of her head. "If you are in America, then there can be no finer place on Earth."

He couldn't help but kiss her again. She was soft and warm in his arms. Just knowing she would stand beside him made the future look brighter. And where better than America?

America, where a man rose on his abilities rather than his family connections or privileges. He thought he might do well there. If he could find a tailor to meet his standards.

"I'd be delighted to assist in any way you feel appropriate," Peter said to Lucy's father. "Consider me at your disposal."

"Capital!" Mr. Dermont rubbed his hands together.

Lady Bellington interposed. "No, no, dear boy! You cannot rush off! Where am I to find someone of your talents?"

Peter took her hands in his. "Dear lady, I will be forever grateful for your intervention. I promise to send you letters with stories from a new country. Think what you might discover."

Lady Bellington's eyes widened.

Lucy laughed. Once again, the sound touched his heart, and he released Lady Bellington to pull Lucy close. She smiled up at him.

"You seem rather pleased with this turn of events," he told her, brushing a curl from her forehead.

Her smile was for him alone. "Of course I am. My marriage campaign had the exact results I desired. Thank you for your very sage advice. May I offer you some of the same?"

"Certainly," Peter said, curious as to what she'd suggest.

Lucy leaned closer. "I need your help. I have heard that when a gentleman becomes betrothed, it is customary for him to kiss his beloved, at length and with great joy."

Peter smiled. "I never could resist a cry for assistance, my dear." And he set about fulfilling Lucy's advice to the letter.

The End

Be sure to try the other books in the Master Matchmakers series:
The Courting Campaign, Book 1 in the Master Matchmakers series by Regina Scott   The Wife Campaign, book 2 in the Master Matchmakers series by Regina Scott    .