Never Marry a Marquess
Coming in June 2019 from Edwards and Williams
Shy Ivy Bateman has always felt more comfortable behind the scenes than front and center. She is happiest caring for her family and baking sweet treats. She certainly never expected the wealthy Marquess of Kendall to propose marriage, especially a marriage of convenience. It seems his baby daughter needs a mother, and Ivy cannot deny the attraction of the role, or the attraction she feels for the handsome marquess.
Kendall had asked Miss Thorn of the Fortune Employment Agency to find him a particular sort of lady. His heart went to the grave with his first wife. Now, all he cares about is ensuring his frail daughter doesn't follow it. Installing Ivy Bateman as his next marchioness will not disrupt his life or make him question his love for his dead wife. But as he comes to appreciate Ivy's sweet nature, he begins to wonder about their future. When an old enemy strikes at Miss Thorn and all her ladies, a grieving lord and a shy lady must work together to save the day. In doing so, they might just discover that love, and a good cinnamon bun, can heal all wounds.
Sequel to Never Kneel to a Knight. Fortune's Brides: Only a matchmaking cat can hunt true love.
London, England, July 1812
Would she ever become accustomed to Society?
Sitting in the hired coach, Ivy Bateman smoothed down the satin skirts of her evening gown, the color reminding her of clotted cream. Since her brother Matthew had been elevated to a hereditary knighthood for saving the prince's life, her life had changed. Where once she had spent her days keeping his house and caring for her younger sisters, now she entertained fine ladies over tea and promenaded in Hyde Park at the fashionable hour. In the evenings, she used to read a thrilling adventure novel by the fire before taking her weary body off to bed to dream. Now she sometimes didn't reach her bed before the sun rose. And she found herself dreaming of things she was not meant to have.
"Stay by my side at the soiree," Miss Thorn advised from across the coach. "I will ensure we only converse with gentlemen Charlotte or your brother have already approved."
Ivy's younger sister, Daisy, shifted beside her, her pale pink gown whispering against the padded leather seat. "That's no fun. What if a charming prince asks for an introduction? I'm expected to turn my back on him?"
"Alas, princes, charming or otherwise, are in short supply, even for the earl and countess." Miss Thorn adjusted her long silk gloves. "And any fellow who approaches without an introduction cannot be a gentleman."
Daisy slumped, then perked up again. "But if you were to introduce him to us, that would be permissible? We can't help that Charlotte and Matthew are out of town."
Their brother and his bride were off on their honeymoon to the Lakes District. A shame Ivy couldn't have gone along, if only to escape the hubbub that was London as the Season wound to a close. But Matthew and Charlotte deserved time to themselves. Miss Thorn, who had introduced Charlotte into the Bateman household as an etiquette teacher, had offered to serve as chaperone in Charlotte's absence so Ivy and Daisy could continue the social whirl.
Miss Thorn probably didn't worry that her hair was piled up properly or her gown was too simple. The lavender silk with its rows of pleats at the hem was the exact shade of her eyes. Not a curl of her raven hair escaped the pearl-studded combs that held it in place. Still, the employment agency owner looked odd without her cat Fortune in her arms.
"I expect to know a number of the attendees," Miss Thorn allowed, and Daisy brightened, until she continued. "Most will be at least a decade older than you and happily married. But if I spot a likely gentleman, I will be sure to draw his attention. Just see that you ask him to call so that Fortune may give her blessing."
Fortune had an uncanny way of knowing whether a person was worthwhile. And to think she approved of Ivy.
The cat had been less approving of her sister, and Ivy couldn't help wondering if Daisy's impetuous nature wasn't to blame.
Now her sister puffed out a sigh. "Old people shouldn't be allowed to host events."
Ivy put a hand on her arm. "A decade older than sixteen is not so very aged. Besides, you know Lady Carrolton will host a lovely soiree in her new home. Remember her ball?"
"Yes," Daisy said. "But she's just a countess, and a French one at that. Matthew is friends with the prince. We should be moving in higher circles."
"This is quite high enough for me," Ivy assured her.
Daisy turned her gaze out the window.
Ivy caught herself smoothing her skirts again and forced her gloved hands to stop. She might feel uncomfortable in such glittering company as the earl and his wife, but Daisy only wanted more. At times, she reminded Ivy of their stepmother.
She must fight any connection there. Mrs. Bateman was easily the most grasping, the cruelest woman Ivy had ever met. Last they had heard, she had taken up with a wealthy Irishman and headed across the sea to his country. Ivy could only hope they never saw her again.
Miss Thorn gathered her fan. "Here we are now. Stay beside me, girls. We wouldn't want to be separated in the crush."
"You wouldn't want us to be separated," Daisy muttered.
Oh no. Ivy had been both mother and sister since she was twelve. She was not about to let Daisy slip away. She linked arms with her sister as soon as they alighted.
At times, she marveled at the differences between them. Ivy was tall and curvy. Daisy was a pocket Venus, the same curves poured into a much shorter stature. Ivy's hair was a sunny blond like their mother's, Daisy's a thick dark brown like their brother's and father's. The one thing they shared was a pair of walnut-colored eyes, but while Ivy tended to look at the world in wonder, Daisy viewed it in calculation.
But they both stared up at the house they were about to enter.
The Earl of Carrolton had owned a London townhouse not far from Miss Thorn's on Clarendon Square. To honor his bride, he'd recently purchased and had renovated a larger house set off the square with its own gardens. Now the cream-colored stones glowed in the light of lanterns hung from the trees, and every window gleamed with candlelight.
"Beeswax," Daisy hissed to Ivy as they entered the marble-tiled hall and were directed up a set of sweeping stairs to the gallery. "You won't find an earl using tallow."
Indeed, no cost had been spared in decorating the house. The walls of the long gallery were covered in watered silk the radiant blue of the sky at sunrise, and oil paintings in gilded frames hung from the high ceilings. The teal and amber carpet sank under Ivy's satin slippers. She knew by the feel. She certainly couldn't see much of it, as the room was filled with London's finest, elbow to elbow, clustered in groups. Jewels flashed as ladies turned to greet friends. Laughter rode on the tide of conversation.
Daisy was craning her neck as Miss Thorn navigated them through the crowd. "I don't see Sir William." She had run into the rascal of a baronet more than once this Season and counted him a favorite. "But there are one or two fellows who might do."
"You may have them all," Ivy told her, stopping to allow Miss Thorn to speak to an old friend.
After they had been introduced and the two women were chatting, Daisy nudged Ivy. "Waiting for Lord Kendall, are we?"
The floor seemed to dip beneath Ivy's feet. "Of course not. We don't even know whether he'll be in attendance."
Daisy shook her head. "You can't fool me, Ivy Bateman. You want to be a marquessa."
"Marchioness," Ivy corrected her, and her sister grinned.
Ivy didn't waste her breath arguing. Daisy was certain Ivy was smitten with the Marquess of Kendall. What lady wouldn't be? He was tall and elegantly formed, and he held himself as if he well knew his own worth. That sable hair curled back from a brow that spoke of intellect. His neat beard and mustache framed a mouth that offered compassion, suggested kindness. With a family as old as the Conquest and a fortune as deep as a well, he could easily have any lady he chose.
He would not choose her. Matthew might have been elevated, but Ivy was still the daughter of a millworker. She and Daisy were fortunate that their new sister-in-law, Charlotte, was the daughter of a viscount and sister to Lord Worthington, or they would likely never have set foot in a Society event. Even when they did, some refused to speak to them, gazed at them when they passed as if aghast someone so common would be allowed admittance.
Still, the Countess of Carrolton had invited them, and, as the evening wore on, Ivy did her best to honor the lady. She accompanied Miss Thorn as she made her way around the room, greeted acquaintances, chatted about the weather, the ridiculous war America had declared on her mother country, and the latest fashion. Daisy lagged behind or forged ahead from time to time, but Miss Thorn or Ivy always managed to pull her back into their circle. Ivy knew Miss Thorn was keeping an eye on Daisy, but after caring for her sister since they'd lost their mother, she found it difficult to remember she didn't have to be on her guard.
"Dare I claim this beauty for a promenade?" Sir William asked, gaze on Daisy and grin infectious.
Miss Thorn eyed him from his artfully curled blond hair to his polished evening pumps and inclined her head. "Once around the room, sir. I will be watching."
He bowed, then offered Daisy his arm, and the pair set off, Daisy preening.
"She sets her sights high," Miss Thorn observed.
Unease pulled Ivy's shoulders tighter. "She's clever. She'll learn her place."
The employment agency owner transferred her gaze to Ivy. "And what place would that be?"
Ivy felt the need to step back and promptly bumped into another lady. Turning to apologize, she had to raise her chin to meet the fierce gaze of the Amazon standing there.
"I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Villers," Ivy said, dropping her chin.
"Miss Bateman," the lady intoned, sounding a bit as if she'd discovered a fly in her soup. "Miss Thorn."
"Mrs. Villers," Miss Thorn acknowledged. "Mr. Villers."
Ivy looked up in time to see the saturnine fellow at the lady's elbow raise a silver quizzing glass and examine Ivy and her chaperone through it.
"The Beast of Birmingham's sister, is it not?" he drawled.
"Sir Matthew Bateman's sister," Miss Thorn corrected him as Ivy's cheeks heated. "Miss Bateman, I don't believe you have met Mr. Villers. He is Lady Worthington's brother."
"And brother-in-law to the Earl of Carrolton," the fellow seemed compelled to remind her. "Good of you to come." He turned to his wife. "Isn't that dear Gregory waving us over, darling?" He offered his wife his arm, and the two sailed off, noses in the air.
"I do hope they don't go outside that way," Miss Thorn said. "If it was raining, they might drown."
Just then a footman approached them and bowed as well as he could among the crush. "I was asked to deliver this to you, miss." He offered Ivy a folded piece of parchment.
Ivy accepted it from him, mystified, then opened the note, aware of Miss Thorn's gaze on her.
I have made a cake of myself, the note read in Daisy's brisk hand. Meet me in the library on the first floor, and don't bring Miss Thorn. I cannot face her now.
"Trouble?" Miss Thorn asked.
Heart starting to beat faster, Ivy folded the note. "Just a friend reminding me of my duty. Will you excuse me? I won't be long."
Miss Thorn eyed her. Ivy willed her not to suggest she needed a chaperone, to remember they were at a party given by a trusted couple, to recall that Ivy was the reliable sister. Whether Miss Thorn heard Ivy's frantic thoughts or not, she inclined her head in consent, and Ivy hurried for the stairs.
The same footman directed her around the corner to the double doors of the library, and Ivy slipped inside. A single lamp had been left burning, leaving the corners in shadow. By its golden light, she made out tall oak cases, offering row upon row of books she would at another time have been delighted to peruse. Indeed, the deep leather sofa before the black marble hearth invited her to linger and read.
"Daisy?" Ivy called, venturing deeper into the room.
Ivy turned to find the Marquess of Kendall standing in the doorway. The black of his evening coat and breeches emphasized his height. The lamplight picked out gold in his sable hair. He shut the door behind him and moved closer. "How might I be of assistance?"
There must be some mistake. He should not be here. She should not be here. Ivy edged around the sofa, away from him. "I need no assistance, my lord. I was concerned for my sister."
He frowned, following her. "Your sister, Miss Daisy?"
"Yes." She rounded the other end of the sofa and started for the door. "I must have misunderstood. Excuse me." She seized the latch and tugged. The door refused to open.
Stephen, Marquess of Kendall, watched as the pretty Miss Bateman pulled at the latch, color rising with each movement. She was such a cipher. The round face, the wide brown eyes, and her soft voice combined to make her appear sweet, uncertain, and full of amazement at the world. Yet there were moments when she exhibited an inner strength that surprised him. He had wondered whether she might be the woman he needed.
That woman had proven exceedingly difficult to find. Now that the Season was drawing to a close, his quest would become even more challenging. A marquess possessed of a decent fortune and an excellent family name ought to be able to locate a wife easily enough. But he didn't want a wife. He wanted a mother for Sophia.
Just the thought of his little daughter tightened his chest. Her mother had been the love of his life. It wasn't right that Adelaide had been taken so young, only the day after the birth of their daughter. Kendall never intended to give his heart again. How could he when it had gone to the grave with his wife?
But Sophia needed a mother, a woman who would cherish and guide her better than he could as her father. Oh, he knew not all mothers were so doting, but he had been assured his mother had been, that he would not be the man he was today without her love. And so he had come to London in search of a bride among the ladies on the marriage mart.
He'd soon realized his error. The ladies suited to be a marchioness fell into one of two camps. Either they were idealistic and hoped for a love match, or they delighted in Society and would never have enjoyed rusticating in Surrey and raising another woman's child. He had learned Miss Bateman had guided her younger sisters and loved children, but he doubted she'd be content in the type of marriage he intended to offer.
Now she stepped back from the door with a frown. "It appears to be stuck. Would you try, my lord?"
He offered her a polite smile and approached the door. Why was she dissembling? He'd received word from a footman that Miss Bateman requested his help on a matter of some urgency and would meet him in the library. He had not doubted the report. Since becoming acquainted with her family, he had been put in a position of offering assistance twice, most recently when her youngest sister had gone missing. That was the day he'd realized the strength inside her otherwise soft demeanor. Miss Bateman would have gone to the ends of the earth to see her sister safe.
Would that he found someone who cared so much about Sophia.
He took hold of the latch, gave it a good tug. Through the thick wood, he thought he heard a metallic rattle, but the door didn't budge.
"What's wrong?" Miss Bateman asked, fingers knitting before her creamy gown.
He yanked harder. Something creaked in protest, but still the door held firm. He released the handle and stepped back. "We appear to be trapped."
"How very inconvenient," she said.
Or was it convenient? He did not know her well, after all. Could she have set up this meeting to cry compromise? In the past, she had gone out of her way to avoid any situation that might be construed as intimate. Or did she, too, see her opportunities narrowing with the Season's end?
She could easily have taken advantage of the opportunity now. But she did not attempt to throw herself into his arms, begging for comfort in their circumstances. She went to sit on the sofa, back straight, head high. As he followed, he was not surprised to find her hands folded properly in her lap.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Her gaze was on the barren hearth. "Waiting. Sooner or later Daisy or Miss Thorn will come in search of me."
Her faith was commendable. He leaned against the hearth. "I fear by that time the damage will be done."
She frowned, glancing up at him, lamplight shining in her dark eyes. "Damage?"
"To your reputation."
She drew herself up further. "You are a gentleman, sir."
He inclined his head. "Indeed I am. But the longer we are alone together, the quicker tongues will wag."
Her chin inched higher. "Let them wag. I have done nothing wrong, and I won't be pushed into apologizing."
There was that strength again. It called to him, beckoned him closer. He took a step without thinking.
The door rattled a moment before swinging open, and Miss Thorn strode into the room, eyes flashing like a sword. He'd once approached the woman for help with the idea that she and her cat were some sort of matchmakers. After all, the Duke of Wey, Sir Harold Orwell, Lord Worthington, and their host tonight, the Earl of Carrolton, had found brides through her. Now she looked like nothing so much as a winged Fury as she swept toward the sofa and held out one hand.
"Come, Ivy. Your sister is looking for you."
Ivy rose and hurried to her side. "Forgive me. The door jammed."
"Doors tend to do that when someone shoves a candelabra through the latches," she replied with a look in his direction.
He spread his hands. "May I remind you, madam, that I was trapped as well?"
"And may I remind you, sir, that I know your purpose for being in London."
Kendall stiffened. He hardly wanted it known he sought a marriage of convenience. That would attract all the wrong kinds of interest.
She put an arm around Ivy's waist as if determined to protect her. "You will call on me tomorrow, Lord Kendall, and we can discuss reparations."
Ivy pulled away from her. "Reparations? But nothing happened, Miss Thorn. I promise you."
"I believe you," the lady replied, look softening. "But others may not. Think of Daisy's reception if you will not think of your own." She nodded to Kendall. "Tomorrow, my lord. I am usually receiving by eleven. I expect you then, with an offer."
And she pulled her charge from the room before he could decide just who was manipulating whom.