Lady Dorcus Calthorp, daughter of the Marquis of Huntington, loved and lost during her first Season, leaving her suspicious of gentlemen. Now Dorie finds herself with no marital prospects in sight-until Alexander, the newly elevated Marquis of Exeter, arrives in town. Handsome, charming, and an interesting conversationalist, he at first seems to be her perfect match. Then Dorie discovers he may not be seeking a wife so much as a land steward and mother to his sisters...
After learning of his father's death, Alexander returns home to find his mother has run off with his land steward, leaving his younger sisters with their governesses. The most expedient solution is a wife who will take the household and estate in hand while he assumes his role in parliament. Lady Dorie meets all the requirements-until she makes a surprising proposal. Instead of marrying Alexander, she will tutor him in his duties, freeing him to find his heart's match. Yet the more Dorie teaches him, the more he longs to change their course of study-to love. And with the end of the Season nearing, he doesn't have much time...
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"She did what?" Alexander, Marquis of Exeter, bellowed. He pressed his thumb and forefinger on either side of his nose trying to calm down. His younger sisters' eyes widened, and they became very still. Blast him for being an oaf. Thinking to make them more comfortable, he had called them down to meet with him in the morning room, a bright parlor with cheery yellow curtains that looked out onto the garden, instead of his study. "I apologize. I should not have used that tone. May we begin again?" His sisters, Lady Phillida Endicott, age fourteen, and Lady Penelope Endicott, age sixteen, were seated as though their torsos had been tied to boards. The girls nodded.
"Perhaps some tea would help." Penelope reached over and tugged the bell-pull twice. "That's what Mama" — her voice faded — "well, it will taste good."
"I think it's an excellent idea." Alex gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Although he feared it was more of a grimace. After all, it wasn't their fault their mother had run mad. "I look forward to a good cup of tea. The one thing none of the Europeans have succeeded in doing is making a proper cup of tea." That was enough of that. It might be better to change the topic of conversation for a while. "Do you wish to know anything about my travels?"
"I do." Phillida relaxed a little. "Is Paris as beautiful as everyone says it is? I have heard it's wonderful."
Alex briefly wondered who told them that, but decided not to ask. Across from him on the other sofa, the girls asked questions about his travels until Coyne, Father's butler, now Alex's butler, appeared with a tea tray. He waited until Penelope poured before returning to his questions.
"Now, tell me again" — he was desperately hoping he had not heard them correctly the first time — "why Mama is not here."
His sisters exchanged a look, then Penelope heaved a long sigh. "After she received your letter stating when you thought you would arrive, she and Mr. Colyear —"
"He is the Earl of Portmore now," Phillida interpolated.
"Yes, Lord Portmore." Penelope's mouth tightened. "She and Lord Portmore brought us here, then left for Scotland. Mama explained that he had waited for as long as he could, but now that you would be here soon, they had to travel to his estate ..." Penelope's sentence trailed off again. The room fell silent as the girls sipped their tea. Eventually, she glanced up at Alex, and he was sure her eyes were moister than before. "She still loves us, but she explained that she and his lordship were very much in love, and Father had made you our guardian so she could not take us with her."
"We cannot truly blame her." Phillida's lower lip trembled as if she was attempting not to burst into tears. "She cried a lot."
He didn't remember his mother being unhappy. "When was this?"
His sisters exchanged another look, and Penelope replied, "For a long time."
"She was happy with us, I think." A line appeared between his younger sister's brows. "She took us on picnics and for walks, and she would laugh, but whenever Papa was home she cried a lot too."
"It's all right that you did not know." Penelope used a tone meant to reassure him. "You were not here to see it." She took a drink of tea, then her eyes widened. "Oh, I almost forgot. She left you a letter. It is on your desk."
Alex hoped the letter was more informative than his sisters had been. He hated asking them to tell him the story. All of this had to be much more difficult for them than they had been letting on. Draining his cup, he wished it were brandy instead of tea. Although that would probably not help this situation and might make it a great deal worse. "Who has been taking care of you?"
"Miss Rivers and Nurse, but she treats us like babies," Phillida said.
"Nurse, not Miss Rivers," Penelope clarified as if he would not know that. She'd been his nurse as well.
"Lady Dorie comes by to see us," Phillida added as she took another biscuit.
"Lady Dorie?" Who the devil was she?
"Her real name is Dorcus, but she doesn't like it, so everyone calls her Lady Dorie," Penelope explained. She drew her brows down. "I think Judith asked her to help."
"But it could have been Mama," Phillida said.
"Why are you not with Judith?" At five and twenty, their sister, Judith, Viscountess Knutsford, was the eldest of his sisters and closest to him in age. What he'd like to know is why the devil she hadn't taken the younger ones to her house when Mama left.
Penelope set her cup on her lap. "She just had a baby."
"His name is Louis." His youngest sister reached for another piece of lemon cake.
Alex wished he was hungry, but he just felt slightly nauseated. Their other sister, Marcella, the Countess of Bude, could have taken the girls as well. "And Marcella?"
"She and Richard are in Paris," Penelope said as if that explained everything. What it did explain was how his sisters had heard about Paris.
The real question was did none of the females in his family have a sense of familial duty? Come to think of it, what were the girls doing in Town instead of in the country? This time he prayed the letter had answers. He obviously wasn't going to get them from his sisters.
"Lady Dorie is very organized." Penelope offered him the last slice of cake, and he shook his head.
His sister's non sequitur recalled him to the one woman who had, apparently, taken an interest in the girls. "Is she?" His question was more a musing, but the girls nodded. "Who exactly is she, and what exactly does she organize?"
Both girls had cake in their mouths and couldn't answer him. Penelope was the first to swallow. "She is the Marquis of Huntingdon's daughter. She goes over the weekly menus with Cook, and the household accounts with Mrs. Wooton"— their housekeeper —"and looks over our lessons, and answers the letters from Lacy"— the under-housekeeper —"at home."
In other words, she had taken over their mother's responsibilities. "Is there any reason your governess cannot attend to the household matters?"
"Miss Rivers says she is totally incapable of managing a large household." Penelope placed her plate on the low table between the sofas.
"She is a scholar, and household management is not her forte." Phillida wrinkled her nose. "If she was responsible for the meals we would only eat vegetables. "What the devil? Brandy was looking better and better. "Her parents eschew consuming animal flesh."
Penelope nodded. "They are extremely forward thinking."
Too forward thinking for him. "I suppose I should be grateful that Lady Dorie agreed to help."
The clock chimed the hour, and the girls rose.
"It is time we returned to our lessons," Penelope said.
Alex quickly came to his feet. "I shall see you at dinner."
His youngest sister stared at him in shock, but Penelope just nodded. He strolled into the hall with them before heading to the study.
The letter was in the middle of the very organized large oak desk. Picking it up, he popped open the seal. What surprised him most was its brevity.
My dear Endicott (I suppose it will take me a while to become used to calling you Exeter),
I know finding me gone will have been surprising — more of a shock — however, you should know that Portmore (the former Mr. Colyear) and I became good friends over the year before your father's death. Shortly thereafter, he inherited his uncle's title. We have grown to love each other deeply, and he asked me to marry him. I truly did wait as long as I could for you to return. However, news from his estate made it imperative that we travel to Scotland.
Your devoted Mother
So much for thinking her letter would explain things.
Alex tugged the bell-pull. A moment later his butler entered the room and bowed. "My lord?"
"Please ask Mrs. Wooton to attend me." If anyone knew what was going on in this house it would be her. "And bring tea."
"Yes, my lord."
While he waited, he took in the two neat stacks of paper, sharpened pens and pencils, and the precise placement of the standish and sand container. All of it much different from the haphazard way his father had kept the desk. It must be due to Lady Dorie. The rest of the room was as he'd remembered it. All dark wood, leather chairs, and red Turkey carpets.
Picking up a pencil, he tapped it trying to recall if he had met her. He knew her brother, the Earl of Huntley, when they were younger. Huntley had a few years on Alex, but they'd been at Eton together. He knew nothing about any sisters. He didn't recall her being out when he'd left for his Grand Tour, but that didn't mean anything. He hadn't been in the market for a wife.
A knock sounded on the door. "Come."
Wooton entered followed by a footman carrying tea. He waved her to one of the heavy leather chairs in front of the desk and waited until the footman left and she poured. He really was going to require brandy after this was over.
"I suppose you want to know what's been going on," she said in her matter-of-fact way.
"If you wouldn't mind. Neither my sisters' explanation nor my mother's letter was at all helpful."
Below the lace edge of her cap, her forehead wrinkled. "How much do you want to know?"
"I have surmised that my mother was unhappy." But did Alex really want to know about his parents' marriage? That, though, might explain the current situation. He heaved a sigh. In for a penny, in for a pound. "You might as well tell me everything."
"If you wish." Her tone suggested that he might not want the whole story. "Right after Lady Phillida was born her ladyship found out your father had a child born at the same time as your sister. Unlike many ladies, she never forgave his lordship and held it against him." That would explain Mama's unhappiness. "A little over a year ago the old steward retired, and Mr. Colyear came to take his place. He was a big, strapping Scotsman, and a person would have to be blind not to have seen the attraction between him and your lady mother. I don't believe they acted on their feelings until his lordship died." Wooton's brows drew down as she sipped her tea. "It's my belief that what caused her ladyship to leave in such a hurry is that she's breeding."
Alex almost dropped his cup. "Breeding?"
She held up her hand. "Don't ask me how I know. There are some things I will not discuss with a man, even if I do work for him."
He was pretty sure he could infer how the housekeeper knew. "I would not ask you to tell me. Why did they come to Town instead of leaving from Longwood?"
"They married by special license, and her ladyship felt that they should be close to your sisters." Wooton frowned. "Not that they have been any help. Fortunately, when her ladyship spoke to Lady Huntingdon, she said she was sure her daughter, Lady Dorie, would be happy to keep an eye on things here. And I'm that glad she agreed."
He found himself looking forward to meeting the lady. "I suppose I'll make her acquaintance when she comes by again."
Wooton looked at him like he'd run mad. "I doubt she'll be by, my lord."
"Why would you say that?" Lady Dorie didn't sound like the type of woman who would abandon her duties.
His housekeeper's lips suddenly pinched together as if she'd eaten a particularly sour lemon. "It wouldn't be proper. You're here now, and no respectable lady would come to a bachelor's house."
Hell and damnation. Why hadn't he thought of that? "You're correct, of course. I shall have to go to her." Then a thought popped into his head. "How would she know I've returned?"
"For goodness' sake, my lord." The housekeeper made him feel like he was a particularly slow thinker. "They only live two houses down the street. By now everyone on the square knows you're back."
At first her words stunned him; then he realized that, although he'd arrived late last evening, he'd been in his traveling coach with his servants. Those of his servants who had readied his bedchamber and carried up his trunks would have told the rest of the servants by this morning. There was no reason to keep the news quiet. In fact, exactly the opposite was the case. And, of course, his housekeeper was correct. No respectable lady would enter a bachelor's residence.
He would have to make an appearance at Huntingdon House and thank her for her help. "Of course, you are correct."
She nodded in agreement. "If you don't mind, my lord, I'll go back to work."
"As you wish. I must call on Lady Dorie."
"She's not home. A footman came by to say she is out for the rest of the day, but that she was going shopping tomorrow and asked if the girls or Miss Rivers needed anything." Mrs. Wooton picked up the tea tray. "I'll miss her coming around. A great help she was."
It occurred to him he now had another problem. Alex knew absolutely nothing about running a household, or an estate, or raising his sisters. Part of the difficulty could be dealt with by hiring another steward. But if he didn't know how to manage an estate, he wouldn't know if the man was doing a good job. He would, essentially, be putting the lives and livelihoods of his tenants in jeopardy if the steward had poor management skills. Therefore, it behooved Alex to learn about governing his holdings. The question was where to start? He blew out a breath. The least his mother could have done was fall in love with someone else's steward.
And what was he going to do about his sisters? Penelope would be out in two years. As a bachelor, he couldn't sponsor her. He'd have to find an established lady to do that. That lady would also have to act as hostess for any entertainment he gave, such as a ball for his sisters. He'd have to cast around for any widowed ladies in his family who could assist him, but first he'd visit Judith. New baby or not, it was her duty to help him.CHAPTER 2
Alex wandered into the hall where he found a footman. "I'm going to Lady Knutsford's house."
"Yes, my lord." The servant bowed but failed to ask when he'd be back.
His father had always wished to know when he would return. It was strange not to be asked.
"I'll be home before dinner." He would have said tea, but he didn't even know what his sisters did for tea. He might also require the additional time to convince Judith to assist him.
"I shall ensure Cook knows, my lord."
After donning his hat and gloves, Alex took his cane and proceeded out of Grosvenor Square toward Hanover Square and plied the knocker of Knutsford House. It wasn't until several seconds later that the door was opened by a harried-looking butler he hadn't seen before. "Good day, sir."
"I am Exeter." If Alex started using the name, he might get used to it more quickly. "Is my sister at home?"
The man glanced over his shoulder, a pained expression on his face. "Please enter, my lord. Her ladyship has been expecting you to call." A crash and the tinkling of glass shattering sounded from somewhere above. "The drawing room is safe."
Several high-pitched screams sounded next.
"I've got him!" someone with a low male voice yelled.
He'd walked into Bedlam. He knew he shouldn't but could not resist. "Do you mind if I ask what is going on?"
"The monkey escaped. Again." The butler's groan relayed the clear message that this was a too common occurrence. He opened a door. "I shall have tea brought directly unless you would prefer something else."
"Tea is fine." Although, he'd be floating in it before the day was done.
Several minutes later, Judith entered the room, her very fetching lace cap askew. "Alex!" An instant later he was smothered in her embrace. "How good to see you!"
"I came to ask for help." Although, from what little he'd seen, Judith needed assistance as well.
"There he goes again!" someone shouted from upstairs.
"Mama, he's after Mr. Frig," a childish voice shrieked.
"Who is Mr. Frig?" The words popped out before Alex had given them any thought.
"Mr. Frigate, the parrot." She winced. "I am very sorry I cannot visit with you longer. As you can see we are at sixes and sevens. I know you have been left in a pickle. The best advice I can give you is to marry. Soon."
"Marry whom? I don't even know any of the ladies." Good God! He hadn't even been back for a full day!
"I'll try to find the time to give it some thought." A loud squawk echoed through the house, and she gave him a harried look. "It was lovely seeing you. I must go."
Judith dashed out of the room as the tea tray arrived.
Marry! He didn't want to get leg-shackled yet, but he might not have much of a choice. He had to have someone who could help him with his sisters and his household. Staring at the tea tray, he decided he'd rather have something stronger. He'd go to one of his clubs. Perhaps he'd find his friends, who would have better suggestions than to get married.
Leaving the tea untouched, he collected his hat and cane and made his way to St. James Street.
As luck would have it, when he arrived at Boodle's, Gavin Turley, now Viscount Turley, and Fredrick, Lord Littleton, were drinking coffee. Both men rose when they saw him.
"Endicott" — Turley frowned — "Exeter, welcome home." Turley slapped Alex's back. "Sorry to hear about your father."
"Thank you. I wish I'd been here when he died. I miss him." For many reasons other than that he had loved the man.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Marquis She's Been Waiting For"
Copyright © 2019 Ella Quinn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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