My 26th romance story launches today! The Wife Campaign is the second in my Master Matchmakers series: wedding bells will ring when downstairs servants play Cupid for upstairs aristocracy. In this case, trusted valet Peter Quimby takes matters into his own hands when his master Whitfield Calder, Earl of Danning, dallies about finding a wife.
Whitfield Calder, Earl of Danning, would much rather spend a fortnight fishing than entertaining three eligible young ladies. But when his valet insists that marriage is an earl's duty, Whit agrees to the house party. He has no intention of actually proposing to anyone…until flame-haired Ruby Hollingsford declares she'd never accept him anyway.
Ruby has been tricked into attending this charade, but she certainly won't compete for the earl's attentions. Yet, Whit isn't the selfish aristocrat she envisioned. And with a little trust, two weeks may prove ample time for an unlikely couple to fall headlong into love.
Here's what happened when Whit discovered his treasured fishing retreat had been invaded by three young ladies and their families and tracked down the source to his valet:
His valet entered from the dressing room, a coat in either hand. As always, a pleasant smile sat on his lean face. Though his straw-colored hair tended to stick out in odd directions, his clothes, and the ones he kept for Whit, were impeccable.
"Good," he said. "You're back. Which do you prefer for dinner, the blue superfine or the black wool with the velvet lapels?"
"What I prefer," Whit grit out, "is to know why I have guests."
"Ah." Quimby lowered the coats but never so much that they touched the polished wood floor. "I believe each of the three invitations read that you are desirous to put an end to your bachelor state and would like to determine whether you and the lady suit."
Feeling as if every bone in his body had instantly shattered, Whit sank onto the end of the bed. "You didn't."
"I did." With total disregard for the severity of his crime or his master's distress, Quimby draped the coats over the chair near the hearth. "You aren't getting any younger, my lad. And we none of us are looking forward to serving your cousin should you shuffle off this mortal coil prematurely." He glanced at Whit and frowned. "You look rather pale. May I get you a glass of water? Perhaps some tea?"
"You can get these people out of my house," Whit said, gathering himself and rising. "Or, failing that, find me other accommodations."
Quimby tsked. "Now, then, how would that look? You have three lovely ladies here to learn more about. I chose them with great care. I thought you rather liked Lady Amelia Jacoby."
It was true that the statuesque blonde had caught Whit's eye at a recent ball, but he'd never had any intentions of moving beyond admiration. "If I liked her," Whit said, advancing toward his valet, "I was fully capable of pursuing her without your interference."
"Of course," Quimby agreed. He came around behind Whit and tugged at the shoulders of his tweed coat to remove it. "Yet you did not pursue her. I also invited Miss Henrietta Stokely-Trent. You did mention you thought she had a fine grasp of politics."
He'd had several interesting conversations with the determined bluestocking last Season. "She's brilliant. But perhaps I want more in a wife."
"And perhaps you've been too preoccupied to realize what you want," Quimby countered, taking the coat to the dressing room.
"Rather say occupied," Whit corrected him, unbuttoning the waistcoat himself. "Parliament, estate business, the orphan asylum…"
"The sailor's home, the new organ for the church," Quimby added, returning. "I am well aware of the list, my lord. You are renowned for solving other people's problems. That's why I took the liberty of solving this problem for you." He unwound the cravat from Whit's throat in one fluid motion.
"Dash it all, Quimby, it wasn't a problem!" Whit pulled the soiled shirt over his head. "I'd have gotten around to marrying eventually."
"Of course." Quimby took the shirt off to the dressing room for cleaning.
Whit shook his head. "And why invite Miss Hollingsford? I don't even recall meeting her."
Quimby returned with a fresh shirt and drew it over Whit's head. "I don't believe you have met, sir. I simply liked her. I thought you would too."
He had liked her immediately. All that fire and determination demanded respect, at the least. That wasn't the issue.
Whit closed his eyes and puffed out a sigh as his valet slipped the gold-shot evening waistcoat up his arms. "Have you any inkling of what you've done?"
He opened his eyes to find Quimby brushing a stray hair off the shoulder. "I've brought you three beautiful women," he replied, completely unrepentant. "All you need do is choose."
Whit stepped back from him. "And if I don't?"
"Then I fear the next batch will be less satisfactory."
Whit drew himself up. "I should sack you."
"Very likely," Quimby agreed. "If that is your choice, please do it now. I understand Sir Nicholas Rotherford is seeking a valet, and as he recently married, I should have less concern for my future with him."
Whit shook his head again. If Quimby had been anyone else, Whit would have had no trouble firing him for such an infraction. But he'd known Quimby since they were boys. The two had been good friends at Eton, where Peter Quimby, the orphaned son of a distinguished military man, had been taken in on charity. When Whit became an orphan, and the new Earl of Danning at fifteen, he'd offered his friend a position as steward.
"Who's going to take orders from a fifteen-year-old?" Quimby had pointed out. "Make me your valet. They get to go everywhere their masters do. We'll have some fun, count on it."
At times over the past fifteen years, Whit thought Quimby was the only reason Whit had had some fun, even when duty dogged his steps. He couldn't see sacking his friend now.
"Rotherford can find another valet," Whit told him.
Quimby smiled as he reached for the coats.
"But don't take that to mean I approve of this business," Whit insisted. "I'll do my best to clean up the mess you've made. I will be polite to our guests but expect nothing more. You can campaign all you like, Quimby, but you cannot make a fellow choose a wife."
"As you say, my lord," Quimby agreed, though Whit somehow felt he was disagreeing. "Now, which will you have tonight, the black coat or the blue?"
"Does it matter?" Whit asked as his valet held out the two coats once more. "By the time this fortnight is over, I'm the one most likely to be both black and blue, from trying to explain to three women that I don't intend to propose."
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