A Match Made in Bed – Cathy Maxwell

Mayfield, the Country Estate of the Duke of Camberly May 12, 1813 Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, was determined to marry the Holwell Heiress. He needed her money. Desperately. The problem was, Miss Cassandra Holwell appeared equally tenacious in avoiding him. And he didn’t understand why. Soren stood in the short hall located between the dining room and the reception room where the other houseguests were enjoying before-dinner banter and introductions. It was a good spot to observe Cass unobtrusively and plot his next strategy. He didn’t think she knew he was here. He’d tried to keep his name on the guest list hushed. He was running out of time to find a rich wife and hoped to slip past her guard to present his case. All he needed was a good listening to. A marriage to him would help Cass as well. She’d been on the Marriage Mart for at least three Seasons. She needed a husband as much as he needed a wife. The other guests were from the very highest tiers of Society.


They gathered at the invitation of the Dowager Duchess of Camberly for her annual country rout. An invite to this event meant one was important, and they were all very pleased with themselves, especially Cass’s father, the bombastic MP Holwell. He had inserted himself into a group of lords where he was loudly conferring his opinion on anything and everything. His wife, Helen, Cass’s stepmother, stood at his side, a look of importance on her sharp features. Cass herself sat on a settee in the middle of the room, hands demurely folded in her lap. There was nothing to fault about her demeanor. Or her appearance. Her hair, the color of a golden ale, was piled high on her head in artfully arranged curls secured with diamond-tipped pins. The expensive stones caught the light and winked mockingly at Soren as if daring him to come forward. They alone would have been beacon enough to draw the eye to her. However, around her neck she wore the famed Bingham pearls, a long, lustrous strand that set off Cass’s perfect complexion. Her height also made her stand out. Cassandra Holwell was taller than the average man, although an inch or two shorter than Soren, he was pleased to admit. She was also a notable bluestocking, that sort of woman who valued her own opinion, who thought she was as intelligent as a man, and who had a decided preference for books. Fortunately, while she held strong opinions, she lacked her father’s demeaning arrogance.

Nor did her proclivities deter Soren. He couldn’t remember a time in their acquaintance when Cass hadn’t had her nose in a book or had not known her own mind. Actually, he admired women who were bold and had something to say for themselves. They attracted him. It also helped that he’d thought Cass Holwell one of the prettiest girls in Cornwall back in the day, and his opinion had not changed— Huge hands clamped down on his shoulders from behind. “Are you ready to make your move?” the newly named Duke of Camberly said close to Soren’s ear, lest they be overheard scheming. “You had best be. Minerva has squawked long and hard about my insisting she invite MP Holwell to her prize event, until she learned we were up to matchmaking. Now she is onboard with our plan.” Minerva was the dowager duchess. No one had been more surprised than she when a series of untimely deaths had left a grandson of a second son, Matthew Addison—who had been nothing more than a lowly tutor at Eton and a hopeful poet—the new heir. To his credit, Matt had a poet’s dark, handsome looks and a fine mind. He was also without guile and naïve to the wolves of the world. Soren both feared for him and envied him. “Or,” Soren countered, “the dowager could also just be relieved you are not considering Miss Holwell for your duchess.

” Camberly could use a marriageable heiress as well. The ducal estates were vast and in need of an infusion of money. “That was her fear. She swears she could never abide being related to someone with the table manners of Holwell. Are his that terrible?” “I’ve never seen him take a meal where he does not spit his food all over the place while he blusters away.” “Ah, so it is true what I’ve heard, that he is a fool.” “An elected fool,” Soren emphasized. “The worst sort. Before every election, Holwell returns to Cornwall to ply the masses with barrel kegs of ale and spits of roast pork while greasing any palm held out to him. They vote for him again and again. It is a travesty. They all think he is a jolly fellow. Or, knowing the Cornish, they prefer him in London instead of as a neighbor.” “Are you certain you wish to be related to him? Didn’t you tell me once there is bad blood between your family and the Holwells?” “According to Holwell, we are sworn enemies.” The duke’s brow lifted.

“There is a story here. What did you do to them?” “It is what they did to us. Or rather, what we did to ourselves. My grandfather had lost heavily at the card tables and needed money quickly. He borrowed it from Toland Holwell, using a prime bit of our land as security.” “Security?” Camberly said. “Wouldn’t he accept your grandfather’s word as a man of honor?” “Miners don’t accept anyone’s word of honor when money is at stake. There was even a contract my grandfather had to sign.” “A miner?” “Aye, Toland started off in the mines but he made his true money smuggling. He developed a smugglers’ route between the Cornish coast and London. He claimed he could move ten barrels of brandy from Land’s End to Edinburgh with nary a taxman being the wiser. He was a shrewd man, and the only one with the blunt who was willing to lend it to my grandfather. Supposedly, and I do not know if this is true, my grandfather gathered enough cash to pay back the debt. However, he discovered in the contract that Toland had charged him so much interest, he owed twice what he had originally borrowed. We took Toland to court, but the contract was ruled valid.

Then, to add insult to injury, Holwell claimed a large portion of our estate when we couldn’t pay, and built a fine house.” Soren’s gaze strayed back to the golden Cass. “Since then, the Holwell fortunes have risen while ours have fallen, mostly through our own faults,” he had to add. The trial of his life was his struggle to undo the damage his grandfather and father’s foolishnesses had brought upon his family’s estate, Pentreath Castle. “Marrying the Holwell Heiress would provide a certain poetic justice, don’t you think? Miss Holwell is her father’s only child. Eventually Toland’s lands would be returned to my family.” “But won’t she be suspicious of you?” In the reception room, Cass leaned down to better hear what Lady Bainhurst was saying. Her Ladyship was around Cass’s age and the wife of the influential Lord Bainhurst. Sitting on Cass’s other side on the settee was Miss Willa Reverly, the daughter of the banker Leland Reverly. Both Miss Reverly and Cass were known as the Spinster Heiresses. They were young women whose fathers knew their daughters were prizes and had yet to accept anyone’s offer for their hands. The word was that both men held out for the best titles. They knew the power, and lure, of their money could ensure their descendants a rightful place among the nobility. Soren drew his gaze away from the settee. “She might be.

We were once friends,” he added. Camberly’s interest picked up. “What sort of friends?” “Childhood. Until I came to London several weeks ago, I hadn’t seen her for ten years or so. I was warned to stay away from her back then.” “So, she was the forbidden.” “Forbidden? Aye, absolutely. My parents went to great trouble to be certain I knew that a York would never associate with a Holwell.” “And yet you were drawn to her.” Soren had to laugh. “Sometimes, you are too dramatic.” “I just enjoy a good story, especially one that relives the Capulets and the Montagues.” “We were far from that. I came upon her at a parish picnic. She was sitting inside the church reading while the rest of us were playing our games.

” “How old were you?” “I was thirteen. She was eleven. I remember she looked very lonely.” A bit like she did now, he suddenly realized. She appeared at ease, and yet, something about the stiffness in her shoulders told him she was not. He understood her apprehensiveness in Cornwall. It could be a small society for a woman of her class . but this was a London crowd, and he sensed she was still not comfortable in her own skin. “Well, you needn’t worry about blood feuds,” the duke assured him. “I asked Letty to mention your name several times and talk about what a stellar husband you would make.” “You didn’t.” Soren’s reaction was part alarm, part embarrassment. “We did,” Camberly answered proudly. “We want to take full credit on your wedding day.” “Your Grace, first, I must do this my own way.

” “Your way is not bringing the lady closer to you. Didn’t you say you need to return to Cornwall soon?” Soren had. It was imperative he return to Pentreath. “We are helping,” the duke assured him. “Just a bit of prodding. Letty knows what she is doing.” “Letty? Do you mean Lady Bainhurst? You sound too familiar when you use her given name, Your Grace.” Camberly’s easy manner evaporated. No, this was not the proper time or place for such a conversation, but Soren was not going to let this opportunity pass. His friend had become very secretive. He’d taken to disappearing from Society for days on end. Soren did not believe he went missing alone. Matt returned too pleased with himself. For all the loftiness of his title, Camberly was not a sophisticate or in any form jaded, especially to romance. God help him, he was a poet.

And what sort of friend would Soren be if he didn’t warn him? “Your Grace, you’d best watch yourself. You may be a duke, but her husband prides himself on the power he wields. He is not one to share anything.” “He is twenty years her senior. He is too old for such a young wife.” “Still, she is his wife. And a man in his forties is not ancient.” “He doesn’t appreciate her.” “He doesn’t need to. He is married to her, Matt. I’ve known you for close to two decades. You are not one for playing games. She is. You are not her first lover.” That news tightened the ducal jaw.

Camberly took a step away. Putting a touch of empathy he did not feel in his voice, Soren cautioned, as he’d promised the dowager he would, “There is gossip. Letty Bainhurst is not discreet.” Camberly’s mouth opened as if he would deny any connection, and then he closed it. His somber eyes strayed in the direction of his rumored paramour. “I can’t. I love her.” “You are poaching on another man’s territory. It will not go well if you are discovered.” “We are careful.” “Ah, yes, careful,” Soren echoed. “If I had a pound for every man I’ve heard make that claim, I’d not need to marry money.” The response was a cold silence. Soren leaned closer to his friend. “Welcoming smiles can turn to vicious tongues in a snap of the fingers.

Bainhurst is notably pugnacious. He would proudly put his sword through you, and everyone would believe him justified.” “I’m not afraid of him.” “You are also not a fighter. You are a scholar. You know words, not weapons.” “Granted, I haven’t been a soldier like yourself, but I’m not a coward—” “I’m not saying you are.” “We are careful,” the duke reiterated. “You play with fire, you will be burnt. It is the oldest adage known to man. And the one continually ignored.” Camberly put his hands behind his back. He did appear a duke, even as he professed, “I’ve never met anyone like her. She has so much passion inside her waiting to be released.” “I’m certain you are eager to help,” Soren murmured.

His friend ignored the comment. “I can’t stay away from her. It is impossible. What we have between us is stronger than mere human will.” He turned away from Soren. “It can’t be wrong. It isn’t.” Soren shrugged, the movement straining the seams of his jacket. It was a bit too tight. He’d purchased his evening clothes from the widow of the man for whom they had been tailored. Another forced economy. He hadn’t the money to go to a tailor. Once he won Cass, his first act would be to burn these clothes. “I’ve done my duty,” Soren conceded. “Spoken my piece.

I’ll say no more.” Instead, life would have to teach Matt its lessons. At that moment, Minerva, the dowager, came up behind them from the dining room, where she’d been checking last-minute details. The purple plumes in her hair bounced as she said, “My dear grandchild, what are you doing hiding here when you should be out amongst the guests? Circulate, Camberly. Circulate.” “Yes, Grandmother, of course,” he said. “Especially since Dewsberry and I are growing disagreeable with each other.” He marched into the room, not even bothering to go to the reception room’s main doorway where the butler had been waiting to announce him. He set a direct course for Letty Bainhurst. “You spoke to him just now?” Minerva asked, referring to her concerns about the duke’s love interest. “As you requested of me.” “Did he listen?” Soren looked down at her. “Do you see where he is?” She stared bleakly at her late husband’s heir leaning over the immoral Lady Bainhurst. “Yes. He is ogling her breasts.

” She sighed her exasperation. “Do you men not realize how obvious you are?” “Apparently not. Then again, an idiot couldn’t miss those breasts. They appear to be served up on a platter.” “And supposedly her husband doesn’t notice.” “He enjoys his jealousy. How else would he have a reason to call men out?”

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Updated: 16 January 2021 — 05:38

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