The Duke Meets His Matchmaker – Bianca Blythe

All of London is shocked: The Beast is injured. At yesterday’s boxing match, the Devil pummeled the Beast with a force worthy of his Satanic name. London has a taken a breath. No one has seen the Beast. Is this the last we’ll see of our aristocratic boxer? A CHAPTER ONE ondon, 1822 “Bath?” Reginald Smythe, Duke of Hammett, stared at his doctor. “You must be mad.” Dr. Fitzhugh leaned back in his red leather armchair with the comfortable smile of a man confident his career would continue to flourish, even if Reggie were to usher a litany of complaints. “I doubt you would pay me my high fees if that were the case.” “I didn’t expect you would suggest I visit Bath.” Reggie shuddered as he uttered the word. The word may have been one syllable, but that didn’t make it any easier to utter. Reggie didn’t go to Bath. Reggie was a boxer. Bath was the domain of little old ladies with too much money who wanted to stick their toes in some supposedly healing water from the Roman period, as if the water possessed magical powers.

Modern people who became sick ventured to Brighton or somewhere else on the sea. Bath was a place to avoid. Reggie crossed his arms and glared. “I can’t go to Bath.” Dr. Fitzhugh smiled and ran his finger over one of his sideburns in a frustratingly calm manner. “Of course, you can.” Reggie despised it when his doctor adopted this tone. It made Reggie think his doctor was using the skills he’d obtained from being a father of five, and that made Reggie think he was behaving in a childish manner. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, even if Reggie enjoyed smashing things with a vigor mostly seen in two-year-olds.

Reggie narrowed his gaze. “No one sane goes to Bath.” “I assure you, plenty of people do,” Dr. Fitzhugh said. “It’s much improved over the past two decades.” Reggie’s scowl deepened. How old did the doctor think he was? “I paid little attention to Bath as a six-year-old.” “Of course not,” his doctor said in a soothing tone. “You were probably enjoying the fresh air. Clambering up trees.

Rowing in lakes.” Reggie snorted. Clearly, the doctor had a much more idyllic opinion of Reggie’s childhood than was the case. No one mentioned the cold of a large, crumbling estate that one’s father had insisted on purchasing, and no one mentioned the dreariness when simply running through halls made every servant berate him and tell him the noise might cause his mother to die. Perhaps it had. Reggie shook his head. That was absurd. No doubt the servants preferred to gossip without the accompanying sound of pitter-pattering feet, lest the sound throw them off delivering their various punchlines. Reggie hadn’t caused his mother to get consumption, and he hadn’t caused her to die. Most likely.

“I don’t enjoy talking about my childhood,” Reggie said stiffly. His doctor rolled his eyes. “Good. Then we can discuss your bad knee. You can’t box if you don’t make a full recovery.” Reggie knew this. That was why Reggie had gone to see the doctor. Still, hearing the words out loud caused his body to jerk involuntarily. L The doctor’s eyes softened with a look he would probably call understanding and which probably won him accolades from patients who liked their doctors to pity them, seeing it as inspiration for the doctor to perform his healing wonders. Reggie disagreed.

Reggie preferred the doctor to leap directly to the healing portion. Unfortunately, Dr. Fitzhugh seemed disinclined to do that. “There’s a good doctor in Bath who can help you,” Dr. Fitzhugh said. Reggie glowered and drew his feet away from the doctor. The sudden movement caused pain to ricochet through him, and he strove not to grimace. “That hurt,” the doctor said. “I’m fine.” “If it doesn’t heal, it will only hurt more later.

” For a man with an avuncular smile and twinkling eyes, the doctor said the most despicable things. “So if I see this doctor, I won’t have to give up boxing,” Reggie asked carefully. “I can’t make any promises.” Dr. Fitzhugh’s face sobered. “But I know I can’t help you any more with this.” Reggie leaned back. His doctor tilted his head and scanned Reggie’s face. “You haven’t been sleeping.” “Nonsense.

” Reggie averted his gaze, as if the sudden movement might mask his scars. He knew he looked terrible. He loathed everyone’s pitying glances and the odd horrified gasp his presence inspired. “The area under your eyes is dark, and your skin has a pasty pallor.” Fitzhugh avoided mentioning Reggie’s scars as he scribbled something on a piece of paper. Clearly he knew there was nothing to be done about them. The doctor handed him the paper. “This is Dr. Richard Everett Smythe-Essex’s address. I suggest you write and tell him you will see him in Bath.

” Reggie scrunched up his face into a glower. “Take the paper,” Dr. Fitzhugh ordered. Reggie reluctantly extended an arm. He scanned the address, then tucked the paper in his purse. “I also recommend you take chamomile tea,” the doctor said. “It will improve your sleep.” Reggie shuddered. Chamomile and Bath. “Dr.

Richard Everett Smythe-Essex is discreet,” his doctor assured him. “He better be,” Reggie growled. If Reggie was going to Bath, he didn’t want other people to learn of it. The last thing his competitors needed to know was that he would be spending time in a spa town known to cater to people prone to imagining illnesses and yeasty milk buns crammed with candied sultanas. Reggie rose, took his cane, then marched inelegantly from his doctor’s office. PINK FLOWERS DOTTED the chapel, and Daisy Holloway inhaled their pleasing scents. Weddings surpassed everything else in the world. Tall stained-glass windows ushered in a golden glow, and Mrs. Powell pushed Daisy down the stone aisle. “Good morning, Miss Holloway!” The flaps of the clergyman’s Roman collar bounced as he rushed toward her.

“Good morning.” Daisy smiled at the man. The clergyman leaned toward her, and the edges of his brown eyes crinkled in their usual kind manner. “Is this another of your weddings?” Daisy grinned. “The colonel and Miss Alcott were so perfectly suited to each other. I just had to match them.” “You’re going to make me forget what sleeping late on a Saturday is like,” the clergyman said. Daisy giggled. “You exaggerate.” “But not by much.

” The clergyman’s eyes twinkled. “Good morning, Miss Holloway!” Mrs. Millicent Bailey waved a lace-gloved hand. “We’re over here.” Daisy rolled her chair toward her. Millicent didn’t need to gesture; she and her friends always sat in the far-right corner of the front row of every wedding. It was the favored location for people with mobility issues. Daisy greeted her friends. “This has been the best wedding season since ’76.” Millicent beamed toward the altar.

“Truly?” Daisy asked. “So many young, strapping men were marrying before they went off to war in the colonies.” Millicent’s eyelashes fluttered down, and a blissful expression floated over her round face, which was framed by curly white hair. “How nice,” Daisy said. “More than during the Napoleonic Wars?” “France isn’t as far away,” Agnes explained. Daisy nodded. The music played, and Millicent clapped her hands. Daisy focused her attention on the ceremony. Miss Alcott was clothed in a beautiful muslin gown embroidered with flowers. A white silk shawl, complete with golden fringe, dangled regally from her shoulders.

Her eyes sparkled, surpassing even her wreath of flowers in splendor. Daisy’s heart ached pleasantly. Even though this church in Bath was small and less imposing than St. George’s Square in London, Daisy always adored weddings. How nice to imagine one’s life might utterly change merely from meeting someone. Daisy inhaled the scent emanating from the generous amounts of garlands adorning the pews. Perhaps nothing about her life could ever change, perhaps Papa would always drag her to Bath for much of the year, but perhaps she could also continue to match people. Certainly there were far worse things, and Daisy relaxed against her chair. After the ceremony, Millicent and Agnes rushed to congratulate the newlywed couple. Daisy waited until someone remembered to help her.

Once the other guests had filed from the chapel, Daisy met Mrs. Powell at the entrance. “Did you have a pleasant time?” “It was lovely. I’m certain you would have been welcome inside.” Mrs. Powell chuckled. “Weddings are always the same.” Daisy gave her maid a wobbly smile. The sky had turned a familiar ash color. Soon it might spew rain at sufficiently frequent intervals to render any prospects of outdoor excursions unthinkable.

“Mind you, I’m certain it’s more pleasurable when you’ve matched the couple,” Mrs. Powell added, perhaps conscious she hadn’t said the best thing. Daisy smiled, but Mrs. Powell’s previous words echoed in her head. Things were dull. And unfortunately, ever since her dearest friends had all wed dukes, things would only become duller. Even Mama had refused to return to Bath with Daisy to take the waters, declaring the experience dreary. Perhaps Daisy’s life would now consist of spending time with older widows who reminisced about a world Daisy had never known. Daisy wished Papa hadn’t insisted they visit Bath again. Three months.

She would be here for three more months, and then she could return to London. The thought brought her some comfort, and she inhaled. Mrs. Powell led her to a hack, and Daisy stared. “What happened to our carriage?” Daisy asked. Mrs. Powell’s face sobered. “Your father has been trying to sell it, and this morning, he got a buyer.” Daisy blinked. “I never said goodbye to James.

” “He knows you would have said goodbye,” Mrs. Powell said soothingly. Daisy nodded. No doubt Mrs. Powell was correct. Still, she remained unsettled. Mrs. Powell spoke with the hack driver, who stepped down. The man surveyed Daisy with obvious reluctance. “I’m a driver, not a porter.

” Daisy bit her lip, and even Mrs. Powell’s perpetual pleasant expression wobbled. Cheerfulness was sometimes a challenge to achieve. The driver bent down and carried Daisy into the carriage. She held herself stiffly as the driver shoved her inside the hack. When Mrs. Powell entered with the Bath chair, Daisy smoothed her dress and pretended a sour taste hadn’t invaded her throat. The black chair was more awkward than her wheelchair, but once she was inside, the three-wheeled chair was suitable for tackling Bath’s abundant hills and cobblestones. Papa wouldn’t have sold his carriage unless it was absolutely vital. Everyone had carriages in Bath.

It was the only way to conquer the steep hill that jutted up from the spa, on which prior residents had decided to build their homes. “I need a job,” Daisy announced. Mrs. Powell’s gray eyes widened. Daisy didn’t bother to hide her smile. “You needn’t appear so shocked,” Daisy said. “Er—as you please, Miss.” Mrs. Powell valiantly attempted to force her features into a more placid facial expression. “What sort of job?” Mrs.

Powell asked carefully. “I haven’t decided.” “Indeed.” Mrs. Powell gave her a skeptical glance, and Daisy tried not to let irritation move through her. Daisy made a habit of not being irritated. One hardly needed additional conflicts in life. Yet she was certain that if Mrs. Powell actually believed she would find a job, she would be barraging her with questions. The carriage rumbled over the cobblestones, and the thin curtains swayed.

“It’s not an absurd prospect,” Daisy insisted. Mrs. Powell hesitated. “Young ladies in your position are not prone to getting jobs.” Daisy nodded. Mrs. Powell was correct, but they both knew what Mrs. Powell wasn’t saying: young ladies in wheelchairs were particularly unlikely to obtain positions. “Nevertheless, I need to do something.” Daisy wouldn’t be the first woman in her class to be poorer than the sparkling gowns her parents bought for her indicated.

She wouldn’t even be the first of her friends to worry about money, conscious her parents were feigning a wealth they no longer possessed. Still, unlike her friends, Daisy wasn’t expected to marry. Her parents had insisted she live in London during the Season and had pledged to give her a normal life. Still, no one had expected a dashing suitor to sweep her away, undaunted by her lack of a dowry and eager to spend his life with her. No, she required a job. Her parents wouldn’t always be able to help her, and unfortunately, they seemed determined to spend their money on odd cures. Each year their efforts led them to turn to more obscure treatments, spurred on by the lack of results for any of their previous efforts. Daisy wasn’t going to walk again, and she no longer hoped for it, despite her parents’ enthusiasm over each new treatment various doctors proposed. The accident had happened, and she couldn’t remember ever being able to walk. Still, she could find a position.

She had to.

.

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