Home > Matching the Marquess

Matching the Marquess
Author: Darcy Burke


Chapter 1



Leighton Buzzard, September, 1817



* * *


Rebecca Sweet had never attended a house party before, let alone one hosted by a baron and baroness. Her life for the past nine years had been that of a simple country wife and then widow of a modest farmer who spent more than he earned and took his ease drinking ale and gambling with friends or finding comfort in his mistress’s arms. This sort of event with planned entertainments and servants seeing to Rebecca’s needs was far beyond her experience.

But things had changed for her in the eight months since her husband’s death. His Aunt Jennet, a country gentlewoman, whose dearest friend just happened to be a baroness, had taken Rebecca in. Now, Rebecca was reaping the rewards of their association, even if she felt a trifle awkward doing so. She just wasn’t sure where she belonged. Her husband’s house hadn’t ever felt like home, and Aunt Jennet’s house didn’t either. Rebecca thought back to her childhood, to Black Sheep Farm in Marrywell, but that hadn’t felt like a home either.

Could a sprawling house such as Clipstone Hedge, where she was now, with its red brick and golden stone exterior and too many rooms to count, feel like a home? Perhaps, but it depended on the people inside it. Rebecca realized it was up to her to make a home for herself. She just wasn’t sure how that would happen.

What she could do, however, was perhaps repay Aunt Jennet’s kindness. Her granddaughter, Delia, was also in attendance, and Rebecca had noted that she and a young gentleman at the party seemed to share an affinity for several things. Rebecca was fairly certain they might develop an attachment, but both were shy and might need a little assistance. Earlier, Rebecca had suggested they play chess since they both said they enjoyed it.

They’d played and seemed to have a wonderful time together, as far as Rebecca could tell from her position across the drawing room. With a little more help, they might indeed make a match. The thought filled Rebecca with delight, and not just because it would please Aunt Jennet. Watching two people fall in love was perhaps the closest Rebecca would get to doing so herself. She would take all the joy she could from that.

Rebecca moved farther into the library. With its towering shelves crammed with books and multiple cozy seating areas, it nearly overwhelmed her. Books represented wealth, and this was a display almost beyond her imagination.

She ought to be asleep as it was nearly two in the morning, but lulling herself into a restful state, especially in a place that wasn’t her home, had always been a challenge. She’d thought a book might help, but wasn’t sure how to find something that interested her.

Walking near the bookcases, she gently trailed her fingertips along the spines. Randomly, she chose one and flipped open the cover. Sheep and Goats: The Intricacies of Animal Husbandry. That sounded…dry. She moved to another shelf and removed another tome. Robinson Crusoe. Much better. She’d already read that, but perhaps she’d find another novel that she hadn’t.

After a few minutes of perusing, she found a copy of Pamela by Samuel Richardson. It looked impossibly long. Not that she could finish any of these books before leaving tomorrow, for she was much too slow a reader.

“Good evening.”

Rebecca startled at the sound of the man’s voice and dropped the book on her toe. She gasped and pulled her foot from under the heavy tome.

“My apologies!” The gentleman rushed forward. He bent to retrieve the book from the floor just as she did the same.

His fingers met hers upon the leather cover. Then their gazes clashed.

Rebecca’s heart vaulted into her throat. She recognized him, for he’d only arrived late that afternoon. The hostess, Lady Philpott, was his cousin, and he was the Marquess of Creslow.

A. Bloody. Marquess.

He was breathtakingly handsome, with thick, dark coffee-colored hair, a wide forehead, expressive brows, a patrician nose with a fascinating dimple at the end, lips that were perhaps a touch too wide for a man, and a sculpted jaw and chin that looked as if it belonged on one of the statues in the garden behind the assembly rooms in Marrywell, where she’d grown up. And now that she was this close to him, she could see his eyes were a warm chestnut brown with a smattering of gold flecks near the center. She could very well lose herself in his stare…

“Shall I remove my hand?” he asked softly, almost teasingly.

“Unless you were hoping to read this novel?” She presumed he’d come to the library for the same reason she had. They were both wearing nightclothes. She’d donned a thick dressing gown over her night rail, and he sported a dark green velvet banyan over his pantaloons, which encased his muscular legs.

Overall, he presented an image of unrelenting masculinity that had the effect of somehow making her feel more feminine. Or perhaps more aware of her femininity. She struggled not to fix on the triangle of light sandstone-hued flesh exposed at the base of his throat.

“What’s the title?” he asked. “Perhaps it may suit.”


His brows rose. “A provocative choice.” Their hands were still touching, and the word provocative only made Rebecca more aware of the connection. “You’ve read it before?”

She shook her head. His lips spread in an alluring smile, and Rebecca’s breath arrested in her lungs.

He took his hand away. “I shan’t deprive you of it.”

Rebecca tamped down her disappointment at the loss of his touch, but then he clasped her elbow and helped her to stand. She didn’t need his assistance, but found it more than pleasant.

“You’ve read it?” she asked.

“Yes.” He released her arm, and she suffered another twinge of disappointment. “We passed a copy around at Eton—under the noses of our masters, mind you. They would not have approved.”

“Why not?”

“It’s the story of a young maid who is seduced—in reality, she is abused—by her employer.”

“That doesn’t sound like anything I would want to read.”

“It’s strangely compelling, but I actually found it…” He grimaced. “I don’t wish to spoil it any further for you.”

She held the book to her chest. “Don’t concern yourself with that. It’s not as if I’ll be able to finish it tonight, and the party concludes tomorrow.”

“You could just take it with you.” He leaned slightly toward her. His scent of sandalwood and something indescribably male enveloped her in sensation. Why did a scent make her want to move closer to him?

“Are you suggesting I steal it?” she whispered.

He lifted a shoulder. “I presume you’d return it. Unless you live very far away?”

Did he not remember that she resided with Lady Philpott’s dearest friend just a short distance from Clipstone Hedge? “I suppose I could borrow it.”

“I think you should. Just look at their library.” He glanced about. “My cousin and her husband won’t miss it.”

“Is that what you planned to do?” Rebecca asked. “Select a book and take it with you when you leave tomorrow?”

He laughed. “In fact, I am staying tomorrow night as well since I only just arrived. I’d meant to come for the entire party, but I was waylaid at my prior engagement.”

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