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Meet Lady Ambrosia Anaconda Algonquin, matchmaker to London's most discerning citizens. Part fairy godmother, part sorting hat, her methods might be unusual, but she always makes her match.
For Lady Tempest Tapoate, marriage means an end to the tyranny of the aunt and uncle into whose care she was forced when her parents died. She would rather have a stranger select her spouse than allow those two sods to select a husband for her.
James Harley, the Earl of Knox, is in need of an heir. He has righted the family fortunes after mismanagement by his mother and is now in need of a wife to bear a child. Once the deed is done, he expects the two of them will go their separate ways.
When Tempest finds herself with child, rather than share the good news with her husband so that they may each move on with their lives, she realizes that she does not want to be set aside by her spouse. But how long can she keep her secret?
Publisher’s Note: This standalone Regency romance contains power exchange, domestic discipline, explicit themes and more than a few laugh out loud moments. If you do not like a bit of tongue in cheek with your romance, please do not buy this book.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
I awoke on the morning of my eighteenth birthday with that excited feeling one gets when they know their life is about to take a dramatic turn, hopefully for the better. In my case, I found it hard to believe it could turn out much worse.
The home in which I resided was located in the heart of the Mayfair District. The townhouse on Half Moon Street boasted four floors of opulent rooms with ample light and modern conveniences. All the rooms, that is, save one bedroom, tucked away on the third floor. The room’s location reflected the family’s opinion of its occupant—not really one of them, though slightly better than the help. It was in that little room where I awoke, hopefully for the last time.
Mattie, a lively lady’s maid of seventeen, entered and set a tray upon a small table near the only window. “Good morning, miss. And a happy birthday to you as well.”
Sitting up in bed and stretching my arms over my head, I returned the servant’s smile. “Thank you, Mattie,” I said.
“Eighteen years old, ya are. Congratulations.”
My laugh was tinged with ruefulness. I supposed congratulations were in order for surviving to the age of eighteen. Six long years I had borne the drudgery of living upon the favor of my aunt and uncle, the result of being orphaned when my parents died from a virus which had torn through our county to the north.
When I had first arrived in London, at the mirthless house that was to be my residence, but never my home, I had assumed the arm’s length treatment I had received from my relations resulted from fear I carried the same virus which had taken the lives of my parents, and most of our neighbors, too.
Considering, however, their years of indifference, their behavior reflected more an issue of poor character than good hygiene.
I had borne it as best I could, particularly considering no others had come forward to take responsibility for me. My mother’s sister and her family had not welcomed me, but they had at least given me sup and a bed.
In addition to my aunt and uncle, there was also my cousin, Audra. Upon arriving and finding a little girl of the nearly the same age in the home, my spirits had soared. I had always wanted a sister with whom to share secrets and games. Perhaps a playmate could soften the loneliness I felt without my dear parents.
Audra, however, mimicked her parents’ indifference and even took it a step or two further by being downright beastly to me, her poor orphaned cousin. It was not uncommon for Audra to pinch and slap. She had been taking out her peevish nature on the hired help ever since she realized that adults, so long as they wore servants’ uniforms, would do her bidding and tolerate all manner of ill behavior.
I, her unfortunate cousin, was subjected to the same low regard. The first time I attempted to play with my cousin, Audra bent back my finger at such a severe angle, I feared it would snap off. Frightened and in pain, I ran to my aunt to report Audra’s misdeed, assuming she, an adult, would be shocked and make amends. Instead, Aunt Hestia had believed Audra’s faradiddles and scolded me for telling tales. As punishment, I was forced to assist the cook for the afternoon.
The hours spent washing pots and scrubbing the floor with sawdust were not nearly as horrible as my aunt had no doubt expected. For me, it was a welcome respite from the harping of my aunt and cruelty of my cousin.
But, make no mistake, I had no wish to take up a life in service, despite the fact that it was on that afternoon I had become acquainted with Mattie, who had just begun her life in service as a scullery maid. The two of us had snitched a biscuit when the cook’s back was turned and snuck out to the stable to share it. Despite our different stations in life, a friendship formed over our thievery. Other shenanigans followed over the years, though we both made a pledge to keep those secrets to the grave, which prevents revealing them here.
Soon after the incident with Cousin Audra, my aunt decreed that we two girls were not to play together any longer due to my bad influence on her precious daughter. It was hurtful, mean and unfair, but my aunt would not be swayed. Looking back, it was for the best, as it no doubt saved me from years of cuts and scrapes, if not worse.
Henceforth, I was treated as if I were barely visible.
The intervening years had been desolate, my only company the servant girls who cleaned and carried for the family. Mattie continued to be my favorite, but I dared not spend too much time with her for fear her chores would not be completed, the result being punishment or termination for Mattie. Additionally, had any of my relatives realized the extent of my fondness for Mattie, their ire would have been directed at the servant, as well as me. Although from vastly different backgrounds, we were both dependent upon the good favor of the ill-tempered Freebush family.
Eventually, Mattie had been promoted to lady’s maid, the improvement in her station within the household the result of her own hard work and the family’s difficulty in retaining a household staff. Mattie’s new position allowed the two of us to spend more time together. I counted Mattie as my only friend in the household, so her birthday wishes were particularly sweet.
“I brought you a present,” the servant said, shyly, pointing to a small parcel on the tray.
I pounced upon it, saying, “Oh, Mattie, you shouldn’t have.” Pulling off the paper I found a beautifully embroidered handkerchief adorned with bright-colored flowers in tiny stitches.
I stared at the thoughtful gift. “Thank you, Mattie. This must have taken you hours and hours. Where did you find the time? You have been a true friend to me and the only person that I shall miss from this godforsaken house.”
Mattie beamed, but then sobered. “I shall miss you as well.”
“Perhaps, if things go well once I am married, I will be able to send for you.”
“I should like nothing better,” Mattie said. “But, do not concern yourself with me. The important thing is that you are to be married. Are you anxious at the prospect?”
Before I could gather my thoughts and answer the question, a screech echoed down the hallway and Mattie scurried off to answer Audra’s demands.
So much for my birthday celebration . Tucking the handkerchief into my reticule, I selected a garment and commenced to dress myself. Sharing Mattie with Audra meant that whenever Mattie had a spare moment, she assisted me, but from the instant Audra woke in the morning until she closed her dull eyes to sleep at night, her singular goal was to be fawned over and when her parents or haughty friends were not available, the task fell to the hired help, specifically Mattie.
I sighed and said a silent prayer for Mattie, hating to imagine how much worse the last few years would have been without her.
Dressed for breakfast, I sat in front of the mirror and attempted to style my hair. As I did so, I contemplated the transformation my life was about to take.
A matchmaker. My fate was in the hands of an unknown matchmaker named Lady Ambrosia. Surely, someone with a name as grand as that would know about love.
During my most lonely and horrendous times in the house on Half Moon Street, I had dreamed of being married someday and having my own family, a handsome husband to treasure me and lavish upon me the love I craved, as well as my own children to cherish and adore, the way my parents had before their inopportune deaths.
I counted herself lucky in many ways. At least I had experienced the warmth of my parents’ love and had seen the deep affection they shared with each other. For all of her privilege, Audra had no idea what that was like, given the nature of her own parents. I suppose I ought to have felt sorry for her over that, but I did not.
How was it possible that my own dear mother and acerbic aunt had come from the same branch of the family tree?
My melancholy thoughts were disrupted when Mattie slipped into the room and took the brush from my hand. “I have an idea for a new style. I snuck a peek in one of Lady Audra’s fashion magazines. I want your hair to look beautiful when you meet your new husband.”
“Do you think I am foolish to allow a marriage broker to select my husband?” The question had been nagging my brain for several days, and sadly, I had no one from whom I could seek advice other than Mattie.
Mattie paused thoughtfully. “No, I do not believe so,” she said, stroking the brush through my stubborn auburn tresses. “Otherwise, your aunt and uncle shall select a husband for you, and they would not have your best interests in mind.”
I shuddered at the idea of my aunt and uncle making such an important decision for me. Yes, better to trust in the judgment of a stranger than those two sanctimonious sods.
Mattie completed styling my hair and our gazes met in the mirror. “Do you like it?”
“Oh, Mattie, it is beautiful. I do so hope that my future husband, whoever he might be, will not mind my hair.”
“Pish.” Mattie squeezed my shoulder. “A man would have to be bird-witted not to find you, and your hair, beautiful. Why do you think your aunt and uncle encouraged you to use a matchmaker?”
I shrugged. “I assumed it was because they did not wish the expense of my clothing for a Season, or more so, simply to be rid of me.”
Mattie tsked. “Those things may be true. If I may speak boldly, your aunt and uncle are the most cheeseparing people I have ever seen. But, the real reason they wish you gone is because they know that with you around, no man will give a second glance to their bracket-faced daughter.”
“I shall agree that Audra is unpleasant, selfish and dull, but do you think her parents see her that way? They have always been rather blinded to reality when it comes to their daughter.” I examined my face in the mirror. Was I really beautiful?
“They are rather besotted with her, are they not? However, even they cannot miss her caterpillar eyebrows.”
The two of us fell into fits of laughter. As though she had a sixth sense to discern when anyone in the household was enjoying themselves, Aunt Hestia called for Mattie.
“If I do not see you before you leave,” Mattie whispered, “I wish you the very best. Be happy, my friend.”
* * *
I stared at my aunt and uncle, seated opposite me in the family carriage. After a breakfast during which my aunt and cousin feigned interest in my future and gave lip service to how much they would miss me, my desire to vacate the premises as quickly as possible became even more urgent.
For years, I had tolerated their mistreatment and indifference, primarily because I had no other choice. However, once realization sunk in that my time with them would be short-lived, even the few minutes between breakfast and entering the carriage had seemed interminable.
Frankly, I was surprised when my relations showed an interest in accompanying me, particularly Aunt Hestia whose post-breakfast activities generally included making calls upon the ladies of the neighborhood who carried the most social standing or gossip, or ideally, both.
However, once my aunt indicated her chief concern as making sure I did not make a muddle of things, it all made perfect sense.
My Uncle Norbert clutched a bundle of papers in his hand. When I looked at them quizzically, my aunt piped up with an explanation. “Since you are not yet one and twenty, your uncle has kindly signed the papers to give consent to your marriage, regardless of who the groom might be.” She gave a superior sniff and turned to gaze out the window, no further discussion being required.
As far as they were concerned, I had made a muddle of everything I touched, particularly their family. Upon whom would they place the blame for any future misfortune?
The answer mattered not at all to me. I had served my penance, despite committing no offense other than being without friend or funds.
Silence accompanied us on the way to meet Lady Ambrosia, and I was just as glad not to have to pretend to care about conversation. No doubt we could all agree on one thing—we would each breath a hefty sigh of relief once the match was made, the papers were recorded and my luggage and I were left in the care of Lady Ambrosia.
Oh lord, what if Lady Ambrosia could not make a match for me? Was such a thing possible? Why had I not considered the possibility before now, particularly considering the long years of bad fortune I had endured? Was there any reason to believe the pattern would change?
No . I mentally stomped my foot. There was a husband for me and he would be everything I ever dreamed, handsome, kind, generous and at least willing to tolerate my vexatious red hair.
I would beg, throw myself upon the mercy of Lady Ambrosia, for if a marriage partner could not be found, what would become of me? The idea of returning to the doorstep of my aunt and uncle’s home pleading for shelter made my skin crawl.
No, regardless of what the future might hold, I was moving forward and would never cross their threshold again.
The thought made me so happy I even smiled at the two people whose backs I could not wait to see receding from my sight.
“Well, is it not just like your ungrateful soul to leave without the bother of thanking us for all the kindness we have extended to you over the many years you have been with us?” Aunt Hestia said with a huff.
“Let us not pretend any further, Aunt.” I looked her directly in the eye. “You have fulfilled your obligation, and for that I suppose I am grateful. However, I believe ‘kindness’ is an exaggeration of the utmost.” The carriage came to a halt. Snatching up the documents from my uncle’s beefy hand, I exited the door before the footman had a chance to open it. Turning back, I addressed my flummoxed aunt and uncle. “There is no need for you to accompany me beyond this point. My new life begins now, and I wish you to have no part in it.” Thereupon I slammed the door, thanked the footman for dragging my trunk from the rear of the carriage and turned my back on my old life as the carriage pulled away.
I inhaled deeply of the fresh air, feeling as though I could fully breathe for the first time in an eternity. Freedom filled my lungs, and I looked about with eager eyes.
We had traveled from the Mayfair district to an area composed of shops and homes.
Perhaps I ought to have inquired after the specific address before alighting from the carriage. None of the shops seemed appropriate for a matchmaker, though until that moment, I had not considered what a matchmaker’s place of business might look like. Studying the scene more closely, I saw a door painted bright red with a small sign: Lady Ambrosia, Matchmaker to the Discerning.
I approached with anxious anticipation, but before I could lift the knocker, the door opened. “Hello, my dear. You must be Lady Tempest.”
My scalawag relatives were forgotten, and I stared into the kindly face of a woman whom I could only assume was Lady Ambrosia. She was a woman of unique appearance, tall and full figured, with a grandmotherly warmth that drew me to her.
“I am Lady Ambrosia Anaconda Algonquin. You may call me Lady Ambrosia.”
That is a bang up of a name . Surprisingly, I kept that comment to myself.
“Won’t you join me for tea?” she asked.
Having never engaged the services of a matchmaker and unsure of the protocol, I agreed. Besides, a cuppa sounded nice.
Lady Ambrosia led me to the back of the house through a series of narrow hallways crowded with furniture, books, paintings and at least three large cats. Eventually, we reached a solarium filled with flowers of every type and color. It reminded me of the long walks in the woods I used to take with my mother, those many years ago, before she died and the light in my life went dark.
I shook myself from melancholy thoughts. Things were going to change for me. My parents would never return, that much was true, but that did not mean my future could not hold some measure of happiness.
The tea service was set up on a small table amongst the blooms and was quite pleasant. We took our seats, and Lady Ambrosia poured out for the two of us.
“I understand that today is your birthday,” she said, lifting the cover on a small plate to reveal an exquisite cake that was just the size for two people to enjoy.
“How kind,” I said around the lump that had formed in my throat, touched by this stranger’s kindness.
“Birthdays ought to special, I think. Do you not agree?”
“Yes, I do.” I sipped my tea and tasted the cake. “It has been many years since I had a proper birthday celebration.”
“I know,” Lady Ambrosia said.
I turned to her, eyebrows raised quizzically, head tilted, much like a Cocker Spaniel with a question.
“Did you know,” Lady Ambrosia spoke without acknowledging my obvious question, “that I was the matchmaker for your parents?”
“No.” I sat up straighter and leaned toward my hostess. “Is that true? I remember them being very much in love, though I never knew how they met.”
“Oh, yes. They were an easy match to make. So perfectly suited to one another.” Lady Ambrosia smiled and looked past my shoulder as though remembering something pleasant from long ago.
“I miss them,” I said. Strange how I felt free to confide in this woman.
“I know, dear.” Lady Ambrosia patted my hand. “I have been waiting for your arrival.”
“Am I late? My uncle made the arrangements for our appointment. My apologies if I kept you waiting.” It would have been just like my Uncle Norbert to cause me to be tardy to such an important meeting.
Lady Ambrosia chuckled. “No, dear. You are here at exactly the right time. I meant that I have been waiting to make your marriage match for several years.”
“How is that possible?” I asked around a large bite of cake, which melted across my tongue in a delicious explosion.
“When your mother fell ill, after your father had already passed on, she wrote to me.” Lady Ambrosia reached into a pocket which existed somewhere in the folds of the massive dress draped over her body and pulled out a faded letter which she passed to me.
My dear Lady Ambrosia , the letter began in a hand which I recognized as my mother’s, though the script was weak, no doubt due to her failing health.
I write to you on behalf of my beloved daughter, Lady Tempest. She is now but twelve years old and will not be in need of your services for several years, but I fear I will not be able to make the necessary arrangements when the time comes, as my health ebbs from me even as I write these words.
With my passing, Lady Tempest will no doubt be placed in the care of my sister, Hestia and her husband. I do not relish this thought, but there are no other family members who can care for her.
My sister will to see to Lady Tempest’s basic needs, but—forgive me for being blunt—I have no faith in her ability to select a proper husband for my sweet daughter.
Therefore, I entrust that task to you. I have made this known to my sister and pray that she will, in this matter at least, honor my wishes.
Yours most sincerely,
Lady Honoria Tapoate
I read the letter three times. The contents were easily understood upon the first reading, but with each successive time my eyes passed over the words of my mother, I could hear the dear woman’s voice as though it was whispering sweetly in my ear.
Reaching into my reticule, I retrieved the handkerchief gifted to me by Mattie and dabbed at my eyes.
When I had composed myself, I glanced up at Lady Ambrosia. “May I keep this?” I asked, indicating the letter.
“Of course, my dear.” Lady Ambrosia patted my hand again as appeared to be a habit of hers.
“I had no idea my mother had arranged all of this.”
“Your mother was a very special, loving and kind woman. I am sorry she is not here with us today.”
I swallowed around the lump in my throat and nodded in agreement. Then I took a sip of tea in an effort to quench the dryness in my mouth.
“Well, I am sure you are eager to learn the identity of your husband,” Lady Ambrosia said.
I sputtered and coughed, not expecting such a direct statement from Lady Ambrosia.
“I know your life has been unpleasant since your parents’ passing, but today is the first day of your new, happy life.”
“What can you tell me about my husband?” I asked, suddenly shy at the realization that my wish to have my own family might come true very soon.
Lady Ambrosia chuckled. “Well, I do not know exactly who he is, not quite yet. Matchmaking can be a complicated business.”
“Oh, of course. I did not mean to imply that it was not.” Frankly, I had no idea how someone went about arranging marriages or selecting a proper spouse.
Lady Ambrosia brought out a large leather bound book and placed it on the table, pushing aside the tea service to make room for it. Flipping it open, she thumbed through several pages and then smiled. “Ah, here we are.” She ran her finger down the page which had a column of names followed by a series of symbols, presumably some sort of secret matchmaker code. Intrigued, I leaned toward the book, only to have my hostess snap it shut. “No peeking!” she said, waggling her finger at me.
Taken aback, I apologized.
“No need for concern, my dear. You are not the first eager bride-to-be to try to discern my methods.”
“How do you select the proper spouse?”
“Ah, if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Lady Ambrosia smiled. “I come from a long line of matchmakers, our methods passed down from generation to generation.”
Somehow, learning about her pedigree bolstered my confidence in her abilities.
“First, I will need to gather some information about you. Stand up, please.”
Curious, I did as she asked.
She opened the book up again and held it in front of her so I could not see what it said. Looking at me over the top of the large ledger, she said, “Please hop on your right foot three times.”
I did as she asked, though I had no idea how my ability to hop affected my suitability as a spouse.
“Very nice,” she said, jotting notes in her book. “Now, pat yourself on the head while you spin in a circle three times.”
I hesitated, but not wishing to offend this kind lady who smelled of cinnamon and sugar, I spun and patted.
“Outstanding,” she said when I finished. “You may sit down.”
Feeling a bit dizzy, I was grateful to resume my seat at the table.
Lady Ambrosia scribbled furiously in the book then glanced up at me and fired off a series of questions. “What is your favorite color?”
“Do you prefer painting or embroidery?”
“Painting, though I have not been permitted to do so since living with my aunt and uncle.”
Lady Ambrosia clucked her tongue with disapproval which I hoped was directed at my relations and not me.
“Venison or veal?”
With a few more scratches of her quill on the book, she closed it and smiled up at me.
“You did very well, my dear.”
“Thank you,” I said, curious to know how my choice of venison over veal would affect the selection of my marriage partner.
“Please wait here, dear.” She stood and disappeared amongst the blooms, the mysterious book tucked under her arm.
I finished off my tea and waited. In that moment, the full force of things hit me, and I realized I was going to be married. By the end of the day, I would know the identity of the man who would be my husband.
Doubt crept in. Had I made a mess of things? Was I foolish to agree to marry a man sight unseen, simply based upon the word of a matchmaker?
I looked back toward the direction we had come from when we entered the solarium. Was it too late to change my mind? But if I did, where would I go?
And so I remained seated, awaiting my fate.
Lady Ambrosia returned, an assortment of flowers in one hand, the leather bound book in the other. She handed me the flowers.
“Thank you,” I said. “They are lovely.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “This is your wedding bouquet. The flowers have meanings, you know.”
“No,” I said. “I did not know that.”
“This exotic beauty is called Gloxinia. It represents love at first sight.”
My heart soared and I released the breath I had been holding.
“This flower,” Lady Ambrosia pointed to another, “is called Bluebell and it represents the man who will be your husband and what you will teach him: humility. He is a proud man and sometimes stubborn. He will need to conquer his pride to secure your love.”
“But, what about love at first sight?” I asked, confused and wishing Lady Ambrosia had stopped with the first flower.
“A marriage, a long lasting, passionate marriage, requires more than love. Each party must grow and learn.” She leaned over and tapped my heart with her index finger. “You will have a lesson to learn as well.
“Bittersweet,” she said. “This flower represents truth. It is beautiful but also poisonous to humans, just as lack of truth can be poisonous to a marriage.”
“That does not sound promising,” I said, my heart sinking.
“The flowers must all be read together, like the notes of a song. This is a dandelion. Many people consider this flower to be an unwelcome weed.”
I gasped. A weed? This was going from bad to worse. Maybe returning to my uncle’s house would not be so bad. Or perhaps I could secure a position as a governess.
“Do not lose heart, my dear. The dandelion has a fierce desire to survive and represents triumph over difficult times and enduring happiness.”
“What does it all mean?” My head was swimming.
“Patience, Lady Tempest.” Lady Ambrosia raised the final flower to my nose, and I inhaled its sweet scent. “Honeysuckle stands for devotion, affection and a sweet, happy life.”
Lady Ambrosia smiled triumphantly.
“But, you still have not told me who my husband is.”
“No, I have not. But I know exactly the man who will fulfill your heart and destiny.”
“You do? Tell me about him.” I grabbed Lady Ambrosia’s arm and nearly toppled her from her seat.