Every fortune-hunting female in London is after the newly titled Earl of Kendall, but he’s intent on finding a wife whose heart is true. So, while drunkenly jesting with his friends in a pub one night, he has an idea—what if the ladies of the ton didn’t know he was a wealthy earl? All he has to do is pose as a servant at his friend’s summer country house party and make sure the guest list is full of beautiful, eligible debutantes. What could possibly go wrong?
May the best footman win.
Miss Frances Wharton is far more interested in fighting for the rights of the poor than in marriage, but her mother insists she attend a summer house party—and find herself a husband. Frances would rather wed a goat than the pompous man her mother has in mind, so in order to dissuade the would-be suitor, she vows to behave like a shrew. The only person she can be herself with is the kind, handsome footman she runs into at every turn. Their connection is undeniable, and the divide between them is no match for the passion they feel. But what will happen when Frances learns that the footman she adores is actually the earl she despises? In a game where everything is false, can they convince each other that their love is true?
Lucas Drake, the fifth Earl of Kendall, was foxed. But only foxed, not an entire three sheets to the wind. And he should know. He spent more than a decade in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Lucas knew precisely how dangerous a situation it was to have three sheets to the wind. The sheet controls the sail, after all, and if the line is not secured, the sheet flops in the wind. If all three sails were loose, the ship would be out of control. Lucas was not out of control. Four mugs of watered-down ale at the Curious Goat Inn would not do that to a former sailor. He was foxed enough, however, to say, “I think it’s time I find a wife,”aloud, in the presence of all three of his closest friends. As expected, he silenced his three companions. Worth, Bell, and Clayton immediately snapped to face him with varying expressions of alarm. Rhys Sheffield, the Duke of Worthington, was the first to find his voice. Worth was an excellent man at heart, but his horse’s arse of a father—God rest the former duke’s soul—had all but ruined him. Rhys took himself and his title too seriously. Competitive to a fault, especially when it came to gaming or women—both of which he usually won—the duke enjoyed the finer things in life and projected a devil-may-care attitude that only his close friends understood was a façade. Worth’s reply to Lucas’s statement was to wince, suck in his breath, shake his head vigorously, and say, “A wife? Good God, man! There’s no need to rush into anything so…permanent.”“We’re not getting any younger,”Lucas pointed out. “On the contrary,”Worth replied, “at nine and twenty, we’re pups. My father was over fifty when I was born.”The second head to turn and stare at Lucas was that of Beaumont Bellham, the Marquess of Bellingham. There was no finer patriot than Bell. The man had tried to renounce his title for a spot as a soldier in the wars against France. He’d been turned down in his request, however. Apparently, the Crown did not fancy its marquesses gallivanting across Europe being shot at. Instead, he’d settled for a position with the Home Office and did what he could by way of reconnaissance to help with the war effort on solid English soil. Bell was shrewd, detailed, and focused and was often accused by Worth of working too much. A charge Bell fully admitted to. He liked to tell Worth that he might try an honest day’s work instead of spending his time gaming and chasing women. Worth had yet to take such friendly advice. Bell narrowed his eyes and said, “Are you certain you’re ready? It’s only been two years since….”Thank God the man ended his sentence there. Lucas wasn’t in any mood to discuss Emily. He never would be. The third head to swivel toward Lucas was that of Ewan Fairchild, Viscount Clayton. Clayton had recently got himself leg-shackled, and was just back from his honeymoon. Clayton had a mind for science and there were few things he liked better than experimenting and creating things. He was the kind of man you’d entrust your deepest secrets to. Rich as Croesus and loyal to a fault, Clayton loved his wife Theodora deeply and completely. He’d been the last one they’d all have thought would be the first to marry. Clayton exclaimed, “Thank heavens. I cannot wait until I’m no longer the only one of us with the parson’s noose around his neck.”Lucas took another long draught from his mug and wiped the back of his hand across his lips. His role in their quartet was that of the peacekeeper and confidant. The four of them had met at Eton as lads and stuck together through all manner of hurdles. Lucas’s main concern was, and had always been, duty. He’d spent his life trying to fulfill his duty to his father, his family, and the Crown. In that order. His years in the Navy had taught him responsibility, respect, and the importance of hard work. The death of his older brother Charles fourteen months ago had taught him the importance of living life to the fullest and fulfilling his promise. Before his death, Charles had been championing a bill before Parliament. On his deathbed, as consumption slowly pulled his life away, Charles had asked Lucas to ensure the bill was passed. “For the good of our estate,”Charles had said. “For the good of the country.”Lucas had promised his brother. If it was the last thing he did, he would ensure the Employment Bill passed. Lucas would take a bullet for any one of his friends. He’d give his life for his country. He would walk across broken glass for his mother or sister. But finding a wife who would be true to him, who didn’t want him merely for his money or his title, that was something he couldn’t control. And he detested that fact. Lucas glanced around at his three friends, who watched him as if he’d recently escaped from Bedlam. The rules of etiquette were different here at the Curious Goat Inn. The pub sat like a fat little duck on the corner of two streets in an area of London that was a goodly length from Mayfair, but not quite as far, status-wise, as the Rookeries. Here one could do things like get foxed, wipe the back of one’s hand across one’s lips, and say things like one was looking for a wife, without having to worry about mamas and maidens popping out of every nook and cranny in search of a husband with a title. Ever since he’d inherited the title, he’d been beset by such ladies at every turn. “I’m entirely serious,”Lucas continued. “I must look to secure the earldom. I fear I’ve been too preoccupied with the Employment Bill. I’ve been remiss waiting this long to find a bride.”“I certainly won’t disagree with you that you’ve been too preoccupied with the Employment Bill,”Worth drawled. “Obsessed is more like it.”Lucas shrugged. “Well, now that the Lords have tabled the vote until the autumn session, I have more time to rally the votes I need. I might as well get about the business of looking for a wife in earnest.”“I never bother to vote in Parliament,”Worth drawled. “Don’t happen to care for the hours. And all the arguing is downright exhausting.”Bell gave Worth a beleaguered look and shook his head. “God forbid you take an interest in your seat or any of the issues the country is dealing with.”Worth gave them his most charming grin, flashing his perfect smile that had been the downfall of many unsuspecting women. “I’m entirely confident you chaps can handle it,”Worth replied, clapping Bell on the back. “When the time comes for the vote for my brother’s law,”Lucas continued, addressing his remarks to Worth, “I’ll drive to your town house and drag you out of bed myself.”Bell’s and Clayton’s laughter filled the alcove in which they were sitting. “Let’s not talk of such unpleasantness,”Worth replied with a sigh. “You mentioned finding a bride, Lucas. That’s much more interesting. Now, how old are you again?”The duke shoved back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, narrowing his eyes at Lucas. Lucas arched a skeptical brow at Worth. “The same age you are, old man.”After Eton, they’d all gone on to Oxford. They’d all taken their firsts together. They all were the same age save for a matter of months. “Well, then,”Worth declared. “You’ve plenty of time to find a wife as far as I’m concerned.”“That’s easy to say, coming from a man who’s never given a toss about securing his own title,”Lucas shot back, giving his friend a good-natured grin. Worth returned the smile. “I cannot argue with you there.”He turned and gave the barmaid his even more charming smile, the one that brought out the dimple in his cheek, as he ordered another round of ale for the table. “Yes, well, if you’re seriously looking for a wife, Lucas, the Season has just ended,”Clayton interjected. “It seems you’ve missed your chance. The entire ton is about to retire to the country as soon as Parliament closes next week.”“I’m well aware,”Lucas replied with a curt nod. “The Season makes my skin crawl. Full of simpering maids and purse-eyeing mamas eager to show off their best behavior in the hopes of snaring a rich husband. I don’t want to find a wife that way.”“How else do you intend to find one?”The marquess’s intelligent eyes turned shrewd. “I don’t know how exactly.”He took another drink, growing more confident with each sip. “But this time I intend to find a lady who loves me for myself.”He was talking about Lady Emily Foswell, of course. He never mentioned her name, but his friends knew what he’d been through. No amount of swaggering or denial on his part would convince them that he hadn’t had his damn heart destroyed by her. Though until tonight, he hadn’t even thought about Emily since Parliament had resumed session a few months ago. He’d been far too preoccupied with the Employment Bill. “Yes!”Worth pounded his fist against the table. The duke’s normally jovial voice filled with anger. “I think we can all agree that Lady Emily is the lowest of the low. There’s no excuse for what she did, tossing over one man for another with a better title. As far as I’m concerned, she no longer exists.”Leave it to Worth to bring up a sore subject. The duke had been the most outraged of all of them by Lady Emily’s behavior. And the most interested in ensuring Lady Emily knew that she’d inadvertently tossed over a future earl for a baron. “Can we not discuss Lady Emily, please?”Lucas said with a groan, covering his face with one hand. Worth’s good humor returned with the arrival of the barmaid who’d appeared with their drinks. “Keep ‘em coming, love,”he said to her, before turning back to Lucas and adding, “I’m merely pointing out that if you want a lady who loves you for yourself, the Season and its ridiculousness are the last place you should go.”“Yes,”Lucas replied with a sigh, lifting his mug into the air to salute the duke. “Didn’t I already say that? The Season and its fetes are the last place I should go, which is why I’ve avoided it like the pox for the last two Seasons.”“Oh, is that why you haven’t attended the boring balls at Almack’s?”Worth replied with a smirk. “I thought it was the tepid tea and small talk. That’s why I steer clear of them.”“You avoid them because they don’t serve brandy and we all know it,”Bell pointed out, staring fixedly at Worth, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. Worth winked at his friend. “That and they won’t give me the bank that Hollister’s will.”Hollister’s was Worth’s favorite gambling hell. The man spent nearly all his free time there. Hollister’s had given the duke carte blanche and he won and lost small fortunes there regularly. Lucas scratched his chin and stared blindly at his mug. “If only the ladies of the ton didn’t know I am an earl, I’d have a much better chance of finding a match,”he grumbled. Hmm. The drink was obviously making him looser with words. Perhaps looser with thoughts as well. Worth’s laughter cracked off the wooden beams on the tavern’s ceiling. “I’d pay to see that. An earl dressed up like a common man to find true love. Has a certain poetic ring to it, don’t it?”Clayton laughed too and shook his head, while Bell’s shrewd,
Valerie’s debut novel was published in 2012. Since then, her books have received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. She’s been an RT Reviewers’ Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance and Best Historical Romance Love and Laughter. Two of her books have been nominated for the Kirkus Prize for fiction.
Valerie grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her rascally dogs. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS.
Visit Valerie on the web at www.ValerieBowmanBooks.com and sign-up for her newsletter at: http://www.valeriegbowman.com/subscribe/