A Matchmaker's Match
Click on image to enlarge.
by Nina Coombs Pykare
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Lady Psyche Veringham was a sharp-tongued bluestocking who had turned her attention to finding a match for her young protege, Amanda. The Earl of Southdon appeared to her the perfect husband for Amanda--but he proved willfully uncooperative, pretending Psyche wished to win him for herself. The earl was having none of the pretty debutantes; he wanted a woman of wit and charm. Regency Romance by Nina Coombs Pykare writing as Nina Porter; originally published by Zebra
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1992
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [215 KB]
Reading time: 133-187 min.
Bluestocking: a learned or pedantic woman
Lady Psyche Veringham pulled her favorite hunter up so violently that the poor beast snorted in dismay and almost threw her into the hedgerow, newly burst into bloom. She patted the gelding's smooth black neck in sympathy. "Easy, Hesperus, I'm sorry." Then she turned to frown at the man riding beside her, her cousin Viscount Overton.
"Really, Phillip. Now see what you've done? Hesperus will have a sore mouth tomorrow."
"The horse will survive," her cousin said, fussily smoothing his cravat. "Honestly, Psyche, you know if I had anyone else to ask I should do so. But Mama can't begin to manage a come-out. Not properly. And I want my ward to have the best."
"That is precisely my point," Psyche replied. "It's been years since my come-out. And I remember very little of it. Thank goodness."
Overton smiled sheepishly. "No matter. You've got to do a better job than Mama. Come, you know how Mama is."
Psyche did indeed. Overton's dear mama was just as empty-headed and giddy as her own dear departed mama had been. The Harley sisters had been cut from the same cloth, tonnish London said. And the town had never seen two such flibbertigibbets before or since.
Psyche frowned. It wasn't right to think poorly of the dead, but there was no way to avoid the painful truth. Mama had thought of nothing but fashion and titles. And that was where the trouble had started.
"Please, Psyche. Do this for me," Phillip pleaded, guiding his animal closer. "I don't know anything about managing a come-out."
There was no denying that. But a come-out meant a return to London. And London meant the trouble. Of course, it had been some years--five to be exact--since she had left the town. Perhaps the doings of Lady Bluestocking had been forgotten by now. After all, there were plenty of new on-dits to set fashionable tongues wagging.
And Phillip was her friend as well as her relation. She really did hate to turn him down.
"Tell me some more about her," she said, guiding the hunter around a puddle. "What's your ward's name?"
Overton smiled. "Her name's Amanda. Amanda Caldecott."
"And what sort of person is she?"
He looked puzzled. "I do not know."
Psyche raised an eyebrow. "You do not know? How can this be?"
He frowned, color flooding his cheeks. "Now, Psyche, don't start bedeviling me. Amanda's a young thing, a mere chit, hardly out of the schoolroom. And I--You know I have been on the town for some years. My reputation--Well, you understand."
She resisted an impulse to laugh. "What has your reputation to do with anything?" she inquired sweetly.
He straightened in the saddle and gave her a hard look. "Why, I want Amanda to marry well. And, so as not to invite aspersions on her character, I kept her at the estate in Dover and only visited her twice a year."
Psyche shook her head. "Some would say you are remiss in your duty, cousin. But I think I understand."
Really, she thought Phillip's reputation as a man about town was much puffed, and mostly by himself, but there was no need to take the wind out of the man's sails by telling him so. It was rather amusing how these bucks put such value on their rakish reputations.
"So, tell me," she inquired, "what does your ward look like?"
"She's fair," Overton replied. "Shorter than you. Quite a little thing. With golden hair. Her eyes are blue and her figure trim."
"I see." Psyche grinned over at him. "I'm glad you've noticed her looks at least."
Overton smiled sheepishly. "Of course I have. And demned fine looks they are. But will you quit your teasing? Either fish or cut bait."
Psyche wrinkled her nose. "Really, Phillip, I can't imagine your mama approving of such vulgar language."
Overton groaned in mock agony. "Must you keep mentioning Mama? Surely no man ever labored under a heavier burden."
Psyche sent him a commiserating look. "Speaking of burdens, how am I supposed to carry that of your mama?"
"You're a woman," he said, with a grin. "You know how to get around her."
"Ha!" Impatiently Psyche urged the hunter into a gallop. As Phillip well knew, people like his mama were impossible to get around.
* * * *
Still, a short week later, there Psyche was, arriving at Tall Oaks, Phillip's estate in Dover. She had not promised definitely to undertake Amanda's come-out. She had agreed only to attend this house party and meet the girl.
As the servants began unloading her boxes, Phillip came hurrying down to greet her, closely followed by his mama.
Psyche blinked. The gown Aunt Anna was wearing defied human description. Constructed of some filmy gauzy material, it descended in wave after wave of fluttering yellow ruffles. Since Aunt Anna's complexion was on the sallow side and her figure of more than ample dimensions, the effect was far from pleasing--very far.
But Psyche had no time to contemplate her aunt's inadequate sense of fashion. Aunt Anna enveloped her in a hug that threatened to smother her in those very ruffles. And when her aunt released her, she smiled so sweetly that Psyche's heart sank. It was obvious that that cowardly Overton had neglected to tell his mother the real reason for her visit.
Psyche returned the smile. "Aunt Anna, how good to see you."
"We're so glad you could come," Aunt Anna trilled. "I haven't seen you for so long, child. Why, not since you lost your parents."
Psyche nodded. "Yes, Aunt." She hoped no one would refine on the carriage accident that had taken both her parents. Talking about it still hurt.
"Come," Overton said, taking her arm and leading her away from his mother who was already directing the servants. "I want you to meet Amanda."
Psyche looked around the pleasant garden, bright with spring blossoms. "Why didn't she come out here? It's such a lovely day."
Overton frowned. "She's too fair-skinned to be out in this sun." He glanced at Psyche's face. "And really, cousin, you should have a care for your complexion, too. With that dark hair and being so much in the sun--Why, you're so brown you could be taken for a Gypsy."
Psyche chuckled. "You did not malign my complexion last week when you came visiting me, cousin. Does this mean you have settled on someone else to manage the thing?"
"Good Lord, no!" He cast an anxious glance over his shoulder, pulling at his cravat. "Only don't tell Mama just yet. There's no need, till it's closer to the time."
Psyche patted his arm. "Poor boy. I know how it is. Remember, my mama was much like yours."
Overton frowned. "To think there were two of them. Truly, I don't see how you managed so well."
Psyche laughed, but it was a laugh without humor. "Oh yes," she said. "I managed so well that now I am a spinster."
Overton looked surprised. "I always thought that was by your choice."
Psyche shrugged. "I suppose in a way it was." She contrived a smile. "But take me to your Amanda. I have not come all this way to discuss my past foibles."
They entered the library through the French doors that led in from the garden. A slender girl came hurrying toward them, the ribbons on her white muslin gown fluttering. "Oh, milady--" She stopped, her mouth forming a pink oval of surprise.
"What is it, my dear?"
Amanda flushed. "I thought--That is, you are so terribly young."
Psyche chuckled, already finding the young woman to her liking. "I may be on the shelf," she said. "But I am not yet ancient."
"Oh dear," Amanda breathed, her fair face turning rosy. "I am in the suds now."
"Not at all," Psyche returned. "As you grow older you will learn that women never mind being told they look young."
Overton cast an anxious look over his shoulder. "I will go distract Mama so you two can get acquainted." And off he hurried.
"Well," said Psyche, taking off her bonnet and shaking her dark curls. "I suppose you know that my cousin has asked me to manage your come-out."
Amanda turned from looking after her guardian. "Oh yes, milady. And I pray you will do so. Lady Overton is--"
"She's a dear kind woman," Psyche said. "So was my Mama. Dealing with her was also difficult."
"You are so kind," Amanda said. "Not at all what I thought Lady Bluest--"
Psyche frowned. "You have heard the Lady Bluestocking stories?"
Amanda nodded. "Oh yes, milady. Many times."
Psyche sighed. "Then you must understand that if I decide to manage your come-out, the stories will most likely be revived."
Amanda nodded, blond curls bobbing emphatically. "But since we will be in London everyone will be able to see that you're not bracket-faced. They'll know--"
"Bracket-faced?" Psyche stiffened and looked around, grateful they were alone in the library. Of all the accusations made against her no one had ever before called her ugly. She was beginning to wish she'd stuck to her first sentiment and delivered a resounding--and final--no to Overton's request for help.
"Yes, milady. That's what I heard."
Psyche refrained from asking who had said such a thing of her. After all, she had not been in town for some years. And in the ton rumors were always quick to fly.
"Well," she said. "If I agree--and I only say if--you must be prepared for the gossips." She sighed. "In my day the worst of them was a mother-daughter pair--the Lindens."
Amanda's eyes grew round. "Oh yes! I have heard my guardian speak of them. Such horrible creatures!"
Psyche sighed. It looked like this was going to be no easy task. Amanda was a lovely girl, but did she have the understanding to make a really good match? Beauty was enough for some men, but a real tip-top Corinthian would expect to find a little more than an empty head behind that pretty face.
"Come," Psyche said, settling down on the settee. "Let us get acquainted."
* * * *
They were still at it some minutes later when Psyche heard another carriage roll up outside. Amanda started to her feet, pulling nervously at the pink ribbons that decorated her gown. "Oh dear, someone else is arriving. And I know I shall appear addled. It's just that I do want to do my guardian justice. He has been so kind to me. And it is so important to him that I make a good match."
"And to you, too," said Psyche.
Amanda's eyes widened. "Yes, but I thought you disapproved of marriage."
Psyche frowned. Was she never to live down Lady Bluestocking's infamy? "We shall have to talk about that. You have been hearing some sorry tales about me, no doubt. But come, let's see who has arrived. Perhaps it's my friend, Georgette, Lady Standish. I asked Overton to invite her."
Amanda moved toward the window. "No, it's not a lady. It's a gentleman!"
Curious, Psyche moved to look out the French doors. It was a gentleman, indeed, a fine figure of a man--his coat of blue superfine and his fawn inexpressibles bespeaking the work of London's finest tailors. His curly brimmed beaver had obviously come straight from the best hatter and his boots gleamed brilliantly in the sunlight.
Psyche found herself a little short of breath. It must be the prospect of being among people again. "Who is he?" she asked.
"The earl," Amanda breathed. "Justin St. James, Earl of Southdon."
He turned and Psyche saw a darkly handsome face--aristocratic nose, determined chin, and eyes ... Her heart gave a peculiar little lurch in her chest.
"He's the one," Amanda continued. Her face aglow, she turned back to Psyche. "He's the man I'm going to marry."
"What! That is--" Aware of her proximity to the French doors, Psyche lowered her voice to a more reasonable tone. "Why him?"
"He's marvelous," Amanda breathed, her hands fluttering. "A tip-top Corinthian. The best catch of the Season."
"I see." She did not see at all. This child must have lost her mind. And Overton, too, to let her think of such a thing. "When did you meet the earl?"
Amanda smiled. "Oh, I have not met him, milady. I've only heard my guardian speak of him."
Psyche considered the innocent glowing face before her. Surely the girl had more understanding than that. "You mean to say that you intend to marry a man you have never even met?"
"Oh yes!" Amanda clasped her hands. "And, oh, milady, it is so kind of you to help me."