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A Matchmaking Mismatch

A Matchmaking Mismatch

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Love lessons have never gone so awry

Main Tropes

  • Secret Identity
  • Matchmaker Gone Wrong
  • Forbidden Love


Miss Ruth Hawthorn helps support her fatherless family the only way she can: doling out love advice in a local newspaper column under an assumed name, The Swan. When she receives a lucrative request for an in-person consultation from someone signed "O," her brother persuades her to go to London with him, teaching him what he needs to know in order to survive the short appointment. But when "O" moves up the time of the rendez-vous and Ruth's brother is nowhere to be found, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

Philip Trent, Lord Oxley, knows precisely which woman will best fill his late mother's shoes as the viscountess—now all he needs is a little help winning her over, swarmed as she is by suitors. Ashamed of his ineptitude with women but determined to succeed, Philip secretly enlists help. The youthful, bespectacled Swan seems like the last person capable of providing such help, but Philip finds in the young man both a friend and a confidant, with a surprising understanding of love.

Philip's choice of woman is proving more difficult than anticipated, though, and Ruth's ongoing disguise and frequent meetings with him are taxing her conscience—and her heart. With more secrets than Ruth can manage and a heart long since lost to her most important client, she faces the threat of discovery and ruin—a prospect somehow eclipsed by the heartbreak she will face when those secrets are inevitably discovered by the man she loves.

Intro to Chapter 1

Philip Trent, Viscount Oxley, sorely regretted the rash promise he had made to marry when he turned thirty years old. It was the type of idiotic thing one did when one was sitting comfortably at the age of three-and-twenty, naïvely believing that, not only was thirty an eternity away, but that one would be infinitely wiser—almost a different creature entirely—when that time did arrive.

Philip’s friend, Julius Finmore, had never been one to tiptoe around unwelcome subjects. “A month to woo and marry a bride,” Finmore said.

They held glasses of punch in their hands, watching from the outer walls of the ballroom as couples skipped up and down the set together.

“No, no.” Philip swallowed the last bit of his punch and placed it on the silver tray of a passing footman. “I never said by the time I turned thirty—merely that I would marry when I was thirty. It is a vital distinction, and it gives me an entire year.”

Finmore leveled him an amused glance. “Afraid, are you? You’re not usually one for putting off unsavory tasks, Ox.”

Philip smiled. “No, that is generally your domain, isn’t it?” The thought of marriage wasn’t exactly unsavory. Merely unsettling. But unsettling or no, it was his duty. And, if his father were still alive, he wouldn’t have hesitated to say as much. 

According to him, thirty was the perfect age for marriage—“enough time to see a bit of the world but not so much time that a man gets too attached to his independence,” he had always said. 

Finmore smiled widely but shook his head of sandy blond hair. “I am merely a man who enjoys his…entertainments.” 

Yes, Finmore certainly enjoyed his entertainments. Women, horses, cards. Philip didn’t envy his friend’s debts, but he did sometimes envy his ease with women. Gentlemen often referred to him as Shark Fin, an allusion to his ability to steal any woman from any man with the stealth of a shark.

“Well,” Finmore said, putting out a hand to display the couples dancing. “Which one will it be? There’s hardly a soul missing among the eligible women in London tonight. If you want a woman fit to become Lady Oxley, this is as good a place as any to decide. Why not choose one? What about Miss Conroy?”

Philip shook his head. Her name was on the list of candidates that sat in the drawer of his desk, but there was a neat line through it. There was a hint of instability about Miss Conroy if the scandal her elder sister had caused was any indication.

“Miss Welland, then,” Finmore offered.

Philip shook his head again. Miss Welland was stable enough, but her family came from new money. Philip’s father would never have approved.

“Lady Eliza.”

Ancient family but no money. 

Philip’s father had made it clear what type of woman he expected Philip to marry: good family, wealthy, poised, free of scandal, and kind. 

Well, Philip had added that last one.

Finmore turned to him, frowning. “Go on, then. Do you already have someone in mind?”

Philip’s gaze flickered over to where Miss Rebecca Devenish stood on the far end of the ballroom. His eyes had found her the minute she’d walked in, hand elegantly holding up the side of her lilac gown.

Still lilac. He was beginning to think she might never put off mourning entirely. And while he wasn’t precisely tripping over himself in a hurry to the altar, he couldn’t court her very well while she held men at arm’s length.

She was everything a woman needed to be to fill the shoes of Philip’s mother. He had watched her carefully since she had begun attending events again, though she never participated in the festivities. He had never seen her show anything but kindness to those who approached her, and it was that which had finally tipped the scales in her favor. He trusted that his observations indicated an even-keeled disposition—someone his father would approve of but who wouldn’t subject Philip to the hurt his mother had caused her family in private.

Finmore didn’t miss the direction of Philip’s glance. “Ah,” he said with a knowing glance. “Right. Of course you would choose the one woman you cannot have.”

Philip scoffed. “Cannot have?”

Finmore cocked an eyebrow at him. “I have watched your oh-so-captivating transformation from strong, capable viscount to clumsy, blubbering idiot in the presence of women. Like you, she has the pick of the Town, and I’m sorry, Ox, but she doesn’t seem to be interested in you.”

Of course Finmore would have noticed what was a source of severe frustration to Philip. Miss Devenish didn’t seem to care overmuch about Philip’s title or wealth or even his appearance, which was generally thought to be well above the average. She treated him just as she treated every other man. He had hope, though, that once she was no longer in mourning, and once he made his intentions known, that would change. 

He swallowed uncomfortably at the thought that his hope might be an unfounded one. But he said nothing, merely watching as Miss Devenish and her father exchanged smiling remarks to one another. Her hair gleamed in the candlelit ballroom, arranged as it was in undulating twists and currents, like freshly poured honey. Her cheeks had that healthy, rosy glow that something artificial like rouge could never achieve. She was certainly not unpleasant to look at.

“I believe she does it to torture everyone,” Finmore said, eyes narrowed as he watched her. “Coming to events like this, I mean, and refusing to dance and make merry. I imagine it gives her a sense of power to hold everyone’s attention and keep the ton on its toes, waiting for her to arrive in anything but half-mourning. I cannot think her brother would wish her to mourn him for this long. Only a tyrant would.”

Philip didn’t believe anything of the sort about Miss Devenish. Finmore, while very capable with women, held a great deal of cynicism toward them. Philip admired Miss Devenish’s devotion to her brother, even if he had a hard time understanding such familial affection.

Finmore took a drink. “In any case, you will need help wooing her.”

“Wooing her?”

Finmore raised his brows. “Yes, wooing her. What reason have you to think she would favor your suit over any of the others?”

Philip shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t arrogant, but one didn’t grow up a Trent of Oxley Court without a certain awareness of one’s desirability.

Finmore chuckled, seeming to take Philip’s silence as answer enough. “No, Ox. You have your work cut out for you, I’m afraid. Miss Devenish wants to be swept off her feet by someone who knows how to charm.”

“By which I am to understand that I lack such a skill?” Philip knew he did. But he didn’t like the thought that anyone else knew it—even a friend as close as Finmore.

Finmore clapped him on the shoulder. “Yes, Ox. Yes, you do. You are one of those fortunate men who has the luxury of ignoring the art of flattery because you have so many other means of attracting women. Oh, don’t look at me like that, as if I was conveying staggering news. You may be a Nonesuch in every other category, but everyone has their Achilles’ heel, you know. Luckily for you, it is a skill that can be learned.”

Philip crossed his arms across his broad chest and laughed. “And you propose to teach me, I take it?”

Finmore smiled. “No, I haven’t the patience that Herculean task would require.” 

“It is just as well. I need a wife, not a reputation as a rake.”

Finmore chuckled softly and lifted a brow as though a thought had occurred to him. “Perhaps what you need is someone like the Swan.”

A passing woman sent a coy look at Finmore over her splayed fan, and he gave her a half-smile in return.

Philip stifled an eye roll at the silent exchange.

“The Swan?” Philip adjusted his cravat, more curious than he cared to let on.

The young woman sent another glance over her shoulder at Finmore, and his eyes remained on her as he responded. “Yes. Something I heard from McQuaid the other day. Apparently he accompanied his mother to some small town outside of London and discovered a self-proclaimed genius in the art of love—this Swan figure. McQuaid ascribes his success with Miss Curran to heeding the Swan’s counsel. I can find the man’s address if you’d like. Apparently, he runs an advice column in the local newspaper.”

Philip waved his hand dismissively. “No, no.” Surely he wasn’t so hopeless as that with women. He sincerely hoped not.

Finmore shrugged. “Suit yourself. But I can promise you, Miss Devenish won’t be won by a man without any address, be his family and title ever so ancient. Her parents have promised to let her choose her husband, and she is too sentimental to marry purely for convenience. You might simply set your sights a bit lower. Any other woman in the room would have you willingly—oaf that you are.” He clapped Philip on the shoulder with a smile. “I’m for the card table. Join me?”

Philip shook his head, but Finmore seemed to have anticipated the response and was already on his way out of the ballroom. Philip watched his friend disappear into the pockets of people between him and the doorway. The Swan. He scoffed silently. He needed no such help.

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