Can the Ladies of the Wagering Whist Society help a duke’s sister find love where she would least expect it?

Lady Margaret refuses to believe she is as beautiful and charming as people say. With a deadline to marry, she knows she needs to rely on her friends’ help in putting herself forward. And now she’s even seeking out the support of her chaperone’s footman. Only through his incredible art can she recognize what she is unable to see in her mirror.

Tall, blond, and broad-shouldered, James Douglass, Marquess of Rossburke, has the looks of the perfect footman. This unexpected career path is unfortunately the only way the impoverished Scottish nobleman can find to support his passion for painting – for which London is the only place to be. But how can he now win the heart of his new passion, the lovely and vulnerable Lady Margaret?

To make sure that love is well served, the Ladies of the Wagering Whist Society have to concoct their most devious plan to convince the footman to show his true hand.

Chapter One

~March 24, 1807~

“Get your hands off her!” James Douglass commanded as he strode into Lord Coningsby’s library. There were more pictures than books in the room, but his lordship liked the pretension of calling it the library. Jamie just thought the man an idiot.

It was exactly as he’d feared when Mary hadn’t come back down to the kitchen after sweeping out the fireplaces. The fourteen-year-old maid always left the library for last, in order to avoid Lord Coningsby, but sometimes he returned in the afternoons instead of going out to his club. Jamie, a footman in the household, had warned her that his lordship was home, but Mary hadn’t had a choice—she had to do her work.

And now, Jamie didn’t have a choice but to rescue the girl from their employer’s wandering hands.

Lord Coningsby’s hand froze on the girl’s budding breast as Jamie now came to a halt in the center of the room. His lordship still stood by the fireplace place where he’d accosted the scullery maid. His eyes widened for only a moment before narrowing in anger. He deliberately continued what he was doing, squeezing hard enough to elicit a squeak from the girl as if daring Jamie. The man’s other hand gripped Mary’s upper arm, ensuring that she couldn’t move away.

“I said, get your hands off her,” Jamie repeated. He felt his nails biting into his palms, but it was Coningsby who he’d like to hurt more than anything.

“And just who the hell do you think you are commanding me to do anything,” his lordship spat.

“I am looking out for her welfare—something that should be your responsibility,” Jamie replied.

A cruel smile grew on Lord Coningsby’s face. “Yes, she is my responsibility, and I can do whatever the hell I want with her. She belongs to me.”

“She belongs to nobody,” Jamie said, trying to control the volume if not the tone of his voice.

“She is in my employ, as were you, now get out!” His lordship shouted before turning back to Mary. Tears were streaming down her small round face even as her big brown eyes implored Jamie.

“Don’t lose yer job over me, Jamie,” she cried.

“Oh, don’t worry, my dear, he already has,” Lord Coningsby said, giving her a cruel smile. “Now get out of my house and don’t ever return!” he yelled at the former footman.

“I am not leaving without her,” Jamie said, his voice quietly dangerous. If Coningsby had any intelligence, any sort of experience with a man like Jamie, he would have known that nothing good happened when he lowered his voice in that way. Sadly, Coningsby truly was an idiot. Jamie gave a brief nod to Mary.

“The hell you are,” his lordship said loudly, pulling the girl closer.

It took two long strides before Jamie stood directly into front of the man. “Duck!” he said, keeping his gaze directed at Coningsby.

Luckily, Mary knew exactly what he meant and dropped to the floor. His lordship let go when her movement and then Jamie’s fist took him by surprise. Jamie connected with the man’s nose the moment Mary was out of the way.

As Coningsby screamed, Jamie grabbed Mary’s hand and pulled her from the room. He started toward the front door with her in tow.

“No! We can’t go out that way,” she said, pulling back.

“Who’s going to stop us?”

A rather rotund, older lady was standing in their way, assisted by the butler in pulling on her pelisse, when Jamie excused himself and slipped past her, dragging Mary behind him.

They hadn’t taken two steps away from the house before Mary stopped Jamie, throwing herself into his arms and bursting into tears.

He could do nothing but rub her back consolingly. “It’s all right, now. It’s all right. He won’t ever hurt you again.” She was such a little thing. Her head didn’t even reach his shoulder. She rested it against his chest, making such a brave attempt at containing her fright.

“Thank-thank you,” she said, but a moment later, she gasped. “What are we gonna do now? We’s lost our jobs.”

“I don’t know,” Jamie admitted. “I’ll, I’ll think—” But he honestly didn’t know what he’d do now. He couldn’t go back to being an artist. It was that which had left him with only three options: go home, go into someone’s employ, or starve to death—and he wouldn’t go home. And then there was Mary…

“Young man!” a woman’s voice called from the carriage standing just in front of the house.

Jamie turned toward her. It was the same woman who he’d just passed in the Coningsby’s entry hall.

She crooked her finger at him.

He disentangled himself from Mary and approached.

She handed him a card. “Holton is my butler’s name. Tell him I told you to come ’round.” She sat back inside her carriage and rapped on the ceiling, giving her driver the go ahead to move forward.

Jamie stepped out of the way of the wheels and looked down at the card in his hand. The Duchess of Kendell it said and gave an address on Grosvenor Street.

He turned back to Mary who stood on the sidewalk with streaks from her tears dripping down her cheeks, her brown eyes wide. “It looks like we have an answer,” he said as shocked as she.

The 1807 Season