Today's Reading

A remembrance of those very same words echoed in his empty chest and Lunden swallowed past the lump in his throat. Matthew was one of the few friends who didn't ostracize him after the sketchy details surrounding Douglas's death became public. How difficult could it be to see his sister matched? He'd make quick work of marrying her off to the first bloke who proposed and then pursue his personal plans.

"Agreed." Lunden took a deep breath and extended his hand for a firm shake.

With more agility than he'd shown earlier, Matthew rounded the desk and rifled through papers spread across the felt blotter. "My mother composed a list for me. I'm sure it will assist."

"Brilliant. Candidates will make the matter much easier." Lunden's apprehension waned. Perhaps he was getting worked up for nothing.

"Not candidates." Matthew laughed a deep rumble. "If it were that easy, I'd have undertaken the task myself. Now here it is." He pulled a sheet of foolscap from a long drawer. "It lists the qualities Mother insists her son-in-law possess. By my guess she
assumed I would marry Amelia to the first bloke who proposed and then move on." He aired a wry smile. "What little confidence she has in me. Anyway, here it is."

Lunden accepted the paper with trepidation. He scanned it with a flick of his eyes and then folded it to place inside the left breast pocket of his waistcoat. "Anything else?"

"Just a thought. When you consider candidates, you should avoid Lord Trent. He would not be amendable. Last month, Amelia set his crotch on fire."

"Pardon?" Lunden's bottom half tightened involuntarily and he shifted in his chair. Again.

Matthew's expression wavered between humor and exasperation. "We recently attended a dinner party where I planned to pursue my mother's objective. Through no easy manipulation I changed Amelia's seat assignment to a position adjacent Lord Trent. Not only is he a respected peer, but he manages his estate masterfully and is rarely seen out of form. A perfect candidate." Matthew paused for a short breath. "My sister can be charming at times and I hoped she'd become smitten with the young earl, as most other ladies fawn at Trent's every word.

"The dinner was going well, at least I believed so, and the conversation turned to social news. I was thrilled. Surely the Fates
were smiling on me. Unfortunately, Trent in a brain lapse I cannot explain to this day, commented that women won all the benefits of marriage, while men were doomed to a future of henpecking.

"Amelia sprung from her chair with such vehemence she dislodged the silver epergne at the center of the table and it tumbled forward, dropping six burning candles into Lord Trent's lap. Had I not reacted so swiftly and doused him with the contents of the water pitcher, the man would have no hope of propagating a future heir."

Lunden cleared his throat. Twice.

"Needless to say, I wouldn't bear him in mind." Matthew turned to where his ongoing puzzle lay spread in hundreds of pieces. "It will take a unique man to appreciate Amelia's adventurous spirit."

"Is that how you label it?" Lunden joined him beside the table and assessed the project strewn before them. "Is there anyone else I should avoid?"

"Lords Riley and Lennox." Matthew placed a piece into the Atlantic Ocean near the edge of the new continent. "That should be everyone."

"Clever how you've foisted this task onto me because you detest it yourself." Lunden watched as his friend fitted three more pieces in succession to form a short portion of Egypt's border. Egypt; now there was a place far from the painful memories found in London and the foolish endeavor he'd agreed to accomplish. The puzzle offered myriad escape opportunities.

"You'll do better at it. Amelia resists my suggestions before she considers them, simply because I'm her sibling. She gainsays me at every turn."

"Shall I tell her that you've engineered this Machiavellian plot? If she's as sharp-witted as I recall, she'll discover the truth
without difficulty."

"I'll leave Amelia in your capable hands. I trust you. You're like a brother to me."

It was a poor choice of words and the look of dismay on Matthew's face confirmed he regretted the statement, but the sentiment was well meant and Lunden wouldn't allow his friend remorse.

"Now show me to my rooms, before I reconsider and flee this house." Lunden waited for no further remarks and aimed for the doorway with purposeful strides.

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