Lunden viewed his friend, as convivial as always, and a sliver of long-lost reminiscence pricked his conscience. He might loathe the city, but he missed companionship of friends, no matter his chosen isolation. For years he'd declined every invitation sent to his country estate until the few friends he'd possessed stopped requesting his attendance. And no fault could be found. He made it clear he wanted no part of fine society and did not still. Once the business at the bank concluded, he planned to return to Beckford Hall and exercise permanent rustication.
"I do need a place to stay. Thank you. It will be hellish trying to keep a low profile, but that's my hope." The Whittingham town house was situated on Cleveland Row, adjacent to Pall Mall, and not nearly as discreet as he'd prefer, but his choices were limited to one in number. "Do me a favor though and keep my presence here under wraps."
"Done. I will place the staff on notice. The servants have no need to know your name or purpose."
Matthew leaned back in his chair and for a fleeting moment Lunden thought he detected the beginning of a grin.
"Perhaps you would grant me a favor in return."
His friend was an astute thinker, even as a lad. There was no way Lunden could deny him; Matthew had taken a bullet to the leg defending his honor. "Of course. Name it."
Matthew briefly flashed a smile. "Excellent. Allow me to explain. My parents have retired to Lakeview. Father struggles with his
breathing at times and the city air proves damp and dense. They've seen decades of Seasons and no longer desire the social obligations, most especially with Father's health in question. To that end, they've asked me to find Amelia a husband."
"Amelia." Lunden hadn't thought of Matthew's sister in a number of years. He remembered her as a willful chit, more vinegar than sugar, with remarkable green eyes. The kind of eyes that distracted a man so thoroughly, the unsuspected soul never realized she'd kneed him in the groin until scorching pain shot through his lower body. He cleared his throat and said, "How very fine," although his inner voice screamed, Good luck with that.
"To no surprise, my sister proves unwilling to cooperate. We are like oil and water, always have been, and I suspect she resists my matchmaking attempts for no other reason than to vex me. Meanwhile, Mother desires results and she worries Father will find scant peace until he sees Amelia settled."
A shadow of unease enveloped the room and Lunden ran a hand along his jaw in an attempt to relieve the sudden tension. "What are you asking me to do?"
A second panicked question rose to mind, but he did not lend it voice. Was Matthew asking him to wed his sister? It couldn't be true. All London thought the worst of him. No man would want a scourge for a brother-in-law.
An insufferable silence ensued until at last Matthew replied. "Help me. I'm at wit's end. Find her a husband or facilitate the process. I need her married and out of my hair. The sooner, the better. Life is complicated enough without Amelia's difficulties."
"And how am I to accomplish this and likewise remain undetected? I've been gone for a decade and everyone in this city thinks poorly of me. Once society gets wind I've returned..." With a twinge in his chest, he recalled how polite condolences after his brother's unexpected death became veiled inquiries into the circumstances of the accident, and then later transformed into invidious questions and blunt accusations of the vilest nature.
"I'm not asking you to escort her to a ball." Matthew appeared to warm to the idea. "Just help her realize she's fighting an
unwinnable battle. She needs to be married, and although I'm not convinced she's opposed to the idea, she objects to any gentleman who pays her favor. Influence her. She hung on your every word when we were children."
"Well, we're all grown up now. I haven't seen her in years." Lunden doubted he could serve any real purpose in the plan. "You're asking me, a notorious blight suspected of murder and collusion, to somehow remain in the background and achieve a small miracle?"
Matthew grinned. "I've always believed you invincible."
"Foolish notion." Lunden shifted in his chair. "I hadn't planned on staying in the city overlong."
"Those are my terms. Take it or leave it." Matthew stood and took a few steps, his limp a constant reminder of the heroic deed for which he'd paid a heavy price. "Besides, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish the task with ease and we'll all be the better for it."