Loving the Lost Duke

By: Louise Allen

Author’s Note

Loving the Lost Duke began as a short story – Guinea Gold – which appeared in the Romantic Novelists’ Association anthology Loves Me, Loves Me Not in 2009.

I am indebted to fellow author Jan Jones for the suggestion that I develop this into a full length novel featuring Sophie. The original short story, slightly edited, forms the Prologue to this new novel and the beginning of a whole new series – Dangerous Deceptions.

Prologue - Where An Old Love Rekindles

‘Your daughter is very lovely is she not? You are to be congratulated Lady Wilmott.’

Thea looked up at the tall stranger who had strolled into the chaperones’ corner. ‘Why thank you, sir, but I can claim little credit, except perhaps for her colouring. Sophie must claim the praise for her sweetness and her grace.’ This was no time for reticence or false modesty, not when a young lady was to be launched upon her first Season. But who was the admiring gentleman, other than an elegant sophisticate at least twice Sophie’s seventeen years?

‘You do not recognise me, ma’am?’ He smiled and something flashed through her memory from long ago. Laughter, a tear or two, a hesitant kiss, a clumsy boy of her own age with feet and hands still to grow into.

‘Perhaps...’ Thea shook her head. ‘You remind me of a young man from my first Season when I was just Sophie’s age. Lucas Randall…’ His mouth curved again into a mischievous look that sliced away the years at a stroke and she gasped. ‘Why, it is you! And you are grown up – oh, what a foolish thing to say, of course you are, it must be all of eighteen years since we last… met.’

And how unfair it was that a gangling youth grows up to this fine maturity, to a man in his prime, with the silver at his temples lending gravitas and the lines at the corners of his eyes adding charm, when for a woman of thirty six those first betraying flags of age merely rendered them invisible.

‘You joined the diplomatic service did you not?’ So long ago, those unspoken messages sent in a glance, a touch. Nothing said, nothing that gave her the lie when her papa had asked, There is no one else you have set your cap at I trust, my dear?

‘I did.’ He stood beside her spindly gilt chair, relaxed, his eyes following the laughing girl down the length of the set. ‘I was posted abroad and I stayed abroad – India to Spain to the West Indies and lately, Brazil. England seems the foreign country now.’

‘But you are back for good?’ How warm it was, the long ballroom so crowded, so noisy, so brightly lit. Her fan was little help, not for the colour in her cheeks, not for the drumming in her pulse.

‘Indeed. I have been honoured with the title of Viscount Elmham, with lands marching with my own small inherited estate. It is time to settle down.’

‘And to raise a family?’

‘Yes. Of course, one requires a wife for that pleasant duty.’

Close to them Sophie laughed and paused in the measure, chattering to her partner while they waited for their turn to promenade. Her partner seemed dazzled.

‘My father always held that a man in his thirties should marry a girl before she is twenty, that it is a very suitable age difference,’ Thea remarked. I know my duty as a mother: marry my daughter in her first Season and marry her well.

‘You followed his guidance yourself of course, Lady Wilmott.’

‘Yes. Papa was always wise in matters of that kind.’ Wise and firm and always well-meaning.

Lucas opened his dance card and glanced at it. His fingers were as brown, as long, as she remembered, but now his whole body was grown and muscled and those big hands fitted. She was staring. Thea made herself look away, stirring uneasily on the hard upholstery.

‘There is a waltz shortly, I believe.’

So, he had asked. Now all that would follow was inevitable. How could he fail to be enchanted by Sophie? The next few months flashed before her eyes with the betrothal, the shopping, the planning, the wedding, the loneliness… the grandchildren. How very strange to have a son-in-law one’s own age. This man of all men.

‘Yes, there is.’ Thea made a business of consulting the dance card. ‘Sophie has been approved to waltz by two of the Patronesses.’ The warm glow of maternal pride that her lovely daughter should have secured approval so easily warred with the knot of shameful chagrin twisting inside. ‘But there are several dances yet, Lord Randall, and Sophie is engaged in all those up until then. Perhaps you would like to return –’