The Trouble With Dukes(10)

By: Grace Burrowes

A hint of the duchess infused Megan’s parting shot. Not would you please come by, or I hope you’ll come by, but the imperative: Do come by. Hamish had given and received enough orders to know one when he heard it.

“I am sorry, Miss Megan, but my family and I are soon to depart for the north.”

If the words hurt the lady as much as they hurt Hamish, she gave no sign of it. Those spectacles were wonderful for disguising emotions. Perhaps Hamish would find a pair for himself. In Scotland, no lovely, kind, soft-spoken women peered at Hamish with honest curiosity, but nobody called him the Duke of Murder either.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the duchess said. “You are a duke, sir, and your sisters must be presented at court if they haven’t been already. I’ll not hear of you leaving Town until that courtesy has been attended to. You will call upon us to discuss that matter, if nothing else.”

“But Your Grace, I have responsibilities, and we’ve tarried in London some while already,” Hamish replied, even knowing that arguing with a senior officer was folly.

“Sir, I have raised five daughters,” Her Grace said, most pleasantly. “Your sisters are entitled to enjoy London in every respect. You will please come to the ball on Tuesday next, and bring your siblings. Do I make myself clear? A written invitation will be in your hands by sunset.”

Rhona and Edana stood like recruits quivering to be chosen for a choice assignment, but unable to speak out of turn while they awaited their captain’s direction. In their yearning silence, Hamish saw them not as his pestering, expensive, bewildering sisters but as two pretty young ladies who’d endured as many Scottish winters and plain wool cloaks as they could bear.

“Your invitation is most gracious,” Hamish said, suppressing the urge to salute the duchess. “We will be honored to attend, Your Grace.”

Honored being the prettied-up English term for doomed, of course.

Chapter Three

Gayle Windham, Earl of Westhaven, was too self-disciplined to glance at the clock more than once every five minutes, but he could see the shadow of an oak limb start its afternoon march up the wall of his study. The remains of a beef sandwich sat on a tray at his elbow, and soon his youngest child would go down for a nap.

Westhaven brought his attention back to the pleasurable business of reviewing household expenses, though Anna’s accounting was meticulous. He obliged his countess’s request to look over the books because of the small insights he gained regarding his family.

They were using fewer candles, testament to spring’s arrival and longer hours of daylight.

The wine cellar had required some attention, another harbinger of the upcoming social season.

Anna had spent a bit much on Cousin Megan’s birthday gift, but a music box was a perfect choice for Megan.

“You haven’t moved in all the months I’ve been gone,” said a humorous baritone. “You’re like one of those statues, standing guard through the seasons, until some obliging brother comes along to demand that you join him in the park for a hack on a pretty afternoon.”

Home safe. Devlin St. Just’s dark hair was tousled, his clothes wrinkled, his boots dusty, but he was, once again, home safe.

The words were an irrational product of Westhaven’s memory, for his mind produced them every time he saw his older half-brother after a prolonged absence. Westhaven crossed the study with more swiftness than dignity, hand extended toward his brother.

“Good God, you stink, St. Just, and the dust of the road will befoul my carpets wherever you pass.”

St. Just took Westhaven’s proffered hand and yanked the earl close enough for a quick, back-thumping hug.

“I stink, you scold. Give a man a brandy while he befouls your carpets, and good day to you too.”

Westhaven obliged, mostly to have something to do other than gawk at his brother. Yorkshire was too far away, the winters were too long and miserable, and St. Just visited too infrequently, but every time he did visit, he seemed … lighter. More settled, more at peace.

And if ever a man was happy to smell of horse, it was Devlin St. Just, Earl of Rosecroft, firstborn, though illegitimate, son of the Duke of Moreland.