The Trouble With Dukes(4)

By: Grace Burrowes

Megan dreaded the prospect of bearing Sir Fletcher’s offspring. “Might I have those back, Sir Fletcher? As you’ve noted, my eyes are weak, and I do benefit from having my spectacles.”

Sir Fletcher was a beautiful man—to appearances. When he’d claimed Megan’s waltz at a regimental ball several years ago, she’d been dazzled by his flattery, bold innuendo, and bolder advances. In other words, she’d been blinded. Golden hair, blue eyes, and a gleaming smile had hidden an avaricious, unscrupulous heart.

He held her glasses a few inches higher. To a casual observer, he was examining an interesting pair of spectacles, perhaps in anticipation of considerately polishing them with his handkerchief.

“You’ll benefit from having my ring on your finger,” he said, squinting through one lens. “When can I speak with your father, or should I go straight to Moreland, because he’s the head of your family?”

That Sir Fletcher would raise this topic at all was unnerving. That he’d bring it up at Hatchards, where duchesses crossed paths with milliners, was terrifying. Other patrons milled among the shelves, and the doorbell tinkled constantly, like a miniature death knell for Megan’s freedom.

“You mustn’t speak with Papa yet,” Megan said. “Charlotte hasn’t received an offer and the season is only getting started. I’ll not allow your haste to interfere with the respect I owe my sisters.” Elizabeth was on the road to spinsterhood—no help there—and Anwen, being the youngest, would normally be the last to wed.

Sir Fletcher switched lenses, peering through the other one, but shooting Megan a glance that revealed the bratty boy lurking inside the Bond Street tailoring.

“You have three unmarried sisters, the eldest of whom is an antidote and an artifact. Don’t think you’ll put me off until the last one is trotting up the aisle at St. George’s, madam. I have debts that your settlements will resolve handily.”

How Megan loathed him, and how she loathed herself for the ignorance and naivety that had put Sir Fletcher in a position to make these threats.

“My portion is intended to safeguard my future if anything should happen to my spouse,” Megan said, even as she ached to reach for her glasses. A tussle among the bookshelves would draw notice from the other patrons, but Megan felt naked without her glasses, naked and desperate.

Because her vision was impaired without the spectacles, she detected only a twitch of movement, and something blue falling from Sir Fletcher’s hand. He murmured a feigned regret as Megan’s best pair of glasses plummeted toward the floor.

A large hand shot out and closed firmly around the glasses in mid-fall.

Megan had been so fixed on Sir Fletcher that she hadn’t noticed a very substantial man who’d emerged from the bookshelves to stand immediately behind and to the left of Sir Fletcher. Tall boots polished to a high shine drew the eye to exquisite tailoring over thickly muscled thighs. Next came lean flanks, a narrow waist, a blue plaid waistcoat, a silver watch chain, and a black riding jacket fitted lovingly across broad shoulders. She couldn’t discern details, which only made the whole more formidable.

Solemn eyes the azure hue of a winter sky and dark auburn hair completed a picture both handsome and forbidding.

Megan had never seen this man before, but when he held out her glasses, she took them gratefully.

“My most sincere thanks,” she said. “Without these, I am nearly blind at most distances. Won’t you introduce yourself, sir?” She was being bold, but Sir Fletcher had gone quiet, suggesting this gentleman had impressed even Sir Fletcher.

Or better still, intimidated him.

“My dear lady,” Sir Fletcher said, “we’ve no need to ignore the dictates of decorum, for I can introduce you to a fellow officer from my Peninsular days. Miss Megan Windham, may I make known to you Colonel Hamish MacHugh, late of his royal majesty’s army. Colonel MacHugh, Miss Megan.”

MacHugh enveloped Megan’s hand in his own and bowed smartly. His grasp was warm and firm without being presuming, but gracious days, his hands were callused.

“Sir, a pleasure,” Megan said, aiming a smile at the colonel. She did not want this stranger to leave her alone with Sir Fletcher one instant sooner than necessary.