The Trouble With Dukes(5)

By: Grace Burrowes

“The pleasure is mine, Miss Windham.”

Ah well, then. He was unequivocally Scottish. Hence the plaid waistcoat, the blue eyes. Mama always said the Scots had the loveliest eyes.

Megan’s grandpapa had been a duke, and social niceties flowed through her veins along with Windham aristocratic blood.

“Are you visiting from the north?” she asked.

“Aye. I mean, yes, with my sisters.”

Sir Fletcher watched this exchange as if he were a spectator at a tennis match and had money riding on the outcome.

“Are your sisters out yet?” Megan asked, lest the conversation lapse.

“Until all hours,” Colonel MacHugh said, his brow furrowing. “Balls, routs, musicales. Takes more stamina to endure a London season than to march across Spain.”

Megan had cousins who’d served in Spain and another cousin who’d died in Portugal. Veterans made light of the hardships they’d seen, though she wasn’t sure Colonel MacHugh had spoken in jest.

“MacHugh,” Sir Fletcher broke in, “Miss Windham is the granddaughter and niece of dukes.”

Colonel MacHugh was apparently as bewildered as Megan at this observation. He extracted Megan’s spectacles from her hand, unfolded the ear pieces, and positioned the glasses on her nose.

While she marveled at such familiarity from a stranger, Colonel MacHugh guided the frames around her ears so her glasses were once again perched where they belonged. His touch could not have been more gentle, and he’d ensured Sir Fletcher couldn’t snatch the glasses from Megan’s grasp.

“My thanks,” Megan said.

“Tell her,” MacHugh muttered, tucking his hands behind his back. “I’ll not have it said I dissembled before a lady, Pilkington.”

The bane of Megan’s existence was Sir Fletcher, but this Scot either did not know or did not care to use proper address.

Sir Fletcher wrinkled his nose. “Miss Megan, I misspoke earlier when I introduced this fellow as Colonel Hamish MacHugh, but you’ll forgive my mistake. The gentleman before you, if last week’s gossip is to be believed, is none other than the Duke of Murdoch.”

Colonel MacHugh—His Grace—stood very tall, as if he anticipated the cut direct or perhaps a firing squad. With her glasses on, Megan could see that his blue eyes held a bleakness, and his expression was not merely formidable, but forbidding.

He’d rescued Megan’s spectacles from certain ruin beneath Sir Fletcher’s boot heel, so Megan sank into a respectful curtsy.

Because it mattered to her not at all that polite society had dubbed this dear, serious man the Duke of Murder.

Chapter Two

I’ve changed my mind,” Hamish said, touching his hat brim as some duchess sashayed past him on the walkway. “We’re leaving at the first of the week.”

“You can’t change your mind,” Colin retorted, “and you just greeted one of the most highly paid ladybirds in London.”

Colin was being diplomatic, for Hamish had committed his blunder in public—where all of his best blunders invariably occurred. Three days ago, Hamish had come upon Sir Fletcher Pilkington, but at least that unwelcome moment had transpired in a bookshop.

“The lady’s clothes were expensive,” Hamish said, “and not the attire of a debutante. She smiled at me, and she had a maid trotting at her heels. How was I to know she wasn’t decent?”

“Because of how she smiled at you, as if you’re the answer to her milliner’s prayers for the next year.”

Hamish tipped his hat to another well-dressed lady who also had a maid but lacked the smile.

“The damned debutantes look at me the same way. As if I were a hanging joint of venison, and they a pack of starving hounds.”

“You aren’t supposed to greet a woman unless she acknowledges you,” Colin said as they came to a crossing.

“That last one scowled at me as if I were something rank stuck to the sole of her dainty boot. That’s the sort of acknowledgment the Duke of Murder can expect.”

A beer wagon rattled past, barrels stacked and lashed to the bed. Hamish owned two breweries, and in his present mood, he could have imbibed the inventory of both establishments and started on the distillery Colin had inherited upon coming of age.