The Trouble With Dukes(6)

By: Grace Burrowes

“You need a finishing governess,” Colin said. “Or a wife.”

Oh, right. “I’m guessing among polite society they’re much the same, which is why we’ll all be heading home by this time next week.”

Though Colin had a point. The young ladies ogling Hamish’s title all knew how to make their interest apparent without blundering. They waved their painted fans, they simpered, they smiled, but not like that. They cast lures across entire ballrooms and formal gardens, without once setting a slippered foot wrong.

The battlefield of the London season had rules. Hamish simply hadn’t grasped those rules yet.

He’d sooner grasp a handful of blooming nettles.

“If we go home now,” Colin said, “you will never hear the end of it. Ronnie and Eddie have been invited to several balls, and depriving them of those chances to husband-hunt will earn their enmity until the day you die.”

A Scotswoman was a formidable enemy, and two Scotswomen were the match of any mere mortal man.

“When is the next damned ball?” They were all damned balls, and damned musicales, and damned Venetian breakfasts, for where Ronnie and Eddie waltzed, either Hamish or Colin must follow.

“Next week. We take the street to the left.”

Hamish did not ask how his brother knew the address of one of the most expensive modistes in a very expensive city. Colin was a good-looking fellow, and he had independent means. He’d taken to the bonhomie and challenge of army life like a sheep to spring grass, and his occasional sorties to London were just so many more bivouacs to him.

“How can two otherwise intelligent women spend half the day choosing fabric?” Hamish avoided meeting the eye of an older blonde woman accompanied by a younger lady with the same color hair. “I swear Ronnie and Eddie left their brains back in Perthshire.”

“And there,” Colin murmured, “you just snubbed the Duchess of Moreland and her youngest daughter, who happens to be a marchioness.”

Hamish came to a halt. “We’re going home, ball or no ball. I’m behind enemy lines without a map, a canteen, or a sound horse, Colin. One of my blunders will soon see me married or dead in a ditch.”

Or worse, killing somebody. When Hamish had first mustered out, he’d been provoked into challenging one man to a duel, but fate had interceded to prevent serious harm to either combatant. Hamish and his former dueling partner—Baron St. Clair—were even cordial now when their paths crossed.

The Baroness St. Clair was a different and less forgiving article.

“That’s why I’m here,” Colin said, tipping his hat to a flower girl. “To make sure you stay alive. I owe you that, and the last thing I want is a dukedom complicating my life. As long as you don’t call anybody out—anybody else out—an apology ought to cover most of your missteps, and you’ll soon have the lay of the land.”

Hamish resumed walking, because standing still in the middle of the walkway was enough to draw the notice of passersby.

Perhaps wearing his kilt hadn’t been an inspired notion. He’d hoped if any ladies were attracted by his title, they might be repelled by the sight of his bare knees. London women were apparently a stout-hearted lot, because so far, Hamish’s experiment had been a failure.

His entire visit to London had been a failure, but for that single moment when quick reflexes had spared a lady’s spectacles from harm. Hamish hoped somebody would come along to spare that same young lady from Fletcher Pilkington’s company.

That somebody wouldn’t be Hamish, more’s the pity. Miss Windham either hadn’t known or didn’t care that Hamish was the least appropriate man to hold a lofty title. Pilkington had doubtless remedied that oversight posthaste.

“Do you get the sense that Ronnie and Eddie are enjoying all this waltzing and shopping?” Hamish asked.

He and Colin had alternated coming home on winter leave, and every two years, Hamish had returned to Scotland to find taller, prettier young women wearing his sisters’ smiles. By the time he’d sold his commission after Waterloo, he’d hardly known Rhona or Edana.

They doubtless preferred not to become too well reacquainted with their oldest brother now, though they seemed to like his new title just fine.