The Trouble With Dukes(8)

By: Grace Burrowes

Deeply, deeply in trouble.

“We’re in trouble now,” Elizabeth Windham whispered, peering through the window curtains. “Aunt Esther and Cousin Evie are upon the doorstep, and we’ve yet to choose your fabric.”

Madame Doucette was still fluttering about with the pair of Scottish sisters Megan had met somewhere between the silks and the velvets. Miss Rhona and Miss Edana were both tall, merry redheads, though they lacked a fashionable sense of color.

“Not that one,” Megan said, leaving Beth’s side to take the bolt of yellow silk from Miss Edana’s grasp. “Yellow is a difficult color to wear well, though it can be a lovely accent. Say you choose this pale green, for example. A yellow lace edging to your handkerchiefs would suit, or golden-yellow bonnet ribbons and a matching parasol.”

Miss Rhona ran a hand over the yellow silk. “You even coordinate bonnet ribbons and handkerchief borders when you’re concocting an outfit?”

Didn’t everybody? “Bonnet ribbons must be some color. Why not choose a shade that suits you?”

A look passed between the sisters, as if this was a question they’d store up to fire off in some other circumstances known only to them.

Aunt Esther and Cousin Evie swept into the establishment, though mostly Aunt Esther, who was as tall as the Scottish ladies, did the sweeping.

“My dears,” Aunt Esther said, “I considered sending out the watch in search of you. What can you be thinking, dawdling here with the ball only a week off?”

The watch was a familial euphemism for Eve’s older brothers: Lord Westhaven, Lord Valentine, and the oldest Windham cousin, Devlin St. Just, who’d soon be visiting from his earldom in the north. Megan loved her male cousins as much as she dreaded their fussing and lecturing.

The shop bell tinkled again, and all movement, all talk, ceased. Two sizable gentlemen stood immediately inside the door. They blocked enough of the light coming in the front windows to dim the sense of a happy feminine retreat.

“This green,” Miss Edana said, shoving an entire bolt of silk at Madame. “I’ve made up my mind, I’ll take the green.”

“Yes, Miss,” Madame said, scurrying to the back of the shop without even acknowledging the gentlemen.

Men came into modiste’s establishments, sometimes with a wife, a sister, or a daughter, more often with a mistress. A shrewd shop owner scheduled those visits, and used fitting salons in the back to ensure no awkwardness developed between patrons of different social strata.

These men did not belong in this shop in any capacity. The less tall fellow—he was in no wise short—was exquisitely attired in morning clothes, and bore a resemblance to the Scottish sisters.

The other fellow …

A queer feeling came over Megan, shivery and strange, but also happy, as if she’d recognized a friend from childhood whose features had altered with time, but whose countenance evoked precious memories …

In this shop of velvets, silks, and delicate lace, the larger man wore tartan wool. His kilt was a pattern of greens and blues, like lush pastures and summer sky woven about him, topped off with a dark blue velvet waistcoat, green wool jacket, and lacy white cravat.

His looks were like the textures he wore. Different, intriguing, and to Megan, attractive for their contrasts, like an arrangement of flowers in an unexpected vase.

He was not handsome, though. Too much sorrow lurked in his blue eyes, too much wariness. His features lacked refinement but were suited to those eyes. That jaw hinted of stubbornness, and his chin reinforced an impression of implacability. Granite cliffs stood as this man did, against howling winds, crashing seas, and centuries of marching seasons.

Though at the moment, the granite-strong man was apparently felled by indecision.

“I recognize you,” Megan said, going toward him, her hand outstretched. “You rescued my spectacles the other day in Hatchards.”

The gentleman’s expression went from wary to dismayed, as Megan took him by the arm and tugged him forward in Aunt Esther’s direction.

“You must meet my family,” Megan went on, though the gentleman was apparently not used to being led about, for he remained unyielding, despite Megan’s attempted guidance. “They will certainly want to make the acquaintance of so gallant and polite a fellow.”