The Trouble With Dukes(9)

By: Grace Burrowes

Hamish knew how to survive this ambush. He must snatch Colin by the elbow, duck back out the door, and wait a safe distance down the street until Edana and Rhona were finished beggaring him.

But the bespectacled young lady with the soft voice had already taken Hamish prisoner, and to free himself, he’d have to lift her hand away from his arm. Such a maneuver required touching her, and even Hamish knew that taking liberties with a proper woman’s person was the equivalent of social suicide.

“Come along,” the lady said, patting Hamish’s hand. “Aunt is perfectly lovely, as a duchess is supposed to be.”

The perfectly lovely duchess apparently had a sense of the absurd, for she extended a gloved hand in Hamish’s direction.

“His Grace of Murdoch,” she said, “if I’m not mistaken. A pleasure, and this must be your brother, Captain Colin MacHugh.”

Colin bowed, while Hamish took the duchess’s hand and scrabbled desperately for what a man was supposed to say to a graciously smirking duchess.

“Your Grace,” Hamish said, bowing. “A pleasure to meet you, and you are correct, this rascal has the honor to be my brother, Colin MacHugh.”

A flurry of curtsying and bowing and damned introducing went on for half the day. The Marchioness of Mischief was Lady Deene. The ranks of officers on the Peninsula had included a Lord Deene. The man had been a fool if he’d preferred war to remaining by his marchioness’s side.

Edana and Rhona elbowed their way into the queue, as did a pretty little thing named Miss Elizabeth Windham, another niece of the duchess.

Hamish’s sense of impatience worsened, because he had no pencil and paper with which to sketch these relationships, and he’d probably forget them before he was out the shop door. The person responsible for this trooping the color was off in a corner, half-hidden by a bolt of flowery and expensive-looking fabric.

Megan Windham would be difficult to forget.

“Your Grace will pardon me,” Hamish said, “but we neglect a member of your party in our exchange of pleasantries.”

Hamish had sisters, he had battlefield experience, and he had keen eyesight, even in low light. Across the shop, Miss Megan went still, as if she’d heard a twig snap in a forest she’d thought to enjoy in solitude.

“Megan,” Her Grace called in tones both pleasant and imperious. “Come make your farewell curtsy to His Grace, and then we must be on our way. Madam, twenty yards of the green silk for Miss Edana, and twenty of the blue for Miss Rhona. Maroon trim for both, maroon silk shawls and slippers, maroon stockings. The young ladies will send you an additional order for petticoats and so forth at their convenience.”

Hamish was too glad for the duchess’s sense of command to quibble at the death blow she’d dealt his budget.

Miss Megan glided over to offer Colin and Hamish a curtsy. From her, the gesture wasn’t an awkward bob but rather an exercise in deference and grace. Everything from the drape of Miss Megan’s skirts, to the inclination of her head, to the tempo at which she raised her hand, was … lovely.

Colin whacked Hamish’s back.

“Miss Megan,” Hamish said. “A pleasure.” A blessing, more like, to behold such feminine dignity, and also a sorrow. Blond, handsome Pilkington was on familiar terms with Megan Windham. For that alone, Hamish wished he’d shot the bastard when he’d had a chance.

“Your Grace,” Megan said as Hamish let her hand go. “Your sisters’ company has brightened our morning considerably, and now that we’ve been introduced, I hope they will come to call soon and often.”

“Oh, of course,” Edana said.

“We’d love to,” Rhona added.

“We’ll look forward to it,” the duchess replied, linking her arm with Miss Megan’s.

For an instant, Miss Megan appeared to resist her aunt’s gentle attempt to drag her to the door, and in that instant, Hamish locked gazes with a woman who’d provoked him to wishing.

Very bad business, when a battle-scarred soldier got to wishing for anything more ambitious than a good ale or a well-cooked joint.

“Do come by,” Megan said, her gaze unreadable behind the blue of her spectacles. “The preparations for the ball have turned our home into a madhouse, and sane company will be very welcome.”