A Dilemma For The Duke
“Darling,” Charles said at dinner one evening, three months after his and Amanda’s wedding, “we never did finish discussing the bookstore. Do you have plans of returning to work there?”
The dowager duchess scoffed.
“You would send my daughter-in-law, and your new duchess, out into the working world?” she asked.
Charles looked at his mother, bracing himself for her familiar, formerly snide reaction. But for the first time, he saw that her eyes were sparkling, and she was looking at the two of them with a fond gaze.
Charles smirked, still adjusting to the change in his mother. He had told Amanda that, if anyone could warm her, it would be her. He was beginning to see just how right he had been with those words.
“Even if she decided to never work there again, it is still her store, Mother,” he said. “It will, now and forever, be up to her what she wants to do with it.”
“I thought it was yours, since you own those buildings,” she said.
Charles’s heart squeezed at her sweet innocence.
“You are my wife now, sweetheart,” he said, flushing as he spoke the word. “That means everything that belongs to me also belongs to you. That means you have just as much say about what happens to it as I do.”
Amanda’s eyes widened, and he knew she had never considered that.
“Oh, heavens,” she said, thinking it over. “I suppose I have just been so focused on my duties as duchess so much lately. I really have not decided anything regarding the store.”
Jessica looked at her father and stepmother with the pleading, hopeful eyes that Charles loved so much.
“Oh, Amanda,” she said, giving his wife the same hopeful, pleading eyes she often gave to him. “Please, say that you will return to the store. I cannot imagine life in this little village without you running Barrett’s Books. It quickly became my favorite store in the world, and I could not bear to be without it.”
Amanda smiled fondly at her stepdaughter. It had not taken Jessica long to charm Amanda as she always did Charles. She looked at him for a second, and he could see she was deeply considering something.
“Well,” she said after some careful consideration, “I spoke with you father about this before we were married. And I maintain that I shall hardly have time to run the store, given my new duties as duchess.”
Jessica’s face fell.
“You will never reopen it?” she asked.
Amanda suddenly gave everyone a sly smile.
“Perhaps I will not,” she said. “But maybe someone might.”
It was Charles’s turn to look puzzled.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Are you thinking of selling the store?”
Amanda shook her head and grinned.
“It will take time to plan,” she said. “But I do not think any of us have seen the last of Barrett’s Books.”
After dinner that evening, as they relaxed in the parlor, Charles revisited the conversation about the store.
“You could not have been more transparent about having many ideas,” he said. “What do you have planned for the store?”
Amanda smiled at him over her glass of wine.
“I do not have a fully formed idea,” she admitted. “But something Jessica said made me think. It would be a shame to take away the bookstore from the village. May I have some time to get more settled into life here and then discuss it further later?”
Charles looked his wife over. He could not fathom what she was thinking. But he could see that, whatever it was, it was bringing her joy. And for him, just as with his daughter, that was enough.
“Of course, darling,” he said, setting aside his brandy to kiss his wife gently on the cheek. “I will speak with Gregory as soon as possible and make any upkeep arrangements in the meantime.”
Amanda beamed up at him, and his heart melted. She could have told him she wanted to send the bookstore to the moon, and he would have moved heaven and earth to make it happen.
“Thank you, my love,” she said.
Charles kissed first her forehead, then her nose, and finally, her lips.
“Anything for you, my sweet,” he said.
Despite their conversation about the bookstore, Amanda never did say much else about it for almost two years. She would ask about its upkeep, and she and Jessica went to visit it a couple of times. But apart from that, she showed little interest in it that he could see. Even after the birth of their son, Joseph, named after Charles’s father, she made no mention of selling the store. Charles considered asking her about it, but he figured she would state her desires whenever she was ready.
One day, Charles was reviewing some plans to make a small boarding house for the village in the empty lot of land just inside the limits of Haylon. He was busy tracing some lines to expand the foundation and overall size of the building when there was a knock on his study door.
Charles looked up to see Gregory standing in the doorway. Charles was puzzled but pleased to see his business partner.
“Gregory,” he said warmly, moving to shake the man’s hand. “Please, sit. Is there trouble with the unveiling of the store?”
Gregory shook his head. His face was professional, almost nervous. His eyes, though serious, held a certain dreamy sparkle.
“No,” he said, bowing. “This visit is of a completely different nature.”
Charles nodded slowly.
“Very well,” he said. “Please, continue.”
Gregory cleared his throat.
“I came to ask your permission to marry Jessica,” he said.
Charles’s mouth fell open. He knew that Jessica and Gregory had been good friends for some time. But he had never suspected a courtship.
“Oh?” was all he could say.
“I understand it seems quite sudden,” he said. “And I understand that I am merely a construction worker. But I can no longer deny the way I feel about Jessica. And she feels the same way about me. I understand if you are reluctant, but I would be in your debt if you would consider granting your blessing for me to marry your daughter.”
Charles’s heart squeezed. He had to remind himself that she was now eighteen and more than prepared for marriage, should she so choose it. And it came as no surprise that she had chosen Gregory. He was strong, protective, and charismatic, and he loved his family with a fierceness that Charles had never seen.
He studied Gregory for a moment. He had no doubt that his partner’s intentions were good. And he knew that, if Jessica was in the room with them, she would likely be giving him that sweet, pleading look. He had never considered granting his blessing for his daughter’s hand to a commoner. And with that, he made his decision.
“Gregory,” he said solemnly. “I wholeheartedly grant my blessing. Just promise me that you will treat her every bit as well as I have.”
Gregory gaped at Charles, clearly surprised that it had been so easy.
“Truly?” he asked.
Charles laughed. It was not so long ago that he had been filled with that same joy at the thought of marrying his dear Amanda.
“Truly,” he said.
Jessica had surprised Charles, not for the first time in her life. He had always been prepared to throw her a grand, lavish wedding, like those which many of the women in the ton favored. But she told him that having a simple ceremony in the small chapel of Haylon was more than enough for her. Gregory happily agreed, clearly wanting nothing more than to please his bride.
On the day of the wedding, Charles went up to Jessica’s bedchambers, where her mother and stepmother stood admiring her, and she herself looked just like her mother in her mother’s wedding dress. His heart ached. He could hardly believe that his little girl was getting married.
“Oh, darling,” he said, entering her room and embracing her. “You look so beautiful.”
Jessica embraced him fiercely, pulling back and wiping a tear from his cheek that he did not even realize had slipped from his eye.
“I will be fine, Papa,” she said softly, giving him a reassuring smile. “You know that, don’t you?”
Charles nodded, taking out his handkerchief to dry his damp face.
“I think that is the trouble, darling,” he said. “I know that you will be just fine without me. No father is ever ready to see his daughter grow up and live her own life. Just know that I love you, and I will always be your Papa, no matter what.”
Jessica nodded and kissed his cheek again as his wife joined them. The trio embraced and, from beside them, Charles could hear his mother sniffling.
“Are you all right, Mother?” Charles asked, offering her his hand.
She took it, but she stuck her nose up in the air and sniffed.
“I just have dust in my eye,” she said, her voice filled with emotion.
Everyone laughed and shared in one big family embrace. Charles’s heart ached for the loss of his little girl and swelled with pride at the wonderful young woman who had taken her place. It was a day of bittersweet emotions, and Charles could hardly wait for them all to begin the next chapters of their lives.
The wedding was just as sweet and intimate as his and Amanda’s had been. He shed another tear as the vicar announced his daughter’s new last name. Then, just as after his own wedding, everyone went back to the seaside manor for a grand breakfast celebration.
Lily and Harry, who had been married for just over a year by then, barraged them with congratulations as soon as they returned to the mansion from the chapel. Charles laughed as Henry pumped his hand vigorously, and Lily practically threw herself at Amanda.
“Congratulations, Your Grace,” Henry said, grinning. “I know how thrilled you must be today. I imagine I will feel the same way when our children get married.”
Amanda put a hand on Lily’s slightly protruding stomach.
“Speaking of which,” she said, beaming at her friend, “how are you feeling?”
Lily put a hand on top of Amanda’s, her eyes shining with tears.
“I feel wonderful,” she said. “It is early yet, but I can hardly wait for our little boy to get here.”
Henry puffed out his chest and looked very playfully indignant.
“Or our little girl,” he said.
Lily laughed, taking her husband’s hand, and smiling at him fondly.
“We will love him or her, no matter what,” she said.
Henry grinned and nodded.
“You bet we will,” he said.
As they all headed inside, Amanda took Charles’s hand, pulling him back from the crowd in the ballroom.
“Can I ask a favor of you?” she asked.
Charles studied her face. She was wearing the exact same expression she had been when he’d mentioned the bookstore right after their wedding.
“Of course, sweetheart,” he said, kissing her forehead. “I would do anything for you.”
Amanda nodded, smiling slyly.
“I would like to make a special toast to Jessica and Gregory,” she said. “I just ask that you trust me.”
Charles opened his mouth. His curiosity was burning, and he wanted to ask her what she was up to. But her eyes sparkled, as though she was very proud of something. If secrecy was what she wanted, secrecy was what she would have.
“I think that is a lovely idea,” he said. “And I trust you implicitly.”
Amanda nodded, smiling the sweet smile that always melted his heart.
“Thank you, darling,” she said, kissing him on the lips quickly before leading him into the ballroom.
Just as the orchestra was about to begin playing the first dance for the newlywed couple, Amanda took a champagne flute from a nearby tray and tapped it gently with a spoon. Once she had everyone’s attention, she smiled and addressed the room with the elegance and confidence of a well-practiced duchess.
“First of all, my husband and I would like to thank you all for attending the wedding and breakfast for my beautiful stepdaughter and her new husband, my cousin,” he said, blowing a kiss to the couple. “This is a happy day, and we are thrilled to share it with all of you.”
There was a brief titter of applause before Amanda continued.
“As most of you know, Barrett’s Books has remained closed to the public for two years. I would like to see that change, effective as soon as possible.” She paused again, holding her hand out to Jessica. “That is, if my dear step daughter would like to take up the mantle as the shop’s owner.”
Everyone in the room gasped, Jessica loudest of all. She stared at Amanda for a minute before rushing up to her and taking her hand.
“Do you mean it, Amanda?” she asked. “You would sell me the store?”
Amanda shook her head gently.
“I shall never sell it, darling,” she said. “I would like to give it to you, as my wedding present to you. It shall be yours, for as long as you want it. I can think of no one who deserves it as much or will take such good care of it as you.”
Charles stared at his wife with complete awe. Never had he suspected that she had intended to give the store to Jessica all along. He watched to see what his daughter would say, praying she would say yes.
Jessica stood stunned for another moment longer. Then, she yelped with joy, wrapping her arms around Amanda tightly.
“Oh, Amanda,” she said, “yes, absolutely yes. This is such an honor. I promise that I shall not let you down!”
Amanda returned her stepdaughter’s embrace.
“I know you won’t, darling,” she said. “I love you.”
Overcome with emotion, Charles walked over to his two favorite women in the entire world.
“And I love you both,” he said.
This is the end of my novel “A Dilemma for the Duke”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support these difficult days!
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