The Duke's Scandalous Proposal




 Getting to her feet, Georgiana smiled briefly at her brother as he came into the room to join her. “Good morning, Hartington.”

“Good morning,” came the reply though her brother did not smile back at her as he usually did. Instantly, a tightness pulled at her stomach and, even though she resumed her seat and settled her hands in her lap in a calm fashion, her heart began to quicken a little.

“I have something I wish to discuss with you.” Walking across the drawing room to stand by the window, the Earl of Hartington cleared his throat and clasped his hands tight behind his back. “You are to go to London with your aunt.”

Georgiana blinked. “For the Season?”

“Yes, for the Season. You are to wed, Georgiana.”

Immediately, a cold sheen of sweat crossed Georgiana’s brow and she stared at her brother, though he quickly averted his gaze. She waited for him to explain, waited for him to say something more but her brother merely stood quietly as though he expected her to respond in a furious manner and was preparing himself for it.

“Why?” The hoarseness of her voice betrayed the tears which threatened. “You know I have no desire to marry.”

“But marry you must.” Her brother looked back at her, his brows heavy over his eyes. “I will be honest with you, Georgiana. My investments have not done well these last few years. Indeed, the last investment is currently at the bottom of the sea somewhere off the English coast! The mourning period for our father is far behind us and the time has come for you to marry.”

The cold sweat which had been on her brow now enveloped every part of her. The last two years, due to her mother’s ill health following the death of her husband, Georgiana had remained at home and cared for her mother rather than go to London to make her debut. During that time, she had listened to her mother talk of the love she had shared with the late Earl and how much she now missed him. Georgiana had spent years watching the love and the care shared between both of her parents and knew just how much she herself desired such a thing from her own husband, should she ever wed. In expressing such a desire to her mother, however, Lady Hartington had not been encouraging. She had told Georgiana that the expectation would be for her to marry well, not to marry for love and that very few gentlemen would even think of such a thing with any sort of sincerity. To Georgiana’s surprise, her mother had told her that love had come later in her marriage, that it had not been there from the beginning and that many a lady could be happy in a marriage that held nothing more than respect and general consideration for each other.

At this, Georgiana had been most displeased and discouraged. Having considered what it would be like to marry a gentleman who did not love her and knowing how much she admired the love both her parents showed to each other, Georgiana had come to a decision. Her life would not be shared with another. Instead, she would remain unwed and as independent as she could, choosing instead to care for her mother for as long as possible, determined now not to marry at all.

“I have no desire to marry. I have spoken to you of this.”

“I am aware of that but as the head of this family, I have decided that you shall wed. It is what is best for all of us.”

“Who will look after mama?” Georgiana’s eyes narrowed. “You would pull me away from her when she is still so unwell?”

A wry smile pulled at her brother’s mouth. “Mama is doing very well, as you know. She is much improved and there is nothing you need to concern yourself with in that regard. In any case, I have arranged for her to go and stay with her sister and husband for a short time, down by the coast. The sea air will encourage her vitality and when she hears that you are to be wed, I am sure her heart will be all the more encouraged.”

Georgiana closed her eyes, a tremor running through her. “Why would you do this to me, Hartington?” Opening her eyes again, she looked at him again, her vision blurred. “Am I to have no say in this matter?”

“No.” Her brother’s response was hard but not unexpected. Georgiana had always known that he was a gentleman who took his responsibilities seriously but she had never expected him to force her hand! Was this truly what he thought was best or did he simply have no desire to linger in his responsibilities towards her? Did he wish to pass her off to someone else?

“You are most cruel.”

Her brother lifted his shoulders in a shrug, not responding in the least to Georgiana’s tears. “You may see it that way but I can assure you, I do this because I think it is for your best, Georgiana. The gentleman I will select for you will be – ”

“Wait a moment!”

Georgiana was on her feet the very next moment, striding towards her brother with one finger outstretched. “You do not mean to say that you intend to choose my husband for me?”

Her brother frowned but showed no other flicker of emotion. “It is not something I intend to do but something I have done. It is not as though you would be able to choose a suitable gentleman yourself, Georgiana. You know nothing of gentlemen.”

“I thought you said I was to go to London for the Season with my aunt.”

“Yes.” Her brother looked at her long and hard, as if she was deliberately being obtuse. “To acquaint yourself with the gentleman you are to wed and to make sure society knows of it. I should not want them to think that I am marrying you off for any particular reason, if you understand my meaning. Society must see that you are well, contented and perfectly suitable for marriage. The marriage itself may take place in London also. I have not yet decided upon such a thing.”

A prickling heat stole down Georgiana’s spine as she glared at her brother. At first, she had been close to tears to learn that what she had decided for her own life was to be taken away from her but now, she was nothing other than angry – furious, even – over the suggestion that her brother was best placed to choose her husband for her.

“And you know nothing of me if you think that I should be contented to stand up in church and promise myself to a gentleman I do not know,” she hissed, her hands bunching into fists as her brother lifted an eyebrow. “You ask too much of me, brother. First, you state I must marry even though I have been singularly determined not to do so and secondly, you now tell me that I cannot choose my own husband? No, it is too much. I cannot abide it.”

“But abide it you must.” Lord Hartington sniffed and shrugged. “It is my decision and since I now bear the title, it is my duty to –”

“It is not your duty to lord your higher standing over me.” Stepping closer to him, Georgiana lifted her chin, her eyes narrowing in his direction. “You say I know nothing of gentlemen but yet you will not permit me even a little time in society to see if I can acquaint myself with such gentlemen! Why do you insist on forcing my hand in this?”

A long, slow breath ran from her brother and he shook his head before lifting his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose as if she were deliberately attempting to obfuscate him. Georgiana made to say more only to clamp her mouth shut. This was not the time for her to say anything further. If her brother was going to change his mind, it would not be because she had continually insisted and argued and derided him. That might make things all the more difficult for her, in fact.

“Georgiana, you are most frustrating. I am attempting to take care of you in the way I see fit and here you are, not only refusing to show even the smallest hint of gratitude but also arguing with me about my plans! It is most frustrating and Lord Pembroke will be –”

“Lord Pembroke?”

“Yes.” With another sigh, her brother spread out his hands either side and then let them fall. “A gentleman I have long been acquainted with and a gentleman I think most suitable although I have no doubt you will argue with me and state that he is not so.”

Words rose and then fell back as Georgiana reminded herself to remain as silent as she could. Throwing words back to her brother would not help her.

“I can see that you are upset and I do not want for that,” Lord Hartington finished, standing up tall so he might look down a little more at Georgiana, though given he was only half a head taller than she, the effect was not as dramatic as he might have hoped. “Here is my suggestion: go to London with your aunt as I have proposed. You will acquaint yourself with Lord Pembroke and Georgiana, you will consider him.”

Georgiana pressed her lips together, hard as her brother fixed a somewhat cold gaze down on her.

“However,” Lord Hartington continued, with yet another sigh, “you will not be forced to consider him as your betrothed – not as yet, at least. You will have three months to find another suitable gentleman.”

“Three months?” Georgiana’s eyes flared. “You expect me not only to acquaint myself with all of London but to find a gentleman to marry me within that time also?”

With a curt nod, her brother turned his head away as if his duty was done and he no longer had anything further to say. Georgiana gaped at him, her breath catching in her chest as she stared at him, waiting for him to clarify, to state that no, three months was much too short and he ought to give her at least the entirety of the Season, if not the following Season also. She had never been to London! She had not made her debut and was certainly not known within society circles. Did her brother truly expect her to find a gentleman of her own choosing within that time?

The silence told her that yes, this was precisely what he expected.

Her eyes closed. Her head dropped forward. This was an opportunity, yes, a chance to find her own happiness but it was not as she had expected. For her, happiness came in the form of being entirely unwed, of choosing to live her life as she pleased rather than be bound to anyone. Any vague hope of a love match was entirely shattered, for love could not be found in such a short time, she was sure of it – and besides which, had her mother not warned her that very few gentlemen sought out such a thing?

Her shoulders rounded and tears burned behind her eyes. What was there for her now? Either she would be wed to a gentleman who did not love her, a gentleman of her own choosing or she would be wed to a gentleman who did not love her of her brother’s choosing.

“When am I to leave?” Her voice was thick with tears but her brother did not respond to them with even so much as a sympathetic smile.

“In three days’ time,” he told her, still looking away when she gasped and lifted her head to stare at him. “I have made all the arrangements. New gowns and the like will be waiting for you in London. Mother departs the day after you take your leave.”

“And you shall be left here alone,” Georgiana responded, her throat aching with unspoken emotion. “In all of this, brother, I find that your sense of responsibility seems to push towards everyone else rather than yourself.”

Finally, Lord Hartington turned his head back to her. “What do you mean?”

“You are determined that I should wed but I cannot see you seeking out the same thing for yourself,” Georgiana pointed out, as a touch of color came into her brother’s cheeks. “You are responsible for the heir and I do not see you hurrying to London to find a suitable wife. One might wonder if the reason you push me to marry and send mother to her sister’s is so that you do not have as many responsibilities as you might otherwise have if we were both to remain here.”

At this, her brother drew himself up, his eyes flashing and his jaw tight. His mouth opened and then shut again before, with a sharp exclamation, he turned on his heel and strode from the room, leaving Georgiana with the distinct impression that what she had said had been quite correct.

Walking back across the room, Georgiana sank back down into her chair, put her head into her hands and cried.

Suddenly, the future seemed very dark indeed.

Chapter One

“And so, you have come to London.”

Georgiana nodded but could not quite bring herself to smile. “Yes, Aunt.”

“You must not look so put out.” Lady Winchester slipped her arm through Georgiana’s. “I thought you would have been glad to come and spend some time with me.”

“And of course, I am,” Georgiana replied quickly, looking up at her aunt as Lady Winchester smiled gently. “But it is only because of what my brother expects that I find myself in some distress.”

Lady Winchester’s smile quickly fled. “I do not know as to what you are referring, my dear,” she answered, as Georgiana’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Your brother stated that you were simply to come to London to enjoy the Season and, of course, with the hope of finding a husband.”

“It is not a hope, Aunt.” With a sigh which merged into a sob, Georgiana closed her eyes briefly as the carriage trundled on. “My brother states that I must wed and not only that, but he has also chosen my husband for me.”

Lady Winchester’s eyes flared. “Goodness. I did not know that.”

“I thought my brother would have informed you of such.” Looking out of the carriage window so she would not have to look into her aunt’s face, she bit her lip so as to keep her emotions as tightly under her control as she could. “It is to be a Lord Pembroke, I believe. It was almost entirely arranged, from what I could tell but thankfully, I have told my brother that I shall not do such a thing as wed a perfect stranger, not unless I am given opportunity to discover a suitable gentleman for myself first. After some consideration, my brother has given me three months before he insists upon the marriage to Lord Pembroke.”

“That is something, at least.” Lady Winchester sat back in her carriage seat and clicked her tongue. “I know nothing about this Lord Pembroke. Is he a good gentleman?”

Georgiana spread her hands. “I am afraid I know nothing of him either. My brother did not tell me a single thing about him, save for his title and the expectation that he would be an acceptable husband for me.”

“And your mother?”

When Georgiana threw her aunt a look, Lady Winchester’s lips pursed and she looked away, clearly understanding everything Georgiana was trying to say without being able to speak it aloud. Ever since her brother had taken on the title, things had been very different to how they had once been. In growing up with both her mother and her father around her, Georgiana had witnessed how her father had drawn his wife into his many decisions, seeking out her conversation, her advice and her considerations. He took great pains to listen and whilst he did not always do as she had suggested, Georgiana could see how much her mother had been encouraged by such respect. How different it was now! Georgiana’s brother had never once sought Georgiana’s opinion nor even asked their mother for her thoughts. When Georgiana had told her mother of the expectation she would wed Lord Pembroke, the shock on her mother’s face had been immediate. It was clear then that the new Earl of Hartington would not care for anyone’s opinion but his own.

“Then we must find you an excellent husband before you must wed Lord Pembroke.” The decisiveness in her aunt’s voice made Georgiana smile – the first smile she had placed upon her lips since they had sat together in the carriage for the final part of their journey to London.

“Is such a thing possible?”

“More than possible.” Her aunt smiled back. “More likely, probable. If you place yourself into society with a clear indication that you wish to be wed, then you will, no doubt, find yourself surrounded by suitors.”

Georgiana did not smile. “And how many of them will seek only my dowry or the connection to my brother?”

At this, her aunt’s smile quickly faded. “Indeed, there will be some. That cannot be helped.”

“This will sound very foolish to you, no doubt, but I had already settled on remaining entirely unwed,” Georgiana confessed, as her aunt’s eyebrows lifted. “Every young lady seeks to marry I am told, but after being all too aware of the love between my father and mother – and hearing that it will be very difficult, if not impossible to find such a match for myself – I determined that I should remain independent and look after my mother for as long as I could.”

Nodding slowly, Lady Winchester took in a deep breath and let it settle her shoulders. “It is not foolish, Georgiana though I do wonder what you thought to do once you grew a little older.”

Georgiana shrugged. “I hoped my brother would provide for me.”

“And if he did not?” Georgiana opened her mouth and then closed it again, a frown forming across her brow. The truth was, she had not thought as to what she might do should her brother refuse to give her even the smallest amount to his spinster sister.

“He might decide to allow you to be the independent individual you strived to be and could leave you nothing.” Her aunt spoke gently as if she were aware of how sharply she was shattering Georgiana’s dream. “Your father and your mother might have been supportive of your choice, Georgiana, I cannot say but from what you have told me thus far, it is clear that your brother is not.”

Georgiana waved a hand and tried to swallow down the hurt which came with her aunt’s statement for the truth in it was sharp and fierce. “Regardless, I am to either find a suitable gentleman myself or marry a gentleman my brother has considered suitable. I think the former would be a good deal more preferable than the latter.”

“Well.” Her aunt took in a breath and settled her hands in her lap, looking at Georgiana with a somewhat piercing gaze. “Since you have decided to make the best of the situation, do you intend to find yourself a gentleman to fall in love with? That can be easily done in three months, I am sure. London is always full of handsome and amiable gentlemen!”

Drawing herself up in her chair, Georgiana shook her head firmly. “No, indeed not, Aunt! My sole intention is to find a husband who will permit me to be as independent and as uninhibited as I have always sought to be. It will be as though I am unwed, even though I am to be in wedlock, I suppose.”

The confidence in her voice began to dim as her aunt’s brow furrowed and a glint came into her eye.

“My dear girl, I must tell you that I think such a thing to be untenable. First, to find a gentleman in that regard would be difficult indeed but thereafter, to allow you such freedom would permit him to have freedom also. Would you truly care for that? Would that not harm you in some way?”

“Not if I feel nothing for the gentleman in question,” Georgiana answered, stoically.  “If I cannot find a gentleman to love me, then I will be contented to be in an arrangement with whatever gentleman I call husband. And yes, whilst I am aware that my brother wishes to make such an arrangement for me, I will not permit him to make such a decision on my behalf. I will decide which gentleman I am to consider rather than my brother. I will look at the gentleman’s character and his reputation, not only his family connections and his wealth which, I am sure, are great considerations of my brother!”

“I think you are correct in that decision.” With a small sigh, her aunt shook her head and leaned back against the squabs. “Why is it that the gentlemen in our lives think that they know what is best for us without even so much as asking us as to what we ourselves think? It is quite foolish, I must say.”

“And I shall agree with you there!” Georgiana let out a quiet laugh, feeling a little brighter now she had shared all that weighed upon her soul with her aunt. “My brother is quite determined.”

“Ah, but one thing I recall about you, my dear niece, is that you are determined also,” her aunt put to her, a smile growing steadily. “In this matter, I have every hope that you will find what you desire and I shall help you with it, every step of the way.”

“My dear Georgiana!”

With a squeal of delight, Georgiana grasped her friend’s hands before pulling her into a hug, ignoring the exclamation of her aunt over rumpling her new gown as well as the fact that Georgiana was a little improper in dropping the conversation with a new acquaintance, Lady Amelia in order to greet Lady Rutherford.

“Isabel! How very good to see you. Goodness, I did not think that you should be in London!”

“And yet here I am.” Isabel’s green eyes sparkled with happiness as she stepped back a little. “My dear husband has a younger sister and, given that his mother is away on the continent, must produce her for all of society to see!”

Georgiana’s smile dropped. “As must I,” she remarked, only to remember to make the correct introductions to her aunt. Thankfully, Lady Winchester and Lady Rutherford were already acquainted so it did not require more than a few words from Georgiana before all was settled. Turning, she looped her arm through Isabel’s and together, they began to promenade around the ballroom with her aunt following carefully behind.

“You are not here with your mother, then? I presume you have made your introductions to our royal patron?”

“I have.” Georgiana shook her head. “It was not at all as I expected. A very quiet affair really, with a simple curtsy and then the matter being at an end!”

“So now you are in society properly.”

Georgiana grimaced at the satisfaction in her friend’s voice. “I do not find myself so delighted, I confess. My brother has sent me to London in order to secure a husband, despite my attempts to refuse such a thing. Now that our mourning period is well and truly over, I believe he has now come to consider his responsibilities and to look at which ones he might remove from himself, which he might cast aside onto someone else.”

“And you are one of those who might be cast aside?”

“Into the arms of Lord Pembroke.” Muttering, Georgiana rolled her eyes when her friend looked at her sharply. “Yes, it is to him that my brother is quietly determined to have me wed. I do not know who he is, his character, his face, his expectations of my or his standing in society. I care very little as to whether or not he has the very best carriage or the greatest amount of wealth, for that is not something I am at all interested in.”

  “It would be wise to discover whether or not a gentleman would be able to take care of yourself and any potential children in the future, however,” her friend reminded her, quietly. “You may find there comes a time where you will rely upon your husband and –”

“I cannot allow myself to think of children!” Georgiana exclaimed, her eyes wide. “Goodness, Isabel, I do not think you understand me! It will be an arrangement, a convenience, that is all. He and I will be wed, yes, but in name only.”

“There will be an expectation of an heir.”

Taking in a deep breath, Georgiana suppressed a shudder. “If I must do my duty in that regard then of course, I shall but it will only be after I have spent as many years as I please doing as I wish. Thereafter, I shall expect to be treated in the very same way, even with the burden of children.”

Much to her surprise, her friend let out a gentle laugh.

“My dear Georgiana, you speak of children as a burden and, believe me, I quite understand that you might view them in such a way at the present for I once did also but, in time, you might find your considerations changed a great deal.” Her eyes alight with good humor, she patted Georgiana’s hand, evidently seeing the flush which Georgiana felt burning across her cheeks. “But you are quite right, you must not think of such things now. There is no need. The only thing you desire is to find a suitable husband who will be amenable to what you ask and I should like to aid you in that, if I can.”

Letting out a slow breath, Georgiana smiled at Isabel. “Thank you. I appreciate your offer a great deal. After all, you are the only one I can talk to about such things – aside from my aunt. She was just as surprised as you to hear of my brother’s demands. Evidently she was not expecting such a thing at all!”

“There must be a reason as to why your brother has chosen Lord Pembroke to be your suitor,” Isabel murmured, the music of the ballroom ringing all around them. “Is he acquainted with your brother in some way?”

“Yes he is, though my brother did not tell me the particulars.” Georgiana grinned at her friend, a sudden idea coursing through her. “What say you? Shall we go in search of him and do our utmost to spy him out without him being aware of us? No doubt he will do his very best to come and introduce himself to me as soon as he is able but once I know who he is, I shall do my level best to avoid him.”

This had Isabel giggling and, still arm in arm, they quickened their steps a little. Georgiana glanced back over her shoulder, only to see her aunt had stopped in conversation with another and, heedless to the fact that she ought to remain in sight of her chaperone, hurried forward so they might both bury themselves into the crowd.


Chapter Two

A sharp knock to the shoulder had Edward grimacing, only for the grimace to pull into a smile as his friend laughed back at him.

“Anyone would think that you had no desire to be here, Westford.”

Edward chuckled a little ruefully. “Does my expression give my feelings away so very openly?”

“Yes.” His friend grinned and gestured to the ballroom which was, at present, flooded with guests. “All of these ladies, wed or otherwise, will be eager to make your acquaintance. Why would you hold back from them?”

“Precisely because of that reason,” Edward returned, his grimace falling back into place. “I have every intention of staying back here this evening and not dancing at all! Every young lady here knows, through virtue of gossip and the like, that I am a Duke in need of a wife and thus, they think that either they themselves or some daughter or sister might be the perfect match for me. They do not allow me to consider such things for myself but instead, they hound me and press me to make a decision.”

“A very difficult situation, when one is pressed by all sides,” Lord Newfield answered, the sarcasm thick on his lips. “Especially by such an abundance of beautiful young ladies!”

Edward rolled his eyes as his friend chuckled again. He had been friends with Vincent, the Marquess of Newfield, ever since they had stepped into Eton together at the tender age of seven years old. Neither of them had borne a title at that time but now that they were both gentlemen with a heavy burden upon their shoulders, the weight of their title and duty had bonded them even closer together than before.

“Have you any intention of courting this Season?” His question seemed to push Lord Newfield backwards, for the man staggered a little, his eyes wide with evident shock.

“I? I, court a young lady? No, indeed not! Whyever, should I do such a thing as that?”

“Because you are a marquess and, just as I must do, are required to produce the heir.”

“Ah, but you forget that I have a very responsible younger brother,” Lord Newfield said, waggling one finger at Edward. “Whereas you have your mother, who surely has expectations of you and no-one else, save for your lovely sister who, unfortunately, cannot take on the title of Duke.”

“And is very contented as Duchess,” Edward answered, remembering how he had watched his sister marry the Duke of Wessex the previous year. “Alas, you are quite correct in your other statement, however. Your younger brother would be an excellent Marquess… possibly better than you, I think.”

“Undoubtedly.” The grin plastered across Lord Newfield’s face told Edward that his friend was not taking a single word Edward said with any seriousness. “So, the answer to your specific question is that no, I have no intention of courting any young lady with any exact intention. You, however, consider the Season with a good deal more importance, I think?”

“I must.” A heaviness settled on Edward’s heart and he let out a long, slow breath. “I must produce the heir but I cannot be contented with a young lady who seeks to marry me simply because she will then become a Duchess. I find such desires shallow. I want a young lady who will be honest and sincere and who does not place her happiness upon how much wealth she will have and how many people shall be below her in standing.”

Lord Newfield winced visibly. “I think you may struggle to find such a young lady. Every young woman knows what her sole requirement is – to marry as well as she can. The higher the title, the better. The wealthier the gentleman, the more the young ladies will flock to him. Do you not recall the Marquess of Huntly last Season?”

Edward squeezed his eyes closed, remembering the situation as though it were only the previous day. “I do.”

“Lord Huntly is from a cold, desolate part of Scotland. He speaks of it openly though describes it as having a rugged beauty, which I well believe. However, any young lady who wed him would be forced not only to step away from her family but also to remove herself so far from all of society, that she might easily be forgotten! But recall how many young ladies sought out his company?”

Nodding, Edward ran one hand down over his face. “He was overwhelmed at one point, I recall. None would let him alone.”

“He had to dance every dance and took tea with almost every young lady in London! The title of Marquess is an excellent one indeed but given that the gentleman also had a great deal of wealth and a large number of properties also, it is little wonder that he was chased in such an obvious fashion. You, being a Duke and having more wealth and property than Lord Huntly, must expect the same.”

“But I do not wish for that!” Throwing up his hands in exasperation, Edward let out a hiss of breath. “I cannot be satisfied with a young lady who thinks only of what she will gain in marrying me. I should like someone who is caring and considerate but who does not place her sole delight upon my wealth. I want a happy marriage, not one without a shred of consideration!”

His friend opened his mouth, put out both hands but then let them fall to his sides, his mouth closing tight again as if to say, he had no knowledge as to what Edward might do. With a low groan, Edward dropped his head forward as a sense of frustration tied itself to his doubts, sending a heavy weight dropping into his stomach. What he was searching for, it seemed, was impossible to find. Was he therefore resigned simply to marry the least disagreeable young lady?

“Good gracious!”

At the very moment Lord Newfield let out his startled exclamation, Edward let out one of his own as a hand grabbed his shoulder. Whoever it was, had taken a hold of him then dropped their head as resounding giggles reached up towards him.

“Whatever is going on?” Edward made to look around, only to hear a young lady’s voice answering in return.

Do forgive us but if you would be so good as not to move for a few moments, I should be very grateful.”

Blinking in surprise, Edward attempted to glance at the young lady, only to swing his head back around and stand tall as Lord Newfield murmured his name. A look to his friend told him that Lord Newfield was in the very same predicament as he, with a young lady hiding behind him, though her hand did not remain on his shoulder. It was a most extraordinary circumstance and Edward was not quite sure what to make of it all. Was this a ploy? A way to have him pay attention to one particular young lady?

“I thank you.”

The hand left his shoulder and the young lady stood tall, coming around to face him as the young lady behind Lord Newfield also came from behind him.

“You have done me a great service,” she continued, dropping into a curtsy, though her eyes did not flare in recognition. “Forgive us for the interruption.”

Much to Edward’s astonishment, she made to turn away but before she could leave his side, his hand snaked out and touched her arm, holding her back gently.

“Wait a moment.” A slight rasp to his voice spoke of his surprise. “You hid yourself behind me for a reason, I presume?”

When she laughed, Edward took a moment to consider her features. With laughing blue eyes, dark brown tresses pulled away from her oval face and a wide, warm smile, he considered her rather pretty – though most unorthodox in how she had behaved!

“Yes, there was indeed a reason, though you will think very ill of me indeed if I should tell you.” There was no coyness to her tone, no fluttering of her lashes or winking smile. Instead, she spoke plainly, her smile sent towards her friend rather than towards him. “I – we – were hiding from someone.”

“Though I suppose I did not need to,” came the reply from the young lady’s friend. “That was a little foolish of me, I think.”

“Mayhap.” The two ladies dissolved into laughter again and Edward found his own lips curving. This young lady, whoever she was, had to be one of the most extraordinary creatures he had met thus far, particularly because she seemed to have very little interest in him and his title. The way she spoke, her words free of any gentle flirtation, was refreshing and when she caught his gaze, Edward smiled back at her in response.

“Might I be bold enough to ask as to who it was you have been hiding from?”

“A gentleman.” The young lady waved a hand and turned her head away, as if afraid the gentleman might come after her again. “My brother is eager for me to make his acquaintance but I, unfortunately, lack the same enthusiasm.”

“And so, you are hiding from him?”

She nodded, a gentle flush coming into her cheeks. “You will think of me very odd; I am sure but given that I did not know who this particular gentleman was, I sought him out simply so that I might stay away from him.” A sudden shock seemed to spread across her face for she opened her eyes wide as one hand flew to her mouth.

Edward chuckled. “You need not worry, I will not tell anyone about what you have said, my lady.”

“Oh.” Her shoulders dropped and the color faded a little from her face. “Goodness, I have been somewhat foolish tonight.”

“You have not been foolish,” her friend interrupted, her eyes still twinkling. “I understand fully what you have done and why. The only thing I might suggest is that you keep your explanations a little more to yourself next time though, evidently, you can trust these two fine gentlemen.”

“You can indeed.” Edward bowed towards the first, then inclined his head to the second who had only just spoken seeing her smile. “I will not say a single word and, since I do not know the gentleman’s title, I will have no difficulty in keeping his name entirely to myself.”

At this, both the ladies laughed and Edward threw a glance towards Lord Newfield. His friend was grinning and when Edward caught his eye, the man lifted his eyebrow in question, obviously wondering why Edward had not yet made an introduction. It was not quite proper since they ought to have been introduced by an acquaintance but they had already had a prolonged conversation and thus, he felt quite justified in introducing himself.

“You will think this a little bold, mayhap, but allow me to introduce myself to you both.” He bowed again, more formally this time, snapping his heels together as he rose to his feet. “I am the Duke of Westford and this is my friend, the Marquess of Newfield.”

Lord Newfield bowed but as Edward lifted his gaze back to the first lady, the one who had been hiding behind him, he caught the flare of surprise in her eyes and felt his heart sink. Would she now change her manner with him? Would this simple conversation turn to something more? Would she want to flirt with him now? Push herself forward in the same manner as every other young lady did?

“Forgive me, your Grace.” The young lady dropped into a curtsy. “Had I known of your title then I would never have –”

“It is quite all right,” Edward interrupted, before she could continue apologizing. “I am not in the least bit frustrated, I assure you.”

Her smile was no longer present as she spoke, her blue eyes now a little dulled. “I am Lady Georgiana, daughter to the late Earl of Hartington and this is my dear friend, Lady Rutherford.”

“I am very pleased to make your acquaintance,” Lord Newfield murmured as the two ladies offered him a brief smile. “I believe I am acquainted with your brother, Lady Georgiana, though not very well.”

As Edward watched, Lady Georgiana’s face went pale. “And you will not think for even a moment to tell him of this encounter, I am sure,” he put in, garnering the attention of everyone. “You will keep it all entirely to yourself.”

Lord Newfield nodded quickly. “Yes, of course.”

“I should be very grateful if you would, though my brother is not in London at present. I am with my aunt, Lady Winchester.” Lady Georgiana no longer smiled, her shoulders a little hunched as she darted a glance towards Lord Newfield and then towards Edward. “Pray excuse us now. We have taken up a good deal too much of your time already.”

“Are you to dance this evening, Lady Georgiana?” Before he knew what he was doing, Edward had stepped forward and put one hand out to the lady. “I should very much like to sign your dance card, just to make it quite plain that there is no difficulty between us… if you should wish to step out with me, that is.”

In an instant, all of his intentions to stay back from the ball and to keep himself to the shadows removed themselves from his mind. Lady Georgiana looked up at him in evident surprise, her eyes a little wider than before. “You wish to dance with me?”

“Yes, if you will, have it?”

“And I shall ask for your dance card also, I think.” Lord Newfield grinned as Edward threw him a sharp look. “And if you are dancing this evening, Lady Rutherford, then I should be glad to sign your dance card too.”

“I am not,” Lady Rutherford replied, though her eyes were bright with obvious delight with what was happening at present. “But I am certain that Lady Georgiana would be more than delighted to step out with you both. You are very kind indeed.”

“Especially since I have behaved in such an ill-fitting manner,” Lady Georgiana added, slipping off her dance card and handing it to Edward, looking straight up into his eyes. “You must forgive me for grabbing a hold of you in such a bold way. Had I known you were a Duke, then I should never have dared do so!”

“Which is why I am very glad indeed you did not,” he told her, honestly. “I am not in the least bit displeased. In fact, I would consider it an excellent introduction, albeit an unusual one!”

This earned him a small smile from Lady Georgiana – the first since he had garnered from her since he had introduced himself – and with something like relief filling him, he wrote his name down on her dance card. He did not go near to the waltz nor think about taking two dances but wrote his initials at the cotillion. Upon handing it back, he caught the way her eyes dipped to it, only to look up at him again.

“Thank you, Your Grace.” Dropping into a curtsy, she offered him a smile but it did not spread wide across her face nor did excitement flood her voice. She did not clench her hands tight in anticipation nor look to her friend with delight. Instead, her voice remained steady, her expression calm and without any seeming eagerness for their dance to take place just as soon as it could. It was, to his mind at least, as though she were to dance with a perfectly ordinary gentleman rather than with a Duke – and he found that overwhelmingly refreshing.

Edward had to wait a few moments until Lord Newfield signed his name to Lady Georgiana’s dance card also but then, it came time for them to step away. Edward realized there were a good many more questions he wanted to ask Lady Georgiana, how much more he would like to discover about her but, with a smile and a nod, he watched her step away, linking arms again with her friend.

“That was… interesting.” Lord Newfield laughed as Edward threw him a grin. “I wonder which gentleman it was Lady Georgiana was hiding from.”

“I do not know but you will not say a word to her brother, I hope?”

Lord Newfield shook his head, his jaw jutting forward. “I would not speak to Lord Hartington even if I was to be standing next to him at this very moment,” he stated, more vehemently than Edward had expected. “He is a gentleman whose single-minded determination has caused many a problem. I remember it well from a few years ago when he was in society, though that was before his father passed away. Perhaps the responsibility of title will have changed his manner somewhat.”

“Or made it all the steadier,” Edward remarked, with a shake of his head. “But she says she is not here with him in London at present. She is with her aunt.”

“And everyone knows why a young lady such as Lady Georgiana is in London,” Lord Newfield remarked, with a sudden smile that had Edward laughing. “You seem a little taken with her.”

Edward lifted one shoulder, choosing to be honest rather than pretend he did not know what his friend spoke of. “She is interesting, certainly and unlike any other young lady I have been introduced to.”

“You mean, she did not attempt to flirt with you.”

“More than that,” Edward replied, quickly, “she showed no interest whatsoever in being in company with me. Every other young lady has been overly enthusiastic or grateful that I am to dance with them but to her, it seemed as though I was merely a gentleman like any other.”

Lord Newfield looked back at him steadily. “And you find yourself intrigued by that?”

“I do, indeed,” Edward admitted, quietly. “It is what I have been desperate to find and until only a few moments ago, believed I would never have for myself.”

A flicker of interest came into Lord Newfield’s expression. “You seek, then, to further acquaint yourself with Lady Georgiana?”

Edward took a few moments to consider but, with a small smile, nodded. “Yes. I think I do.”

Let me know your thoughts!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Helen Leontiou

    I’m eager to read more!

  2. K

    OMGosh yes can not wait to read on …..

  3. Barbara McCoy

    Enjoyed it and want to know more

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I’m glad that you finished reading the preview of “The Duke’s Scandalous Proposal”. It will be on Amazon very soon!

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