Read An Unlikely Duchess Online
Authors: Mary Balogh
Between 1985 and 1998, I wrote more than thirty Signet Regency romances, most of which have long been out of print. Many of you have been asking me about them and hunting for them, and, in some cases, paying high prices for second-hand copies to complete your collections of my books. I have been touched by your interest. I am delighted that these books are going to be available as e-books with lovely new covers and very affordable prices.
If you have read any of my more recent books, The Bedwyn saga, the SIMPLY quartet, the Huxtable series, the Survivors’ Club series, for example, you may wish to discover if my writing has changed in the course of the past 30 years or if my view of life and love and romance remains essentially the same. Whatever you decide, I do hope you will enjoy being able to read these books at last.
“An Unlikely Duchess” Copyright © 1990 by Mary Balogh
AN UNLIKELY DUCHESS First Ebook edition February 2016
All rights reserved. No part of the Ebook may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both copyright owner and Class Ebook Editions, Ltd., the publisher of the Ebook. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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An Unlikely Duchess
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Table of Contents
“She is a good country-bred girl,” Lord Ainsbury explained to his grandson. “She will suit you well, Paul—quiet and sensible, and doubtless accomplished at running a home.”
“Yes, sir,” Paul Villiers, Duke of Mitford, was standing looking out of the window of a salon in his townhouse on Berkeley Square. “She sounds suitable.”
“And we know she is of good lineage,” the baron continued after coughing and glancing at his daughter, the duke’s mother, who was quietly stitching at her embroidery. “She is Rutland’s granddaughter. I’ve known him all my life. So her grandfather is an earl and her father is a viscount. Her mother was old Findlay’s girl. Good blood wherever you look, my boy.”
“Yes,” the duke said, clasping his hands behind him and watching Miss Hancock and her mama enter the house on the opposite side of the square. “She sounds very suitable.”
“I know you don’t admire town beauties,” his grandfather said. “I know they are too flighty for you. When I met Rutland at Bath and we found that we were both taking the waters and could take them together, it struck me that one of the granddaughters he spoke of would suit you fine. They have been strictly brought up, you know, boy, and never allowed the frivolity of a Season to turn their heads. Rutland jumped at the chance when I broached the subject with him.”
“You decided on the eldest daughter?” the duke asked.
“It is only fitting when you are a duke,” Lord Ainsbury said. “She is twenty, Paul. Just the right age. She will be past any silliness but not yet long in the tooth.”
“Yes,” his grandson agreed, “it sounds like a suitable age.”
“Rutland returned home when I did,” the baron said. “They will be waiting for word.”
“Yes.” Mitford watched the Hancock ladies reemerge from the house opposite. Obviously, Mrs. Paisley was from home. “I suppose they will.”
“Well?” Lady Newman paused in her work and looked up at her son for the first time. Her voice was tense. “What do you think, Paul?”
“Think?” he said, turning from the window to look at her. “I think it sounds like a very suitable match, Mama.”
“You will agree to it, then?” she asked. “You will write to the Viscount Cheamley to make an offer for his daughter?”
Mitford rocked on his heels and considered a moment. “If it is the right thing to do,” he said, “then I suppose I should. And it seems to be the right thing to do.”
“You are eight and twenty,” she said, “and you owe it to your position to marry and set up your nursery, Paul, dear. Unfortunately, when you are a duke among other things, you cannot always think of personal inclination. It sounds as if Papa has chosen wisely for you.”
“Yes, it does,” he said. “I shall write to the Honorable Miss Middleton’s father, then, without further delay.”
“You will not be sorry, dear,” his mother said, folding her embroidery and smiling at her son. “Duty is its own reward, as I have always told you.”
“You could not do better, boy,” Lord Ainsbury said. “Rutland always was a capable fellow.”
The fourth occupant of the room spoke up for the first time. She was a small and placid-looking girl, made dumpy for the present by the effects of an advanced pregnancy.
“But, Paul,” she said, looking with affectionate eyes at her brother, “do you not wish to see Miss Middleton first before you make any decision about marrying her?”
“She don’t have any deformities,” Lord Ainsbury said, “and she has all her teeth. And she don’t have any pock marks.”
“But is she pretty, Grandpapa?” Lady Angela Vaughan asked.
“Any young lady dresses up pretty provided she don’t have any of the things I checked about,” the baron said. “Besides, prettiness don’t count for much when one is choosing a bride. Not when one is a duke, anyway.”
“And is she tall?” his granddaughter persisted.
“It don’t signify,” her grandfather said. “Most females aren’t very tall in my experience.”
“But is she taller than Paul?” The girl glanced fondly at her brother, whom even the most generous of mortals could not describe as being one fraction of an inch above average height.
“It don’t signify,” the baron said again, his voice becoming irritable. “What does that have to say to anything, pray?”
“Paul would he mortified to have a wife who is taller than he,” she said. “Would you not, Paul?”
Mitford rocked on his heels and smiled at her. “I reconciled myself to my height when I finally admitted at the age of twenty that I was not going to grow any more, Angie,” he said. “I am not even sensitive on the topic any longer.”
“Besides, dears,” their mother said, “there are qualities far more important than looks and height. There are birth and breeding and training. It sounds as if Miss Middleton has all three. And it is evident that Paul does need those qualities in a wife. He is so very proper himself. And so dignified for one so young. He deserves an equally dignified wife.”
She smiled warmly at her only son and extended a hand to him. He crossed the room, bowed over it, and raised it to his lips.
“I shall go and compose my letter immediately, Mama,” he said. “I shall suggest going into Northamptonshire as soon as I receive a favorable reply, in order to meet Miss Middleton and pay my addresses to her in person.”
“My dear boy,” she said, lifting a hand to his neck and drawing his head down so that she might kiss him on the cheek. “I know you will be happy with your decision. You always have done what is right and proper. You will be rewarded with many sturdy sons and lovely daughters, take my word on it.”
His grandfather was on his feet, waiting to shake his hand. “I’m proud of you, boy,” he said. “I knew it would be a perfect match as soon as Rutland mentioned granddaughters. And I will always be able to congratulate myself on the fact that I was the one who arranged it all.” He beamed his satisfaction as he shook his grandson heartily by the hand.
Lady Angela Vaughan had also risen to her feet, though slowly and awkwardly. She linked her arm through her brother’s. “I will walk to the library with you, Paul,” she said. “I get so breathless when I sit for any length of time. And so breathless when I walk any distance. Poor Adrian has to set aside ten full minutes whenever I wish to climb the stairs at home. I really don’t see how this child can do another whole month of growing.”
“Women are greatly to be admired,” Mitford said, patting her hand on his arm. “I really don’t think I could stand going through that, Angie.”
“Well,” she said, smiling and transforming herself instantly into a very pretty young lady, “it is a good thing we females can, because we really do not have any choice in the matter once we have accepted a marriage offer, do we?”
“Do you wish you did have a choice?” he asked with sympathy, closing the library door quietly behind them.
“Heavens, no,” she said, chuckling. “Imagine the humiliation, Paul, of not being able to present one’s husband with offspring. Besides, imagine the personal disappointment.”
“It was not a mistake, then?” he asked. “Marrying for love, I mean, when you had known Adrian for such a short time. Mama was anxious for your happiness.”
“It was not a mistake,” she said. “Marriage is not easy, Paul, especially when one is increasing and feeling wretched after the very first month. I really do not know how it would survive without love, for Adrian and I did our fair share of snapping each others’ heads off for the first few months, even though we love each other to distraction. Paul, don’t do it.”
“Marry Miss Middleton?” he said with a smile. He knew her well enough not to have to ask what she referred to. “It is time I married, Angie, and this seems a suitable match.”
“How can you say that,” she said, exasperated, “when you have not even set eyes on Miss Middleton? Even Grandpapa has not. She may be some sort of monster.”
“I think not,” he said. “The Earl of Rutland is an old, old friend of Grandpapa’s. He would not play such a trick on him.”
“She may be six feet tall,” she said.
“Well, then,” he said, a genuine grin on his face for the first time that afternoon, “she will be a good five inches taller than I.”
“Paul,” she said, “how can I get you to be serious? Or rather, how can I get you
to be serious? You have always done everything that you were taught was proper and right. Duty and decorum are the guiding lights of your life. Is it not time you did something to please yourself?”
“But one could do a lot worse than live one’s life according to those principles,” he said. “And how can I please myself, Angie? How can I ever know any woman’s true feelings for me? No woman can look at me and see anything else but my ducal title, not to mention the eight other lesser titles. Women fall in love with me routinely. Yet who, not knowing of the tides and the property and the wealth, could look at me and want me?” He spread his hands out to his sides and smiled rather ruefully at her.
“Dozens,” she said with conviction. “It is true, Paul, that you are slightly short and rather slender. And I suppose your face could not be described as outstandingly handsome. And your hair will curl and will not hold to any style. But you are not by any means ugly. You have a very pleasant good-humored face.”
He laughed. “I was settling in to hearing the list of my good points,” he said. “Is it over already? No matter, my dear. Miss Middleton is a country mouse, it seems. She has been brought up to decent country virtues and never exposed to the vices of town. She will be pleased enough, doubtless, to have any husband, even if he is rather short, and even if the best that can be said about him from the shoulders up is that he has a pleasant, good-humored face. And doubtless the titles and the consequences she will acquire will help her swallow the pill.”