Authors: Rachel van Dyken
Tags: #historical romance, #regency romance, #Humorous, #Rachel Van Dyken, #The Ugly Duckling Debutante, #kindle romance, #Fiction, #Romance, #Astraea Press, #London, #Historical Fiction, #Regency London, #Sensual romance, #Under 3.00 Kindle
He’d like to see them try.
The one woman ever close to succeeding only did so because she was foolish enough to make it her goal for an entire year, and even then he knew what she was about, finally giving in just so the poor thing wouldn’t run headfirst into the nearest street.
Unfortunately it was becoming clearer as he aged that women were easy to read and extremely similar in their dispositions. Having a wife would be, in his mind, akin to having a nice pet. A creature you dress up when it was time for fancy dinners and reproduce with to gain an heir. Anything outside of that was relatively pointless. He had his gentleman friends for lively conversation and his grandmother for nagging.
Yes, although part of him was jealous of Nicholas’s good luck, another part of him was terrified he would find someone who had the ability to take such a strong hold on his heart that he would be in constant terror of losing her. Such a woman did not exist, and even if she did, she was probably boring and ugly, leaving him to feel again quite good about his decision to let Nicholas help him pick out a bride.
Although Nicholas had been joking, it was quite like picking out a horse. He needed to leave his heart out of it and use his head. What he required was a young happy woman who would bear his children and be a good duchess.
What he should do was write a list. Yes, a list explaining the characteristics he required of his future bride. Surely it would help Nicholas out.
Getting up, he walked around to the large desk and sat in the chair. He heard a tiny giggle. Pausing, he looked around the room and shrugged. Must be his imagination.
And then something grasped his leg. A loud curse escaped his mouth, echoing through the room.
“My father says that’s a dirty word. Is it a dirty word, your grace?” interrupted a smaller version of his old friend, hiding beneath the desk with mud on his face and some sort of jelly on his fingers.
Perfect, he only hoped he wasn’t acting as the child’s napkin.
“Does your dad use that word?” Sebastian fired back with a question of his own.
The little boy giggled then crooked his finger for Sebastian to lean closer. Like an idiot, he fell for the trick just as the little boy’s hands firmly grasped the crisp folds of his cravat. “My daddy says not to tell my mama. Sometimes he says it when he is angry. Like the time I brought a frog to church. That was fun!”
You know what else is fun? Washing one's hands.
“There you are!” Nicholas said from the doorway.
Samuel sunk behind the desk again. Sebastian closed his eyes, hoping the jelly stains on his perfectly white cravat would somehow disappear as well.
“Samuel.” Nicholas’s voice took a warning edge, making Sebastian feel the need to adjust the cravat for more air. Devil take it, even he started to sweat when he heard Nicholas’s voice turn threatening. Sebastian stole a glance at Samuel, who shook his head and crossed his arms.
Not the wisest of choices, young fellow.
Instead of taking the smart option of apologizing, the boy decided to take the road less traveled and ran.
Bless him, he didn’t get far. Nicholas’s trained hands darted out and grabbed the boy’s shirttails just as he was passing the doorframe. He let out a screech so mind-blowingly loud that Sebastian was convinced hearing loss would soon follow.
Fully caught red handed, or in Samuels case jelly handed, he did what any young boy of his age would do.
And Sebastian’s heart clenched.
How Nicholas could even punish the young cherub was beyond him. Yet Nicholas did just that, giving the boy a firm, yet loving, sit down. At the end of the lecture he demanded Samuel apologize to Sebastian.
Just don’t turn those giant blue eyes on me.
And the boy circled toward him. Alligator tears slowly dripping down his red cheeks.
Deliver me, Lord.
Sebastian got down on one knee and put out his hand for Samuel to shake. It seemed even at a young age boys knew how often things were fixed by the firm shaking of one’s hand. His face immediately brightened as he shook Sebastian’s hand then saluted him as if he was royalty.
He had no option but to salute back.
Samuel ran off, leaving Sebastian’s face still in a smile, until he met Nicholas’s brooding gaze.
“Uh, it was nothing.” Sebastian dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
“He shouldn’t be spying,” Nicholas clipped.
“He’s a boy.”
“Don’t encourage him.”
“Don’t discourage him from being so carefree. Boys should grow up to be—”
“I’m sorry, it sounded as if the Duke of Tempest, sworn bachelor, was just contemplating giving me parenting advice.” Nicholas lifted an eyebrow in shock.
Sebastian scowled and crossed his arms. “I was merely going to say he deserves room to grow.”
“Nothing. I’ll just enjoy rubbing this conversation in your face when you produce a tiny replica of yourself and that replica decides to hide frogs in your bed.”
You have no idea how tired of waiting I am.
Sebastian dismissed the thought, feeling suddenly uncomfortable that it was in his head in the first place. Something was seriously wrong with him. Taking a mistress, getting foxed, and gambling, those were the things that should be in the forefront of his mind. Not chasing jelly handed children around the house.
Being surrounded by married friends was obviously playing with his normally calm and cheerful demeanor. He needed another drink. Or had he already had a few? Obviously his memory had been affected as well. The sooner he wrote the deuced list and chose a bride, the better.
As if reminding himself, he announced rather loudly, “I’ve decided to write a list of things I would like in a wife. Then you and Sara may choose the best fit.”
“Why is that not surprising?” came the sarcastic remark from behind him. Only the words did not come from a male voice, no. They came from a voice that would haunt him for the rest of the night. Slowly he turned to see what defiant creature belonged to such an irresistible voice.
Emma Gates pretended the air hadn’t escaped her lungs the minute the Duke of Tempest turned around to face her. She also pretended her pulse hadn’t jumped wildly as she watched his hands clench into fists beside his muscular body. In one last effort to conceal her absolute shock that the rumors of this attractive duke hadn’t even begun to do him justice, she pasted a smile on her face that would have sent a priest to confession…and waited.
All in vain.
He didn’t seem the least bit affected.
Odd, she had once been told her smile made men weep.
Drat. She’d lost her touch.
She shrugged her shoulders and did a little curtsy out of respect.
“Emma, allow me to introduce you to the Duke of Tempest.” Nicholas took a gallant step forward and kissed her outstretched hand. Years ago Nicholas would have been the least likely person to save her from social disgrace. Now he and Sara seemed to be her saving grace daily. They were only too kind in allowing her to stay with them for a season. Desperate to leave the choking presence of her parents, she nearly offered to travel over night in order to arrive sooner.
Nicholas turned toward Tempest and grinned. “Your grace, I don’t believe you’ve had the pleasure of meeting—“
“Miss Emma Gates, your grace.” Emma curtsied lower this time and allowed her eyes to boldly scan the muscular stance of his legs. The curve of his thighs molded into firm calves tightly bound in hessian boots. His legs were sinful.
She hadn’t allowed herself to actually entertain thoughts of the opposite sex in some time. Ever since…the incident. Then again, it had defined her. She was better off not noticing how attractive other men were. It hadn’t been a problem before. Not until now.
She found herself cursing him all over again as he bent his wickedly angelic head over her hand and brushed his soft lips across her knuckles. It was the most proper of kisses, yet she felt positively heated as the feel of their momentary touch lingered on her person.
Recoiling, she stepped sideways and took a seat on the nearest chair. Naturally it wasn’t because she needed to. No, it was because at any moment she was positive she would swoon, and Emma Gates never swooned.
“To what do we owe this pleasure, Miss Gates?” The duke’s low baritone caressed her body.
Shivering in response, she answered, “Why, your grace, I should think that would be obvious.”
“Is it now?” He seemed perplexed. “I await with baited breath. Please, do share.”
“I’m to be married.”
“To whom?” He took a seat next to her, eyes riveted on her face.
Saints above! Did the man blink? Since squirming in her seat was out of the question, considering gentle bred ladies did not shift, she clenched her dress between her hands and managed to calm her nerves. His eyes seemed to read her soul. She should have prayed before entering the room.
Always known for her bluntness, she admitted, “I haven’t yet chosen him. Never fear, I’ll be sure to notify him before the wedding. Naturally.”
The duke coughed to hold his laugh in, failing miserably. “Isn’t that a bit presumptuous, dear girl?”
“Not at all!”
“How do you figure?”
“Well.” She shrugged and watched in fascination as his eyes scanned the curve of her neck as she did so. She should be outraged. Instead a feeling of pleasure descended on her. Warmth pooled in her belly. Looks like his were what cause innocent debutantes to abandon their chaperones.
Angel duke indeed.
“Do you mean to tell me men attend all of the Season's balls for the sport of it? No, sir. I hate to disagree, but men go for the same reasons women do. They too need to find a mate. So I should say any man would be thrilled to get it over with as soon as possible. I find myself doing them a service.”
His eyes flared for a minute. Looking away he swallowed slowly, muscles tensing in his classically lined jawbone, before answering, “A service, of course.”
Whatever he meant by that comment was obviously lost on Emma as she focused her attention on Sara, who had just entered the room.
Bringing in an heir of sensuality and sweetness matched by no one in Emma’s social circle, she embraced her as if they were more than cousins. Sisters, in fact. If only that were true.
Emma’s own sister despised her. It wasn’t always that way, but after the incident, her parents had felt so responsible for not keeping an eye on her that they were positively insane when it came to the youngest of the family. Abigail, her sister had not been pleased that during the year that was to be her come out, her parents had decided the eldest, Emma, should be launched first. After all, it was only proper that the eldest get at least one Season, even if it was in vain. The last thing they had wanted was whispers of scandal concerning the oddity of having a younger sister out before Emma was even presented to society. And Emma could only feign illness and staying with her grandmother for so long before people became curious as to her situation.
Embarrassing as it was, it became apparent that in order for her sister to be a success as well as scandal free, Emma needed to go to London first.
Either way, Abigail was not pleased. She had cried for days until Emma had promised she would quickly find someone to marry this Season and be done with it. Besides, Abigail was still one and seven—young for the marriage mart to be sure. She was also the favorite. Emma was fortunate her parents still chose to feed and clothe her after everything that had happened so many years ago. It hadn’t mattered that nothing had taken place. What mattered were people’s impressions, and because of appearances, she was now forever stained with ruin. All before ever receiving her first kiss.
Emma watched as Sara went over to Nicholas and whispered something in his ear. His darkly handsome face glowed with contentment, Emma sighed. What would it be like to have a relationship where both people respected each other so much? It was a dream that would never be her reality. It was better for her to steel herself against affairs of the heart. She would only end up disappointed, for her parents had reminded her several times that tied in with her dowry was their version of the truth of what had happened. And with that, any person who proposed would know of her disgrace. Only after they married, so they would be stuck with her. She would never do that to someone she cared for. Attach herself to their family name, making it impossible to get out of the marriage without even more scandal.
Her eyes fell on Nicholas, someone who was all too familiar with scandal. It gave her hope that one day she might find peace and happiness. With a bow, Nicholas excused himself, mumbling something about his youngest getting jelly all over his nanny.
The duke’s laughter jerked Emma back to reality as she noticed him shake his head in amusement.
“Do you find something amusing,
?” Emma inquired.