My American Duchess(8)

By: Eloisa James



All right, she had flirted.

Merry groaned silently. Why hadn’t she slapped him when he caught her around her waist, or at the least announced her status as a soon-to-be married woman? Instead, she had just looked up at him like a silly widgeon waiting to be kissed.

No wonder he’d been so amused. He likely thought her the veriest green girl, knocked head over heels by the magnificence of his black-clad presence.

It was all so embarrassing.

The next time she encountered him, she would have to emphasize that she was in love, and had scarcely given their conversation a second thought. Perhaps she would say something like, Oh, we’ve met, have we not? I declare, I forgot all about it!

“There you are, m’dear,” her aunt said, appearing before her. “Cedric came by with a glass of wine for you.” Bess thrust a brimming glass into Merry’s hand. “The boy is endlessly considerate, I must say.”

“Thank you,” Merry said.

“He returned to the card room with your uncle,” Bess said. “You’ll see him later; we’ll be taking your beau home in our carriage, because his vehicle threw an axle or something of that sort. You should have seen how graciously he accepted your uncle’s offer. His manners are just miraculous! Why, he’s as polished as wax.”

“‘As polished as wax,’” Merry repeated, pulling herself back together. That conversation on the balcony meant nothing. She’d probably never meet the man again. “Aunt Bess, that doesn’t make any sense. You use wax to polish things.”

“You know what I mean,” Bess said, unperturbed. “The boy shines like brass.”

Merry frowned.

“Oh, tut!” her aunt said. “You’re lucky to have him, my dear, and that’s all I’ll say about it.”

As Merry began to explain (not for the first time) the concept of mixed metaphors, one of her suitors, a Mr. Kestril, approached, and after greeting them both, said, “Miss Pelford, I believe you granted me your next dance.”

“Certainly,” Merry said, smiling at him. Cedric had suggested that Merry keep Mr. Kestril at a distance because he wasn’t “good ton,” whatever that meant.

But Merry liked him; Mr. Kestril was not only taller than she, but he knew a lot about gardening.

“As shiny as an ingot from a fairy hill,” her aunt said abruptly.

Mr. Kestril’s forehead creased. “I beg your pardon?”

“I had described Merry’s fiancé, Lord Cedric, as being as shiny as brass, but I’m trying to come up with something better,” Bess explained, neatly dropping the fact Merry was now betrothed into the conversation. “My Muse just suggested a comparison to a fairy ingot.”

“My aunt is a poet,” Merry told Mr. Kestril, whose mouth had pulled tight at Bess’s news.

“Nothing so grand,” Bess said, fanning herself. “A poet implies subtlety and genius. I merely dally with words.”

“There’s a touch of genius in your comparison of a fairy ingot to Lord Cedric,” Mr. Kestril said dryly.

Merry frowned. “Why so? A fairy ingot is gold, isn’t it?”

“And Lord Cedric’s hair is golden-colored,” Bess explained.

The strains of a country dance started up. “Miss Pelford,” Mr. Kestril said, bowing deeply and extending his hand. “If I may?”

She put her hand in his. And with that, they were away, capering down the room, and smiling every time they met and parted, and met and parted again.

Merry kept her eyes on her partner’s face and glanced neither right nor left. Not that there was anyone she’d want to see in the ballroom.

Other than her fiancé, of course.





Chapter Two


Octavius Mortimer John Allardyce, the sixth Duke of Trent, returned to the ballroom feeling as if he’d taken a sharp blow to the gut.

Earlier that evening, Trent had no sooner presented himself at Lady Portmeadow’s ball, kissed his hostess’s hand, and entered the ballroom than his twin brother, Cedric, had appeared and announced, loud enough so that anyone within a stone’s throw could hear, that he was now betrothed to marry.

Although Trent’s first impulse had been to give a howl of joy, he had pushed it down and instead offered his brother a congratulatory nod.

He had been just about to request to meet his future sister-in-law when Cedric had added—as casually as if he were discussing the weather—that he had given his betrothed a diamond ring.

Their mother’s, to be precise. The ring was worth more than any other piece of jewelry in the family estate, but its value was symbolic as well as financial: it had been worn not only by their mother, but by their father’s mother before her.

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