About the book
He's notoriously wicked. She's a wallflower guarding her heart.
A sworn bluestocking, Lady Cecilia has long now professed that marriage is not for her. For one thing, she can’t find it in herself to trust the rakish men of the Ton. And for another, no one seems capable enough to tempt her.
Forced to flee London to protect himself from scandal, Harry Lewis, the Duke of Marigold, relishes in the anonymity of the country. And seeing the indifference in the eyes of his feisty neighbor is enough to set his heart aflame.
But gossip travels quite fast. When people start uncovering the mystery that surrounds him, he struggles to prove his innocence. Until Lady Cecilia’s sister suddenly disappears. And only the trail she has left behind can lead them back to the person that wants to see Harry ruined...
“I do believe that these men are among the most insincere that roam our fair lands,” said Cecilia, pulling the pink ribbon into the center of the book before closing it. She held the book on her lap like a precious jewel, her eyes scanning the garden as the elite milled the grounds.
“You mean the ton?” asked Jasmine.
“I think that many of them are rather handsome,” said Jasmine. She clasped her hands together and scanned the lawn, much to the scorn of her older sister.
“In that regard, there is no argument, Jasmine, but a man is more than his looks. The most important thing is his character, and I have not yet met a man as reputable as the ones I read about in my books.”
“Then perhaps you should take your nose out of your book and look harder, sister. The Duke of Pardey has not been able to take his eyes off of you all afternoon.” Jasmine looked down at her sister, perched on a small white stool, and widened her eyes.
“I do not know who that is, nor do I care,” stated Cecilia. “If he is a man of the ton, then he is of no interest to me. Why did father invite him here?”
“Perhaps, because you have rebuked the advances of all the men in London and the areas around, dear sister. I hear that the Duke has only recently come to the area, though why he has come is another matter entirely. The man is a mystery, Cecilia, and who can resist a good mystery?”
“I can, and I will,” said Cecilia before re-opening her book. She took a glance around the garden to see if she could spot the Duke, but there were too many people there, and she only knew half of them. One thing she was certain of was that, being a man of title, the Duke would be just like all of the rest. He may cut a dashing figure, but he would not be a gentleman.
“Perhaps,” started Cecilia, “if I keep my nose in my book, I will not garner another proposal from an insincere source. Men nowadays only want to marry because it is the thing to be done, and not because of love. Oh, my beating heart awaits.” Cecilia looked back down at her book and the love contained within.
“Well, I, for one, do not care for such notions,” said Jasmine, smiling as she stared across the lawn. “I shall marry someone who is handsome, intelligent, and well to do, and I shall find love in that, just as Mother and Father did. I did notice that a most handsome gentleman accompanies the Duke. How wonderful it would be to find love at the same time.”
“You are free to do as you please, sister; I can only support you in whatever decisions that you make.” Cecilia closed her book again, knowing that she was not going to get to read it.
“Even if those decisions are unwise?” asked Jasmine.
“I do not believe that I have witnessed you making an unwise decision, Jasmine. I am sure that you will marry and marry well, and you will find the love that you desire.”
“I do hope so.”
Cecilia looked up at her sister and could see her float off into a daydream. She took the opportunity to take a look around the garden once more, looking for the Duke that Jasmine had mentioned. It was not the first time that she had heard about the Duke, though the more notorious someone was, the more likely it was because of roguish behavior.
The gardeners had done a beautiful job in cultivating the flower beds for entertaining during the summer months, and the roses were particularly fragrant this year, displaying a rainbow of colors. The only thing that could overshadow their aroma was the large lavender bush on the far side of the lawn.
“Cecilia,” said Jasmine, nudging her sister on the shoulder.
Cecilia looked up to see the Earl of Albury snaking his way towards them and not for the first time that afternoon.
“Why won’t he leave me alone?” mumbled Cecilia.
“I think that his persistence is an admirable trait. He has been rebuffed by you more than once, yet he still returns to try again. That is more than can be said for most. Besides, he does have a certain handsomeness to him.”
“I would like a man of character, a man of substance, and I cannot see that in his eyes,” whispered Cecilia.
Edward Nailer, the Earl of Albury, smiled pleasantly, almost ignoring the presence of Jasmine, as he walked the last few steps to where Cecilia was sitting. He pushed the long hair from his forehead and bowed curtly as he arrived, looking upon Cecilia with his pale blue eyes.
“Good day, My Lord,” said Cecilia, placing her hands on top of her closed book out of politeness. She looked past the Earl to see another man staring at her.
“It is a fine day today, Lady Cecilia. Tell me, are you enjoying this fine day, and are you well?” said the Earl.
Cecilia stood up, placed her book down on the stool, and brushed down the front of her dress. “I am well, thank you, My Lord, and I must agree that the day is very pleasurable. Do you not think the roses particularly beautiful?”
“I wholeheartedly agree,” said Edward with a smile. “Though, I do not think them the most beautiful thing in this garden.”
Cecilia felt a small nudge from behind; she wanted to throw her foot back to kick her sister. “Yes, the hyacinths are also very pleasant on the eyes.”
“I do not mean the hyacinth,” stated Edward. “They are eclipsed by—”
“You look as you have something on your mind, Sir. Please, have you come to ask a question of me?” Cecilia looked him up and down quickly as she spoke. Many would find him attractive, but many would only take note of his outer appearance. He certainly was able to charm with his words, but she was sure that there was something else there, something a little more sinister. Besides, where Jasmine saw persistence, Cecilia could only find desperation, and there was nothing that she hated more than someone not respecting her wishes.
“I only wish to let you know how much you mean to me, Lady Cecilia,” said Edward.
“Yes, you have told me repeatedly.” Cecilia did not want to be impolite, but the Earl would not take no for an answer, and she had told him multiple times that she did not feel the same about him. As much as she hated her tone, she knew that she had to be blunt with him.
“You know what I demand of you, and you will certainly not find a better man than me,” said Edward with a sneer. “I will give you a life full of riches, and you will have only the best of everything. Our children—”
“Children!” Cecilia had not meant to say it so loud, and the word came out with a gasp. She had no feelings for this man, nor any of his kind whose words were as slippery as fish, and the thought of starting a family with this man sent emotions through her that were too strong to ignore. “Pardon me.” Cecilia recovered herself. “I did not mean to shout, but we will never marry, and there will be no children. Now, if you would please take your leave, My Lord, I am not feeling quite myself.”
“You are being ridiculous,” said Edward. “You are feeling perfectly fine, and we both know it. You forget yourself, Lady Cecilia. You forget who I am! I could ruin your family if I wanted to.”
“Do not worry; I will take care of her,” said Jasmine, stepping in.
“You are not worth my time. None of you are!” Edward spat the words before walking away.
“I fear that I was too harsh,” said Cecilia after Edward had left.
“I thought that you were very firm.” Jasmine placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “I shall follow your lead should an unwanted man advance upon me too many times though I never seem to get the attention that you receive.”
“It is only because I am the eldest, and it is considered the thing to do.” Cecilia was about to explain more when she heard her name again.
“Lady Cecilia, allow me—”
“I thought that I told you I was not feeling well!” Cecilia tried to control her voice as she stood back up from the stool, letting her book fall to the ground. She turned to see that it was not the Earl returned, but a man who she had not met before. “I apologize,” she exclaimed, darting her eyes from side to side in the hope that she would find something to save her from the embarrassing outburst.
The man bent down and picked up the book from the grass. He dusted it off and handed it back to Cecilia, holding her gaze and not letting go. “I am the one who must apologize for startling you, Lady Cecilia.”
Cecilia wanted to respond, but she was lost for words. The man stood before her wearing brown trousers, a white shirt and cravat, and a navy-blue jacket with brass buttons. He cut a dashing figure, tall yet elegant, with broad shoulders. His blue eyes pierced her soul as no one had before, and she became flustered. She was thankful when he spoke again.
“Allow me to introduce myself fully. I am Harry Lewis, the Duke of Pardey.” The Duke held out his hand.
Cecilia was still trying to shake the fog from her head when she felt Jasmine’s hand on her arm, guiding it up towards the Duke’s. She felt his fingers grace her own, and he brought her hand up to his lips for a soft kiss before lowering the hand again and releasing it. Her heart started to beat quicker.
“It is bold for the Duke to come over here to introduce himself, is it not?” asked Jasmine.
“Yes, I am sure that it is. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Your Grace.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” said the Duke. “I must thank you for inviting me into your home.”
“It was not I,” Cecilia responded. “My father sent the invitations, but I am happy to hear that you are enjoying the afternoon.”
“So much beauty and delicacy.” Harry waved his hand in the air and looked around as he spoke then firmly affixed his gaze on Cecilia.
Cecilia was sure that he was flirting in exactly the same way that Edward had, but this was much different. There was something different in his eyes, a charm and not lust, and the way he spoke was more genuine than her previous suitor had been. Cecilia caught herself. She was thinking this man was a suitor, and she had only just met him. She did not know his intentions though men always seemed to have similar ideas, and he would not have come over to talk with her if he was already married. It was bold enough that he had come to talk with her at all on his own without a proper introduction.
“Yes, there is much beauty as long as you can pull the weeds before they put their stamp on a garden,” said Cecilia.
The Duke looked at her and smiled, and there were his eyes again with a stare that she wanted to shy away from lest she became trapped and could not look away.
“You will have to excuse me, Sir, but I had hoped to have some time to read my book,” said Cecilia.
“Of course, Miss. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I hope that I get the chance to do so again. Oh, and your book,” the Duke said, pointing to the book in her hands. “I’m afraid that the Lady Dorsey dies in the end.”
Cecilia flashed an angered look at the Duke. “How could y—”
The Duke raised his hands quickly. “I am jesting, of course. I believe that you will enjoy the ending immeasurably.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” said Cecilia. A smile played on her face, and she could not help the laugh which escaped her lips. She watched the Duke as he walked away from her and found that she could not keep her eyes from him. He bewildered her, but she could not help but like that.
“Allow me to introduce Lady Withershop, Your Grace.” Donald Hearson, the Earl of Blaxland bowed as he held Lady Withershop’s arm and guided her towards Harry. “Lady Withershop, this is the Duke of Pardey, my most exclusive guest for this wonderful afternoon.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Grace,” said Lady Withershop, holding out her hand. Harry took and kissed her hand, igniting a smile on the Lady’s face.
“I am sure that there are many people here who are more important than I,” said Harry. “It is a pleasure to meet so many fine people on this pleasant day. Lady Withershop, I must say that the women outside of London are much more beautiful than those within.”
“Oh, Your Grace, you certainly have a way with words. If I were not old enough to be your mother, I do not know what I would do with you.” She laughed, and Harry laughed with her if only to be polite. “Though come to think of it, my daughter is of marrying age and has not yet found the right match. It is so hard to find a man with manners and charm such as yours.”
The sun shone down with more warmth as it poked out from behind a cloud, and Harry pulled at his collar, feeling the warmth of the day.
“It would be my pleasure to meet her when I have the time,” said Harry.
“Of course,” said Lady Withershop. “I am sure that she would be most delighted to meet with you. Tell me, Your Grace. What brings you from London? I hear that you have moved in with an older lady on a large estate. I would not want rumors to start, and I can clear them up for you if they do.”
“There is nothing to worry about, madam,” said Harry, knowing full well that she was fishing for some gossip. He had half a mind to concoct some outlandish tale, but the truth would satisfy her. “I am afraid that the reason is rather tame. My godmother is the only family that I have left, and I have come to live with her.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” said Lady Withershop. “And such a caring man too. I am sure that all the ladies will be after you.”
“I do not know about that,” said Harry wistfully. He looked toward the other end of the garden and could not take his eyes off the young lady who sat with her book. It was not hard to deduce that she was the oldest daughter of Earl Blaxland; though, thus far, the host had not brought his daughter to be introduced to him. That may have been because, since Harry had arrived, every lady with eligible daughters had been paraded in front of him.
“Oh, do not be so modest, Duke Pardey.” Lady Withershop looked around as if she were plotting something. “Have you spoken with the Duchess of Havisham yet, may I ask?”
“I have not,” said Harry.
“I do not mean to gossip, but there is talk that her husband has not made astute financial choices. It has been said that the Duke and Duchess would like to pass off their daughters to someone with money if only to save their estate. Now, I am not one to talk, but I would not like you to be caught unaware, Your Grace.”
“Thank you, Lady Withershop. You have been most illuminating.”
“I shall take my leave and let you two gentlemen get back to whatever it was that you were doing.”
She bade her farewells, and Harry and Robert bowed in return.
“For a moment, I thought that I had turned invisible, but I assume that she did see me,” said Robert.
Harry chuckled and kept his gaze firmly on the beauty on the opposite end of the garden. “Are you jealous, Robert?”
“Most certainly, though not of you, dear Harry.”
Harry straightened his cravat, feeling the sweat accumulating below his shirt. He watched as the petite, red-headed beauty tried to concentrate on the book in her hand, only for her to give up and talk to the younger woman beside her.
“Do you think that the truth will come out about your stay?” asked Robert.
“I fear that the truth always comes out, but it is my duty to keep it hidden for as long as I am able. It is the least that I can do,” said Harry.
“I fear that the ladies out here are just as inquisitive as the ladies in the city, and they will pick you apart like crows with a mouse.”
“Your imagination really is boundless,” said Harry. “Tell me, am I mistaken in assuming that the young lady sitting across the way is Lady Cecilia, the oldest daughter of the Earl.”
“You are correct, Sir, and the young lady by her side is Lady Jasmine.”
Harry stopped looking at Cecilia for a moment to look at his friend. He could not help but smile when he saw the look on the man’s face. “If I did not know any better, I would say that you are smitten, my dear friend.”
“Let me tell you this now, for it is my destiny,” said Robert with a large grin on his face. “Lady Jasmine is the most beautiful woman that I have ever set my eyes on, and I will make her my wife before the year is done.”
“Your wife or your next conquest?” asked Harry with a raise of his eyebrow.
“All that was left in the past when I laid eyes on her,” said Robert. “Besides, I can see the way that you are looking at Lady Cecilia. If I did not know any better, I would say that I am not the only one who is smitten.”
“You know that I am not here to find a wife, Robert, though I do not know why the Earl has not yet brought his daughter to meet me. These ladies I have been forced to meet bore me, yet, that curvy young woman who only seems interested in her book is the most interesting person I have laid eyes on this week. There is more to her, something that I cannot yet put my finger on.”
“You could go and introduce yourself,” said Robert.
Harry watched as another man walked over to Cecilia and bowed. From the look on her face, she did not seem to welcome the man. “I do not know if it is my place to be so bold,” said Harry. He watched with fascination as Cecilia held firm with this man. “Do you see this? Do you see this man talking to her?”
“He does not strike me as a gentleman,” agreed Robert. “Perhaps you should go and save her from him.”
“Perhaps I should,” said Harry. “He is most uncouth in his mannerisms.” With that, he strode purposefully across the lawn to where Cecilia was, quickening his pace when she raised her voice.
“That looked like it went well,” said Robert on Harry’s return.
Harry tried not to look at the smile on his friend’s face, but he could not help the smirk that appeared on his own face. “She is feisty, that is for sure, and she knows how to assert herself. You should have seen the way that the gentleman ran from her when challenged. Blast, I almost ran when she turned to face me. She is wonderful.”
“Did you get a chance to talk with Lady Jasmine?” asked Robert. “Did she ask about me at all?”
“I think that you are a lost cause,” said Harry.
“I am the Viscount of Marrow,” stated Robert. “I have lost myself in the ladies of London, but one look at my future wife, and I have become a changed man. I already feel like a bird who has been…”
Harry did not hear what his friend was saying anymore. He could not concentrate with this alluring woman before him, a woman who he needed to make his own. When he had left London, he had vowed to stay away from women for a while, but fate had other plans for him. He wanted nothing more than to feel this woman’s touch.
Harry watched Cecilia as she sat on the dainty stool with her book, flicking through the pages and occasionally exchanging words with her sister. He was certain that her eyes lifted every so often to look across at him, and his heart beat faster whenever she did.
Her hair was aflame, out of control, and her eyes, when he had been stood in front of her, were as brown as the charred logs that were left after a fire had burnt out. Then there were her cheeks. When she had stood up to shout at him, thinking that he was the man who had accosted her, they were red embers, flickering through a dark night, but conversing with her, they mellowed to a bright pink, cooling in color as her temper calmed, and warming his heart; she stirred the passion within him.
Robert was still talking about Jasmine as he looked around the garden, and he could see both men and women glance his way ever so often. He supposed that he was an enigma to them, the Duke who had come from London to live in the countryside. He did hide a secret, but he would not share that with any of them. As the sun peaked in the sky, Harry was sure that more women would approach him to offer their daughters, but when the Earl of Blaxland approached him again, he felt a tinge of excitement at the prospect of being properly introduced to his daughter.
Harry was happy to notice that Cecilia’s father was unaccompanied.
“Sir,” said the Earl, “you must excuse me for this obtrusion, but I have not yet had a chance to introduce you to my daughters though I am not sure where my youngest has got to.”
“I believe that I have already met Lady Cecilia and Lady Jasmine,” said Harry.
“Oh.” There was a look of frustration on the Earl’s face.
“Do not worry, Sir,” said Harry. “There was no impoliteness on your part. I only feared that Lady Cecilia was approached by a gentleman whose company she did not like.”
The Earl looked around to check on his daughter. “Lord Albury,” he muttered.
“Excuse me?” asked Harry.
“No, sorry, nothing. I apologize again, and thank you for ensuring the welfare of my daughter. It pleases me that you were able to come today. I shall bid your leave for now.”
The Earl left, and Robert shook his head. “You can see me, can you not, Harry? For I fear that no one else can.”
Harry looked around and cast his eye as if he were looking for something that he could not find. “Funny, it is as if the wind is making noises that sound vaguely familiar.”
“I do not know why I put up with you,” said Robert.
Harry had to admit that his friend did put up with a lot, though Harry did not ask to be the center of attention; it was just something that came with the title and the mystery that surrounded him. He had come to two conclusions, however, based on the afternoon so far.
Without even talking to him, Harry already disliked the man who had accosted Cecilia, Lord Albury, and Harry did not rise to dislike easily.
The second thing which was clear was that Lady Cecilia had rooted herself firmly in his mind. He would get her into his bed one way or the other, and he would get to explore her delightful curves in much more detail. Harry licked his lips at the thought.
The closed carriage bumped over the cobbled streets as the large buildings of London came into view. Lydia, the youngest of the Hearson siblings, was glued to the window, staring out at the majesty of the big city. Lydia was only sixteen, three years younger than Jasmine and four younger than Cecilia, who both sat inside the carriage without looking out, having been to London many times.
“Will we have time to look at dresses?” asked Lydia as she thumped back down into her seat, rocking the carriage slightly.
“We shall have time to watch the horses, and perhaps I will have more luck this year than last,” replied Donald, who sat opposite his three daughters.
“There are horses in the countryside, Father. Why must we travel into the city?” asked Cecilia. She did not mind the horse racing, but she did not like the business of the city nor the crime that seemed to be rising. She would not admit it, but the thought scared her a little.
“It is for the Season!” said Jasmine over-dramatically in a low voice, spinning her hand in the air in front of her and taking a deep bow. “We must come to London for the Season. It is the thing that is done.”
Lydia burst out laughing at her older sister while Cecilia tried to hide the smile that was appearing on her face. Their father sat impassively on the other side of the carriage.
“I wish that Mother were here to dress shop with me,” said Lydia.
The silence in the carriage was almost deafening, and Cecilia shot a quick look at her father, who had turned to look out of the window. The carriage bobbled up and down over a rough patch of terrain.
“All of the wealthiest gentlemen will be at the races, I am told,” said Jasmine, relieving the tension. “Father, do you think that the Duke of Pardey will be in attendance?”
Cecilia quickly elbowed her sister in the side, knowing exactly what she was implying.
“I hope so,” said her father, oblivious to the situation. “I rather enjoyed his company at our garden party last week. He was very charming, and the ladies seemed to like him.”
“Oh, yes, the ladies did seem to like him, Father,” Jasmine giggled as she turned to look at her sister, and she felt another elbow to her ribs.
“If we have time, I can take you dress shopping, Lydia,” said Cecilia, changing the subject. She hoped that her father was not looking at her, for she was sure that her face would have already turned bright red.
She had only spent a few minutes in his company, but she had not been able to stop thinking about the Duke. She had tried to tell herself that there was no reason to believe that he was interested in her, but that did not stop her mind from wandering to him whenever she was not engrossed in a book.
When she closed her eyes, she could see his luscious brown hair and flawless skin. He was handsome and charming and rich. There was chatter that he was a rake, but Cecilia was sure that the Duke was different. He had been every ounce the gentleman when they had met.
And his eyes! Those eyes had captivated her, and she wanted to look into them again, stare into the depths of the man who was just like the heroes in her book. She blinked and tried to wash the thought away from her mind, but she was unable. He had taken hold of her, and he would not let go. Cecilia wanted to have a good talking with herself. It was not he who had a hold of her; it was she who was constantly thinking about him.
“Sister?” asked Jasmine.
Cecilia looked up and found that the carriage had stopped. She quickly moved from her seat as she witnessed her sisters and father disembarking from the coach and quickened her pace, so that she would not be left behind.
When she was out in the fresh air, the hubbub of the event surrounded her.
“Ah, the Derby!” exclaimed Donald, taking a deep breath and looking more animated than he had in a while.
“I do not care to breathe so deeply,” said Jasmine with a laugh. “The air here is not like it is at our estate, is it, sister?”
“No, it is not,” said Cecilia. The smells were the least of her worries. She had never been good in places where there were large crowds, especially when she did not know any of the people, and there were more people here than she cared to count. She was sure that some of them were even intoxicated. She did not care for gambling Her father always remained sensible when he occasionally placed money on horses, but when men did not have their wits about them, it was a dangerous game.
“Come on, girls, this way,” said Donald. He stayed close to his three daughters and led them through the crowds, finding a place to watch the races from an elevated position. “Stay here, for now; I will be back in a moment.”
“Good luck, Father. Choose a white horse; I always find them so striking,” said Jasmine.
“Do not encourage him,” whispered Cecilia, before raising her voice and adding, “Everyone knows the black horses run faster.”
Jasmine laughed and held her sister’s hand, hopping up and down in the air, and Cecilia found it contagious. There was something in the air which caused her heart to fill with some excitement. Money would be won and lost, and all on the speed of a horse and the skill of the jockey.
Down below them, a throng of men, ten deep and at least that many wide, were in buoyant spirits and calling out as the horses ran past.
“I would not care to be down there,” commented Cecilia, running her eyes over the crowd.
“Are you sure?” asked Jasmine. “I do believe that I can see The Duke of Pardey and the Viscount of Marrow. And is the Duke not waving to you, sister?”
Cecilia looked to where her sister was looking and could see the Duke waving up at her with a newspaper in his hand. What she would have given at that moment to have had a book with her that she could bury her nose in. Yet, as if guided by some unknown force, her arm elevated, and she waved back to the man who seemed able to cut a handsome shape even from within a crowd.
Another race started, and Harry gave Cecilia a final wave and smile before turning back to the action in front of him. Cecilia realized that her hand was still in the air, and she quickly withdrew it, her face reddening. She shot her sister a look, and the moment was not mentioned for the remainder of the afternoon.
“I have heard whispers that the Duke was caught up in some scandal," said Jasmine as they made their way back towards their carriage once the races were over. “That is why he had to leave London.”
“You should not believe every piece of idle gossip that you hear,” said Cecilia. In her heart she wished that the rumors were not true, but she also tried to convince herself that it did not matter either way. What interest did she have in the Duke anyway?
He had the audacity to approach her alone at her garden party, yet he did not seem to be swayed by her reaction to his greeting that day, even if the anger was directed towards someone else. She knew that she needed to pick up her wits and concentrate on her reading. There was knowledge in books and men who were not as rakish as the Duke.
When she looked up, fear shot through her heart, and her stomach danced somersaults. She had been so caught up in her own thoughts that she had not noticed where she was going, and she was completely separated from her family. A crowd gathered around her, and she was swept up, moving as one with them, unable to see her father or sisters over the heads of the swarm.
Cecilia wanted to stop, but she was unable, and her breathing quickened. She tried to calm her heartbeat, but it was no use. Sweat dripped down her forehead, and she was about ready to collapse. She surely would have if a strong hand had not grabbed her by the arm.
“Excuse me, Lady Cecilia,” said the man, and Cecilia let out a gasp. She looked up as she lost her footing and found the Duke staring down at her. She tried to say something but was unable, and she felt the Duke pull her through the crowd and out into open space.
“I must apologize,” said Harry. “I did not mean to startle you, but you looked lost, and I wanted to ensure your safety, Lady Cecilia.”
“My father?” asked Cecilia, worried that she was all alone with the Duke. “My sisters?”
“Let us go and find your coach,” said Harry. “Would you take my arm? If only to allow me to guide you through the crowd and ensure that you do not lose your way again?”
Cecilia looked up as he smiled. He was handsome and powerful, and his face lit up like a summer’s day. She would never usually take a man’s arm when she was all alone, especially not in such a public place, but she did not perceive a threat here. She could see from his face that he wanted to help and did not have any ulterior motives. Yet, she found herself thinking about more than just taking his arm.
Cecilia placed a hand on his thick forearm, shrouded by his jacket, but the strength was apparent under the cloth. Harry placed a hand on top of hers and guided her back through the crowd.
“You must think me rather uncouth for spending my money on the horses,” said Harry as they walked.
“That is your own business,” said Cecilia.
“Well, allow me to show you that I am more than what you have seen,” said Harry.
Cecilia was not sure what he meant, for he looked every part a noble, even when he was among the regular people and engaging in gambling. He had obviously dressed down for the occasion, but his clothing was still elegant and stylish, and he stood statuesque among everyone else.
“My godmother is throwing a ball,” continued Harry. “I would be honored if you and your family would attend. It is the least that I can do to thank you for the invitation to your garden party. Everyone will be there.”
“I am sure that my father will be pleased to receive an invitation,” said Cecilia. She was not one who enjoyed large gatherings, especially those when she would not be able to bring a book with her, but she felt some excitement at the invitation.
“Well, here we are,” announced Harry.
“Cecilia!” shouted Donald. “Oh, thank goodness.”
“We thought that we had lost you!” shouted Jasmine. “It would seem that His Grace has returned you safe and sound.”
Cecilia did not risk looking at her sister, knowing full well that there would be a smile carved across her face.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” was all that Cecilia said before returning to the safety of the carriage. She could hear her father profusely thanking the Duke, and she was able to recover her breath again. She had lost it in the midst of the crowds, and it had been taken away a second time by the arrival of the Duke to save her.
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