Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(11)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(11)
Author: Tessa Dare

Lord help her, for the briefest of instants, Pauline tumbled headlong in love with the man. Never mind his promise of a thousand pounds. He could have had her soul for a shilling.

She briefly closed her eyes, rooting deep in her heart for all those reasons to dislike him. The most petty, stupid one came to her lips. “You didn’t kiss my hand.”

“Of course not.” He glanced at the appendage in question. “I know where it’s been.”

Her cheeks flushed as she recalled her father’s “demonstration” in the cottage.

“She is the source of your reluctance, I take it?” he asked.

Pauline nodded. “I can’t leave her. And she can’t leave home.”

After a moment’s quiet consideration, he addressed her sister. “Miss Daniela, I want to take your sister to London.”

Daniela paled. Her chin began to quiver. The tears were already starting.

“I will bring her back,” he said. “You have my word. And a duke never breaks his word.”

Pauline raised a brow, skeptical.

He shrugged, conceding the improbable truth of the statement. “Well, this particular duke won’t break this particular word.”

“No.” Her sister hugged her so tightly, Pauline reeled on her feet. “Don’t go. I don’t want you to go.”

Her heartstrings stretched until they ached. They’d never been apart. Not for even one night. What the duke might describe to her as temporary, Daniela would experience as endless. She’d spend every moment of their separation feeling miserable, abandoned. But at the end of it . . .

One thousand pounds.

They could do anything with a thousand pounds. Escaping their father would only be the beginning. She and Daniela might have a cottage of their own. They could raise chickens and geese, hire a man now and then for the heavy labor. With prudence, the interest alone would be enough to keep them fed and safe.

And she could open her shop.

Her shop. So silly, how she’d come to think of it that way. She might as well have named it Pauline’s Unicorn Emporium, as likely as it was to come to pass. It had always been just a dream for someday. But with one thousand pounds, that someday could be quite soon.

“God’s knees.” The duke’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “Not you again.”

Major, the old cantankerous gander, had found them once more, and he wasted no time in making the duke feel unwelcome. The bird stretched his neck to its greatest length, puffing his breast in a warlike pose. Then he lowered his beak and made a strike at the duke’s boot.

With a crisp thwack, Halford deflected the goose with a flick of the apple bough. He jabbed the blunt end into the goose’s breast, holding the enraged bird at branch’s distance. “This bird is possessed by the spirit of a dyspeptic Cossack.”

“He doesn’t like you,” Pauline said. “He’s very intelligent.”

With a short flight, Major managed to squawk free, and then they were starting all over again. Dueling, duke versus gander.

Halford stood light on his feet, one leg forward and one back, wielding the switch like a foil. “Winged menace. I’ll have your liver.”

Major cast some aspersions of his own. They were unintelligible to human ears, but no less vehement.

At her side, Daniela ceased to cry and began to giggle.

The tightness in Pauline’s chest eased. “Daniela,” she said. “Take Major to the poultry yard for me. Then come back.”

Her sister spread her arms and shooed the gander toward the rear of the house. Once she was safely out of earshot, Pauline crossed her arms and faced the duke.

“If I agree to this . . .” She willed her voice not to shake. “If I go with you, will you return me home in one week?”

“A week?” He tossed the stick aside. “That’s unacceptable.”

“It’s the only way I’ll agree. It must be a week. We have a ritual of sorts on Saturdays, Daniela and I. She can understand this. If I promise to be back by next Saturday, she’ll know I’m not leaving forever.” When he hesitated, she went on, “I assure you, I can prove catastrophic within one week.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that.” He paused in thought. “A week, then. But we leave at once.”

“As soon as I bid my sister farewell.”

She turned and looked over her shoulder. Daniela was already on her way back from the henhouse.

“I need a penny,” Pauline said. “Quickly, give me a penny.”

He fished in his pocket and produced a coin, then dropped it in her outstretched hand.

She peered at it. “This isn’t a penny. It’s a sovereign.”

“I don’t have anything smaller.”

She rolled her eyes. “Dukes and their problems. I’ll be along in a moment.”

Pauline drew her sister aside. She pulled her spine straight. The only way to keep Daniela from dissolving was to hold herself together. There could be no cracks in her resolve. She must be strong enough for them both, as always.

“Here’s your egg money for this week.” She opened Daniela’s hand and put the coin in it, closing her fingers over the sovereign before she could notice the color wasn’t right. “I want you to go upstairs and put it in the tea tin straightaway. Tomorrow, it goes in the collection at church.”

Daniela nodded.

“I’m going with the duke now,” Pauline told her. “To London.”


“Yes. But only for a week.”

“Don’t go. Don’t go.” The tears streamed down Daniela’s reddened cheeks.

Don’t cry so, I beg you. I can’t bear it.

Pauline very nearly gave in. To distract herself, she thought of the golden coin squeezed in her sister’s hand. She imagined a thousand of them, stacked in neat rows. Ten by ten by ten by ten . . .

If only she could explain to Daniela what this would mean for them, and how it would better their lives in all the years to come. But her sister wouldn’t want to hear more talk of change. She needed routine, comfort. Familiar tasks to see her through the week.

“I’ll be back next Saturday to give you your egg money. I swear it. But you must earn that penny. While I’m gone, you must work hard. You cannot laze abed crying, do you hear? Collect the eggs every day. Help mother with the cooking and the house. When the week’s gone, I’ll be home. I’ll be sitting with you in church next Sunday.” She framed Daniela’s round face in her hands. “And I will never leave you again.”

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