Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(13)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(13)
Author: Tessa Dare

Griff reclined in his chair, happy to wait her out. This was the most enjoyment he could recall at a family dinner.

His mother had been needing someone to manage. She certainly couldn’t browbeat him—no matter what measures she’d resorted to yesternight—and the servants at Halford House were too well-trained and stoic. He’d been flirting with the idea of getting her a mischievous terrier, but this was better by far. Miss Simms wouldn’t leave any puddles on the carpet.

Perhaps after this week was over, he’d hire his mother another impertinent companion.

But next time he’d find one who wasn’t so pretty.

The girl sparkled. Sparkled, deuce her. Griff couldn’t help staring. Hours of coach travel hadn’t dislodged those sugar crystals dusting her form, and his eye couldn’t stop searching them out. They were like grains of brilliant sand strewn in her hair, clinging to her skin. Even tangled in her eyelashes.

Worst of all, one tiny crystal had lodged itself just at the corner of her mouth. His awareness of it had long passed distracting and verged on maddening. Surely, he thought, at some point during dinner she would catch it with her tongue and sweep it away.

If not, he’d be tempted to lean forward and tend to the cursed thing himself.

“Miss Simms,” his mother said, “if you think you can trick me into repeating your vulgarities, you will be disappointed. Suffice it to say, slang, blasphemy, and cursing have no place in a lady’s vocabulary. Much less a duchess’s.”

“Oh. I see. So your grace never curses.”

“I do not.”

“Words like cor . . . bollocks . . . damn . . . devil . . . blast . . . bloody hell . . .” She pronounced the words with relish, warming to her task. “They don’t cross a duchess’s lips?”




Miss Simms’s fair brow creased in thought. “What if a duchess steps on a tack? What if a gust of wind steals a duchess’s best powdered wig? Not even then?”

“Not even when an impertinent farm girl provokes a duchess to a simmering rage,” she replied evenly. “A duchess might contemplate all manner of cutting remarks and frustrated oaths. But even in the face of extreme annoyance, she stifles any such ejaculations.”

“My,” Miss Simms said, wide-eyed. “I do hope dukes aren’t held to the same standard. Can’t be healthy for a man, always stifling his ejaculations.”

Griff promptly broke the prohibition against elbows on the table, smothering a burst of laughter with his palm and disguising it as a coughing fit. The violence of it caught him by surprise. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d laughed from so deep in his chest that his ribs ached. For that matter, he couldn’t recall the last time he’d been tempted to lean across the table and catch a lush, clever mouth in a kiss.

For several months he’d been stifling . . . everything.

“Let it out, your grace. You’ll feel better.” She looked to him with false concern and a coy, conspiratorial smile.

Oh, he liked this girl. He liked her a great deal.

And that worried him intensely.

Chapter Four

Drat. So close. She’d almost had him laughing just then.

The duke had hired Pauline to provoke his mother, but somewhere in the past few minutes, Pauline had grown far more interested in provoking the duke.

For all his devil-may-care posturing, it would seem the devil did care about something. In the hours since they’d left Spindle Cove, a strange cloud of melancholy had gathered about him. She wanted to dispel it. Not out of charity, precisely—but because his brooding made her so acutely aware of her own sadness.

She was already sick with missing home.

She wondered if Daniela had stopped crying yet. Would she be able to sleep alone in the loft? Perhaps their mother would climb up to soothe her after Father had fallen asleep, bringing a dish of blancmange.

Pauline would tell herself that was the case. More comforting that way. When she returned home independently wealthy, her sister would have a great bowlful of blancmange, every single night.

Speaking of food . . . On the table before her, the inn’s servers spread a veritable banquet. Her stomach rumbled. She’d scarcely eaten all day, and she’d never been served a meal like this.

“Miss Simms,” the duchess said. “Tell me what dishes you see on the table.”

Pauline eyed her suspiciously, wondering what sort of test the older lady had in mind. The meal set before them was composed of a great many dishes, but none were exotic. She could name them all, easily.

“Ham,” she answered. “Beef and Yorkshire pudding. Roasted chicken. Peas, boiled potatoes, and some sort of soup—”

The duchess rapped the table. “Wrong. All of it, wrong.”

“All of it?” Pauline blinked at the unquestionably ham-shaped object on the platter before her. If it wasn’t a ham, what on earth could it be?

“It’s ham, Miss Simms.” The duchess weighed heavily on the H. “Ham, not ’am. Yorkshire pudding, not ‘puddin’.’ Boiled potatoes, not ‘biled.’ And we eat roasted fowl, not vulgar chicken. After dinner, I’ll give you some elocution exercises. Very useful in limbering the lips and tongue.”

Well, that sounded . . . perfectly dreadful. For now, Pauline was far more interested in using her lips and tongue to eat. She reached for the carving knife embedded in the ham and used it to draw the platter toward her plate.

Rap, rap.

The duchess again.

“What is it I’ve done now?” Pauline asked. “I didn’t say a word.”

“It was your actions,” the duchess replied, sending a glance toward the ham. “A duchess does not serve herself, Miss Simms.”

“Very well.” Pauline turned to the server. “You, there. Would you mind—”

Rap, rap.

The older woman cut her a look. “A duchess does not ask to be served, either.”

Pauline regarded her empty plate with despair. “Then how, pray tell, does a duchess eat?”

“Observe me.”

Pauline raised her head and watched.

“Are you regarding me very closely?” the duchess said.

“Yes, your grace.”

“I shall only do this the once. A duchess need never repeat herself, you understand.”

By this point Pauline was sure there was more steam between her ears than beneath the domed cover of the soup tureen. The duchess was like a walking, talking copy of Mrs. Worthington’s Wisdom for Young Ladies. Pauline began to understand just what the Spindle Cove ladies were escaping when they came for holidays by the sea.

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