Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(14)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(14)
Author: Tessa Dare

“I’m watching,” she said tightly.

The duchess slid one eye—or at least, it seemed that way—to the waiting footman. Then she tilted her head by a nearly imperceptible degree, nodding once in the direction of the food.

The servants leapt forward and began serving food onto their plates.

“Praise be,” Pauline muttered.

“Thank you, Simms,” the duke replied, reaching for the carving knife. “I believe we will let that sentiment serve as table grace.”

“The servants bring the vegetables, soup, fish, and all other dishes,” the duchess explained. “The gentlemen at the table carve the meats.”

As if in demonstration, the duke placed a thick, rosy slice of ham on Pauline’s plate.

“Given your former employment,” the duchess said, “I should think you would know all this.”

“Etiquette is never strictly enforced in Spindle Cove,” Pauline said. “And it’s only ladies at the tables, anyhow. If they waited on a gentleman to serve them, they’d starve away.”

“I can see we have a great deal of work ahead. What about your accomplishments? Do you sing, Miss Simms?”


“Play any instrument?”


“Have you any languages? Can you draw, sketch, paint, embroider, or produce any evidence of a ladylike finishing whatsoever?”

“I’m afraid not, your grace. I’m perfectly wrong for the position of duchess.” She threw Halford a cheeky half smile.

But instead of smiling back, he gave her a look of cool displeasure. She didn’t understand that look. It rattled her.

“Miss Simms,” the duchess went on, “there is no magical combination of qualities that will make for a successful duchess. Beauty is useful, but not essential. Wit is desirable as well. Mind that I said wit, not cleverness. Cleverness is like rouge—liberal application makes a woman look common and desperate. Wit is knowing how to apply it.”

The duke reclined in his chair. He seemed to have abandoned his own meal in favor of fixing Pauline with that intense stare.

She gathered an obscenely large forkful of potatoes and stuffed it into her mouth. She couldn’t fathom the reason for his sudden broodiness. Wasn’t this precisely what he’d hired her to do? He wanted her to be ill-mannered, didn’t he?

“Lastly,” the duchess continued, “the most important quality any Duchess of Halford needs is this: phlegm.”

“Phlegm?” Pauline echoed, choking down her food. “It’s forbidden to speak of hunger at the dinner table, but it’s fine to talk about phlegm?” She poked at a bit of ham. “If it’s phlegm you want, I can give you that. I learned how to spit with the farm boys. The trick is to start far back in your throat and—”

The duchess halted, just as she was about to spoon some asparagus soup into her mouth. She looked at the rich green broth, then set down her spoon.

“Not that kind of phlegm, Miss Simms. I refer to self-assurance. Unflappability. Aplomb. The ability to remain calm, no matter what occurs. Never underestimate the power of phlegm.”

Ah, so she meant the way she and the duke had stared one another down that afternoon in the Bull and Blossom—neither of them willing to show a hint of weakness. The way they inspected the entirety of the farm cottage in a glance, sweeping a gaze around the rooms without even turning their heads.

The duchess cut her beef with delicate sawing motions. “Phlegm will be our greatest challenge, I suspect.”

“I’m sure you’re right on that score.”

Whenever someone hurt Daniela—or anyone she loved—that thorny vine of rage blossomed in her chest. She didn’t suppose she’d ever be able to suppress the response, nor did she wish to try.

“What good is rank and wealth,” she asked, “if you can’t even own your emotions? Aren’t the Quality permitted to feel anything?”

The duchess replied, “Oh, we are permitted to feel. But we must never appear to be ruled by our feelings.”

“I see. It would be unbearably common to sit at this table and just openly discuss our emotions about, say, love and marriage.”

“Of course.”

“So much more refined to kidnap one’s son, then instigate a week-long farce with a serving girl. Is that it?”

She thought surely the duke would smile at that, but no. His gaze was now burning into her skin, like sunlight concentrated through a lens.

“I’m not sure I care for any phlegm.” She took another bite and purposely spoke around it. “In fact, I’m sure I don’t want it.”

“For the last time, Miss Simms, this isn’t a dish on the table to be taken or refused. If you’re going to learn to be a duchess, phlegm is a requirement.”

“Then I suppose we’ll see who buckles first.”

“I never buckle. A duchess has people to do the buckling for her.”

Pauline shook her head. This week would be a challenge—but an amusing one, at least. The duchess did possess a sense of humor. However, the older woman underestimated Pauline, if she thought she could cow her.

Oh, she knew the Halford pride was strong. In the carriage, she’d listened to the family provenance. At length. No doubt a duchess born to generations of wealth, married into an even longer line of nobility, would believe herself to be indomitable. But Pauline had earned her stubbornness, fighting hard for it at every turn. On the other side of this week lay the prospect of a new, independent life. She wouldn’t be swayed from that goal. Not even by a duchess.

Come hell or high society, she would earn that one thousand pounds.

Eventually they all settled down to the business of eating. The servants removed the savory dishes from the table and replaced them with a variety of fruits and cheeses. Grapes, plums, nectarines. Pauline spied a dish of sherry trifle that had her mouth watering—layers of raspberries, sponge, whipped cream, all visible through the glass dish.

And then, to this overwhelming abundance of sweets, the footman set before her one more: a molded sculpture of blancmange.

The breath left her body, leaving only a keen, sharp ache.

Oh, Danny.

The wave of homesickness swamped her with such violent force, she couldn’t bear it. Not a moment longer. She pushed back from the table and fled the room, dashing into the stairwell.

This was a mistake. She had to leave. She had to go home. How many miles had they traveled? Fifteen? Twenty? She had a full belly, and the weather was fine. If she started now, she could walk home by dawn.

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