Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(2)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(2)
Author: Tessa Dare

For most of the year, they led entirely separate lives. They only resided in the same house for these few months of the London season. Apparently, even that was too much.

“I’ve been patient,” she said. “Now I’m desperate. You must marry, and it must be soon. I’ve tried to find the most accomplished young beauties in England to tempt you. And I did, but you ignored them. I finally realized the answer is not quality. It’s quantity.”

“Quantity? Are you taking me to some free-love utopian commune where men are permitted as many wives as they please?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I was being hopeful.”

Her lip curled in a delicate scowl. “You’re terrible.”

“Thank you. I work hard at it.”

“So I’ve often lamented. If only you applied the same effort toward . . . anything else.”

Griff closed his eyes. If there was any conversation more tired and repetitive than the “When will you ever marry?” debate, it was the “You’re a grave disappointment” harangue. Only in this family would it be considered “disappointing” to successfully oversee a vast fortune, six estates, several hundred employees, and thousands of tenants. Impressive, by most standards. But in the Halford line? Not quite enough. Unless a man was reforming Parliament or discovering a new trade route to Patagonia, he just didn’t measure up.

He glanced out the window again. They seemed to be entering a sort of village. He slid open the glass pane and discovered he could smell the sea. A salted-blue freshness mingled with the greener scents of countryside.

“It is a prettyish sort of place,” his mother said. “Very tidy and quiet. I can understand why it’s so popular with the young ladies.”

The coach rolled to a halt in the center of the village, near a wide, pleasant green that ringed a grand medieval church. He peered out the window, gazing in all directions. The place was far too small to be Brighton or . . .

“Wait a minute.” A vile suspicion formed in his mind.

Surely she hadn’t . . .

She wouldn’t.

The liveried footman opened the coach door. “Good day, your graces. We’ve reached Spindle Cove.”

“Oh, bollocks.”

When the fancy coach came trundling down the lane, Pauline scarcely gave it a glance. Many a fine carriage had come down that same road, bringing one visitor or another to the village. A holiday in Spindle Cove was said to cure any gently bred lady’s crisis of confidence.

But Pauline wasn’t a gently bred lady, and her trials were more practical in nature. Such as the fact that she’d just stumbled into a murky puddle, splashing her hem with mud.

And that her sister was near tears for the second time that morning.

“The list,” Daniela said. “It’s not here.”

Drat. Pauline knew they didn’t have time to go back to the farm. She was due at the tavern in minutes. This was Saturday—the day of the Spindle Cove ladies’ weekly salon, and the Bull and Blossom’s busiest day of the week. Mr. Fosbury was a fair-minded employer, but he docked wages for tardiness. And Father noticed.

Frantic, Daniela fished in her pocket. Her eyes welled with tears. “It’s not here. It’s not here.”

“Never mind. I remember it.” Shaking the muddy droplets from her skirts, Pauline ticked the items off in her memory. “Dried currants, worsted thread, a bit of sponge. Oh, and powdered alum. Mother needs it for pickling.”

When they entered the Brights’ All Things shop, they found it packed to bursting. While the visiting ladies met for their weekly salon, the villagers purchased their dry goods. Villagers like Mrs. Whittlecombe, a cobwebby old widow who only left her decrepit farmhouse once a week to stock up on comfits and “medicinal” wine. The woman gave them a disdainful sniff as Pauline and Daniela wedged their way into the shop.

Pauline could just make out two flashes of white-blond hair on the other side of the counter. Sally Bright was busy with customers three deep, and her younger brother Rufus ran back and forth from the storeroom.

Fortunately, the Simms sisters had been friends with the Bright family since as far back as any of them could remember. They needn’t wait to be helped.

“Put the eggs away,” Pauline told her sister. “I’ll fetch the sponge and thread from the storeroom. You get the currants and alum. Two measures of currants, one of alum.”

Daniela carefully set the basket of brown speckled eggs on the counter and went to a row of bins. Her lips moved as she scanned for the one labeled CURRANTS. Then she frowned with concentration as she sifted the contents into a rolled cone of brown paper.

Once she’d seen her sister settle to the task, Pauline gathered the needed items from the back. When she returned, Daniela was waiting with goods in hand.

“Too much alum,” Pauline said, inspecting. “It was meant to be just one measure.”

“Oh. Oh, no.”

“It’s all right,” she said in a calm voice. “Easily mended. Just put the extra back.”

She hoped her sister didn’t notice the sneering expression on old Mrs. Whittlecombe’s face.

“I don’t know that I can continue to give this shop my custom,” the old woman said. “Allowing half-wits behind the counter.”

Sally Bright gave the woman a flippant smile. “Just tell me when we can stop stocking your laudanum, Mrs. Whittlecombe.”

“That’s a health tonic.”

“Of course it is,” Sally said dryly.

Pauline went to the ledger to record their purchases. She secretly loved this part. She flipped through the pages slowly, taking her time to peruse Sally’s notes and tabulations.

Someday she’d have her own shop, keep her own ledgers. It was a dream she hadn’t shared with anyone—not even her closest friend. Just a promise she recited to herself, when the hours of farm and serving work lay heavy on her shoulders.


She found the correct page. After the credit they earned from bringing in eggs, they only owed sixpence for the rest of their shopping. Good.


She whipped her head up, startled.

“Good gracious, child! What on earth are you doing?” Mrs. Whittlecombe slapped the counter again.

“I . . . I’m p-puttin’ back the alum,” Daniela stammered.

“That’s not ‘da aw-wum,’ ” the old woman repeated, mocking Daniela’s thick speech. “That’s the sugar.”

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