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

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

Accepting the footman’s hand, the duchess alighted from the coach. “I understand this place is just bursting with well-bred, unmarried young ladies.”

She motioned toward a lodging house. A sign dangling above the entrance announced it as THE QUEEN’S RUBY.

Griff blinked at the green shutters and cheery window boxes stuffed with geraniums. He’d rather bathe in water teeming with sharks.

He turned and walked in the opposite direction.

“Where are you going?” she asked, following.

“There.” He nodded at a tavern across the square. By squinting at the sign hung over the red-painted door, he discerned it was called the Bull and Blossom. “I’m going to have a pint of ale and something to eat.”

“What about me?”

He gestured expansively. “Make yourself comfortable. Take a suite at the rooming house. Enjoy the healthful sea breezes. I’ll send the coach for you in a few weeks.” He added under his breath, “Or years.”

The footman followed a respectful pace behind, holding the open parasol to shade the duchess.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “You’re going to select a bride, and you’re going to do it today.”

“Don’t you understand what sort of young ladies are sent to this village? The unmarriageable ones.”

“Exactly. It’s perfect. None of them will turn you down.”

Her words drew Griff to a sharp halt. He swiveled to face her. “Turn me down?”

For the obvious reasons, he avoided discussing his affaires with her. But the reason he’d been celibate lo these many months had nothing to do with women turning him down. There were many women—beautiful, sophisticated, sensual women—who’d gladly welcome him to their beds this very evening. He was tempted to tell her so, but a man couldn’t say such things to his own mother.

She seemed to interpret his silence easily enough.

“I’m not speaking of carnality. I’m speaking of your desirability as a husband. Your reputation leaves a great deal to be desired.” She brushed some dust from his sleeve. “Then there’s the aging problem.”

“The ‘aging’ problem?” He was thirty-four. By his estimation, his c**k had a good three decades of working order ahead, at least.

“To be sure, you’re good-looking enough. But there are handsomer.”

“Are you sure you’re my mother?”

She turned and walked on. “The fact is, most ladies of the ton have given you up as a marriage prospect. A village of desperate spinsters is precisely what we need. You must admit, this worked nicely for that scampish friend of yours, Lord Payne.”

God’s knees. So that’s what was behind this. Curse that rogue Colin Sandhurst and his bespectacled, bookish bride. Last year, his old gambling friend had been sequestered in this seaside village without funds, and he’d broken free by eloping with a bluestocking. The pair had even stopped at Winterset Grange, Griff’s country retreat, on their way to Scotland.

But their situations were completely different. Griff wasn’t desperate for funds in any way. Neither was he desperate for companionship.

Marriage simply wasn’t in the cards for him.

His mother fixed him with a look. “Were you waiting to fall in love?”


“It’s a simple question. Have you delayed marriage all these years because you’re waiting to fall in love?”

A simple question, she called it. The answers were anything but.

He could have taken her into the tavern, ordered a few large glasses of wine, and taken an hour or two to explain everything. That he wouldn’t be marrying this season, or any season. Her only son would not be merely a blot on the distinguished Halford line, but the very end of it, forever, and the family legacy she held so dear was destined for obscurity. Her hopes of grandchildren would come to naught.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not even today, when she was at her most infuriating. Better to remain a dissolute-yet-redeemable rascal in her eyes than be the son who calmly, irrevocably, broke his mother’s heart.

“No,” he told her honestly. “I’m not waiting to fall in love.”

“Well, that’s convenient. We can settle this in one morning. Never mind finding the most polished young beauty in England. You choose a girl—any girl—and I’ll polish her myself. Who could better prepare the future Duchess of Halford than the current Duchess of Halford?”

They’d reached the tavern entrance. His mother stared pointedly at the door latch. The footman jumped to open it.

“Oh, look,” she said upon entering. “What luck. Here they are.”

Griff looked. The scene was even ghastlier than he could have imagined.

This tavern didn’t seem to be a “tavern” at all, but more of a tea shop. Young ladies crowded the establishment, all of them hunched over tables and frowning in concentration. They appeared to be engaged in one of those absurd handicrafts that passed for female “accomplishment” these days. Quilling paper, it looked like. They weren’t even using fresh parchment—just ripping pages straight from books to fashion their queer little trivets and tea trays.

He peered at the nearest stack of volumes. Mrs. Worthington’s Wisdom for Young Ladies, each one read. Appalling.

This was everything he’d been avoiding for years. A roomful of unmarried, uninspiring young women, from which the common wisdom would argue he should find a suitable bride.

At the nudging of a friend, one young woman rose from her chair and curtsied. “May we help you, ma’am?”

“Your grace.”

The young woman’s brow creased. “Ma’am?”

“I am the Duchess of Halford. You would properly address me as ‘your grace.’ ”

“Ah. I see.” As her nudging friend smothered a nervous giggle, the fair-haired young woman began again. “May we help you, your grace?”

“Just stand tall, girl. So my son can see you.” She turned her head, surveying the rest of the room. “All of you, on your feet. Best posture.”

Pain forked through Griff’s skull as chair legs screeched against floorboards. One by one the young ladies obediently rose to their feet.

He noted a few pockmarks. One case of crooked teeth. They were none of them hideous, just—fragile in some cases. Others were unfashionably browned from the sun.

“Well,” the duchess said, striding into the center of the room. “Jewels in the rough. In some cases, very rough. But they are all from good family, so with a bit of polish . . .” She turned to him. “Take your choice, Halford. Select any girl who strikes your fancy. I will make her into a duchess.”

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