Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(5)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(5)
Author: Tessa Dare

Every jaw in the room dropped.

Every jaw, that was, except Griff’s.

He massaged his throbbing temples and began preparing a little speech in his mind. Ladies, I beg you. Pay this raving madwoman no attention. She’s entered her decline.

But then, he thought—a quick exit was too kind to her. Surely the only proper punishment was the opposite: to do precisely as his mother asked.

He said, “You claim you can make any one of these girls into a suitable duchess.”

“Of course I can.”

“And who will be the judge of your success?”

She lifted a brow. “Society, of course. Choose your young lady, and she’ll be the toast of London by season’s end.”

“The toast of London, you say?” He gave a doubtful laugh.

He scanned the tavern for a second time, planning to declare mad, instantaneous love for the most shrinking, awkward, homely chit available—and then watch his mother sputter and flail in response.

However, from the amused glances the young ladies exchanged, Griff could sense that there was more courage and wit in the room than his first impression might have indicated. These young women were no fools. And though they each had their flaws and imperfections—who didn’t?—none were unsuitable to a shocking, insurmountable degree.

Damn. He’d looked forward to teaching his overstepping mother a lesson. As matters stood, he supposed he’d be better served to just mutter a few apologies, drag the duchess back to the carriage, and drop her at Bedlam on the way home.

And then, with a creak of hinges and a slam of the rear door—

His salvation arrived.

She came stumbling through the back entrance of the tavern, red-faced and breathless. Her boots and hem were spattered with alarming amounts of mud, and a strange white powder clung to her everywhere else.

A serving girl’s apron hung loose around her neck. As she gathered the tapes and knotted them behind her back, the cinch of laces revealed a slender, almost boyish figure. Less of a shapely hourglass, more of a sturdy hitching post.

“It’s ten past, Pauline.” The male voice boomed from the kitchen.

She called back, “Beggin’ pardon, Mr. Fosbury. I’ll not be tardy again.”

Her diction and accent were not merely uneducated and rural—they were odd. When she turned, Griff could make out the reason why. She had a hairpin clenched in her teeth like a cheroot, and she mumbled her words around it.

The tardy serving girl clutched another hairpin in her hand, and when her eyes—leaf-green, bright with intelligence—met Griff’s, she froze in the act of jamming that pin through the tangle of hair piled atop her head.

God, that hair. He’d heard ladies describe their coiffures as “knots” or “buns.” This could only be called a “nest.” He was certain he glimpsed a few blades of straw and grass in there.

Clearly, she’d been hoping to enter unnoticed. Instead, she was suddenly the center of attention. That mysterious white powder that clung to her . . . it caught the light, shooting off tiny sparks.

He couldn’t look away.

As the breathless young woman alternated glances between Griff, his mother, and the amused ladies filling the rest of the room, her unfinished coiffure disintegrated. Locks of unpinned hair tumbled to her shoulders, surrendering to gravity or indignity, or both.

This would be where the average serving girl would duck her head, flee the room, and await her employer’s wrath. No doubt there’d be sniffling or sobbing involved.

But not this serving girl, apparently. This one had just enough pride to trump etiquette and good sense.

With a defiant toss of her head to distribute her brandy-colored locks, she turned and spat the last hairpin aside.

“Bollocks,” he heard her mutter.

Suddenly, Griff found himself battling a grin. She was perfect. Coarse, uneducated, utterly graceless. A touch too pretty. A plainer girl would have better suited his purpose. But fair looks notwithstanding, she’d do.

“Her,” he said. “I’ll take her.”

Chapter Two

Another girl’s prince has arrived.

That was Pauline’s first thought, when she stumbled in and spied the finely dressed man silhouetted in the door.

She watched it happen every few months in this village. These young ladies sought refuge in Spindle Cove for the oddest of reasons. Their harp-playing lacked grace, perhaps, or the color of their eyes was unfashionable at Court this season. And then—to the utter astonishment of everyone except Pauline—some handsome earl or viscount or officer came along and married them.

None of them spared so much as a glance for the serving girl.

So which lady was this one after? Whoever she was, she’d be set for life. Everything about the man’s appearance—from ivory buttons to fitted leather gloves—blared his wealth in trumpet notes. And if his garments screamed “riches,” everything beneath them spoke of power. It would be easy for a gentleman to go soft and paunchy, but he hadn’t. The close cut of his dark green topcoat revealed broad shoulders and defined muscles in his upper arms.

His face was strong, too. Boldly sloped nose, squared jaw, and a wide, confident mouth. There was nothing pretty about his features, but when taken together, they had an undeniable masculine appeal.

In short, he was no trial to look at. But even if he weren’t—Pauline couldn’t take her eyes off the man.

Because he wasn’t taking his eyes off her.

And the way he looked at her—like she was the answer to every question he’d never thought to ask—had her heart beating faster than a trapped hare’s.

“Her,” he said. “I’ll take her.”

“You can’t choose her,” an older woman replied, clearly testy. “That’s the serving girl.”

Pauline spared the lady a brief glance, sizing her up as a silver-haired woman who was small of stature and long on self-importance. She had a rail-straight spine. She’d need it, to hold up that unholy ransom in jewels.

“She’s a girl,” the man replied evenly, still looking at Pauline. “She’s a girl, and she’s in the room. You said I might choose any girl in the room.”

“She wasn’t in the room when I said that.”

“She’s in the room now. And once I saw her, I had eyes for no one else. She’s perfect.”


Pauline looked to the window, expecting a pig to fly through it. A pig strumming a lyre and speaking Welsh, perhaps.

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