Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(6)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(6)
Author: Tessa Dare

The gentleman moved toward her, navigating the room with ease. As he approached, each heavy, rhythmic footfall made her acutely aware of her wild, sugar-dusted hair and mud-spattered hem. She took comfort from the signs of his own flawed humanity. On closer view, he was unshaven, and his eyes were rimmed with red—from lack of sleep or too much drink, or both.

Pauline inhaled slowly. His clothing carried the fading whiff of some masculine, musky cologne. The scent curled inside her, warming her in low, secret places.

“Tell me your name,” he said.

He spoke in a voice that was low and rich and . . . magnetic, apparently. She could feel every person in the room sway in his direction, to better make out his words.

“I’m Pauline, sir. Pauline Simms.”

“Your age.”


“And are you married or betrothed?”

She bit back a startled laugh. “No, sir. I’m not.”

“Excellent.” He inclined his head. “I am Griffin Eliot York, the eighth Duke of Halford.”

A duke?

“Oh, Lord,” she muttered.

“Actually, Simms, what you’re meant to say is, ‘your grace.’ ”

She dropped her gaze to the floorboards and made an off-balance curtsy. “Your grace.”

Waving off her belated attempts at deference, he went on. “My mother has grown impatient with my unmarried state. She enjoined me to take my choice of any woman in this room, with the promise that she could make that woman into a duchess. I’ve chosen you.”


“You. You’re perfect.”

Perfect. Again, that word. Pauline’s mind couldn’t handle all this at once. She had to break the information into small morsels.

This robustly handsome, self-possessed, wonderful-smelling man was the eighth Duke of Halford.

Out of all the ladies in this room, he was choosing her, the serving girl.

To be his future duchess.

You’re perfect.

Chills raced from the nape of her neck to the soles of her feet, leaving her breathless. Either the whole world had turned on its ear, or after twenty-three years of never being good enough . . . in the eyes of one man—in the eyes of this duke—she was perfect.

The duchess cast a cool gaze on her son. “Unnatural child. You live to thwart me.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he replied calmly. “I’m doing precisely as you asked.”

“Be serious.”

“I am serious. I’ve chosen a girl. Here she is.” The duke made a sweeping gesture from Pauline’s tangled hair to her muddy shoes, painting her with humiliation. “Go on, then. Make her a duchess.”

Ah. She understood everything now. She was perfect in his eyes. Perfectly dreadful. Perfectly graceless. Perfectly wrong to be a duchess, and by making her an example, the duke meant to teach his interfering mother a lesson.

How clever of him. How obnoxious and insufferable, to boot.

It’s your own fault, Pauline. For that one, mad instant, you were a fool.

She didn’t find him so handsome anymore. But he still smelled wonderful, drat him.

There was a pause, which no one in the room dared interrupt. It was as though they were spectators to a championship match of some sort, and the duke had just scored a critical point.

Every head swiveled to face the duchess, waiting for her move.

She had no intention of forfeiting. “Well, then. We’ll go to the girl’s parents.”

Brazen strategy, thought Pauline. Two points to you.

“I’d love nothing more.” Halford pulled his coat straight. “But I must be returning to Town at once, and I’m certain Simms can’t leave her post.”

“Certainly I can,” Pauline said.

Both the duke and his mother turned to her, clearly irritated that she’d dared interrupt. Never mind that she was subject of their argument.

“I can leave my post anytime.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t need a post at all, do I? Not if I’m to be a duchess.”

The duke gave her a blank look. Obviously, he hadn’t expected this reaction. She was probably supposed to stammer and protest and run blushing into the kitchen.

Unlucky for him. He’d picked the wrong girl.

Of course, she knew he’d meant to pick the “wrong girl,” but he’d picked the wrong “wrong girl.” Pauline enjoyed a good laugh as much as the next person, but already she’d lost too much today. She couldn’t part with her last tattered remnant of pride.

“Mr. Fosbury,” she called in the direction of the kitchen, untying her apron strings. “I’ll be leaving now. I don’t expect I’ll be coming back today. I’m taking this duke ’round to the cottage so he can ask for my hand in marriage.”

That brought Fosbury out from the kitchens, looking perplexed as he wiped his floury hands on an apron.

Pauline gave him a reassuring wink. Then she turned to the duchess, smiling wide. “Shall we, your grace?” She made a show of giggling. “Oh, pardon. Did you want I should call you ‘Mother’?”

Ripples of hushed laughter moved through the room. The look of aristocratic discomfort on the duchess’s face was immensely satisfying.

Whatever stubborn, unfeeling game this duke and his mother were playing, they were gaining a third player in Pauline.

What’s more, Pauline was going to win.

Turning her gaze to the duke, she gave him a bold, unashamed inspection. No chore there. The man truly was a fine specimen of masculinity, from broad shoulders to sculpted thighs. If he could ogle her, why couldn’t she look right back?

“Cor.” She unleashed her broadest country accent as she tipped her head to admire the lower curve of his tight, aristocratic arse. “I’ll have great fun with you on the wedding night.”

His eyes flared, swift enough to make her insides wince. Could teasing a duke amount to a hanging offense? He certainly possessed the power and means to make her regret it.

But when all the Spindle Cove ladies broke into open, boisterous laughter, Pauline knew it would be fine. She wasn’t one of the Spindle Cove set. She was a servant, not a well-bred lady on holiday. But they would stand by her, just the same.

Miss Charlotte Highwood rose and spoke in her defense. “Your graces, we are honored by your visit, but I don’t think we could part with Pauline today.”

“Then we find ourselves in conflict,” the duke said. “Because I don’t intend to part with her at all.”

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology