Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(7)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(7)
Author: Tessa Dare

The dark resolve in his words sent odd sensations shooting through Pauline. He meant to continue this farce? Stubbornness must run in this duke’s family the way green eyes ran in hers.

The duchess tilted her head toward the door. “Well, then. The coach is waiting.”

And that was how Pauline Simms, tavern serving girl and farmer’s daughter, found herself bringing a duke and his mother home for tea.

Well, and why the deuce not?

If these Quality meant to embarrass her in front of all Spindle Cove, it was only fitting they should sacrifice some pride of their own. She couldn’t wait to see the duchess’s face when they pulled up before her family’s humble cottage. It might do them good to see how common folk lived—to sit on rough-hewn wooden stools and drink from chipped crockery. She and Sally Bright would be laughing over this story for the rest of their lives.

After giving directions to the driver, Pauline joined them inside the coach. She slid a hand over the calfskin seat, marveling. She’d never touched an actual calf this soft.

She was certain no one of her station had ever been a passenger inside this conveyance, and judging by the grim sets of their jaws, she would guess neither the duke nor the duchess were pleased to have a sugar-dusted serving girl and her muddy shoes joining them now.

Which only made Pauline more resolved—she was going to wring this experience for every last drop of amusement.

For the entirety of the ten-minute drive to her farm cottage, she reveled in inappropriate behavior. She bounced on the seat, testing the springs. She played with the window latch, sliding the glass pane up and down a dozen times.

“What does your father do, Miss Simms?” the duchess asked.

Other than shout, curse, rage, threaten? “He farms, your grace.”

“A tenant farmer?”

“No, he owns our land. Some thirty acres.”

Of course, thirty acres would be nothing to a true landed gentleman, much less a duke. Halford probably owned a thousand times it.

As the carriage left town, they passed by the Willetts’ fields. Mr. Willett’s oldest boy was out working in the hops. Pauline put down the window for the thirteenth time, stuck her arm out and waved gaily.

She put her thumb and forefinger in her mouth and whistled loud. “Gerry!” she called. “Gerald Willett, look! It’s me, Pauline! I’m going to be a duchess, Ger!”

When she settled back inside the carriage, she caught the duke and his mother exchanging a look. She propped one elbow on the windowsill, covered her mouth with her palm and laughed.

As they neared the cottage, Pauline rapped on the carriage roof to signal the driver. When the coach had rolled to a stop, she reached for the door latch.

“No.” With the crook of her parasol handle, the duchess snagged her by the wrist. “We have people for that.”

Pauline froze, taken aback. She was one of the people for that. Or had the old lady forgotten?

The duke knocked the parasol aside. “For God’s sake, Mother. She’s not a wayward lamb.”

“You chose her. You told me to make her a duchess. Her lessons start now.”

Pauline shrugged. If the woman insisted, she would wait and allow the liveried footman to open the door, lower the step, and assist her down with white-gloved hands.

As the duchess alighted, followed by her son, Pauline dipped in a deep, exaggerated curtsy. “Welcome to our humble home, your graces.”

She opened the gate and led them through the fenced poultry yard. The gander was after them immediately, honking and ruffling his wings. No one could tell Major he didn’t outclass a duke. The duchess tried a freezing look, but quickly resorted to wielding her parasol in defense.

“That’ll do, Major.” Pauline clapped her hands. Then she ushered her guests inside. “This way, your graces. Don’t be bashful. Our home is yours. We’re all family now.”

The door lintel was low and the duke was tall. He would have to duck to avoid bashing his head. He paused at the threshold. For a moment Pauline thought he’d simply turn around, return to the carriage, and drive off to London.

But he didn’t. He bent at the waist and passed through the doorway in a single, fluid motion.

She had to smile at that. The arrogant duke, literally stooping to enter her family’s cottage.

Once inside, the two visitors swept a look around the small, sparsely furnished abode. It wasn’t difficult to take in the whole dwelling at a glance. The house was only some dozen paces wide. A stone hearth, a few cupboards, table and chairs. Faded print curtains fluttered in the two front windows. To the side, an open doorway led to the only bedroom. A ladder climbed to the sleeping loft she and Daniela shared.

The rear doorway led to the exterior area where they did all the washing. Soft splashes indicated someone was washing up after the noon meal.

“Mother,” she sang out, “look who I brought home from the Bull and Blossom. The ninth Duke of Halstone and his mum.”

“Halford,” the duchess corrected. “My son is the eighth Duke of Halford. He’s also the Marquess of Westmore, the Earl of Ridingham, Viscount Newthorpe, and Lord Hartford-on-Trent.”

“Oh. Right. Suppose I should learn it all proper, shouldn’t I? I mean, seeing as how it’ll be my name, too.” She grinned broadly at the duke. “Fancy that.”

His lips quirked a fraction. Whether in irritation or amusement, she didn’t dare to guess.

“Will you sit?” she asked the duchess.

“I will not.”

“If you need the privy,” she informed them in a confidential tone, “you go through that door, back around the woodpile, and left at the pigs.”

“Pauline?” Mother came through the back door, wiping her hands on a towel.

“Mother, there you are. Has Father gone back to the fields?”

“No,” said Amos Simms, darkening the same doorway her mother had just traversed. “No, he ’asn’t. Not yet.”

She found herself holding her breath as her father peered at the duke, then the duchess.

Lastly, he turned a menacing glare on Pauline.

A sharp tingle of warning volleyed between her shoulder blades. She would pay for this later, no doubt.

“What’s all this, then?” her father demanded.

Pauline swept an arm toward her guests. “Father, may I present His Grace, the eighth Duke of Halford, and his mother. As for what they’re doing here . . .” She turned to the duke. “I should let his grace explain it.”

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