Sexy Sophisticated Historical Romance
DANCING IN THE DUKE'S ARMS
June 26, 2015
He opened the tall casement windows of his bedchamber and breathed in country air, rested his eyes on the white dots of sheep grazing in the park. At first he barely registered the murmur of female humming in the adjoining room—there were always servants going about their business—until the timbre of the voice penetrated his consciousness. He strode over and flung open the communicating door.
“Linton!” Althea, Duchess of Linton’s voice was musical as ever but far from pleased. “What are you doing here?”
“I might ask you the same thing, madam. You are not supposed to be at The Chimneys until the fourteenth of the month. You will have to leave.”
“You are mistaken. I’ve been here since yesterday, and I’m not going anywhere. This is my house.”
“The Chimneys belongs to me.”
“Of course it’s yours. I am well aware that I have nothing of my own. Yet, by our agreement I spend the summer here, and the last time I checked July was summer. You are supposed to be in Berkshire, and you will have to leave.”
“You told Newton you wouldn’t be here.”
“Newton never makes a mistake. You’re saying that because you have come to torment me.”
“Are you accusing me of prevarication? I assure you, madam, that the Dukes of Linton do not lie.”
They were squabbling like a pair of children, and unless he stopped it, the exchange would mushroom into the kind of bitter argument that had plagued the early months of their marriage. He leaned back on his heels and reassembled his shattered temper, because, as always, it was up to him to behave with dignity. “There has been a misunderstanding, Althea. I trust we can spend one night under the same roof without a quarrel.”
But for her expression, she might have been the girl he’d married. In a white muslin gown with her red-gold hair tied in a careless knot, she was lovely, more so than ever, and her beauty caught at his throat. The beauty had always been there. It was why he’d foolishly chosen a very young girl of small fortune and from a tainted family for his bride. He’d made the mistake of assuming he could possess this beauty and charm and that she would be a proper wife for a Duke of Linton.
Daggers darted from her eyes, contrasting with the simplicity of her attire. Then she gave a swift, sharp nod, and her mouth relaxed from its defiant pout. They stared at each other in a skeptical truce.
“Will you dine with me, Linton?”
His pleasure at this surely grudging invitation surprised him. Was he such a fool that a few yards of white cloth made him forget the past? The true Althea was the one tricked out in extravagant silks and satins, adorned and bejeweled, her hair braided and curled into the rococo absurdities of the London hairdresser, her eyelashes blackened. His moment of weakness was only a false recollection of happier times.
“Country hours?” he asked.
“Of course. I don’t like to keep the servants up late.”
She didn’t mind it in London when he’d return from dining out to find a crowd of fashionable ne’er-do-wells and fribbles lolling around his dining room table, draining the contents of his wine cellar. “As you wish,” he said. “Speaking of servants, do we have a woman in the lodge now? Or was her husband absent this afternoon?”
“Mrs. Trumbull is the widow of your tenant John Trumbull.”
“I remember he caught a fever last year.”
“Her children were too young to take over the farm, and she couldn’t manage alone. I gave her the lodge. She seems just about capable of opening and closing the gate without the help of a man.”
It was the right thing to offer the widow a house and employment, and he might have thought of it himself had he been consulted. Instead, she made him feel obscurely guilty. “She hangs washing in front of her house,” he said.
“And where else, pray, would she hang it?”
“I don’t know, but it’s unsightly and spoils the approach to the park.”
The light of combat brightened her green eyes. “So to avoid offending your sensibilities, you would have her children go dirty?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You change your linens at least once a day, don’t you, Linton?” He felt his cheeks darken at the indelicate question. “Where do you suppose your shirts and stockings and drawers are dried?”
“Somewhere I can’t see them.”
“Indeed. Every one of your twelve houses is furnished with a kitchen courtyard where the mundane operations that keep you fed and clothed are conducted away from your fastidious gaze. Perhaps you’d like to build such a facility at the lodge so that the Trumbull children’s small clothes will no longer offend you.”
“That would be absurd.”
“Precisely.” Walking around him, she opened the door wide in a clear gesture of dismissal. “I shall see you at dinner, and despite our rustic ways we do change for the evening.” With an exaggerated sniff, she wrinkled her nose. “Lucky you have a good supply of clean shirts.”
She was close enough for him to catch the subtle rose perfume she favored and the scent of her freshly laundered garments. Mortified, he realized he was in his shirt-sleeves, the garment hanging loose to his knees. Worse, it was still damp from his exercise, and he probably stank like a ferret. A little laugh of derision followed him as he stalked out and slammed the door behind him.
I am so happy to collaborate with Grace, Shana, and Carolyn again. My "marriage in trouble" story features a sportsman hero and a rowing race.