To Marry the Duke's Daughter (After the Masquerade)

BOOK: To Marry the Duke's Daughter (After the Masquerade)
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To
Marry the Duke’s Daughter

Ashley
Stormes

 

 

 

 

Other books by
Ashley Stormes

The Masquerade Series:

The Masquerade

A Mask of Black Satin

A Tartan Mask

Mask of the Tiger

The Widow’s Mask

 

After the Masquerade:

Dancing with the Earl
(short story)

To Love A Spy
(short story)

The Taste of Frozen Vodka
(short story)

 

 

Published by
Ashley Stormes

 

Copyright 2013
Ashley Stormes

All Rights
Reserved

 

 

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed
as real. Any resemblance to action events, locales, organizations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

For hot tea of all colours and flavours.

 

And for
coasters. Coasters are
good too
.

 

 

 

 

A
Note on Spelling, and my Continued Gratitude

 

Anyone who
has read The Masquerade Series has realized that I use British spellings. This
is partly because I find it helps me to get into the minds of my characters and
partly because, as a European historian, all of my resources are printed in
Britain. When every book one reads uses British spellings, one begins to
forget how to spell like an American.

That being
said, there are a few words that might confuse an unwary reader, such as cosy
instead of cozy, pernickety instead of persnickety, and fulfil instead of
fulfill. Other words, like favourite, honour, and centre, are common enough
that they should not disorient anyone.

I continue to owe a debt of gratitude for my good
friend and fellow author, Amanda Eyer. She patiently endures my ranting emails
about disobedient characters and helps me edit even though she has other things
to do with her time.

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Avondale, Yorkshire

March 1814

Back to top

 

Lord Carlton Ryans, the Duke of
Avondale, did not enjoy surprise missives. While his daughter, Lady Felicity
Ryans, exclaimed over an unexpected letter, he had never experienced the joy of
reading happy news.

“Damn that woman.”

“Sir?”

Carlton grimaced as he realized that
the words had slipped from his mouth. “Forgive me, Chattrecombe, but I really
do damn that woman to the bowels of hell. She is bleeding me dry.”

Chattrecombe, having served as the
Avondale butler for the past twenty-eight years, immediately understood his
employer’s sudden turn to misery.
That
woman
could only refer to one woman, but it only took one woman to destroy
a dukedom.

“If I may, sir, but perhaps it would be
best to ignore her. We do not know with any certainty that she is telling the
truth.”

Carlton rubbed the heels of his palms
against his eyes, attempting to drive back the sharp pain in his head. His
grey eyes watered as he massaged his temples. “I cannot know with any certainty
that she is lying,” he muttered. “If I only knew the truth!” He squinted up
at Chattrecombe, who stood on the other side of Carlton’s heavy mahogany desk,
and squeezed the bridge of his nose while he regarded his butler. “Your nephew
is in the employ of the War Office, is he not?”

Chattrecombe cleared his throat
uncomfortably. “Yes, sir, Winston was recently awarded a position.”

“He could find her, then. He could
find her and discover the truth. If she is lying, I need not fear paying her
off. I can reward the War Office for their service,” Carlton added. “If she
is telling the truth, we might be able to negotiate a different compromise. I
cannot keep paying her at this rate; Felicity will be left with nothing.”

“I will of course put your request to
him, sir, but the War Office is currently engaged in a war,” Chattrecombe
pointed out apologetically. “I doubt they will be able to spare an agent for
what might be considered mercenary work.”

Carlton sighed heavily and bent over
his desk, resting his forehead against the polished wood. “Damn Napoleon as
well, then,” he muttered. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep up
appearances. I would not be surprised if she hired someone to set fire to
Avondale village, just to see how far my money could stretch.”

“No one expected you to rebuild the
entire village, sir,” Chattrecombe reminded him.

“Who else could do it? I could not let
my tenants freeze,” Carlton insisted, lifting his head from his desk. “And
Felicity, bless her, would give up everything if it meant helping the tenants.”

Chattrecombe cleared his throat. “Have
you considered telling her the truth?”

“I cannot. I have spent the past
twenty-four years protecting her; I cannot hurt her now.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter
One

London

June 1814

Back to top

 

Lt. Jonathon White of the --- cavalry
easily recognized the overwhelming sensation of falling. He had felt it many
times before—a man could hardly call himself a horseman if he had not
fallen at least once—but never had he been thrown off his feet in such a
manner. Horses had always made sense to him, and as a youth he quickly learned
the warning signs of a horse ready to bolt. Women, however…

Years as a cavalry officer had done
little to enlighten his understanding of the mindset of the fairer sex. He was
always pleased to meet a woman that made sense, and had just spent the past
half hour twirling around Almack’s with Miss Jane Burnel, a reasonable and
patriotic young woman who met his criteria for a decent match. For the past
few weeks he had considered courting her on a more regular basis, but there was
something missing in their discourses and he was loath to settle, even if he
needed the security her dowry could provide. Miss Jane had captured the eye of
several other officers, and he feared he would lose the battle for her heart to
a man more willing to woo her. It was early, to be certain, but he considered
Lord Henry Fenna, a former army officer, the most likely man to win her. Lord
Fenna had been watching her with a peculiar expression. Jonathon prided
himself on knowing when to bow out graciously. If Lord Fenna were on the verge
of falling in love with her, Jonathon would willingly cede the high ground,
especially if that enabled him to search out a more suitable woman.

Jonathon knew the danger of appearing
like a fortune hunter to society—one of his good friends had recently
been shunned by half of the
ton
because of his surprising decision to pursue a wealthy young woman recently
widowed and still in mourning—so he was careful to keep his eyes from the
haughty daughters of the higher echelons. He would be content with anyone able
to help ward off the emptiness creeping up on his pocketbook. If his older
brother, Lord Gregory White, came to him one more time demanding a hefty sum,
Jonathon would find himself living on the streets. He had already spoken with
his superiors about selling his commission, and the necessary transactions
would be completed in the next week. That would provide a little more padding
to his purse, but his brother’s gambling knew no bounds and he suspected that
Gregory owed a considerable sum to a viscount by the name of Thompson.
Jonathon suspected that sooner rather than later he would need to find
employment or marry a wealthy woman.

The sensation of falling never feels
unpleasant. The only pain comes when the ground rises up to meet one’s
derrière. Jonathon understood that better than many, but could not help but
fall for the black-haired beauty dancing gracefully with an impressively attired
lord. She was blatantly beyond his meagre reach, but since most men were
staring at her with hungry eyes he felt no shame in doing the same.

“It is hard to believe Avondale’s
daughter grew up to be such a prime article.”

Jonathon wasn’t certain who said the
words, but he recognized the name and immediately felt the pleasant sensation
slip into a doomed spiral off the side of a metaphorical cliff. If she were
the Duke of Avondale’s daughter, he would have a better chance at happiness by
taking what little remained in his accounts and disappearing into the
countryside. He knew he would have decent luck wooing a wealthy merchant’s
daughter, but pride had kept him in London for the past month and pride would
keep him there until he found a reasonable solution to his problems.

“Avondale will never let his only child
marry anyone less than a king,” another man remarked. “Why else would she
still be unwed?”

“I’ve heard she is high in the instep
and bird-witted to boot,” replied the first man.

“She is a diamond of the first water,
though,” the second man stated. “I would marry her just to look at her every
day, if the duke fancied a viscount as a son-in-law.”

Jonathon studied her curiously,
wondering about the other men’s words. Were her beauty and status as the
duke’s daughter the only accomplishments that recommended her? That was enough
for most men—and probably for him as well—but Jonathon dreaded the
prospect of dull conversation. Yet, if she were the sort that preferred the
company of gossiping friends, he might actually find comfort in solitude. He
had always desired a happy, love-filled marriage, but his options were quickly
vanishing. If it enabled him to escape his brother’s power, he would gladly
marry a dim-witted woman with a plentiful dowry and overly-attached father.

The only way to determine if the Duke
of Avondale’s daughter would make a decent bride would be to dance with her,
and determine just how lacking her conversation could be. He knew he would
never be able to marry a duke’s daughter, but there was no harm in dancing with
one once.

 

 

Lady Felicity Ryans smiled up at the
pleasant young man, surprised by the ease with which he charmed her. His words
were polite if not as flattering as her previous partner, who had exposed a
nervous stutter when they attempted conversation while dancing. It had been
easier for both of them to force smiles on their faces and endure the rest of
the dance in silence. Mr. Thompson was a sweet man, but until he overcame his
shyness he would never be able to win a woman that did not pity him. She
thought he fancied Miss Sophie Peters, but that was only because Sophie was the
only woman with whom he had yet to dance.

Mr. Jonathon White, however, was the
opposite of Mr. Thompson. She knew from earlier gossip that he was a former
true lieutenant of the --- cavalry, the only sibling of Lord Gregory White, and
a splendid dancer. He was currently proving that
splendid
hardly covered his skill on the dance floor, and Felicity
could not be happier.

His appearance certainly did not hinder
him. She had never before met anyone with such dark brown eyes that retained a
sweet softness to their eyes. His hair was dark brown as well, but flecks of
gold around his face hinted at his previous outdoor life, as did his hazel-tinted
skin. He was more than handsome, but at the same time average. It was an
interesting combination that held her enthralled, and as he spun her around the
dance floor she had a difficult time discerning the cause of her dizziness.

“You have unusual eyes,” he remarked,
his voice surprising her in its lightness.

“As do you,” she replied, careful to
keep her own tone light. Her father always bemoaned her true voice, and after
years of being reminded that a man wanted to hear a bird-like chirp instead of
a low purr it took little effort to disguise her voice.

“They are brown, Lady Felicity. They
are hardly unusual.”

“And mine are grey, which is also
hardly unusual.” She lifted a slender brow before realizing she shouldn’t look
condescending. Drat her father’s lectures.

“Your eyes are not quite grey,” he
contradicted. “They are not any particular colour, and yet all of them at
once, so they appear grey from a distance.”

How
silly
. “I must take
your word, Mr. White. Most people consider them grey.”

“Then most people are wrong.”

The words spilled out before she could
stop them. “Do you honestly believe that?” She did not know why she was
having such a difficult time containing her thoughts, but she suspected it had
something to do with her dizziness. He must be spinning her too fast.

“Yes. I have been around enough people
to know that very few of them actually know anything about which they speak.
They simply spout words and hope no one dares to correct them.”

“That does sound a little condescending,
Mr. White. I have met many intelligent people in this ballroom alone.”

He shrugged, the motion causing his
emerald green coat to tighten around his shoulders. “Perhaps. To me they only
give the illusion of intelligence. There are very few actual intelligent
people I have spoken with in the
ton
.”

“Whom do you consider intelligent,
then? What is your foundation for their intelligence? Their knowledge of
politics, or perhaps their knowledge of society? What style of intelligence do
you consider most intelligent?” Her father would frown if he could hear her
ask such things in public, but the dance floor was one location in London that
she could almost be herself.

“Obviously intelligence is a relative
term,” he evaded. “I might prefer an intellectual form of intelligence, and
you might prefer the intelligence garnered through gossip and society. If that
is the case, it is a topic sure to disappoint us both.”

He was providing her the perfect
opportunity to shift the conversation without upsetting either of them, and she
was grateful for his reminder that she was expected to be knowledgeable about
society, and little else. Her father had done everything in his power to teach
her how to act as the perfect daughter of the
ton
, and she would not disappoint him. If the duke claimed her
only chance at matrimony was to appear a brainless beauty, she would bow to his
greater wisdom.

“Well, gossip has taught me that you
are a cavalry officer, but you intend to sell your commission. Is that true?”
She was surprised by the flicker of disappointment in his eyes. Had he wanted
her to contradict him and prove that she understood intellectual intelligence?

“It is. The war is over, and I am
ready to move on with my life.”

They danced the next steps in silence,
her confusion mounting with every heartbeat. Why were his lips pressed in a
firm line? Was he angry, or was she seeing too much? Perhaps she was simply
trying too hard to be pleasant. Her father always told her it should appear
effortless.

“Do you intend to remain in London for
the Season? I have heard that many former officers are retiring to the
country,” she stated, hoping to spur him into further conversation.

She watched him swallow, the movement
appearing painful in his throat. Then her eyes fixed on the bluntness of his
narrow chin, and the strong line of his jaw, and the way his nose divided his
extraordinary brown eyes. Every piece taken apart was plain, but the
combination, the arrangement of his features, was so exquisitely done that she
could not help but consider him handsome.

“I am afraid I do not know the answer.
I intend to visit my mother soon, but I might return to London, if there is a
reason.”

“Must you always have a reason?” She
did not want to lose such a perfect dance partner, especially when she could
smile up at him and dream of all the things she had ever wanted. He had been
dancing with Miss Jane Burnel at almost every ball, but if he was considering
leaving London it was doubtful his intentions towards her were serious. Felicity
knew better than to meddle with the affairs of others, but she was always
curious. Gossip provided the greatest relief, but even then it was not always
accurate, and she prided herself on always knowing the facts.

“I suppose I could live life on a whim,”
he offered. “It works for many.”

A
subtle attack on her own person?
Felicity was not sure how to interpret his words, so she attempted
to discern his feelings for Miss Jane Burnel. “I am certain Miss Burnel will
miss your attentions. She has certainly come into her own this Season.”

“Not because of my attentions, surely,”
he exclaimed, drawing away slightly as if offended. “Miss Burnel has many
dance partners; I am the least of her admirers.”

“But you must admit that your
attentions have cast her in the eyes of other men,” Felicity pointed out,
knowing her words were true. “She rarely had partners before this Season.”

“That is unfair to her.”

“It is the truth. Many feared she
would be put on the shelf, but things have certainly improved for her this
Season. I suppose the end of the war has many men returning, and searching for
a wife. Miss Burnel is one of many that almost require a military man as
husband.” Miss Jane Burnel’s patriotism was endearing, but her pride had
frightened many from pursuing her.

“Because she is patriotic? Or are you
insinuating that only a military man will find her interesting?”

Oh, he was furious. His entire body
was shaking. Felicity had never seen a man in such a state in public, and she
wondered if he cared more for Miss Burnel than she had previously assumed. She
had certainly not meant to insult Miss Burnel, a woman she secretly admired for
her strength.

“I am merely stating that she has not
had good fortune with other men of the
ton
.
I think her a perfectly good person, but that does little to appease society’s
scorn. She is in her fifth Season, I believe; to many that is a sign
of—”

“I know what it is a sign of,” he
interrupted, his brows narrowed in repugnance. “It only fuels my disgust for
society
. Miss Burnel is a better person
than most in this ballroom, and I am proud to call her my friend. She will
marry well, mark my words. Before the Season is over she will prove all of you
wrong. Good evening.” He bowed and strode away, leaving her stunned and alone
in the middle of Almack’s. Most men at least accompanied a woman off the dance
floor. The song had ended, or she would be thoroughly embarrassed by her
perplexing position at the centre of the ballroom without a partner. Luck was
often on her side, however, and she let out a sigh of relief as another man
offered her his arm and asked her to honour him with the next dance.

BOOK: To Marry the Duke's Daughter (After the Masquerade)
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