Once Upon a Dream
Mary Balogh teams up with Grace to create a pair of Regency novellas each set at a summer house party.
In Another Dream, by Mary Balogh, Miss Eleanor Thompson has found satisfaction as the director of a respected school for girls. The life of a dedicated educator offers many rewards and much meaning–but also more loneliness than Eleanor anticipated. She accepts an invitation from her sister, Christine, Duchess of Bewcastle, to attend a Bedwyn houseparty, never dreaming the summer curriculum might include stolen kisses and true love.
In The Duke of My Dreams, by Grace, banker’s daughter Anne Faraday is cast into the company of Elias, Duke of Sedgemere, at house party in the Lakes. Anne warms to the lonely man and conscientious father behind the title, and Elias becomes enthralled with the brilliant, burdened woman beneath Anne’s genteel facade. Liking turns to love under the Cumbrian summer moon, but family obligations, secrets, and a prodigal duck conspire to thwart the course of true love.
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Enjoy An Excerpt
“You are my oldest and dearest friend,” the Duke of Hardcastle said. “I do not ask this boon of you lightly.”
Elias, Duke of Sedgemere, strolled along, damned if he’d embarrass Hardcastle with any show of sentiment in the face of Hardcastle’s wheedling. Hardcastle was, after all, Sedgemere’s oldest and dearest friend too.
Also Sedgemere’s only friend.
They took the air beside Hyde Park’s Serpentine, ignoring the stares and whispers they attracted. While Sedgemere was a blond so pale as to draw the eye, Hardcastle was dark. They were both above average in height and brawn, though Mayfair boasted any number of large, well-dressed men, particularly as the fashionable hour approached.
They were dukes, however, and to be a duke was to be afflicted with public interest on every hand. To be an unmarried duke was to be cursed, for in every ballroom, at the reins of every cabriolet, holding every parasol, was a duchess-in-waiting.
Thus Sedgemere endured Hardcastle’s importuning.
“You do not ask a boon,” Sedgemere said, tipping his hat to a fellow walking an enormous brindle mastiff. “You demand half my summer, when summer is the best time of year to bide at Sedgemere House.”
They had known each other since the casual brutality and near starvation that passed for a boy’s indoctrination at Eton, and through the wenching and wagering that masqueraded as an Oxford education. Hardcastle, however, had never married, and thus knew not what horrors awaited him on the way to the altar.
Sedgemere knew, and he further knew that Hardcastle’s days as a bachelor were numbered, if Hardcastle’s estimable grandmama was dispatching him to summer house parties.
“If you do not come with me, Sedgemere, I will become a bad influence on my godson. I will teach the boy about cigars, brandy, fast women, and profligate gambling.”
“The child is seven years old, Hardcastle, but feel free to corrupt him at your leisure, assuming he does not prove to be the worse influence on—good God, not these two again.”
The Cheshire twins, blond, blue-eyed, smiling, and as relentless as an unmentionable disease, came twittering down the path, twirling matching parasols.
“Miss Cheshire, Miss Sharon,” Hardcastle said, tipping his hat.
Sedgemere discreetly yanked on his friend’s arm, though nothing would do but Hardcastle must exchange pleasantries as if these women weren’t the social equivalent of Scylla and Charybdis.
“Ladies.” Sedgemere bowed as well, for he was in public and the murder of a best friend was better undertaken in private.
“Your Graces! How fortunate that we should meet!” Miss Cheshire gushed. The elder by four minutes, as Sedgemere had been informed on at least a hundred occasions, she generally led the conversational charges. “I told Sharon this very morning that you could not possibly have left Town without calling upon us, and I see I was right, for here you both are!”
Exactly where Sedgemere did not want to be.
“We’ll take our leave of—” Sedgemere began, just as Hardcastle winged an arm.
“A pleasant day for pleasant company,” Hardcastle said.
Miss Cheshire latched on to Hardcastle like a Haymarket streetwalker clutched her last penny’s worth of gin, and Miss Sharon appropriated Sedgemere’s arm without him even offering.
“You weren’t planning to call on us, were you?”
Miss Sharon posed exactly the sort of query a man who’d endured five years of matrimonial purgatory knew better than to answer. If Sedgemere admitted that he’d no intention of calling on anybody before departing London, the Cheshire chit would pout, tear up, and try to shame him into an apology-call. If he lied and protested that, of course he’d been planning on calling, she’d assign him a time and date, and be sure to have her bosom bows lying in ambush with her in her mama’s parlor.
Abruptly, three weeks trudging about the hills of the Lake District loomed not as a penance owed a dear friend, but as a reprieve, even if it meant uprooting the boys.
“My plans are not yet entirely made,” Sedgemere said. “Though Hardcastle and I will both be leaving Town shortly.”
Miss Sharon was desolated to hear this, though everybody left the pestilential heat of a London summer if they could. She cooed and twittered and clung from one end of the Serpentine to the other, until Sedgemere was tempted to push her into the water simply to silence her.
“We bid you adieu,” Hardcastle said, tipping his hat once more, fifty interminable, cooing, clutching yards later. “And we bid you farewell, for as Sedgemere says, the time has come for ruralizing. I’m sure we’ll see both of you when we return to London.”
Hardcastle was up to something, Sedgemere knew not what. Hardcastle was a civil fellow, though not even the Cheshire twins would accuse him of charm. Sedgemere liked that about him, liked that one man could be relied upon to be honest at all times, about all matters. Unfortunately, such guilelessness would make Hardcastle a lamb to slaughter among the house-party set.
Amid much simpering and parasol twirling, the Cheshire ladies minced back to Park Lane, there to lurk like trolls under a bridge until the next titled bachelor came along to enjoy the fresh air.
“Turn around now,” Sedgemere said, taking Hardcastle by the arm and walking him back the way they’d come. “Before they start fluttering handkerchiefs as if the Navy were departing for Egypt. I suppose you leave me no choice but to accompany you on this infernal frolic to the Lakes.”
“Because you are turning into a bore and a disgrace and must hide up north?” Hardcastle inquired pleasantly.
“Because there’s safety in numbers, you dolt. Because if Miss Cheshire had sprung that question on you, about whether you intended to call, you would have answered her, and spent half of Tuesday in her mama’s parlor, dodging debutante décolletages and tea trays.”
Marriage imbued a man with instincts, or perhaps fatherhood did. Hardcastle was merely an uncle, but that privileged status meant he had his heir without having stuck the ducal foot in parson’s mousetrap.
“I say, that is a handsome woman,” Hardcastle muttered. Hardcastle did not notice women, but an octogenarian Puritan would have taken a closer look at the vision approaching on the path.
“Miss Anne Faraday,” Sedgemere said, a comely specimen indeed. Tall, unfashionably curvaceous, unfashionably dark-haired, she was also one of few women whose company did not send Sedgemere into a foul humor. In fact, her approach occasioned something like relief.
“You’re not dodging off into the rhododendrons,” Hardcastle said, “and yet you seem to know her.”
Would Miss Faraday acknowledge Sedgemere? She was well beyond her come out, and no respecter of dukes, single or otherwise.
“I don’t know her well, but I like her very much,” Sedgemere said. “She hates me, you see. Has no marital aspirations in my direction whatsoever. For that alone, she enjoys my most sincere esteem.”
Effie was chattering about the great burden of having to pack up Anne’s dresses in this heat, and about the dust of the road, and all the ghastly impositions on a lady’s maid resulting from travel to the countryside at the end of the Season.
Anne half-listened, but mostly she was absorbed with the effort of not noticing. She did not notice the Cheshire twins, for example, all but cutting her in public. They literally could not afford to cut her. Neither could the Henderson heir, who merely touched his hat brim to her as if he couldn’t recall that he’d seen her in Papa’s formal parlor not three days ago. Mr. Willow Dorning, an earl’s spare who was rumored to enjoy the company of dogs more than people, offered her a genuine, if shy, smile.
If Anne wanted freedom from Papa’s sad eyes and long-suffering sighs, the price she paid was not noticing that, even in the genteel confines of Hyde Park, most of polite society was not very polite at all—to her.
“It’s that dook,” Effie muttered, “the ice dook, they call him.”
“He’s not icy, Effie. Sedgemere is simply full of his own consequence.”
And why shouldn’t he be? He was handsome in a rigid, frigid way, with white-gold hair that no breeze would dare ruffle. His features were an assemblage of patrician attributes—a nose well suited to being looked down, a mouth more full than expected, but no matter, for Anne had never seen that mouth smile. Sedgemere’s eyes were a disturbingly pale blue, as if some Viking ancestor looked out of them, one having a grand sulk to be stranded so far from his frozen landscapes and turbulent seas.
“Your papa could buy and sell the consequence of any three dooks, miss, and well they know it.”
“The problem in a nutshell,” Anne murmured as Sedgemere’s gaze lit on her.
He was in company with the Duke of Hardcastle, whom Anne had heard described as semi-eligible. Hardcastle had an heir, twelve estates, and a dragon for a grandmother. He was notably reserved, though Anne liked what she knew of him. He wasn’t prone to staring at bosoms, for example.
Always a fine quality in a man.
Sedgemere was even wealthier than Hardcastle, had neither mama nor extant duchess, but was father to three boys. To Anne’s dismay, His Grace of Sedgemere did not merely touch a gloved finger to his hat brim, he instead doffed his hat and bowed.
“Miss Faraday, hello.”
She was so surprised, her curtseys lacked the proper deferential depth. “Your Graces, good day.”
Then came the moment Anne dreaded most, when instead of not-noticing her, a scion of polite society did notice her, simply for the pleasure of brushing her aside. Sedgemere had yet to indulge in that particular sport with her, but he too, had visited in Papa’s parlor more than once.
“Shall you walk with us for a moment?” Sedgemere asked. “I believe you know Hardcastle, or I’d perform the introductions.”
A large ducal elbow aimed itself in Anne’s direction. Such an elbow never came her way unless the duke in question owed Papa at least ten thousand pounds.
“Sedgemere’s on his best behavior,” Hardcastle said, taking Anne’s other arm, “because if you tolerate his escort, then he’ll not find other ladies plaguing him. The debutantes fancy Sedgemere violently this time of year.”
The social Season was wrapping up, and too many families with daughters had endured the expense of a London Season without a marriage proposal to show for their efforts. Papa made fortunes off the social aspirations of the beau monde, while Anne—with no effort whatsoever—made enemies.
“The young ladies fancy unmarried dukes any time of year,” Anne replied. Nonetheless, when Sedgemere tucked her hand onto his arm, she allowed it. This time tomorrow, she’d be well away from London, and the awful accusations resulting from a chance meeting in the park would never reach her ears.
The gossips would say that the presuming, unfortunate Anne Faraday was after a duke. No, that she was after two dukes.
Or perhaps, wicked creature that she was, she would pursue a royal duke next, for her father could afford even a royal husband for her.
“Will you spend the summer in Town, ma’am?” Hardcastle asked.
“Likely not, Your Grace. Papa’s business means he will remain here, but he prefers that I spend some time in the shires, if possible.”
“You always mention your father’s business as early in a conversation as possible,” Sedgemere said.
Anne could not decipher Sedgemere. His expression was as unreadable as a winter sky. If he’d been insulting her, the angle of his attack was subtle.
“I merely answered His Grace of Hardcastle’s question. What of Your Graces? Will you soon leave for the country?”
Miss Helen Trimble and Lady Evette Hartley strolled past, and the consternation on their faces was almost worth the beating Anne’s reputation would take once they were out of earshot. The gentlemen tipped their hats, the ladies dipped quick curtseys. Hardcastle was inveigled into accompanying the ladies to the gates of the park, and then—
Like a proud debutante poised in her newest finery at the top of the ballroom stairs, Sedgemere had come to a full stop.
“Your Grace?” Anne prompted, tugging on Sedgemere’s arm.
“They did not acknowledge you. Those women did not so much as greet you. You might have been one of Mr. Dorning’s mongrel dogs.”
Well, no, because Mr. Dorning’s canines were famously well-mannered, and thus endured much cooing and fawning from the ladies. Abruptly, Anne wished she could scurry off across the grass, and bedamned to manners, dukes, and young women who were terrified of growing old without a husband.
“The ladies often don’t acknowledge me, Your Grace. I wish you would not remark it. The agreement we have is that they don’t notice me, and I don’t notice their rudeness. You will please neglect to mention this to my father.”
As calculating as Papa was in business, he was a tender-hearted innocent when it came to ballroom warfare. In Papa’s mind, his little girl—all nearly six feet of her—was simply too intelligent, pretty, sophisticated, and lovely for the friendship of the simpering twits and lisping viscounts.
“An agreement not to notice you?” Sedgemere snapped. “Who made such an agreement? Not that pair of dowdy poseurs. They couldn’t agree on how to tie their bonnet ribbons.”
The park was at its best as summer advanced, while all the rest of London became malodorous and stifling. The fashionable hour was about to begin, and thus the duke’s behavior would soon attract notice.
“Your Grace will please refrain from making a scene,” Anne said through gritted teeth. “I am the daughter of a man who holds the vowels of half the papas, uncles, and brothers of polite society. The ladies resent that, even if they aren’t privy to the specifics.”
Anne wasn’t privy to the specifics either, thank heavens.
Sedgemere condescended to resume sauntering, leading Anne away from the Park Lane gates, deeper into the park’s quiet greenery. She at first thought he was simply obliging her request, but a muscle leapt along his jaw.
“I’m sorry,” Anne said. “If you owe Papa money, I assure you I’m not aware of it. He’s most discreet, and I would never pry, and it’s of no moment to me whether—”
“Hush,” Sedgemere growled. “I’m trying to behave. One mustn’t use foul language before a lady. Those women were ridiculous.”
“They were polite to you,” Anne said.
“Everybody is polite to a duke. It’s nauseating.”
“Everybody is rude to a banker’s daughter. That’s not exactly pleasant either, Your Grace.”
The rudeness wasn’t the worst of it, though. Worse than the cold stares, sneering smiles, and snide innuendos were the men. Certain titled bachelors saw Anne as a source of cash, which her father should be eager to turn over to them in exchange for allowing her to bear their titled heirs.
Which indelicate undertaking might kill her, of course.
Such men appraised her figure and her face as if she were a mare at Tatt’s, a little long in the tooth, her bloodlines nondescript, though she was handsome enough for an afternoon ride.
“Everybody is rude to you?” Sedgemere asked.
Sedgemere carried disdain around with him like an expensive cape draped over his arm, visible at twenty paces, unlikely to be mislaid. His curiosity, as if Anne’s situation were a social experiment, and she responsible for reporting its results, disappointed her.
She hadn’t thought she could be any more disappointed, not in a titled gentleman anyway.
“Must you make sport of my circumstances, Your Grace? Perhaps you’d care to take yourself off now. My maid will see me home.”
He came to a leisurely halt and tucked his gloved hand over Anne’s knuckles, so she could not free herself of him without drawing notice.
“You are sending me away,” he said. “A duke of the realm, fifty-third in line for the throne, and you’re sending me packing like a presuming, jug-eared footman who neglected to chew adequate quantities of parsley after overimbibing. Hardcastle will not believe this.”
Incredulity was apparently in the air, for Anne could not believe what she beheld either. The Duke of Sedgemere, he of the icy eyes and frosty condescension, was regarding her with something approaching curiosity. Interest, at least, and not the sort of interest that involved her bosom.
“Perhaps you’d better toddle on, then,” Anne said. “I’m sure there’s a debutante—or twelve—who will expire of despair if she can’t flaunt her wares at you before sundown.”
“I’m dismissed out of hand, and now I’m to toddle. Dukes do not toddle, madam. Perhaps the heat is affecting your judgment.” His tone would have frozen the Serpentine to a thickness of several inches.
Sedgemere, poor man, must owe Papa a very great deal of money.
“Good day, Your Grace. Have a pleasant summer.”
Anne did not curtsey, because Sedgemere’s scolding and sniffing had brought her unaccountably near tears. She was wealthy, a commoner, female, and unmarried. Her transgressions were beyond redemption, but why must Sedgemere blame her for circumstances she’d had no hand in creating?
Why must everybody?
Anne would have made a grand exit toward the Long Water, but some fool duke had trapped her hand in his.
“I must make allowances,” he said, his grip on Anne’s fingers snug. “You’re not used to the undivided attention of so lofty a personage as I, and the day is rather warm. When next we meet, I assure you I will have the toddling well in hand. I enjoy a challenge, you see. You have a pleasant summer too, Miss Faraday, and my kindest regards to your dear papa.”
Sedgemere’s demeanor remained crushingly correct as he bowed with utmost graciousness over Anne’s hand. When he tipped his hat to her, she could have sworn those chilly blue eyes had gained a hint of warmth.
His Grace was laughing at her then, but half the polite world would have seen him bowing over Anne’s hand, so she was at least a private joke.
“Thank you, Your Grace. Effie, come along. A lofty personage cannot be unnecessarily detained without serious consequences to the foolish woman who’d linger in his presence.”
When Anne swept off at a brisk pace, the duke let her go, which was prudent of him. She was not above using her reticule as a weapon, and not even Sedgemere would have managed loftiness had Anne’s copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho connected with the duke’s… knees.
“The Quality is daft,” Effie huffed at Anne’s side. “Dafter by the year, miss, though he seemed nice enough, for a dook.”
“Effie Carsdale! You were calling him icy not five minutes ago.”
Sedgemere was cold, but not… not as easily dismissed as Anne had wanted him to be. He noticed where others ignored, he ignored what others dwelled upon—Anne’s bosom, for example.
“Nice in an icy way,” Effie clarified. “Been an age since anybody teased you, miss. Perhaps you’ve lost the habit of teasing back.”
Anne’s steps slowed. Ducks went paddling by on the mirror-flat water to the left. In the tall trees, birds flitted, and across the Serpentine, carriages tooled down Rotten Row. Another pretty day in the park, and yet…
“You think Sedgemere was teasing me?”
Effie was probably ten years Anne’s senior, by no means old. She studied the trees overhead, she studied her toes. She was a bright woman, full of practical wisdom and pragmatism.
“I was teased by a duke and didn’t even know it,” Anne said, wishing she could run after Sedgemere and apologize. “I thought he was ridiculing me, Effie. They all ridicule me, while they take Papa’s money to cover their inane bets.”
And they were all polite to Sedgemere, which he apparently found as trying as insults.
“You’ll have the last laugh, Miss Anne,” Effie said. “Mark me, that dook will lead you out, come the Little Season, but thank goodness we’ll soon be away from the wretched city. A few weeks breathing the fresh air, enjoying the lovely scenery up in the Lake District will put you to rights, see if it don’t.”
Part of the reason Sedgemere had agreed to join Hardcastle at the Duke of Veramoor’s “little gathering” was that Sedgemere House lay in Nottinghamshire, partway between London and the Lakes, and thus Sedgemere could dragoon his friend into visiting the Sedgemere family seat.
Hardcastle was nearly impossible to pry away from his ancestral pile in Kent, but he was godfather to Sedgemere’s eldest, an imp of the devil named Alasdair.
“I’ve left instructions the boy’s to use the courtesy title, having turned seven,” Sedgemere said as he and Hardcastle moved their horses to the verge to make way for a passing coach. “The twins insist on thwarting my orders, of course, because it irritates their older brother.”
A plume of dust hung in the morning air as the coach rattled by. The sun was so hot every sheep in the nearby pasture was panting, curled in the grass in the shade of a lone oak.
“Perhaps,” Hardcastle replied, “the twins thwart your orders because they’re barely six years old and have always known their brother by his name. My brother never referred to me by anything save my name when we were private.”
Hardcastle was a good traveling companion, offering an argument to nearly every comment, observation, or casual aside Sedgemere tossed out. The miles went faster that way, and when traveling from London to Nottinghamshire, one endured many dusty, weary miles.
“You’re nervous of this house party,” Sedgemere said. “You needn’t be. Simply follow the rules, Hardcastle, and you’ll get some rest, catch a few fish, read a few poems. Veramoor is a duke first, a matchmaker second.”
Or so Her Grace of Veramoor had assured Sedgemere, though one never entirely trusted a duchess with twelve happily married offspring. Thus Sedgemere had rules for surviving house parties: safety in numbers, never be alone in one’s room without a chair wedged beneath the door, never over-imbibe, never show marked favor to any female, always ride out in company.
“You do recall the rules, Gerard?”
“Don’t be tedious.”
Sedgemere had used Hardcastle’s Christian name advisedly, there being no one else left to extend him that kindness when he clearly missed his late brother. Hardcastle acknowledged Sedgemere’s consideration by keeping his gaze on the road ahead as they trotted into Hopewell-on-Lyft, the last watering hole before the Sedgemere estate village.
“Shall we have a pint?” Sedgemere asked. “The summer ale at The Duke’s Arms is exceptional, and tarrying here will give my staff a few extra moments to flutter about before they must once again deal with me.”
Sedgemere wasn’t particularly fond of ale, though he felt an obligation to give his custom to the inn when he passed through the area. The innkeeper and his wife were good folk, and the service excellent for so small an establishment.
Though a delay here meant the boys would have to wait longer to see their father, and their lack of patience never boded well for the king’s peace—or Sedgemere’s breakables.
“A pint and a plate here will do,” Hardcastle said. “I’m in no hurry to complete any part of this journey.”
“One wonders how will you corrupt my firstborn if you never see the boy. A pint and a plate it is.”
“Mustn’t forget to corrupt the future duke, the present one having become such a ruddy bore,” Hardcastle said, brightening as much as he ever brightened. “I must see to the boy’s education, and make a thorough job of it too. Several months should suffice.”
“As if you’d winter in the—what the deuce?”
An altercation was in progress in the coaching yard of The Duke’s Arms, between a sweating, liveried coachman and the head hostler, an estimable fellow named Helton.
“Gentlemen,” Sedgemere said, swinging off his horse. “The day is too hot for incivilities. What is the problem?”
Hardcastle dismounted as well, though he—having only the one child in his nursery—knew little about sorting through disputes. The buffoonery of the House of Lords didn’t signify compared to small boys in the throes of affronted honor.
“Your Grace.” Helton uncrossed beefy arms and tugged a graying forelock. “Welcome to The Duke’s Arms, Your Grace. My pardon for speaking too loudly. John Coachman and I was simply having a discussion.”
John Coachman was another muscular individual of mature years, though in livery, the heat had turned him red as a Leicestershire squire’s hunting pinks.
“Yon fellow refused me a fresh team,” John Coachman snapped, “and this a coaching inn. I never heard the like, and my lady having had to make do with as sorry a foursome of mules as I ever cursed in my life for the past seven leagues.”
The coach horses were not mules, but they were on the small side, a bay, a chestnut, and two dingy grays, and every one was heaving with exhaustion, their coats matted with dusty sweat.
“John?” came a feminine voice from around the side of the coach. “What seems to be the problem?”
Sedgemere’s body comprehended the problem before his brain did, for he knew that voice. Brisk, feminine, and pitched a trifle lower than most women’s, that was the voice of a few memorable dreams and one interesting encounter in Hyde Park nearly a week past.
“Miss Faraday,” Hardcastle said, bowing and tipping his hat.
“Madam,” Sedgemere said, doing likewise. “Your coach appears to be in need of a fresh team.”
She wasn’t wearing a bonnet, perhaps in deference to the heat, perhaps because she was indifferent to her complexion. Summer sunshine found red highlights in her dark hair, and the midday breeze sent curls dancing away from her face.
Desire paid an unexpected call on Sedgemere, a novel experience in broad daylight. His waking hours were spent avoiding the notice of the ladies, and thus he was usually safe from his own animal spirits. Miss Faraday, fortunately, was more interested in the horses than she was a pair of dukes idling in a rural coach yard.
“These four beasts have gone ten miles past a reasonable distance,” she said. “I’ll not be responsible for abusing them with the weather so miserable. If the inn hasn’t any teams to spare—”
“You’ll bide with me and Hardcastle for the space of a meal,” Sedgemere said, while in the back of his mind, Alasdair—the Marquess of Ryland, rather—led his brothers on a shrieking nursery revolt. “By the time you’ve refreshed yourself, I’ll have a team on the way from Sedgemere House.”
“A fine plan,” Hardcastle chorused on cue. “You must agree, Miss Faraday, it’s a pretty day for a quiet meal in the shade, and Sedgemere has, in his inimitable style, solved every problem on every hand.”
Hardcastle was laying it on a bit thick, but such was his habitual sincerity, or so oppressive was the heat, that Miss Faraday sent a longing glance to the oaks shading the inn.
“You’re suggesting we dine al fresco?” she asked.
Insects dined al fresco. Birds came dodging down from the boughs to interrupt outdoor meals. Stray bits of pine needle found their way into the food. A father of three boys had firsthand experience with these and other gustatory delights.
“The breeze is lovely,” Sedgemere said, drawing the lady away from the horses by virtue of tugging on her wrist. “The Duke’s Arms has a pretty garden around to the side, and Hardcastle will be happy to place our order with the kitchen.”
“I shall be ecstatic, of course,” Hardcastle muttered, passing the reins of his horse to a stable boy. “You see before you a duke in raptures.”
Sedgemere saw before him a duke half in love, which would not do. “Come along, Miss Faraday. Mr. Helton can send to Sedgemere House, and you’ll be on your way in no time.”
Helton bustled off, John Coachman bowed his overheated thanks, and Sedgemere led the only woman with whom he felt comfortable being private to the seclusion and sweet scents of the coaching inn’s garden.
“My maid,” Miss Faraday said, slipping her hand from Sedgemere’s. “Carsdale has gone around to the—”
“The inn’s goodwife will doubtless inform your maid of your location,” Sedgemere said. “Many patrons avail themselves of the garden, if you’re concerned for the appearances.”
Miss Faraday was a beautiful woman, though contrary to current fashion, her hair was dark, her eyes were green, and her features were on the bold side. Her brows were particularly expressive, and Sedgemere happened to be studying them—mentally tracing them with his tongue, in fact—so he noticed when unexpected emotion flitted across Miss Faraday’s features.
“I ought to be concerned for the appearances,” she retorted. “You should know, Your Grace, I’m considering getting myself ruined.”
“Lucky you,” Sedgemere said, batting aside his ungentlemanly imaginings. “You can be ruined, while I am hopelessly ensnared in respectability, even if I wager irresponsibly, waste my days in opium dreams, and neglect my estates and my children.”
Sedgemere had no experience with damsels in distress, but he suspected making them smile might be a good step toward slaying their dragons.
Miss Faraday refused to oblige him.