No Other Duke Will Do
Book 3 in the Windham Brides series
Julian, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his handsome head above water amid a sea of inherited debts. His sister, Lady Glenys, decides to throw a house party Julian can ill afford in hopes of finding an heiress for him to marry. Julian tries to turn this disaster into opportunity by inviting every well-heeled bachelor in the realm, because Lady Glenys is also in want of a spouse.
Elizabeth Windham is among the guests at the Haverford house party, though her goal is to elude matchmaking from any quarter. Julian and Elizabeth are attracted, however, despite meddling siblings, financial woes, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm. Just as Julian and Elizabeth realize that they can snatch true love from the jaws of duty, Julian’s difficulties become ruinous. Which will it be? True love or true disaster?
Enjoy An Excerpt
Miss Elizabeth Windham is a guest at the Duke of Haverford’s house party, also the first woman Haverford has kissed in a long, long time…
“Miss Windham, excuse me.”
“Your Grace, good evening.”
Haverford was silhouetted in the doorway of this odd, round, parlor-cum-office, looking severely handsome in his evening attire. The sconces flickered with the draft from the corridor, sending shadows across the page Elizabeth had just sanded.
The walls of Lady Glenys’s tower chamber were not plastered smooth or covered with silk. Rough stone climbed to exposed timbers that marked this as an older part of the castle.
“If you’d please close the door, sir, I won’t have to re-light my candles.”
His grace complied, and crossed the room to peer over Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Has Lady Glenys set you to copying her scavenger hunt lists?”
Cedar blended with the scents of candles and peat as Haverford’s shadow fell over the list Elizabeth had copied: Three acorns, one rosebud, a sprig of lavender, one white feather, a four-leaf clover…
My dignity. Since Haverford’s courtly gesture in the library—his kiss—Elizabeth had thought of little else. She would bet her personal copy of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson that Haverford hadn’t kissed any other guests.
“I volunteered to serve as Lady Glenys’s amanuensis,” Elizabeth said. “I got turned around seeking my apartment after lunch and came upon her ladyship hard at work here when she ought to have been napping. She promised to have a lie down if I’d make six copies of each of her lists before tomorrow.”
Haverford settled into the rocking chair near the hearth. “Miss Windham, you engage in falsehoods. Here’s the truth: You plucked the lists from Lady Glenys over her protests, told her to seek her bed, and assured her you’d make the copies. Radnor offered a faradiddle about Glenys missing lunch to see to the archery butts, but I suspected she was stealing a nap. Your sister is quite the markswoman.”
He would notice that. Elizabeth had noticed that Haverford had partnered Helen Windstruther, a shy young lady rumored to have only modest settlements.
“Charlotte was showing off, Your Grace. She has decided to torment Viscount Haldale.”
“She missed her target, if she was aiming for his lordship.”
In a sense, Charlotte had been aiming for Haldale, and she hadn’t missed. She had barely nocked her figurative arrow. Haldale had been dragged away by Delphine St. David, and had spent the rest of the afternoon admiring Charlotte from the vicinity of the punch bowl.
“I was sent to this house party to find a spouse, Your Grace. Charlotte accompanied me out of loyalty or boredom, not a desire to find a husband.”
Haverford rocked slowly, the chair creaking in counterpoint to the crackle of the fire. His legs were crossed at the knee—an informal pose—but then, the hour was late, and the day had been long. By firelight, Elizabeth could see the man he would become—fierce eyebrows, features a bit craggy, visage tending to sternness. He’d age well and slowly, like his castle.
“If your sister prefers tormenting Haldale to winning my notice, I’ll be the last to complain of her choice of pastimes. Have you selected a book from my library yet?”
Elizabeth had sat amid a hoard of literary treasures, contemplating Haverford’s casual kiss until Aunt had dragooned her into serving on a pall mall team.
Over the past ten years, other men had taken the same liberty as Haverford had. From them a kiss even to the cheek had been presumptuous.
From Haverford, a kiss to the cheek had been vexingly inadequate.
Though why wasn’t the duke in the library now, joining the nightly card party? “Choosing a book from among thirty thousand tomes will take some consideration, Your Grace. While I’m delighting in your library, I suspect Charlotte might sample the charms of a discreet bachelor if the opportunity presents itself. She might view this party as her last chance for… adventure.”
While Elizabeth had no interest in adventure, though another kiss from Haverford would be lovely.
The duke rose and began rummaging in the sideboard. “Haldale will oblige Miss Charlotte’s adventurous spirit, because he considers himself a buccaneer of the bedroom. Care for a drink?”
A lady never partook of strong spirits, save for medicinal purposes. She also did not permit herself to linger in a compromising situation with a handsome duke.
At least, not more than twice a day. “A drink of what, Your Grace?”
“Let’s be a bit wicked, shall we? Glenys’s medicinal stores include madeira, brandy,”—he opened a plain brown bottle, sniffed, and winced—“whiskey, if I’m not mistaken. My, my, my. Glenys has latent heathen tendencies. A pear cordial, a cherry cordial—my sister is quite the connoisseur.”
“Pear cordial sounds interesting.” As did a nightcap with the duke.
“I’ll have a nip of the same. Radnor predicts I’ll be a raving sot by the end of this house party. He’s promised to join me in that folly, and I believe a tendresse for my sister will play a role in his downfall.”
Well, of course. Lady Glenys and Radnor would make a wonderful couple—once they stopped bickering over everything from how the glasses should be arranged around the punch bowl, to where Lady Pembroke’s stray arrow had flown.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, accepting a serving of pear cordial. “To a house party happily concluded for all.” And perhaps to a few more discreet kisses.
“A fine notion,” the duke replied, resuming his seat before the fire, a glass of amber liquid cradled in his hand. “Shall I warn Haldale off where Lady Charlotte’s concerned? On the list of duties assigned to a conscientious host, preserving the innocence of maidens likely sits near the top.”
He was so blunt, so pragmatic. That attracted Elizabeth more than Haldale’s charm or Sir Nigel’s wit ever would.
“Charlotte is a woman grown. Who am I to meddle in her decisions?”
“You are one of the most forthright, sensible females it has been my pleasure to know. Why hesitate to save your sister from pure folly?”
Forthright and sensible. Elizabeth would rather kissable figured on his grace’s list of compliments, but then, he was complimenting her with his time, his honesty, and company late at night, and only very young ladies yearned for stolen kisses.
The pear cordial was pleasant and surprisingly complicated. Such a drink too often became like so much jam in a glass—mostly sweet, a bit of fruit, a hint of spirits. Nothing remarkable. A touch of spice lurked in this version, a bit of unexpected elegance.
“I have said nothing to Charlotte thus far because I’m not sure I should,” Elizabeth replied. “She is practical, and the only reason I can sense that she’s casting lures is because I’m her sister. She typically takes no notice of bachelors, other than to skewer their presumptions.”
“A fine use of the typical bachelor, and it begs the question: Is she merely amusing herself with Haldale, or setting him up to be skewered at dinner Tuesday next? I might like to see that.”
Elizabeth’s cousins would have admitted in private to the same not-exactly-gallant sentiment. Haverford was a man with normal, human imperfections and sentiments. The bloom of that realization was as rosy and pleasing as the glow of the cordial. With Elizabeth, the duke said what was on his mind.
So she would give him the benefit of her thoughts in return, because who else could she trust with them? Aunt would scoff and sniff and lecture.
“Charlotte will not be ruined, if she allows Haldale to accost her behind a convenient hedge. She will have her curiosity appeased, enjoy a harmless rebellion against society’s unfair strictures, and be saved from taking a greater risk with an even less suitable man. Haldale is not the worst folly she could engage in.”
His grace was out of the chair and back at the sideboard, but this time, he produced a handkerchief, and took all of Lady Glenys’s collection of spirits from the cupboard.
“What are you doing, sir?”
“Leaving my sister a warning,” he said, dusting each bottle in turn. “As Haldale might be a warning for Miss Charlotte. You think she can peek beneath the sheets of the marriage bed, so to speak, have her curiosity appeased, and make a more informed decision should some fellow offer for her.”
He replaced the bottles in the same arrangement he’d found them, much as Elizabeth wanted Charlotte to leave this house party with heart as whole as when she’d arrived.
“I enjoy words,” Elizabeth said. “Why is there no female version of the word bachelor? Men and women are assessed on different scales, and that difference is not fair, Your Grace.”
He closed the cupboard and used his handkerchief to polish the sideboard, a massive, heavily carved relic of an earlier era.
“One can refer to a woman as a debutante.”
“For one Season, then what is she? You are still a bachelor, and I daresay you’re twice the age of some debutantes.”
His grace saluted with his glass. Elizabeth was nearly twice the age of some debutantes, and he was gentleman enough not to remark as much.
“If Charlotte puts Haldale through his paces,” Elizabeth went on, “she’ll not view the whole business of marriage as some great secret worth sacrificing her entire future for. Men approach marriage without the conjugal ignorance women are supposed to guard so carefully, and as a rule, men are far more deliberate taking their vows than women are. This is so, even when for many men, the vows are a formality they have no intention of honoring.”
Perhaps pear cordial made one loquacious, for Elizabeth hadn’t voiced those sentiments even to her sisters.
Haverford tucked his handkerchief away, folding it to hide streaks of dust. “Miss Windham, the subject of why a person marries, or does not marry, particularly why a man who must regard himself as the sole support of his family, the head of a household and manager of all domestic and professional resources within that family’s control, might be a more nuanced undertaking than you grasp at first glance.”
Why were they discussing Charlotte, marriage, and perishing randy bachelors when they might have been discussing poetry or great literature?
“Don’t explain marriage to me, Your Grace. You have no more familiarity with it than I do. In fact, you have less. I am blessed with eight married cousins and two newly married siblings, all of whom regale me with the joys of the wedded state. You cannot claim a comparable source of perspective.”
And those joys were beyond Elizabeth’s reach. She might have reconciled herself to that fact except her family made the joy seem so genuine, so substantial. Her sisters were radiant with glee, while Elizabeth hadn’t found a man who sought to inspire even a small glow of contentment.
She rose and passed the duke her unfinished drink.
“Please excuse my impertinence, Your Grace. I am tired, and out of sorts. I will finish copying her ladyship’s lists in the morning.”
The duke stood between Elizabeth and the door, which would not serve when tears were so inconveniently threatening. This whole discussion of marriage, freedom, a woman’s value, and her choices, was entirely too dreary.
Where was a good book, when a lady needed a quiet evening to herself?
“You are angry with me, Miss Windham.”
She was angry with a society that preferred a woman marry—marry anybody, no matter how brutish or self-absorbed—rather than live out her life in contented solitude. She was angry with all the young men who’d passed over a bluestocking because she had brains enough to delight in Shakespeare. She was angry with other men who were willing to tolerate her literary interests because she was a means of establishing a connection with a ducal family.
She was angry with—and hurt by—that same family because they saw her only as a bookish spinster-in-waiting.
And she was angry with herself, for being so easily intrigued with a simple kiss and the loan of a few books.
“I apologize for expressing myself so strongly, Your Grace, for mine is not the conventional opinion of marriage. I’ll bid you goodnight, if you’d stand aside.”
“That, I cannot do.”