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?
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Enjoy An Excerpt
Elizabeth Windham is a guest at the Duke of Haverford house party. She’s drawn to his grace’s library, for the library is her favorite book in any household. What she should find among all the books, but a sleeping beauty….
The Haverford maids had apparently been too busy to open the windows in the library, for the scent of last night’s gathering nearly overpowered Elizabeth.
The gentlemen would have waited until the ladies had retired to get out the port and cigars, but she had a theory that cigar smoke was no better for books than coal smoke.
She opened the library’s French doors, then started on the windows. This being a newer part of the castle, the window wells were merely a foot deep, though the hinges were still stubborn. One gave a great squeak—Were the footmen were too busy to oil hinges in this house?—and from the depths of the sofa near the fireplace, came a snort.
Or a snore, though Elizabeth could not recall seeing any hounds in the castle.
She crossed the library to investigate and came upon His Grace of Haverford, fast asleep in his morning attire, a ledger book on his chest. He put her in mind of the deceased at a wake, with a Bible placed over his heart, though no deceased had ever sprawled in such casual splendor.
His tall boots were neatly positioned at the foot of the sofa, and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses sat upon his nose. Those two items—the boots and the glasses—spoke symbolic volumes about the man and his station.
Though gracious saints, what if some scheming debutante should come upon the duke thus? She’d take down her hair, curl up near him in a convincingly indecent pose, and wait to be discovered in a compromising situation.
Another snore. He wasn’t a loud snorer, but he was far gone in slumber.
“Haverford. Wake up.”
“Not at the moment, thank you.” He shifted to his side, and the ledger book slid to the floor.
Elizabeth picked it up. This was the book tallying the expenses, for every entry was in red ink. “Sir, you must rouse yourself.”
He was scooted around, scratched his chest, and sighed.
The poor man must be exhausted. Shaking his shoulder was like trying to shake one of the stone lions at the castle’s entrance. “You must wake up, Haverford. The castle’s on fire.”
Two sets of dark lashes swept up. “Haverford castle is made of good Welsh stone. It can’t burn.”
“No,” Elizabeth said, removing his glasses. “But your reputation can go up in flames along with mine if you don’t bestir yourself. How can you see anything with all these smudges?”
She used a handkerchief to polish His Grace’s spectacles, for they were much in need of cleaning.
He sat up and reached for his boots. “Miss Windham. Good morning. I should beg your pardon.”
His hair stood up on one side. Elizabeth combed her fingers through it enough to set it to rights and perhaps a bit more. The texture was silky, despite its thickness, like a healthy cat in winter plumage.
“You’re a bit disarranged,” she said, positioning his glasses back on his nose, then giving his hair an extra smoothing. “Though I should be begging your pardon. This is your library, and you haven’t given me permission to borrow from it.”
He sat through her fussing, tugged on his boots, and stood. New boots were the devil to get on, because they were made to allow for the leather to stretch to one’s exact conformation. Haverford’s boots hadn’t been new for some time, though they’d been lovingly maintained.
“You come upon me, dead asleep in the middle of my own house party, and your objective is to become better acquainted with my books.”
He was amused, or relieved. Elizabeth wasn’t sure which.
“I am devoted to lending libraries, Your Grace, for they make knowledge available to everybody. Books are wonderful, but if you can’t afford them, then they are only one more privilege that God in his infinite wisdom, has decided you’re to be denied.”
“I have an enormous library,” Haverford said, tucking his glasses into a pocket and rising. “The loan of a few books to an appreciative guest will be a small gesture in the direction of its intended use. Come, I’ll give you the tour, and you may choose whatever you please.”
He’d taken her hand again, though they weren’t on a darkened hillside.
“We should open the door, Your Grace. The appearances could result in unpleasant talk.”
He looked down at their joined hands, his expression for an instant uncomprehending, then he slipped his fingers free of Elizabeth’s grasp.
“You are absolutely correct, Miss Windham.” He opened the library door, and drew back a set of drapes. “You probably noticed that my cousin, Mrs. St. David, has a mischievous streak. She would delight in coming upon either of us in a compromising position.”
“But you’re family to her. Why should she make trouble for you?”
“Because she can. She and Hugh have no children, and that’s always worrisome in a ducal family without a very long line of succession. Do you favor poetry?” He gestured for Elizabeth to join him before the tall shelves marching down an interior wall.
“I favor good poetry. I don’t think Mrs. St. David is bored so much as her feelings are hurt.”
“You will think me ungentlemanly when I tell you that Delphine St. David’s sentiments revolve around her next pleasure, and the inadequacies of her last pleasure. Let’s find you a book, shall we?”
“Three books, at least, and how would you feel if your spouse thought of nothing but rocks, fossils, ancient mud, and long dead sea creatures?”
He drew a volume down from the shelves. “I might be relieved, provided she otherwise attended to her responsibilities. Do you read French?”
“Of course. I’m glad you didn’t reply in that manner to Lord Haldale’s question at breakfast, Your Grace. You would have crushed the ambitions of nearly every young lady in the room.”
He peered at her over the book. “Do you think so? Remiss of me, then, not to have seized such the opportunity.”
Elizabeth plucked the book from his grasp. “Your cousin apparently neglects his wife shamefully. As head of the family, it’s your place to take him to task. He has, by his actions, let all and sundry know his wife’s behavior matters to him not at all, and a day getting sunburned and ruining his boots holds more appeal than a meal by her side.”
Haverford held his ground, so he and Elizabeth stood very close. Elizabeth was torn between an urge to shake her finger in His Grace’s face and the compulsion to pat his lapel.
He stared over Elizabeth’s right shoulder. “Your hypothesis is that Delphine strays in an effort to gain her husband’s notice?”
“And to shame him, as he shames her with his indifference.”
“You’ve deduced this over a single plate of eggs?”
So much for patting His Grace’s lapel. “One could deduce this over a single cup of tea, did one pay attention.”
He turned back to the shelves. “I am coming to enjoy your scolds, madam. They have about them the ring of common sense. I will consider your hypothesis and perhaps have a word with Hugh.”
“Do better than that. Move Hugh into his wife’s room because the chimney must be cleaned in his. Ask them to lead a team for the scavenger hunt. Bid them visit at some time when there isn’t an entire house party underfoot.”
He passed her a second book. “You are a font of ingenuity, or matchmaking, depending on one’s perspective. I hadn’t realized Glenys was inflicting a scavenger hunt on us. You will insinuate yourself onto my team, Miss Windham.”
A third book joined the two in Elizabeth’s grasp. “You will not tell me what to do, Your Grace.”
His lips twitched. “Quite right. Miss Windham, if you would condescend to join my team for the scavenger hunt, I would be eternally in your debt.”
His word choice brought to mind all the red figures marching down the ledger page, expense after expense. He was a duke. He need not tarry with her in the library, much less choose books for her, much less compliment her scolds.
“Griffith Jones, the man who brought literacy to so much of Wales, had a wealthy sponsor,” Elizabeth said. “All his dreams, his great plans, would have had little impact, but for Madam Bevans. She financed his schools, took Jones in when he was an aged widower, continued his work after his death, and left a substantial grant in her will for the support of the circulating schools.”
His Grace braced a shoulder against the shelves and crossed his arms. He was good-sized specimen, along the lines of Elizabeth’s male cousins. He wasn’t a great hulking brute, by her standards he was simply man-sized.
“You are about to make a point,” he said. “I would like to hear it.”
He’d like her to get on with it, more likely.
“I have a fortune,” Elizabeth said. “I can make a difference with it, and I want to. Lending libraries are worth supporting. They bring the wider world, the most learned prose, the most exciting ages, within reach of any village curate, any milkmaid who’s been to the local dame school. I want to support lending libraries.”
“A worthy cause.”
“Lord Allermain would have used my fortune to buy more hunters and impress his mistress with extravagant gifts.” Elizabeth hadn’t intended to make that admission to anybody, much less to her host. Clearly, though, Haverford treasured honesty, and while he was dignified, he also struck Elizabeth as the most unpretentious man she’d ever met.
He needed to take better care of his books though.
Haverford turned, so his stood in profile to Elizabeth. Regret washed through her, for she liked looking at him, and hoped her disclosure hadn’t created awkwardness.
Though how could it not?
His Grace used the lip of the shelf to scratch his back, which was extraordinarily informal behavior. A gentleman would never…
But then, a lady ought not to bruit about a failed abduction.
“For gracious sake, let me,” Elizabeth said, setting her books aside, and pushing Haverford around so she had access to his back. She used her nails, and gave him a solid scratching, for he wore a coat, waistcoat and shirt.
He stood still for a moment, then braced himself against the shelves and moved into her touch. She finished with a pat to the middle of his back.
“Better?” she asked, picking up the books.
“Has anybody told you that you have tendency to manage all in your ambit?”
“Yes. I suspect it’s one of your many endearing traits too. You’re a duke, after all. I did not manage Lord Allermain very well.”
The duke wandered away from the book shelves. “I don’t care for him, but then, I’m accounted pernickety in the company I keep.”
“As am I. Allermain kidnapped me, to use the most dramatic version of events. He put a soporific in my wine, and then I was in his coach, and he was paying turnpike tolls. My cousins intervened, and his lordship is now kicking his heels on the Continent. I am kicking my heels among the largest concentration of titled bachelors in the realm.”
Haverford stood before the open French doors. Having turned his back to Elizabeth once—at her insistence—he was apparently willing to do so again.
“Your cousins allowed this varlet to decamp for parts unknown?”
“They did. Scandal must never be linked to a woman’s name, and so forth, but now my family is insistent that I marry. My fortune tempts the bachelors to extreme measures.”
Haverford stalked toward her, his boots thumping so hard against the floor Elizabeth felt the impact where she stood.
“That is utter balderdash, madam. That is the rankest tripe, do you hear me? A gentleman owes his protection to all who are weaker than he, children, the elderly, the infirm, and women especially. No matter the size of a woman’s fortune, or the invitation in her smile, or the effects of drink—no matter anything—Allermain’s behavior was inexcusable.”
His indignation washed across Elizabeth like a scouring wind, though rather than upsetting all in its path, this gale set a few things to rights.
“You are correct, of course.” And Papa was wrong. If Haverford had been the one dealing with Allermain, no one would dare attempt another abduction.
“Now, you turn up agreeable. I am not deceived, Miss Windham. When I commit the least transgression, you will correct me. But I am in your debt. I actually came in here to find a book for you.”
“You’ve found three.” The titles of which, Elizabeth hadn’t bothered to glance at.
“I meant a book to give you. You rendered assistance last night when it was much needed. A book seemed a suitable token of my appreciation. You must choose one for yourself.”
The room was lined on three sides with shelves, and those shelves ringed a second story. His Grace had mentioned a second library, and a private collection.
“I’m to choose one book, from all of these?”
“Choose wisely and take your time. There are more than thirty-thousand titles in this room. The bawdy tales are up there,” he said, gesturing to the second floor. “That corner is all French and Italian. There are a few Bibles, the usual medical treatises. Take whichever one you please.” He fixed his gaze in the direction of the bawdy tales. “The last time Griffin got lost, I found him mere yards from a precipice.”
“That had to be upsetting.”
“I raised my voice to the boy for the first time in years. That upset him. Nearly falling to his doom, coming down with a raging lung fever—well, no matter. If I make haste, I’ll have time to discuss last night with the prodigal himself. I bid you good-day, and again, you have my thanks. For everything. And Lord Allermain is ruined. I’ll be discreet, but you have my word on that. Your cousins have likely already put matters in train, but I’ll add my efforts and you won’t see him in a proper ballroom again. That much yet remains within my power.”
He kissed Elizabeth’s cheek, a soft, brush of cedary warmth, and then he strode off.
The room held more books than Elizabeth had ever beheld in a private home, almost all of them bound. Three weeks wouldn’t be long enough for even a cursory perusal. As the duke’s boot steps faded down the corridor, Elizabeth couldn’t give a tinker’s curse for the books.
The Duke of Haverford had kissed her, taken the situation with Allermain in hand, and thanked her for everything. What was everything, and when might she kiss him back?