Worth More Than Rubies
A novella in the Republished Regencies series
All the Duke of Dunfallon wants this holiday season is a respite from the machinations of the matchmakers. When pursued by a particularly determined would-be duchess, he ducks into the West Bartholomew Street Lending Library. Librarian Emerald Armstrong sees a dapper gent in a bit of a hurry and mistakes Dunfallon for a curate overdue for his assignation with West Bart’s theological collection.
Dunfallon is intrigued by Emmie’s love of books, her disdain for society’s games, and her ferocious generosity of spirit toward all of the library’s patrons. She has no patience with posturing, and thus he takes the risk of admitting his true identity. To his surprise, Emmie doesn’t mind all that much that he’s a duke—some things cannot be helped—but she is far less willing to keep silent about Dunfallon’s other secret, the one he has been guarding from even his fellow peers.
If an honest woman is worth more than rubies, what will a duke sacrifice to earn her love?
Note: This story was half of Yuletide Gems, a novella duet originally published as a web store/library exclusive in 2022.
Enjoy An Excerpt
“Must you be so gracious to every dowager, beldame, and debutante we pass?” Tertius Dundee, eleventh Duke of Dunfallon, kept his voice down. A peer did not shout on a public walkway, particularly when he was determined to elude the notice of the ladies.
“Yes, I must,” Nicholas Haddonfield, Earl of Bellefonte, replied. “My governess pounded gentlemanly deportment into my hard little head before I graced the schoolroom, and the ladies enjoy my overtures. Besides, Yuletide approaches, and the season enhances my already-abundant good cheer.”
“You can afford good cheer,” Dunfallon retorted. “You’re married.”
“And happily so, thank the Deity and my darling countess.” Bellefonte tipped his hat again and beamed his signature smile at a pair of widows swaddled in fur muffs and wool scarves. Because his lordship stood over six and a half feet tall and sported a head of shining blond curls, his gallantry was like a beacon across Mayfair, summoning the admiring glances of any female with eyes to behold him.
“Remind me,” Dunfallon said, “that the next time we meet for breakfast at the club, we arrive separately.”
“Nonsense. A brisk stroll works up the appetite.”
“Blast ye, Bellefonte, don’t ye dare even think—”
This time, the earl made a sweeping gesture out of removing his hat before a roving band of well-dressed young ladies.
“Enjoy your shopping!” he called. “Remember that I have been a very good boy this year!”
A chorus of tittering and simpering followed from the young women, their chaperones, and the maids trailing after them. Across the street, a petite female attired in a white velvet cloak gawked at the spectacle Bellefonte created. Her older companion, sensibly attired in blue, smiled indulgently.
“What sort of fool wears a white cloak in London?” Bellefonte asked, settling his hat onto his head, then taking it off again and tipping it to the pair across the street. “The fabric will be gray before she’s bought her first pair of dancing slippers.”
The day was brisk but sunny. A shiver nonetheless passed over Dunfallon’s nape. “That wee princess is Miss Minerva Peasegill, accompanied by her mama. Miss Peasegill turned down three proposals during the Season and two during the Little Season, to hear her mama tell it. Stop lollygagging and get on wi’ ye.”
“She’s quite pretty,” Bellefonte said, budging not one inch, “if you like the delicate porcelain look. Still, white isn’t very practical. I like a practical woman. My countess, for example—”
“Move your lordly arse, Bellefonte, or s’help me, I’ll… God hae mercy, they’re coming this way.”
Dunfallon’s best hope lay in the fact that Bellefonte, being as tall as a lighthouse, would hold the ladies’ attention. Dunfallon himself could steal away unseen if he moved with the purpose and stealth of a border reiver beneath a quarter moon.
The chronic congestion of London’s fashionable streets prevented Miss Peasegill and her mama from charging across the thoroughfare. Dunfallon took half a moment to assess the surrounds. If he ducked into a shop, the ladies might follow. If he simply loped off down the walkway, they would also give chase, hallooing and you-hooing like hounds on the scent.
Where was a gentlemen’s club when a duke needed safety from the matrimonial press-gang?
His gaze lit on a modest two-story building tucked between a coffee shop and a milliner’s. The windows displayed neither gloves, nor boots, nor fans. No porters loitered outside prepared to bear purchases home for any shoppers.
A solicitor’s establishment, perhaps, or… The sign on the lamppost swung in the chilly breeze: W. Bart. St. Lending Library. All are welcome.
“Excuse me,” Dunfallon said. “Find another companion for breakfast, Bellefonte. Please delay the ladies as long as you can.”
Bellefonte’s smile became less genial and more piratical. “They’ll ambush you in the churchyard, at the house parties, and at the Yuletide open houses. Mistletoe was invented by spinsters, you know.”
“Or by clever bachelors, among whom I hope to number for a good many years.” Dunfallon moved off with the pedestrians thronging the walkway. By the time he’d reached the lending library, Miss Peasegill’s signature “Halloo! Halloo, my lord!” was ringing out behind him.
My lord, not Your Grace, meaning Dunfallon had avoided capture—this time.
The library, thank the blessed powers, was open. Dunfallon slipped inside with the same relief he’d felt when he’d dodged past French patrols and Spanish bandits. He remained by the doorway, a trickle of shame blending with his relief.
Miss Peasegill was merely a young lady in search of a tiara. She’d been raised with pursuit of that sole objective in mind, and now she had a handful of months left to achieve her goal. If she failed and ended up wedded to some cit’s spotty son, she would be forever classed among the unfortunates who did not take.
Dunfallon well knew how it felt to be judged inadequate. He considered returning to Bellefonte’s side, but the sheer abundance of books on display caught his eye. As the second ducal spare, he’d learned to appreciate the company of books. His old tutor, MacAlpin, believed that a boy who read widely was a boy well armed against life’s challenges.
Papa had reasoned that a boy absorbed with books was a boy who never gave his father any trouble, which for the first sixteen years of Dunfallon’s life had been his sole ambition.
Windows two stories tall filled the library with light, and the air was gently scented with leather and lemon oil. A double-sided hearth took up the center of the main room. A fat white cat lounged on the mantel, and a mezzanine level ringed the premises on three sides. Book shelves lined the walls and stood in rows on the opposite side of the hearth. The fourth side of the upper level looked to be some sort of enclosed office, or perhaps a room for literary rarities.
A second fireplace was set against the back wall, and a pair of older gents nodded in wing chairs before the blaze. One of them had a lapful of knitting. The other drowsed under the open pages of a newspaper.
The library had an air of peace and repose, precisely the sort of refuge Dunfallon sought. Not as dark and sniffy as a gentlemen’s club, not as elegant as the ducal town house. Just right for a bachelor seeking respite from marital doom.
A woman emerged from between two bookcases. She held a large bound tome and was attired from head to foot in gray, save for a sprig of prickly holly pinned to her lapel. No cap, dark hair tidily bunned at her nape, and only the slightest of welcoming smiles.
The very best sort of woman, one who looked to have no use for tiaras or dukes. Pretty green eyes, though, and a direct gaze.
“Good morning. I am Miss Emerald Armstrong. Welcome to West Bartholomew Street Lending Library.”
“Miss Armstrong.” Dunfallon’s bow would have been the envy of Bellefonte’s adoring throng. “A pleasant day to ye.”
“Are you Mrs. MacInnes’s nephew? If so, Mr. Dunn, you are somewhat overdressed for the occasion. You can start on the sweeping and make up in vigor what you lack in punctuality. The children will be here at nine of the clock, and you’ll want to haul up several buckets of coal before they arrive. They offer to help, you see, and then the job takes four times as long because a deal of handwashing becomes necessary. Dirty hands and library books are a bad combination.”
Her voice was precise and laced with a brisk hint of humor. She apparently looked forward to the arrival of the children, and for that alone, Dunfallon decided to do a bit of sweeping. That and the certain knowledge that Miss Peasegill would tarry on the walkway with Lord Bellefonte until spring, given half a chance.
“And where would the broom be, Miss Armstrong?”
“Come,” she said, setting the book on a table. “I’ll show you around, and if you have questions, you must ask. A library is a temple to the curious mind, according to my late father, and we cannot find answers if we don’t ask questions.”
She might have been quoting old MacAlpin. Dunfallon hung his cloak on a peg and followed the lady down a curving set of steps into a whitewashed half basement serving as a sort of parlor. The hearth along the back wall crackled with a merry blaze, and sunken windows added more light.
“The cleaning supplies are kept here,” she said, opening a tall cupboard. “The coal chute is through that door. Mind you wipe your feet before you go upstairs. We send over to the chop shop for a nooning, and I told your aunt that we can provide you a meal in return for your labors. Nothing fancy, but one does not work at one’s best without sustenance. You are free to leave after the midday meal, or you may use West Bart’s as your study. I cannot promise quiet, but we do keep the place warm, and we have a Welsh Bible you can consult.”
“A Welsh Bible?” Who was this Mr. Dunn, and why would he need a Welsh Bible? “Miss Armstrong, I’m afraid there’s been a slight misunderstanding.”
She bustled up the curving steps. “No misunderstanding. Your aunt has arranged a curate’s post in Swansea for you, but you don’t speak the language. If you work here on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, you may use our Welsh primers and Bible to learn something of Welsh in the afternoons. Come spring, I will not have spent the coldest months hauling coal and sweeping mud, for a pleasant change, and you will be somewhat better prepared for your first post.”
“First impressions do matter,” Dunfallon said, “but there really has—”
The front door swung open. “Miss Emmie! I’m here!” A dirty little boy beamed great good cheer at the librarian while letting in a gust of frigid air.
“And I’m that glad to see you, Caspar,” Miss Armstrong replied. “Please do close the door and moderate your volume. You are the first to arrive, so you will choose our story.”
“Who’s that?” Caspar turned a hostile perusal on Dunfallon. “Ain’t seen him afore. Did he remember to wipe ’em great big feet a’ his?”
“Dunn—Mr. Dunn, at your service.” Did one bow to a cheeky boy? Dunfallon supposed not, because nobody had bowed to him when he’d been a cheeky boy. “I’m to assist Miss Armstrong with general duties as assigned, and yes, I did most conscientiously wipe my feet.”
“Ye’re a dogsbody for Miss?” Caspar asked as Miss Armstrong took the boy’s cap from his head. “Lucky bloke. I’ll show you how to sweep the hearth if you like. I know what story I want.”
Miss Armstrong slapped the cap against the nearest bookcase, sending a cloud of dust wafting across the morning sunbeams.
“You’ll want one of Mr. Dingle’s tales,” she said. “Winter is bearing down hard, so I suspect you want the one about the hot soup and the icy bridge.”
“That story makes me hungry,” Caspar said, “but ’em’s clever kittens, Miss Armstrong. I always like to hear the stories about the clever kittens. They’re my favorites.”
More children arrived, and Tertius Dane MacManus MacTavish Dundee, eleventh Duke of Dunfallon, ducked down the steps and busied himself hauling up eight buckets of coal—as much as the coal bins would hold. He then swept the library from top to bottom under Caspar’s careful supervision.
Caspar abandoned him for the dusting portion of the program—thank the celestial intercessors—because the time had come for Miss Armstrong to read The Tale of the Icy Bridge. A dozen ill-clothed and malodorous urchins listened raptly to her rendering of the story, as did the fat white cat dozing on her lap.
As did one reluctantly fascinated duke.
End of Excerpt
Worth More Than Rubies is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
November 3, 2023
Worth More Than Rubies is a novella in the Republished Regencies series. The full series reading order is as follows:
- Novella: Love Undisguised •
- Novella: The Windham Ducal Duet •
- Novella: A Duke Walked into a House Party •
- Novella: A Lady Without Peer •
- Novella: Holiday Duet — Republished Regencies •
- Novella: Gentleman Seeks a Lady •
- Novella: Windham Family Duet •
- Novella: The Duke and the April Flowers •
- Novella: Love Disguised (A Previously Published Regency Short Story) •
- Novella: A Gentleman Worthy of Kisses •
- Novella: Worth More Than Rubies •