Authors: Mandy Hubbard
This guy is a
How can he be a duke when he's only a few years older than me?
He's dressed in an old-fashioned way, like the others, but somehow on him... it's different. His navy jacket accentuates his broad shoulders and narrow waist. Snug buckskin pants cover his long, lean legs, and his knee-high leather boots make it all... fancy? And yet even in the ridiculous getup, he looks formal and intimidating, and somehow kind of hot too.
How can a guy dressed like that look so
He walks toward me, and I almost step backward, but manage to keep my heels glued to the floor. He has dark hair, and up close I see that his eyes are a vibrant shade of green. They almost glow. And he's tall. Even from a few feet away, I know he'll tower over me.
He's staring. I swallow as I stare back, waiting for it. Waiting for the moment his eyes shift, waiting for the moment when he realizes I'm a fraud. My heart pounds as he stares at me, his face completely blank. What is he thinking? Does he know? God, what if he really does have some creepy dungeon?
"Miss Rebecca," he says, bowing toward me.
And so I curtsy. I actually curtsy like it's the natural thing to do. I don't even know how to, but I cross one foot behind the other and lower myself toward the ground. It's not exactly effortless, but I don't trip over my feet or the hem of the skirt so I consider it an accomplishment.
"I trust you had a safe journey?" His voice is beautiful
deep and a little rough, like a guy's voice should be, with that same aristocratic English accent.
"Yes, er, thanks." I smile shakily at him, but he just nods and returns to his seat.
Obviously, he is not a people person.
I walk over to the table and take a seat across from Emily. I notice she has a pair of gloves sitting beside her, so I slip mine off and set them on the table as she has done.
There are three servants in the room; they stand silently against the walls, peculiarly identical to one another in height, like they came in a matching set.
The duke raises his arm and sort of flicks his wrist, and they swoop into action, coming at me with a platter full of food. The first guy is holding a tower of eggs.
Ew. I don't do eggs. "Oh, um, no thank you, I'm not an egg person."
All noise stops. Everyone stares at me.
Am I not supposed to talk to the servants?
I smile weakly at the duke and his mother as the servant walks away, and another approaches with ham.
I clamp my mouth shut as he plops a hearty portion down on my plate.
My mouth is suddenly very dry. I turn to the servant standing motionless behind me.
"Can I get some water?"
Yeah. Definitely not supposed to talk to them. The guy's eyes flicker over to the old lady, as if he needs permission to get me some water.
"There is lemonade in front of you," the old lady says.
"Oh." Is that what that is?
I take a quick swallow and try not to choke. This obviously is not Country Time, if you know what I mean.
I was starving ten minutes ago, but now that I'm sitting in the same room as these weird people, my appetite is gone. This breakfast needs to be over, stat. I can barely keep up with the glove and servant etiquette; I'm bound to screw something up. I need to maintain my fake identity, wrangle a ride to town, and say
Alex's (am I allowed to call him that?) chair is bigger than he is, which is an accomplishment given his size. The back of it has all these scrolling details along the top, and it dwarfs his broad shoulders. It's like a throne, really. Maybe dukes
"I was quite surprised when Emily told me you were wearing
when you arrived," the old woman says. She's cutting into her ham, her hands delicately gripping the silverware. "How terribly embarrassing."
Wow. Rude, much? Why does she have to talk to me at all? Let's just shovel a bunch of breakfast in our mouths and get out of here. I need to leave
But she's staring at me, waiting for a response. She's sitting back in her chair, carefully bringing tiny bites of food to her mouth without leaning forward the slightest bit.
Well, I might as well stick with my story. "Yes, um, my nicer things were lost. I had no other choice."
The lady takes a bite of food, and for one blissful second I think she's going to leave me alone. But alas, I am not that lucky. "I trust your father has seen to it that your studies are not neglected?"
Another tiny bite. This lady eats like a bird. In comparison, I feel like a caveman with a drumstick.
I nod my head, trying to think of something safe to say. "Yes, of course. I'm particularly talented in science and math."
Her mouth curls up in disdain. "Such
masculine topics! Has he not taught you the arts? French? Music?"
Masculine? God, who does this lady think she is? She's lucky I
to be nice to her.
"Oh, uh, yes. I also love literature and poetry," I say.
To be honest, I don't really like either. Science and math
Those are so simple and straightforward. Poetry? It's so up in the air and hard to interpret. I never get what the poet is trying to say. Katie did half my English homework freshman year just to ensure I didn't fail.
"Well, thank goodness for that. Your mother was the granddaughter of a marquess, you know. You may not be titled, but at least you can cling to that, can't you?"
Huh? Is she serious? I'm supposed to cling to some distant relation in an effort to feel good enough? I don't even know how to begin to tell her what is wrong with that.
And then she speaks.
I grind my teeth together and take another deep breath.
"Emily tells me you plan to visit town this morn?"
I nod and shove another bite of salty ham in my mouth. If this lady keeps up the twenty questions, who knows what I'm going to blurt out?
The old woman gives me a tight smile. "I'd love to join you,"
"But I've some letters to attend to. Perhaps another time."
I nod and try to feign some kind of disappointment, but I'm sure it doesn't look real.
She's annoying me already, the way she has a little upturned nose and beauty queen posture, like she's better than everyone else at the table.
I do my best to ignore her completely and act as if a painting of a pond and geese is the most interesting thing I've ever seen. It's hanging over another fancy carved hearth, this one glowing with hot coals. Despite the fact that it's summer, this place feels cold, even with the morning sun streaming through big arched windows. There are pillars on each side of the fire, carved busts perched precariously on top.
I wonder if they're actually marble sculptures of the duke himself. I can't tell from this angle. Either way, the idea is amusing. I can totally see a guy like him wanting a stone carved bust of himself. He's probably pretty narcissistic, given that he's not socializing with anyone else at the table. His intense green eyes are too busy concentrating on his breakfast plate to notice anyone.
Emily finally speaks. She's been nearly silent, unlike the bubbly personality she'd had last night. I wonder if it has anything to do with this annoying old lady. Emily smiles at her, but it doesn't reach her hazel eyes. "Do you intend to join us at the country-dance on the morrow, Your Grace?"
Country-dance? Somehow I can't picture the old lady dancing.
also known as Grace, for some reason
shakes her head so vigorously her gray curls bounce. "I do not intend to
I believe I shall get some rest instead. I feel I'm coming down with something. Perhaps Rebecca could join you?" She turns to look at me.
"We'd not expected your arrival so soon, but I am sure your company would be most welcome at the Pommeroy Estate."
I just smile and nod. I'll be long gone before any country-dance takes place, but I don't say that. The mere
of joining these people at a country-dance is laugh-out-loud funny.
Silence settles over the table for all of two-point-five seconds before the lady looks at me again. "And where is your father? I cannot believe he would allow you to travel such a distance unchaperoned!"
I stare at her. She's not suspicious of me, is she? What if all these questions are really her attempt to catch me in a lie? "Oh, no, he's pretty trusting," I say.
Can't Emily jump in here? She's just sitting there, perfectly erect in a sea-green gown, silently chewing on a biscuit.
Victoria thins her lips, and it accentuates all the fine lines in her face. She's got to be pushing fifty years old. "Even so, he's obviously remiss in his duties. You should have been raised in a proper household. Tell me, has he looked after your marriage prospects? Your mother was such a dear friend of mine, but even so, I worry that he's done you a disservice by not remarrying."
I choke on the biscuit I'm eating. She's calling herself a dear friend of my supposedly deceased mother in one breath, and then in the next, wishing my father had remarried? I do
like this lady. "I... uh
" I swallow slowly. "I don't want to get married until I'm thirty."
"Thirty!" she says. "That is ridiculous! This can not be what it has come to in America.
How do you expect to cope until then? I think I must write to your father immediately, for he seems to be allowing you too many liberties!"
Is she for real? Like she can just write a note to my dad and he's going to send me off to the chapel, or what? If she knew how little my dad actually cared about me, she wouldn't be saying that! "I'll be fine on my own. It's not like I
a guy or something."
This feels a little bit like defending my no-boyfriend status to myself. This is the part where I assure myself that it's okay that guys don't really pay attention to me. This is the part where I say I don't actually want or need a boyfriend, and then smile into the mirror as if I believe it. Really though, I'm ready for somebody to sweep me off my feet like all those silly movies I watch with only a bowl of popcorn for company.
But Victoria doesn't need to know it. She just looks taken aback for a moment, like what I'd said was beyond rude or something. I bite down, hard, on my lip. I need to shut up, or this is going to turn into Trisha Marks: Part 2. I'll blurt out something stupid and get myself into yet another mess. Why am I arguing? Why am I allowing her to bait me?
"But how can you possibly expect to live? I should think that would be quite a difficult life. You can not be capable of managing on your own."
I try to stop myself, but it doesn't work. The words come flooding out. "It's not difficult at all. In fact, if marriage is anything like
seem to think it is, I want nothing to do with it. I'll be happy if I remain single forever! So you can forget about planning my wedding, I don't want it!" I push my plate away so fast half the contents spill onto the white linens.
This whole surreal, crappy day is catching up to me and everything is spiraling out of control.
"You will bite your tongue!"
That's it. I shove back from the table and my chair topples over and nearly knocks into the servant who had stepped forward to grab it. Everything is crashing down around me, and I can't handle any of this anymore. "I will not! I don't know who you think you are, or what in God's name you guys think you're doing acting like this, but you don't have the right to rule
Before I know what I'm doing I spin around, my skirts twirling, and rush toward the door. When I get there I look back at the table. "You guys are all
And then I turn and run. I can't even feel the pain or blisters on my feet anymore as my sight blurs with tears.
What the heck am I doing? I know I just made things so much worse. I know I need them to help me. But it's too late to stop now.
Down the hall, I find the foyer, where a man opens the door for me, and I burst outside as if reality will find me on the other side and I can leave all this craziness behind.
It's not there, of course. It's just more of the expansive lawn and the long drive. I'm still standing here in this ridiculous dress.
The door clicks open and I turn around, praying it's Emily, but it's not.
It's the duke. The second I see the toe of his leather boots, my heart leaps into my throat. My eyes travel up his long legs and over his waist and chest, until I get to his face, and my heart sinks. He's ticked. He's across the stoop in a half second, his strides so long and purposeful I have to fight the urge to just
"Might I remind you that you are a guest in my home?" His words come out so loud and harsh it's impossible not to wince.