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A Duke of Her Own
By Lorraine Heath
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Lorraine Heath
All right reserved.
Gentlewoman of noble birth offers to chaperone genteel American lady in need of social guidance. References provided. Send inquiry to the attention of Lady Louisa Wentworth, in care of this publication.
The Lady's Quarterly Review
"What in the devil is this?"
Lady Louisa Wentworth jerked her head back slightly to avoid having her nose bruised by the publication her brother was flapping furiously in front of her face. She'd been enjoying her usual breakfast of porridge laced with butter, milk, and an abundance of sugar before he'd come storming into the morning dining room as though he were some avenging angel. Delicately pressing her linen napkin to each corner of her mouth, she summoned up every ounce of fortitude within her in order to confront his belligerence with serenity.
"It appears to be a magazine," she said.
"Not this!" he shouted, frantically jerking the periodical up and down, before slamming it on the table. He pressed a blunt-tipped finger beneath a particular block of words. "This!"
Glancing at the familiar phrasing, she took a calming breath. "My advert."
"Your advert," he repeated with an unnatural calm that caused a frisson of unease to travel the length of her spine. Then he quite simply erupted in anger. "Your advert! You'readvertising for a position as a chaperone?"
"Yes, and I have an interview later this morning, so I would appreciate it if you'd cease your shouting so my digestion is not unduly upset."
"You are not taking a position as a chaperone. I absolutely forbid it."
Her stomach tightened into a painful knot. Having made her decision after much agonizing, carefully scrutinizing her options, weighing the benefits against the disadvantages, and accepting the enormous consequences that would ensue after effectively changing the direction of her life, she wasn't about to allow him--or anyone else for that matter--to deter or forbid her from seeing her plan through to the finish.
"I'm twenty-six years old, Alex, old enough to do as I please. Serving as a chaperone is a respectable position for the daughter of a peer--"
"Unmarried ladies younger than thirty require a chaperone. How in God's name can you be a chaperone when you need a chaperone?"
Shoving back the chair, she came to her feet, tossed the linen napkin into her bowl of porridge, and steadfastly met her brother's blistering blue glare. She wondered if her blue eyes darkened as much as his did when challenged.
"A lady requires that her reputation remain pristine when there is some chance in hell that a gentleman will seek her hand in marriage. No gentleman is going to ask for my hand, and you damned well know it." His jaw had dropped at her first bit of profanity; his eyes had bulged at her second. "I have no dowry at all. It is time that I face reality, that you face reality. We have nothing of value--"
"We have ourselves."
"Then allow me to rephrase and be perfectly clear. You have value; you have a blasted title. I have nothing. No dowry, no property, no hope of ever enticing a man into looking past my impoverished state--"
"Somewhere a man of rare intelligence exists who can see your true worth."
She laughed bitterly. "Dear brother, how long shall I wait? I've never been courted. Oh, a few men have dallied with me here and there, but it was more for sport than any serious consideration. No one sends me bouquets of flowers. No one sits beside me in the parlor, chatting aimlessly. No one dreads running the formidable gauntlet of asking you for my hand. I'm not seriously sought after--not at all. The reality is that I never shall be. Not as a wife anyway, and I will not stoop to becoming some man's mistress--"
"I would kill any man who even entertained the notion of using you thusly."
Yet she knew he had no compunction whatsoever about keeping a mistress for himself. Men were such odd creatures. Still, she thought it sweet that he would jump to her defense so quickly.
"Alex, I'm weary of being without funds, of not being in charge of my life or my destiny, of waiting in vain for some man to decide I'm worthy of his affections or his attentions when I come with nothing."
Alex looked down at his shoes, slightly worn, a sight that tore at her heart, because he'd always taken such pride in his appearance. Their situation was becoming very sad indeed when he went so long without replacing his shoes.
"You are worthy of a great deal more, Louisa," he said quietly. He lifted his gaze to hers, and she could see how he suffered because the truth of their lives was not as either of them would wish it to be. "But to take a position, to be seen as someone's servant--"
"A chaperone is not considered a servant."
"Semantics. You will serve at their pleasure."
"I shall have pin money." Making light of the situation was the only way that she could avoid weeping every moment of every hour of every day. She was no happier with her decision than Alex was, but honestly, what choice did she have? She was well past her prime, and now that American heiresses had descended on London like ravenous vultures and were taking the choicest among the lords, she had no desire to settle for the scraps--not that any had ever been tossed her way. But still she had to allow for the possibility that it might happen, that some aging lord might see her as a last resort.
But not the young and virile ones. No, they were taking advantage of the wealthy Americans, marrying their daughters when they could come to terms on a generous settlement. Why shouldn't the British ladies take advantage as well? Why should only the men benefit from this madness of Americans wanting to elevate their status by becoming titled?
Excerpted from A Duke of Her Own by Lorraine Heath Copyright © 2006 by Lorraine Heath. Excerpted by permission.
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