How to Dance with a Duke
What’s a wallflower to do when she’s suddenly in need of a husband? Use all the pluck and moxie she can muster to get what she wants…
SHE’S IN NEED OF A PARTNER
Miss Cecily Hurston would much rather explore the antiquities of Egypt than the uncharted territory of marriage. But the rules of her father’s exclusive academic society forbid her entrance unless she weds one of its members. To clear her ailing father’s name of a scandalous rumor, Cecily needs to gain admission into the Egyptian Club—and is willing to marry any old dullard to do it.
AND HE HAS ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
Lucas Dalton, Duke of Winterson, is anything but dull. He’s a dashing and decorated war hero determined to help Cecily—even if that means looking the other way when she claims the dance card of Amelia Snow, this season’s most sought-after beauty. But Lucas has a reason for wanting Cecily to join the Egyptian Club: His brother went missing during one of Lord Hurston’s expeditions to Egypt. An alliance with the explorer’s bluestocking daughter could bring Lucas closer to the truth about what happened…or it could lead him to a more dangerous love than either he or Cecily could have imagined….
Miss Cecily Hurston battered her ivory-tipped parasol against the hulking footman who none too gently thrust her through the doors of No. 13 Bruton Street.
“You cannot do this!” She elbowed him to emphasize her point, and smiled in satisfaction at his grunt of pain. “My father was a founding member of this club! I demand you let me in at once!”
“He’s the one whot made the rule,” the beefy man said, putting her down and fending off further attacks with one arm as he backed inside and shut the door.
Cecily stood gaping at the closed door. “He…he…what?”
“You heard me!” The shout was just audible through the heavy door.
She tried again. “Surely in this particular situation you would be willing to bend the rules a bit…”
But after a couple of minutes with no response, she heaved an exasperated sigh, and gave the door one last aggravated kick. The heavy boots she’d worn for today’s visit protected her toes, but did little to protect her wounded pride.
She had hoped considering the circumstances that the members of the Egyptian Explorer’s Club would waive their ridiculous no-unmarried-females-rule. After all, none of them had considered that Lord Hurston would suffer an apoplexy on the return trip from his most recent expedition. She was an unmarried lady, true, but she was also—despite her father’s best efforts to discourage her scholarly pursuits—one of the only people in England capable of translating his idiosyncratic form of hieroglyphics, which he used for all his travel writings in an effort to deter would-be thieves. And without her help, the tale of her father’s final Egyptian tour would be told, for the first time in his illustrious career, in someone else’s words.
Now she would be forced to go to the Duke of Winterson. His brother, Mr. William Dalton had served as Lord Hurston’s personal secretary on the journey and might have kept his own records of the trip. Unfortunately, in another bit of bad luck for the expedition, that gentleman had gone missing during the trip, and had not been seen or heard from since. It would not be the same as her father’s account, but Mr. Dalton’s notes would surely be more reliable than those of any other man who had accompanied them to Alexandria. Still, the thought of using anything other than her father’s words was disheartening.
Defeated, Cecily took a calming breath and straightened her hat, which had been knocked askew in the scuffle. Smoothing her dark hair back from her brow, adjusting her gloves, and yanking her pelisse firmly into place, she turned to face the street below.
Unfortunately her ejection from the club had not gone unnoticed.
His exquisitely fitted attire and gleaming, silver-topped walking stick marked the man gazing up at her as a gentleman. And he was handsome enough to give her pause. Bright blue eyes surveyed her from a face that might well have been stolen from a classical statue, aquiline nose and all. While not normally one to have her head turned by a pretty face—in her experience handsome men, like her cousin, were a selfish breed—even Cecily felt her breath momentarily stop at the sheer elegance of the gentleman below.
But when he raised his beaver hat to reveal a head full of closely cropped dark curls, she had the uncanny sense that he laughed at her.
“Are they not accepting visitors today?” he inquired politely—as if he hadn’t watched Cecily’s forcible removal from the establishment moments earlier.
On her guard, she tried to determine his intent. Was he laughing? Or was he merely obtuse? Probably the latter, she thought to herself. In her experience handsome gentlemen were also lacking in common sense.
As if reading her thoughts, he raised a gloved hand. “I assure you, madam, that my query is sincere. I thought perhaps your…” he cleared his throat, as if trying to determine what to call what had just occurred at the door behind her, “…exit,” he settled upon, “Was due to the Society’s closure.”
“No,” she responded, making her way down the first few steps leading to the street below. “They are closed only to me.” She paused at the next to last step, and looked the gentleman up and down, in a rude gesture that would have earned her a boxed ear from her old governess, Miss Milton. “I feel quite sure that someone of your…”
“Sophistication?” he suggested, making no move to ascend the stairs, and effectively blocking her descent.
She took one step down, bringing her to eye level with the stranger. He did not look like the sort of man who would have business with the Club.
Perhaps reading her expression, his sharpened gaze was replaced with a look of playful challenge. “Breeding? Looks?” he enquired.
Tired of their game, and if truth be told a bit unnerved by his attentions, she pushed past him into the street below.
“Sex,” she said, stalking away.
But, to her dismay, the gentleman followed her.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, shaking his head as if to clear it. “I think I misheard you.”
The man was wits-to-let, however appealing his dimples might be, Cecily decided. Pausing, she looked him squarely in the eye and repeated, “I said that I feel quite sure someone of your sex should have no difficulty gaining entrance to the Egyptian Explorer’s Club. Now, if you will please excuse me, sir.”
She continued on her way and was annoyed, but not surprised, to find him trotting along at her side, though a slight limp in his left leg slowed him down a bit.
“Of course that’s what you meant,” her unwanted companion said. “I had not realized that the Club was not open to females.”
“Yes, technically, that is correct,” Cecily said, tersely. “If you would excuse me, sir…”
“Indeed, I am quite certain ladies are allowed into the club because my sister-in-law has mentioned several times that she has attended lectures here.”
His conversational tone indicated that he had no intention of leaving her to go on about her business. With a sigh of surrender, she kept walking. By the time she reached her waiting carriage, she decided, he would likely have given up and left her side.
“Then your sister-in-law must be married to a member,” she replied, deciding to keep her tone brisk to discourage further conversation.
“That is true,” he said companionably. “My brother was a member so that probably explains it.”
When they had walked several hundred feet in silence, however, Cecily could stand it no more.
“Sir,” she said, stopping, “I do not know who you are, but as you can see I am in a bit of a hurry and as we have not been properly introduced it is highly irregular for you to escort me down Bruton Street.”
She did not add that if she were to return to her carriage with a strange gentleman accompanying her she had little doubt that her maid would carry the tale back to her step-mama. A circumstance she desperately wished to avoid.
“You disappoint me, madam,” the gentleman said, shaking his head. “Surely the Amazon who kicked both the footman and the door of the Egyptian Explorer’s Club is not concerned with a matter as conventional as the proprieties.”
“Yes, well, the Amazon was overcome by pique outside the Egyptian Explorer’s Club,” she said tartly, resuming her brisk pace. She did not add that it was all very well for a man to ignore the proprieties. He did not have to rely on the goodwill of a distant cousin and a step-mama to keep a roof over his head.
“Your irritation was understandable,” her escort responded. “But you are not overcome by annoyance now, and yet if I were not here, you would be walking unescorted down Bruton Street for all the scandalmongers of London to see. So you are hardly a reliable source for what does and does not constitute proper behavior.”
Cecily opened her mouth to object, but he interrupted before she could speak.
“However, if you are so concerned about our lack of proper introduction, then let us by all means dispense with that nonsense.”
He halted, and out of habit Cecily stopped as well. He made her an elegant bow and Cecily dropped into a curtsey. Which felt exceedingly foolish in the middle of Bruton Street, but then this entire day had devolved into a series of foolish vignettes, one more insane than the last.
“Winterson, at your service, madam,” he said curtly, as if he did not like revealing his name to her.
She looked up abruptly.
“Winterson?” she asked. “The Duke of Winterson? Why on earth didn’t you say so before?”
* * *
How To Dance With A DukeLucas should have known better. The first lady he’d encountered since his return to London with more than a passing acquaintance with her own brain, and she turned out to be just like every other woman he’d met since coming into the dukedom.
It shouldn’t have mattered so much, but it did. As Major Lucas Dalton he had certainly never hurt for female company—though he acknowledged that the scarlet uniform did its part—but once his uncle and cousin had died, leaving him to assume the title, he had found himself the object of an unseemly amount of female attention.
Discovering that his fiery Amazon was just another avaricious harpy was a disappointment, but hardly surprising given his recent interactions with the fairer sex. A different sort of man might have embraced his sudden popularity with enthusiasm, but Lucas had never aspired to more than the life of a military officer. Though there were some parallels between serving as an officer and serving as a peer of the realm, the differences at moments like these were as vast as an ocean.
“Indeed, I am Winterson.” He cast one last look at her shapely form, and mink colored curls, and suiting his actions to his words, turned to walk away. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have just remembered a pressing appointment with…”
A firm hand on his upper arm stayed him. He cast a speaking look, one even his raw recruits would recognize, at the place where her fingers gripped his coat.
Flustered, as he had intended, she let go of him at once. “Please, your grace, I beg your pardon. But do not go. I have been looking forward to making your acquaintance for some time.”
I’ll just bet you have, darling.
Aloud, he said, “Yes, well, I am in a bit of a hurry, miss.” And without waiting to hear what she said, he stalked back the way they had come, aware that his limp was more pronounced when he hurried, but not really giving a hang.
“But, wait,” she followed after him. “Your grace, pray do not run away…”
He halted abruptly, and dammit if she did not grip his arm again.
“I am not running away,” he said between clenched teeth. “As I told you a moment ago, I have a previously forgotten appointment. And stop gripping me by the arm!”
“If you are not running away then why will you not stop a moment and allow me to introduce myself?” she snapped, her cheeks flushing and her bosom heaving in a show of temper that was, if truth were told, quite becoming.
Perhaps her reasons for ignoring the proprieties were less about ignoring convention and more about where she stood on the social ladder. He took a moment to examine her attire, and noting her plain hat and the drab color of her gown decided that she might be an impoverished widow. His mood brightened considerably at the thought. An unmarried miss might want him for his title, but a widow might be willing to accept a less permanent arrangement.
Another few minutes to hear the lady out would hurt no one, he thought.
At his continued silence, however, the lady lost patience. Throwing up her hands in disgust, she began to walk away.
“I had thought perhaps you and I were after the same thing but at this point it doesn’t matter. You may have your arm back, your grace. I will importune you no longer.”
Ah. So he was right. She had been importuning him. But not for marriage—that was the important thing.
Now he was the one rushing after her, and even with his injury, his stride was so much longer than hers he was able to overtake her quite easily.
“I beg your pardon for my boorish behavior, Miss…or Mrs…?” his voice rose with the question as he mentally crossed his fingers that she would fall into the latter group.
Stopping, she once more dropped into a curtsey, and extended her hand to him. “Miss Cecily Hurston.”
Lucas closed his eyes. When he opened them, she was still there.
“Of course you are,” he said wearily. “The daughter of Viscount Hurston, no doubt?” He had been trying to arrange a meeting with that gentleman for weeks now. The family claimed the viscount had lost the power of speech, but Lucas wouldn’t believe it until he saw the man for himself.
“Indeed,” she returned. “Now you see why I was so eager to stay you, your grace. We have much to discuss.”
Even as he considered using her to get to her father, he dismissed the idea. She would have no influence over the man. It was common knowledge that Lord Hurston disapproved of everything about his daughter. Look at the reception his friends at the Egyptian Club had given her.
“I am afraid, Miss Hurston,” he said calmly, “You are mistaken. What could I possibly have to discuss with the daughter of the man who will not even grant me the courtesy of a face to face meeting about the disappearance of my brother?”
His momentary flight of fancy over, for the first time in his adult life, Lucas Dalton, Duke of Winterson, dismissed common courtesy completely, turned on his heel and walked away.
To his relief, Miss Cecily Hurston did not follow.