An Unsuitable Duchess by Carolyn Jewel The duke of Stoke Teversault has well earned his reputation for bloodless calculation. Indeed, recently widowed Georgina Lark has no idea he’s loved her since before her late husband swept her off her feet. Stoke Teversault means to keep it that way. The cold and forbidding duke and the blithe and open Georgina could not be less suited in any capacity. And yet, when Georgina and her sister arrive at his home, his ice-bound heart may melt away. Georgina Lark has never thought of the duke of Stoke Teversault as a man capable of inducing passion in anyone. He’s long disapproved of her, but she will be forever grateful to him for his assistance after her husband died. It’s been a year since she’s realized he’s not the man she thought. Can she convince him to open his heart to her?
An Unsuitable Duchess– excerpt from Chapter 12 by Carolyn Jewel, from the Anthology Dancing in the Duke’s Arms.
George tensed when she saw Stoke Teversault walking the path to the pond. She wished she hadn’t decided to come here, but she had and now it was too late to hide. She could be as cool as he could be. She would be.
It was her plan to pretend she’d not seen him, and then, when he saw her, he could decide to walk away. He would return to the house, and no one need admit that there was no repairing the break between them that had existed since the day she’d told him she was not in love with his brother.
She was prepared to have him avoid her as he had these past two days. He continued walking. Why? Why hadn’t he taken the chance when he’d had it? He was a clever man. He would know he could turn away. It wasn’t too late yet. She kept her eyes forward, but she could hear him coming nearer. Now, she thought. Now, he must realize he was at the very limit of where he could retreat with their pretense of ignorance intact.
She did not love Lord William but that had not been enough to fix whatever had gone wrong. She would rather go back to his disdain of her than endure knowing she had made this painful for him. She hid the rest of the bread she’d cadged from the duke’s chef in her reticule. “Good morning, Your Grace.”
He stood on the path, unmoving.
She steeled herself, but the words she’d rehearsed a dozen times flew out of her head. “I wish I could fly or turn invisible. Or could travel back in time to never make a fool of myself.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“But I have. Made myself foolish to you, I mean. We shouldn’t have come. Kitty and I.” She sank into the drama that had overwhelmed her these past days. “I should never have let Lord William convince us to come here. I did so want Kitty to have a chance to meet fashionable people. With Hugh away, we don’t see many gentlemen worthy of her. I was selfish for I so wanted to see Teversault for myself. I ought to have known you would prefer we not come here.” She drew breath. “Therefore, I’ve decided that we shall leave.”
“Mrs. Lark. There is no reason for you to leave. You have not troubled me in the least.”
She stared across the water, then looked at him, determined to make things right between them. “Except when you feared I meant to marry your brother.”
He held her gaze, and her stomach swooped. “I am a difficult man to know and more difficult to befriend, I’m told.”
“I can’t think who’d dare tell you something like that.” The birds had stopped singing, as well they must. What creature would risk displeasing Stoke Teversault?
His smile was pained. “You needn’t leave on my account, unless what you mean to say is that you cannot tolerate me.”
She dug her toe into the gravel then realized she oughtn’t. “I did not say that.”
“If you leave, I will think you believe it.”
She stared at him, perplexed. He was serious. She narrowed her eyes at him and then smiled and extended her hand to him. “Good morning, Your Grace. How delightful that you should decide to walk here at the same time I did.”
For the space of two heartbeats, he did not react. Then, he took her hand and bent over it. “A happy coincidence, indeed.”
“Lovely morning, don’t you agree?” she said when he’d released her hand.
“Yes.” He stood beside her and watched the water with her. The swans and several of the ducks had swum away one she’d stopped throwing them treats. “Not too warm.”
“Not yet. Perhaps later, though.” She was going to learn how to behave with the duke if it killed her, and she thought it would. “I do prefer cooler weather. Don’t you?”
His arrival brought the birds to the edge of the pool, with the ducks being quite vocal.
“Yes.” He drew a hunk of bread from his pocket. The noise from the birds increased. “Better for the nerves, one hears.”
“Yes. Nerves.” She didn’t want to look at him but she did. He looked especially fashionable today, with his beaver hat and a greatcoat of chocolate wool. “One does wish to avoid a case of the nerves.”
He tore off bits of bread and tossed them onto the water. The swans floated close, necks arched gracefully. He turned his head to her, and she froze, and then hated herself for being caught in his gaze. His nose was too long and too boney, his cheeks too sharp, and his mouth was as hard as his heart. “Greedy beggars.”
“Yes, they are.” She forced herself to reply when she’d rather stare at his face and ponder why she found him so attractive. “Beautiful, greedy beggars.”
He tore off more bits of bread and extended a handful to her. “Would you like to feed them?”
George opened her reticule and took out the bread she’d shoved inside. She held it up. “I came prepared.”
“Chef muttered something about nice fat ducks this morning.” He laughed and tossed his handful of crumbs onto the water. “When I am in residence, I cannot bear to think of not bringing them something in the morning.”
“Why don’t you instruct the staff to make sure they get something?”
He hesitated, then said, “I do.” His features returned to hard nonchalance, while she took her turn tossing bits of bread. “I believe you’re wrong about my brother.”
“What do you mean?”
“He is fond of you.”
“As I am fond of him.”
“More than he is of any other.”
“You’ve no cause for worry.” She put a hand on his upper arm, and he glanced at her, one eyebrow arched. “It’s very odd to me, but nevertheless true, that though Lord William is handsome, unfairly so, I should say, I feel no spark of…” How frank should she be? Enough, she understood, to put his fears to rest. “There is no attraction between us. I believe I ought to feel something in that nature, for what woman would not find in him much to admire?” She lifted her hands in a gesture of her helplessness in the face of such facts. “Yet…”