Home > The Duchess Hunt (Once Upon a Dukedom #2)

The Duchess Hunt (Once Upon a Dukedom #2)
Author: Lorraine Heath

Dedication

 

 

For Barbara Dombrowski

Who has been there from the beginning—

Critique partner and collector of obscure facts

But most of all, cherished friend

 

 

Contents


Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Epilogue

Author’s Note

Announcement

About the Author

By Lorraine Heath

Copyright

About the Publisher

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

London

July 2, 1874

Six weeks until the Kingsland ball

 

If there existed a more unpleasant task in the world than selecting the woman who was to marry the man you loved, Penelope Pettypeace certainly couldn’t imagine what it might be. But then, during the eight years she had been secretary to the Duke of Kingsland, she had been beset with unpleasant tasks. She should be accustomed to them by now. The latest, however, was beyond the pale.

Sitting at the desk in her small office in his London residence, using the green-marble-handled letter knife he’d given her one Christmas, she efficiently and quickly sliced open another envelope, preferring to keep the wax seal intact, withdrew and unfolded the heavy parchment, adjusted the position of her spectacles, and began scouring the words some young, naive unmarried miss had meticulously and with unbridled hope penned in response to the duke’s recent incisive advert seeking a noble lady of marriageable and procreational age to become his duchess. He’d done the same last year, with disastrous results.

He’d made the selection himself, announcing his choice during a ball within this very residence, one she had arranged and overseen. She’d hovered in the shadows as the clang of the magnificent gong echoing to the far corners indicated he was on the verge of revealing his choice. She hadn’t known with whom he’d gone until all of London heard her name pass his lips: Lady Kathryn Lambert.

For nearly a year, he’d courted the woman, but in the end, she’d turned him away in favor of a rapscallion with no title and a heritage that included a treasonous father. Kingsland should have learned his lesson then and there: one couldn’t take such an impersonal approach to obtaining a suitable wife.

But no. A mere two days after the lady had rejected his proposal, he’d placed another advert in the Times, seeking an easy solution to a complicated issue: securing a woman with whom he could be content. Without even deigning to slit open any of the nearly seven dozen envelopes received and giving the carefully worded missives a read, he’d handed the task over to her.

In spite of her upset with the chore, she took her duty seriously and had created a grid on butcher’s paper that nearly covered the entire top of her oak desk. She had a column in which she wrote the ladies’ names and one for each attribute she was rather certain the duke wanted in a wife, even though he hadn’t bothered with specific requirements other than the most pressing one: “I require a quiet duchess, one who is there when I need her and absent when I don’t.”

And every woman wanted a man who was there when she didn’t realize she needed him. A man of charm and grace and insight. A man who didn’t mind being bothered when a woman simply wanted someone near to reassure her that she was of value.

Hugh Brinsley-Norton, ninth Duke of Kingsland, was most certainly not that man.

Yet Penelope Pettypeace had managed to fall in love with him all the same. Drat her impractical heart.

He’d never encouraged her deeper affections, and she hadn’t realized she harbored them until he’d called out another lady’s name, and the words had struck her like a blow to the chest. As a matter of fact, it had been somewhat of a surprise to realize her depth of feelings for the man. Perhaps it was the trust he placed in her to see to his business affairs when he was away. He often traveled in pursuit of investment opportunities, a singular purpose to his life that left him with little time for other endeavors—such as a proper courtship. He was responsible for four estates—the dukedom, two earldoms, and a viscounty—as well as the welfare of those who were dependent upon them for their livelihood. Until she’d come to work for him, she’d always considered the aristocracy a spoiled and lazy lot, but he had shown her the truth of the matter: their obligations often fell heavy upon them. Her respect for him knew no bounds, and her heart had followed.

“Miss Pettypeace?”

“What the devil is it?” She jerked up her head to glare at the poor footman who had interrupted her. Then she felt contrite for having done so because his eyes had widened in astonishment and reflected a touch of horror, like someone who had come upon a large, hideous spider and realized too late that it had taken exception to being disturbed while weaving its web. “My apologies, Harry. How may I be of assistance?”

“His Grace just rang for you from the library.”

“Thank you. I’ll be there in a tick.”

“Very good, miss.”

As he immediately and quietly took his leave, she set aside the letter that had listed a host of talents: playing the pianoforte, singing, croquet, and fencing—that was a skill no one else had claimed thus far, would require the addition of another column, and might result in injury to the duke when the woman discovered he had no time to enjoy any of her proficiencies. Snatching up a paperweight of black marble upon which had been carved and embossed in gold, “The early bird catches the worm”—a gift from the duke after she’d been with him for a year—she set it on top of the letter to indicate she had not yet finished considering its author as a potential duchess.

After shoving back her chair, she stood, patting her hair as she did so to ensure no wisps had escaped the no-nonsense bun. She made complete use of every minute of every day, doing a multitude of things concurrently whenever possible. Satisfied with her appearance, without even going to the trouble to look in a mirror, she began marching toward her destination, along the corridor that led to the kitchens, past the wall upon which hung the parallel line of bells—one for the regular staff, one for her—marking the rooms in which a bellpull had been tugged, past the staircase leading to her small bedchamber in the servants’ quarters. Then onward along another hallway to the weathered stairs used by footmen to serve a meal, the butler to answer the front door, the maid who saw to the needs of the dowager duchess when she was in residence, and the valet who tended to the duke. Stairs she was allowed to traverse to the main portion of the residence because she also tended to the duke, although not in a manner as personal as the valet. Still, she would argue her duties were much more important. As would the entire household staff, no doubt, because her presence kept things sailing on an even keel. Not once had the butler objected to her handling the duke when His Grace was in a foul mood.

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