How to Catch a Rakish Duke – Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

“You shouldn’t fall for a man like me..”

 

Ever since she got her heart broken by a rake, Lady Katherine has decided all she needs is a safe and convenient suitor, one she has found in Earl Gibbs. She doesn’t need romance, nor fireworks. Even if it means sacrificing her own heart..

 

They say the son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, but that proves quite difficult when one is the splitting image of his father. Carrying the weight of his father’s sins, Colin has vowed to never become like him, even if it means never spending more than a few nights with a lady to do it. 

 

The undeniable passion that blooms between them challenges them to break their own rules. Can Katherine trade safety for passion? And can Colin risk getting close to a lady? And will a looming proposal from the Earl and a threat from a familiar face make them come together, or fall apart forever?

Chapter One

 

London, England

“How dare you!? If I so much as cast my eyes over another woman, you bite my ear off for it. Do you wish me to make myself blind, Hester? Just to please you?” A man’s voice boomed across the house.

Katherine winced as she looked in the mirror.

It’s always the same, always. They find something to argue about.

“Thank you, Marianne; that will be all,” Katherine said in a quiet voice to her maid.

“My Lady, I haven’t quite finished yet.” Marianne gestured to Katherine’s hair, showing she was still working on the updo.

“I can finish off. You go downstairs, Marianne. We shouldn’t all have to listen to their shouting,” Katherine said swiftly. Marianne nodded and hastened out of the room, leaving the bedchamber door open behind her.

As Katherine continued to press the pearl pins into her light brown hair, her hand trembled every now and then, for the shouting was getting worse.

“I should blind you myself for all the wandering your eyes do.” Her mother tossed the words angrily at her father.

“Hester! Do you hear yourself? Do you not hear how mad it sounds?”

“About as mad as you sounded, Dudley, when our butler merely stood beside me.”

“They’re at it again, I hear.” David’s voice drew Katherine’s attention.

Looking away from the vanity mirror where she saw her own reflection, she turned her focus on her brother who stood in the doorway to her bedchamber, leaning on the frame. In some ways, David was like her with that light brown hair that refused to be tamed on his temple, coming up in tufts. Her own was madly curly, usually fighting whatever updo Marianne managed to force it into.

Unlike her dark brown eyes, though, David’s eyes were a soft green. Those eyes stared at her, looking rather tired.

“Come in, David,” Katherine pleaded. “We may not be able to stop their arguing, but we can at least muffle it a little with the door.”

“If only we could deaden it.” David did as she asked, coming in and closing the door behind him. It muffled the noises some though they exchanged a grimace when it didn’t do a great job. “I suppose it is better than nothing.”

“Hmm.” Katherine looked away from the door, returning her thoughts to her plan.

Someday soon, I won’t have to be here and listen to them anymore.

She had a plan to escape the toxic relationship her parents endured, a way to be free from the shouting interspersed with days where her parents refused to part from each other’s side.

Once Katherine was done with her hair pins, she turned her attention to her jewelry, but fastening the bracelet alone proved rather difficult, and the golden chain kept falling back onto the vanity table.

“Here, let me.” David crossed toward her and fastened it for her.

“Thank you.” Katherine smiled and stood to her feet before brushing down his tailcoat. “You look very handsome, David. No doubt, you will charm many a lady there tonight.”

“Ha! If only. I know how I look, Katherine. My face resembles the gargoyles at Westminster Abbey more than it does a handsome face,” he said wryly.

“It does not.”

He pulled a face as if mimicking those very gargoyles that he spoke of, and they both fell about laughing. That laughter quickly died though when their mother’s shouts turned into a practical screech. Katherine was glad the door at least muffled what the words were.

“Let us not speak of them,” David sighed with the words. “Let us talk of the assembly tonight instead. May I trust that the Earl of Gibbs is to be there?” He did not look impressed.

“Oh, manage a smile for me. Go on, you know you want to.” She teased him. This was often her way, teasing and poking fun at those she loved. David fought his smile, but it glimmered through anyway. “Lord Gibbs is not so wholly bad. He is a good man.”

“That he is. He’s also as dull as dishwater.”

“Not quite,” Katherine grimaced and turned away, collecting some earrings from the vanity table. “Yet, dull is good.”

“Is it?” David did not look impressed.

“What would you rather have, David?” She caught his eye in the reflection of the ornate mahogany mirror, balanced on the table. “Would you rather have a partner who may be a little dull but is kind? Or would you rather have…?” She trailed off as the arguing flared up beyond the door. All she needed to do was gesture toward the door.

“I know; I know.” David held up his hands in surrender and stepped away.

Katherine followed him, knowing her brother so well by now that she could see disaster before it even happened.

“I just can’t help but fear you’re making a bad decision.” His voice was quiet as he walked toward the window of her room. His eyes were so set on the glass that he did not look beneath him to the rug adorning her wooden floor. “Oomph!” He tripped on the corner of the rug, but Katherine managed to catch him under his arm.

“Look at that,” she said with triumph. “It was as if I was ready for you to do that.”

“It worries me how well you know me sometimes.” He rolled his eyes and moved to the window, this time making an exaggerated step over the rug in the effort not to trip again. “The carriage is outside, awaiting us.” He sat down into the window seat.

“Something tells me our parents will not be coming.” Katherine finished putting in her final earring just as a crash erupted through the house. They both flinched, glancing at one another.

“Do you reckon that was a plate? Or a glass of whisky?” David asked, his look rather uncertain.

“Perhaps that ornament our father bought for our mother last week. Well, it was a rather ugly looking thing.” Katherine tried to offer a lighter tone, but their smiles faded fast.

Katherine knew these conversations of old. She and David had had them ever since they were old enough to talk to one another. She could even remember a time when talking was rather difficult for her, and she had crept into David’s room as their parents’ arguments filled the house. David had held onto her with no words as they cried in the corner of the room together.

These days they talked instead and offered distraction.

“Let us return to the topic of the Earl of Gibbs,” Katherine said hurriedly. “For soon, I expect he will ask for father’s blessing, and if he cannot find our father when father is busy arguing, the Earl will ask you instead.”

“To marry you?” David’s eyebrows shot up. “Goodness, Katherine, you do work fast.”

“Is it fast?” She was not sure she agreed. She moved to the window seat and sat beside her brother. “It is my third season out. I must marry soon.”

“Yes, but when you were younger…” David trailed off abruptly, looking pained at the idea of going on with his thin lips pressed together.

“Continue, David,” Katherine pleaded.

“When you were younger, you talked of love. Call me a romantic, but maybe I do not like the idea of my sister giving up on that.” He shrugged, showing how odd it seemed to him.

Katherine purposefully looked away from her brother, out of the window and to the sky beyond. Autumn was swiftly moving in. On the breeze, she could see the russet brown and golden leaves dancing between the Booth estate and the townhouses further down the road. Some landed on rooftops, others drifted down into the street where their carriage awaited them.

The air seemed apt to Katherine mind, chilly, with the wind biting.

Love is just the same. I am sure of it. Cold at times.

“What reason do I have to think well of love?” Katherine asked quietly, not taking her eyes off the breeze and the dancing leaves.

“Our parents are not a good example, I know that,” David accepted. “What they share has festered. Some days they adore each other, and other times –”

“They would sooner throw each other out of the house than deign to kiss each other,” Katherine reminded her brother. “I do not want to live like this for the rest of my life.”

David nodded slowly, clearly not wanting the same either.

Katherine had decided long ago that she would not continue with the pattern her parents had begun. The mere thought of putting children through what she and David had been through crushed her. It was a pain lodged deep in her gut, buried so deep that it could not be retrieved.

I will not marry for that sort of love.

“Others love differently,” David spoke softly. “I am sure of it.”

“How do you know?” Katherine asked, turning her focus from the autumn breeze to her brother. He had tipped his head back on the frame beside the window and was looking at the ceiling as if deep in thought.

“I’m fond of reading, you know that.”

“Yes, I’ll find you reading fiction as much as I read science,” Katherine reminded him.

“Just so. From the books I’ve read, love is often described differently. From what I see of the world too, I rather expect that everyone feels something that’s slightly different. Perhaps the head is a part of it as much as the heart, choosing to love at times whereas others love with their soul so strongly that they cannot be separated from it.” He smiled rather sadly, his countenance absorbed in an emotion Katherine could not decipher.

Turning on the window seat, Katherine set her gaze on her brother, watching him closely.

“You speak as if you know something of love yourself.”

“Me? Oh no. I know nothing of it.” He stood to his feet so hastily that Katherine saw how he was trying to exit the conversation, turning his back on her. “I only know what I read and see on the stage –”

“Rug!” Katherine called out. David tripped on the rug regardless, but he managed to right himself before he could fall.

“Thank you.” He looked over his shoulder at Katherine. “This rug is in the way.”

“Only for you.” Katherine stood to her feet and followed him across the room. “If I didn’t know any better, brother, I’d say you were trying to avoid this conversation.”

“What conversation?” He looked at her with wide eyes and a nonplussed expression, one she was not fooled by. Crossing in front of him, she blocked him off and folded her arms. Being so tall, she was nearly at his head height, making it rather difficult for him to look away.

“You have the same look in your face the day you did when you were lying to our father about spending a night out with the Duke of Burton and the Marquess of Notley.”

“Shh!” David said hastily, waving his hands. “We don’t talk about my nights out with my friends. Our father wouldn’t like to know where I have been.”

“Erg, I don’t think I wish to know either.” Katherine shuddered at the thought and turned away. The mention of the Duke of Burton’s name by her own tongue had distracted her from her questioning of David. Abruptly, she thought of the Duke, of his tall height, his black hair, dark as night, and his sharp blue eyes.

Then the vision was gone, and she was reaching for her dance card that rested on the table.

Any liking for him is in the past. I made sure it was over at the end of the last season.

“On that note, shall we depart?” David asked, offering his arm to her.

More crashes followed beyond the door.

“Hester, I bought you that gift last week!” their father complained.

“I knew it would be the ornament,” Katherine smiled in triumph, trying to make a jest. David smiled too as she took his arm. “Yes, let us depart quickly before they tear the entire house down between the two of them.”

***

“Well, it’s a beautiful assembly, I will say that.” David nodded in approval, looking around the room as he escorted Katherine inside. “I should say, I wish our parents could have come so that they might have enjoyed it. Instead, I am glad they did not.”

“For they might have broken all the crystal displays?” Katherine gestured a hand to a stack of crystal glasses that had been laid out to form a tower, rather precariously.

“Just so.” David chuckled and led her further forward. “Let us think no more of them tonight, Kat; let us think of something else.”

Katherine smiled to hear the old name only David ever used for her and followed him through into the next of the adjoining assembly rooms. This chamber was the ballroom, so vast and tall that it was the breadth and heigh of three rooms put together. Chandeliers filled with candles hung down from the ceiling, casting the room in rainbow-colored streams of light.

Through the room walked many a group gathered for the evening. There were ladies in column-style gowns, almost Romanesque in their design, with wreaths in their hair, pearls, or jewels, and gentlemen gathered in dark suits with eyes darting to and fro at the ladies over the rims of their punch glasses.

“It is very beautiful,” Katherine whispered, her eyes landing on the dance floor.

She was a keen dancer. There was nothing else she enjoyed quite so much, and at the thought of taking to the floor, she bobbed on her toes.

“How often does Lord Gibbs ask you to dance?” David asked with something of a mischievous smile on his face.

“Are you able to read my mind now?” Katherine was amazed, and her jaw fell slack as she turned to look at her brother.

“Perhaps.”

“Then use your power for good, not to cause trouble.” She shook her head in pretend reprimand of him. He merely chuckled deeply at her jest. “He may not be as keen a dancer as I, yet he tries. He always asks me to dance at least once.”

“Yet, it is rather like watching a statue come to life and attempt to dance,” David remarked slowly. “He is not a natural, is he?”

“David,” Katherine stood on his foot in reprimand. “It is not the quality of the dancer that matters, merely the willingness of the partner.”

“Sometimes I think you are too generous for your own good,” David remarked as they wandered on through the people.

Katherine didn’t allow herself to admit that the best dances she’d ever had were with another of her acquaintances. In fact, with one of David’s dearest friends.

I never let myself think about him. That is the rule.

Yet, something in her mind fought through regardless. She thought briefly of a hand to her waist and fingers sliding against her own, plus the breath in her ear and a deep whispered voice.

‘Ever had a better dance?’ he’d asked her once as they were still breathless from a cotillion, coming back down to reality.

Katherine brushed off the thought of him. To survive, she chose not to indulge in thinking about him for long.

“What of your dance partners for the night?” Katherine asked as they passed by a drinks table. “Watch the chair leg!”

David narrowly missed it, stepping to the side so that he took Katherine with him, and they nearly bumped into some strangers. They both stood on tenterhooks, looking down at the table that David had nearly knocked over.

“Hmm, that was close,” Katherine remarked.

“I’m not getting worse before you say it.”

“You have always been clumsy, but I cannot help thinking your mind is absorbed with something these days. What other than distraction could lead to such absence of thought on one’s whereabouts?” Katherine asked though David did not seem to be paying attention to her words. He was looking through the assembly room in search of someone. “Are you looking for your next dance partner?”

“No,” David said, his voice deep.

“Will it be Lady Havers? Or maybe Lady Suzanne Dredger? Or what of Agnes?”

“Agnes?” David snapped his gaze to Katherine, looking so shocked that his eyebrows had shot up on his head. “She is your friend, not mine.”

“Well, that was rude.” Katherine frowned at him in surprise. “That may be the case, but you danced rather well together last week.”

Katherine longed to go on. David was never rude; he was always polite though his jesting perhaps sometimes went near the line. To cast Agnes out and declare she was not his friend at all was an aberration to Katherine, but she was not given the chance to go on.

“Ah, here is who I have been looking for.” David gestured behind her.

Katherine turned to look at who he was pointing at. Through the crowds walked two gentlemen. The first was the Marquess of Notley, almost as tall as she was with thick brown hair excessively coiffed so not a strand was out of place. He must have been making some sort of jest, for the gentleman beside him was laughing deeply.

Oh no, my endeavor to avoid him this evening is clearly not starting well.

Katherine gulped as she stared at the Duke of Burton quickly approaching them. His tall frame dominated the room and seemed to draw more than one pair of ladies’ eyes. His figure was athletic with broad shoulders, and that dark hair curled at his temple, invitingly.

It was his face that had a habit of charming Katherine more than anything else, though. There was a darkness to those features with a strong jaw line and firm cheek bones. When he laughed, he had a bold smile, that transformed those features.

He looked at her now, those blue eyes so bright and fixed on her, Katherine was frozen to the spot.

Surely, I can think of some way to escape this meeting!

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

“Don’t sigh too audibly, good man,” Percy chuckled at Colin’s side. “David might hear you then what is he to think about the way you look at his sister?”

“Be quiet, Percy,” Colin quickly shushed his friend. Percy wasn’t offended by it in the slightest. He merely laughed some more as they crossed the room, heading toward David and his sister, Lady Katherine.

Ah, I had at least hoped something had happened to change her allure in our time apart.

Colin kept the thought to himself. Lady Katherine had always been a temptation since the day David had brought her to her debut. Yet, that temptation was not one that could ever be satisfied. She was off limits as David’s sister. Colin had promised long ago that though he might happily charm many a lady of the ton, spend a night or two with them, and move on, Lady Katherine would not be treated so. To insult her would be to insult David, and Colin could not do that to his oldest friend.

If only she was a little less tempting… then things would be so much easier!

She tore her gaze away from him as if his look had burned her. Those bold dark eyes, so large in her face that they dominated her features, turned and looked anywhere else but at him. Her light brown hair, the color of caramel, was fixed at the back of her head with the occasional loose tendril teasing her neck.

Parting her full lips, she muttered something to her brother. Colin soon realized it must have been an excuse to part from his side, for she was about to step away. Colin increased his pace, reaching them faster.

“Oh, no, do not run off now!” Colin called to her, fixing her to the spot. She stood as still as a statue with her back turned toward him. “This is worrisome, David,” he said to his friend, reaching David’s side. “Does our mere presence offend your sister, do you think?”

“Perhaps it does,” David jested, earning an elbow from Colin. “Ow, on that score, I’m going to get a drink.”

“Let me.” Colin reached behind him to the drinks table and collected two glasses. One he proffered to David, and the other he held out toward Lady Katherine, trying to call her back. “The glass cannot hurt you, My Lady,” he teased her, watching as he clearly ruffled her feathers. She shifted on her feet and looked back at him before exaggeratedly curtsying in greeting. “How formal.”

“It is the way of things.” She snatched the glass from his hands. Colin tried his best not to think of the brush of her fingers against his.

Forget the temptation, remember?

“I was not sure if you two would be here tonight,” David said, holding the attention of the group and gesturing between Colin and Percy.

Colin was finding it hard to take his eyes off Lady Katherine, even as she stared purposefully down at the champagne glass in front of her.

Look at me, once, please.

Clearly, he could not communicate by thought alone.

“I didn’t intend to come,” Colin explained, “but Percy persuaded me too.”

“Well, there is only so long one can spend at the clubs in town, isn’t there?” Percy laughed already a little in his cups as he reached for a punch glass.

“How much has he had already?” David whispered to Colin.

“Too much,” Colin answered honestly. The three of them had been friends since they were very little, introduced by their fathers. They had formed a bond that lasted, for they each knew they could trust each other implicitly. However, that didn’t mean Colin had to like everything about his friends.

David was the closest friend he had. Percy was the one who they occasionally despaired of together.

“Percy, perhaps you should take a break.” David tried to lower the glass from Percy’s hands, but Percy did not look very pleased at such an idea. Instead, he picked up a second glass with a different hand. “I give up.” David shrugged and turned back to face Colin.

“I should find Lord Gibbs, David.” Lady Katherine lifted her gaze from her glass at last. She was clearly intending to leave, but something burned in Colin’s gut at the prospect.

It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to let Lady Katherine leave just yet. It was also the fact that the thought of Lady Katherine spending her time with Lord Gibbs rankled him more than he could say.

“From what I hear from David, Lord Gibbs has your attention at most of these evenings. Please, deign to spend some time with us not so fortunate folks,” Colin teased her, watching as she shook her head and looked away from him.

“I spend time with the people I wish to, Your Grace.” Her words were to the point. She did not wish to spend time with him.

What changed?

Colin thought back to the night of her debut. He had been struck by her that night. It wasn’t just her unusual beauty that had captivated him but her manner, the laughter, and the need to turn everything into a jest. Who couldn’t help being drawn to her?

He’d seen her often enough growing up, but at the debut, he had realized that she was no girl anymore. She was a lady.

They had danced that night and at a few events afterwards then a wedge had formed between them. There had been distance and a burn of resentment between them since. A resentment that Colin couldn’t entirely fathom the reason for.

“That is my sister’s way of saying she is tired of our company,” David explained. “I can hardly blame her for it.” He pointedly looked at Percy who was gulping from his glass and abruptly stopped.

“Oi, I am not to blame here,” Percy complained yet hesitated before taking another sip.

“I merely wish to see Lord Gibbs, that is all,” Lady Katherine continued on.

“You do?” Colin frowned in surprise, looking for an explanation to David, who nodded in understanding.

“Enough with the quizzical look,” he pleaded, lowering his voice. “I can tell her he’s dull until the cows come home. It has not changed her opinion of him.”

“If you would excuse me,” Lady Katherine curtsied, about to make her exit. Once more, Colin felt a need to keep her there. Before he could speak though, Percy beat him to it.

“Before you part, let me compliment you on your fine gown, My Lady,” Percy said with ease and charm.

“Thank you.” Lady Katherine allowed herself a genuine smile. That smile made Colin stand taller, knowing that he could not be the cause of such smiles anymore.

His eyes danced over the gown that suited her well. Pastel blue, it fit snugly on her narrow waist before falling past the thin curves of her figure. It left little to the imagination and had him pulling at the collar of his cravat, suddenly feeling a need to loosen it in the heat of the room.

“I admit, I am fond of the gown myself,” Lady Katherine went on and patted the skirt. “It was a gift from Lord Gibbs.”

They are exchanging gifts now!? Is this a courtship?

Colin’s eyes darted to David, hoping for more of an explanation as to what was going on, but David didn’t notice. He seemed to be looking elsewhere in the room as if searching for someone.

“So, he may be dull in some people’s eyes,” Lady Katherine pointedly cast a glance at her brother with the words, “yet he is kind. That is surely the most important aspect of anyone’s character.”

“I quite agree,” Colin spoke fast, eager to earn her gaze, “but there is on one matter I disagree with Lord Gibbs.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“I always thought green was more of your color.” Colin wasn’t really sure what he was saying anymore. He just wanted a rise, some sort of a response from her, rather than this incessant and plain attempt she was making to walk away from his presence.

Her cheeks pinkened, and she glared at him quite openly.

Rise to it, Lady Katherine, tell me what you think of me.

“I like the gown.” She chose not to argue. Instead, she looked to her brother. “You may continue to keep poor company, David, but I will not. If you would excuse me.” This time she curtsied quickly and walked off before any of them could stop her.

Percy laughed, finding the whole event rather humorous as Colin and David exchanged looks.

“Were you attempting to compliment my sister or insult her? I can’t really tell.” David shook his head, making the brown hair at his temple back and forth.

“You were the one who asked me not to compliment her,” Colin reminded David of a conversation they’d had many times before.

“As we are to repeat an old conversation, excuse me both for a minute.” Percy made his excuses and hurried off. Colin didn’t doubt Percy intended to charm another lady that evening. He was fond of trying, even if he didn’t have as much success on that score as Colin did.

“We don’t need to go over old ground, do we?” David asked, sipping from his champagne. “We have been over it.”

“Many times.” Colin assured him and turned to the drinks table, collecting a glass for himself. David turned and nudged over a glass with his elbow that was barely caught in time by Colin. They both breathed a sigh of relief, exchanging a nervous glance. “Your clumsiness knows no bounds.”

“Now, you really are starting to sound like Katherine.” David sipped from his drink, his eyes on Colin as he poured out a glass. “You will stay clear of her, will you not?”

“I have given you my promise. I would not lie to you on this matter, David. Never.”

“I know, it’s just…” David petered off, apparently struggling with the words. “I remember the way you two were when she was first announced to the ton. It was rather different than the way you two are now.”

“It’s called keeping my distance. It was what we agreed on.”

“Hmm.” David did not sound overawed at the idea.

Colin sipped his drink, thinking of how many times he and his friend had had this conversation. Not long after Colin had been dancing with Katherine at such an event as this, David had come to him, asking plainly, what was he thinking?

Colin had charmed more ladies into his bed than he cared to count. He was no liar on the matter. Any woman he charmed knew it was to be a night of passion and fun before they ever got there. They also knew he could not offer anymore. That reputation was of course not only well known by David but had been seen. Understandably, David did not want his own sister to be Colin’s next partner.

‘If you are not serious about ever finding a lady to court, then remove your attentions from my sister. I will not see her degraded as so many ladies have been.’

‘I would never treat either of you so.’

Colin had meant that promise, and he intended to stick to it, even if it meant occasionally saying things to Lady Katherine that purposefully kept her at arms’ length.

“Let us talk of something else.” Colin cleared his throat, trying to push away memories from the past shift his mind to the here and now.

“Such as what?” David asked, turning his head back and forth. Once more, he seemed to be searching the crowds of the ballroom, hunting for someone.

“How about we discuss who it is you are looking for?” Colin asked.

“No one.” David snapped his head back to Colin and managed to drop his glass. “Ah!”

They both reached out for it and caught it in a jumble. The champagne spilled out over both of their hands, but they managed to save the glass from catastrophe.

“Allow me to fill that up for you.” Colin topped up the glass before returning it to his friend. “This time, try drinking it.” David cast his eyes to the heavens, as if tired of Colin’s antics, before he returned to searching the room. “Who are you looking for?”

“No one. I am simply interested to see who is here tonight.”

“You realize you are a poor liar,” Colin said, clasping his friend’s shoulder and urging him to look back.

“I am not.”

“Do not feel bad. It is a mark of a good man, a good character, and an honest man.” Colin smiled, knowing it was one of the reasons he trusted David so much. In all their years, David had been the truest friend he could have ever hoped to have. It also meant he could read David very easily, much better than he could read David’s sister. “So, who are you looking for?”

“It doesn’t matter.” David fidgeted and looked down at his glass. “I simply enjoyed a dance recently and was rather hoping to secure the same dance partner tonight. That is, if she does not object.”

“Then I shall scour the dance floor to see what lady you speak of. Are you in need of any advice of how to charm a lady?” Colin asked, smiling with mischief.

“When I charm a lady, Colin, I rather hope it will last for more than one night.”

“Ha!” Colin guffawed with laughter. “Touché! I shall leave you to your own devices on that score.”

David laughed too but not quite as strongly. He looked down at his glass, a rather morose expression on his face.

“Is something else on your mind?” Colin asked as a guess formed in his mind. He bumped shoulders with David and lowered his voice. “Is it your parents?”

“You should have heard them tonight,” he muttered angrily. “It’s shocking the way they talk to each other. No wonder Katherine is so keen to escape the house. I long to as well.”

Is that why she spends so much time with Lord Gibbs? Is she hoping to marry fast to escape the house?

Colin tried to search for her face in the crowd of guests, but he was not successful.

“If you married, you could escape,” Colin reminded David. “Your father has another town house he might give you and your wife.”

“Yes, I suppose. That would mean finding a woman I wanted to marry.”

For a brief second, Colin could have sworn the corner of his friend’s lips tilted up as if tempted to smile, but then, the glimmer was gone as fast as it had appeared.

“How about you?” David asked, clearly keen to move the topic onto other things. “How is your mother?”

Colin swallowed, trying to hide the discomfort of the mention of his mother.

“She is the same as always.” His voice was restrained. Colin looked around again in search of another face amongst the crowd. It wasn’t long before he found her, for she loved to attend such events as these, claiming they made her feel free.

His mother, Barbara, was standing near the edge of the room with her friends. Slight in stature and with dark auburn hair, there wasn’t much to see in her face that Colin shared. These days, the lines in her face were growing deeper, her age growing older. She smiled to her friends and laughed with such a genuine smile that something felt numb inside of Colin.

His mother was not able to be so free with him nor so happy.

“Does she still insist on keeping a separate house?” David asked. Colin felt a hand clench around his champagne glass, rather reluctant to talk about this matter. With Percy, Colin never discussed it, for he feared that Percy’s tongue could be rather loose, but David would never spread such secrets.

“Yes, she does.” Colin nodded, looking away from his mother and returning his focus to his friend. “I visited her the other day and asked her to come for dinner, but…” He trailed off, uncertain how to end the sentence.

How could he put into words the way she looked at him? That scorn and contempt and the fear, too?

It’s as if she sees him in me. As if I am his ghost, risen again.

“I had hoped as time went on that she would be able to move past this.” David sighed with the words. “Clearly, I was wrong.”

“As was I. I’m beginning to think, David, that she will never change,” Colin’s words were barely loud enough to be heard, just the hiss of a whisper. He looked across the room, finding his mother.

This time, she clearly felt watched, for she looked away from her friends and returned his stare. At once, her smile faltered. He could have sworn there was a paleness in her cheeks as she looked at him, and her hand quivered around the glass in her clutches.

“This is madness.” Colin turned away and looked to his friend.

“I am sorry, truly,” David said slowly, having witnessed the look between them.

“Don’t be. There is nothing any of us can do. I’m beginning to think it was my own fault for ever having hope that things could change at all.” Colin shook his head, despairing at his own naivety. “I should have reconciled myself long ago to the realities of this world. Some things don’t change.”

One of those things was his mother’s attitude toward him. “That is enough moroseness for one night. We have discussed your parents and my mother, so we have made each other miserable. We should be here to have a good time, should we not?”

“Yes, we should,” David agreed and raised his glass. “What should we toast to? A good time?”

“A good time.” Colin chinked his glass with his friend. “And to whoever it is you are still looking for in the crowd.” David’s eyes widened, clearly startled to have been caught. “Go on, David, tell me her name.”

 

Chapter Three

 

 Do not, yawn, Katherine; do not give in to the temptation!

With the thought, Katherine clamped her teeth together, desperately trying to fend off the yawn. She told herself it was because she was tired, but in truth, she wasn’t. The Earl of Gibbs’ conversation was hardly sparkling, and she yearned to yawn from boredom more than tiredness.

“Fascinating, My Lord.” Eager not to seem ungrateful for his attention, Katherine smiled sweetly. “How often do you oversee these investments?”

“Nearly every day. I am keen to take care of my business affairs.” He nodded with the words, clearly possessing some passion for his work.

See? He is a good businessman! That is the sort of a husband I should be looking for.

Katherine kept her focus on Lord Gibbs, trying to find something to be attracted to in his countenance. He was an average looking man with fair-looking eyes, thin eyebrows, and blond hair that seemed to be greying before its time. He wasn’t quite as tall as Katherine, but he was not far off. As her eyes wandered over his physique, though, there was no response in her, no spark, nothing.

Katherine knew that if they were to marry, she would have to find something to be attracted to, or she would never wish to share the marriage bed. She so hoped for children someday.

“What of you, Lady Katherine? How do you like to spend your day?” he asked, urging her on with a wave of his champagne glass.

“I am a fond of reading, My Lord. In particular, I have a fascination for science and the discoveries of the ancient world. Have you heard of Mary Anning and her finds of the fossils at Lyme Regis?” Katherine asked excitedly. Here was a topic she could discuss with enthusiasm, but Lord Gibbs merely shook his head, none the wiser to the subject. “I am also fond of music, and dancing. You will often find me practicing them.”

He nodded, but still, he did not urge her on.

Their conversation fell flat, and they both just stood there for a minute with neither of them saying anything. Katherine supposed that Lord Gibbs might have found it a companionable silence, but she did not. She was here to talk, dance, and to have fun. At the moment, none of those things were being achieved.

Katherine looked away and sipped her champagne, looking for her brother. She could have sworn she caught a glimpse of him near the dance floor, but then he was gone, and there was someone else staring straight at her.

The Duke of Burton!

That stare was unrelenting across the room, and then, he smiled, joyously as if tempted to laugh. Katherine inwardly cursed, fearing what he thought. Did he feel as if he had won by seeing that she was bored in conversation with Lord Gibbs? Determined not to give him the satisfaction, she faced Lord Gibbs again with a full smile.

“Well, I could talk to you for hours, My Lord, but what do you say to a dance?”

“A dance? Yes, of course.” He placed down their glasses for them and offered her his hand, escorting her to the floor.

The whole walk to the middle of the ballroom, Katherine could feel eyes upon her. Once or twice, she stole a glance toward the Duke, only to find that smile was still there.

Insufferable, that is what he is. Oh! How am I to ignore him if he keeps staring at me in such a fashion?

When the music struck up, Katherine was thrilled to find it a rather upbeat cotillion. She curtsied with eagerness to Lord Gibbs and began to dance, bobbing on her toes at the right moments and committing her body to the movements.

She didn’t try to talk to Lord Gibbs in the dance, for she was too lost in the movements, thinking of the music. When they reached a natural break in the song, where she and Lord Gibbs came to face each other, hand in hand, taking small galloping steps to one side and then the other, she caught sight of someone standing at the side of the dance floor.

Good Lord, does he intend to stare at me all night?

The Duke smiled when he caught her eye. She refused to return that smile and flicked her head away again.

As she danced, Lord Gibbs went wrong. He stood on her toe and then moved quite the wrong way. The poor man blushed, but Katherine gripped his hand tightly, showing him which way to go.

“My apologies, My Lady,” he said in a rush. “I am afraid dancing is not quite my skill.” His words reminded her of what David had said, comparing Lord Gibbs’ dancing to the efforts of a statue. She bit her lip to prevent any temptation to smile.

“It not the skill that matters, My Lord. When it comes to dancing, we should enjoy ourselves. That is all that matters to me.” Her words seemed to comfort Lord Gibbs, who continued, only he went wrong again.

Rather than continuing with the dance and picking up where he left off, he quite abandoned dancing and just stood there in the middle of the floor. For a second, Katherine danced around him, feeling her disappointment begin to grow. In the end, she took his hand and drew him back into the dance.

“My apologies,” he whispered again.

“Please, do not apologize, My Lord,” she begged of him. “Simply enjoy yourself.” Lord Gibbs did not seem to be having fun at all. He looked to the edges of the room as if longing for an escape as she turned under his arm.

Reluctantly, Katherine felt her eyes also looking to the side of the room as she turned though she looked to a very specific place. Her gaze was drawn to the very spot where the Duke stood. To see he was there, covering his lips to stop himself from laughing, Katherine felt a darkening of her spirit.

Unsure whether the Duke was laughing at her or Lord Gibbs, she found both possibilities equally worrisome. Her dancing soon lost energy, and any chance of a smile vanished.

The end could not come soon enough, and Katherine curtsied to Lord Gibbs swiftly when it was done.

“Well, that was…” Lord Gibbs struggled for words as he offered his arm to escort her from the floor.

“Eventful?” Katherine offered, teasing him. He didn’t seem to understand she was only jesting though, for he blushed all the more. “I do not mind you went wrong, My Lord,” she hurried to explain herself.

Before another word could be passed between them, the light from the chandeliers seemed to dim to Katherine’s mind. A second later, she realized why. A tall shadow had passed over them. Angling her head round, she found the Duke of Burton had approached them. Katherine held tighter onto Lord Gibbs’ arm.

“Excuse the interruption, My Lord, Lady Katherine.” The Duke bowed to them both. “If you permit it, My Lord, I wondered if I might ask your companion here to dance?” He gestured to Katherine.

Oh no. That is most certainly against my rules.

There was a time when Katherine had let her heart run away with her head. Shortly after her debut a few years ago, the connection between her and the Duke had seemed like something special. She had indulged in that fancy, that liking, but it had come to nothing as he had soon put distance there and stopped asking her to dance. With her heart crumbled to what could have been dust, Katherine’s decision to marry had become rather focused in her mind.

She had discarded the notion of love completely. She did not want the toxic and foul relationship her parents had, and in the meantime, she did not want to be tossed in and out of love by careless charmers like the Duke of Burton. She intended to marry a sensible man, like the Earl of Gibbs, so her heart would never be in danger of being injured again.

“A dance? Well, I –” Katherine began but didn’t get far.

“Yes, of course. I must rest after my attempt at dancing, and I certainly wouldn’t want to embarrass Lady Katherine with another attempt from myself,” Lord Gibbs said quickly.

“My Lord, you did not embarrass me,” Katherine pleaded with him to believe her, but he plainly didn’t as he released her hand.

“If you would excuse me.” With these words, he bowed and parted.

Katherine stood perfectly still, feeling her breath stutter at the surprising way he had parted so fast.

“Allow me to make you smile, My Lady,” the Duke of Burton pleaded and offered a hand.

“No charm.” Her words were firm. He’d been charming before, and it hadn’t ended well. She wasn’t sure what he meant by this banter and playfulness he so often adopted when they were around one another, but she’d had enough. “I beg you, no charm.”

“Then dance instead.” He waved his hand. It was so obvious that Katherine knew she could not turn him down now without it being seen as rude by the other dancers that were moving on and off the floor. Tentatively, she took his hand, her touch feather light.

His was not so light. His fingers curled around her own with a reassuring strength as he led her back to the middle of the floor. She kept her eyes downturned, up until the music began, and they bowed and curtsied to one another. The dulcet and deep tones of a rather moody and dramatic quadrille began.

Oh, we have danced this number before.

Their eyes met as they clearly made the same realization.

“I see you remember it, too,” the Duke whispered to her as he took her hand, and they circled one another, dancing in a four-time step.

“I have been trying to forget it,” she confessed though she made her voice light as if in jest. It was the first dance they had shared at her debut.

“Was I such a poor dancer that you’d forget my efforts so easily?” As he asked the question, he purposefully pulled her closer, performing an extra spin with her that wasn’t necessarily part of the choreography but was certainly impressive.

Long before, Katherine would have loved such an addition. The Duke was athletic, but despite his broad shoulders, he was spritely in his dancing and quite skilled.

“You do not need me to compliment your dancing to know the truth. Moreover, I will not give you a compliment just to gratify your ego,” she scoffed and parted from him in the dance. As they circled other couples, she looked back to see he was chuckling at her words.

When they returned to one another, one of his hands went to her waist, and the other took her hand. With Katherine’s free hand, she held onto her skirt, preventing herself from stepping on the hem.

“Shall I compliment your dancing instead?” he whispered. Katherine couldn’t stop thinking of his touch on her waist.

Oh no. It is exactly this sort of attraction I was hoping to avoid!

Her one look down at their connection was clearly noticed by him, for his smile widened.

“Ah, perhaps I should talk of something else instead? Should I lighten my touch?”

“Perhaps you should just be quiet instead,” she murmured, glaring at him. “Your flirtation will not work with me.”

“A great shame.”

What is he doing?

Katherine didn’t have chance to ask the question, for the energy in the dance increased. He directed her forward and back with firm and eager steps before turning her around to face another couple. Standing side by side, he looped one arm around her waist and took one of her hands in his, leading her in a pattern around the floor.

How close he came unsettled her. The proximity seemed to bring a heat to her skin as if there was a fire burning there, prompting all the hairs on her arms to stand on end.

When he bent his head toward her, intending to whisper in her ear, Katherine knew she should lean away. Yet, she found her body betrayed her, and she did not move.

“I couldn’t resist asking you to dance.”

“You should have done,” she said sharply. “On that matter, why did you ask me? Judging from the way you laughed just now, I thought you found something rather comical in my display.”

“That was not the case.”

“Then do not tell me you were laughing at my dance partner.” She tilted her chin up, the better to catch his gaze. “You know I will think ill of you for it.”

“You misunderstand me.” Something in his whisper made his voice gentle. She had not heard this tone from him before.

They were forced to release one another, walking in a small circle away from each other before returning once again to dance opposite one another. This time, the figures they performed were done without a hand hold or a single touch between them. Katherine tried to ignore the longing she had to reach and touch the Duke.

“What do I misunderstand?” she asked, prompting him on. He seemed distracted too, his eyes wandering, but now, he snapped them back to her face.

“I was amused when I saw how hard you were trying to seem as if you were enjoying yourself, Lady Katherine. Few ladies bother to put on such a performance. It is both admirable and yes, amusing. It seems we all often wear facades in this world,” he said quietly. “I find you puzzle me, exceedingly.”

“Puzzle you? Why?” she asked, quirking her eyebrows together.

The Duke lifted a hand to her, offering as the other gentlemen did to their partners just one touch. She took it, aware this time that their touch was extremely light on both sides. It was as if he was as afraid to touch her as she was him.

“You know what spark is, Lady Katherine. You and I both know it.” His voice had deepened as he held her gaze. “Yet, you are pursuing a man who cannot give it to you.”

They parted, and Katherine abruptly threw down her hand, glad not to be touching him after he had uttered such words.

How dare he speak so openly of such a thing?

She joined the other ladies on the floor for a minute, dancing in a circle, trying to think of how to respond. By the time she had returned to the Duke, he took her hand and her waist eagerly. Katherine tried not to think about how keenly she returned those touches.

“Shall I pretend ignorance, I wonder?” she asked, her voice jesting. “You have a habit of thinking every lady is charmed by you.”

“I certainly don’t.” He spoke with surprising seriousness.

“There is no spark.” She matched his tone in sincerity. “What is more, there is a lack of liking here.”

“Now, I do not believe that to be the truth.”

“Why is that?” she asked.

“Because of this.” His words were deep as he released her hand. She scrambled to get his hand back, but it was gone. This was breaking the choreography, but it was more than that. Katherine wanted the feeling back. When he took her hand again, their touch was firm indeed. “See?”

“What that proves is only that I do not like it when someone does not fulfil the choreography of a dance.”

“You were not angry at Lord Gibbs for such a transgression, yet you are at me? Ha! No, My Lady, you and I know the truth.” He turned her under his arm. With each turn, her eyes flicked back toward his. “Spark is everything; it’s felt keenly. So, I wonder, why do you wish to court a man that cannot give it to you?”

She turned one last time to face him, unable to answer his question, for her mouth had gone dry.

The music ended. They bowed and curtsied to one another, and as the Duke led her from the floor, she was acutely aware of every point of where her gloved fingers touched his hand.

Spark. That’s what he called it. Oh my, why did he have to speak of it at all?

She couldn’t understand what he endeavored to do by speaking to her in such a way. Did he intend to mess with her mind? To part her from Lord Gibbs? Surely not. It was plain as day he had no intentions toward her. He had made that apparent long ago.

“Pray, Your Grace,” Katherine said, tilting her chin up and finding a strong voice as they came to a stop at the edge of the dance floor, “do not ask me to dance again.”

“Did you not enjoy it? I certainly did.” He smiled with the words, that full and genuine smile that softened his features so much and had Katherine’s heart pounding.

Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that she did enjoy it. He was a fine dancer, and his playful if somewhat blatant flirtation at times intrigued her, but this was not what she wanted.

I want a compatible man, someone safe. Not someone who will simply leave me hurt again.

“Whether I enjoyed the dance or not is beside the point,” she continued. “Please, do not ask me to dance again.” Yet he made her no such promise and just kept on smiling. That was until another figure joined them, staring between them with a stare so strong that Katherine nearly flinched under that look.

“Colin? May I speak with you.” David’s voice was surprisingly firm. What shocked Katherine even more was the grip he put on the Duke’s arm.

“What is going on?” Katherine asked.

“Nothing, Katherine,” David spoke quickly. “I simply need to speak to Colin about a rather urgent matter.”

With these words they were gone, disappearing through the crowd of ladies in fine dresses and gentlemen perspiring through tailcoats. Katherine watched them part, her curiosity burning to know what they had to speak to each other about in that moment.

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10 comments

  1. I enjoy these intriguing & sometimes amusing stubborn characters. Katherine & Colin currently share so much sadness in their lives. It’s going to be interesting to see how they finally become drawn together & find the true love that neither of them has. What’s not to love about a great love story & to follow their antics along the way to a happy life.

  2. Young lady afraid of her feelings. So lock them away. Duke who wants to have her. But can’t should be very Interestingly played out.

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