Trailing behind Blithfield and his young lady, Nate arrived with the others just as they began to move on to another room. He dreaded large gatherings like this. He agreed to come only as a favor to Laura. She had been spending more time with the Duchess of Clifford, and her grace had requested Laura’s presence. Or, at least, that’s what Laura had explained to him. Now, seeing her on Linton’s arm, he wondered if she were growing attached to the man. It could never be. Daughters of dukes did not marry mere misters. Furthermore, no matter what Nate’s father had done, dukes did not marry women in trade.
Clifford emerged at his side. “You missed it, but Clara announced our house party. You will come this year and bring Laura?”
“Laura? No, she is far too young!”
Clifford nodded in the direction of where Laura and Linwood stood and chatted. Linwood was apparently enamored with Nate’s sister and judging by her blush and frequent smiles she, at the very least, enjoyed the attention.
“She is not too young for a house party,” Clifford said.
“She is too young for one of your wife’s house parties. You know how she matchmakes!”
“It does not follow that she would do so for Laura. Do you forget that she used to be a teacher of girls our sister’s age? She never advocated marriage for any of them.”
The truth was, Nate did often forget that Clifford’s wife had been a teacher and was not born to the aristocracy. For that matter, Clifford had been the son of a man who had been a baronet and given an earldom long after Nate’s childhood. He earned his dukedom after assisting the Prince Regent. Of course, Nate promptly committed political suicide by then siding against Prinny on a critical Parliamentary debate. Not that Nate ever considered doing otherwise. His integrity had always been to the extreme. It was such actions that garnered Nate’s notice, and their friendship began.
It was not that Nate disliked people of lower ranks. Rising up to a dukedom was something of which to be proud, and Nate congratulated his friend. However, lowering the status of your family to follow your lust for the butcher’s daughter was another thing entirely.
“You do raise a valid point,” Nate admitted.
“It is you Clara would love to find a match for, and I agree with her thoughts.”
“You need to ensure your dukedom. A wife, heirs—that sort of thing.”
Nate frowned. If he could, he would leave everything to Laura. However, if he did not marry the title would go to ___. “You know I have the utmost respect for your wife and think of her almost as a sister.”
“Ah, so you will come.” Clifford grinned. “Well, tell her your requirements, and I am sure she can arrange a guest to suit.”
“This idea is ridiculous enough without my having to discuss it with Her Grace.”
“Well, if you tell me, I am just as likely to get all the details reversed. If you tell neither of us a thing, then Clara will invent her own requirements and heaven help you.”
Nate grunted his assent. For the remainder of the outing, he considered what he would like in a wife. She must come from an old and noble family with no hint of scandal. That alone would make it nearly impossible to find a lady. She must have some wealth—not that he needed it. Instead, it would assure they had no rumors of fortune hunting. Considering how he would prefer his future bride to look required more time.
A few days later, the Duke and Duchess of Clifford dined at his home. After the meal, while Laura performed on the pianoforte, Her Grace sat next to him and brought up the conversation.
“Tell me about your ideal lady,” the duchess commanded. After Nate gave his description, the woman laughed. “We can plan, sir, but the heart cannot be dictated by such things. At the very least, what sort of looks do you prefer?”
“Petite but unaware of the fact,” he answered without hesitation.
“How…interesting. Anything else?”
Although Nate felt ridiculous saying something so stupidly poetic, he believed if she truly wished to satisfy she would be up to the task. “Eyes as blue as the ocean and hair the sunshine.”
A slow smile spread across the duchess’ face. “Quite romantic. When you are courting be sure to write her a verse or two.”
“Naturally,” he said with a smirk.
“Is that all?”
Laura had finished her sonata. After their gentle applause, the duchess stood for her turn on the instrument. “Actually,” Nate said before she walked away, “her face should remind one of a heart.”
“I see. Well, I do believe I may find one or two ladies who may suit your requirements after all.”
She dipped into a curtsy then moved to the pianoforte. The night continued without anything worth noting. It was not until he awoke in a cold sweat in the middle of the night that he realized he had described Sylvia Linwood.
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