A Damsel for the Daring Duke – Bridget Barton

“No, James, you most certainly did not mention it before today. In fact, I would go as far as to say that would have been your intention, rather than a simple oversight.” The Duke of Sandford’s keen blue eyes peered over at his son from the other side of the breakfast table. “And I am by no means the fool you seem to take me for. One of these days, I daresay you will realize it. But until that time is upon us, I shall have to settle for reminding you.” He took a huge mouthful of bacon, for which his son was extraordinarily grateful. For one thing, it meant his father would remain silent on the subject of his sporting excursion to the east of the county for a few moments and, for another, it meant he would have less of the slightly undercooked bacon to eat himself. James Harrington was by no means a wasteful young man, but his father’s habit for ensuring everything provided was eaten would have worked a good deal better if less were provided in the first place. His father was a full-bellied man with time on his hands to make every meal last an eternity. James, on the other hand, could not abide to sit three times a day in his father’s company as it was, much less drag the whole thing out because there was far too much food for two men to eat. “And I shall remind you daily if this sort of thing continues.” The Duke started to speak again, and James winced as he was confronted with a mouthful of partially-chewed bacon. “Every day.” The Duke filled his mouth again.

“Father, I said it was an oversight, and an oversight it was. Although I am sure I mentioned my excursion some weeks back.” James always found it a little too easy to lie to his father; nobody else, just the Duke. Perhaps nobody else in James’ sphere of society had the sort of character that made the occasional lie something far less of a sin and rather more of a necessity. “Mmmph,” his father grunted as he continued to chew, his mouth mercifully closed this time. “And in any case, I cannot see the need for all this high dudgeon. I am away for the weekend at Hanover Hall. What on earth can my absence matter?” “James, I might well have arranged a dinner or something similar here. And it might well have been a dinner to which your own attendance was vital. Pivotal even.” James groaned inwardly. What his father meant by that was obvious to him. The Duke was talking of one of his tedious attempts to find a match for his son. A young lady who, in the Duke’s eyes, would be absolutely suitable but who would undoubtedly, in James’ own eyes, be anything but. “Well, you have not arranged such a dinner that I am aware of, Father.

” James knew he was being a little obtuse but frankly did not care. “No, I have not,” the Duke conceded gruffly; his patience was being stretched. “Then surely there is no issue of particular note. Likely there is nothing for us even to discuss, let alone to get cross about and interfere with the process of trying to digest the indigestible.” He looked significantly at the unappetizing piece of bacon on the end of his own fork. “Why must you always try to be so clever?” The Duke was no better than an angry bear before midafternoon on most days; just one little prod, and the volume of his voice rose by several decibels. “Father?” James said with amusement as he popped the bacon into his mouth. “You twist everything and make a jape of it all. Well, you are not funny, and I am not at all amused by you. Your friend, Hector Hanover, might appreciate your witticisms, but then I daresay Eton and Oxford must have changed a good deal since I went if this is what passes as proper behaviour these days.” The Duke furiously stabbed a kidney, and for an awful moment, James thought his father was about to push the whole thing into his anger-tortured mouth. Fortunately, the Duke dropped it down onto his plate and began to cut it. “Father, I do not mean to have you in all this state before we have even finished our breakfast.” James’ attempt at an apology was certainly going to be a sarcastic one. “And I really did think I had mentioned the sporting event at Hanover Hall.

I can only apologize for not being absolutely sure and admit myself to be greatly relieved not to have interfered with the plans you did not make.” James looked truly apologetic and his father, initially looking as if he was sure he had been tied up in knots but was unsure how exactly, nodded his acceptance of the dubious apology. “Well, I must admit I am a little surprised you are going at all. I thought you had more or less parted company with Hector Hanover.” The Duke had calmed down, and James resisted the opportunity to smirk. “No, we are as friendly as ever we were. I daresay the little distance between Sandford and Hanover has something to do with it all. But I am bound to say that whenever we find ourselves in company, we are much as we ever were.” “I have no doubt,” his father said disapprovingly. “As frivolous and irreverent as always.” “I daresay,” James said, thinking it pointless to argue, especially since what his father had said was, on this occasion, largely true. James had to admit that he was looking forward to a few days away. Not only to rid himself of the ever-present and always rather bullying tones of his father, but to see his old school friend. Despite his father’s assumption, James and Hector really were as close as they had ever been. James missed his old friend a great deal and blamed his father’s constant demands for attention for it.

He was forever arranging something truly dreadful in the social engagement arena or demanding that his son follow him all day every day so that he might learn the art of running a Duchy. Of course, James, being very much sharper than his father, realized that the best way to run a Duchy was to let the overseer and managers do the jobs they were paid for. They were, after all, the professionals in such things. James was not entirely without interest in the whole thing; it was just that he could see that once you knew the ins and outs, you knew them. That was enough to be able to say with confidence that your staff was doing a good job. A person did not need, in his opinion, to practice the whole thing over and over again. Once you had the gist of it, there was no more sense in continually practicing than there was in consciously practicing how to breathe in and out. You knew what to do; it took care of itself. James knew that, at nine and twenty, it really was time he turned his attention to more in life than just amusement, but knowing it and implementing it were two different things. He had always been of a bright, almost sunny disposition, very much like the mother who had departed this world far too soon.


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Updated: 15 January 2021 — 08:19

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