Reforming the Duke – Laura Beers

MİSS AMELİA BLACKMORE knew that she should be paying attention to the ceremony, but she found her interest waning. Her eyes strayed towards the windows of the church, longing to be outside. It was such a lovely morning. The sun shone, and the birds sang from every tree. It was a perfect day to be riding her horse through the fields behind her townhouse. She wanted to reach into her reticule and check the time on her father’s gold pocket watch. Surely this wedding was almost over, she thought. It felt as though it had been going on for hours. She should be elated about this wedding, considering she and her sisters had successfully matched Mr. Dunn with Miss Teresa, but all she could seem to do was count the moments until it was over. Frankly, she didn’t know why she felt so restless. She usually loved weddings. There was no greater joy than watching someone marry their true love. Her older sister, Katherine, was dedicated to ensuring that all their clients were paired with someone that they could fall hopelessly in love with. Mr.

Dunn and Miss Teresa were no exception. They had bonded over their love for dams and engineering. A smile came to her face at that thought. Mr. Dunn was exceptionally interested in dams and was constantly reading books about them. He would read them at the most inopportune times, as well. Despite that, Miss Teresa had fallen for Mr. Dunn and his eccentric ways. The sound of clapping snapped her out of her reverie, and her gaze shifted to the front of the room. The happy couple was holding hands and smiling broadly at one another.

Although she found great relief that the wedding was finally over, she couldn’t help but be delighted for the groom and his bride. The genuine smiles on their faces made it evident to everyone how dearly they loved one another. After Mr. Dunn and his bride departed from the church, her younger sister, Hannah, nudged her arm with her shoulder. “You seem a little preoccupied this morning.” “I am,” Amelia admitted. “Why is that?” “I am not entirely sure,” Amelia replied with a half-shrug, “but I found my attention wandering.” A playful smile came to her sister’s lips. “Perhaps shopping will help with your humdrum.” Her back stiffened against the wooden pew.

“No, it wouldn’t.” “I think it would.” “It most definitely would not.” Hannah shifted on the bench towards her. “I find it odd that you are so opposed to shopping,” she said. “One could always use some more fabric, a hat, or ribbon.” “I trust the dressmaker will make the appropriate selections for me, and I have yet to be disappointed.” “I would agree that your dresses are exquisite, but I need a new ballgown.” “Another one?” Hannah gave her an amused look. “One cannot have too many ballgowns.

” “Yes, they can,” Amelia muttered under her breath. Her older sister, Katherine, the Marchioness of Berkshire, spoke up from the other side of Hannah. “We all could use new ballgowns, and I do need to pick up the shoes that I ordered from Wood’s shop.” Amelia let out an unladylike groan. “I don’t want to sort through all the fabric with Hannah. She always takes an enormous amount of time selecting one.” “It is true,” Hannah replied, unabashed. “I enjoy having a truly unique fabric for my ballgowns.” Katherine rose from her seat and smoothed down her jonquil muslin gown. “Perhaps we could just purchase a new hat today.

” “I would love a new hat,” Hannah responded enthusiastically as she rose from the pew. “I haven’t purchased one in ages.” “You mean two weeks ago?” Amelia asked, rising. “You seem to forget you dragged me to the milliner’s shop to pick up your new hat a week ago last Tuesday.” Hannah gave her an amused look. “But I have already worn that hat in public twice now. It is hardly new anymore.” The green feather on Amelia’s hat had drooped over the rim, and she blew on it, watching it take flight. “I suppose I could use a new hat,” she admitted begrudgingly. She hadn’t purchased one since last Season.

“Excellent!” Hannah exclaimed, clasping her hands together. “We shall have such fun together.” They exited the church, and Katherine went to inform their driver and footmen of their plans. As they started walking towards the shops on Bond street, their two liveried footmen followed behind them discreetly. Katherine came to a stop in front of Wood’s shop and said, “I shall be just a moment to pick up my shoes.” Hannah walked a short distance and stopped outside of a jeweler’s shop. She took a step closer to the storefront window. “What has caught your eye?” Amelia asked as she came to stand next to her. Hannah pointed towards a round gold locket. “Isn’t that exquisite?” “It is,” Amelia agreed.

“Would you care to go inside to take a closer look?” Her sister shook her head. “That won’t be necessary.” Amelia couldn’t help but notice that Hannah’s countenance had dimmed slightly. “Whatever is the matter?” “I am nearly twenty years old,” Hannah whispered, “and I have yet to secure a match of my own.” Amelia was caught off guard by her sister’s remark. “Are you interested in matrimony?” Hannah shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I am not opposed to it.” “Then we should inform Kate at once, and we shall find you the most brilliant match.” “No,” Hannah stated with a shake of her head. “I want to find my own suitor.” There was something in her sister’s voice that caused Amelia to pause, but before she could ask any more questions, Kate approached them.

“Shall we proceed to the milliner’s shop?” Kate asked eagerly. Hannah turned away from the storefront window swiftly, and a strained smile came to her lips. “Indeed, we shall.” They continued down the pavement until they arrived at the milliner’s shop. A bell above the door chimed as they stepped inside. A short, round woman greeted them with an overexuberant smile. “Welcome to Pearl’s shop. We have the finest selection of hats in all of London.” She gestured towards their vast selection of straw hats. “Is there something I can help you find?” “We are just looking,” Kate replied.

The woman bobbed her head, drawing attention to the loose skin under her chin. “The bonnets are on one side, the straw hats on the other side, and the caps are in the middle.” Amelia walked over to the straw hats and admired the ones that were trimmed only with flowers and ribbons. Frankly, she preferred the simple hats over the ones covered with silk or taffeta, showing nothing of the foundation material. Amelia picked up a pleated hat with a blue ribbon. This would do nicely, she thought. The shopkeeper approached her and suggested, “Perhaps you would be interested in a hat with ostrich feathers.” She picked up a large, ostentatious hat with bright feathers protruding high in the air. Amelia shook her head. “I have much simpler tastes, I’m afraid.

” “That is a shame, because the hat in your hand is quite similar to the one that you are wearing,” the shopkeeper commented. “The only difference is the color of the ribbon.” Hannah spoke up from next to her. “She is right. Why don’t you try getting something different? After all, there is a plethora of hats to choose from here.” “I am content with my own style.” “Pity,” Hannah remarked as she reached for the hat with the ostrich feathers. “I like to take risks when it comes to fashion.” Amelia’s eyes roamed over the straw hats as she looked for one that might appease her sister. In the back, there was a hat trimmed with unique red flowers.

She pointed towards it and asked, “What flower is that?” “It’s a poppy flower,” the shopkeeper replied as she retrieved the hat and extended it towards her. “They are popular in France.” Amelia admired the hat in her hands before saying, “I would like to purchase this hat.” “That is a fine choice,” the shopkeeper responded. Amelia extended the hat back to the shopkeeper and turned towards Hannah, who was now wearing the ostrich hat and admiring her reflection in a mirror. “Have you come to a decision yet?” Hannah nodded. “I don’t have a hat with an ostrich feather on it.” Kate laughed as she walked over with a pink bonnet in her hand. “I daresay that there might be a reason for that, dear sister.” “I think I will purchase it,” Hannah remarked, removing the hat.

As they left the store, they handed off their purchases to the waiting footmen. They turned and started walking down the pavement. “Are you sure I can’t entice you into looking at fabric?” Hannah asked, glancing over at her. “No,” came Amelia’s swift reply. “I would much rather be riding my horse.” Hannah lifted her brow. “That isn’t saying much since you always prefer riding your horse over anything else.” “That is true, but…” Amelia’s words trailed off when she saw Mr. Martin Pemberton approaching them from the opposite direction. He stopped in front of them and bowed slightly.

“What a blessed day for me to run into such beautiful ladies,” he greeted in a flirtatious tone. Amelia was not fooled by Martin’s flowery words, but she knew that he was harmless. He was a dear friend of the family. “How are you faring today?” Amelia asked. “I am well,” Martin replied, his eyes lingering on Hannah. “What brings you into Town?” In a soft voice, Hannah replied, “We went shopping at the milliner’s.” “I take it that you were successful,” Martin commented as he glanced at the footmen behind them holding their packages. Hannah nodded. “We were.” “May I escort you to the next shop?” Martin asked.

“That won’t be necessary, since we are returning to our townhouse now,” Amelia responded. “We have done enough shopping for one day.” Martin smirked. “I must admit that I have never heard a lady admit that before.” “Amelia may be done with shopping, but I could continue visiting these shops all day,” Hannah confessed. Martin’s eyes perused the length of Hannah’s white gown with its pink sash around the waist. “I can see why. You always dress so beautifully.” A bright stain of red came to Hannah’s cheeks, and she lowered her gaze. “It is entirely inappropriate to stand around on the pavement for so long,” Kate chided lightly.

“Perhaps you could escort us to our carriage.” “I would be honored to,” Martin agreed. Since the pavement wasn’t wide enough for them to all walk side by side, Amelia ended up walking beside Martin. She glanced over at him and said, “I am sorry to hear about your grandfather.” A pained look came into his eyes. “I’m afraid it won’t be much longer until he passes.” “He is a good man.” “That he is.” “I will always remember with much fondness when he taught us how to fish on the stream near your country estate,” Amelia reminisced. Martin chuckled.

“If I recall correctly, you used to fall into the stream more times than you caught fish.” Amelia smiled ruefully. “I don’t think I ever caught a fish.” “No, I don’t think you did.” He smiled. “How is your sister faring with your grandfather’s illness?” Martin sighed. “She is handling it better than expected, but my father is struggling with it all. In fact, he has asked me to oversee all of the properties and manage our estate holdings so he can immerse himself in politics.” “You knew this day would come.” Martin nodded solemnly.

“I did, but I am still not prepared for it.” They came to a stop in front of their black coach and a footman put the step down. Martin gestured and said, “Allow me.” After Martin had assisted each one of them into the coach, he waved and remarked, “It was a pleasure to run into you ladies today.” The sisters murmured their goodbyes, and the coach jerked forward and merged into the busy street, skirting the pedestrians walking alongside the pavement. Amelia couldn’t help but notice that Hannah’s eyes remained fixed on Martin until they turned a corner. She had always suspected that her sister held Martin in high regard, but Hannah had been very tight-lipped about it. “We shall have to send flowers,” Kate announced, drawing her attention. “To whom?” Kate eyed her curiously. “To Lady Devon, of course,” she replied.

“After all, Lord Devon is deathly ill and is fading fast.” “I think that is a brilliant idea,” Amelia agreed. “Now that Mr. Dunn is married, we might want to consider taking on another client,” Kate suggested as she played with the fringe on the reticule around her right wrist. Hannah groaned at Kate’s abrupt change of topic. “The moment we finish with a client, you want to bring on another one.” “Is that so wrong?” Kate questioned. Rather than argue with her sister, Amelia made a suggestion instead. “I propose we all take a nap and a long soak before we even discuss bringing on a new client.” “Agreed,” Hannah and Kate said in unison.

Amelia leaned lower in the saddle as she raced towards the low, two-foot hedge, her body moving fluidly with the strong powerful gelding beneath her. The horse didn’t hesitate as it jumped over the hedge and landed the jump with ease. She reined him in near the stables, and the lead groom gave her a disapproving look. “You are being rather reckless, miss.” In a swift motion, Amelia slid off her horse and held the reins loosely in her hands. “I have jumped bigger hedges than that, John.” “Yes, out at your country house,” he contended. “But these fields have uneven patches, and you could easily be upended.” “You seem to forget that I have fallen off a horse before. It isn’t the worst thing in the world.

” John frowned. “It is if you break something.” “Perhaps next time I will ride astride, then.” Amelia smirked. “We both know it is much safer than using a side saddle.” With a shake of his head, John stepped forward to collect her reins. “Your sisters would have a fit if you ever did something so brazen, miss.” “You are right, of course,” Amelia replied as she relinquished the reins to him. “Besides, my father made me promise when I was very young that I would only ride astride and bareback on our lands.” “I have never known a lady to ride bareback.

” “One of the grooms taught me at our country estate,” Amelia revealed as she brushed the wisps of brown hair from her forehead and tucked it behind her ears. “I must admit that it does take some getting used to.” “I can only imagine.” Amelia watched as John led her horse into the stable before she hurried the short distance to the townhouse. As she entered the rear door, she smelled the delightful aroma of food wafting out of the dining room. Stepping into the dining room, she saw her brother-in-law sitting at the head of the table, reading the morning newspaper. “Good morning, Edward,” she greeted as she walked over to the lavish spread on the buffet table. Edward, the Marquess of Berkshire, lowered the newspaper and gave her his full attention. “Good morning,” he said. “How was your ride?” “It was uneventful,” Amelia replied as she began to pile her plate with food.

“Did John lecture you about jumping over the hedge again?” “He did.” Edward gave her a stern look, but it did little to intimidate her. “I do wish you would avoid doing something so foolhardy,” he cautioned. “You race your horse entirely too fast in the fields behind the townhouses.” “My horse took no issue with the terrain.” Amelia came to sit down to the right of him and gave him a knowing look. “Did my sister ask you to speak to me?” A small smile came to the edge of his lips. “Kate is just worried about you.” “You do not need to fear on my account,” she assured him. “I am a proficient rider.

” Edward glanced over at the door before saying, “I must admit that you can ride as well as any man.” Amelia raised an eyebrow. “Was that supposed to be a compliment?” “It was.” “It was awful,” she observed. “That wasn’t my intention.” Amelia placed her white linen napkin onto her lap. “I am sure that I can outride most men I associate with.” Kate’s voice came from the doorway. “Aren’t you being a tad bit cocky?” she asked, walking further into the room. “I don’t believe I am,” Amelia replied as she picked up a fork.

Her sister walked up to her husband and kissed him on the cheek. “Good morning, husband.” “Good morning, wife,” Edward said tenderly. “I am glad to see that you are finally awake.” Kate smiled as she leaned back. “I have been up for nearly an hour reading through our correspondences, and I just found the most unusual request.” Amelia swallowed her bite of food and asked, “Which is?” “The Dowager Duchess of Harrowden has asked us to secure a bride for her son, the duke,” Kate revealed. Amelia’s lips parted in disbelief. “She did?” Kate walked around the table and sat across from her. “It appears that her son has tasked her with finding a bride for him.

” “I can’t imagine that would be too difficult. Ladies will be lining up to be the next Duchess of Harrowden,” Amelia remarked. Edward interjected, “I am not entirely sure if that is true. After all, the duke hasn’t been seen in Society for more than five years now, and he doesn’t have the most pristine reputation.” “That hardly matters to the scheming, matchmaking mothers,” Amelia remarked. “They would do just about anything to ensure their daughter becomes a duchess.” “Exactly!” Kate exclaimed. “Which is why the dowager duchess wants to hire us to find him a bride.” Hannah stepped into the room. “Who is attempting to hire us?” she asked.

“The Dowager Duchess of Harrowden is hiring us to find a bride for her son,” Kate explained. With wide eyes, Hannah declared, “The Duke of Harrowden is a recluse, and if the rumors are true, he killed his own wife.” “I don’t believe those rumors to be true,” Amelia contended. “The duchess died during childbirth.” Hannah came to sit down next to her. “It was common knowledge that the duchess and duke were miserable together. Don’t you think it was rather convenient for the duke that she died?” “That was just an unfortunate coincidence,” Amelia insisted. “I am not so sure,” Hannah remarked as a footman placed a cup of chocolate in front of her. Kate unfolded a note. “The dowager duchess has reiterated over and over that she wants to find a love match for her son,” she said, “and she has carefully outlined her plan.

” “A plan?” Amelia asked, amused. “My curiosity has now been piqued.”

.

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