The Design of Dukes – Kathleen Ayers

Lady Andromeda Barrington stepped discreetly behind a tree, determined to sketch the gorgeous concoction Miss Anne Cummings wore. The frothy gown of pale pink had been designed in such a way to resemble the careful opening of a flower. A fabulous design. Romy wondered who had made the gown. Madame Fontaine? Surely if it had been made by Madame Dupree, Romy would have known. Pencil clutched in one hand, she pulled out the small notepad she always carried from the pocket cleverly hidden in the folds of her skirts. Pockets were something she insisted on, for they were useful for a variety of things. Just as Romy got the design stitched on Miss Cummings’s skirts correct in her sketch, her view was blocked by an enormous pair of shoulders garbed all in black. Black. At a garden party. Like an oversized vulture. Still, Romy didn’t look away; she stopped her sketch of Miss Cummings’s costume, all her attention taken by the large form in front of her. Grumpy Granby, as she’d christened the Duke of Granby, was difficult to overlook. The height of Granby, nearly a head taller than all the other gentlemen surrounding him at any event, certainly drew the eye. As did his powerfully built form.

Granby’s massive shoulders strained against the fabric of his clothes as if he spent his days chopping wood instead of doing ducal things. Large, booted feet encased in expensive leather had been stomping among the lesser mortals of Lady Masterson’s party all day while Granby stared everyone down with his patent frosty manner. Romy had known several dukes; she was the daughter of the Duke of Averell, after all. But never had she encountered a gentleman who seemed to look down on so many of those around him as did the Duke of Granby. It was shortly after her debut when Granby had first drawn her eye, at the opera of all places. The sheer . enormity of Granby made him difficult to ignore. He’d stuck out dramatically against the other gentlemen making their way up the steps to their private boxes. Granby himself had easily towered over Mrs. Hammond, the young, glamorous widow clinging to his arm.

Oblivious to his lack of interest in her, Mrs. Hammond had been chattering away as Granby dragged her forward. It had reminded Romy of a bear who hadn’t quite decided to shake off the small fox attacking its arm. This observation had not been helped by the fact that Mrs. Hammond’s shoulders were swathed in fur. Granby’s chilly gaze had swept the throngs of the ton at the opera with disinterest, passing over Romy, who was making her way to her family’s box, without pause. Later, during intermission, as her brother Tony had escorted Romy to the refreshment stand, Granby’s glance had once again drifted over Romy with indifference even though she was mere inches from him. Romy was accustomed to being looked at but not with such apathy. Perhaps his manner had been what spurred her to observe the length of his coat. It had been far too short for a man of Granby’s height.

The latest fashion dictated a gentleman’s coat come to mid-thigh. Had he not nearly stomped on her skirts with his gigantic feet, she might have mentioned such a thing to him as a kindness. He’d nearly torn her gown. That night, she had added careless to the list of attributes she’d assigned him. Days later, Romy and her mother, the Duchess of Averell, had attended the Cambourne ball. Once again, her gaze had focused on Granby and the incorrect length of his coat. Either his tailor was blind, or Granby simply wasn’t very observant. Another aspect of Granby she didn’t care for. At the ball, Granby had stood against a far wall, ignoring the entire herd of twittering young ladies attempting to garner his interest. He viewed them all with the same cold detachment Mrs.

Hammond had received at the opera. Couldn’t he at the very least put a polite smile on his face? While she couldn’t put her finger on why, Granby’s disdain bothered her. As did his bloody coat. While a gentleman’s attire wasn’t exactly Romy’s forte, she was well-versed in the latest fashions. And the length of his coat was obvious. At least to her. His inattention to this one detail bothered her, for in all other ways, his appearance was impeccable. Cravat always crisp, though Romy didn’t agree with the bland color. Boots always polished. Waistcoats also boring, but properly fitted.

But not the length of his coat. It was a glaring, troubling omission. Romy pressed closer to the bark of the tree, careful not to tear her gown, and peered at Granby. He was nauseatingly wealthy and could certainly afford the best tailor in London. She shook her head, taking in the coat he wore today. As expected, the length fell closer to his hip, and not mid-thigh as it should. Her perusal naturally lent itself to the long length of Granby’s legs. It took a moment. He was exceedingly tall. Goodness.

And impressive. His trousers strained over the bunched muscles of his thighs, more apparent because the length of his coat was incorrect. Could his tailor not measure properly? It was as if the fabric hadn’t been given enough room to account for— Oh, dear. A tiny, barely noticeable shiver followed the burst of heat flooding up her cheeks. Romy shouldn’t know about such things. The vast majority of young ladies of her station did not. But she had two older brothers. Tony was a notorious rake and the other, Leo, owned a gambling hell and pleasure palace. Romy wasn’t entirely ignorant of how her brothers lived. And the Duchess of Averell, her mother, had insisted her daughters not be raised in ignorance, as so many girls were.

Romy also possessed a vivid imagination, useful not just for clothing design. Her fingers clutched the pencil tighter as she forced herself to look away from the lower section of Granby’s body. The Duchess of Averell might be more progressive than most, but she would still object to her daughter ogling a gentleman in such a manner. “Grumpy Granby,” she whispered into the bark of the tree. “Please move your giant form so I may continue my sketch.” Romy focused her attention on the view of Miss Cummings’s skirts not blocked by Granby. The design appeared to be honeybees. How clever. The rest of the embroidery was hidden from her eyes. Granby didn’t so much as move an inch, almost as if he knew he was ruining things for her.

Her sketches had to be conducted with the utmost discretion, unseen by those she observed, else her hobby would become fodder for the gossips. And she was nearly out of time. Her mother and their friend, Miss Lainscott, would soon wonder where Romy had gotten off to. Granby turned slightly, giving Romy an unobstructed view of his striking, almost savagely carved profile. Bold slashes of cheek and brow, with not so much as a hint of patrician refinement met her eye. His hair, the exact color of a raven’s wing, sparked with blue-black highlights where the sun touched the dark strands, as it did when one thick wave fell over his eye only to be pushed absently away. The coat is too short. The hair, too long. Another bit of Granby to puzzle over. There was a roughness to this duke, as if he’d be more at home in a boxing ring than at Lady Masterson’s party.

Romy sensed there was something else lurking beneath the rigid, stiff manner, a wildness Granby was desperately trying to contain within the cool detachment he presented. The allure Granby held for her swirled around her ankles like a small hurricane. She wiggled a foot, trying to shake it off. A gentleman approached from across the lawn, and Granby tilted his chin in greeting, the scowl so often gracing his lips softening. “Gran. I wasn’t expecting to see you at Lady Masterson’s.” “Why not?” The words came from Granby. “I received an invitation.” “Garden parties aren’t typically the type of amusement you seek.” Granby’s friend was carelessly attractive, with hair of burnished gold and twinkling blue eyes.

“All this sunlight might give you a hint of color. You should be careful. Someone may mistake you for being human.” A grin lit across his face. The man’s name popped into Romy’s head. The Earl of Blythe. Blythe had lately become the focus of her younger sister’s attention. Theo had spotted the attractive earl in the park several weeks ago and now spoke of him constantly in glowing terms. Highly unusual given Theo rarely cared for anything other than the painting of her miniatures. Romy doubted Blythe had any idea of Theo’s interest as, to Romy’s knowledge, the two had never been introduced.

Theo wasn’t out yet. And Blythe was a notorious rake. Neither of those facts dampened Theo’s interest in him one bit. “My amusement,” Granby replied, “is in seeing all the idiots who have bowed to Lady Masterson’s wishes and garbed themselves as stags.” Granby nodded in the direction of Lord Carstairs who was stumbling about with antlers strapped to his head. “I’m constantly surprised Carstairs hasn’t managed to shoot himself while on one of his many hunting trips. Virtually a miracle.” Romy covered her mouth to keep from laughing. Tony was friends with Carstairs and often said the same about his friend. “But you are in costume, Gran, aren’t you? Let me guess—a blackbird?” Blythe gestured to Granby’s somber attire.

“Perhaps a raven.” Blythe taunted with a laugh, showing an even row of white teeth. “An overly large one.” No wonder Theo is enamored. Blythe is spectacular. But Blythe, despite his golden masculine beauty, didn’t draw Romy’s eye. “Bugger off, Blythe. Not all of us care to prance about like dandies seeking to ruin any young lady we come across.” Granby had a lovely voice. Low and rumbling, laced with delicious undertones of caramel.

The sound was mildly intoxicating, as evidenced by the way her toes curled inside her slippers. “You make me sound quite immoral.” Blythe placed a gloved hand on his chest as if shocked by Granby’s appraisal. “I don’t take liberties with every girl whom I happen upon.” He dipped to peer around Granby, piercing Romy with a look. “For instance, the young lady who is eavesdropping on us right now. I’ve not so much as even made an improper comment to her. Yet.” Bollocks. Granby turned around, fixing her with a disdainful glare.

His eyes were so dark, they resembled bits of obsidian, flat and cold with absolutely no warmth. “Come out,” he growled. “If you please.” This was bound to be unpleasant. She’d only been sketching. The eavesdropping had been entirely accidental. It was doubtful, based on the chilliness with which he regarded her, that Granby would see it that way. Romy stepped out from the safety of the tree trunk a step, careful to keep herself beneath the shadow of the canopy of leaves above her, hoping to keep her features in shadow. “Your Grace.” She dipped gracefully to Granby.

“Lord Blythe.” Blythe raised a brow, the grin splitting his lips stretching further. “I fear you have me at a disadvantage, my lady, for I don’t believe we’ve ever met.” “Nor I,” Granby murmured, dark eyes never leaving her face. “We haven’t, my lord.” She replied to Blythe, purposefully avoiding looking in Granby’s direction, though she felt the press of his gaze touching her skin. “You were pointed out to me during an afternoon at the park.” There was no good way to explain how she knew Granby’s identity without sounding like a complete idiot. One didn’t tell a grumpy duke how fascinated she was by the length of his coat. Or any other part of his person.

“My apologies for disturbing you; it was not my intent.” She forced a polite smile to her lips. “I was sketching when His Grace stepped in front of me.” She held her tiny notebook up. “If you will excuse me, I must take my leave. Enjoy the party.” Turning, she took a step back, intent on escaping to the safety of Lady Masterson’s front lawn. “Stop.” Romy hesitated, not caring for the duke’s commanding tone. If she just starting running, would he attempt to stop her? “Were you sketching Granby’s backside?” Blythe laughed out from between his gloved fingers, clearly finding the situation amusing.

“I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” Heat stung her cheeks at Blythe’s scandalous statement. “I was absolutely not, my lord.” “Could you find nothing else more worthy of your talent?” Blythe’s tone turned flirtatious. “Mine, perhaps?” Blythe turned sideways and wiggled his hips. Blythe was a shameless rogue. Though Romy had to admit upon inspection, Blythe’s backside, like the rest of him, was rather magnificent. Granby’s eyes fluttered shut, head shaking as if Blythe continuously tried his limited patience, before once again fixing Romy with a frosty glare. He has uncommonly long lashes for a man. “I was sketching Miss Cummings’s costume.

” Romy waved in the direction of the young lady who was now wandering off, oblivious to the fact that her gown had been the cause of Romy’s current situation. “And eavesdropping.” Granby’s snarl met her ears. “Who knows what else you were sketching,” Blythe said mischievously. “ I’d like to take a look.” She immediately hid her notebook within the folds of her skirts. “I’m not certain,” Romy snapped back, embarrassed to have been caught looking at Granby while Blythe took notice, “there was anything of merit for me to overhear. If you must know—” “Oh, I must,” Granby drawled. Worse than being commanded by Granby was being mocked by him. It shouldn’t have bothered her—after all, they hadn’t even been properly introduced—but it did.

Romy had a temper. One that caused her to speak without thinking. According to her family, her temper was one of her biggest failings. “If you must know”—she imitated in a mockery of Granby— “I was struck dumb at the sight of the duke’s coat.” “My coat?” His dark eyes narrowed, blasting her with dislike. “Yes, Your Grace.” She nodded as if truly at odds over what she was about to relay to him. “I noticed the length is incorrect. Two inches longer would be much more in line with what is deemed fashionable.” Granby’s massive shoulders stiffened.

One gloved hand tugged at his collar, though she hadn’t said a word about his cravat. Yet. “She may have a point, Gran,” Blythe added helpfully, looking between his coat and Granby’s. “I think I mentioned—” “I do not,” Granby said, interrupting Blythe, all his attention firmly on Romy, “take fashion advice from a woman who has the poor sense to come to a party dressed as a shrub.” Romy sucked in her breath. Her costume was lovely. She was a dryad. A tree nymph. It was true that very few had seen the vision of her costume today, guessing somewhat correctly that she was a tree of some sort, but she certainly, emphatically, did not look like a shrub. Granby himself was a mountain masquerading as a duke.

“I am a tree nymph, Your Grace,” Romy stated with determination. “I beg to differ.” His dark eyes ran down her body. “ You look like a shrub. All you need is a bit of red and I’d mistake you for a holly.” “A holly?” “Or,” he put a finger to his lips, “whatever that small bush is that is beneath the windows of my home. Do you recall the name, Blythe?” “Hawthorne.” Blythe pursed his lips trying to hold back his laughter. “It is not surprising you don’t recognize the difference between a tree and a shrub, Your Grace.” Romy’s chin jerked angrily in the direction of his coat.

“You obviously do not have a discerning eye.” This time, Blythe snorted in amusement. Granby went completely still, nostrils flaring in apparent outrage, like an angry bull about to charge. She’d unintentionally hit a nerve. Good. Dressed in all that black, it would be easy for Granby to be mistaken as a bleak mountaintop in some inhospitable place. She could practically see the snowcaps hovering about his shoulders. He was rather intimidating, but unfortunately, her temper had full control of her mouth at the moment. Besides, Granby would hardly assault her with Blythe so close. “You appear to have more to say, shrub.

Don’t let me stop you.” “Your tailor has measured incorrectly, a situation you should remedy immediately, Your Grace. I’m not sure whether he is incompetent or merely lacks talent. At the very least, his eyesight should be checked.” “There’s nothing wrong with my tailor,” the duke said in a chilly tone. Blythe, no longer able to control himself, turned his back on both of them, his shoulders shaking with mirth. “I respectfully disagree, Your Grace.” “There is nothing respectful at all in your tone.” The mountain moved in her direction, a dangerous light flickering in his eyes. Strangely, Romy felt not an ounce of fear, another failing which her brother Leo at times likened to stupidity.

But the skin of her arms and chest prickled in a most curious manner at Granby’s nearness. She sniffed the air. Granby smelled woodsy, as if he’d been tromping through the wilderness all day. Like an ogre. “You should find a better tailor.” Romy lifted her chin, daring him to object before taking a step back further beneath the tree. “Your Grace.” She dipped politely once more before turning and striding off in the direction of the small crowd surrounding the refreshment stand set up in the center of the lawn. Lemonade and servants would offer her some protection. A slight rumble sounded in the distance.

Thunder. Or Granby. She wasn’t sure. Turning her head up toward the sky, Romy was gratified to see a darkening of the clouds just as the first drops of rain hit her arms. She doubted Granby would care enough about her condemnation of the length of his coat to pursue her during a rainstorm. Hopefully, they would not cross paths again.

.

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