Portrait of the Duke
Eight titled peers who never expected to become dukes do just that—and are attracted to females whom Polite Society does not believe worthy of the title duchess, due to their desires to be more than typical ladies of the ton.
But these sudden dukes choose to forge their own paths with the remarkable women who are already doing just that—and the resulting love proves that trusting one’s heart is always the right choice.
A fun-loving man who has become a staid duke . . .
An independent lady who wishes to pursue her artistic bent . . .
A long-ago meeting which left a lasting impression on them both . . .
Daniel Judson, the Duke of Westfield, changed from a carefree young rogue into a sober duke once faced with a mountain of responsibilities after he assumed his grandfather’s title. After seeing both his sisters wed, Daniel knows it is finally time for him to take a wife in order to provide the necessary ducal heir.
Lady Margaret Townsend’s come-out was delayed by the ill health and subsequent deaths of her parents. Now an ancient four and twenty, she makes her debut into Polite Society—not to find a husband—but to secure important social connections within the ton in order to acquire commissions to paint their portraits, a dream she has long held.
Sparks surfaced during their initial encounter ten years ago. Their second introduction at the inaugural ball of the Season leaves Daniel certain he has found his duchess, while Margaret is confused by the never-known feelings stirring within her.
Will the duke convince this lady she can have both marriage and her art—or will her stubbornness to follow a chosen path have her miss out on love?
Find the answer in Alexa Aston’s Portrait of the Duke, Book 1 in Suddenly a Duke.
Each book in the Suddenly a Duke series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order and can be read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Suddenly a Duke
Book 1 – Portrait of the Duke
Book 2 – Music for the Duke
Book 3 – Polishing the Duke
Book 4 – Designs on the Duke
Book 5 – Fashioning the Duke
Book 6 – Love Blooms with the Duke
Book 7 – Training the Duke
Book 8 – Investigating the Duke
Release date: February 3, 2023
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 286
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Behind the book
I wanted my Suddenly a Duke series to spotlight unusual women. In Portrait of the Duke, Margaret is an artist. It was unheard of for a woman of the ton to make her living, much less as doing something so bohemian as painting portraits!
But a dowager duchess decides to use her power in Polite Society to help out this talented artist, and it is her grandson who is interested in the feisty Lady Margaret.
Portrait of the Duke
Lady Margaret Townsend watched her older sister flirt with one of the gentlemen who had called upon them this afternoon. It was Dolley’s first Season, and from everything Margaret could tell, Dolley’s come-out was a spectacular one. At least according to the gossip columns, which Margaret read voraciously when no one was looking. They referred to Lady Dolley Townsend as a diamond of the first water and the most impressive debutante of this Season.
Margaret couldn’t stand Dolley.
She found her sister petty and annoying—and that was on a good day. Actually, her mother was petty and annoying. Dolley was merely cut from the same cloth. Both women prized money and titles above all else. Thank goodness, she took after Papa and understood what was truly important in life. Learning. Friendships. Family. At least family who acted like family toward one another.
Mama had never taken to Margaret and because of Mama’s attitude toward her younger daughter, neither had Dolley. Both her mother and sister were petite blonds with round, blue eyes like a doll’s. Margaret, on the other hand, was already two inches under six feet at age fourteen, all gangly arms and legs. But it was her red hair which sealed the deal and what she believed made Mama dislike her so much.
Grandmama had had the same fiery red hair as Margaret. At least it had been a vivid red when Grandmama was young. By the time Margaret came along, Grandmama’s hair had begun to turn white and was completely so by Margaret’s fifth birthday. Since Mama had never liked anyone on Papa’s side of the family—Papa included—Margaret’s red hair marked her for derision from her mother and sister.
She didn’t care what Mama or Dolley thought of her. She especially didn’t care for fancy clothes and making her come-out. It all seemed a waste of time to her. She would rather be painting. Or riding. Or doing anything outdoors instead of sitting in this stuffy drawing room and watching preening suitors fawn over Dolley. Every afternoon, their drawing room drew at least a dozen men and was filled with bouquets which tried to show Lady Dolley Townsend just how much these suitors thought of her. Mama dragged Margaret to the drawing room each day and told her to pick up her embroidery and sew. Mama did the same, keeping an eagle eye on each of the men present, noting which ones spent the most on obscenely huge bouquets and how often they called.
Since her mother was engrossed in listening to the conversation Dolley was having with two earls and a marquess, Margaret decided now was as good a time as any in which to make her escape. The clock had just chimed, and she knew Dolley was to go driving in Hyde Park with some suitor in a quarter hour. Mama wouldn’t miss Margaret.
Slipping from her seat, Margaret left the drawing room and proceeded downstairs. She had left a book in her father’s study, the one place where Mama never thought to look for her. She would retrieve it and read for a few hours until supper. Another of the endless balls was being held tonight and her family would have a light meal before Mama and Dolley dressed and they left for the ball, Papa as their escort.
As she descended the stairs, she saw a handsome gentleman being admitted by Benson, their butler.
“I will tell Lady Dolley you are here, my lord. Would you care to wait in the parlor?”
“No, here is fine,” the caller replied.
Benson passed her on the stairs and winked. Margaret smiled. The butler had always had a soft spot for her and often sneaked the newspapers to Margaret.
Reaching the foot of the stairs, the stranger looked up, his eyes flickering over her and moving on. Margaret was used to it. Dolley was the true beauty in the family. But it didn’t mean she liked being dismissed. She decided to force this gentleman to be at least slightly polite to her.
Even if she had no intention in being the same in return.
“Good afternoon, my lord,” she said breezily.
He had turned from her and had to look back. “Good afternoon,” he said brusquely.
“You really should be nicer to me,” she pointed out. “After all, I am Lady Dolley’s sister, though not a beloved one. You would think a gentleman—and a potential suitor—would have better manners than you are displaying.”
He looked taken aback by her frankness. And speechless.
Taking the bull by the horns, she said, “Since no one is here to introduce us, I will take it upon myself to do the honors. I am Lady Margaret Townsend. And you would be?”
“I am Lord Browning,” he said stiffly, obviously bothered by her deigning to speak to him.
“What kind of lord?” she inquired. “I hope you are a marquess.”
“Why?” he asked, wariness in his gray eyes.
“My sister is considered the beauty of her come-out class, my lord. Mama thinks she should settle for no less than a marquess and would prefer Dolley be wed to a duke.”
“I am a viscount,” he told her.
“Pity,” she murmured, just loud enough for him to hear. “Of course, you are quite handsome with that coal black hair and wonderfully broad shoulders. You could stand a bit straighter, though. Posture is important. Your clothes are beautifully cut, however. That will impress Dolley. She insists on a man who dresses in the latest fashions.”
“You are quite impudent, you know,” he told her. “How old are you?”
“I am fourteen. Fifteen tomorrow.”
His brows arched. “June first is also my birthday. I will be two and twenty tomorrow.”
Margaret looked him up and down. “You are young to be courting my sister. Most of her suitors have at least five to ten years on you. Why are you participating in the Season? Are you especially interested in claiming a bride?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “I recently finished up at university, and my parents wished me to attend a few events.”
She sighed in an exaggerated manner. “Then Dolley won’t be interested in you at all, no matter how good looking you are. She wants an impressive title and a wedding after this Season ends. She would not be willing to wait around for you, my lord.”
He frowned. “You don’t believe in holding your tongue, do you, Lady Margaret?”
“I think telling the truth is refreshing, my lord. So few in Polite Society do so.”
“You had better change your tune come your own debut,” he warned.
“I don’t even know if I want to make my come-out,” she admitted. “I think I would find all the events boring. It would be as if I am a horse and all the men present at the various balls have come as they do to Tattersall’s—to look over the eligible ladies and discover the pedigree. Focus on their lines. See which young filly would be a good brood mare for them so that they might get their required heir and spare.”
“You are dashed cheeky,” he proclaimed, shock upon his handsome face.
“I will admit I am not one for the womanly arts. If you saw my embroidery, you would know what a horror I am with a needle in hand. Why, I stab myself as often as I do the cloth itself, and all of my stitches are sloppy and crooked.” She grinned. “But I can ride like the wind and believe one day I can become an accomplished portrait painter.”
For the first time, he appeared interested in their conversation. “You paint? Portraits?”
“Yes,” she said, enthusiasm bubbling over. “I practice on all our servants. Sometimes, I even pay children on the street to sit for me. That is what I truly believe my calling to be, not being a wife to some stuffy lord and playing hostess for him and having babies he won’t even bother noticing.”
A look of disdain crossed his face. “Men do not play with babies.”
“Well, they should!” she declared. “Not only babies, but fathers should play with their children as they grow older. Spend time with them. Get to know them and love them. My papa lets me accompany him everywhere. We are inseparable and I know he loves me very much.”
The viscount shook his head. “You are a handful, my lady. I am not certain any man would want to wed you. You are far too brash and opinionated.”
“See?” she asked, a triumphant smile lighting her face. “I don’t really want a husband after all. Therefore, I shouldn’t waste my time with a Season.”
Voices drifted down to them, and Margaret saw a large group of men heading their way, the last of the suitors leaving after paying their respects to Dolley and Mama.
As they passed, several called out greetings to Lord Browning, while two stopped in front of her.
“Good afternoon, Lady Margaret,” Lord Lunsford said. “It was good seeing you this afternoon.”
“Have a pleasant day, Lady Margaret,” Lord Wilson added.
“A pleasure seeing you again, my lords,” Margaret said sweetly, curtseying as they passed.
When they were gone, Lord Browning asked, “How do you know Wilson and Lunsford? You are not out yet.”
“They are two of Dolley’s more clever suitors,” she explained. “When she is flirting with others and not paying them much attention, they come and speak to Mama and even me. They know fawning over Mama might earn them her favor, and she could sway Dolley’s opinion. Alas, Lord Lunsford is merely a viscount, and so he is not in the running, despite his impeccable attire and handsome features. Lord Wilson might have a chance, however, even though he is only an earl. He is worth quite a bit more than the average peer. He is too intelligent for Dolley, though. At least that is what I believe.”
“Why do you say that?” Lord Browning asked.
“I have read his speeches in the newspapers,” she shared.
“You . . . follow . . . politics?” he asked, doubt in his voice.
“Of course, I do. I am very interested in what happens in England and the war with Bonaparte.”
“You are not quite what you seem, my lady,” the viscount told her.
She shrugged. “Most people pay me no attention at all. It allows me to be who I want to be.”
“There you are, Lord Browning!” a voice called out.
Margaret turned and saw Dolley descending the stairs, the picture of feminine beauty and grace. For a moment, a frisson of jealousy ran through Margaret. She wished she could be graceful and hold the attention of the handsome lord standing next to her.
“Benson told me you were here, my lord,” Dolley continued. “I am happy you asked for me to drive with you through the park this afternoon.” Her eyelashes dipped, and she looked up through them, looking utterly appealing.
“I am grateful you wanted to drive with me,” Lord Browning said. “And since Lady Margaret is here, perhaps she would wish to accompany us.” He looked at Margaret intently.
For a moment, her heart raced. Then she realized how angry Dolley would be if she agreed to accompany them.
“No, I cannot intrude,” she said demurely.
“Oh, it wouldn’t be an intrusion,” the viscount insisted. “We would be happy to include you. Wouldn’t we, Lady Dolley?”
Her sister’s eyes narrowed, and then she pasted on a bright smile. “Of course, my lord. I have always said that family is so important. Margaret is certainly welcome to come along with us.”
“Then it is settled,” Lord Browning said, turning.
As he did, Dolley pinched Margaret’s arm. Hard. She knew enough not to utter a squeak and merely shrugged helplessly as she walked to the door and ventured outside to where Lord Browning’s vehicle stood.
He offered his hand to Dolley and helped her up before turning and doing the same to Margaret. When she placed her hand in his, a burst of electricity seemed to run through her, making her scalp tingle. He frowned at her, as if somehow displeased, and she stepped up into the barouche.
Dolley wore a sour face, and Margaret knew her sister was furious. The game had gone on long enough. She had warned Lord Browning that Dolley wouldn’t be interested in him. Her fun was now done.
“Oh!” she said, exaggerating a bit. “I just forgot. I was to finish writing my report on the book my governess gave me to read. She wanted it by day’s end.” Turning to face the viscount, she added, “I cannot disappoint her. I will stay here, and you and Dolley can enjoy your drive through Hyde Park.”
The viscount’s gray eyes took her in, making the tingles spread through her. “Then I shall escort you back inside, Lady Margaret.” He glanced at Dolley. “A moment, my lady?”
“Of course, my lord,” Dolley said, her tone sweet. “I am sorry you won’t be able to accompany us, Margaret.”
“Perhaps another time,” she said cheerfully, knowing that would never happen.
Lord Browning extended his hand, and she took it again, feeling a rush of warmth run through her as he helped her down. He led her to the front door.
“There is no book or report, is there, Lady Margaret?” he asked softly.
Grinning cheekily, she said, “There is no governess, my lord. Most of them found me to be incorrigible.”
“Then why the excuse?”
“Because Dolley would take it out on me long after today’s drive,” she admitted. “She already dislikes me as it is. I do not wish to alienate her further.”
“Why the animosity between you?”
“Mama doesn’t like me either. It’s the red hair. They both say it is vulgar. It’s not as if I can change that.” She sighed. “Go enjoy your ride, Lord Browning, but remember you have been warned.”
“Yes, I remember. I am not a marquess or duke and haven’t a chance with your sister—even if I am handsome.”
“And arrogant,” Margaret added playfully. “As long as we’re being honest with one another.”
“I hope we always will be, my lady. I look forward to seeing you in a few years at your come-out.”
“Don’t count on it,” she said saucily and opened the door, stepping inside the foyer and then closing it behind her.
She left the startled footman looking at her as she raced into the parlor and peered out the window, watching Lord Browning climb into his barouche and take up the reins. He was a handsome devil, handsome as sin, some might say. Margaret watched them drive away and then retreated to her bedchamber, where she removed drawing paper and her charcoals. She had an overwhelming urge to draw Lord Browning.
And paint him.
She had finished a portrait of her beloved grandmother yesterday. Seeing how well it had turned out gave her the confidence that she could do justice to one featuring Lord Browning.
He would never see the portrait, but she felt compelled to produce it, nonetheless. Though he wasn’t a paying customer, he would be her first effort at painting a member of the nobility.
Margaret prayed he would not be the last.
London—Ten years later . . .
Margaret rose from the rocker, her niece in her arms, the baby’s eyes now closed. She crossed the nursery and placed the sleeping child into the crib staring down at her for a long time.
She wanted a baby. She wanted a life of her own. Hopefully, her wishes would become a reality soon. At least the part about creating and managing her own life. A baby would have to wait because Margaret wasn’t interested in marriage—and it took a husband to have a baby.
Actually, it didn’t. She had known one of their maids who had found herself with child, and the servant certainly wasn’t wed. It became a scandal, though, one which Margaret’s mother had swept under the rug. The parlor maid had been dismissed, along with a groom from the stables. He was the man the girl had named as the father. Margaret wondered where the couple had gone once they left the country estate without references. It was just like her mother to send the pair off so cruelly, even though both had served the Townsend family well for several years.
Perhaps she could help some young woman in need and take on her baby and raise it as her own. It would certainly be shocking. Then again, Margaret’s plans to have a career would prove scandalous. More than anything, she wanted to become a portrait artist. She had practiced for years. Her favorite paintings she had completed were of her grandmother and a man she had met only once. Grandmama had died when Margaret was ten and so had not lived to see the portrait her granddaughter had created. It was still a wonderful reminder of the woman who had loved and supported Margaret during her childhood.
As for the stranger? She had never seen him again. He had come to court Dolley, and she had warned him that a viscount wouldn’t be considered. Dolley and Mama had been far too ambitious. The pair had settled upon Lord Baxter, a wealthy marquess. Dolley had wed, and the autumn after her come-out had given birth to a boy who was now nine. She also had a girl who had just turned two. In typical fashion, her sister rarely saw either child, claiming they dirtied her gowns and were too loud and demanding. It was the nursery governess who was raising the pair. Since Margaret had come to live with Dolley and Baxter, she had done her best to spend as much time in the nursery with her nephew and niece as she could. She enjoyed their company and had a marvelous time playing with the children and teaching them small things, seeing the wonder in their eyes, and accepting their sweet kisses.
Turning from the crib, she nodded a thanks to the nursery governess and left the nursery. Knowing teatime would be in half an hour, she ventured down the stairs and decided to take a brief stroll in the gardens before heading to the drawing room. She opened the French doors and stepped outside. The day was cool but sunny, and she entered the gardens, glad to have a bit of time to herself.
The Season approached, something she dreaded. She had no interest in finding a husband because he would tell her what to do. If anything, Margaret was highly independent and didn’t think a husband would suit her. Mama had claimed Margaret was spoiled because Papa let her accompany him about the estate. Her father had taught her many things, from how to keep ledgers to the way tenants should be treated. Since neither her mother nor Dolley ever visited their tenants, that task had fallen to Margaret, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She had celebrated births and marriages alongside them, as well as mourned the passing of their family members.
The only reason she had agreed to attend the Season was so she could try and make social connections. If she could convince a few influential members of the ton to allow her to paint them, she hoped her reputation would spread. Then she could begin her artistic career, something a husband would forbid. Margaret believed God gave her the talent to paint, and it would be wasteful not to use it. If that meant no children, so be it. She would rather paint than do anything else.
Bending, she sniffed an early blooming rose, enjoying its sweet scent. Then she heard voices and realized her sister and brother-in-law were sitting in the gazebo just on the other side of the rose bushes. She started to turn and leave them in peace until she heard her name. Knowing eavesdroppers never heard good things about themselves, she still chose to remain.
“It is not that Margaret is exactly a bother. It is merely my opinion that your cousin should be the one responsible for her,” Lord Baxter complained. “After all, he is the new earl and head of your family. With your father’s death, Margaret became his responsibility. Not mine.”
“I agree,” Dolley said. “But he is already wed and has five children. He said there was no room for Margaret. Besides, he and his wife never attend the Season. If Margaret has any chance of landing a husband, then she simply must do a Season. How the chit will ever find a husband, though, is beyond me.”
Baxter harumphed. “At least your father provided a wardrobe allowance for her, along with her dowry. If I had to clothe the woman, it would have been asking too much. As it is, you almost bankrupt me each year with the new wardrobe you demand for each Season.”
“Am I not worth it, Baxter? I still possess my looks and figure, despite the fact you have already gotten two children off me. People still comment on my beauty and how fortunate you are to have claimed the most beautiful debutante of my year.”
“I could still stand to have a spare to my heir,” the marquess complained. “Especially since I am having to put up with housing your sister and escorting her to events.”
Margaret winced at his tone. She did her best to avoid both Baxter and Dolley and rarely saw either of them so she knew she was not an inconvenience. They were both selfish and self-centered, however, and she would never be able to change that.
“Thank goodness Margaret’s dowry is large. It will help her to land a husband,” Dolley said. “Her dowry will be the only way she will attract one. You and I both know there are gentlemen of the ton who will overlook Margaret’s many faults simply because they are in need of the money she would bring into a marriage.”
A long sigh sounded. “It may take time, though, Baxter. After all, look at her. She’s absolutely hideous, with all that horrible red hair. And her height! Why, I have never seen a woman so tall in my life. It’s simply unnatural. The fact she is my sister is hard enough to bear. She will stick out like a sore thumb in ballrooms and be an embarrassment to the both of us. Still, we must do our duty to her. We will garner sympathy from Polite Society for having to put up with her.”
“I still say despite her dowry, attracting a husband will be nearly impossible. Why, she’s on the shelf,” Baxter insisted. “Four and twenty and making her come-out? Besides, I don’t like her. I never have. She is far too opinionated for a woman. The gentlemen of the ton won’t like her either. You know I am right.”
“That may be true,” her sister admitted.
“It is,” Baxter insisted. “She reads the newspapers, for goodness’ sake. She spouts opinions about politics and economics and laws which have been passed or ones she thinks Parliament should pass. No man of Polite Society enjoys a bluestocking. Especially one so old and still unwed. I say despite the size of her dowry, Lady Margaret will have a difficult time finding a husband. Then we’ll be stuck with her.”
“No, we won’t,” Dolley shared. “She turns five and twenty at the beginning of June.”
“What difference does that make?”
“It means legally, she will have access to her dowry,” Dolley said, her tone soothing her rankled husband. “If my sister cannot find a husband, she would be of a mind to take her dowry and live off it.”
“Does she know this?” Baxter asked.
Of course, Margaret knew it. She had insisted upon it when she pumped Papa for information about her dowry. That had been after Mama had grown ill and Margaret’s come-out was delayed in order for her to care for her ailing mother. For three, long years, Margaret had spent a majority of her days in Mama’s sickroom, tending to her ungrateful parent, who constantly bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t Dolley taking care of her. Margaret reminded Mama daily that Dolley had wed and had a husband and a child to care for.
When her mother had finally passed, Margaret began her year of official mourning, only to have Papa struck with apoplexy. It had left him paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. He fully understood all that went on about him but could only grunt to communicate. Finally, they arrived at a tapping system since he could move his left hand. Through careful questioning, Margaret pieced together what Papa wanted done on the estate and saw to it herself, with the help of their steward. She had become the de facto earl and ran the property, seeing to their tenants and managing the crops and ledgers on her own.
Her painting had been sorely neglected during those two years. She had finally gotten back to it during this past year of mourning after Papa’s death. That was another reason she rarely saw her sister or brother-in-law. Between playing with the children and concentrating on her art, Margaret remained busy and out of the way.
“You are saying she would access her dowry and live off it?” Baxter asked, his tone perplexed.
“That is exactly what I am saying,” Dolley told her husband. “You know how independent she is. The dowry would give her a way to live on her own. Simply, of course. And obviously, she would not take part in Polite Society. Then again, I find it hard to picture my sister at any event, be it a ball or rout or going to the theatre. After all, she will be following in my footsteps. No one could do so after the spectacular impression I made upon the ton.”
Margaret almost gasped aloud at her sister’s audacity but remained silent.
“Then I suppose I can tolerate her for a few more months,” grumbled Baxter. “I still think this idea of her painting portraits is mad.”
One evening at dinner, Margaret had shared what she wished to do with her life. Baxter hadn’t said anything at the time, but she now knew his opinion.
“No one will commission her to do so,” Dolley agreed. “Margaret is foolish to believe so. In a way, it is a bit sad. She is quite talented, you know. I have seen a few of her pieces. Why, I have an idea, Baxter!”
“Will it cost me money? Your ideas always seem to.”
“It won’t cost you a farthing,” Dolley guaranteed. “I will ask Margaret to paint our portraits. We have yet to have it done, and she would be delighted to do so. I will tell her it will be good practice for her.” Dolley chuckled. “Besides, if for some odd reason she ever did become famous, we would have an original work by her.”
“It would be a decent way for her to repay our kindness. For housing her for these past few months. Having her accompany us to upcoming ton events this spring and summer.”
“Exactly. I will bring it up at tea. Support my idea,” Dolley commanded. “I have a way to make her think it would be her idea, after all. She won’t suspect a thing and will be happy to do this for us. Perhaps I can even talk her into doing one of the children together since she seems to spend an inordinate amount of time with them. Why, I cannot fathom. But it will be good to finally be rid of her. She will only be an embarrassment to us for a bit longer, then we can wash our hands of her.”
Margaret had heard enough. She hurried from the gardens back to her room to freshen up. Once in her room, she tidied her hair, staring into the mirror to see if she found any wrinkles on her face. She did not think four and twenty was so very old. Then again, she should have made her come-out years ago, at eighteen, when she was young and fresh faced. She studied her image.
Her red hair was abundant and pulled away from her face. Her green eyes stood out against her porcelain skin. She was no beauty like Dolley, but she still was more than passable in looks. Her breasts were full and her waist small. The only drawback would be her height. She was like her grandmother—extremely tall. Grandmama had been almost six feet, highly unusual for a woman, and Margaret was but two inches under six feet. That alone would probably keep away any potential suitors. Gentlemen would be drawn to delicate creatures such as Dolley, who was two inches over five feet, small boned with delicate features, along with blond hair and blue eyes. Margaret had always felt like a giant when standing next to her petite sister. It would most likely be the same with the other girls making their come-outs. And girls they would be, most seventeen or eighteen years old.
She laughed aloud. She would be the opposite of her sister, as she always had been. While Dolley had been the noted beauty and diamond of the first water, Margaret would be the ancient giantess and most likely the leading wallflower of this Season. It was a good thing she was not interested in a husband and would gain access to her dowry in a few months’ time. Dolley was right in assuming Margaret would want to be on her own once she reached the ripe old age of five and twenty. While she would remain in this household until the end of the Season, she had plans to find a place of her own. Her funds would not allow her to let both a place in town and one in the country, though. That would be the only drawback. She would miss the country. Walking. Riding. Visiting with the tenants and their families.
But farmers did not have the money—much less the inclination—to have their portraits made. That would be for the aristocrats who came to London each year for the Season. Actually, a small portion of Polite Society did remain in town year-round. She hoped to tap into that market after this Season ended and establish her reputation over the next year so that by the time next Season rolled around, she would be able to find patrons who commissioned her.
That meant she would tolerate attending the events during the next few months. She would paste on a bright smile and try to meet as many potential clients as possible and arrange to paint portraits of those who would stay in London. She would also need to meet with Papa’s solicitor, whose name she had, as well as find a place to let. They hadn’t been in town long enough for her to explore it, but she would also do that soon. She needed to find a place to live in a decent part of town where her funds would stretch further than they might in fashionable Mayfair, where Baxter and Dolley lived. Perhaps somewhere nearby so that she could easily reach it by a short hackney cab ride.
She also wanted to find an art supply shop and restock her meager supplies. She hadn’t brought any blank canvases with her, only her favorite brushes. She couldn’t wait to explore the selection of paints available. In the country, she had made her own, only using prepared ones Papa brought from London for her after he and Mama returned from the Season each year.
As for finished canvases, she had only retained possession of two—that of Grandmama and Viscount Browning, Dolley’s long-ago erstwhile suitor. While she had a servant hang her grandmother’s portrait in her bedchamber at the Baxter townhouse, she had not removed the cloth protecting Lord Browning’s painting in many years. She had merely brought it along with her to London when she left the country. A footman had taken it to an empty room on the top floor of the Baxter townhouse.
She wondered what the viscount now looked like. He had been seven years her senior and not interested in settling down, a fact she was grateful for since Margaret had warned him off pursuing her sister. Did Lord Browning now have a wife? He hadn’t been in the market for one all those years ago. Surely by now, he would have settled down, though. Would he have children? She wondered if he would be a good father and decided he wouldn’t. He had been a tad too arrogant for her and would probably pursue custom and not have much to do with his children, as Baxter and Dolley.
Margaret shook her head, thinking on all her sister was missing out on. Each day she had been here, she had seen her nephew and niece grow and change. Their vocabulary expanded. Their curiosity abounded. Yet Dolley—and her husband—constantly ignored their offspring. If Margaret wed—and she sincerely doubted she ever would—she would spend several hours a day in her children’s company, enjoying how the babies became small people in their own right, with their likes and dislikes and habits and peculiarities.
Sighing, she decided it was time to go down for tea with her sister and brother-in-law—and have a bit of fun with Dolley as she tried to subtly persuade Margaret to paint the portraits of Lord and Lady Baxter.
With one last glance in the mirror, Margaret smoothed her hair and then returned to the drawing room. She would agree to paint Dolley and Baxter simply because she needed the practice. Their clothing would also be far more elaborate than the servants she usually painted. If pleased, her sister might actually recommend Margaret to her friends, especially if Dolley thought it would take Margaret off her hands.
Resolve filled her as she entered the drawing room. She would make certain these portraits would closely resemble her sister and brother-in-law, while flattering them at the same time. She had to.
They would be her stepping stone to the future.
Daniel Judson, Duke of Westfield, sat behind his desk, his thoughts scattered. The Season was fast approaching.
It was time to find a wife.
He had put it off long enough. His first Season he had recently graduated from university and went as a lark, mostly to please his mother, who wished for him to attend. He had found the young ladies making their come-outs to be vapid and dull. Only a handful were pretty, and one truly stood out as the beauty of the group of newcomers. That had been Lady Dolley Townsend, now Lady Baxter. She had wed a marquess, just as her sister had predicted.
He wondered what had become of Lady Margaret, she of the flaming hair and moss green eyes. Daniel had teased that he would see her at her come-out, and yet she had not made an appearance three years later when his sister, Lilly, did so. He almost thought to ask Lady Baxter where her sister might be but after approaching the marchioness, he thought better of it and turned away. Still, he had kept an eye out for the remarkably frank Lady Margaret and had been disappointed when he never saw her that entire spring or summer.
She hadn’t occupied his thoughts for long, though. Daniel had had his hands full. His father had passed away suddenly and his mother followed soon after. It was up to Daniel to see his two younger sisters launched into Polite Society. He did so with the help of the Dowager Duchess of Westfield, his grandmother, who helped prepare Deborah and Lilly for their come-outs. Deborah had made her debut first. She was five years younger than Daniel and a bit of a featherhead, though no one was sweeter than Deborah. She had wed a Scottish laird at nineteen and in six years of marriage had produced two sons. Deborah hadn’t liked the trappings of the Season, and she and her laird now remained in Scotland year-round.
Lilly, two years Deborah’s junior, had married a jovial baron the year after her come-out and had one daughter and another babe on the way. Because of her delicate condition, Lilly and her husband had decided to stay in the country to await their babe’s September birth. Daniel would miss seeing his sister and planned to visit with her once the child arrived.
In the meantime, it was time to get serious about finding a bride for himself. After all, he was a duke and needed to produce the requisite heir. He had skipped last Season simply because his grandfather had died in February, thrusting the dukedom on his grandson’s shoulders. Daniel had sowed quite a few wild oats and knew it was time to settle into his role and responsibilities. He had spent the entire past year at Westwood, learning about the land and its people. He now could speak with ease about crops and cattle and sheep.
He had also taken a portion of his wealth, which had been much smaller than he would have thought a duke might possess, and begun investing it, seeing large returns in the past year. It seemed he had the Midas touch and now Westwood would be safe for several generations to come. That meant he did not have to seek out a bride with an enormous dowry. He could wed a woman of grace and good breeding and work on getting a few sons off her. Aware he was now past thirty, Daniel knew it was time to secure a wife and then the subsequent heir.
A soft knock sounded on his study’s door. “Come,” he called.
His butler entered. “Her Grace requests that you take tea with her this afternoon, Your Grace.”
“All right, Hampton. I shall be there shortly.”
The butler left, and Daniel sighed aloud. He loved his grandmother dearly, much more than he had his parents. No love had existed between Daniel and them. The two had been totally self-centered, ignoring their three children and living lives of indulgence. The three Judson children had rarely seen their parents. Once, he and his sisters had a discussion, wondering what color their mother’s eyes were. None of them could recall their color—and it had taken eight months before they had actually been in her company to see for themselves what shade they actually were.
Daniel thought family was important. That was why he had taken special care that his sisters wed decent, honorable men. Both seemed quite happy from the letters they had written to him. He wondered if he might find happiness in his own marriage.
He certainly wasn’t interested in finding love.
Duty meant everything to him, though, and so he would wed as was expected and have children. He would treat his wife with utmost respect and dote on his children without spoiling them. Now, he had to find said wife. One who wouldn’t bore him to tears, prattling on about her latest gown and sharing gossip about the ton. Was it asking too much for decent conversation?
Most likely, the answer to that question was a resounding yes.
He had yet to meet any woman he would wish to wed. Perhaps since he had been away from Polite Society for a while, some remarkable creature had now entered the social scene and would catch his attention.
Daniel chuckled at that, deeming it highly unlikely.
He rose, knowing he shouldn’t keep his grandmother waiting. A slight dread filled him, however, as he made his way up the stairs and to the drawing room. She had been harping lately about him taking a wife.
And having fun.
Fun was not a word in a duke’s vocabulary.
Entering the drawing room, he saw her seated next to the teacart and greeted her. “Good afternoon, Gran. I hope you have had a lovely day.”
He took a seat, and she poured out for them, handing him a cup and saucer.
“What have you been doing today, Daniel?”
He liked that she still called him by his Christian name. No one else did, not even his sisters when they addressed him in person or through letters. It was as if when he became a duke, the Daniel part of him had ceased to exist.
“Scouring my investments, Gran,” he told her.
She shook her head. “You work too hard, Grandson.”
“I have a multitude of responsibilities and many properties to see to, Gran. You should know after having been married to Grandfather for so many years.”
She snorted. “Even Westfield did not bury himself in his ledgers as long or as often as you do, Daniel. You used to have friends coming and going at all hours of the day and night. When are you going to have a little fun?”
“Dukes don’t get to have fun. They are to be serious men who lead Polite Society,” he replied, sampling a bit of a lemon cake.
“You are too serious, my boy,” she cautioned. “You used to sparkle in conversation. You enjoyed life. You always had friends surrounding you.”
“I have far too much to do to waste time the way I did for most of my twenties, Gran. I led the life of a carefree, happy bachelor. No London gentleman enjoyed his life more than I did. At the same time, I made certain my sisters found good husbands before I abandoned ton events altogether.”
She sniffed. “The Season is not all it is made out to be. It can become rather boring unless you have good friends to share it with.”
“I shared many good times with friends from school and university for years at my clubs. I was never one to pass up a drink or a visit to a gaming hell.” He paused. “Nor did I hide the fact from you that I have had several mistresses. But you will be happy to know I plan to wed this Season. Or after the Season. I suppose that is when weddings occur. Betrothal during the Season and marriage to follow. At least that how it was for Deborah and Lilly.”
Gran frowned. “You make it sound as if it is one of your business transactions, Daniel.”
He took a sip of tea and set down his saucer. “Well, it is a bit of that, I suppose. I will search the Marriage Mart. Find an appropriate woman who will make for an excellent duchess. Then I can be done making nice with Polite Society. If I never attend the Season again, I would be happier for it.”
“And what of this wife you are wishing to claim, Daniel? Does she have any say in this? She might enjoy the Season. The dancing. The parties. Wearing new, pretty gowns. Visiting with her friends.”
He hadn’t thought of that.
“I suppose it truly won’t matter. Once I am wed, I can do as I want and so can my wife. As long as she provides the heir I need, she may come and go as she pleases. If that involves enjoying the Season with her friends, so be it.”
Gran’s frown deepened. “I suppose you will be kind enough to provide her with a new wardrobe and the appropriate pin money.”
He picked up the sarcasm dripping from her. “Gran, do not chide a duke. We are supposed to make our own rules, and Polite Society then forgives us anything.”
“What of love, Daniel?” she challenged.
“What of it? You and Grandfather did not love one another. My parents shared no love or intimacy. Truly, it is not a consideration of mine. Love is for others. Not me.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I beg to differ, Grandson. I think love is for everyone. It will enrich your life. It will make you a better person. It will give you hope and the very reason to live.” She paused. “I speak from experience, Daniel.”
“What? I don’t understand.” He looked at her with new eyes, for the first time not thinking of her as his grandmother, but a woman who was once young.
“I was madly in love once upon a time,” she said, a wistfulness in both her tone and her eyes. “He was everything to me. Everything. And then I lost him.”
“Did he . . . die?”
“No. I did,” she revealed. “My parents longed for a strong social connection in order to further their own. I was only a viscount’s daughter—but I had beauty and charm. I caught the eye of the Duke of Westfield. The rest didn’t matter.”
She hesitated and then continued. “I told Westfield I did not love him. That I never could. That I loved another. He laughed. I can still hear him now.” Her face transformed into a gruff exterior, and she lowered her voice, imitating her husband. “Love doesn’t matter, my lady. You are beautiful, and you are who I want. I am a duke. Your father will never tell me no. Neither will you.”
Gran’s hand shook as she raised her teacup and sipped from it. “Westfield was right, you know. No one ever told him no. I learned dukes do not know the meaning of that word. I had to break the news to my sweetheart that I was to wed another.”
She paused, her eyes growing hard. “He killed himself on my wedding day. I have mourned him every day since.”
Her words took Daniel aback. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I am so sorry, Gran.”
She smiled wryly, patting his hand. “Oh, it is all right, my boy. I have led a good life. A comfortable one. I used my power and position as a duchess for good.”
He thought of the charities she supported, more so now than when his grandfather was alive.
“I never did come to love Westfield. I couldn’t bring myself to love a man with such a cold heart.” She gazed deeply into Daniel’s eyes. “But there is still hope for you. Your father didn’t make a love match, though I urged him to do so. He thought the notion foolish.” Her brows arched. “Much as you seem to think so yourself. Still, I have hope for you. That you will learn to love. To laugh. To celebrate life with a wonderful woman by your side. I want you to enjoy your relationship with her and spend time with her because you want to. Not because you have to. I want you to fill this house with children and love them as much as I do you, dear boy.”
She set down her teacup. “Do not disappoint me in this, Daniel. Do not look for a woman who would make for an appropriate duchess. In fact, do the opposite. Look for one who is someone you can love. A woman who will challenge you. Adore you. Make you a better man.”
“I think you ask the impossible, Gran. I don’t believe such a woman exists. Especially not among the young women making their come-outs this year.”
“Oh, you do not want a girl fresh from the schoolroom, Daniel. You need a more mature woman. Even a widow might do. I want you to promise me that you will be open to the idea of love. It may—or may not—find you. I simply encourage you not to shut the door on it before your search even begins.”
Daniel nodded. “I will do as you ask and remain open to the idea.”
He doubted love would come. It was rare in the ton to make a love match. Still, knowing his grandmother had once loved passionately and been denied by her family left him with a heavy heart. It also reminded him again of Lady Margaret Townsend and how her mother had pushed for her older daughter to make a match based upon a title alone.
Where was Lady Margaret?
Daniel decided he would find out.
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