To Capture a Duke's Heart(2)

By: Jennifer McNare

Doubtless she would find out for herself that very evening, for they were sure to be introduced she reckoned, feeling an almost giddy sense of anticipation.

“I say, Gabe, we’ve only just arrived and already you appear to have added another besotted female to your ever-growing list of admirers,” Rafael murmured teasingly as he nudged his brother with his elbow.

Following a few steps behind their hosts as they entered into the castle’s massive front hall, Gabriel cast his brother a rueful grin. Like both Rafael and Michael he was well-accustomed to the admiring looks and lingering glances he received from members of the fairer sex, and while it was true that he’d been more than happy to reap the benefits of that interest during the wild, profligate days of his youth, unlike his younger brothers he was beginning to grow weary of their ceaseless and increasingly unwelcome attentions. In fact, it was one of the primary reasons that he was giving serious consideration to the relinquishment of his bachelor status even now. For while he knew that the taking of a wife would do little to impede the interest of those seeking a relationship of a strictly carnal nature, it would put an end to the unremitting pursuits of the ton’s marriage-minded debutantes and their avaricious, social-climbing mamas. And that would provide a most welcome relief.

“Perhaps this one will compose a song in his honor as Lady Veronica did, or pen yet another ode to his glorious beauty, like the fair Miss Dumfries,” Rafael added in a teasing voice, glancing between Michael and Gabriel in obvious amusement.

Gabriel frowned, the muscles in his jaw tightening. “I thought I told you never to speak of that atrocity again,” he muttered under his breath. For even though he was inured to his brothers’ ribbing and generally gave as good as he got, the ridiculous ode Miss Dumfries had written was a particular sore spot, as Rafael well knew, for the damnable thing had somehow found its way into the society pages the previous month. Bloody hell, even now the mere thought of that blasted verse was enough to sour his mood, for much to his consternation His Glorious Beauty had not only been the title, but the theme of the entire wretched thing. Ten lines of senseless drivel dedicated to the extraordinary beauty of his face and form, each one increasingly outrageous and more nauseating than the last.

And though the poem was dreadful in itself, it was the recurrent use of the word beauty that irritated him the most. It was a feminine term and one he’d used on many an occasion in reference to an attractive woman, but never in regard to himself, for his features weren’t the least bit feminine! And while it was true that his eyes, the color an uncommon shade of sea foam green inherited from his father, were fringed with long, dark lashes and his jet-black hair was soft and thick, holding just the hint of a curl at the nape of his neck, the shape of his face was decidedly masculine, his chin and brow both strong and defined and his nose straight and well-proportioned, while his tall, muscular physique was unquestionably manly. Glorious beauty, bah! What a bunch of drivel.

“Careful Rafe,” Michael cautioned. “He’s apt to cut off your allowance for good if you continue to remind him of Miss Dumfries’ adoring tribute,” he continued with a playful grin.

“He’s right,” Gabriel stated with a stern glance toward Rafael, the more devil-may-care of his two brothers. And while both Rafael and Michael knew that he would never actually follow through on such a threat, Rafael made a pronounced show of clamping his lips tightly together, even as a puckish twinkle lingered in his laughing blue eyes.

As Penny turned down the narrow hallway leading to the castle’s guest wing a short time later, she was forced to stifle a groan as she spied her stepmother, Maryanne, and her sour-tempered lady’s maid exiting one of the rooms at the opposite end of the hall.

“Where on earth have you been?” Maryanne demanded, her tone as well as her expression revealing her annoyance as Penelope approached.

“Eleanor and I were just-” she began, only to be promptly interrupted.

“Honestly, Penelope, do you have any idea what time it is?” Maryanne groused as she grasped Penny’s upper arm. “Do you think Mavis has nothing better to do than to sit about twiddling her thumbs whilst you’re off traipsing about,” she continued peevishly as she hustled her into the bedchamber she’d been assigned. “Dinner is to be served in less than an hour and you have yet to change your gown or to allow Mavis to arrange that dreadful hair of yours into some semblance of order,” she concluded with a derisive glance at the dark, reddish-brown curls that fell in a loose tumble to the middle of Penny’s back.