To Capture a Duke's Heart(8)

By: Jennifer McNare

Pushing aside the disagreeable thoughts of Maryanne Houghton as he left the dowager’s side a short while later, Gabriel turned his consideration to the initial topic of their conversation. Was he on the verge of making a dreadful mistake? Would making Cecelia Penworthy his duchess lead to a lifetime of regret as Agatha had suggested? Like the majority of his peers, he had long viewed marriage as more of a business arrangement than a romantic union      , a requisite obligation to ensure that his wealth and title were passed on to the next generation, his bride selected from a suitable, well-established family, a woman of refinement and breeding, groomed from the cradle to provide him with his heir, take on the management of his bustling household and assume her position within the ranks of Society. But was that really enough? Did he need more? Did he want more? Then again wasn’t that the reason that so many married men kept mistresses, to help satisfy those wants and needs that they lacked at home?

He thought back upon his parent’s union      , an arranged marriage like most others within the aristocracy. They hadn’t loved each other, his father having been some twenty years older than his mother when they’d wed, but there’d been a fondness between them that seemed to have grown stronger with time. Even so, aside from him and his brothers they’d had very little in common, leading separate lives for the most part, his father pursuing his interests while his mother had pursued hers. Had they turned to others to fulfil their emotional needs, taken lovers to fill the inexorable voids within their marriage, he wondered? Was that the kind of marriage he wanted for himself? Hell, he’d never really thought to question the matter before, but Agatha’s words suddenly had him thinking.

As it was Gabriel had little time to ponder the matter further, for his brother came up to him a moment later, interrupting his silent reverie.

“So your lovely admirer is Beckford’s daughter, eh?” Rafael remarked as he reached Gabriel’s side.

“It would appear so,” he replied, casting a quick glance across the room, searching through the crowd until his eyes settled upon Penelope Houghton a few seconds later.

“How very unfortunate,” Rafael lamented with a doleful expression, following the line of his brother’s gaze, “for she’s a tempting little morsel.”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed slightly as he turned his focus back to his brother. “Tempting or not, that little morsel is a lady and the Earl of Beckford’s daughter.” His tone held more than a hint of warning, for Rafael had a bit of a reckless streak and didn’t always think with his head, especially when it came to beautiful women.

“Relax, Gabe. I’ve no intention of seducing the earl’s innocent young daughter,” Rafael responded laughingly. “Besides, if you recall it was your pretty face that she was staring at so intently from behind the window glass, not mine.”

Michael joined them then, a glass of brandy held casually within his grasp. “Who was staring at Gabe’s pretty face?” he inquired, having missed the beginning of their conversation.

Gabriel emitted a sigh of irritation, but otherwise chose to ignore his brothers’ pretty face comments.

“Beckford’s daughter,” Rafael supplied helpfully. “It appears that it was she who was gazing so raptly upon our dear brother from the upstairs window this afternoon.”

“Ah.” Michael turned his head, scanning the room. “Which one is she?”

Rafael cocked his head to the left. “Over there, the beauteous redhead conversing with Lady Haliday and her daughter.”

Michael’s eyes widened, his eyebrows shooting upward as his gaze landed upon Penelope Houghton. “Beckford’s daughter, eh? Damn, that’s unfortunate,” he stated commiseratively, turning his focus back to Gabriel.

Rafael nodded in agreement. “My sentiments exactly.”

Observing his brothers’ rueful expressions, Gabriel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Regrettable though it may be, I am fairly confident that I shall survive the weekend,” he replied sardonically.

“True,” Rafael acknowledged. “Although if the girl had been…say… an accommodating chambermaid perhaps, you undoubtedly would have enjoyed the weekend a great deal more,” he continued with a playful wink.

“Hear, hear.” Raising his glass, Michael drained the remaining liquid and then handed it to a passing footman. “You know, now that I think of it,” he said then, “I haven’t yet had the opportunity to say hello to the earl or to make his lovely daughter’s acquaintance.”