To Capture a Duke's Heart(9)

By: Jennifer McNare

Rafael turned to his twin with an eager smile. “As a matter of fact, neither have I.”

“I say we rectify that situation at once.”


And before Gabriel could think to gainsay them, his brothers were off and moving purposefully through the assemblage.

Chapter 3

From her seat at the Gilchrist’s immense, fully-laden dinner table, Penny looked up from her dessert, glancing once again toward the head of the table where the Duke of Ainsworth was seated to the right of Lord Gilchrist. Throughout the course of the long meal she’d tried desperately to keep her eyes from straying too often in his direction, but the man was like a loadstone, drawing her gaze with an irresistible pull. Before long it wasn’t just his face that drew her attention, however, it was the manner in which he comported himself, poised and self-confident, yet seemingly devoid of the arrogance and haughty reserve one might expect from a man of his elevated position.

Fascinated, she’d watched with increasing interest from her position midway down the length of table as he’d conversed with those seated around him, smiling and laughing throughout the past hour with a degree of genuineness too difficult to feign or sustain, his gregarious demeanor both unexpected and enormously compelling. It was readily apparent, however, that she wasn’t the only person captivated by the duke as she’d noted a number of lingering female glances cast repeatedly in his direction during the past hour.

She was looking at him again, Gabriel noted, catching another of the furtive, sidelong glances from the periphery of his vision as he raised his crystal water glass to his lips. Having received a countless number of those selfsame glances over the years he hardly noticed them anymore, especially those cast by young, fresh-faced innocents like Penelope Houghton. Yet oddly enough he was finding it increasingly difficult to ignore hers. Truth be told, the titian-haired beauty had lingered in his thoughts long after he’d spied her gazing down upon him through the castle window; but since their official introduction in the Cunningham’s drawing room, she seemed to all but consume them. Perhaps it was his affinity for redheads, he reasoned, or the tempting lure of forbidden fruit. Perhaps it was the combination of the two; he wasn’t entirely certain. But whatever it was there was no denying that it had sparked his interest, that she had sparked his interest.

Damn and blast! Mayhap it wasn’t only his rakehell brother who needed cautioning, he realized in sudden consternation. And so, with a concerted effort, he directed his attention from the enticing Lady Penelope and back to his dessert plate.

“Lady Penelope?”

Penny started, turning her focus from the duke to the gentleman seated on her left. “Do forgive me, Lord Wexley,” she said with an apologetic smile, “I’m afraid you caught me woolgathering. What was it that you were saying?”

“It was nothing of significance,” the young viscount assured her with an understanding smile. “I merely asked if you were enjoying the cranachan.”

“Oh yes, it’s delicious,” she replied, lifting her spoon to take another bite of the traditional Scottish dessert. “Though the flavor is quite unlike anything I’ve tasted before.”

“Ah yes, that would be the whiskey.”


He nodded. “The oats are soaked in it, usually for several hours the night before,” he informed her.

“You’re familiar with the recipe?”

He nodded again. “Indeed I am, for it has long been a staple at our family’s dinner table,” he stated with a grin. “My mother is half Scottish you see and raspberry cranachan has been her favorite dessert since childhood. And while I fancy it as well, I have to admit that the old-fashioned Scottish petticoat tails are my personal favorite.”

“Petticoat tails?” Penny asked, regarding him curiously.

“Shortbread biscuits,” he clarified. “They’re cut into triangles that fit together in a circle, much the same shape as that used to make a full-gored petticoat during the Elizabethan era. The word for a pattern was a tally, so the biscuits became known as petticote tallis and eventually petticoat tails.”

“How interesting.”

“As a young lad I used to eat them by the handful and was forever being scolded by my governess for sneaking out of the schoolroom and down to the kitchen when she wasn’t looking.”

“Oh dear, you must have kept the poor woman on her toes,” Penny replied with a grin.

“Indeed, I did,” Lord Wexley agreed laughingly. “In fact, she had a devil of a time keeping me in the schoolroom at all, especially when the weather was warm and the sun was shining; for I confess I was far more interested in climbing trees and chasing butterflies than sitting inside and studying my lessons.”