Charming the Duke
by Holly Bush
1849 . . . Matilda Sheldon, the middle daughter of the sixth Earl of Bisset, has never been interested in the fashionable society events that so preoccupy her parents and siblings. Her loving, albeit, daft family cannot understand why. But Matilda has little use for silly rules and dramas. She would rather occupy her time with a worthwhile cause such as opening The Sheldon Home for Orphans, much to the chagrin of her mother and grandmother. They are quite certain a venture of this nature will discourage suitors. Matilda is quite certain that if suitors are discouraged it is because she is clever, plain, a bit clumsy, and inevitably compared to her beautiful sisters.
The Duke of Thornsby is in tight spot. After receiving the title on the death of his father, he discovers the inheritance is to be gifted elsewhere if he does not marry before his thirtieth birthday. Unfortunately, our man-about-town is embroiled in a scandal, not of his own making, and the marriage mamas won’t let any eligible misses anywhere near him. What’s a Duke to do? Get invited to a house party hosted by the notoriously absent-minded Earl of Bisset, who just happens to be Papa to some young ladies of marriageable age!
Thornsby finds himself fascinated, not with the two Sheldon debutantes actively seeking a husband, but rather with the ‘brown wren’ he first mistakes for a servant. Matilda is counting the hours until the house party ends when the necessity of conversing with the guests will be over, and ridiculously handsome men go far away. Can a worldly Duke convince a sensible girl to accept his court? Find out in Charming the Duke.
Our heroine Matilda meets the Duke of Thornsby for the first time . . .
Matilda groaned inwardly. And so began a long three days of this business. Nearly two hours later all the guests were situated in the correct room. A stand-up buffet was to be served at eight o’clock, giving Matilda three hours alone. Mother was fussing with Cook over some calamity. Father had taken a few old compatriots to the stables, and her sisters were napping. Matilda was heading towards the stairs when the footman opened the door once more.
A tall, dark haired man entered with a thin woman on his arm. A blond man came behind them and whistled as his gaze cleared the three-story ceiling of the entranceway. Damnation. These were the guests Mother had been fussing about, wondering what had held them up. No Mother. No Father. No Franklin and the peach. No Juliet or Alexandra. Not even Fitz about. Matilda stepped forward and curtsied.
“Good day, Sirs and Madam.”
The dark-haired man swept a look up and down the entranceway, even down to the marble floors before handing his hat and cane to Matilda.
“Tell your Mistress the Duke of Thornsby has arrived.”
“Right away, sir,” Matilda said.
The thin woman rushed forward. “How silly my brother can be,” she said and stole a glance over her shoulder at the dark haired man. “Aren’t you the middle daughter of the Earl?”
The blond man laughed uproariously. Matilda quelled him with a stare. “Matilda Sheldon. Welcome to Maplewood.”
“I am Lady Athena. I believe we’ve met quite some time ago. This is Mr. Andrew Smithly. And this,” she said as she grabbed the dark haired man’s arm, “is my brother, the Duke of Thornsby.”
Thornsby bowed over her hand. “Terribly sorry, my dear. I just, well . . . my fault. My apologies. Terrible mistake. Terrible.”
Matilda leaned forward. She’d had her daily allowance of stupidity as she greeted guests all afternoon. There really was only so much she could take and remain stoic. “How do you characterize this auspicious start? Would you term it,” Matilda lifted her shoulders in a shrug, “terrible, by chance?”
The Duke pulled at his waistcoat. “I did apologize, Miss Sheldon. Was a harmless mistake on my part. I heard your family described in one fashion, and you standing there just didn’t put me in mind that you were part of the Sheldon clan.”
The sister groaned.
“And how, sir, did you hear my family described?” Matilda asked.
“Got you in a neat box, old boy,” the other man said.
“Everyone said they were blond and beau . . .”
Matilda’s brows rose. She was aware of the comparisons made between her and her sisters and mother. Her sister-in-law to be as well. Just not in the entrance to her home by a man she’d never met. She bellowed over her shoulder to the butler.
“James. Fetch Mother. The Duke of Thorny has arrived.” Matilda schooled her features. “Lady Athena, Mr. Smithly, enjoy your stay.”
Holly Bush was born in western Pennsylvania to two avid readers. There was not a room in her home that did not hold a full bookcase. She worked in the hospitality industry, owning a restaurant for twenty years. Holly has been a marketing consultant to start-up businesses and has done public speaking on the subject.
Holly has been writing all of her life and is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, particularly political and historical works. She has written four romance novels, all set in the U.S. West in the mid 1800’s. She frequently attends writing conferences, and has always been a member of a writer’s group.
Holly is a gardener, a news junkie, and former vice-president of her local library board and loves to spend time near the ocean. She is the proud mother of two daughters and the wife of a man more than a few years her junior.
Twitter - @hollybushbooks
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