THE DUKE KNOWS BEST (The Duke’s Sons, #5) by Jane Ashford
Publication Date: December 5, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance
They’re wrong for each other, for all the right reasons…
Lord Randolph Gresham has come to London for one reason only-to find a suitable wife. Verity Sinclair may be intelligent, beautiful, and full of spirit, but her father knows a secret about Randolph that makes her entirely unsuitable as his bride. Not right for him at all, never, not a chance.
Verity knows that Lord Randolph lives in a country parish, and she wants nothing more than to escape to town. He may be fascinating, attractive, rich, and the son of a duke, but she’ll never marry him, nor will she talk to him, flirt with him, walk with him, or dine with him. She’ll sing a duet with him, but only this one time, and only because everyone insists.
But one duet invariably leads to another.
Looking around the front hall of Langford House, with its soaring stair and rich marble floor, Verity judged it the grandest house she’d ever entered. Light poured down from high windows, glittered in a huge crystal chandelier, and gleamed in the gold stripes of the wallpaper. A hint of potpourri scented the air, along with beeswax and lemon. The clatter of the London streets didn’t penetrate the gracious silence. “Goodness,” murmured her mother. Verity was determined not to be intimidated.
A liveried footman led them through two beautiful reception rooms to the back of the house. He opened a door and stood back. Verity and her mother stepped over the threshold into a perfectly splendid music room. For a moment Verity forgot everything else as she took in the fine instruments waiting to be played, the older ones adorning the walls, and the piles of expensive sheet music. She could spend hours in a place like this and be blissfully happy, she thought.
And then a tall, stately woman came forward to greet them, and Verity was making her curtsy to the duchess, as well as wondering where Lord Randolph could be.
He hurried in on the heels of that thought. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I was just… Mama, this is Mrs. Sinclair and Miss Verity Sinclair. Ladies, my mother.”
“Your Grace,” they murmured.
The duchess said, “Welcome to Langford House.” And with the warmth in her blue eyes and the ease of her smile, Verity felt the atmosphere in the room change from grandiose to relaxed. Or perhaps it was simply her own mood that had shifted, she thought. As they sat down and exchanged remarks about the weather and the season, she found she could talk to Lord Randolph’s mother with surprising ease.
“I know you have musical matters to discuss,” said the duchess after a while. She rose. “I will leave you to it. But I wanted to make sure you have all you need, Mrs. Sinclair.”
“You’re very kind.”
“I’ve seen to the arrangements, Mama,” said Lord Randolph.
“Sponge cakes and macaroons?” she asked.
The humorous look they exchanged gave Verity a glimpse into the Gresham family, which seemed a pleasant place. The door opened, and a maid came in with several sturdy working candles. “You said you’d bring some embroidery,” said Lord Randolph to Verity’s mother. “I wanted to make certain you had good light.”
The duchess gave him an approving nod and went out. Lord Randolph made a great production of getting Verity’s mother settled with the candles set just so and a cushion for her back and offers of tea or other refreshment. “So kind,” she murmured as she was settled in the front corner of the room.
Verity noticed that it was the corner farthest from the pianoforte. And that the special candles and cushions—which a less observant person might dismiss as finicky items for a man to consider—effectively rooted Mama at a distance. It was unlikely that she would overhear much of what they said, unless they started shouting. Which she might, if Lord Randolph tried to maneuver her in a similar way. And where had he acquired such skill at diverting chaperones?
“I’ve pulled out piles of music,” he said when they were at last free to begin. He led the way over to the table where the sheets were displayed. “I was thinking we should choose popular pieces rather than anything too complicated. Perhaps even repeat the song we did at Lady Tolland’s.”
Their eyes met, mirroring memories of that astonishing experience. Verity’s cheeks grew hot. A self-conscious silence stretched out. She could actually hear her mother’s needle prick the embroidery canvas.
Lord Randolph cleared his throat. “Ah, our audience at Carleton House will be varied,” he went on. “Not all will be particularly musical. But I’m eager to hear your opinion about the program, of course.”
He stopped and waited for her to speak. He gazed at her as if he actually wanted to know her views, and wasn’t just pausing to give the appearance of listening before telling her what to do. It was a point in his favor. “What about some Italian songs, varied with Scots or Irish ballads?” she suggested. “How long need we sing, do you think?”
“Long enough to satisfy the prince’s wounded vanity,” he responded wryly.
Verity looked down to hide a smile. “That sounds rather difficult to measure. An hour?”
“No more, certainly. We are doing a favor, not putting on a full concert. Shall we say six pieces? With one in reserve in case they insist on more?”
Verity agreed, and they looked through Mozart’s and Haydn’s arrangements of popular tunes and sheets of songs by Robert Burns and Thomas Moore. Langford House appeared to possess any piece one could desire, and Verity envied the bounty. She had to ration her purchases of sheet music on her allowance. The money her grandfather had left her was in trust until she married. And why was she thinking of that now? “‘Robin Adair’ would make a lovely base for a set of variations,” she said.
They bent over the music together. “It would indeed,” said Lord Randolph. He sat at the pianoforte and began to play the simple melody, and then to embellish it. Verity hummed along, following his elaborations. “Just here,” he said, playing intricate series of notes. She caught the idea at once. Spontaneously they sang a verse with the new adornments, their voices blending in a twining harmony. By the end they were staring at each other, mutually astonished.
“Very pretty,” said Verity’s mother from the corner.
It was as if he could predict exactly what she meant to sing, Verity thought. Or, perhaps, his musical impulses ran in precisely the same direction. The phrase in tune took on a whole new meaning as they ran through the entire song, consulted briefly, and then tried it again. The result was equally lovely and interesting, but different with the varying choices of the moment. This must be what it was like to be intoxicated, she thought, as she fell into the music and a give and take with this man she barely knew— somehow they vibrated to the same pitch.
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JANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles, California.