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All the Duke I Need
Author: Caroline Linden

 


Prologue

 

 

1767

Carlyle Castle

 

The wedding was small, as it should have been. The bride, after all, was long past the blush of youth, and the groom, even older, was a widower.

But this bride dearly loved a party and was not about to miss a chance to throw one. The wedding might have been small and private, but the celebration which followed was neither.

The bailey court of Carlyle Castle had been transformed, with tents and awnings and a parquet dance floor assembled by a crew of carpenters. A lavish spread of delicacies wrought rapturous praise from the guests, and a string quartet played under the dining room windows. As if to bless the union, the sun shone warmly in a crystal blue sky and a light breeze kept the dancers from becoming heated. When the sun began to set, footmen moved from tree to tent, hanging dozens of lit lanterns until they outnumbered the stars and illuminated the bailey almost as brightly as day.

Sophia Constance St. James, Duchess of Carlyle, presided contentedly over the scene from the largest tent. It was more like a village fair than a London ball, which was exactly how her daughter had wanted it. And there hadn’t been a party at the castle in . . . goodness, years and years. It was good to hear laughter echoing off the stone walls again.

Her fond gaze found her daughter in the crowd, beaming into her new husband’s face. From the far side of the lawn boomed Stephen’s boisterous laughter. He was probably instigating a game of bowls or even an archery tournament. Her youngest son was like that. He had played a large part in planning the festivities, and he had been responsible for inviting the entire parish of St. Mary’s, where he was soon to take the post of vicar. Every lord, squire, merchant, and farmer within ten miles was here.

As she watched, the bridal couple turned and started toward her. The duchess’s heart almost burst with maternal pride. Her daughter might be old for a new bride—already thirty—but she was still beautiful and filled with joy. She wore a crepe silver gown that glittered in the twilight, and there were pink roses in her piled-high hair. But it was the luminous smile on her face that made the duchess’s throat tighten with happiness.

“Here you are, Mama,” said Jessica happily, sitting on the settee next to her. She held out her arms to her bridegroom. “Give her to me, Miles.”

Miles Kirkpatrick was tall and somber, impressive in his army uniform, his dark hair gone gray at the temples. But his expression was warm and tender as he handed over the little girl he held. Only then did he turn to his new mother-in-law and bow crisply. “An exquisite day, ma’am, of intense happiness. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

She raised her brows. “I only threw the party, Colonel. You and my daughter form the exquisitely happy part.”

He smiled, and Jessica laughed. “Don’t we, though?” She glanced around. “Where is Johnny?”

“He tired and went inside.” The duke had been determined to see his sister wed. He had even walked her to the altar, but that had exhausted his strength. He’d lasted only half an hour under the tents before retiring to the castle.

“Ah,” said Jessica. “I shall go see him tomorrow to thank him.” Another burst of laughter made her look up, across the lawn to where her younger brother held court. “And I would thank Stephen not to start a riot!”

The duchess smiled. “He would never.”

“Not where you could see him,” her daughter murmured archly.

By now she had got the little girl settled on her lap, but at this remark the child opened her mouth and gave a wide yawn. Her father murmured in worry, but Jessica simply stroked the girl’s hair and smiled. “Poor Pippa! We’ve kept you out here so long. Are you very tired, darling?”

The little chin set. The child shook her head.

“Now, Pippa, it is time for bed. Where is Asmat?” asked her father, naming the Indian ayah who was the child’s nurse.

“Don’t know,” said his daughter. She put her arms around Jessica’s neck. “Want to stay with Mama.”

Husband and wife exchanged a glance. Across the grass, the musicians had progressed from stately dances to rollicking country ones, the very sort Jessica loved best.

“Leave her with me,” said the duchess. “No doubt the nursemaid will come soon.”

Hugging the little girl close, Jessica hesitated. “Are you certain, Mama?”

She gave a stern look. “As if I didn’t raise four children. I think I shall be able to handle one small girl.” She waved her hands to shoo them away. “Go! Dance and be merry!”

“If you insist.” Gently Jessica deposited the child on the settee in her place. She bent down to speak to the girl, her fair curls brushing the child’s dark ones. After a moment’s whispered conversation, Jessica rose and took her bridegroom’s arm. “We shall be right over there,” she said—to the duchess or to the child, it wasn’t clear.

“I know where you will be,” said her mother dryly. “Have faith, my dear.”

The colonel went down on one knee and kissed his daughter’s forehead, her face so tiny in his hands. The little girl reached out and held on to a button of his scarlet coat. He murmured something to her, loosened her hand from his coat and kissed her fingers, then rose. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, bowing again as Lady Jessica made a face of amused impatience at her mother. “Send for Asmat if—”

“Yes, yes.” She flicked one hand again. “One would think you don’t trust me.”

His face blanked with alarm, but Jessica burst out laughing. “Of course we do! We don’t want to put you out. But since you insist . . .” She gave the child a cheery wave and took her husband’s hand, pulling him back toward the dancing.

The duchess looked at the little girl, who gazed fearlessly back. Jessica had told her Colonel Kirkpatrick had a young daughter, but today was the first time she’d met the child. “You’re Philippa,” she said.

“Philippa Noor un-nisa Kirkpatrick,” was the reply, with surprising confidence.

“Your father calls you Pippa.”

She nodded. “Papa and Pippa.” She was quiet for a moment. “And now Mama, since Ammi is gone.”

Ammi must be her mother, who had died a year ago. Her Grace nodded gently. She knew what it was like to lose someone dear.

“What is your name?”

Her Grace’s brows went up. “Sophia Constance St. James, Duchess of Carlyle.” The little girl’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “Perhaps you will call me something else,” suggested the duchess, amused.

“Are you a daadee?” Philippa asked curiously.

“What is a daadee?”

“Ammi’s ammi. She gave me this before we came here on the ship.” Philippa patted the gold and jade pendant on a string of pearls around her neck. It was far too ornate for a child, but Jessica had been reading voraciously about India, and she said jewels on children weren’t unusual there.

“Ah.” The duchess nodded, but with a twinge. She was not a grandmother—not yet. “Would you like to call me Daadee?”

The little face brightened. “Yes!”

Her Grace was charmed. “Then I shall be Daadee.”

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