Vander reached over and pulled the cord. “His name is Gaunt, Chuffy.”

“I know that,” his uncle said. “You’d never know it by his stomach these days, but he used to be the boxing champion for this county, Nevvy, as you’d know if you weren’t all-fired up over stables, stables and nothing but stables.”

Mia was smiling, so presumably she already knew the origins of her butler’s crooked nose.

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Damn it, one glance at her, and lust slashed through him again.

She was his wife. She was his.

She would love him.

Again.

Chapter Seventeen

MORE NOTES ON THE JILTING

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~ Perhaps Frederic is inebriated and forgets to come to church?

“Frederic keenly felt the impropriety of his conduct. ‘Now I am myself again, no longer under the Dangerous Influence of Spirituous liquors . . . my affections suppressed by Demon Rum, I forgot the most precious gift that Life had given me.’” No. (Readers wouldn’t like it.)

- Perhaps he accidentally tips Flora over a waterfall. Puts her in Mortal Peril and permanently lames her. He jilts her from guilt. (They wouldn’t like that either.)

~ or he’s Jealous! A deceitful friend tells him that Flora is naught but a wanton deceiver. Yes, this works!

Very Shakespearean ~ wasn’t that Much Ado about Nothing? Or Measure for Measure?

Mia was beginning to feel that she would deserve a medal if she survived the meal. There wasn’t much conversation; Sir Chuffy was humming to himself, and Vander was eating a beef steak in the devotional way that men eat large slabs of meat.

She couldn’t stop worrying about the question of intimacy—and she didn’t mean first names. When she and Vander did consummate their marriage, which was bound to occur at some point, she would insist that all the lamps be extinguished first. No candles either. Sheets pulled up to their chins.

Was it permissible to insist that a man not touch his wife above the waist? She had a feeling it wasn’t, though she didn’t really know. Not having known her mother, she had only foggy ideas about the finer points of conjugal intimacy.

Enough! They had to talk about something.

“I met Jafeer today,” she said brightly.

Vander looked up from his plate. “So Mulberry informed me. Don’t go near that horse. He’s far too high-strung.”

“I gather Jafeer is a new addition to your stables?”

“Yes, he arrived a few days ago,” Vander said, taking another forkful of beef.

“You did tell me that you had a race upcoming, did you not? Will he take part?”

“I hadn’t thought to enter him because he has been unsettled. He won races in his native country as a yearling, and I’d like to have a sense of what he’s like on the track. But perhaps I shall . . . now I know that the way to his heart is a duchess with a pocketful of apples.”

Mia knew she was beaming, but it felt wonderful to triumph where Vander’s stable master had failed.

“Good for you, m’dear,” Chuffy said, leaning back with an expansive wave of his glass. He nearly tumbled but caught himself. “You’ve deduced the way to your husband’s heart.”

Vander’s eyes narrowed. He probably thought she was trying to trap him into unwanted emotion by befriending Jafeer—when she’d had nothing like that in mind. “There’s no need to go to such lengths, Duchess,” he remarked. “I’m bought and paid for.”

Mia froze, unable to speak. Chuffy, on the other hand, made a sharp gesture and barked, “Nevvy, I—”

His chair toppled backward with a crash, and a hard thump indicated that Chuffy’s head had hit the floor. Mia sprang to her feet with a squeak of distress, but Vander merely leaned forward far enough to peer down at his uncle and got up in a leisurely way.

Mia rushed around the table to where Chuffy was lying on the floor. To her relief, he was blinking up at the ceiling, looking surprised rather than injured.

“Here I am, on the damn floor again,” he observed.

Vander hoisted Chuffy to his feet and deposited him back in his chair. “Having second thoughts about our marriage?” he asked Mia in a mocking tone, as he walked back to the head of the table. “This household does not fit the mold of the beau monde.”

“I need a restorative,” Chuffy said, hauling on the cord to summon Gaunt.

“If I had dreams of a life in the beau monde,” Mia managed, “I gave them up long ago. If you would both please excuse me, I shall retire for the night.” She stood up and nipped out the door as Gaunt entered, running up the stairs to the nursery.

The ducal nursery was three times larger than that in Carrington House. It was bright and airy, with a rocking chair with metal mounts and red velvet cushions. A sofa was positioned in front of the fireplace, which was fronted with an elaborate grate guard.

In the corner was a child-sized iron cot; next to it was a child-sized wash table and basin. Charlie was in bed, but when she tiptoed into the room, she could tell that he was awake. She sat down on his bed, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “Why aren’t you asleep, Barley Charlie?”

“I’m too excited,” he whispered. He sat up. “Uncle Vander is going to teach me how to ride, Aunt Mia! He’s going to teach me to ride a horse. And he showed me how to go downstairs all by myself.”

“What?”

Charlie grabbed her hand and put it against the inside of his thin knee. “Do you feel this?”

He pushed against her hand, and she nodded.

“That means I can ride a horse!” he said triumphantly.

Mia’s heart sank. “Honey, riders use these things called stirrups—”

“A true rider needn’t use them,” Charlie said fiercely. “You can ride a horse with your knees. The duke says that is the best way to ride. You don’t need feet; you only need strong legs.”

Mia opened her mouth and shut it again. She was hardly someone who knew the finer points of horsemanship. “I suppose you could ride Lancelot.”

Charlie shook his head. “I shall ride proper horses, starting with a pony named Ginger, and after her, the biggest horses in the duke’s stables. I shall ride them all.”

“Oh, no,” Mia moaned. She knew that look. She’d seen it on her own face, when she’d realized that if she wrote novels and published them under an alias, she could keep writing about love without risking humiliation.

Charlie’s face was small, but all of a sudden she saw that it was no longer delicate. His chin was square and his eyes were fierce.

“You’re growing up, aren’t you?” she asked, unable to keep a smile from her lips.

“Of course I’m growing up,” Charlie told her. “All boys grow up. I shall go away to school soon. It’s going to be an adventure.”

“No, you won’t!” she cried, the denial coming straight from her heart. “Who told you such a thing? Did the duke say that?”

Charlie snuggled back into his covers. “Yes, he did. He’s going to send me to his school. It’s called something funny . . . like Eating. I think that’s it. He’s sending me to Eating.” His eyes were growing slumberous.

“Eton,” Mia mumbled, shocked down to her toes. Her baby would never go away to school, where cruel boys like that dreadful Oakenrott would taunt and bully him.

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