Shelves: romance , historical-fiction , happily-ever-after , i-cried , 2-and-a-half-stars , ho-hum Augusta is no Lady Danbury, thats for sure. Lady Danbury is an absolute queen, but this old woman is mean and can be quite unlikable. However, I love what Julia Quinn did with her character. I might not like her because of her crankiness and mistreatment of Grace, but I can understand why she is the way she is after hearing about all the losses she has suffered. I can sympathize with her. Her characterization is on point.
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Which was not to say that the offending organ was black. Her grace the dowager Duchess of Wyndham could never be called completely evil.
Nor was she cruel, spiteful, or even entirely mean-spirited. But Augusta Elizabeth Candida Debenham Cavendish had been born the daughter of a duke, she had married a duke, and then given birth to another. Her sister was now a member of a minor royal family in some central European country whose name Grace could never quite pronounce, and her brother owned most of East Anglia. As far as the dowager was concerned, the world was a stratified place, with a hierarchy as clear as it was rigid.
Wyndhams, and especially Wyndhams who used to be Debenhams, sat firmly at the top. And as such the dowager expected certain behaviors and deferences. She was rarely kind, she did not tolerate stupidity, and her compliments were never falsely given. Still, there was no getting around the fact that the dowager was something less than cheerful, and so, as they rode home from the Lincolnshire Dance and Assembly, their elegant and well-sprung coach gliding effortlessly across the midnight-dark roads, Grace could not help but be relieved that her employer was fast asleep.
It had been a lovely night, truly, and Grace knew she should not be so uncharitable. Upon arrival, the dowager had immediately retired to her seat of honor with her cronies, and Grace had not been required to attend to her. Instead, she had danced and laughed with all of her old friends, she had drunk three glasses of punch, she had poked fun at Thomas—always an entertaining endeavor; he was the current duke and certainly needed a bit less obsequiousness in his life.
But most of all, she had smiled. She had smiled so well and so often that her cheeks hurt. The pure and unexpected joy of the evening had left her body humming with energy, and she was perfectly happy to grin into the darkness, listening to the soft snore of the dowager as they made their way home.
Grace closed her eyes, even though she did not think herself sleepy. There was something hypnotic about the motion of the carriage. It was strange. Her eyes were tired, even though the rest of her was not. But perhaps a nap would not be such a misplaced endeavor—as soon as they returned to Belgrave, she would be required to aid the dowager with— Crack!
Grace sat up straight, glancing over at her employer, who, miraculously, had not awakened. What was that sound? Had someone— Crack! This time the carriage lurched, coming to a halt so swiftly that the dowager, who was facing front as usual, was jerked off her seat.
Grace immediately dropped to her knees next to her employer, her arms instinctively coming around her. And all she could think was that she would dearly like to smack a little sense into the esteemed Augusta Wyndham, because if she were killed because the dowager was too cheap to hand over her jewels— The door was wrenched open.
Slowly, she lifted her head to the doorway, but all she could see was the silvery end of a gun, round and menacing, and pointed at her forehead.
The speaker then stepped forward out of the shadows, and with a graceful motion swept his arm in an arc to usher them out. Grace felt her eyes dart back and forth—an exercise in futility, to be sure, as there was clearly no avenue of escape. She turned to the dowager, expecting to find her spitting with fury, but instead she had gone white. It was then that Grace realized she was shaking.
The dowager was shaking. Both of them were. The highwayman leaned in, one shoulder resting against the doorframe. He smiled then—slow and lazy, and with the charm of a rogue. How Grace could see all of that when half of his face was covered with his mask, she did not know, but three things about him were abundantly clear: He was young.
He was strong. And he was dangerously lethal. Just a quirk this time—one devastating little lift at the corner of his mouth. And then he extended his other arm. He extended his arm. As if they were embarking at a house party. As if he were a country gentleman, about to inquire about the weather. Grace shook her head frantically. She could not touch him. She did not know why, precisely, but she knew in her bones that it would be utter disaster to put her hand in his.
It breaks my heart, really. I have such a vexing effect on you. That was the only explanation. And he had a gun. The Duke of Wyndham —who had years ago insisted that she use his given name at Belgrave after a farcical chorus of your grace, Miss Grace, your grace— had no patience for chitchat of any sort. He did not look like a criminal, or rather, her idea of a criminal. His accent screamed education and breeding, and if he was not recently washed, well, she could not smell it.
It was the only bit of him she could watch, with his mask covering the upper portion of his face. But his lips were so full of movement, so perfectly formed and expressive that she almost felt she could see him. It was odd. And mesmerizing. And more than a little unsettling. His eyes— what she could see of them through the mask— grew heavy-lidded and seductive. There was a very slight lilt to it, too, attesting to a childhood spent far from Lincolnshire, and Grace felt herself sway, as if she could fall forward, lightly, softly, and land somewhere else.
Far, far from here. Quick as a flash, his hand was at her elbow, steadying her. Without letting her go. Grace shook her head. Of course there had to be—he could not have orchestrated this by himself.
But the rest of them had been so silent, choosing to remain in the shadows. And she had not been able to take her eyes off of their leader. Neither he nor the footman who had served as an outrider were anywhere in sight.
There is a rather buxom maid there who— Ah, but what am I thinking? I am among ladies. And then after that, a day off to find that spot of love and tenderness. Perfectly unharmed, I assure you, although he might find his bindings tighter than he prefers. It was cold and clammy. And limp. Utterly limp. Had she suffered an apoplexy? Lost her memory? But he only laughed. The dowager rarely said thank you, and she never said please.
She turned back to the highwayman, yanked off her ring, and held it out. He plucked it from her hand, rolling it about in his fingers before depositing it in his pocket. Grace held silent, watching the exchange, waiting for him to ask for more. But to her surprise, the dowager spoke first. Oh, admit it. It does make one feel unloved. She was not well. She could not be well. I promise you, I shall return, and I shall do it unarmed.
She fell against the highwayman, and one of his arms came instantly around her. The embrace was strange, almost protective, and she knew that he was as stunned as she. They both watched as the dowager, without waiting for his acquiescence, climbed quickly into the carriage. Grace fought to breathe. Her back was pressed up against him, and his large hand rested against her abdomen, the tips of his fingers curling gently around her right hip. He was warm, and she felt hot, and dear heaven above, she had never —never— stood so close to a man.
She could smell him, feel his breath, warm and soft against her neck. And then he did the most amazing thing. Almost sympathetic. Her eyes fell on his gun, still in his right hand.
The Lost Duke of Wyndham (Two Dukes of Wyndham Series #1)
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The Lost Duke of Wyndham