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For Love of the Duke

By:Christi Caldwell

ssing by moved with an excited step, lords and ladies giggling and chuckling as they slipped upon the ice and righted themselves before tumbling onto the sleek surface. Merchants barking out the contents contained within their vibrant hued tents, drew the attention of would be buyers. Katherine realized in that moment, no one noticed the actions of two unchaperoned young ladies. Everyone was too engrossed in the spirit of the fair.

The practical and rational of the twins, Katherine felt herself hopelessly lost in the beauty of the day… and she set out to explore. She made her way down the long row of tents, past the pretty sapphire blue one she’d been instructed by Anne to explore. Ever onward to the end of the row, to where a grey tent rested on the fringe of the activity. Katherine was drawn to it; appreciating the somberness of the lone thrown together shop.

She paused beside it, and peered inside. “Hullo?”

Silence met her greeting.

She frowned, and made to turn back toward the activity upon the river.

“Hello, moi lady.”

Katherine spun back around. She squinted in an attempt to adjust to the dimness of the cold, lonely, little tent. “Hullo,” she said again. She rubbed her hands together to rub warmth back into her fingers and looked around. Suddenly feeling very foolish for indulging her sister’s flight of fancy, Katherine made to leave.

“Is there something oi might ‘elp you find, moi lady? A gift for someone, perhaps?”

Katherine shook her head. “No. I’m afraid not.”

The gaunt old woman with straggly white hair came closer. “Wot is that, moi lady?”

Compassion filled Katherine at the sight of the poor woman whose tattered brown skirts and thin shawl would offer little protection by way of the elements. Katherine reached into her reticule and fished around for some coins but something in the woman’s eyes stayed her movements; something that indicated that even though impoverished, this woman would welcome no charity. “Er, yes. I mean, there is something you might be able to help me find. I’m searching for a gift for my sister.”

The woman’s small, brown eyes searched Katherine’s face. She nodded and moved to one of the tables littered with her wares. She held up a pink, satin ribbon. “Perhaps some ribbon for the lady?”

Katherine shook her head, and advanced deeper into the store. Anne had no shortage of ribbons.

The woman moved to the next table, filled with bright baubles and trinkets. “Then a kerchief for the lady?” She held up a floral piece of fabric embroidered with red, pink, and purple roses.

Katherine reached for the fabric. The old woman passed it into her hands.

Katherine glanced down at the handkerchief, passing it back and forth between her fingers, her gaze locked on the fuchsia rose expertly stitched upon the cloth. She remembered back to the day she’d learned of Father’s betrayal. Mother had been seated on the wrought iron bench within her gardens, weeping bitter, angry tears. She’d caught sight of Katherine and quickly dashed back those tears. “I’ve let the gardener go. A silly expense, don’t you think, Katherine?”

“Moi lady?”

The fabric fluttered from her fingers, back onto the table. Katherine gave her head a clearing shake, a bid to dispel the pained musings of the past. “Er, no, no floral items.” Since that day in the gardens, Katherine had come to detest the cheerful blooms, the reminder of Father’s failings. That day had taught Katherine the perils of love.

The peddler’s brow furrowed, and she seemed unaware of Katherine’s inner tumult. Her beady eyes went wide in her wrinkled face. She reached into the front pocket of her jacket and withdrew a gold chain. “Perhaps a golden heart, then?”

Katherine looked at the pendant, and her heart paused at the implausibility of it all. She reached for it wordlessly, and studied the golden bauble, turning it over in her fingers. “It is perfect,” she said, quietly.

The peddler grunted, and held her hand out.

Katherine blinked, looking down at her open palm. “Oh,” she said, and reached into the front of her reticule and withdrew several coins.

The woman’s eyes widened at the small fortune Katherine bestowed.

“It is a fine piece, indeed,” Katherine murmured. There had been a time when Katherine had lain awake in bed, gripped by fear of her family’s dire financial straits. If she could prevent another woman from feeling those sentiments, even for just a bit, then a sovereign was a very, very small price to pay for the pendant.

“There is a story behind that heart, moi lady.”

Katherine slipped the heart into her reticule. “I’m certain there is,” she said. “Thank you very much.” And before the peddler could finish, Katherine stepped outside. Over the years she’d listened rather patiently to her sister’s fanciful musings about love, she’d not have to hear the foolish words of a stranger, too.

A blast of cool wind slapped at her skin. Katherine gasped as the frigid breeze sucked the air from her lungs. Her reticule fell from her fingers and skidded along the frozen surface.

“Drat,” she muttered, and hurried after it. Katherine took a step, when the flat sole of her kid leather boot slipped on the snowflakes coating the frozen river. She threw her arms wide to balance herself as she slid away from the lone little tent, past her reticule, ever farther.

Craaaaack.

She swallowed hard. Her heart hung suspended in her breast, and then the ice opened up.

~2~

There was not much Jasper Waincourt, 8th Duke of Bainbridge, detested more than the Christmastide season. His mouth tightened as he scanned the merry frolickers skating upon the river, and others moving in and out of the cluttered tents filled with unnecessary fripperies.

There was not much more he detested than Christmastide… however, the inane amusements enjoyed by the ton, was certainly very close.

The Marquess of Guilford stuck his elbow into Jasper’s side. “Must you look so sev

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