A Duke for Diana
A Duke for Diana
A successful debut requires a smashing social event, and in this dazzling new series, the key ingredient is Elegant Occasions—three savvy sisters who reject working as governesses to become party planners. And if they, and their clients, happen to find love along the way, it just makes their task more rewarding…
Self-made civil engineer Geoffrey Brookhouse has unexpectedly inherited the dukedom of Grenwood. But he has a secret that could ruin his family. Hoping to save his timid sister from that fate, he seeks to marry her off to a respectable, protective gentleman. With the London Season imminent, Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to orchestrate her debut. Yet Lady Diana Harper, spirited fashion expert, proves more than he bargained for. Suddenly, Geoffrey’s sister is emerging from her shell, and he is beleaguered with social invitations and gossip! Worse, Diana is attempting to transform him into a presentable duke—when all he really wants is to win her heart…
Diana doesn’t know what to make of the handsome, disheveled duke. The man bristles at the very idea that his fashion faux pas might spoil his sister’s chances. Yet Geoffrey’s stubbornness simply inspires Diana to ruffle his feathers—by setting him on a course of self-improvement. Although there’s something endearing, even irresistible about his flaws, can a man who hates the ton tolerate a woman who makes her living catering to them? Little does either know that they have more in common than they suspect—and that two can create a society all their own…
“Jeffries again proves her mastery of historical romance with this scintillating series debut, complete with bold, determined characters whose sparring only highlights their sexual tension. Historical romance fans will be riveted.” —Publishers Weekly
“…a captivating story of two people overcoming familial obstacles to find love and acceptance. I cannot wait to see which Harper sister is next!” —Romance Junkies
The Duke of Grenwood halted to glare at her, his eyes a peculiar shade of Prussian blue, no doubt accentuated by his cobalt-blue wool coat. And he did have the most beautiful head of wavy, raven hair just begging to be riffled by some enterprising lady.
Like her. Diana winced. Not on her life.
“Let me see if I have this right,” he said. “My sister will need a new wardrobe. Various people—she and her maid, for example—will need to be trained in the vagaries of high society. After her presentation, I’ll be hosting a dinner for important people who can introduce her to eligible gentlemen. Sometime later, I will host a ball to which many of said gentlemen will be invited. As if that isn’t enough, I should contrive to get Rosy a voucher, whatever that is, to Almack’s, whatever that is.”
Diana hid how impressed she was that His Arrogant Grace had paid that much attention. He had certainly learned the high-handed manner of a duke to perfection. “You have it right, indeed. And without even taking notes.”
“I don’t need to take notes. My brain is in good working order. Besides, when I’m in the woods surveying a route for a canal, it helps to be able to make mental notes.” He scowled at her. “And my mental notes tell me this will all require a great deal of money.”
“You’re a duke,” she said archly. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Money is always a problem, dear lady. I’ve suddenly inherited a woefully mismanaged estate and other properties that require refurbishing. Who knows what any of that will cost?”
“A gentleman should never talk about money so blatantly, you know. It makes him seem boorish.”
To her surprise, he chuckled. “Aren’t dukes always boorish?”
“No. They’re condescending. It’s not the same thing.”
“Right.” With a glint of mischief in his eyes, he waved his hand to indicate repetition. “Keep going. You’re demonstrating condescension quite well.”
She didn’t know whether to laugh or to chide him. She settled for shaking her head. “Now I see why your sister is ‘shy.’ She’s intimidated by you.”
“What? Never.” A troubled frown crossed his brow as he seemed to consider the possibility. Then his brow cleared. “Not Rosy. It’s just as you said—she’s . . . self-conscious. She thinks no one would ever look twice at her, no matter how much I tell her otherwise.”
That softened Diana toward him a bit. “As her brother, you’re biased.”
“That’s what she said. And I told her there were plenty of men who would find her attractive.”
“Did you mean it, or were you just trying to make her feel better?”
“Of course I meant it! My sister is an angel—she’s too good for most men in society. Still, I’d like to see her wed to a respectable fellow of her choosing. That’s where you and your business come in.”
“Quite right,” she said. “And we’re happy to oblige.”
“For a large fee.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “It depends on what you mean by ‘large.’ At the very least we expect you to cover the costs of her new wardrobe and the various entertainments.”
He sat down again, thank heavens, and crossed his arms. Did she prefer him sitting because it made him seem less overbearing? Or did she simply find it wiser to stare at his face than at those powerful thighs and calves, molded quite effectively by his tight buckskin breeches and well-worn riding boots? When he paced, she felt a savage and unexpected desire to sketch him unclothed.
Heavens! She’d never had such thoughts before. It was a trifle unsettling.
“Are you sure Rosy can succeed in society if I hand her debut over to you and your sisters?” he asked. “Can you really increase her confidence and get men to notice her?”
She tamped down her inappropriate reaction to the duke. “Certainly. There’s nothing wrong with your sister that a new look and some training won’t improve. The intimate dinner entertainment is key, a sort of practice social event, so to speak. That will keep her from feeling overwhelmed while also helping her make friends.”
“And you’ll be there. All of you, I mean. Your business concern.”
“We’ll be there beforehand, making sure Lady Rosabel’s attire and coiffure are perfect, and reinforcing her confidence where needed. We’ll already have set up a scheme of decoration that is subtle but memorable, with food that persuades your guests to stay late and get to know your sister. But we wouldn’t actually be guests.” Especially not given the scandal attached to their names, which she was oddly reluctant to warn him about. “Still, once the dinner begins, she can speak to us whenever she likes, because we’ll be behind the scenes in your town house, orchestrating the entire affair.”
“Ah,” he said. “She’ll find that reassuring.”
“Trust me, over time she’ll gain enough confidence to be comfortable in society. Her new wardrobe alone will ensure that. I will personally oversee the dressmaker to make certain all your sister’s gowns are designed exclusively for her. Once that’s taken care of and she’s had her presentation and her dinner, we’ll set up a series of events that, over the first two weeks, will increase in size and importance of guests. That way we can build her confidence gradually.”
“Not too gradually. She’ll need time afterward to acquire suitors.”
“Honestly, I don’t think it will take long. By the time we graduate to throwing a debut ball for Lady Rosabel, she will be the toast of the ton. My sisters and I will do everything in our power to ensure that.”
He looked her over, as if sizing up an opponent in a boxing ring. “Now we come to the point. How much will all this cost?”
She wasn’t accustomed to having to offer an estimate. The people she dealt with were used to throwing their money at anything. But she wasn’t about to tell His Boorish Grace that.
Quickly, she jotted down some figures and what they were for. She included the Elegant Occasions fee and added up all the numbers. Then she leaned forward to hand him the paper.
He must not have taken the time to read over what every figure signified, for his gaze went immediately to the bottom and he said, “Bloody hell! That’s highway robbery!” He tossed the sheet down on the tea table between them. “I won’t pay it.”
A voice came from the doorway. “You most certainly will, Geoffrey Arthur Brookhouse!” His mother marched over and picked up the sheet. She glanced at it and gulped. Then she walked around the tea table to hand it to Diana. “He can afford it.” She glanced at her son. “For Rosy, he can.”
Fully expecting him to give his mother what for, she was surprised when he instead rubbed his temples and groaned. “It seems I am overruled, sentenced to being plagued by busybodies for the next few weeks.” Then he fixed Diana with a determined look. “I will pay for everything you listed . . . on one condition.”
“What is that?” Diana asked warily.
“You guarantee that all your work will lead to Rosy having several suitors.”
That baffled her. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Do you stand by your services?”
“Of course, but—”
“No shilly-shallying, Lady Diana. You either stand by them or you don’t.” He stared her down. “I’ll make it easy for you. I will pay the expenses of the debut regardless. That’s only fair. I always demand that in my own contracts, and so should you. But whether I pay your fee will depend on whether your efforts result in suitors for Rosy.”
“Are you demanding any particular number of suitors?” she asked sarcastically as his mother watched the two of them with seeming interest.
He leaned back and crossed his arms. “I should, shouldn’t I? I won’t even demand that you produce callers after her presentation and the ‘dinner entertainment.’ But after her debut ball, I wish to see five callers a day for the first week.”
She wasn’t sure she could meet his expectation, but she was annoyed enough by his smugness just then to want to try. Five callers a day indeed. Hmph.
“If she gains that,” he went on, “I will not only pay your fee, I’ll double it.”
Double it! “And if she doesn’t gain five callers a day? What then?”
“We can negotiate a reduced fee, depending on the number of callers she actually has. But I warn you—if there are no callers, I will pay no fee.”
“Geoffrey!” his mother hissed. “This is for Rosy.”
“Precisely,” he told her. “And if I am to pay some trumped-up fee, then I mean to get my money’s worth for Rosy. Otherwise, what’s the point? The enticement of a doubled fee will make them work all the harder for her.”
“Our reputation will make us work all the harder,” Diana said and cast him her chilliest look. “Come to think of it, I have a condition of my own.”
“Oh?” he said with a raised brow.
“You, sir, must agree to accept our services for yourself.” She had the delicious satisfaction of catching him off guard. She’d never seen a man go from self-satisfied to insulted so fast. “We won’t even charge you, as long as you cover expenses. ‘That’s only fair.”
He jumped to his feet. “Expenses!” he roared. “What could you possibly need in expenses for me?”
She rose. “Bills from a tailor, a cobbler, a glover . . . I’m sure the list will be endless, if I am to judge from this.” She swept down her hand to indicate his attire. “Your inappropriate clothing for paying calls.”
“I was not paying calls in the social sense,” he said irately. “This was a business call.”
“That’s no excuse for wearing riding boots and buckskin breeches. Were you raised in a barn?”
“He was not,” his mother said as she sank onto the settee. “But he might as well have been. He never listens to me.”
“Now see here.” He glowered at Diana. “There’s nothing wrong with my clothes. I simply hadn’t expected ladies of rank to be running the dam— . . . the business, all right? And anyway, beyond my poor choice of attire today, I see no reason for me to use your services for myself.”
“No?” She ticked off his transgressions on her fingers. “You arrived at an hour never used for paying calls. You cursed without apology, and in front of ladies no less. You hovered over them in a most ungentlemanly manner. You sat with your ankle across your knee, for pity’s sake, splaying your legs in a vulgar pose.”
“Plenty of men sit that way,” he said defensively, though a flush crept up his face.
“Perhaps in the country taverns you obviously frequent,” Diana said, “but not in polite society, I assure you.”
A burst of laughter came from the doorway. Diana looked over to see that Lady Rosabel and Verity had returned.
But Lady Rosabel was the one laughing. “I’ve never seen a woman stand up to the almighty Geoffrey before.” She entered the room and clapped her hands. “Impressive work, Lady Diana!”
“Watch it, poppet,” he said. “I’m the one paying for this dressing down, you know.”
“And another thing,” Diana said, beginning to enjoy herself. “You discuss financial matters in the crudest way possible! Even when I tell you it’s uncouth.”
There was a decided glint in his eyes now. “You said it was boorish. Not the same thing.”
“Close enough,” she snapped. “So, Your Grace, will you agree to my condition?”
He searched her face, as if looking for a crack or weakness to exploit. Then he surveyed the four other women in the room and let out a long, ragged breath. He’d obviously realized he was outgunned and outmaneuvered at present. “If I must.”
His mother rose. “You must, my darling.” She winked at Diana. “Or else we won’t be able to hire them, will we, Lady Diana?”
“Absolutely not. Our efforts would be all for naught if your son undid them with every word out of his mouth.”
“No need to club me over the head with it,” he grumbled. “I’ve already agreed to your condition.”
“Excellent.” She turned to Lady Rosabel. “I shall call on you and your mother at your family’s town house first thing tomorrow. We can assess your wardrobe before going off to the dressmaker’s, where you’re to be fitted for new gowns and whatever else your wardrobe lacks.”
Lady Rosabel looked nervously at her brother. “I don’t know. That sounds dreadfully expensive.”
“Remember what I told your brother about not discussing money?” Diana said gently.
“Right,” Lady Rosabel said, blushing a little. “I shall remember that next time.”
“Besides,” her brother put in, his voice kind, “I’ve already agreed to the gowns. And you should have them. You deserve to have them. I can afford them.”
That he spoke so lovingly to his little sister put a lump in her throat. Until she remembered that the tight-fisted fellow had argued against new gowns when his sister wasn’t around.
“Geoffrey, you’re not to speak of money, remember?” Lady Rosabel chided him.
“It’s all right.” He shot Diana a sly look. “I’ve already been deemed ‘uncouth’ and ‘boorish.’ One more cursed epithet won’t hurt me. What’s it to be this time, my lady? Rude? Crass? Utterly lacking in social graces?”
“Careful, Your Grace,” she warned, struggling not to smile. “Don’t make me reconsider taking you on as a client. Especially when you just cursed in the presence of ladies again.”
He cocked his head. “Because I said ‘cursed’? But you said ‘curse’ to chide me for cursing.”
“I used the verb, which is perfectly acceptable. You used the adjective, which is not.”
“Good God, woman!” he said with a roll of his eyes. “This is why I never wanted to go into polite society. You’re all quite mad. Good day. I’ll find my own way out.” He glanced at his mother. “I’ll call for the carriage and wait for you and Rosy there.” With that, he marched to the door.
But Diana was having far too much fun to stop. “If it makes you feel any better,” she called after him with great glee, “your use of the past participle for ‘curse’ was appropriate and not uncouth at all!”
He came back to glare at her through the doorway. “It does not make me feel better. It doesn’t make me feel anything at all. Feelings don’t come into it. To hell with you. And yes, I know ‘hell’ and ‘Good God’ are not suitable for society. I just don’t care!” Then, whirling on his heel, he left.