How to Capture a Duchess Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

She is love and she is magic, and so he offers his heart on a silver platter...

When her father took on the hard task of making a set of exquisite furniture for the Duke's manor, Victoria never expected that she'd get the chance to get a taste of how nobles live. Or that the Duke's son would make it a habit to appear on their doorstep every other day.

As a young, handsome bachelor with an influential title and a reputation, Benjamin Chapman, Marquess of Dewmire, never felt particularly concerned about the woes of the common man. That is until he meets the daughter of the carpenter his mother hired to make their new furniture.

Despite the seemingly unbridged social gap between them, Benjamin is determined to prove to Victoria that his feelings are genuine, even if it means going up against his own family. But how is he to do that when her father comes begging for help to find her? Victoria is gone and a broken carriage wheel is all that remains.

Chapter One

The workshop in which Victoria Roland stood was a marvelous and magical place.

With doors leading to equipment and supplies, it seemed that a little bit of everything lived in this shop. It may have appeared nondescript on the outside with two windows looking in from the street and a fading sign above, but inside there were all sorts of tools. One could easily reach out and grab sandpaper, a bronze handle, and a nail all at once.

Pieces of wood and iron hung down from the ceiling where there wasn’t enough space to keep them on the ground.

Shelves were no longer filled with books except for in the back office. Instead, most of the shelves helped to keep the chaos off the ground. There was no pattern to what had been dusted and what still needed a good wash; it simply was what it was.

A marvelous place indeed.

And yet I can never find what I am looking for.

She put her hands on her hips and shook her head in frustration. While there was so much she could discover just by looking in one corner, she couldn’t find the one tool she needed.

“I just need the bar clamp,” Victoria murmured under her breath. “I could have sworn that I used it yesterday. Where could it be?”

A strand of dark straight hair fell into her face. It had been neatly tied into a braid around her head that morning. But hours had since passed and she had tried again and again to get the loose hair back in place. The maid, Georgette, was wonderful at doing this in the mornings, and yet the hairstyles never made it to the evening.

It’s not like I’ve even worked that hard today. I cut and fitted the wood paneling for the Somerset's chest. I stained the desk for Marchioness Remingville. And then I sorted through the ledgers, which included no physical work at all.

Their modest shop in London had grown over the last ten years. While her father focused on providing solid and simple furniture, she had convinced them to work on creating more intricate designs in the wood.

Business had boomed quickly after that. They even boasted of having three stools owned by royalty. How much better could the company grow?

It also meant that there was always more work to do the following day. Although they had created a build schedule to stay on track and not cause undue stress, there were the occasional days and weeks that had them spending hours into the night working on sawing and carving.

They had done this a week ago for three nights straight. Fortunately, they had fewer items to worry about this week. Robbie Howard, her best friend, and her father’s apprentice, had left an hour ago to return home. Now, she was about ready to leave as well.

Honestly, by this point, I suppose Georgette should just glue my hair into place.

Her eyes trailed over one of the nearby crowded shelves on the wall before locating a bottle of glue. It was a rather tempting idea.

Except then she remembered when she was seven years old and had been dared into gluing two of her fingers together. It had been quite painful to eventually separate them.

Victoria huffed in annoyance before she marched into the next room.

“I heard you out front,” came a mild voice. “Is something the matter?”

It took her a minute to find him. Her father was a tall, broad-shouldered man with a narrow waist and big hands. She remembered walking through the streets of London as a child beside him, watching people take note of his size and step out of his way.

Gregory Roand was rather unassuming in his own shop, especially with his simple brown clothes, so it was easy for him to blend in.

Letting a sigh escape her lips, she offered him a lopsided smile.

“I lost the bar clamp again, I’m afraid. And I do believe that my hair has become a busy bird’s nest. Have you seen my kerchief?”

He straightened up from where he had been bent over sanding down a chair of his own making. Since they had been able to complete the higher priority projects that were commissioned, he liked finding some time in the evenings to work on something of his own design.

They didn’t know if anyone would buy these extra chairs just like they didn’t know if anyone would want to purchase the small combs and figurines she carved from scraps in the shop when she was bored.

We might not look alike, but we are certainly family.

Her father Gregory was a large, quiet man who enjoyed working with his hands. He had been commissioned in the British army as a young man, returning home just in time to sweep a baron’s daughter off her feet. They were wed before the end of the Season.

His hair was thin, and blonde with blue eyes that shined brightly in the sunlight. There was a slight limp from the war but he never spoke of it. He still had a charming smile but he reserved it for Victoria’s jokes and for when he felt most accomplished.

He was grave, considerate, and the hardest worker she knew.

Even with his minute faults, he was the best man in her life whom she loved dearly.

Victoria just wished sometimes she looked more like him.

Of course, he was glad that she looked like his late wife and her mother. Lady Verity Brandenwood, daughter of the strict Baron of Pendlington, who had passed away from illness twenty years ago.

Having only been the age of two at the time, Victoria hardly recalled anything more than a blurry face and soft voice.

It was through one family portrait and her father’s stories that she knew anything about her late mother. When the woman chose to marry a commoner, her father deserted her. The only dowry that Lady Verity had to offer was the jewelry she had worn when she was wed.

And now, there was Victoria, with her mother’s long black hair and hazel eyes. She had her mother’s looks and her father’s love of woodcraft. It wasn’t much, but she accepted these gifts.

She could hear her friend’s voice in her head.

“What does it matter? You make who you are at the end of the day. It’s a new world. I could have been a butcher like my father, but I’m not. You’re lucky your father lets you work here and you’re lucky that he’s not a butcher. This is the best life people like us could end up with.”

Robbie was most likely right. She hated it when he was right because he would always get that smug grin on his face.  The young man was three years her senior and had been apprenticed to her father for nearly fifteen years, they were close and often knew each other too well.

Her thoughts fled when a voice called to her.

“Your kerchief?” her father repeated with wide, innocent eyes.

Jerking her head up, Victoria kept her mouth shut while considering the man’s expression. She knew him much too well.

He was never good at deceiving me. I’ve guessed every St. Nicholas present for as long as I can remember.

Raising her eyebrow, Victoria crossed her arms. “Did you hide it again?”

It wouldn’t be the first, second, or even third time that he had done something like this. Her father welcomed her into working in the shop beside him, but at the same time, he wished for her to still be something more than what she was.

I cannot be more than I am. I am still but a woman.

The older man dropped his gaze and hesitated before saying anything. He shifted his weight before shrugging his shoulders. “Perhaps.”

“Father, it keeps the hair from my face. That means I spend more time working and less time dealing with the itchy strands in my face,” she said pointedly.

“I know,” he admitted. “I just… it makes you look like a commoner.”

It’s this argument again?

Victoria felt a knot form in her stomach. This discussion always went around in circles. There was little hope that it would change now.

Swallowing, she tried to pull her thoughts together so this wouldn’t turn into one of their rare fights. She hated those with a passion. Her father was all she had, after all.

“I know. I know you don’t like me looking as though I’m common or a maid or working. I know that Mother had higher ambitions and dreams for me to be a lady. Father, I can do those things. I can sit properly and eat, even dance a little. I paint, I sing, all of it. But at the end of the day, I am still without a title and I am still your daughter helping you manage the shop.”

“But… If you marry,” he started haltingly.

Victoria forced herself not to wince. Looking down, she saw the rip in her skirt and the stains on her sleeves from polish.

“I’m two and twenty,” she reminded him when she looked back up. “It seems that we should stop talking about marriage. I would be lucky for a commoner to look my way, and there’s certainly no chance for a titled young man to walk through these doors and steal me away to a castle.”

Her father didn’t respond.

So, Victoria gave him a tired smile. “I’m going to keep looking for the bar clamp. I want to have it ready first thing in the morning. Afterwards, the two of us are going home. It’s late enough.”

Though she had walked into the room with her shoulders held high, she struggled to do so upon exiting through the doorway.

Studying the hard work that she accomplished alongside her father, Victoria replayed the conversation. Her father had shared similar sentiments through the years so this was not new to her.

When she was little, she dreamed of a handsome prince coming to sweep her off her feet.

The man always existed in her imagination with soft brown hair that curled around his ears. She had liked that style even before it came into fashion.

His chin would be dimpled and he would have defined cheekbones. She had told Robbie this once when they were children and he just laughed. But then again, he had never been very creative.

When she had the time, Victoria used to let her imagination run wild.

She could picture her prince as though he were there by her side. They would dance boldly at all of the balls and he would take her to get ice cream every day at Gunther’s. They would have the most exciting adventures around England.

And at the end of the day, he would bring her back to their castle. A warm fire would be lit and they would curl up on the rug. He would read to her while she played with her wood and knife. They would discuss poetry and the great artists, knowing and loving everything.

Victoria shook her head, trying to focus.

She had read the short stories in the papers and thought of romantic rainfall and tender kisses and a life of luxury that would allow her to focus on the arts instead of managing ledgers to ensure they could still afford their small staff in the family home.

But I never had a chance, not really. Those lessons were useless. Who would want someone such as myself? I have nothing to offer. No handsome princes seeking my hand in marriage. It is best, I think, that I just give up on that future.

Victoria packed up for home, telling herself that there was no hope for her future. All she had was Robbie, her father, and this shop. And that was all it would ever be.

Chapter Two

The Dowager Duchess of Raychester was annoyed.

Most things bothered her for one reason or another. But now, she was quite put out.

She grabbed her cane and used it to hit the top of the coach that she was riding in through the streets of London.

“Move!” She demanded. “The sun is in my eyes! These infernal curtains are absolutely useless.” Then she huffed again in the most ladylike way she could manage when the coach moved to another lane only to put more sunlight in her eyes.

She didn’t typically run these sorts of errands anymore these days, but this was a task that she didn’t trust anyone else to handle. It seemed that with every passing year, the servants available for hire in London simply grew worse.

And then it suddenly occurred to her: they weren’t worse. It was only that everyone else had hired the best servants already.

This only made her frown. Such a facial expression couldn’t be shown out in public, of course, but there was no one in the carriage with her now and they were moving quickly enough that anyone who dared to look in her window surely wouldn’t notice.

She pursed her lips and glanced out, finding that they were passing Hyde Park.

The sight of the old, familiar meeting ground made her heart soften for a moment. She remembered taking strolls there when she was but a mere debutante among The Ton. It had been a wonderful time with so many opportunities to meet dashing young and rich gentlemen outside of crowded events and the like.

Just the memory made her stiff shoulders relax. Where were all of those people now? She had to think, recalling the once youthful faces.

“Are we nearly there?” She demanded.

The faint voice of her driver rang out. “Nearly, my lady. I’m afraid the streets have begun to grow busy.”

Of course. As everyone arrived in town for the Season, the streets would be extremely crowded. She could never decide if this was the best for them since it would become a hassle to travel and yet would allow her to have better company in her social circles.

While it seemed that the carriage was slowing down again, she attempted to come to terms with her useless driver. She closed her eyes and sat primly against the cushioned seat.

Having been the Duchess of Raychester, formerly the second daughter of a viscount, for thirty years, Lady Helena Chapman had been eager to rise in the ranks of class and luxury. Having worked hard to earn this position, she wasn’t about to let such slow servants put a damper on her situation.

The widowed duchess. The Dowager.

She supposed such a name must be better than anything else that The Ton whispered about when she returned to London for the season.

Any talk would be useful now. Opening her eyes, she mused over the idea of sitting closer in the sunlight so that perhaps a soul or two might catch sight of her. They would see her racing through town and wonder what was so important.

What else? Her daughter.

It was time for her eighteen-year-old daughter, Cassandra Chapman, to debut within society.

She should have had her first season the year before, but an illness had caught her while they were in the middle of preparations. The poor dear had been caught up in bed for weeks. By the time Helena had deemed her daughter sufficiently healed, the Season was in full swing.

I wasn’t about to bring her out so late. That would have doomed her immediately. No, she must be fresh-faced and here at the beginning. Invitations are already flowing in. I must pick the ideal event to first present her in. And then? She must have her ball.

And they couldn’t have a ball without a proper ballroom.

Her husband’s home in London was well-known, sitting one street behind Pall Mall. That Italian abomination was the most ludicrous thing she had ever seen, but it seemed to be gaining attraction from the royalty of late, so she supposed that opinion would soon be out of fashion.

Tamesly House had been in the Raychester family for longer than she could remember. It had been a gift to one of her husband’s ancestors in one of those terrible, old wars.

Fortunately, the house had her attention. Helena had spent years refurbishing the place into something proper. Everyone knew the crystal chandelier that hung in the front hall, catching the light from candles she insisted on keeping lit at all hours. The house had the finest wallpaper, was outfitted with the best fabric for curtains, and now had new rugs that didn’t look so thin.

Everything was perfect in the Tamesly House. Everything but the wooden columns in the ballroom.

While she had never cared for them, they were beloved by her family and well known around London. She had lost track of how often her guests had hinted at their interest, slyly seeking an invitation to inspect them for themselves.

I would tear them down if I could. But what would everyone say? I would lose my place in Society as well as my children’s attention. Well, at least my daughter’s. There is no hope for my son anymore.

Gripping her cane, Helena banged on the top of the carriage again. “I say, we must be close! What route are you taking me in?”

She had just finished speaking when the carriage slowed to a stop.

Of all the infernal problems she faced with her servants, this was one of the most irritating. She had a reputation to uphold. Folks rarely saw her shopping behind searching for ribbons and jewelry.

But if she had to be caught handling business such as reworking those ridiculous wooden columns, then she would only do this at the best and more respectable workshop.

When the door opened, she turned her face from her driver so that he would know she cared not a whit for him. Taking a quick look around the street, she found it just busy enough for her to be able to slip d out without having to deal with any unwanted attention.

“Don’t move a muscle,” Helena muttered under her breath to her driver.

She didn’t look back. Instead, she corrected her posture and raised her chin slightly before making her way to the door.

Too late, she realized that now her driver couldn’t open the door for her. The annoyance seemed to grow within her. She just prayed it wouldn’t put lines on her face. Just because both of her children were of marriageable age didn’t mean she had to look her age.

“Hello?” She glanced around the brightly lit shop to find it in complete disarray. It appeared as though they were moving or cleaning everything out at the moment. Was this shop even open?

Lady Northberry, her nearsighted neighbor, was a horrendous gossip who knew everyone and where to find the best of everything. This shop apparently housed the most prestigious woodsmith. Royalty, Northberry had said, even came to Gregory’s for their needs.

But she didn’t particularly like the idea of waiting around.

“Hello?” Helena asked impatiently.

A patter of feet sounded nearby. The door to the right swung open to allow a young woman to slip through.

“Pardon me,” the stranger said with a hand to her chest. “My sincerest apologies, my lady. We were not expecting any customers today and I was in the back. How may we be of assistance?”

She had big eyes, untamed hair, and was not escorted by a man. Tilting her head, Helena wondered who she was and why she was there. They were both out of place in this strange mess.

“Yes,” she responded at last. “I need to speak with Gregory.”

“He’s finishing with some filigree right now. May I assist you with any questions or…?”

Helena tilted her chin up a little higher and moved her vision away. Just another incompetent servant, it seemed. This girl was probably in charge of cleaning this shop as well. Most likely, it was never going to be clean at this rate.

“I request his presence. I have a matter of business and I will not repeat myself twice. Bring him here or I shall take my money elsewhere. Now, what will it be?”

There was a shuffle and then, “Yes, my lady, of course. I will return momentarily.”

Finally, we are getting somewhere.

Finding herself alone again, Helena glanced around the room again. She took a few steps over to a nearby table to inspect a few wooden pieces that were on there. There were a couple of beautifully carved boxes she thought looked vaguely familiar.

Hadn’t she seen one at Lady Anne’s picnic the year before? Everyone had talked about it nonstop, curious where it might have come from.

Then she spotted a chair behind the table, stained dark with a deep green cushion. She had seen an exact replica at Baron DeChamp’s dinner party last week. Walking around, Helena found similar furniture or commonalities of designs in this shop that proved this was indeed the best place for her to purchase any woodwork.

A slight smile made its way to her face. Maybe she should consider more than just those wooden columns.

If she added a piece here and there around the house and showed that off at the ball, she would be the talk of the Season. This would include gossip about her as well as her daughter.

“Welcome to my humble shop.”

Helena jumped in a rather unladylike manner before turning to find a tall man standing in the door where that young woman had been only a few minutes ago. She straightened up and offered a slight nod.

“Good day. I take it you’re the owner of this shop?”

“Gregory Roland at your service.”

“Splendid. I have a commission for you. The cost doesn’t matter here; it’s needed for a ball in two months’ time.”

He moved forward, limping slightly, while she explained herself but then stopped when she mentioned the timeline. Hesitating, he rubbed his hands together as though he seemed to consider her words.

“There is much that can be accomplished in that time, but it is typically not my line of work. My apprentice and I require time in order to provide quality furniture. Do you know what you have in mind?”

He thinks he doesn’t have time? It is four columns. He doesn’t know what it’s like to put on a ball like this and should be glad to have this much time.

“Columns. I have four wooden columns in disrepair that need to be fixed in one manner or another. They’re intricately carved and have seen years of wear,” Helena said. She went on to explain more about them and just what needed to be improved.

“The labor is intensive, but I believe this can be done,” Gregory said slowly. “What are the measurements?”

She nearly curled her lip at such a question. “I wouldn’t know.”

The two of them stared at one another for a minute. She refused to look away. She was a duchess, after all. The man looked away and went on.

“I’m sure you have more important concerns to weigh on, of course. Do you think it possible that I might be able to bring my apprentice to visit your estate tomorrow to take my measurements and create an estimate? Of the required time, supplies, and cost.”

He wished to come to her home as though he were a guest? She opened her mouth to argue but then paused.

While she could take her business elsewhere, then most likely no one would notice the effort she had put in for the ball. If Society was raving about this ridiculous woodworker, Helena supposed she needed to play by their games.

“Fine. You may come after visiting hours, of course. Will that be all?”

Gregory walked over to the nearby table where there was a small notebook lying there. A piece of charcoal was picked up as he started to scribble down his notes. His fingers were immediately smudged.

“Tomorrow afternoon at the Tamesly House,” he mumbled and then looked up at her. “And I’ll speak to the Duke about funds?”

Although she faced this situation many times over, it never ceased to stop annoying Helena.

“Thank you, but he cannot help. My poor, dear beloved passed away nearly ten years ago,” she said while mustering up emotion in her voice.

Gregory gave a slight bow. “I sincerely apologize for any pain I may have caused you. I only thought that I had heard that the Duke of Raychester had come to town.”

Her stomach dropped as she realized who he really spoke of.

Benjamin has come? Whatever for? I did ask that he join us as we bring his sister out for the season, but I didn’t expect it. He never comes. What is that fool thinking?

Her son might have inherited that title long ago, but it didn’t belong to him. Not really. Her son was beyond useless.

She had given up on Benjamin a few years ago; he stayed out of her way for the most part and she was able to control the money and the power. But apparently, he had returned.

“My son is now the Duke,” she said. “But he prefers his horses to house matters, and so I tend to them. Not everyone who is blessed with a title deserves it.”

Gregory dropped his gaze. “Ah.”

Standing there, Helena tried to think of something else to say as a strange awkwardness began to settle between them. But that wasn’t her fault, of course, it was his.

She cleared her throat and then said, “I shall see you tomorrow. Good day.”

The sun was bright when she made her way out the door. It had been stuffy inside that shop and she was glad to be out. Climbing into the carriage that had been there all along, Helena took her seat and knocked on the roof.

Sitting in the carriage usually meant she could relax on the way home. This was no longer the case as she considered her son.

Benjamin must have arrived shortly and was hiding out in his chambers; he had done this before. The boy had once spent a month in the same house without her knowing.

Scowling, Helena clutched her cane tightly in her grip.

She wanted this Season to go perfectly for her daughter. Cassandra needed to be the best, the priceless diamond among the worthless gems. Everything was falling into place for this to happen.

I just need to be certain that my son won’t get in the way.

Chapter Three

Gregory stared at his notebook with the scribbled notes he had made.

Right now, they didn’t particularly look legible. He frowned slightly before sighing. While he had started the day out wearing his glasses, they had since disappeared. But he couldn’t ask Victoria because she would point out that he needed to start keeping them tied with a cord around his neck.

He didn’t particularly care for that. Wearing anything that resembled a gentleman’s suit didn’t excite him anymore. That was one of the many reasons why he was a woodworker.

The high class of society, especially, bothered him.

Few of the people wearing gold and lace said anything truthful or honest. Even less of them cared about what happened to other people, particularly if they were below their class.

This had been made clear to him when he was a young boy. His father had been a gardener for a marquess. There had been an accident with new equipment that cost him his right leg, effectively ending his father’s employment.

The marquess did nothing, leaving them penniless.

His mother was already working as hard as she could as a laundress and would pass the following year from ailing health. Just before that happened, his father had requested assistance from a family friend who agreed to take him, at the young age of twelve, as an apprentice.

Once he had been sent away, Gregory received one letter from his father to inform him that his mother had been buried. It would take another three months for his neighbor to write, saying his father had put himself in a poorhouse and died shortly afterward.

Working with maple and birch and alder had become a solace for him once he had lost his family. Wood was firm and also pliable. It was light and dark, ugly and beautiful.

The master woodworker under whom he had apprenticed, Angus Gearheart, taught him everything and then left him the business after Gregory had finished his time in the army.

“Father? Who was that rude lady?”

He turned, adjusting the weight on his leg. “Now, Victoria…”

His daughter came into the room, her skirts swirling around her as she moved. She seemed to dance in all of her movements, something she had done all her life.

I think it stems from her mother. That is what caught my eye with Verity, after all. She floated around the ballroom in a way I hadn’t thought possible.

“I know,” Victoria said with a sigh. “We shouldn’t speak ill of others, especially our customers. I’m sorry, Papa. She just makes it easy. You should have heard the way she spoke to me. It was very rude.”

“She is a duchess.”

Stopping in her tracks, Victoria stared at him in amazement. This gave him a moment to study his daughter.

She had long black hair that flowed past her waist. It curled into perfect ringlets, reminiscent of her mother’s hair.

While Victoria had her mother’s hair, she had his eyes. Blue with flecks of gold that shined through the darkness. Looking into her eyes had given him the strength he needed to continue on many times over through the years.

He wanted to keep himself free of the high-ranking society, knowing that he would never belong with them. But his daughter?

One look at her was enough to know that she belonged among the higher class. Victoria was graceful, beautiful, and capable of so much more than this. It twisted his heart to know that there was little he could give her in their simple life.

That hadn’t stopped him from trying over the years.

Business had always been steady and he knew his expenses and income fairly well. But he had chosen to take out debts and more debts years ago in order to give Victoria the best tutoring he could manage.

She had gone to the local school and had come home to learn etiquette, music, painting, and more. Maybe he couldn’t give her the ranking that she deserved, but he could make sure she could stand on her own in a way he never could.

Parties of the past came to mind. Gregory had attended a few as favors to friends, his main goal in hoping that he could garner more business.

But even as his talents grew in popularity, the upturned noses were always there.

So, while he had little hope or intention of reaching any further in life beyond this shop, he hoped for something more for his daughter.

“What was the Duchess doing coming here?” Victoria asked with a laugh of disbelief. “Goodness, I don’t believe she could have raised her nose any higher in the air than she did.”

He supposed that while he had given her all the lessons he could manage, it was up to her to decide how well they would stick.

“Victoria, you must watch your tongue,” he reminded her gently. Though he knew exactly what she was talking about, he knew the risks in voicing these types of opinions. “I thought we had spoken of speaking only of virtues?”

She rolled her shoulders back with a slight nod. “Yes, Papa. I do remember. But I also believe that when people are intolerant of others, no matter their class, manners may go straight out the door. It equals one’s footing, don’t you think?

Gregory’s lips twitched.

I may have done my best to prepare her to be among the best in Society, but no one could vanquish that fierce heart of hers. I don’t even know where that came from, her mother or myself. She is stronger than the two of us together.

“I think you are a clever young woman who is tempted to take too many risks,” he mused at last.

Walking forward, Victoria’s smile softened. “You may be right. I just think that she could have been a little more polite. Especially since she is asking for what could easily turn into quite an expansive project in such a short amount of time.”

He wasn’t particularly surprised that she had overheard the conversation. While he had made a point of closing the door, her curiosity often got the better of her.

“I am right, as usual,” Gregory said with a wink. “Perhaps we shall discuss the virtues of meekness after church next week. A few verses come to mind.”

She rolled her eyes. “All right, yes. I’m sorry, Papa. I will try harder to be more forgiving. But, truly, from the bits I heard, it sounds like a massive undertaking. Are you really going to accept the offer?”

That was a fair question. He let out a loud sigh while glancing back at those notes.

“I believe so. It will be an important opportunity for Robbie to learn more about the intricacies of carving. I will know better when I visit the house tomorrow.”

“The house? You’re going?” Victoria bounced on her feet. “Oh, I bet it’s incredible. Do you think they have a pianoforte? Their own, I mean? I bet it’s beautiful and sounds like heaven. Or they might even have art from Thomas Lawrence himself. What a wondrous opportunity. Oh! And they probably have a ballroom in their very own home. Can I come with you to see it? I want to come with you.”

Gregory opened his mouth and then closed it.

At first, this sounded like a fair enough idea. He wanted the best for his daughter and perhaps seeing such a beautiful home would be good for her. She could see such art that others were able to own, the beauty of the world, and the possibilities for her.

It was tempting.

But then Gregory thought of the Duchess and shook his head. He wanted her to know of that beautiful world and yet he couldn’t bring himself to let her get hurt.

He had been to those events, walked among the high-ranking, and he had seen how they had looked down on him. That had wounded his pride and made him feel that he would never be good enough.

However, a rank only meant wealth and influence. It didn’t make a person better or less.

Is this a lesson I am ready for my daughter to learn? To be looked down upon and ignored? I taught her that she had infinite worth and I will not let anyone else tell her otherwise.

“I don’t think that would be wise,” he remarked slowly. “I think I will just take Robbie.”

She started to frown in her disappointment before he saw a light glimmer in her eyes. Clearly, something had come to mind.

“You would,” Victoria articulated slowly, “but you cannot. Don’t you remember? Robbie is scheduled to make his delivery to Gunther’s shop. And it’s overdue, so you cannot reschedule that. Since the Duchess didn’t sound eager for any delays, I’d wager you had best go tomorrow. And besides, aren’t I better than Robbie with numbers?”

Gregory groaned as he considered her points. “Oh zounds.”

A light giggle escaped her lips before she brushed her hair over her shoulders. “Besides, you wished me to know everything I could about Society with the ranks and the history and arts. This is a perfect opportunity. I can learn and at the same time, I can help you out with the measurements. It’s going to be fun.”

He grudgingly accepted this, knowing he didn’t have a choice.

I suppose I should at least be grateful she isn’t calling out my failing eyesight. That is the best part of woodworking, after all. I can use my hands to see. Although I suppose I will have to eventually turn the work over to Robbie, I had best enjoy it while I can. And she isn’t wrong; Robbie could use some improvement with math.

It was difficult to turn down his daughter in any scenario, and so Gregory found light relief by giving in. Victoria eagerly thanked him and taking his notes, went to go write them into their ledger.

They went home for the night and returned early the next morning, working for a few hours before it was time to make their way into town.

“Aren’t we walking?” Victoria asked when she joined him outside. She worried about his limp and they both knew it.

“Not today. We’re renting a carriage,” Gregory explained uneasily. “I would rather present the best of ourselves. Besides, it saves us walking time.”

She nodded, visibly growing a little anxious as she fiddled with her hair and bit her bottom lip. They climbed into the rented carriage when it arrived. Sitting on opposite sides, he could see that she had put some effort into her appearance that morning. She wore a cream-colored dress and had pinned up most of her hair so that only one long, thick curl sat merrily over her shoulder.

If anyone was a Duchess, Gregory mused, it should be her.

Victoria talked about their workload and how she had started carving flowers into a few figurines recently. She always talked more when she grew anxious. He let her prattle on, enjoying her ramblings until they came to a stop before the Tamesely House.

His daughter immediately fell quiet. “Oh my…” she murmured when she looked out the door.

It opened, making her jump. Their driver eyed them curiously. Stepping out, Gregory fixed his jacket before offering a hand to his daughter.

Usually, she liked to make a quip about such formal behavior. But she said nothing now, amusing him. Gregory gave her hand a comforting squeeze as she stepped out. They shared a small smile before moving toward the front door.

This is the life that she should have had. If her mother had married a man with a title, Victoria could have had unlimited opportunities throughout her childhood. While I have ensured a dowry for her someday, it does not feel that it is enough for her.

He didn’t care if Society ignored him. But to ignore Victoria? They were all fools to do such a thing.

Her mother would be proud of her.

It was easier with every year for his thoughts to wander away. He swallowed and straightened his shoulders.

Knocking on the door, he tried to push his thoughts out of the way. His heartbeat loudly in his chest. There was no time to dwell on the past. They had business to attend to now.

He just hoped that this short trip would go seamlessly and without trouble. Glancing at his daughter, Gregory told himself that they would do their business and then quickly leave.

Surely, nothing more could possibly happen.

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk

~ Cicero 

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