Not Just a Wallflower

By: Carole Mortimer

His three years as the Duke of Royston had ensured that he was denied nothing and certainly not any woman he expressed the least desire for—and, on several occasions, some he had not, such as other gentlemen’s wives and the daughters of marriage-minded mamas!

Eleanor Rosewood, as companion to his grandmother, was not of that ilk, of course, just as their tenuous family connection ensured she could never be considered as Justin’s social equal. At the same time, though, even that slight family connection meant he could not consider her as a future mistress, either. Frustrating, but true.

‘Your Grace...?’

He frowned his irritation with her insistence on using his title. ‘I believe we established only a few minutes ago that we are cousins of a sort and we should therefore address each other as Cousin Eleanor and Cousin Justin.’

Ellie’s eyes widened in alarm at the mere thought of her using such familiarity with this rakishly handsome gentleman; Justin St Just, the twelfth Duke of Royston, was so top-lofty, so arrogantly haughty as he gave every appearance of looking down the length of his superior nose at the rest of the world, that Ellie would never be able to even think of him as a cousin, let alone address him as such.

‘I believe that you may have implied something of the sort, yes, your Grace,’ she said stubbornly.

He arched one blond brow over suddenly teasing blue eyes. ‘But you did not concur?’

‘I do not believe so, no, your Grace.’

He eyed her in sudden frustration. ‘Perhaps it is a subject we should discuss further when I return downstairs?’

She frowned. ‘I—perhaps.’

He scowled darkly at her intransigence. ‘But again, you do not agree...?’

Ellie believed such a conversation to be a complete waste of his time, as well as her own. What was the point in arguing over what to call one another? They’d probably not speak to each other again for at least another year, if this past year—which consisted of this last few minutes’ conversation for the entirety of it—was any indication! ‘It is very late, your Grace, and I believe the dowager duchess, if she has been made aware of your arrival, will be becoming increasingly anxious to speak with you,’ she prompted softly.

‘Of course.’ He now looked annoyed at having allowed himself to become distracted by talking to her. ‘I will expect to find you in the library, along with the decanter of brandy and two glasses, when I return,’ he added peremptorily before resuming his ascent of the staircase.

Almost, Ellie recognised indignantly, as if he considered her as being of no more consequence than a dog he might instruct to heel, or a horse he halted by the rein.
Chapter Three

‘I must say, you took your time getting here, Royston.’

Justin, as was the case with most men, was uncomfortable visiting a sickroom, but especially when it was that of his aged grandmother, the dowager duchess being a woman for whom he had the highest regard and affection.

Tonight, the pallor of her face emphasised each line and wrinkle, so that she looked every one of her almost seventy years as she lay propped up by white lace pillows piled high against the head of the huge four-poster bed. A state of affairs that was not in the least reassuring, despite the fact that her iron-grey hair was as perfectly styled as usual and her expression as proudly imperious.

The St Justs, as Justin knew only too well, after learning of his grandfather’s long and private struggle with a wasting disease, were a breed apart when it came to bearing up under adversity; his grandmother might only be a St Just by marriage, but her strength of will was equal to, if not more than, any true-born St Just.

He crossed the room swiftly to stand beside the four-poster bed. ‘I apologise for my tardiness, Grandmama. I was not at home when Cousin Eleanor’s note arrived—’

‘If you lived here as you should that would not have been a problem,’ she said querulously.

‘We have had this conversation before, Grandmama. This is your home, not mine—’

‘You are the Duke of Royston, are you not?’

Justin sighed. ‘Yes, for my sins, I most certainly am.’

Edith eyed him disapprovingly. ‘No doubt living here with me would put a dampener on your gambling or wenching—or both! Which diversion were you enjoying this evening to cause your delay?’ She gave a disgusted sniff, but couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eye.

Justin kept his expression neutral so as not to upset his grandmother; his reluctance to live at Royston House was due more to the fact that he associated this house with the frequent absences of his parents during his childhood, and his subsequent loneliness, than because he feared his grandmother would put a crimp in any supposed excesses of his in gambling and wenching, as she put it. As a consequence, he preferred to remain at the apartments he had occupied before the death of his father. ‘I am sure this is not a suitable conversation for a grandson to be having with his aged grandmother—’

‘Less talk of the aged, if you do not mind! And why should we not talk of such things?’ She looked up at him challengingly. ‘Do you think me so old that I do not know how young and single gentlemen of the ton choose to spend their evenings? Many of the married ones, too!’

‘I believe I may only be called young in years, Grandmama,’ he drawled ruefully; these past three years as the Duke of Royston, and the onerous responsibilities of that title, had required that Justin become more circumspect in his public lifestyle, and at the same time they had left him little or no time for a private life either.

Perhaps it was time he thought seriously of acquiring a permanent mistress, a mild and biddable woman who would be only too pleased to attend to his needs, no matter what the time of day or night, but would make no demands of him other than that he keep her and provide a house in which they might meet. It was an idea that merited some further consideration.

But not here and now. ‘I did not come here to discuss my own activities, when it is your own health which is currently in question.’ he changed the subject deftly. ‘Cousin Eleanor has informed me that Dr Franklyn was called to attend you earlier this evening. What is the problem, Grandmama?’

‘Might I enquire when you decided that Ellie is to be referred to as your cousin?’ Edith raised those imperious grey brows.


‘Miss Eleanor Rosewood, your Cousin Frederick’s stepdaughter, of course,’ she supplied impatiently.

‘I can hardly be so familiar as to address her as Ellie—a name I do not particularly care for, by the by—’ Justin gave an irritated scowl ‘—when her mother, one supposes, bestowed upon her the perfectly elegant name of Eleanor. And Miss Rosewood is far too formal, in view of her connection to this family.’

‘I agree.’ His grandmother gave a haughty nod. ‘And it is Ellie—Eleanor, whom I wish to discuss with you.’

Justin made no attempt to hide his astonishment. ‘Are you telling me that you had me tracked down at my club, with all the fervour of a pack of hounds baying at the scent of fox—’

‘Do not be melodramatic, Justin.’ Edith eyed him with indulgent exasperation.

His brows rose. ‘Do you deny having had a note delivered to my rooms late in the evening, one moreover that appeared to be of such vital urgency that my manservant instantly dispatched one of the other servants to track me down at one of my clubs?’

‘I did instruct the note be written and delivered to you, yes. But it was not so late in the evening when I did so,’ his grandmother added pointedly. ‘Nor can I be held responsible for the actions of your manservant in dispatching a servant to seek you out so doggedly.’

Justin gave another scowl. ‘But you do not deny that the reason for sending the note was so that you might bring me here simply in order to discuss your young companion?’

The dowager duchess sent him a reproachful glance. ‘There is nothing simple about it, my dear. Ellie, and her future, have loomed large in my thoughts of late. Even more so this evening, when I am feeling so unwell—Justin, would you please refrain from pacing in that restless manner and instead sit down in that chair beside me? It is making my head ache having to follow your movements in this way.’ She gave a pained wince.

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