A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon

Her mother was one of the most important, intelligent, and beautiful women in society. And, well, her brother was a notorious rake, a political force, and a duke. Her family was a close, loving one. And, truly, aside from the death of her father, she had not known much suffering in the entirety of her life.

What more could she ask for?

Nothing. She should not dare even think of what more she might attain. Such a thing was tantamount to avaricious greed.

So, as she took one last look in her oval-shaped, gold-edged mirror, and eyed the diamond earbobs that danced against her slender neck, she grinned.

She’d never been allowed to wear diamonds before this night. She’d peeked at the collection of jewels that belonged to the Harley ladies whenever her mother had allowed. But now, she could wear them!

And at long last, her hair had been curled high upon her head, diamond pins winking in the waves, with a single, long curl dancing over her shoulder and teasing her amply propped bosom.

Really, a lady’s gowns were a wonderfully delicious scandal nowadays. She could not imagine wearing the cages her mother had been forced into but a few decades ago.

Why, her own silk gown skimmed her hips and thighs, the hem teasing about her beribboned slippers. There was little fabric covering her body at all when contrasted to the layers and layers her mother had once donned. No, she had on but a thin chemise, over a slight corset, then her ivory silk gown. A simple ivory band, embroidered with silver roses, was tucked under her bosom, cinching her to emphasize the hourglass curves of her body. And the only constricting thing about the whole ensemble was the court train, a dauntingly long affair, which she’d fastened about her upper waist.

If one was to ask her, she thought she looked quite smashing. And a bit naked given the way the gown bared the shadows of her body and exposed most of her bosom. She loved it. It was so very freeing!

This was going to be a very good year, indeed.

Most of her years had been good, in point of fact.

Her large family was a warm cocoon of boisterous affection and she’d cut her teeth on friendship with her brother and numerous sisters. Unlike many she knew, she’d always been surrounded by friends.

“Are you ready, my dear?”

Her mother, Lady Barbara, Dowager Duchess of Harley, stood in Harry’s bedchamber doorway, a picture of resplendent decadence. Her mother was not quite seven and forty years of age and was still a stunner. Her emerald court gown was shot through with gold thread and a large emerald broach was pinned just at the center of the belt which propped up her mother’s ample bosom. More emeralds dripped from her ears and dazzled at her ivory neck.

Not a touch of grey marred her honey-blonde hair studded with diamond stars.

“I am ready,” Harry replied, shocked that her voice was a bit breathy. She was so shocked, she blinked. Had she truly sounded so nervous? She couldn’t ever recall being thus.

Harry nodded to herself, rallying her confidence. Her own curled and styled hair felt a bit precarious with its jewels and feathers. She’d never truly understand why court hair need be so elaborate, but there it was. The definition of court etiquette. Nothing could be simple. After all, one had to elevate oneself from the rest of the world. Or else what was the point of a court at all?

Striding for the door, her skirt whispering about her long legs in the most subtle of dances, she paused. Her maid, Agatha, had been on an errand of some kind. The maid slipped forward from the hall. She picked up Harry’s long, embroidered train and handed it to her. Harry smiled back at the young woman who had helped her choose her hairstyle and gown and been with her every step of the way as she’d learned all she’d need to know not to make a silly piece of herself tonight.

“Thank you, my dearest Agatha,” Harry declared, touching her maid’s hand.

“You’ll do us right proud, my lady,” Agatha said, beaming.

She beamed right back, determined to do just that. For it was a truth universally acknowledged, that a family’s reputation could be increased by a successful daughter. Her own mother was a perfect example of such a thing. Once a daughter of a baronet, she had scaled to the highest echelons of society with her marriage.

“Let us go, Mother,” Harry said as she adjusted her heavy train over her arm.

Her mother linked her gloved arm in Harriet’s free one and escorted her down the wide, shadowed hall, over the burgundy carpet to the landing where Harry’s younger sisters stood near the balustrade waiting in their night robes.

Her mother had promised them that they might watch Harriet depart as a special treat.

So it was that Mary, Calliope, and Edith stood with hands on the balustrade, fairly humming with anticipation.

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