While the Duke Was Sleeping

By: Sophie Jordan

Dedication




To my mother, for blessing me with a childhood that gave me ample room to dream. I will always cherish the gift of those days.





Epigraph


Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.

—Jane Austen, Emma







The Shopgirl Meets the Duke




The first time Poppy Fairchurch saw him she knew.

A deep awareness swept through her, lifting her up as though she were a puppet pulled by a string as he entered the shop the first day of her employ at Barclay’s Fine Flowers.

She stilled for a moment over the display of ferns she was arranging, her mouth drying at the sight of him. Clearly he was a frequent patron to the shop. The elegant cut of his garments and the way Mrs. Barclay bustled out from behind the counter to greet the gentleman alerted Poppy to the fact that he was no any ordinary customer.

Even without Mrs. Barclay fawning over him, Poppy’s eyes devoured him. She knew it was not ladylike or proper, but she could not stop from gawking. She had never seen the likes of him back home. No, the village of Toadston-on-Mersey did not boast a bevy of young gentlemen.

His chestnut hair gleamed gold in places and his eyes were a clear cerulean blue—so clear that even a yard away one could detect the darker ring of blue around the irises. His elegant attire alone served as warning enough that this was a man far out of her realm. Even if she wasn’t a lowly shopgirl. Even if he was not a customer. She should have known better. She should have known to lessen her expectations and pull her head out from the heavens.

But then Poppy Fairchurch had always been a dreamer.

When he turned his devastating smile on her, her stomach flipped and she knew her life would never be the same.

And so it was that on the seventeenth morning of May, only a month after her twentieth birthday and two days after moving into a shabby lodging house on Chess Street with her much too pretty, much too garrulous younger sister for whom Poppy was now sole guardian, she fell in love with the Duke of Autenberry.





Chapter 1




Poppy relished the Duke of Autenberry’s weekly ventures into the shop. Marcus. She had learned his name from glimpsing his signature on the cards he signed and handed to her to attach to the flowers. The name suited him. A strong Roman name. She could very well see him astride a stallion, leading men into battle.

She eagerly awaited those visits, which usually fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday. She took great pains with her appearance those days—which was not saying much considering all the hems had been let out of her frocks countless times over and bore patches. She was actually grateful for the striped pinafore Mrs. Barclay provided to be worn over her dress. At least it was freshly starched.

The duke was unique in that he liked to pick out his flowers personally. He took his time browsing the available flora. He could doubtlessly send a servant for such a task, but he preferred to do it himself. Because he was that sort of a gentleman. Thoughtful and sincere in his attentions—no matter that the flowers oft went to different ladies.

She did not judge him for that. An unmarried gentleman was free to court. A handsome nobleman would surely have scores of ladies doting upon him. He might very well be a rake, but could she blame him? He simply had not met The One yet. Once he did, he would settle down into his happily-ever-after. He was far too noble a gentleman to stray. She was convinced of this. And who was to say that person could not be Poppy?

Someday they would have a real moment. One day he would look up at her and truly see her. Not as a shopgirl, but as a person. Her tongue wouldn’t tie itself in knots and she would actually manage to string words together in a clever and intriguing fashion.

Then he would recognize her as a woman with a warm and giving heart. He’d have to because she knew she was not beautiful. If she was going to bowl him over with her beauty, she would have already done so. There was no self-loathing involved with this assessment. Simply self-awareness and acceptance.

Oh, she wasn’t ugly. Her face was fine enough. Her eyes lovely. Papa had always said so. Even Edmond complimented her eyes on more than one occasion. Although the boy she had thought to marry also teasingly called her scrawny. Scrawny with an overly generous backside—of course, he never dared to suggest the latter. Only she knew of her unfortunate derriere. Thankfully that feature was not quite so noticeable beneath her skirts.

Just as she knew her shortcomings she knew her assets. She was smart and good-natured and loyal. Poppy winced, realizing she had just described her father’s favorite old hound. Stifling her wince, she added more adjectives that would separate her from a canine.

Hard-working. Someone who did not allow despair to consume her even during the lowest moments in her life—and in recent years she had definitely had those moments. When she lost her mother at age twelve to consumption. When she lost Papa just one year past. He was tossed from a horse and never recovered from the accident. It had been a long lingering death that she wouldn’t wish on anyone much less the father she adored.

Always she had stayed strong for Bryony . . . for herself. She loved her sister and would do anything for her.