Ready for the blurb?
Anna Fournier never intended to fall in love. Not with any man. Especially not a duke. But Hugh Lattimer persists in courting her despite the scandal that surrounds her—and the innuendo that could ruin him.
Can she escape her past and embrace a future as Hugh’s duchess? Or will the man who murdered her father ruin her future once and for all?
Ready for that nibble of Cerise’s new cherry?
Here is Hugh Lattimer, Duke of Kendal as he meets Anna for the first time.
Copyright 2014, Cerise DeLand. All rights reserved.
Hugh Lattimer closed the door of the piano shop, sighing in relief at the warmth. He’d spent the last five years freezing his bits to nubbins in every damn parlor and palace from Vienna to Paris to London and he was sick of the deprivation. Nearly three decades of war on the Continent had leveled more than the forests. It had destroyed men’s daily lives and reduced them to rats huddled together in the rubble of their existences. He had seen it firsthand on the torn battlefields, in the shambles of the towns—and in the hearts of men, women and children high-born and low.
He unbuttoned his greatcoat and looked around for the proprietor.
In the far room, he heard murmurs of a conversation and then spied the owner of the establishment. “Ah, there you are. Guten morgen. Good morning, Herr Breyer. How are you this cold day?”
“Your Grace.” The pudgy shopkeeper beamed at him and inclined his head in greeting. “I am well. And you, sir?”
“Quite well.” In the far room, someone at the keys filled the air with a melody new and refreshing.
“I am happy to see you again. May I take your coat? Have my frau make you tea?”
“Nein, Herr Breyer. Danke shon. I will not stay long. But came to make my decision.” Here twice last week to examine the pianofortes, he had been torn between one of Viennese manufacture and another completed in Munich. The Viennese had been hand tooled by a man whom Hugh had come to know socially when he had been posted to the Austrian capital after Napoleon’s surrender. The Munich piano though interested him for its larger keyboard. The tune emanating from the far room had him pausing to listen. “Who is that at the keys?”
“A young lady has come to buy sheet music for her cousin. The song she plays is—“
“Pleyel?” Hugh named the popular composer and went quite still, struck by the facile ability of the pianist in the far room. The song she played was airy, ethereal, yet of quick tempo and complex.
“Ja, Your Grace.”
The piece demanded someone who could be bold and attack the keys with alacrity, yet caress them when the mood changed. Hugh had not heard anyone play so well since he was stationed in Stuttgart and the Austrian composer Hummel had graced a consulate meeting with his newest composition. “Astonishing. She is quite accomplished.”
“She sight reads very well.” Breyer nodded, pleasure on his face. “The piece is new to her just now. And I must tell you that she plays the Stein pianoforte from Vienna, Your Grace.”
Hugh lifted his chin, listening to her with concentration. “Does she? How wonderful.”
The German rocked on the balls of his feet, clasping his hands before him, closing his eyes in contentment.
Hugh drifted toward the inner room. He moved quietly, drawn as he was by the melody that spoke of eloquent delight, a pastoral scene, perhaps, or a meeting of lovers. The woman at the piano was absorbed in her effort. Eyes upon the sheets, leaning forward now and then to ensure she read the notes correctly, she swayed in a tempo that spoke of her devotion to conquer the song.
Absorbed in her challenge, she did not notice him. Her bonnet, a brown leghorn of straw, capped her dark red curls, and the brim cut her side view. Unseen, Hugh could admire her at leisure. He reveled in her rapture as she opened her mouth on execution of one passage or wrinkled her brow at another. She ran her hands along the keys, strident or delicate, as the notes required. She cast up the lieder as it’s composer would have admired—with flair and panache. And at the end, she widened her eyes, and sat back on the stool, hands to her lap, sighing in satisfaction at her own accomplishment.
And Hugh applauded.
She startled, turned and snared him in her amber gaze.
That striking color, he had not expected. Hazel would have been his first assumption because it would complement the river of rich auburn that was her hair. Grey, even, to match the faint tones of pink on her cheeks or the blush on her lips. But the tawny was riveting.
“Sir?” She cast glances from him to Breyer.
The proprietor scurried forward, clapping himself. “Wunderbar, wunderbar. Permit me to introduce you.”
Hugh strode forward himself, ignoring the demands of etiquette. “Allow me to say how marvelous that was.” How gorgeous you are. How accomplished.
“Oh, I—I thank you, sir.” She managed to get to her feet, pushing back the stool and clasping her hands together. “I dabble—“
“On the contrary, you are a musician of talent.”
“She composes,” Herr Breyer said with as much pride as if she were his prodigy.
“Do you? How enchanting.” He stood over her now. She was taller than most women, the top of that terrifying hat reaching his chin. She was lovelier than most, too, her complexion flawless ivory and brightened by the warmth of the shop’s fire. Or was she flustered by his surreptitious observation of her?
Whatever the cause, he wanted her at ease.
“Forgive me for startling you.” He took her hand and stunned as she was, she let him. “I do not usually shock women.”
Those compelling eyes of hers melted to mellow tones, even as she sought to retrieve her hand from his. “That is good to know, sir.”
Hugh kept her hand in his. “I had told Herr Breyer long ago I wished to hear someone play this instrument who had the ability to draw out its full potential. I did not expect my wish to be fulfilled by accident nor to see such a lovely woman do me the honor.”
“Oh, sir, thank you. You are too kind.” She blushed, her cheeks turning a delicate rose.
The porcelain perfection of her skin suffused with a fair tint that inspired him to imagine her breasts budding, her body bare to him. He smiled at her, hopefully covering his magnetic attraction to her with some politesse. Certainly, her talent and her beauty belied her diminished means. She was a study in dramatic contrasts. And soldier, spy, peer of the realm that he was, he was rarely fascinated by a person. Hardly ever by a woman.
“I have heard many play,” he told her, “but few with such verve.” Or beauty. “And Herr Breyer tells me you have not seen the composition before you sat down here to play.”
“That’s true,” she admitted with a modesty that pleased him. Humility was not a quality many young women cultivated, though God knew, most should. She attempted again to pull back her hand.
Reluctantly, he let her go. “You must have had a good teacher.”
“I did, sir.” She clasped her hands together, her expression only briefly showing relief at her escape. “My mother was accomplished.”
“She must be very proud of you.” To play so well is such a rare quality among those in society. And most young women use it as a lure to secure a fine match. “I would be, were you my daughter.”
She looked him over so intricately that he was certain she meant to buy him and serve him on a platter for supper. “Sir, you are not old enough to have a daughter.”
“Old enough,” he corrected her with a grin. “But not capable.”
She blinked, shocked at his risqué inference.
He shook his head, grimacing but apologetic. “I am not married, you see.”
“Ah.” She inhaled, joining in on the joke. “I am certain that is a challenge to every young lady in London.”
He sent her a look of pain.
She laughed shortly, her mirth a vibrant match to the contralto of her speaking voice. Then she turned her attention on Breyer. “I must go, sir. I will buy this lieder and any two others you suggest.”
The shopkeeper took a step toward her, while Hugh warned himself not to stare at her. Not to scare her off. “Will you play them before you buy them?”
“Oh, no, thank you.” Her gaze flittered from Breyer to him.
He had flustered her.
Good. The feeling is mutual.
Breyer advanced toward her. “But your cousin needs a simple song.”
“She does.” She feigned a smile at the little German, but she returned to focus on Hugh—and her golden gaze lingered there in his. “But I trust your judgment, Herr Breyer.”
“Please,” Hugh pleaded, “do stay. It’s rarely that one can hear another play and enjoy it.”
Her face lit with a sudden glee that transformed her into a glittering beauty. “I not only agree with you, sir, I have suffered myself.”
“Have you?” He took her hand once more and she allowed him the pleasure of holding her in his care. Why have I never suffered with you? Why have I never seen you in the same salon? “Pity.”
“Yes,” she said on a breathless whisper that fell over his skin and seeped inside him like good Scots whisky. Her gaze locked on his until she roused herself and yanked away. But she put a hand to the piano, as if to steady herself. “I must go.”
She firmed her mouth. “Herr Breyer, if you please, I will buy my sheet music and leave.”
“But—but your aunt and cousin await you, do they?” Breyer asked hope in his tone.
Was the German stalling her? Hugh examined the man. Of course, he was. Perceptive of him to detect my interest.
Hugh had to learn her name. Where she—
“No. I am out today on my own. But they will expect me shortly,” she told him as he disappeared into the back storage room. “You know how they are.”
“Ja, Ich weiss.”
But I don’t. “May I escort you to the tea shop across the street? It is very cold outside and—“
“Thank you, sir, but no.” She strode toward the entrance to Breyer’s back room and called to him. “How much will the music cost, sir?”
Hugh put his hand on her wrist. She was the most extraordinary creature he had met in a long time. The endless parade of women who strolled past him, whether by chance or by his mother’s plan, bored him to a raving madness. They had neither wit nor voice other than what their mamas had inculcated. The alternative, a paid companion, was not to his taste either. He’d sampled a few of those abroad and the affection endured for a fortnight or so, then turned shallow. And while he was interested in a quick relief to his manly urges now and then, the prospect of lying down in a bed with a woman he didn’t care for while standing up, did not appeal.
“Permit me to offer my carriage and to escort you home.”
Her attention drifted from his hand to his eyes. Her own gaze swam in his, and he longed to place his lips there upon her lovely lids, to allow her long red lashes to tickle his lips, to allow her perfect skin to rest beneath his mouth.
“Thank you,” she murmured, that deep voice of hers brushing his senses. “I mustn’t.”
“Why not?” He heard himself. His voice was a plea, a prayer.
Beneath his fingertips, she suffered a frisson. Worse, she looked desperate. “I should not take up with a gentleman.”
He had never frightened a woman before. Chastened, he tried to soothe her with a lopsided grin. “I doubt you take up with men who are less than that.”
She stiffened. “I take up with none at all.”
RENDEZVOUS WITH A DUKE, Regency Romp #2
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