The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1) - Page 41


Violet waited until Miss Fernburst had disappeared around the corner, then she looked up at her father with a disgruntled expression. “He put flour in my hair, Father.”

“Flowers?” he echoed. “Don’t young girls like that sort of thing?”

“Flour, Father! Flour! The kind one uses to bake cakes! Miss Fernburst had to wash my hair for twenty minutes just to get it out. And don’t you laugh!”

“I’m not!”

“You are,” she accused. “You want to. I can see it in your face.”

“I’m merely wondering how the young fellow managed it.”

“I don’t know,” Violet ground out. Which was the worst insult of all. He’d managed to cover her with finely ground flour and she still didn’t know how he’d done it. One minute she’d been walking in the garden, and the next she’d tripped and . . .

Poof! Flour everywhere.

“Well,” her father said matter-of-factly, “I believe he’s leaving at the week’s end. So you won’t have to endure his presence for very much longer. If at all,” he added. “We’re not expecting to visit with the Millertons this week, are we?”

“We weren’t expecting to visit with them yesterday,” Violet replied, “and he still managed to flour me.”

“How do you know it was he?”

“Oh, I know,” she said darkly. As she was sputtering and coughing and batting at the flour cloud, she’d heard him cackling in triumph. If she hadn’t had so much flour in her eyes, she probably would have seen him, too, grinning in that awful boy way of his.

“He seemed perfectly pleasant when he and Georgie Millerton came for tea on Monday.”

“Not when you weren’t in the room.”

“Oh. Well . . .” Her father paused, his lips pursing thoughtfully. “I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s a lesson in life you’ll learn soon enough. Boys are horrid.”

Violet blinked. “But . . . but . . .”

Mr. Ledger shrugged. “I’m sure your mother will agree.”

“But you’re a boy.”

“And I was horrid, I assure you. Ask your mother.”

Violet stared at him in disbelief. It was true that her parents had known each other since they were small children, but she could not believe that her father would ever have behaved badly toward her mother. He was so kind and thoughtful to her now. He was always kissing her hand and smiling at her with his eyes.

“He probably likes you,” Mr. Ledger said. “The Bridgerton boy,” he clarified, as if that were necessary.

Violet let out a horrified gasp. “He does not.”

“Perhaps not,” her father said agreeably. “Perhaps he is simply horrid. But he probably thinks you’re pretty. That’s what boys do when they think a girl is pretty. And you know I think you’re uncommonly pretty.”

“You’re my father,” she said, giving him a bit of a look. Everyone knew that fathers were required to think their daughters were pretty.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, leaning down and touching her gently on the chin. “If that Bridgerton boy—what did you say his name was, again?”

“Edmund.”

“Edmund, right, of course. If Edmund Bridgerton bothers you again, I shall personally call upon him to defend your honor.”

“A duel?” Violet breathed, every inch of her tingling with horrified delight.

“To the death,” her father confirmed. “Or perhaps just a stern talking-to. I’d really rather not go to the gallows for running through a nine-year-old boy.”

“Ten,” Violet corrected.

“Ten. You do seem to know a lot about young Master Bridgerton.”

Violet opened her mouth to defend herself because, after all, it wasn’t as if she could have avoided knowing a few things about Edmund Bridgerton; she’d been forced to sit in the same drawing room with him for two hours on Monday. But she could tell that her father was teasing her. If she said anything more, he’d never stop.

“May I go back to my room now?” she asked primly.

Her father nodded his assent. “But there will be no pie for pudding this evening.”

Violet’s mouth fell open. “But—”

“No arguments, if you please. You were quite prepared to sacrifice the pie this afternoon. It doesn’t seem right that you should have some now that you’ve been thwarted.”

Violet clamped her lips together in a mutinous line. She gave a stiff nod, then marched away toward the stairs. “I hate Edmund Bridgerton,” she muttered.

“What was that?” her father called out.

“I hate Edmund Bridgerton!” she yelled. “And I don’t care who knows it!”

Her father laughed, which only made her more furious.

Boys really were horrid. But especially Edmund Bridgerton.

London

Nine years later

“I tell you, Violet,” Miss Mary Filloby said with unconvincing certitude, “it is a good thing we are not raving beauties. It would make everything so complicated.”

Complicated how? Violet wanted to ask. Because from where she was sitting (at the wall, with the wallflowers, watching the girls who weren’t wallflowers), ravishing beauty didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

But she didn’t bother to ask. She didn’t need to. Mary would take only one breath before imploring:

“Look at her. Look at her!”

Violet was already looking at her.

“She’s got eight men at her side,” Mary said, her voice an odd combination of awe and disgust.

“I count nine,” Violet murmured.

Mary crossed her arms. “I refuse to include my own brother.”

Together they sighed, all four of their eyes on Lady Begonia Dixon, who, with her rosebud mouth, sky blue eyes, and perfectly sloped shoulders, had enchanted the male half of London society within days of her arrival in town. Her hair was probably glorious, too, Violet thought disgruntledly. Thank heavens for wigs. Truly, they were the great levelers, allowing girls with dishwater blond hair to compete with the ones with the shiny, curly locks of gold.

Not that Violet minded her dishwater blond hair. It was perfectly acceptable. And shiny, even. Just not curly or gold.

“How long have we been sitting here?” Mary wondered aloud.

“Three quarters of an hou

r,” Violet estimated.

“That long?”

Violet nodded glumly. “I’m afraid so.”

“There aren’t enough men,” Mary said. Her voice had lost its edge, and she sounded somewhat deflated. But it was true. There weren’t enough men. Too many had gone off to fight in the Colonies, and far too many had not come back. Add to that the complication that was Lady Begonia Dixon (nine men lost to the rest of them right there, Violet thought morosely), and the shortage was dire indeed.

“I have danced only once all night,” Mary said. There was a pause, then: “And you?”

“Twice,” Violet admitted. “But once was with your brother.”

“Oh. Well, then that doesn’t count.”

“Yes, it does,” Violet shot back. Thomas Filloby was a gentleman with two legs and all his teeth, and as far as she was concerned, he counted.

“You don’t even like my brother.”

There was nothing to say that wasn’t rude or a lie, so Violet just did a funny little motion with her head that could be interpreted either way.

“I wish you had a brother,” Mary said.

“So he could ask you to dance?”

Mary nodded.

“Sorry.” Violet waited a moment, expecting Mary to say, “It’s not your fault,” but Mary’s attention had finally been ripped from Lady Begonia Dixon, and she was presently squinting at someone over by the lemonade table.

“Who’s that?” Mary asked.

Violet cocked her head to the side. “The Duke of Ashbourne, I believe.”

“No, not him,” Mary said impatiently. “The one next to him.”

Violet shook her head. “I don’t know.” She couldn’t get a very good look at the gentleman in question, but she was quite sure she didn’t know him. He was tall, although not overly so, and he stood with the athletic grace of a man who was perfectly at ease in his own body. She didn’t need to see his face up close to know that he was handsome. Because even if he wasn’t elegant, even if his face was no Michelangelo’s dream, he would still be handsome.

He was confident, and men with confidence were always handsome.


Tags: Julia Quinn Bridgertons Romance
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