The Duke and the Siren by Jessie Clever
Duchesses did not open doors.
Propriety dictated a servant should do so. But when the knocking was as frantic as this was, and she was in such close proximity to the door on which the knocking occurred it seemed only prudent that she should answer it.
Viv pulled open the front door of Ashbourne Manor and in tumbled a thoroughly sodden young man.
The day was cold and sleeting as was expected at the seashore in December, but it was all the more unfriendly for what the day marked.
It was Viv’s twenty-eighth birthday.
She had been careful not to think of it.
As her birthday was only three days after Christmas, she was still in residence with the rest of her family at Ashbourne Manor as it had become custom to gather in Glenhaven, the home of her brother-in-law’s country seat.
She did not explicitly request to be alone on said birthday, but she need only make the mention to her sister Eliza and the rest would be taken care of. Eliza was just the type of person to understand a suggestion like that.
Because every time Viv looked at Eliza’s son George a pain so terrible she was afraid it would rob her of her breath erupted in her chest.
She was eight and twenty, and she should have had a son of her own by now.
But that’s not how things had transpired.
Instead she was a wife without a husband, a wife without children, a woman stuck in limbo because of her husband’s adultery.
So she’d spent the morning rambling through the halls of Ashbourne Manor wondering how she could possibly be the only married spinster in all of creation while the rest of the family had taken young George to see the dairy cow who herself was carrying a babe she would have come spring.
Even dairy cows were having babies instead of her.
“Dear heavens, are you all right?” Viv said now to the puddle of young man on the vestibule carpet.
“Quite all right, miss,” the young man stammered as he sloshed to his feet.
The first she caught of his face it was turning instantly red as the man finally registered to whom he was speaking.
“Your Grace!” He nearly shouted as he surged to his feet, his arms rigid at his sides as if he thought he were reporting to a military commander. “I do beg your pardon. I didn’t know it was you.” He eyed the door warily. “Did you just answer the door, madam?”
Viv studied the young man. “Geoffrey?”
The young man pulled his soaked cap from his head, droplets of icy rain water springing from his red curls.
“Yes, Your Grace.” He gave a respectful bow. “I’m very sorry, madam. But there’s been an accident.”
Geoffrey was the son of the stable manager at Margate Hall.
Her husband’s country seat.
While she registered his words, they made little sense.
“An accident? Well, that’s terrible, but I’m sure it mustn’t be so bad as to—”
“His Grace is dying, madam. You must come at once.”