Home > The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(5)

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(5)
Author: Tessa Dare

Emma drew the girl into a hug, rubbing her back in a soothing rhythm. “Oh, you poor dear. I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’m so frightened.” She pulled away from the hug. “I can’t raise a child on my own. I’ve been thinking, if only I could place the babe with a family in the country. Then I could visit from time to time. I know it’s done.” Miss Palmer placed a hand on her belly and looked down at it. “But I’m growing larger every day. I won’t be able to hide it much longer.”

Emma offered the girl a handkerchief. “Is there anywhere you can go? A friend or cousin, perhaps. In the country, or on the Continent . . . Anyone who might take you in until you give birth?”

“There’s no one. No one who would keep the secret, at any rate.” She clutched the handkerchief in her fist. “Oh, if only I hadn’t been so stupid. I knew it was wrong, but he was ever so romantic. He called me his muse. He made me feel . . .”

Treasured. Wanted. Loved.

Miss Palmer didn’t have to explain it. Emma knew exactly how the girl felt.

“You mustn’t be hard on yourself. You aren’t the first young woman to trust the wrong man, and you won’t be the last.”

And yet somehow, the woman always paid the price.

Emma hadn’t landed in Miss Palmer’s delicate situation, but she, too, had been punished for the simple crime of following her heart. The memories still pained her—and the thought of watching the same cruel fate befall another young woman? It made her quake with anger at the injustice of it all.

“Emma,” Madame Bissette chided from the other side of the curtain. “Lady Edwina’s hem won’t sew itself.”

“One moment, Madame,” she called back. To Miss Palmer, she whispered, “Return next week to retrieve your altered frock, and we’ll speak further. If there’s any way at all I can help you, I will.”

“I can’t ask that of you.”

“You don’t need to ask.” Emma was determined. Her conscience would allow no less. She took Miss Palmer’s hands and squeezed them. “Whatever may happen, you will not be alone. I swear it.”

That afternoon, Emma’s concentration was so splintered, nothing went right. Twice, she had to rip out uneven stitches in Lady Edwina’s hem and rework them.

At last, it was closing hour.

“Are you coming out tonight?” her fellow seamstress asked after Madame had withdrawn to her apartment upstairs. “There’s to be dancing at the assembly rooms.”

“Not tonight, Fanny. You go on ahead.”

Emma didn’t have to offer twice. Fanny was out the door as soon as she could blow a kiss.

Another time, she might have enjoyed a rare evening of dancing, but not tonight. Not only was she worried sick for Miss Palmer, she was still reeling from her own encounter at Ashbury House.

The duke was probably laughing at his own cleverness even now. Marry a seamstress? Ha-ha-ha. What a joke.

How dare the man? Really.

Emma shook off the memory, telling herself not spare the duke another thought. She had more important things to do.

She took a stub of a candle from Madame Bissette’s drawer, placed it on the counter, and struck the flint as quietly as possible. After rummaging for a discarded scrap of brown paper, she ironed it flat with her hands and chewed on a stub of pencil, thinking. Waistlines had started to drop this season, moving away from Empire silhouettes. Concealing an expanding belly would be more difficult, but Emma would do her best.

She placed pencil to paper and began to sketch. Miss Palmer would need a corset with extra give toward the bottom . . . perhaps a frock with small buttons inside the waistline, to gather or let out the skirts. A fetching pelisse was a must—the right embellishments would draw the eye upward.

The task absorbed her attention so fully, she didn’t notice how much time had passed until someone knocked at the door.

Thump-thump-thump.

Emma jumped in her skin and crumpled the sketches into her pocket. “We’re closed.”

The rapping only grew louder. More insistent.

Thump-thump-thump-thump.

With a sigh, Emma went to the front of the shop. She turned the key in the lock and opened the door just an inch.

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid we’re shut for the eveni—”

“You’re not shut for me.”

She found herself pushed aside as a man bulled his way through the door. He wore a dark cape and a tall hat with its brim pulled low, concealing most of his face—but she knew him at once. Only one man would have behaved in such a presumptuous manner.

The Duke of Ashbury.

“Miss Gladstone.” He inclined his head in the slightest possible nod. “I told you we’d meet again.”

Oh, Lord.

Emma closed the door and turned the key. There was nothing else to do for the moment. She couldn’t leave it ajar and risk being seen alone with a gentleman.

“Your Grace, I can’t admit visitors after hours.”

“I’m not a visitor. I’m a customer.” He strolled around the darkened shop, prodding a headless dressmaking form with his walking stick. “I need a new waistcoat.”

“It’s a dressmaking shop. We don’t offer gentlemen’s attire.”

“Very well, I’m here to order a gown.”

“A gown for whom?”

“What does it matter?” He made an annoyed gesture. “For a particularly ugly woman, approximately my size.”

Good heavens, what could this man be after? Was his mockery yesterday not enough to satisfy him? He couldn’t actually want to retrieve Miss Worthing’s gown.

Whatever his aim, Emma meant to exact a price in return. Today, he was welcome to share in the humiliation.

She drew a box to the center of the floor—the one ladies stood upon to have their hems pinned—and waved him toward it. “Up you go, then.”

He stared at her.

“If you want a gown—”

“It’s not that I want a gown.”

“If your very ugly, duke-sized friend wants a gown, I will need measurements. Sleeve, torso, hem.” She arched an eyebrow. “Bosom.”

There. Surely he would retreat from that.

Instead, the unscarred corner of his mouth tipped with amusement. He set his walking stick aside. He removed his hat. Then his cloak. Next his gloves. And, finally, his topcoat. Without breaking her gaze, he stepped onto the box and lifted his arms to either side, palms up. Like an actor on a stage, expecting applause.

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