Loved By a Duke:Heart of a Duke 04

By: Christi Caldwell

Prologue Leeds, England

1805

At just eleven years of age, Lady Daisy Laurel Meadows, in all her infinite wisdom, realized the inherent silliness of her name. Everyone knew it. She frowned at the adults scattered about the table, breaking their fast, and then settled her glare on the two people responsible for that silliest of names. Her parents, otherwise engrossed in conversation with the Duke and Duchess of Crawford, failed to note her displeasure.

That is, everyone knew it…except for her mother and father, the Marquess and Marchioness of Roxbury. They seemed to think there was nothing wrong in naming one’s daughter, Daisy. While her surname was Meadows.

She propped her elbows on the table. Silly name. From across the table, the cluster of three girls looked over at Daisy, giggling behind their hands. She picked up the buttered roll from her plate and tore it with her teeth.

Of course, her mother chose that precise moment to glance up. She gave Daisy a pointed look. Daisy chewed the warm, flaky bread then swallowed. She dropped the remainder of the roll onto her plate.

Someone set hands upon her shoulders and she jumped. A smile split her lips as she stared up at her older brother. “Lionel!”

He whispered close to her ear. “They’re just jealous, Daisy.”

“You came.” She wrinkled her nose. “And no, they’re not.” They had golden curls and perfect porcelain white skin while she had plain, brown hair and too many freckles.

“Do you imagine Mother and Father would have allowed me not to come to their annual summer party?”

She snorted. “Certainly not.”

He tweaked her nose. “And yes, Daisy. Those young ladies are indeed green with envy. Someday you’re going to realize just how lovely you are.” He glanced over at his two friends, Marcus, Lord Wessex, and Auric, Lord Ashburn, future Duke of Crawford. “Isn’t that right, gentlemen? She’s perfectly lovely, isn’t she?”

Lord Marcus yawned and wandered over to the sideboard. His answer was quite clear.

Lord Auric winked at her. “Perfectly lovely.” He leaned down. “In fact, when you have your Come Out, I’ll gladly make you my future duchess.”

Her heart tripped a little beat.

“See that, Daisy?” She whipped her head around to look back at her brother. “You’ll become a duchess someday when all those other, unkind, girls find themselves with mere future marquesses such as myself.”

She swatted his arm. “Don’t be silly. I’ll not let you wed a single one of those nasty creatures.”

Lionel cuffed her on the chin. “Well, you will be a duchess, so you’ll be able to command even me with a single look.” He knocked his friend on the arm. “Granted, when you make your Come Out, Auric will be one of those old dukes with a quizzing glass to his eye.”

Lord Auric opened his mouth to say something when a flurry of whispers and another round of tittering carried from across the room. Lady Leticia, one year younger and a million times prettier than Daisy, stuck her finger in Daisy’s direction and giggled. Lord Auric glowered in her direction and the little girl’s blue eyes formed moons in her face. He slid into the empty seat beside Daisy while Lionel claimed the chair on her opposite side. The trio fell instantly silent.

“Serves them right,” Daisy muttered and grabbed her roll once again. She ripped into it with her teeth.

“Daisy,” her mother chided from across the table.

She dropped the roll. She knew all the nonsense ingrained into her by Mrs. Wimpleton, her ancient governess, but really those tiny shredded pieces and nibbling bites were better suited to a small mouse than a human child.

Lord Auric picked up the partially eaten roll from her plate. He yanked an enormous piece off with his teeth and winked at her once more.

She grinned. He really was quite charming. And dashing. And all things wonderful. With a soft sigh, she propped one elbow onto the table and dropped her chin into her hand. With her free hand she reached for her glass of water. Her fingers brushed cold silver.

Shrieks erupted about the table, as the silver candelabra tipped sideways. The marquess yanked her hand back, even as several footmen rushed forward to blot out the small flames that now licked at the white, Italian lace tablecloth.

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