With This Kiss:Part One

By: Eloisa James

One

August 1827

Arbor House

Home of Sir Griffin Barry

By the age of ten, Lady Grace Ryburn had a clear understanding of her place in the world. Her mama, the Duchess of Ashbrook, made certain that her four children knew precisely how to behave in any conceivable instance, and Grace was a dutiful eldest daughter.

She had impeccable manners. She never sat on the grass, or climbed trees, or behaved in any fashion other than that which behooved a member of the peerage. She spoke three languages, played the pianoforte, and painted landscapes (poorly) and portraits (surprisingly well). She was kind to servants, old people, and dogs.

She was boring.

Grace’s little sister Lily, two years younger, was not boring. Lily never walked if she could run. She ripped her frocks, spilled her milk, and gave people sparkling looks and disobedient smiles. She didn’t obey anyone’s rules, including the duchess’s.

Their father said that Lily was a force of nature. After years of observing her sister, Grace came to understand what her father meant. Because she was so pretty, Lily didn’t have to behave. She had been adorable as a baby, and now, at eight, she was dazzling.

There was one good thing about not being the center of attention, like Lily. Grace could sit inconspicuously at the edges of rooms and watch people’s faces—the way their jaws moved, the way they blinked, the way their foreheads wrinkled when they talked. She watched the way grown-ups responded to a girl like Lily versus a girl like herself.

Since Grace was plain, quiet, and not sparkly—but very smart—she came to the obvious conclusion that it was risky to misbehave. Without being pretty, she couldn’t command love and forgiveness the way her sister could.

So Grace minded her Ps and Qs… until one August night, when her family was staying at Arbor House, the country house of Sir Griffin Barry and his family. The Barrys spent every December at Ryburn House, and the Ryburns spent every August at Arbor House, and that was the way it had been for Grace’s entire life.

Most of the year, the Ryburn estate ran smoothly, with over one hundred servants weaving and interacting, all devoted to the comfort of the duke, the duchess, and their four children. But in August, many of the duke’s servants were sent back to their own homes and most of the furniture was put under Holland covers. The great estate of Ryburn House fell to a sleepy summer silence as Grace and her family made their way to Arbor House, which had only twenty servants to take care of all of them: Sir Griffin and Lady Barry and their five children, and the duke and duchess and their four children.

It was chaos. It was glorious. The ducal progeny dreamed of it all year long. They talked longingly of days when they were in and out of the lake all day, when the air was lazy and sweet with the smell of new-mown hay, and when the children often didn’t bathe at all.

At Arbor House, the Barrys’ nanny ruled the nursery, and the Ryburns’ nannies found themselves curtsying to her. Nanny McGillycuddy believed that children, even little lords and ladies, shouldn’t have too much supervision. There weren’t nearly enough maids, and no footmen at all, and their parents picnicked with them on the grass. Ordinarily, the duchess wouldn’t dream of sitting on a blanket and eating outdoors. She just wasn’t the type, any more than Grace was.

But when the two families were together, everything was different. Sir Griffin and Grace’s papa had been pirates together, sailing the high seas, and so they told stories of sea battles, and once in a while they would actually drag out their rapiers and stage a mock fight for all nine children to watch.

Grace generally found herself watching Colin, instead. In her heart of hearts, she thought Sir Griffin’s eldest son was the most handsome boy in all England. He was tall and lean, and his shoulders already showed definition. He had a strong jaw and tumbled chestnut hair, but it was his eyes that she thought about most. They were periwinkle blue, a color she couldn’t capture with her paints, no matter how many times she mixed and remixed.

She wasn’t alone. Even her mother—whom everyone called the most elegant woman in England—laughed, and said that if she had been introduced to Colin at an impressionable age, she never would have given her husband a second look. That would make the duke growl and scoop his wife into his arms, pretending that he was going to carry her off to his pirate’s lair.

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