Bonus Excerpt: Duchess By Design #ItHasPockets

 

In which our hero and heroine attend the opera and talk about…pockets. 

 

Duchess By Design

“Don’t look now, but everyone is staring.” Kingston murmured privately to Adeline as hundreds upon hundreds of faces turned to stare as they arrived in their box. They stood and paused for effect, both aware of their purpose this evening.

“Oh really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“It’s simply a fact of my position. People tend to stare.”

“Don’t be silly. They’re looking at my dress.”

The truth was that the two of them together had captivated everyone’s attention. The duke, even without the title, would turn female heads. The dress, on its own, would have men and women lusting, though for different reasons—women to wear it, men to remove it.

That Adeline was unknown to society only inflamed their curiosity. Who was this dark-haired, doe-eyed beauty on the arm of the season’s most eligible bachelor? Was she the mystery woman with whom the duke had previously been sighted? If so, this would be their third known outing, which suggested something serious.

To the marriage-minded mamas and their daughters, it suggested competition.

Adeline was keenly aware of more than a few opera glasses trained upon her. Would it be wrong if she, say, turned slightly so that she might show off the back of the dress? She was rather proud of how the fabric was gathered at the bustle, from which tumbled a cascade of tufts and ruffles and silk and tulle.

As if he were trying to make tongues wag even more, Kingston leaned over and murmured into her ear: “It is a very fetching dress.”

She smiled. Because he hadn’t seen anything yet.

“It has pockets.”

Adeline slipped her hand—clad in a black satin glove—into the small pocket she had sewn into the pale blush pink skirt. All around the room, women leaned forward, some even gasped. And some of the stodgier frowned in outright disproval at the sight of a lady’s hand disappearing into the volumes of her skirt. How mysterious. How suggestive. Exactly how a proper woman should not be.

The style of gowns included layers and layers of fabric; it was easy enough to create a small enclosure where a woman might keep things, yet most dressmakers overlooked this opportunity.

Having sufficiently made a scandalous and notable entrance, Adeline took a seat, arranging her skirts around her, and pretended not to notice everyone staring at her. The duke sat beside her. Close. Very close.

“What does a woman need pockets for?”

“The same things a man uses his pockets for, of course. For instance, to carry money.”

“A woman needn’t carry money. She has accounts at the various shops. Or, if she is traveling with a gentleman, he would carry it.”

Adeline had a vision of women followed around by men whose purpose was merely to hold things for them—human pockets, essentially. Like horses, they would require feeding, watering, and long pauses to rest their legs. A woman already had enough people in her life to care for. Sewing pockets into a gown seemed like a much easier solution.

“And what if she hasn’t accounts at the shops? What if there is no man to count the change for her?”

“She should stay home.”

“That is absurd. What if she is home alone and needs bread?”

“Send a—” She could tell that he was about to say send a servant and caught himself. The duke, it seemed, could be taught about how the rest of the world lived. Unfortunately, this only made him more appealing to her. She wanted to think of him as merely an accessory. But as he continued to prove himself to be a man who listened, who considered, who enjoyed the challenges she presented to him, she found it harder and harder to harbor a grudge.

“Love letters,” she said. “Don’t tell me a woman needn’t carry love letters.”

“Love letters,” he scoffed. “I suppose in the context of a proper courtship one might pen some romantic lines. I can’t imagine otherwise.”

So the duke was not the love-letter-writing type. Noted.

“What of a husband and wife?”

“Love letters assumes a love match, does it not? Which we both know not all marriages are, even in this day and age.”

“In case you are too obtuse—and I worry that you are—this expression on my face is one of shock, horror, and pity. Your lack of romance is a crushing disappointment and I hope for your sake that none of your heiresses can hear you.”

“A man of my position does not often have the liberty of marrying for love. They know it as well as I. It is simply the way things are.”

She gave him a patronizing smile and drawled, “Tell me more about all the things a man of your powerful position cannot do.”

“It is the truth. There are things my station compels me to consider: the management of the estates and the tenants whom they support, my family, particularly sisters and mother. I must ensure they are provided for. I must consider my family’s legacy. It is my duty. My honor. It is impossible to consider matters of the heart as well.”

Adeline studied him; he was absolutely serious. She could not fault him for taking his responsibilities seriously. If anything, it was very admirable and attractive that he should place everyone else’s concerns above his own. Yet it seemed grievously wrong that one should be required to sacrifice love and happiness. The only logical solution was to fall in love with an heiress.

Or—Adeline thought of the Ladies of Liberty, of the suffragists’ rally cry that had struck a nerve—to change the world.

“But it is still a choice to do your duty and to uphold tradition.”

“It is a choice I have made.” The duke spoke in a calm, firm tone that conveyed that his decision had been made and it would not be revisited.

“Lip paint,” she said. “A woman might also carry lip paint.”

Duchess By Design

“Only certain kinds of women would do so, and I can’t imagine they’re the sort you want seen wearing your gowns.”

“At the moment, perhaps. But fashions change.”

“Love letters. Lip paint. Cash and coin. It seems to me that pockets in a dress lead to all sorts of scandalous female behaviors.”

“That is precisely the plan.” She gave him a winning smile. “Women shall subvert the order of things with pockets in our dresses. Perhaps one day we shall even wear trousers, drink brandy, and rule the world.”

Kingston laughed, a low rumble. “I wouldn’t know heads or tails in such a world.”

“Actually, if a woman were wearing pants, I think it’d be much clearer what was heads or tails.”

“Stop. You’re making me blush,” he deadpanned.

“Am I offending your modesty or sense of masculine superiority?

“I do have some notion of trying to be a gentleman,” he said. “Between your scandalous ideas and that tempting dress, you’re making it rather difficult.”

Their eyes met again. A smile played on her lips. She was playing with fire now but having so much fun. “I would apologize, Duke, except I’m not very sorry at all.”

 

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