Darius Copeland, an American, and now the Duke of Ellings, believes he knows all that is necessary for his new station in life.
Theresa “Tessa” Claxton, self-professed spinster, will show him that there is so much more to learn than memorizing a list of rules.
What they come to realize is that some rules are meant to be broken.
Chapter One London, England, April 1817 I previously wondered why Lord Crispin Tilson, the finder of all things, and Miss Vanessa Claxton, the thief finder, had both been invited to Lady Osbourne’s house party, and accepted when neither one enjoyed being in Society. Well, the answer was because Lady Osbourne was matchmaking under the guise of having them search for a heart-shaped ruby brooch that had gone missing. I was told that it was located, but in the process, the two guests also decided to wed. It was at their wedding celebration that I took note of the newest Duke of Ellings, Darius Copeland, an American from Louisiana, having just inherited the title in December. Not much is known about His Grace as he had kept to himself when he was in London last Season. Not far from his side was his first cousin once removed, Leopold Tilson IV, Duke of Claybrook, and if I overheard correctly, he was giving the Duke of Ellings advice on how to navigate Society, though it sounded more like a list of rules on how to avoid matrimony. I assume this is the natural goal of most bachelors, but they are both dukes and have dictates they must follow. Ellings is already thirty and should thus put his mind to his duty to wed and produce the required heir and a spare. Further, Claybrook should not be discouraging as he is expected to do the same and is already eight and twenty. Not that I have any interest in either duke, but no doubt there are several available misses and ladies who would like nothing more than to become the wife of either, without a true preference for which, as long as he is a duke. And while those who had dreams of landing a duke simpered behind fans, one bold miss approached them directly, dance card in hand—Miss Theresa Claxton, sister to the bride whose marriage was being celebrated. Miss Theresa had already determined that she fully intends to become a spinster and as she remains unwed at the age of five and twenty, it may likely happen. Therefore, what could she be about? Had she changed her mind about marriage? If so, which duke did she prefer? I do believe that my observations will prove to be quite enjoyable this Season. Observations of a Wallflower *** What was it about Miss Theresa Claxton and why did she intrigue him so? This was not a recent development, but something that had plagued Darius since the beginning of last Season. They’d not been introduced officially, but they had shared conversations, which usually occurred in the early morning hours in Hyde Park. The first time it had been because he’d been unable to sleep and was questioning whether he had made the right decision to remain in England. She had been out because it was her favorite time to walk when all was quiet, and few were about to watch and listen. They never planned to meet again, yet they managed to do so at least twice a sennight and usually because Darius rose early in hopes of seeing her again. It wasn’t long before she called him Darius and asked that he call her Tessa. If anyone took note of their meetings, it was never mentioned and it was the opinion of Darius that those also in the park at such a time did not wish to be bothered either and therefore remained mum on what they may have seen while riding in the morning mist. He never approached Tessa at a ball or any other entertainment because he did not wish for their acquaintance to be remarked upon, and Tessa had been of the same mind. And then her cousin, Lucinda, married his younger brother, Caleb, and now they were related, though not by blood. She was not only beautiful, but vivacious and a bit bold, and had placed herself firmly on the shelf, much to his disappointment, for there was no other woman of his acquaintance whom he desired. Yes, he desired her deeply, and he had fallen in love last spring. She had not. Though Darius had not spoken to Tessa in months, he hoped that they could return to morning walks. He’d missed her and their shared quiet mornings. As if she knew his thoughts, Tessa turned and caught his eye. The corner of those coral lips quirked and if he didn’t know better, humor and mischief sparkled in her blue eyes. This was not the first time that they’d shared such an exchange at a ball, and it would likely not be the last. A fascinating miss, indeed. Darius gave a slight nod, acknowledging her. “This first function will prove to be the most dangerous,” Leopold warned. Darius inwardly groaned at his cousin’s dire warnings. They happened to be attending the wedding celebration of Leopold’s younger brother and twin, Crispin Tilson, who today had married Miss Vanessa Claxton, the older sister of Tessa. It was hardly dangerous, unless one feared being poked in the eye by one of the outrageous adornments some ladies wore in their hair. “My sister-in-law is now the envy of every unmarried miss in the ballroom. They dream of the moment when they will be the bride with all the attention showered on them. Their heads are now filled with love and romance, and they will want it for themselves. As a duke, you rate the highest in potential husbands, as do I.” Darius had been the heir all of six months before his father had died. Word had reached him at the end of January of his father’s passing in early December, and this was the first Societal event he was attending as the Duke of Ellings. Oddly, he did not feel any differently, though others bowed, which had not been an occurrence when he’d only been but a mister from America. “Therefore, there are rules you must adhere to,” Leopold continued. “You have already shared your Rules on How to Avoid Matrimony for the Duke in Training,” Darius reminded him. “You have even written them down with that very title,” he offered with grave sincerity wondering if his cousin would realize the ridiculousness of having such rules or a list. “They bear repeating,” Leopold ground out and frowned at Darius’ dry humor. “If you recall, I did not seek your assistance, Your Grace,” Darius reminded him. “If I do, I will be certain to send a message. I have a special ring just for that.” Leopold narrowed his eyes on Darius. “I am anticipating and saving us both time. Follow my rules and you will have no need to seek assistance from the alliance.” The last word was said in a whisper. Darius idly wondered if the ring could be used to send a message to another duke who was part of the alliance to silence Leopold. With those thoughts he searched the ballroom and located the grey head of the Duke of Cranbrook. For a moment he considered approaching His Grace, but then Darius dismissed the idea. The ring was to be used in dire circumstances. Leopold was simply a pain in the arse. Besides, Cranbrook had little patience for such trivial matters. At least that had been his impression when he’d dined with Cranbrook on previous occasions. “Never waltz with the same woman more than twice or it will be assumed that a betrothal will soon be announced. It is my advice not to waltz at all, but if you must, only waltz once so as not to give a female hope.” Darius took a sip of wine and wondered how many functions he needed to attend before Leopold would leave off and trust Darius not to do anything foolish. “I have not had all of my waltzes claimed, Your Grace.” Darius turned to find Tessa waving her dance card before him. “Have you met my cousin, Darius Copeland, the Duke of Ellings?” Leopold asked Tessa. “We have not endured an official introduction,” she answered truthfully. “Miss Theresa Claxton,” Leopold offered. “It is a pleasure,” Darius murmured, looking into her humor-filled blue eyes. “I have warned you to beware of bold misses, have I not?” Leopold grumbled. “You know I have no intention of relieving a gentleman of his bachelor state any more than I wish to relinquish my status of spinster,” she grinned at Leopold. “Your sister marrying my brother does not make you long for a match of your own, wedded bliss and all that rot?” Leopold countered with disbelief. Tessa smirked. “You, of all people should know better.” She then turned to Darius, her smile now sweet in comparison to the expression she held for Leopold. “I have the supper dance free.” “He will not be partaking in the supper dance,” Leopold rejected. Tessa tilted her chin. “Why is that?” “He has a prior commitment.” Darius had not known that he would be otherwise engaged. “What will I be doing?” he asked rather intrigued and humored as it was likely something to further protect him. “You will be in the card room with me.” Tessa grew serious and leaned in. “Where I am certain he will likely pontificate and bore you with further advice.” Intrigued that she knew so much, Darius leaned in to whisper. “What do you know of the matter?” “I heard him mention to his brother that he was going to teach you all the rules of how to avoid being trapped in marriage,” she quietly confided with a spark of mischief that she cast to Leopold. “You do realize that I can hear you,” Leopold grumbled and pulled Darius away from Tessa. “Remember rule twelve.” Darius had no idea which rule he had just broken. He may have read them, but they had not been committed to memory. Leopold glared at Tessa. “As for you, you should not listen at doors.” “Yes well, that is how one learns the most intriguing information,” she returned with a sniff before smiling once again at Darius. “He may have his rules, but I have something that he will never possess.” “Such as?” Leopold demanded. “I know how a woman thinks.” She arched a brow. “I also know the names of the misses who would trap either of you without a moment’s hesitation. Likely they are scheming this very moment on how to lure you into their web from which you will never escape.” She then linked her arm with Darius’. “I am happy to share those very names with you, Your Grace.” “What of me?” Leopold demanded. “As you have all the answers, I assume you do not need them,” she retorted, before she leaned close to Darius. “You would do well to heed my advice and not that of your cousin.” “I am still not so certain you are up to no good,” Leopold ground out. Even if she was, Darius did not care. He truly enjoyed being with Tessa and was happy that she was willing to converse with him in a public setting. Not only was she beautiful with her mahogany hair with hints of auburn, but he also enjoyed the sparkle of intellect and humor in her cerulean eyes. Further, he trusted her. It had been his first instinct to do so, and one he would follow. “Do you truly wish to remain a spinster?” Darius knew that had been her intention last spring, but people do change their minds. Deep down, he had always hoped that she would change hers. “I have no wish to give up what freedoms I am allowed only to be chained to a man who might wish to dictate my days,” she assured him. “However, I am happy to teach you all that I have learned, which would be far more beneficial as it comes from a female perspective. Claybrook did his best to avoid Society last year so I doubt he is nearly as knowledgeable as he believes.” She was a cheeky miss whom Darius found quite delightful. “You have no idea how the mind of a man works,” Leopold warned. “As it is not a gentleman who will be trying to trap His Grace into matrimony, I believe that I am far better suited for…how had you referred to Ellings? Ah, yes, a duke still in training.” “I need no assistance, nor training,” Darius assured her. He could take care of himself. Further, he did not want Tessa to think of him as an innocent lad, unprepared for Town. It was rather embarrassing that she might consider him as such. “Left on your own, I have no doubt you would do quite well avoiding scandal and misses who wish to pursue,” Tessa confirmed. “You do not strike me as a fool. However, it is the poor advice you may receive that gives me concern.” Leopold blew out a sigh. “You have not changed, Tessa,” he grumbled. “Nor am I likely to.” She grinned even more. Darius glanced between the two. Claybrook had just addressed her by not only her first name, but nickname. How close were they or had they been? Did she not like Leopold and if so, what history did they share? “Let me rescue you,” she offered and drew Darius away from Leopold. *** Miss Theresa Claxton had noticed Darius Copeland, now the Duke of Ellings, when he’d first arrived in London. He was a quiet man. A thoughtful man. An observant man. Yes, she’d made a study of him and noted the intelligence in his light brown eyes when listening to conversations, or the quirk of his lips at wit or absurdity witnessed. The opposite of his cousin, who was broody, suspicious of everyone, and may have completely forgotten how to smile. Ellings was also one of the most handsome gentlemen to grace a London ballroom in ages, and Tessa adored that he bucked convention by not trimming his hair as often as most. More times than not it nearly brushed his shoulders, or it would fall across his forehead, giving a tussled look, as if he had just awakened from slumber. He was different from any gentleman she had ever encountered before. He was an American, so there was that. Perhaps that's where the attraction began. She would not mind if they continued the same association of last Season, where they would encounter each other in the early mornings in Hyde Park. After a few meetings, she had begun to look for him and had experienced a rare thrill and excitement when he did appear. Oh, she had enjoyed those conversations as she’d learned much about Louisiana and New Orleans, and Darius. Though, now that he was a duke, it did not feel right addressing him by his given name and she would now simply think of him as Ellings. During their early morning strolls she’d also shared much about herself, more than she’d ever shared with anyone outside of her dearest friend. Their conversations had been interesting, respectful, and more importantly, equal even when topics strayed to politics, sciences, and art. He’d not once condescended and had spoken to her as if her intelligence equaled his, which it most certainly did. For that fact alone, Ellings had earned her regard. If she were to be honest, he’d also captured a bit of her heart, not that she would ever let on. He saw her as a companion and friend, so she treated him the same. Tessa was also glad that he’d not approached her in a public setting as she did not want anyone to note their association and then comment that there was still hope that someone could guide Tessa away from her foolish notions of remaining a spinster. She had hoped that this Season would continue much as the last, with the two of them only meeting in Hyde Park for early morning walks. However, as soon as she heard the Duke of Claybrook spouting his rules of avoidance, Tessa could no longer remain a quiet observer. “It appears you and Claybrook know each other well,” Ellings mentioned as the two walked away from a glaring duke. “He is extremely difficult, though I cannot blame him,” she answered honestly. “Claybrook is hounded each Season, and likely in the summer, autumn, and winter, by misses and ladies wishing to wed a duke.” She tilted her chin and looked up at Ellings. “Much like you will soon experience.” Tessa let out a sigh and returned her attention to the direction they strolled. “Two years ago, Claybrook and I nearly courted as it had been the wish of our fathers that we wed when we had both been children. After getting to know one another, it was clear that we would not suit. Since that time, Claybrook and I have learned to tolerate each other.” Tessa wasn’t one to hold her tongue, guide her words, or worse, stick to polite topics such as the weather. Her boldness had aggravated Claybrook, and her personality was not one suited to be a duchess, or so she’d been told. “You believe I need saving?” Humor lit in his light brown eyes. There were crinkles at the corners as if he was a gentleman accustomed to laughing. “I know all about Claybrook’s ridiculous rules, and while some may be wise, others can be discarded, especially since we will be breaking rule number fifteen tonight.” “Though I claimed to have read his list, frankly, I barely glanced over it and tend not to listen when he speaks of the risks associated with speaking to a female.” Ellings quickly glanced around. “Please, do not tell him, or he will likely force me to listen to another lecture, which I could not abide and have little patience for such.” Tessa couldn’t help but laugh, fully. She never was one who could demure and quietly, politely giggle. “I shall hold your confidence, Your Grace.” “I am no longer Darius?” he quietly asked. “Not in public,” she returned in a whisper. “Then I look forward to once again strolling in the park where all this formality can be set aside.” She gazed up into his eyes and her heart gave a little skip. Goodness, that was not supposed to happen, and she must make it stop. “I do as well,” she finally muttered. “What is rule fifteen? I feel it only right that I know since I am going to break it,” he chuckled. “Avoid the supper dance at all costs or you will be stuck at a table with a miss for what will feel like an entire Season while she prattles on about nonsense. Instead, take yourself off to the card room and do not emerge until the guests have returned to the ballroom.” She grinned. “I promise not to prattle on about nonsense.” “You never have so I have no fear of it occurring now.” Her heart warmed at the compliment and for a moment, his brown eyes stared into hers and Tessa felt a shifting within. Goodness, that was not supposed to happen either, whatever that was. She’d suffered it a few times when they’d strolled in the park but dismissed such as an oddity. If anything, it was affection that comes with friendship when like-minded individuals share confidences and enjoyment, even if it was at Claybrook’s expense. And, even if it was because of her more tender emotions that may have developed, they needed to be ignored. If Ellings had any regard for her beyond friendship, he would have made mention of it before now. Therefore, she must be careful and guard her heart so that it was not broken. Besides, she had plans for her future that did not involve a husband; therefore it was best that he did not see her as anything but a friend. “I am assuming you do not know what rule you broke earlier—number twelve?” she asked, returning to a safe topic of discussion. Ellings placed a hand over his heart. “I humbly confess that I do not.” Oh, she did enjoy speaking with Ellings. He had a sense of humor that she did enjoy. “Never lean over to hear a woman’s words or lean into her to say something in her ear, it will look like you are whispering sweet nothings or moving in for a kiss.” He arched a brow. “A kiss? Now that is intriguing.” Heat rushed through her body, and it was all rather disconcerting. “I should take my leave of you so that we are not seen in the company of each other for too long as I do not wish to be gossiped about so early in the Season. I can promise that you do not wish that either.” With that, she offered the quickest of curtsies. “I will eagerly await our waltz.”