A Loving Duke for the Shy Duchess – Abby Ayles

The early morning was the most precious to Lucille Barrington. She treasured the quiet that hung about the house before the sun split the sky; the moments before even the servants were up and about, when she could slip along the velvet carpets of her new home in silence, run her fingers along the banister as tenderly as a child; curl up in the study with only a book and her own thoughts. She would have walked outside in the elaborate gardens too if it weren’t for her husband’s concerns on the subject. He seemed to think the early morning a prime time for catching dangerous chills, and he had told her only a few days into their marriage that he worried about her walking in the gardens alone without a shawl. She hadn’t returned since. This particular morning, Lucille woke before the birds, dressed quickly in a green silk gown that set off her emerald eyes, pinned her hair back as properly as she knew she ought, put a thick shawl around her shoulders, and tiptoed from her bedroom towards the study downstairs. Doing so, she had to pass her husband’s door. Reginald Barrington, the Duke of Crowan, a man arrayed in all the mystery and splendor of wealth and circumstance, who had married her six months ago after a flurry of excitement surrounding her sister Sarah’s marriage to the Augustus Sutton of Whitehall. So many months, and yet Lucille still felt she was sneaking by the door of a stranger and she tiptoed downstairs. She hardly knew Reginald. They hadn’t even consummated their marriage, not after the first night when he’d told her that he knew it was an arranged affair. He knew that she was frightened, and he promised not to do anything until she explicitly requested his attentions. “You have nothing to fear from me,” he had said the first night. “I will not be a duty you have to fulfill. Come to me if you wish to, but until you wish otherwise, I will have a room for you at the opposite end of the hall, and you may rest there undisturbed.” She’d been so grateful at the time, shaking like a leaf at the thought of being with a man she hardly knew, but as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months, she felt her already limited knowledge of Reginald Barrington was growing more and more frail. She didn’t know that man who lived down the hall from her, who’d given her his name and his estate and maybe even his heart. For Lucille couldn’t deny that there was something in his eyes that spoke of love, even if he couldn’t bring himself to be so forthright. She only wished she knew how to reach out of her fear and touch his heart. She wished she wanted to reach out. Instead, she felt stopped up, like a wax figure in a museum rather than a real woman. “I cannot help you with this,” her sister Sarah had explained when she confessed these fears. “You have to find a way to speak with your own husband. Tell him your concerns and ask him what is wrong. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to bare his soul to you.


” But Lucille knew better. Reginald Barrington was not the kind of man who bared his soul to anyone. Lucille knew that she of all people, with her shrinking fear of crowds, her confusion about what to say and when to speak the truth, would be the last person in whom Reginald ever confided. He was the opposite of her in every way, a strong-minded man who knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to get it. He spoke quickly, had a sharp mind, and prized all things intellectual. He was also a bit vulpine—Lucille had always thought so, and she wasn’t ever sure whether he spoke the truth or was manipulating the facts to his own ends. He could do that. She’d seen him turn men on their heads with only a few sentences, pulling affirmatives from men who’d promised never to give in, twisting the House of Lords around with his logic on an almost daily occasion. Lucille opened the door to the library and slipped inside, expecting to light a candle as usual and pick up her book until the morning light fought with the flame. To her surprise, she saw that a fire had already been started in the hearth, and she caught sight of her husband’s slim, sloping shoulders against the back of the settee. She froze, took a soundless step backward, and turned as though to flee when he stopped her. “Good morning, Lucille.” His voice was smooth and deep, his eyes still turned away from her towards the fire. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.” She took another step away. “You didn’t.” “How did you know I was here?” she ventured, hoping he wouldn’t turn around—the intensity of his gaze, the cool removal of his countenance always befuddled her. “I know you come here in the mornings, and I thought to warm the room beforehand and perhaps catch you before I left for the day.” He turned then, but the light of the fire cast his face into shadow. Lucille swallowed hard. “Thank you.” “But you’re backing away. Have you changed your mind about reading in your usual spot?” He waved toward the settee, and she looked at it wordlessly, not knowing what to say. They were married, yes, but the nearness to Reginald still felt strange—like being scandalously close with a stranger. It was an intimacy she could not yet stomach.

“I don’t want to interrupt you.” He stood suddenly, his face still hidden in shadow, but she heard the edge in his voice. “I was only coming to invite you to dinner with me this evening,” he said. “I know I’ve been eating in town as of late, and you so often take your meals in your room, but I desire your presence with me when I return from the House of Lords.” Lucille knew she’d done something wrong, but she wasn’t sure what it was, and she certainly didn’t know how to fix it. She swallowed hard and nodded. “I’ll be there.” He walked past her, brushing up against her arm as he went, and bid her good day at the door with a deep bow and his eyes averted. She murmured a response, and when he was gone, she couldn’t help thinking of the contrast between their cold interaction and the interactions she’d seen so often between Sarah and her husband Augustus. Those two had fallen in love under the strangest of circumstances, and yet they seemed to be deeply in love. Sarah had initially agreed to take Lucille’s place when their father, Edgar Lockridge, had demanded that Lucille marry the Duke of Whitehall.

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