8 Spinsters Singing with Grace Burrowes
Grace Burrowes grew up in central Pennsylvania and is the sixth out of seven children. She discovered romance novels when in junior high (back when there was a such a thing), and has been reading them voraciously ever since. Grace has a bachelor's degree in Political Science, a Bachelor of Music in Music History, (both from The Pennsylvania State University); a Master's Degree in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University; and a Juris Doctor from The National Law Center at The George Washington University. Her debut novel, The Heir was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Top Five Romances for 2010, and is the first in an eight-sibling historical romance series to be published by Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Background: Their Graces, Percival and Esther Windham, Duke and Duchess of Moreland, have raised a large family, and are watching as their children find true love and happiness, one by one, in the books of the Windham Series. First the sons, Westhaven (“The Heir”), St. Just (“The Soldier”) and Lord Valentine (“The Virtuoso”), and now the daughters are winning their happily ever afters, most recently, Lady Sophie, in “Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish.” This story finds the family gathering again in anticipation of the holidays, and while the Earl of Westhaven means well, his lectures on penny pinching and self-discipline miss the point of the season entirely….
The Ducal Gift
by Grace Burrowes
“Economies have seen this family put to rights, and economies will see us safely into the next generation.” The Earl of Westhaven executed a crisp about face and paced back toward the roaring fire. “If we observe economies and practice discipline then the New Year and all the new years to come will hold only good fortune for the Moreland family.”
Westhaven ceased pacing long enough to accept a glass of very fine cognac from his father, Percival, the Duke of Windham.
“To ward off the chill,” His Grace said with a small smile.
“Percival, you cannot expect our son to drink alone—not with the holiday season upon us.” The duchess’ smile was indulgent. She sat on the end of the settee closest to the fire, an embroidery hoop in her graceful hands, the firelight chasing gleaming highlights through her golden hair.
“Just a tot, then.” His Grace poured himself two fingers, saluted with his glass to his wife of more than thirty years, then downed half the contents in a single swallow.
“I do believe it is starting to snow,” Her Grace observed. “Just in time for Christmas.”
Westhaven’s brows twitched down. “Snow? When I must away to Surrey in the morning? That will not do.”
He was a handsome man, tall, with dark chestnut hair, and his mother’s green eyes, but from His Grace’s perspective, the lad wanted for a bit of humor. “You are my heir, Westhaven, but that does not quite give you the ability to command the Almighty in matters relating to weather. Finish your drink before you hare off to your countess and the blandishments of a warm bed on a cold winter night.”
For just a moment, Westhaven’s expression turned sheepish. The duke saw Her Grace had note their son’s expression, and exchanged a private parental smile with her.
Westhaven tipped up his glass and finished his drink. “My thanks for excellent libation and for your company. Mother.” He bent to kiss the duchess’ cheek. “Your Grace.”
When he would have shaken hands with his father, the duke pulled his son in for a hug, not caring in the least that it likely mortified the man beyond bearing.
“I confess, Esther, I find young people today tiresomely proper,” His Grace observed, taking a seat beside the duchess when Westhaven had departed. “One wonders how they manage to give us grandchildren.”
Her Grace put aside her embroidery and appropriated the glass from the duke’s hand. “Sometimes, all that propriety masks a passionate nature, which is the case with Westhaven. He can spout off about economies all he wants, but Anna assures me he’s lavish with his affections when they are private.”
The duke took the glass back, noting that the merest sip of cognac remained. “He gets that quiet passion from you, my dear.”
She rested her head on his shoulder, a familiarity she’d only indulge in when they were alone. “He gets his determination and fire from you, Percival. When he’s in a taking, Westhaven is quite ducal—and he’s in a taking about the family finances, as usual.”
She fell silent, the only sound in the room the cozy hiss and pop of the fire. His Grace set the rest of his drink aside and wondered how—with Westhaven ringing a peel about economies over his parents’ heads—the duke’s plans for Christmas were going be received.
The duke brushed a kiss to his wife’s temple. Time enough for economies next year—and perhaps for many years to come.
“Your Grace, I’m afraid it’s not possible to cancel the order. The pieces have already been scheduled for manufacture, the material procured, the labor engaged.”
Mr. Hermann’s eyes held worlds of apology, but Her Grace knew with sinking certainty that her rubicund jeweler of many years was not going to accommodate her request.
“You cannot sell the pieces elsewhere?” And oh, what it cost her to ask. Discipline, indeed.
“Not with the family crest displayed as it is, Your Grace. I am sincerely, abjectly sorry, but they will be lovely when completed. They will be lovely and impressive, I do assure you.”
Not as impressive as the lecture Westhaven delivered, nor the disappointment in His Grace’s eyes when the bill arrived.
“Thank you then. You’ll send word when they’re ready?”
Oh, yes, he’d send word, and he’d deliver the goods with his most effusive compliments. He bowed and beamed at the duchess all the way back to the ducal town coach, leaving Her Grace only one option: She was going to have to raise funds to cover this expense, or the Windham Christmas would be a gloomy undertaking indeed.
“There they are, Your Grace. Eight matched chestnuts, every one of ‘em with four white socks and every one of them sound, sane and willing. When the Windham sons and daughters go on an outing, heads will turn.”
The little fellow who’d been overseeing His Grace’s business at Tatt’s could not have been more cheerful as they walked along a row of eight loose boxes. They passed one gleaming red horse after another, handsome, sizeable mounts all, and worthy of a duke’s family.
“And if I’ve changed my mind, Mr. Vickery? If I’ve decided that a matched herd isn’t quite the look I wanted?”
Vickery’s smile did not falter. “I can have them delivered to the property or properties of your choice. Every animal you chose can ride to hounds, carry a lady sidesaddle, or acquit itself in a mannerly fashion on the busiest streets in Town.”
Ducal pride was an inconvenient thing when a man had been lectured by his own son regarding extravagance and responsibility. His Grace reached out to stroke the nose of a gelding upon whose back the Duchess would look truly magnificent. “I meant if I’ve decided I don’t want them after all, Vickery. Eight matched horses is a bit ostentatious, don’t you think?”
If Vickery understood the word, he wasn’t going to let it affect his mercantile interests. “Your Grace, your man spoke for the beasts so they’re as good as yours. If you reject the lot of them now….” Vickery turned basset hound eyes on the gelding. “It won’t go well for them on the block, Your Grace. Rejected by Moreland, former cavalry man and a demon riding to hounds. Everyone will assume they’re a bad lot, and that won’t look good at all for Vickery and Sons.”
Oh, and all of Melton would be looking askance next.
So, another solution had to be found if economies were to be observed. “I understand. Keep them well groomed. Christmas is close at hand, and it won’t do to be delivering Christmas gifts sporting mud and cockleburs.”
Vickery’s smile re-appeared. “Of course not, Your Grace. Happy Christmas to you and Her Grace, and to your entire family.”
A happy Christmas, indeed, with His Grace’s exchequer cast again into the cockleburs and mud or worse.
“It’s very, very handsome, Mr. Henderson.” Her Grace ran her bare hand down the saddle’s smooth twist. “His Grace will love it.”
“Known for his skill in the hunt field is Moreland, and this saddle will become his favorite, I can assure you.”
It wasn’t an emerald ring, it wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t even all that expensive—not compared to eight Moreland signet rings of gold, diamonds, and emeralds, but Her Grace had observed that the duke’s favorite hunting saddle was growing worn. She’d gone on a hunt of her own, for the man who’d made that saddle, and found him, bent and wizened, in a saddlery in Chelsea.
He’d been all too happy to take on a modest commission, claiming it would see his family comfortably into the New Year.
“You’ll deliver it tomorrow, then?”
“To the mews, as Your Grace requested. And if it don’t suit, you can put a lump of coal in my stocking.” He winked at her, and Esther Windham knew a sense of warmth. Whatever else befell the family this Christmas—shouting matches, lectures, awkwardness—this present was from the heart, and would be appreciated as such.
“If I might be so bold as to observe, Your Grace, they are the exact color of your duchess’s lovely eyes.”
His Grace’s jeweler, one Harold Whiffenstadt, rocked back on his heels, hands behind his back, his smile almost as brilliant as the simple bracelet gleaming on the green velvet lining the box.
“She has many other pieces that are more impressive,” the duke remarked. Her Grace had entire parures, though those were mostly family jewels, not the duchess’ personal property.
Whiffenstadt regarded the little bracelet. “Your Grace, jewelry that outshines the wearer defeats the purpose of ornamentation. Your duchess is the true gem, unless I mistake the matter greatly. She will love this token.”
She would, and more to the point, His Grace would love to see the modest gold and emerald ornament on her wrist. “I love her hands.”
He hadn’t meant to speak that aloud, but it was the truth.
“One always knows a lady by her hands,” Whiffenstadt said.
His Grace gave orders for the bracelet’s delivery and took himself out into a day sporting flurries and a brisk wind. He reflected that he most assuredly loved his wife’s graceful, competent hands, but it was more accurate to say he loved her touch. When he was overwrought with frustration or fatigue, she could soothe him with a hand to his cheek. In public, she had merely to grip his fingers in her own, briefly, discreetly, and even that made all the ills of the world a little more bearable.
His Grace had the satisfaction of knowing that when the Windham family Christmas gifting was over, regardless of Westhaven’s fuming and fretting, His Grace would still be holding the pretty, loving hand that meant the most to him the entire world.
Gayle Windham, the Earl of Westhaven, held up a hand for silence. “May I suggest—”
His sister, Sophie, Baroness Sindal, yanked on his morning coat. “No, you may not. Sit down. I want to see what Mama has given us for Christmas, and your books of sermons can just wait.”
Westhaven’s lips twitched. “You never even read Fordyce’s Sermons, and I saved all my allowance to ensure each of my sisters’ had a copy.” He’d been fifteen years old, about to go off to university and quite full of adolescent self-importance—a pompous twit of the first water, so to speak.
Sophie grinned at him and bounced the infant on her knee. “The Sermons make a nice paperweight.”
“At least let me hold the lad if you’re going to be such a scold, Sophie.” Westhaven appropriated his chubby, smiling nephew. “Mother, I suppose you’d best go first.”
A negotiation ensued among eight siblings and their spouses about the order of go for opening presents, during which Westhaven kept hold of the baby—babies were such jolly additions to the holidays, and His Grace was going to steal this one at any moment. When the verbal melee was over, it was decided to open Their Grace’s gifts last and Sophie’s first born was making a merry round of knees and laps.
To comfort her husband, Sophie had taken up a perch on his lap, while on the piano bench, Lord Valentine and his wife were squashed much closer together than propriety allowed. St. Just was lounging in a doorway, his hand casually resting on his countess’s bare neck, and various other siblings were arranged on the floor amid presents, children, and one brave tabby cat.
“Well, Papa?” Sophie aimed a smile at the duke. “You’re next. Is it to be sugarplums, toy soldiers, or wooden pistols?”
His Grace could be relied upon on Christmases long past to supply the best treats, and to appoint himself Regent of Misrule, capable of usurping the proper sovereign’s powers. At Sophie’s prompting, the duke reached behind his seat and produced a velvet bag.
“My gifts are out in the mews, though I propose an outing in the park for the assemblage later today to put them to the best use.” He rose and began handing around documents, each one neatly rolled up with gold ribbon. “As your papa, it was among my greatest pleasures—and most important duties—to find each of you the perfect pony for your first mount.” The duke’s chin came up and he speared Westhaven with a look that was more defiant than ducal. “I’ve taken the liberty of exercising that prerogative one last time. Westhaven, you shall not castigate me. A horse is a practical gift, and I assure you, the funds were on hand to manage it.”
An instant’s awkward silence ensued before Louisa spoke up. “I have been wondering how much longer dear Andromeda was expected to carry me about. Her muzzle is turning gray, and I think she’s eying the pensioner paddock with longing. Thank you, Papa. A new mount is a very thoughtful gift.”
She glowered at Westhaven, clearly daring him to prose on about budgets and economies—as if he’d do such a thing on Christmas Day. A chorus of thank yous followed, though it seemed to Westhaven the duke was avoiding his gaze. That his father—a generous man by nature—would be self-conscious about gift-giving was more alarming than that the family finances might be strained by ducal largesse.
And what could it mean, that the funds had been on hand to procure a veritable herd of horses?
“We’ve one gift left,” Westhaven pointed out, rather than dwell on such thoughts. “Mother, before we form a mounted mob in Hyde Park, I suspect you’ve something to add to the general bounty?”
Her Grace smiled, but to Westhaven’s practiced eye—he was married, after all—the duchess looked a trifle hesitant.
“My gift is small,” Her Grace said. She passed out little boxes, one to each sibling. “But it comes from my heart. I want each of you to recall my love when you use these gifts, and hopefully,” –she glanced meaningfully at St. Just, Lord Valentine, and Westheven— “you will use them frequently when writing to your parents.”
Westhaven opened his box to find an exquisite sealing ring, the Moreland crest engraved in a gold setting, emeralds and diamonds gracing the whole. A small fortune lay in his hand. “This is gorgeous, Mother.”
Also extravagant, particularly when multiplied by eight. And yet… a man should write to his mother. She was correct in that.
“And Westhaven, no lectures if you please,” Her Grace said. “The funds did not come from my pin money, and you’re not to worry. This is my gift to my children, and quite possibly their children as well.”
“Because,” Westhaven said, regarding his parents, “we will write to our children as well, and think of our parents’ love when we do.”
“Just so,” said His Grace, a bit too heartily. “Now if you lot will repair to the mews, I need a word with Her Grace under the mistletoe.”
While the duchess blushed like a girl, His Grace escorted her from the room, leaving Westhaven to meet questioning looks from his siblings.
“Don’t you start, Westhaven.” Sophie’s tones were low and fierce. “They gave us wonderful gifts.”
Six other pairs of green eyes challenged him to remark the extravagance of those gifts. “Am I really so bad as all that?” he asked the room at large.
Eve, youngest and in some ways the most stubborn, offered him a hesitant smile. “You can be as bad as all that, thundering on about solvency and self-restraint, Westhaven, but we know you’re mostly rehearsing for some parliamentary speech ages hence. We’re all proud of you for not having an apoplexy at Mama and Papa’s little excesses—provided you let us keep the horses and the rings?”
This was a fine moment to exhort them all not to follow the wrong-headed examples of their parents, spending heedlessly on things neither necessary nor practical. Phrases about the obligation of the nobility to set standards started dancing in his head, but at that moment, Sophie’s first born tugged on Westhaven’s breeches, and began ascending to a wobbly stand at his uncle’s knee.
“Up!” The child held up his arms, only to fall ignominiously to his nappied bottom.
As Westhaven hoisted his nephew into his arms, he reasoned that nobody learned to economize all at once, and what was more important? A fat balance in the ledger books, or the gift of a happy loving memory of this day?
“We keep the horses, the rings, and the abundant love with which they were given. Happy Christmas, and the last one to the mews has to wash Napoleon’s linen.”
Amid cheers and more hooted schoolroom taunts, Westhaven took Eve’s ring from her hand and slipped it on her finger, then kissed her sister’s cheek. “And no malingering under the mistletoe!”
“I do believe our spinster daughters have better aim than their brothers.” His Grace peered down into the back garden, where his offspring were comporting themselves like unruly children, pelting one other with snowballs, shrieking madly and dashing from hedge to bush to bench.
“I love that sound—our children at play.” The duchess slipped an arm around his waist. “The grandchildren will soon be joining them.”
They shared a quiet, lovely moment, full of memories, and full of hopes for those grandchildren.
His Grace turned and took his wife in his arms, right there by the window. “I have a gift for you, my love. It’s much smaller than a horse.”
“Your love is gift enough for me, and it’s as big as all of creation, Percival Windham, though the horses were a wonderful gesture.” She rested her cheek against his chest, and His Grace wanted nothing so much as to remain there with her, the rest of the family larking around down in the garden, snow falling and all right with their world.
“For you.” He drew a little box from his pocket, and passed it to her. When she stepped back, he let her go reluctantly. “It’s merely a token.”
“I have a gift for you, too, husband. One you don’t really need, though I want you to have it.”
“Open mine first.” He had to tell her how he’d afforded the horses—there was no hiding a transaction like that—but first, he wanted to see her eyes sparkling like the emeralds she wore so well.
Her Grace opened the box, and held the little bracelet up to the light. “Percival, it’s lovely. It’s marvelous. You must put it on me this instant.” She held out her wrist, her smile soft and luminous.
“You like it then? The only emeralds in your collection are your grandmother’s parure, and that has no bracelet. This can be for everyday, of course, or whenever—” He fell silent, fastening the clasp, then bringing her knuckles to his lips.
He glanced up. That was not an Oh, Percival, of gratitude. If he didn’t mistake the matter, it was an Oh, Percival redolent with despair.
“My love, is something amiss?” He kept hold of her hand, lest she decide she had to join the affray in the back garden.
“No, nothing. Your gift is in the armoire.” She gestured with her free hand, and yet it seemed to His Grace, that the duchess might be blinking back tears. He led her to the armoire and opened the doors to find a hunting saddle sporting a bow of gold silk on the pommel.
“A saddle? For me? A new saddle?” The horseman in him couldn’t help but run his hand over the supple leather. “By God, it’s beautiful, Esther. And look, that’s the stitching pattern on my old saddle, and the fittings, and the… Where did you have this made?”
Her smile was full of mischief and glee, and yet, she was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. “Old Mr. Dickens. He makes only a handful each year, his sons having taken over the trade, but for you… he recalled the day you purchased the last one and was quite proud to have your custom. I hope you like this one just as much.”
She was shy and pleased and so lovely, so loving, His Grace just had to kiss her.
“It’s perfect, Esther. I shall ride in no other, but my dear, we need to talk before we join the children on this outing.”
She kissed him too, a quick wifely buss that brought a whiff of flowers to the duke’s nose. “We do need to talk. You must promise me you will not be wroth, Percival. I have more fancy parures than is decent.”
She led him by the hand to a settee and tugged him down beside her. The gold bracelet winked from her wrist while outside, the ladies had started up a bouncy chorus of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
“I will not be wroth, Esther, and you must make me the same promise.” They had exchanged that promise any number of times in their marriage, and it had stood them in good stead. “You speak first, my dear, while I admire your bracelet.”
Her Grace inhaled, studying their joined hands. “I sold my grandmother’s parure to pay for the rings. The emeralds on my wrist are now the only emeralds I own, but I will treasure them always, Percival, more than the whole set I inherited from my grandmother.”
His Grace wanted to laugh, he wanted to hug his wife and kiss her senseless. He contented himself with sharing the truth with her.
“I sold the hunting box in Melton to pay for the horses, Esther. The only hunting saddle I’ll ever need is the one you just gave me. I’m too old to be spending weeks galloping around in the mud after a pack of hounds and some wily fox. I’ll attend the local meets, and have more time to spend with my duchess, our children and our grandchildren.”
The look she gave him was so… dear. Her Grace snuggled closer. “Happy Christmas, Percival Windham. I do love you.”
“Happy Christmas, Esther Windham. Your love is all the gift I will ever need, and of course, I love you too. Very much.”
A snowball smacked against the window, and while the Windham rabble charged into a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, Westhaven bellowed for his parents to leave the mistletoe and come down to join the fun.
After one more lingering, loving kiss, the duke and his duchess did exactly that.
Want some more of Grace Burrowes' work?
All Sophie Windham wants is peace, quiet and the novelty of a little solitude in the Duke of Moreland's London mansion before she joins her family for Christmas at the family seat in Kent. In the middle of a very inconvenient London snowstorm, Sophie finds herself stuck with an abandoned baby, and only the assistance of handsome stranger Vim Charpentier standing between her and complete disaster...
Vim Charpentier's worst memories are of Christmases spent with family in Kent, so when he has an excuse to tarry for a few days in London, he willingly lends a hand helping Sophie and her new little charge become acquainted. The growing attraction he shares with Sophie warms both their spirits, but when Sophie's three brothers arrive (from the East) to whisk her away, Vim has to decide between facing his memories, or letting the Christmas gift of a lifetime slip through his fingers.
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