Lily and the Duke (Sex and the Season #1) - Helen Hardt
Laurel Ridge, the Lybrook Estate, Wiltshire, England, 1845
Lady Lily Jameson set down her portable easel and palette of watercolors to smooth her mussed sable curls. The September day was sweltering, and beads of sweat trickled down her face. She gazed around the small alcove that appeared to be the remains of an old stone chapel. The long grass tickled her ankles under her skirt. White and yellow daisies poked cheerful heads through the lush green foliage, and yellow and magenta blooms dotted the abundant vegetation like confetti. A tiny brook babbled nearby.
Lily sighed, hoping she could capture the beauty of the alcove in watercolor before her mother and father noticed she was missing from the afternoon lawn party.
She tied on her painting smock, set a piece of thick cotton paper on the easel, and coated it with water. She started with the bright cerulean of the sky, and then the brook and the rich greenery behind it.
“That’s quite good.”
Lily jumped up, knocking over the small tin of water sitting in her lap. She turned and stared up into a golden face and striking green eyes. Her breath caught.
“I’m sorry,” the young man said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“No, I’m fine.” Lily, trembling, wiped her stained fingers on her apron.
His hair was the color of ripe wheat, and it fell to his shoulders in gleaming layers that brushed the collar of his brown jacket. He was tall—taller than her father or her brother—and his broad shoulders led down to slim hips and legs clad in tight tan trousers and brown riding boots. He wore no cravat, and a few tawny hairs peeked out of his crisp linen shirt. His face was handsome, with a strong jaw, full lips, and a Grecian nose. Long mahogany lashes adorned his arresting eyes.
Lily swallowed. Something new and uncomfortable churned in her stomach. Like butterflies. Or rolling water.
“How did you come to be here?” the man asked.
“I-I wanted to paint.”
He smiled, revealing straight white teeth. “My mother likes to paint. I find her here often.”
Lily clenched her clammy fists in her stained smock. “Your mother?”
“Yes. My mother. Your hostess. The duchess.”
“Oh.” Lily widened her eyes and willed herself not to stammer. “You’re the marquess, then?”
“No. The marquess is my older brother, Morgan. I’m Lord Daniel Farnsworth.” He smiled again. “And who might you be?”
“Lily, my lord.” She offered a quick curtsy.
“Lady Lily Jameson.”
“You’re Ashford’s daughter?”
“Yes, one of them.”
“Is the other as pretty as you are?” he asked, winking.
Warmth crept into Lily’s cheeks, and she hoped the young lord didn’t notice. Imagining her blond-haired, blue-eyed sister, she said, “More so, I think.”
“That, I doubt.” He cleared his throat. “You have quite an eye for painting. I shall leave you to your work. I’d love to see it when you’re finished.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He turned to leave, but looked over his shoulder. “How old are you, Lily?”
“Thirteen, my lord.”
“Be sure to come back in five or six years,” he said, and walked lazily out of the alcove.
* * *
Eight years later
“Now we’ll never catch up with Mummy and Papa.” Lady Rose Jameson tucked herself into her carriage seat. “Why you had to go searching for some old painting is beyond me.”
“Because I want to take it back to the little alcove at Laurel Ridge and paint the scene again.” Lily smoothed her sage green skirt. She remembered fondly the beauty of the Lybrook estate and planned to paint to her heart’s content during the upcoming two week house party. “Besides, we’ll catch up. Won’t we, Thomas?”
Her older brother, Viscount Jameson, nodded. “My team can outrun those antiques of Papa’s any day. We may even get there first.”
“Thank goodness,” Rose said, smiling. “I’m filled with excitement about spending the next few weeks at Laurel Ridge.”
“I’m looking forward to it myself,” Lily said.
Rose’s sapphire eyes widened. “You want to meet the duke?”
“You know me better than that.” Lily laughed. “I couldn’t give two figs about His Grace. It’s his art collection that intrigues me. It’s rumored that he has a Vermeer!”
“Good God, Lily,” her brother said, winking. “The most eligible men in England will be at Laurel Ridge, and you want to see a painting?”
“Thomas, darling, we all know that you have about as much appreciation for art as a tree toad.” Lily smirked. “No doubt there will be plenty of beautiful women at Laurel Ridge who couldn’t care less about Vermeer, and I’m sure His Grace will send hoards of castoffs your way. I, on the other hand,