The Duke Is Mine Page 2

“Don’t you dare repeat it!” her sister ordered. Georgiana had never shown the faintest wish to rebel against the rules of propriety. She loved and lived by them.

“There once was an adulterous abbot,” Olivia teased, “as randy—”

Georgiana slapped her hands over her ears. “I can’t believe he told you such a thing! Father would be furious if he knew.”

“Lord Pomtinius was in his cups,” Olivia said. “Besides, he’s ninety-six and he doesn’t care about decorum any longer. Just a laugh, now and then.”

“It doesn’t even make sense. An adulterous abbot? How can an abbot be adulterous? They don’t even marry.”

“Let me know if you want to hear the whole verse,” Olivia said. “It ends with talk of nuns, so I believe the word was being used loosely.”

That limerick—and Olivia’s appreciation of it—pointed directly to the problem with Miss Lytton’s duchess-ification, or, as the girls labeled it, “duchification.” There was something very déclassé about Olivia, no matter how proper her bearing, her voice, and her manners might be. She certainly could play the duchess, but the real Olivia was, dismayingly, never far from the surface.

“You are missing that indefinable air of consequence that your sister conveys without effort,” her father often opined, with an air of despondent resignation. “In short, Daughter, your sense of humor tends toward the vulgar.”

“ ‘Your demeanor should ever augment your honor,’ ” her mother would chime in, quoting the Duchess of Sconce.

And Olivia would shrug.

“If only,” Mrs. Lytton had said despairingly to her husband time and again, “if only Georgiana had been born first.” For Olivia was not the only participant in the Lytton training program. Olivia and Georgiana had marched in lockstep through lessons on the comportment of a duchess, because their parents, aware of the misfortunes that might threaten their eldest daughter—a fever, a runaway carriage, a fall from a tower—had prudently duchified their second-born as well.

Sadly, it was manifest to everyone that Georgiana had achieved the quality of a duchess, while Olivia . . . Olivia was Olivia. She certainly could behave with exquisite grace—but among her intimates, she was sarcastic, far too witty to be ladylike, and not in the least gracious. “She looks at me in such a way if I merely mention The Mirror of Compliments,” Mrs. Lytton would complain. “I’m only trying to help, I’m sure.”

“That girl will be a duchess someday,” Mr. Lytton would say heavily. “She’ll be grateful to us then.”

“But if only . . . ,” Mrs. Lytton would say, wistfully. “Dearest Georgiana is just . . . well, she would be a perfect duchess, wouldn’t she?”

In fact, Olivia’s sister had mastered early the delicate art of combining a pleasing air of consequence with an irreproachably modest demeanor. Over the years Georgiana had built up a formidable array of duchess-like traits: ways of walking, talking, and carrying herself.

“ ‘Dignity, virtue, affability, and bearing,’ ” Mrs. Lytton recited over and over, turning it into a nursery rhyme.

Georgiana would glance at the glass, checking her dignified bearing and affable expression.

Olivia would sing back to her mother: “Debility, vanity, absurdity, and . . . brainlessness!”

By eighteen years of age, Georgiana looked, sounded, and even smelled (thanks to French perfume, smuggled from Paris at great expense) like a duchess. Mostly, Olivia didn’t bother.

The Lyttons were happy, in a measured sort of way. By any sensible standard they had produced a real duchess, even if that particular daughter was not betrothed to a duke’s heir. As their girls were growing up, they told themselves that Georgiana would make a lovely wife to any man of rank. Alas, in time they stopped saying anything about their second daughter’s hypothetical husband.

The sad truth is that a duchified girl is not what most young men desire. While Georgiana’s virtues were celebrated far and wide throughout the ton—especially amongst the dowager set—her hand was rarely sought for a dance, let alone for marriage.

Mr. and Mrs. Lytton interpreted the problem differently. To their mind, their beloved second daughter was likely to dwindle into the shadow of a duchess, without becoming even a wife, because she had no dowry.

The Lyttons had spent all their disposable income on tutors. That had left their younger daughter with little more than a pittance to launch her on the marriage market.

“We have sacrificed everything for Olivia,” Mrs. Lytton often said. “I can’t understand why she is not more grateful. She’s the luckiest girl in England.”

Olivia did not view herself as lucky at all.

“The only reason I can countenance marrying Rupert,” she said to Georgiana, “is that I will be able to dower you.” She stripped off her gloves, biting the tips to pull them from her fingers. “To be honest, the mere thought of the wedding makes me feel slightly mad. I could bear the rank—though it isn’t my cup of tea, to say the least—if he weren’t such a little, beardy-weirdy bottle-headed chub.”

“You’re using slang,” Georgiana said. “And—”

“Absolutely not,” Olivia said, throwing her gloves onto her bed. “I made it up myself, and you know as well as I do that the Mirror for Bumpkins says that slang is—and I quote—‘grossness of speech used by the lowest degenerates in our nation.’ Much though I would like to attain the qualifications of a degenerate, I have no hope of achieving that particular title in this life.”

“You shouldn’t,” Georgiana said, arranging herself on the settee before Olivia’s fireplace. Olivia had been given the grandest bedchamber in the house, larger than either their mother’s or father’s chambers, so the twins generally hid from their parents in Olivia’s room.

But the reprimand didn’t have its usual fire. Olivia frowned at her sister. “Was it a particularly rotten night, Georgie? I kept getting swept away by my dim-witted fiancé, and after supper I lost track of you.”

“I would have been easy to find,” Georgiana replied. “I sat among the dowagers most of the night.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Olivia said, sitting down next to her sister and giving her a fierce hug. “Just wait until I’m a duchess. I’ll dower you so magnificently that every gentleman in the country will be on bended knee at the very thought of you. ‘Golden Georgiana,’ they’ll call you.”

Georgiana didn’t even smile, so Olivia forged ahead. “I like sitting with the dowagers. They have all the stories one would really like to hear, like that one about Lord Mettersnatch paying seven guineas to be flogged.”

Her sister’s brows drew together.

“I know, I know!” Olivia exclaimed, before Georgiana could speak. “Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar. All the same, I loved the part about the nursemaid costume. Truly, you should be glad you weren’t me. Canterwick stalked up and down the ballroom all night, dragging Rupert and me behind him. Everyone groveled, tittered behind my back, and went off to inform the rest of the room how uncommonly unlucky the FF is to be marrying me.”

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