The Duke of Malgrave, Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy,(known by his very few close friends as Maxim) is the reluctant hero of The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora. He is also occasionally named 'Fred', but only one person in his entire life ever calls him that. Only she would ever dare.
Born to the fifth Duke of Malgrave, and the only surviving son and heir to a vast estate, he has grown up carrying many burdens and responsibilities on his shoulders. He cannot afford to fail, since there is no 'spare' to take his place, until he has a healthy son of his own. Everything he does, therefore, must be for the good of his estate, and he has known this from boyhood. At only sixteen, he inherited the title and property following the sudden death of his father, and since then his life has never deviated from that staid path laid out by the demands of duty and tradition.
* * * *
Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy was not prone to folly. Indeed, even the purchase of new cannons for his tin soldiers when he was seven and a quarter had required a list of pros and cons. As for pranks, he had no taste for them, having been the unfortunate target of several cruel jests in his early school days.
No, the sixth Duke of Malgrave made no move without giving every potential consequence grave consideration beforehand. Usually.
* * * *
* * * *
As she fell against his chest, her questing, ungloved fingers running over his startled face, Maxim, who had never known an indignity like it, was rendered irately speechless, until she cried out, "Is it Whitworth, the butler? Or—oh!— a wooden hat stand? I feel a protuberance!"
With her laughing breath blowing soft by his cheek and some very delightful parts pressed against his torso, Maxim had suffered a most inconvenient reaction.
Setting her swiftly away from him— removing the temptation— he'd managed a tight reply, "No, madam, it is the Duke of Malgrave, and might I inquire what you think you are about, stroking my face?"
At once her blindfold came up and the laughter was snuffed like a candle flame between two dampened fingertips. He had a habit of causing that effect. Even among his peers, Maxim's presence brought the shadow of an older gentleman come to spoil their game. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was something to do with his own childhood and the fact that he'd spent much of it alone, when he wasn't away at a grim boarding school. There, a "game" consisted of swimming from one end of an ice cold lake to the other, and, if one came last, receiving ten strikes of the cane and no supper. Incentive to excel, they called it.
Never, since then, had he participated in anything to which there was neither a clear victor nor any apparent point. Or any sport he could not win.
But this particular sport was new to him.
Of course he'd had experience of women— it was a necessity of life— but nothing quite like this. Nobody who felt quite like this. Nobody who laughed like this.
The young woman, with those prying hands tucked hastily behind her back, had let out a disappointed gasp and then a belated curtsey. "Your grace. Forgive my impertinence." Then she turned away to chuckle with her equally addled young companions. She did not look at him again. Not even a coy glance from under her lashes.
Of course, he was never "pretty" in the effeminate way that was fashionable for young men of the time. He did not wear wigs, powder and perfumes. He did not cover himself in patterned silk, diamond rings and affected manners. That tortuous boarding school he attended as a boy might have "toughened" him up, but it did nothing for his social graces, and nobody else dare attempt to file down his awkward, sharp edges. He had never been one to waste his time practicing poetry, riddles, or asinine and "witty" banter. But he had no need for these things, even as a young man. With his reputation for an uncompromising, unforgiving temper and ruthless success already in all his endeavors, nobody looked to Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy for a joke.
To his relief, the blindfold and the game had been set aside and respectable, dignified conversation took over. But Lady Flora and a group made up of the livelier guests went off to the far side of the room, setting up the card table for some further entertainment of their own. Much noise soon ensued from that quarter, and although he successfully fought the urge to turn and look at her again, he found the husky tenor of her laughter most distracting.
From then on she had steadily invaded his tidy world, running through it like a puppy with one of his gloves in its mouth. Deliberately— or so he assumed— seeking his attention.
Maxim generally rationed his attendance at social engagements. "I am too busy and have too many duties pending," he would say, "to lurk in an over-heated room and do nothing for several hours but listen to the ramblings of imbeciles."
He was, however, aware of the need for a wife and, subsequently, heirs for the estate. It was one of those "duties pending".
So this year he had put himself out more often, accepting invitations he would once have consigned directly to his dressing room fire. Several of his acquaintances had recently commented on the duke's livelier social calendar, and he had just realized himself that the change was entirely due to one woman.
Newly awoken to the novelty of this strange, unlikely attraction, he began studying Lady Flora Chelmsworth as wife potential.
But are his plans destined for disaster? Is he about to hear the word "no" for the first time in his life? And what will be the consequences for both the duke and Lady Flora?
Find out on Wednesday, May 23rd!
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Image: Portrait of George Fitzroy, 4th Duke of Grafton (Artist unknown)and "Young Boy Feeding His Pet Rabbit" by Henry Raeburn c. 1756