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While the Duke Was Sleeping

Sophie Jordan


  To my mother, for blessing me with a childhood that gave me ample room to dream. I will always cherish the gift of those days.


  Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.

  —Jane Austen, Emma



  Title Page



  The Shopgirl Meets the Duke

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27


  About the Author

  By Sophie Jordan


  About the Publisher

  The Shopgirl Meets the Duke

  The first time Poppy Fairchurch saw him she knew.

  A deep awareness swept through her, lifting her up as though she were a puppet pulled by a string as he entered the shop the first day of her employ at Barclay’s Fine Flowers.

  She stilled for a moment over the display of ferns she was arranging, her mouth drying at the sight of him. Clearly he was a frequent patron to the shop. The elegant cut of his garments and the way Mrs. Barclay bustled out from behind the counter to greet the gentleman alerted Poppy to the fact that he was no any ordinary customer.

  Even without Mrs. Barclay fawning over him, Poppy’s eyes devoured him. She knew it was not ladylike or proper, but she could not stop from gawking. She had never seen the likes of him back home. No, the village of Toadston-on-Mersey did not boast a bevy of young gentlemen.

  His chestnut hair gleamed gold in places and his eyes were a clear cerulean blue—so clear that even a yard away one could detect the darker ring of blue around the irises. His elegant attire alone served as warning enough that this was a man far out of her realm. Even if she wasn’t a lowly shopgirl. Even if he was not a customer. She should have known better. She should have known to lessen her expectations and pull her head out from the heavens.

  But then Poppy Fairchurch had always been a dreamer.

  When he turned his devastating smile on her, her stomach flipped and she knew her life would never be the same.

  And so it was that on the seventeenth morning of May, only a month after her twentieth birthday and two days after moving into a shabby lodging house on Chess Street with her much too pretty, much too garrulous younger sister for whom Poppy was now sole guardian, she fell in love with the Duke of Autenberry.

  Chapter 1

  Poppy relished the Duke of Autenberry’s weekly ventures into the shop. Marcus. She had learned his name from glimpsing his signature on the cards he signed and handed to her to attach to the flowers. The name suited him. A strong Roman name. She could very well see him astride a stallion, leading men into battle.

  She eagerly awaited those visits, which usually fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday. She took great pains with her appearance those days—which was not saying much considering all the hems had been let out of her frocks countless times over and bore patches. She was actually grateful for the striped pinafore Mrs. Barclay provided to be worn over her dress. At least it was freshly starched.

  The duke was unique in that he liked to pick out his flowers personally. He took his time browsing the available flora. He could doubtlessly send a servant for such a task, but he preferred to do it himself. Because he was that sort of a gentleman. Thoughtful and sincere in his attentions—no matter that the flowers oft went to different ladies.

  She did not judge him for that. An unmarried gentleman was free to court. A handsome nobleman would surely have scores of ladies doting upon him. He might very well be a rake, but could she blame him? He simply had not met The One yet. Once he did, he would settle down into his happily-ever-after. He was far too noble a gentleman to stray. She was convinced of this. And who was to say that person could not be Poppy?

  Someday they would have a real moment. One day he would look up at her and truly see her. Not as a shopgirl, but as a person. Her tongue wouldn’t tie itself in knots and she would actually manage to string words together in a clever and intriguing fashion.

  Then he would recognize her as a woman with a warm and giving heart. He’d have to because she knew she was not beautiful. If she was going to bowl him over with her beauty, she would have already done so. There was no self-loathing involved with this assessment. Simply self-awareness and acceptance.

  Oh, she wasn’t ugly. Her face was fine enough. Her eyes lovely. Papa had always said so. Even Edmond complimented her eyes on more than one occasion. Although the boy she had thought to marry also teasingly called her scrawny. Scrawny with an overly generous backside—of course, he never dared to suggest the latter. Only she knew of her unfortunate derriere. Thankfully that feature was not quite so noticeable beneath her skirts.

  Just as she knew her shortcomings she knew her assets. She was smart and good-natured and loyal. Poppy winced, realizing she had just described her father’s favorite old hound. Stifling her wince, she added more adjectives that would separate her from a canine.

  Hard-working. Someone who did not allow despair to consume her even during the lowest moments in her life—and in recent years she had definitely had those moments. When she lost her mother at age twelve to consumption. When she lost Papa just one year past. He was tossed from a horse and never recovered from the accident. It had been a long lingering death that she wouldn’t wish on anyone much less the father she adored.

  Always she had stayed strong for Bryony . . . for herself. She loved her sister and would do anything for her.

  These were her strengths, and why could Autenberry not one day look at her and recognize that she was The One for him? It could happen.

  In her fantasy he would freeze upon looking at her as sudden realization swept over him. Then he would glance around the store and buy every flower in the shop—all for her, naturally—in the grandest of gestures.

  It was fanciful. Perhaps far-fetched.

  Very well, it was far-fetched. But dreams often were and Papa had always encouraged her to dream large. He would smile as he reminisced about her mother, claiming that if he hadn’t dreamed he could win her, then Poppy and Bryony would never have been born.

  In fact, she blamed Papa for instilling such a grand imagination in her. He’d read Gulliver’s Travels and Chaucer to her before the fire after dinner every night. Mama was no better. At least the little Poppy remembered of her. Of course, Martha Smitton, daughter to a country squire, was a romantic. A member of the gentry, she had to be in order to leave a life of comfort and status behind when she ran away and married Papa against her family’s wishes. It was a story she had told Poppy at bedtime every night up until her death.

  Poppy believed in love and rainbows and leprechauns. Romance and whimsy were in her blood. Life was short. She knew this from losing parents much too soon. Life was precarious and she had no wish to squander it.

  She wanted to believe a grand romance waited for her. Even if, in the meantime, she was stuck working in a flower shop
all day and doing needlework at night by candlelight simply to make ends meet for herself and Bryony. Someday her turn would come.

  Poppy rarely worked alone in the shop. If Mrs. Barclay wasn’t present, then Jenny, the other salesclerk, was in attendance. Jenny stared at her so knowingly whenever the duke visited that Poppy was sure the girl was aware of her feelings. She could do little else but gawk and fumble awkwardly around him.

  Which was why she was grateful Mrs. Barclay was present when the duke called one Tuesday morning in December. Jenny was not present to waggle her eyebrows suggestively.

  Mrs. Barclay was overseeing an arrangement of fresh flora that had just been delivered from one of their hothouse vendors.

  The bell shook above the door as he entered the establishment.

  Naturally, Mrs. Barclay greeted him. She loved rubbing elbows with aristocracy—a perk of the trade. “Oh, Your Grace.” She executed a wobbly curtsy. “So good to see you again.”

  He doffed his head politely. “Good day, Mrs. Barclay.” He inclined his head toward Poppy, always ever the gentleman, but did not address her. Likely he had forgotten her name.

  “What can we assist you with today, Your Grace? Tulips? These just arrived. Even in this unseasonably warm winter they are still hard to come by, even from the hothouses, but you can trust Barclay’s to have them for you, Your Grace.”

  He thoughtfully considered the blooms. “I don’t think so.” He lifted his head and scanned the shop, his gaze stopping on Poppy—or rather the pair of lemon saplings beside her. “Those are lovely.”

  He closed the space separating them, hands clasped behind his back. The duke stopped before Poppy and leaned in to inhale the lemon saplings. The young trees were almost her height, which brought his fine aquiline nose very close to her shoulder. Her lungs ceased to draw air.

  Blast, but he smelled nice.

  “Would you like these?” Poppy managed to get out past her lips. Seeing that the duke was well attended, Mrs. Barclay turned her attention back to the new arrangement of flora.

  “Yes.” He nodded. “I think I shall take two.”

  “Lovely.” She fixed a smile on her face. “Would you like them delivered, Your Grace, or—”

  “Yes.” He removed a card from his pocket and slid it toward her. “To this residence. And can you tie a ribbon and bow around the trunks or some such?” He gestured with a flick of his hand.

  She nodded, fumbling for the spools of ribbon. “Of course, Your Grace.”

  The duke turned that devastating smile of his upon on her. “Splendid.” He turned his attention out to the window, perusing the street and forgetting her.

  Disappointment punched her in the chest as she fumbled with ribbon. What was she expecting? For him to lavish her with his undivided attention? She’d said nothing clever or amusing.

  Think, Poppy. Be witty.

  She finished wrapping each slight trunk with yellow-and-green striped bows. Following that, she marked the transaction in Mrs. Barclay’s ledger so that the expenditure could be deducted from the duke’s retainer.

  “There we are now,” she announced with a touch of too much effusiveness. Trying too hard, Poppy. Trying too hard.

  Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Here you are, my lord.” She turned and plucked a card off the counter, handing it to him to write a personal note. Her pulse kicked a little harder as their fingers brushed. He bent his head and jotted a quick message, not affected by the contact. Finished writing, he lifted his head and returned the card to her.

  “It shall be delivered this afternoon,” she assured him.

  “Very good.” He touched the rim of his hat. “Until next time.”

  Mrs. Barclay called farewell as he departed the store.

  Poppy drifted to the storefront window and peered at his departing form between the buckets of flowers on display for passersby. She couldn’t help herself. Mrs. Barclay was preoccupied and he cut such a fine figure strolling down the sidewalk that he beckoned her gaze.

  The street was not yet crowded this early in the morn. She was so absorbed on him, fantasizing that he might stop abruptly, swivel around and meet her stare with his own in some epiphanic moment of recognition that she did not immediately notice he had stopped and was talking to someone.

  She dragged her gaze away from Autenberry and examined the stranger in front of him.

  If possible, the man was even taller than the duke, standing well over six feet. He was a veritable giant. Broad shouldered in his great coat. Remarkably, he was without a hat in the wretched cold as though he were impervious to the winter. His dark gold hair was a rare spot of lightness amid the dreary, fog-ridden morning.

  There was something familiar about him. Perhaps he had come into the shop before. He was handsome, although not as beautiful as Autenberry. Even though the stranger dressed as a gentleman he had a certain roughness to him. A harshness that reminded her of the men she’d seen working the docks. A face carved from granite. Locked jaw. Hard eyes. A brutal slash of unsmiling lips. He was not a man one would wish to cross. The thought popped unbidden into her head and she gave a small shiver, her gaze returning to her beloved duke—just as Autenberry pulled back his arm and brought it crashing into the stranger’s face.

  The crack reverberated through the air, finding her ears even where she stood inside the shop. Her hands flew to her mouth, stifling her sharp cry of dismay. The big man staggered back a step from the force of the blow, his head whipping to the side. He froze for what felt like an endless moment when her heart ceased to beat. When all air ceased to pass through her lips and into her lungs.

  Then he moved with the suddenness of a coil sprung. He pounced, striking Autenberry in turn. The duke staggered and did not have time to recover before the stranger was on him again.

  Not about to stand by whilst the duke was pounded to an inch of his life, she sprang to action and stormed from the shop.

  She was not the only one to take notice. A small crowd formed. A pair of riders on horseback stopped and dismounted. Not to stop the fight, merely to observe and call out encouragement. The shopkeeper next door, a haberdasher, emerged with a gaping customer, watching as the two men clashed, delivering savage blows that elicited cringes and cries from onlookers.

  Mrs. Barclay emerged to clasp her arm. “What on earth?” she exclaimed.

  “That man accosted the duke,” Poppy said even if that wasn’t precisely true. She knew the duke had been the first one to strike, but she knew he must have been provoked.

  “This is dreadful!” Mrs. Barclay cried as the duke dealt a hard uppercut to the stranger’s jaw, sending him crashing into the white brick wall of the haberdasher’s shop, narrowly missing the proprietor. The rotund man leapt out of the way with surprising swiftness.

  Shaking his head, the stranger touched his bloodied lip. Pulling back his hand, he looked down at the crimson smear. His eyes flashed in a way that made her stomach dip. The sight of his blood apparently enraged him. He pushed off the building and charged the duke, catching him in the midriff.

  The two men collapsed into the street in a tangle of bodies and blur of limbs.

  “Stop it!” she cried—the only one to shout a protest. The onlookers only seemed to grow, other people emerging from shops to watch the spectacle.

  Autenberry and the stranger rolled, beating each other, fists landing wherever they could make contact. It was impossible to tell who had the upper hand. They appeared equally matched, thoroughly trouncing the other with such violence that her jaw ached from clenching her teeth so hard.

  Poppy turned to look at the haberdasher and his customer. “Do something!” she cried.

  He shrugged helplessly without tearing his gaze from the riveting display of the two men killing each other.

  Not Autenberry. Not my duke.

  She shrugged out of Mrs. Barclay’s grasp and rushed over to where a trio of gentlemen watched, shouting advice and placing bets among each other on the outcome.

>   “Please,” she beseeched. “Do something!”

  One fellow sent her an incredulous look. “I’m not stopping it! I’ve wagered on the big one.”

  Shaking her head, she stepped closer to the street, one hand worrying the collar of her dress, helplessly wrinkling the fabric.

  The big blond man in question managed to rise to his feet. He set his boot against the duke, shoving him back down on the ground.

  She saw red.

  With a cry, she lunged into the street and jumped on his back, wrapping her limbs around him.

  “What in the bloody hell—” He whirled in a circle, but she clung like she did every time she had captured Papa’s pig that regularly escaped its pen and fled to Mrs. Wolfston’s garden.

  Poppy hugged the man’s hard body and squeezed, determined not to let go.

  “Stop, you great brute!” She clung fast. “Leave him alone!”

  “Are you daft, woman?” he growled, seizing her hands where she had locked them around his shoulders. She gasped at his rigid grip on her wrist. He was a lot stronger than Papa’s pig—and determined to be rid of her.

  He staggered with her sudden weight and she feared they might crash to the ground together, his greater weight crushing her. Her stomach rolled, braced for the impact. He caught himself instead, weaving an unsteady line off the road toward the building. Dimly, she thought she heard Mrs. Barclay screaming her name, but she didn’t dare turn to locate her. She focused on clinging to her quarry instead.

  He spun, trying to throw her off. She yelped and grabbed a fistful of his hair. The move yanked back his head and threw off his balance, launching him sideways and slamming them into the brick wall between Barclay’s and the haberdashery. A stinging epithet exploded from his lips. Pain fired along her side. She would bear bruises for that.

  Leaning against the wall, he gasped as though needing a moment to recover. He’d taken the brunt of the impact and was hurt. Good.

  She slid down the long lines of his body and stepped back. Panting and trembling like a leaf, she shoved the hair back that had fallen in her face and looked him up and down. She had to drop her head back to stare up at him. He was much too tall. He was much too . . . much.