"All you'd have to do is snap your fingers, and Lady Charlotte would say I do," Enderly said.
Derek could have been mistaken, but it seemed as if his friend was enjoying baiting him. "If I'm going to shackle myself to a woman for life, she's got to have more than the proper plumbing." Derek tugged again on the collar that poked at his neck and the strangling tie. His valet Gregory had been rather rigid in his knot tying that night, as if he too were out to constrain Derek to his husbandly fate.
"What is it exactly that you seek, Your Grace?" Nelson asked with a kind smile.
"Damned if I know. I just hope I'll recognize it when I see it, and I hope I'll see it soon." She was out there somewhere. He had no doubt of that. If only he knew where to look.
"You're holding out for a love match then?" Enderly asked.
"I don't necessarily yearn for the mess that accompanies a love match, but is it too much to hope for some intelligent conversation with my after-dinner port?" The utter despair of his situation came crashing down as he viewed the gay scene before him. "What in the world would I talk about to any of them?"
Apparently, neither of his friends could supply a satisfactory answer.
Enderly shifted with discomfort from one foot to the other. "What are your plans, Westy?" he asked softly, reverting to Derek's
nickname from their years together at Eton.
"I need to spend some time riding Hercules and thinking. I can't think here. Just a few days, and then I'll come back and bite the
proverbial bullet." He'd have no other option but to choose one of the young women flitting before him unless he wanted everything he had to slip through his fingers to an uncle who didn't deserve it. But the thought of being stuck with a wife who didn't suit him made him ill.
"You'll be the talk of the ton," Enderly declared, scandalized.
"Let them talk. I won't hear it in Essex."
"But it won't be any fun without you, Your Grace," Nelson said mournfully.
Enderly nodded in agreement. "Nor will the ladies flock about us with quite the same . . ."
"'Desperation?'" Derek asked with a grin. His friends laughed. As usual, they had kept this dreadful experience from being a total loss.
"Lady Patience will wish to visit," Enderly said with an evil grin. "She's apt to follow you to the country."
"She won't gain an audience with me even if she does give chase," Derek said of the Duke of Devonshire's daughter, who had pursued him with relentless determination. "She holds even less appeal than the others."
"Why is that?" Nelson asked.
"She brays like a donkey when she laughs."
"Ouch," Enderly said, chuckling.
"I quite fear that no woman will meet the discriminating requirements of our dear, distinguished friend," Nelson said to
"That's just fine with me," Derek said, happier than he'd been in weeks now that a decision had been made. "I'd rather be a lonely commoner than be shackled for life to a suitable braying donkey."
* * *
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.