Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase

Chapter 1

Lecture Hall of the Anti-Vice League, London

Thursday 13 June 1833

Papa was not going to be happy about this, Cassandra thought as she rose from her seat.

But it had to be done, and the Andromeda Society had agreed that she would speak for them. Her father was a powerful member of the House of Commons, where Mr. Titus Owsley seemed to be gaining more support than he ought for his ill-conceived bill. He might ignore other women, but he couldn’t afford to ignore Lord deGriffith’s daughter.

Owsley was one of the younger members, handsome, well-spoken, and, according to her father, far more ambitious than his apparent humility suggested. Parliament’s generous supply of hypocrites didn’t hurt the gentleman’s cause.

She’d dressed so as not to call attention to herself. No flowers or birds sprang from the modest hat perched upon her dark red hair. No mounds of ruffles and furbelows adorned her pale lavender dress. She had dressed, in fact, in the way moral crusaders like Owsley approved. She had sat quietly through his lecture and listened. He was not entirely without sense and compassion, but he, like most of the upper classes, understood essentially nothing about ordinary people.

Her face its usual mask of calm, she said, “Mr. Owsley, in recent weeks some pieces have appeared in the London journals regarding your bill for the better enforcement of the Sabbath. I and many others have patiently awaited your response. Since Sabbath laws and practices have formed the substance of your lecture today, I trust you will answer the critics now.”

He gave her a puzzled frown. “Critics? I’m not sure what journals you mean, Miss Pomfret.”

This she doubted very much, but she played along.

“I mean this sort of thing.” She waved the clipping she’d taken from a recent edition of Figaro in London, a satirical paper with a radical slant.

Though by now she’d memorized the words, she looked down and read:

“‘The introduction of a bill by Mr. Titus Owsley, which, under the plea of enforcing the observance of the Sabbath, is calculated to withhold on that day the supply of their necessities from the poor, without curtailing the rich of any of their luxuries, is one of the grossest pieces of senatorial humbug that we can remember for a very long period.’”

Gasps and titters from those about her. A crack of masculine laughter from the gallery. She kept her gaze on the clippings.

He said, “Th-that is n-n—”

“‘He wishes nothing to be done on the Lord’s day,’” she read on, “‘but such work as may be necessary for the existing state of Society. Splendid dinners may still be cooked and eaten in mansions, but necessary food may not be procured at an eating house. Private carriages may throng the roads as usual, but there are to be no public conveyances tolerated on the Sabbath. In fact the alteration is to affect only the poorer classes, while the same license that hitherto has existed is still to be permitted to Society.’”

Hisses, boos, and laughter now.

She looked up at him. He’d pasted on his red face the condescending smile men customarily awarded women who attempted to reason with them. He cleared his throat and tightened his grasp on the lectern.

Before he could compose a response, she said, “Is it or is it not a fair characterization of your bill? Or would you find it easier to answer the questions the editor asks?”

She read from the next part of the Figaro piece:

“Mr. Titus Owsley do you think,

That on a Sunday ’tis discreet

The poor should neither eat nor drink ?

That food on that day is not meet ?

“That private carriages may go

Without the smallest fear of evil,

While stages—”

“Thank you, Miss Pomfret,” he said through clenched teeth. “This is typical of the impious journals, which delight in ridiculing everything and everybody.” He looked out over the audience. “Other questions?”

“Before you have answered mine?” she said.

“Let her finish the poem!” somebody called out.

“Answer the lady’s questions!” somebody else shouted.

“What lady? That’s deGriffith’s Gorgon.”

A collective gasp at this.

Then a chorus of “See here!” and “Who said that?” and the like.

More voices joined in, opposing, agreeing, daring, threatening. Men rose from their seats. Women began leaving theirs and starting for the doors.

Fists waved. The shouting amplified to a roar. In a moment, the lecture hall erupted into pandemonium.

deGriffith House, St. James’s Square

Later that day

“In a matter of hours I have become a joke among my colleagues,” Lord deGriffith said as he paced his study. “My daughter could not leave it to me to deal with Owsley and his defective bill, but felt obliged to raise questions herself, in a public place, to make us the laughingstocks of London.”

Cassandra had expected a severe scolding. What she had not prepared for was her father summoning her sister Hyacinth into the study as well.

But lately, Papa had been behaving oddly regarding Hyacinth. This started when he, Mama, and Hyacinth arrived in London for the sitting of Parliament and the social events connected to it. Shortly after they settled into the town house in St. James’s Square, influenza had begun to rage through Town, and he’d used that excuse to postpone her debut again and again.