Authors: Gayle Callen
To Carol Lombardo, my dear Purple friend.
Writing may be solitary, but brainstorming is not.
I can’t thank you enough for your generous help
in the birth of my stories, and for allowing me
a glimpse into your graceful handling
of the next exciting stage of our lives.
I’m taking notes. ;)
Your wit and your insight brighten my every day,
and I will always be grateful.
dam Chamberlin sat alone in his London study, preoccupied once again by the astonishing
realization that he was now the Duke of Rothford—he, the youngest of three sons, who’d
been called a scoundrel and a rake and worse by his own brothers. For many years he’d
taken great pleasure in living up to that. He and his younger sister were the offspring
of his father’s second marriage to a much younger woman who’d brought little but beauty
to the family, not property or connections. Adam’s brothers had never let him forget
it, although always out of earshot of their father.
He’d deserved Society’s scorn once upon a time; he’d even reveled in it—anything to
prove to his brothers that their threats and their condemnation didn’t matter to him.
Before joining the army, he’d never been responsible for anything or anyone. But the
Eighth Dragoon Guards had shown him that a man could be judged on his honorable deeds,
not his ancestors or his money. He’d been able to start over, to support himself instead
of holding his breath waiting for his father to die and his brothers to make good
on their threats of cutting him off.
But that hadn’t happened. Fate had intervened in a way impossible to predict, and
he’d had to resign his commission. And now he, who’d never once even been allowed
to know the responsibilities of a duke, was saddled with all of it, homes and estates
and servants who all depended on him not to make a mistake.
He was very good at making mistakes.
Suddenly, he heard a sound, something tipping over on a shelf. He stilled, thinking
that although Rothford Court, a palatial pile of rocks on Belgrave Square, was so
cold as to be a cave in winter, it would hardly be permitted to have rats.
And then he heard a sneeze.
He relaxed back in his father’s big chair. “Would you like a handkerchief?”
After a long moment, he saw her little head first, dark hair in a braid, face pale
at her discovery. It could only be Lady Frances Chamberlin, his eldest brother’s child,
hiding underneath the long table behind his sofa. She was ten, and had been away in
the country on his return to England a few months back. Now she stared at him with
the wide blue eyes of the Chamberlins, and it was like looking into his brother’s
eyes. But instead of condemnation, he saw innocence and wariness and curiosity.
He stood up and gave her an exaggerated bow, hand sweeping across his stomach. “Lady
Frances, it is so nice to see you again.”
She bit her lip, and if possible her eyes went larger. But there was a hint of humor
there, as if she found it silly that an adult would bow to her.
“I barely remember you,” she said at last, voice hesitant and quiet.
He seated himself behind his desk slowly, not wanting to frighten her off. “You were
four when I left. What do you remember of me?”
She was holding something clutched in her hand, working it between her fingers nervously.
“Mother says you did bad things and that I should not em—emu—”
“Emulate me?” he finished for her.
She nodded. “How could I be like you? I’m a girl.”
“Very wise. I certainly made mistakes when I was younger, but I hope I’ve grown up
and learned my lesson.”
She took several steps around the sofa and stopped. “You were grown up when you left.”
“Some people don’t think so,” he said dryly. “Even I don’t think so. I could be foolish.
But not to you, I hope.”
She shrugged. “I remember you putting me on your shoulders once and romping around
like a horse.”
He grinned. “I remember that, too.”
“And Father caught us and scolded me.”
Adam’s smile faded. “He was scolding
child, not you.”
“You sent me a letter when he died. My governess, Miss Hervey, said I should keep
it hidden from Mother, and I do so although I don’t know why. It was quite nice.”
How could Adam tell her that her mother believed every word of the hatred her husband,
the ducal heir, had harbored for Adam? For no other reason than that he hated Adam’s
mother, that he feared Adam was their father’s favorite as a child, until the two
older brothers had conspired to turn their father’s approval to dismay and then terrible
Like so many people, Frances’s mother thought he was worthless. He’d never felt that
way about himself, had done his best to become a better man. He had so far to go.
“I had the fever, too, you know,” Frances said solemnly, running her finger along
the bookshelves that lined one wall.
“I didn’t know. I am so glad you returned to health.”
“Not my father or Uncle Godfrey or Grandfather. They all died.”
“I’m so sorry, Frances.” Adam nodded, not knowing what else to say. It still seemed
so unreal that he was now the duke, the man with the power and the wealth, who’d once
thought his army career the only thing that would keep him from genteel poverty when
his brother inherited the dukedom. That power couldn’t bring back the dead, couldn’t
absolve him of the guilt that lingered on the edges of his dreams. He still lived
with the memory of unexpected battle, the emotions of fighting for his life, the triumph
of winning—and then the vivid images of his men dead and dying.
He was trying to put it in his past. The investigator he’d hired was due to arrive
any moment with the details that would, hopefully, give Adam some measure of peace.
Frances now stood at the edge of his desk. “You look sad, Uncle Adam. Father died
last year. Great-Aunt Theodosia says we mustn’t worry about him, that he’s at rest.”
“You’re a brave girl,” he answered, smiling at her.
There was a polite knock on the door. Frances stiffened and looked over her shoulder
“I can’t let you hide,” he said with regret, “but if anyone asks, I will say I requested
“Come in,” he called.
Seabrook, thin white hair combed meticulously across his pink scalp, bowed his head
after he entered. “A Mr. Raikes to see you, Your Grace.” He glanced at Frances, and
if he was curious, he’d long ago learned not to show it.
“Thank you for answering my questions, Frances,” Adam said. “You may go now.”
She gave him a brilliant smile that Seabrook couldn’t see, then skipped from the room.
Raikes stepped in after she’d gone. A private investigator, he was plump and bald,
with a neatly trimmed beard—a man who looked so normal no one would give him a second
glance. Adam assumed he was very good at using that to his advantage.
“Your Grace,” he said, bowing his head.
Seabrook closed the door behind him.
“Sit down, Raikes.” Adam leaned forward. “Did you find Miss Cooper?”
Raikes allowed himself a small, pleased grin as he sat. “I did, sir.”
Adam let out his breath, then said mildly, “It took you long enough.”
The man smiled, unperturbed. “That it did. It wasn’t easy to find her.”
“But I told you her brother’s name and shire.”
“Given that you served with him, it’s a shame you couldn’t come up with more, Your
Adam arched a brow at the man standing up for himself, letting his amusement show.
“Yes, well, we were comrades, not close friends.”
“And it would have helped if the lady would have stayed put. But she couldn’t, Your
Grace.” Raikes cleared his throat, his frown marking his uneasiness. “She had to work
to support herself and her mother after Sergeant Cooper’s death.”
Adam felt a stillness inside him, a disbelief and a gaping hole of guilt. It was his
fault a gentlewoman had had to lower herself to earn her living. “What is her position?”
he asked, trying not to imagine the worst. A desperate young woman could sink so far . . .
“She is a lady’s companion, sir, hired earlier this year by Lord Warburton of Durham
for his daughter.”
Adam understood the plight of a lady’s companion, the endless hours at the whim of
another person. More than once his Aunt Theodosia had spoken of her disdain at the
way some of her friends treated the unfortunate women they employed. He eased his
stiff fingers, surprised to find he’d been clutching the arms of his chair. “That
is not the worst employment a young lady can have.”
“No, sir. And you’re in luck. Her family has come to London for the Season.”
At last, something was finally going his way.
“Tell me where she lives.”
iss Faith Cooper, unusually young for a lady’s companion at twenty and five, was dressed
in her usual dowdy, bulky clothes designed to hide that fact. But today she was feeling
conspicuous; in fact, had been feeling followed from the moment she’d entered the
curving pathways of Hyde Park. Pulling her cloak tight about her to combat the chilly
temperature of the early Season in London, her entire focus was on her eagerness to
be with the Society of Ladies’ Companions and Chaperones, as they’d laughingly called
themselves. Who else could understand and commiserate better than others who had to
endure the whims of elderly ladies who could never be too warm, or the whims of selfish
young girls who believed the search for the proper husband was the worst dilemma a
woman could face? Sometimes one just had to laugh.
Faith had once known all about real dilemmas: dwindling money without dowry or the
handsome features that might make up for it. All of this she’d overcome on her own,
by means both scandalous and necessary. And though it was hard work helping a self-centered
young woman during her first London Season, Faith relished the challenge of guiding
the girl to maturity and happiness. Sometimes she felt like she was guiding the baron
and his wife, too. They had been social leaders in their quiet village, and were now
at sixes and sevens in Town.
All of these thoughts were on her mind when a boldly handsome man stepped into her
path and forced her to come up short in surprise. Though he was tall, it was not his
height that was overwhelming; it was his very presence, as if he knew he commanded
attention and used that to his advantage. He wore snug trousers, polished boots, and
an expensively tailored greatcoat that she suspected did not need padding in the shoulders.
To her surprise, he doffed his top hat and gave her a brief bow, which so shocked
her that she almost turned around to see if someone stood just behind. He had light
brown hair that could almost be called sandy, tousled artfully by the wind. His chiseled
face had harsh lines where a woman’s would have soft curves, a nose that commanded
attention, and lines about his eyes as if he smiled much of the time. Those eyes were
blue and alive with interest and amusement as they took all of her in.
She hugged her cloak tightly, and though she was far too curious, she attempted to
move around him. “Excuse me, my lord.” For he had to be a peer, of that she had no
He grinned. “Miss Faith Cooper, I believe?”
She drew herself up, forcing down a frisson of nerves. “We have not been introduced,
sir. This is most improper. Please step aside.”
“Then allow me to introduce myself. I am Rothford. Have you by chance heard of me?”
In that moment of charged expectation, she thought she sensed a faint feeling of uncertainty
emanating from him, but that had to be wrong. For he was Rothford—the
of Rothford—and such a man was at the top of the social ladder, of the House of Lords,
and even of life itself.
She sank into a curtsy, but could not resist glancing up beneath her lashes to stare
at him once again. Why was such a man introducing himself to a lady’s companion? “Your
Grace, surely you have me confused with someone else.”
“Yes, but . . . why would you know of me? I am newly arrived in London with my employer
and his family.”
She glanced around, certain that people must be staring. Strangely, the two of them
seemed to be almost alone on this path. And since he knew of her, this could not be
“I have made it my business to find you, Miss Cooper,” he said, still in that amiable
tone of voice.
He came no closer, so she did not feel she had to run, but could only stare at him
with growing confusion. “To find
Your Grace? But why?”
“I served in the Eighth Dragoon Guards with your brother.”
His voice gentled with regret and sorrow. Faith inhaled at the twin stabs of grief
and frustration that always battled within her. Mathias’s death more than two and
a half years ago had stripped away the one source of income she and her mother had
lived on. And then memories of her brother’s rare letters flooded back. He’d mentioned
the duke by name more than once.
“I see by your expression that I have the correct Miss Cooper,” the duke said kindly.
“I have spent the six months since my return from India looking for you. I knew the
northern shire Cooper was from, but not the parish, and it took some time for my man
to locate your village. But of course, you were already gone.”