Authors: Sarah M. Eden
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency
Cover image: Old scottish manor © KjellBrynildsen, courtesy iStockphoto.com. Cover photography by McKenzie Deakins, photographybymckenzie.com.
Cover design copyright © 2011 by Covenant Communications, Inc.
Published by Covenant Communications, Inc.
American Fork, Utah
Copyright © 2011 by Sarah M. Eden
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any format or in any medium without the written permission of the publisher, Covenant Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 416, American Fork, UT 84003. This work is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The views expressed within this work are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect
the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Covenant Communications, Inc., or any other entity.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are either products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real, or are used fictitiously.
First Printing: September 2011
To Barbara, who taught me to cheat at solitaire
And Larry, who took me for my one-and-only “Coney Island”
You lived far away but were always close
With love and gratitude
Late August 1805
is the future Duke of Kielder?” Adam Boyce, the current Duke of Kielder, watched the retreating conveyance of a cousin not nearly distant enough for his tastes.
” his man of business, Mr. Josiah Jones, replied.
“The man’s an idiot,” Adam said.
“Yes, Your Grace.” Jones’s agreement came immediately, the way everyone’s did.
“I assume there is no way for me to have him disinherited.”
“None, Your Grace,” Jones said. Though a man of few words much of the time, Jones grew unbearably talkative when matters of law arose. “The succession is quite specific. The letters patent allow the title to pass to a male heir through a female line when no further heirs exist on a male line, as is the case now.”
“Well, then, before I die I intend to burn Falstone Castle to the ground,” Adam declared. “And, with any luck, Falstone Forest will go up in flames along with it, and Mr. Gordon Hewitt, he of the blasted female line, will inherit precisely what he is capable of managing: a pile of ashes.”
Adam noticed Jones pale. The man didn’t doubt he would make good on his threat. He would, too. Adam had no intention of handing over the castle and lands that had been in the Boyce family for well over six hundred years to a sniveling slug like Gordon Hewitt, no matter what his feeble claim on some distant line of Boyces. It seemed, however, that he had no choice.
“And I plan to travel to Town and wager half a million pounds on the turn of a card,” Adam further added. “Several times. Hewitt will be bankrupted.”
“Best not do so until you are closer to the end of your own existence,” Jones suggested.
Adam narrowed his eyes in disapproval.
“Not that I mean to advise you, Your Grace,” Jones hastily amended.
Adam turned his gaze from the quickly disappearing carriage to the incomparable view from the first-floor windows of Falstone Castle. A forest, unsurpassed in its breathtaking beauty, stretched out before him. Adam’s ancestors had planted the woods, forever changing what had once been a vast track of moorland, and he, their progeny, perpetuated the effort. Just over the western rise sat a crystal-clear lake. The lane leading away from Falstone Castle disappeared quickly among the trees, leaving behind the feeling of peaceful isolation. His family had lived in this precise location for more than twenty generations.
He, himself, was the fifteenth Duke of Kielder, seventeenth Earl of Falstone. Henry, the third Earl of Falstone, had found favor with King Edward III after fighting rather valiantly in the Hundred Years’ War and was elevated to Marquess of Kielder as a result. Less than a decade later, he was made Duke of Kielder. The Boyce line had gone unbroken since that time some 450 years earlier.
“Boil and blast!” Adam slammed his fist on the stone wall beside the window, rattling the ancient stained glass and making Jones jump beside him. “I would sooner run Hewitt through than leave a single inch of Falstone land to him.”
“I am not sure murder is the best solution to your difficulties, Your Grace.”
“I could make it look like an accident.” Adam moved away from the window and walked in long, quick strides down the corridor, past tapestries and suits of armor he’d seen his entire life. He’d have known if anything in Falstone Castle were moved as little as an inch—so familiar was it to him.
“Next in line would be George Hewitt.” Jones had obviously followed him. “Mr. Hewitt’s younger brother.”
“Probably not much of an improvement,” Adam grumbled as he strode to his book room, a sanctuary even Jones was not always permitted to breach. Adam threw the door open and made his way directly to his desk. Jones remained at the door. “Quit hovering and come inside,” Adam snapped impatiently.
Jones tiptoed inside and sat gingerly on the edge of the chair on the opposite side of Adam’s large-scaled desk.
“How many backup heirs have the Hewitts provided?” Adam asked.
“Four sons, Your Grace.” Jones looked understandably miserable, quite accurately anticipating Adam’s displeasure with the news. “Gordon, who just left. George, who is next.”
“And also an idiot, no doubt,” Adam added under his breath.
“Gary is the third. Lastly is Gerald.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt, apparently, were not aware of the existence of any letter other than G,” Adam observed dryly. “Grasp of the alphabet ought to be a prerequisite to becoming a duke.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Mr. Hewitt made little pretense of calculating the value of everything in sight.” Adam clenched his fist at the memory. “I wonder how valuable he determined my dueling pistols to be.”
“Did he see your dueling pistols, Your Grace?” Jones sounded nervous.
“Hard to miss them.”
“You didn’t happen to be pointing one or both of them at him, did you?” Jones had grown pale. He had reason to worry, Adam silently acknowledged with a well-hidden smile. Adam had been known to pull his pistols without warning. It added nicely to the fear he’d taken great pains to engender in those for whom he did not care.
“Of course not,” Adam said. “I was simply cleaning them in his presence. Several times a day for the entire week he was here.”
“No wonder he ran off.”
a coward,” Adam amended.
“Not what one would wish for in an heir,” Jones said.
“So what am I to do?”
“I would not presume to advise you, Your Grace.”
“Presume,” Adam ordered. “Or I shall not presume to pay your wages.”
Jones cleared his throat. “There, really, is only one way to prevent Mr. Hewitt from inheriting the title and lands.”
“Yes, but I cannot possibly live forever, Jones,” Adam drawled. “I am surprised you believe the rumors about my having sold my soul to the devil.”
“I believe the rumors are that you
the devil.” Jones produced a rare smile.
Adam ignored the moment of wit. “I suppose I will have to torch the old pile of stones, after all.”
“There is another option, Your Grace.”
“Spit it out. I haven’t the patience to listen to you blather.”
“No, Your Grace. I mean, yes, Your Grace. That is—”
Adam’s beanpole of a solicitor cleared his throat nervously. “You could marry, Your Grace,” Jones said on a strangled whisper.
“Have you lost your blasted, bloody mind!”
Jones made some kind of whimpering noise. If the man weren’t a genius with numbers and matters of law, Adam would have dismissed him ten years earlier. He was tempted to at that moment.
“What makes you think I would ever—
—entertain the idea of a wife?”
“For an heir, Your Grace,” Jones choked out. “To cut Mr. Hewitt out of the succession.”
“It seems you are as much of an idiot as Mr. Hewitt. What lady would want to tie herself to me?”
“It could mean a great deal of money for her family,” Jones suggested, his tone tentative.
“Buy her, you mean?” Adam’s chillingly calm voice set Jones to trembling once more.
A muffled “mm-hmm” sounded from Jones’s throat.
“Quit shaking,” Adam snapped. “I’m not going to shoot you this time.”
“I am relieved to hear that.” But not, apparently, relieved enough to prevent the quaver in his voice.
“So,” Adam said, a hint of sarcasm in his otherwise neutral tone, “I am to offer some impoverished gentleman a small fortune in exchange for his obviously desperate daughter. How long would it take, Jones, do you think, for her to change her mind? Within an hour of arriving, or is thirty minutes a better guess?”
Jones’s eyes crept to the right side of Adam’s face, though he quickly pulled them back. The movement was not lost on Adam. He knew precisely what Jones was seeing—he’d seen it often enough himself . . . seen the repulsion on faces for years.
Adam had been born with a stub of flesh where his right ear ought to have been. A long line of sap-skulled surgeons had, in a vain attempt to locate the ear they were convinced was somehow just beneath the surface, spent most of his early years butchering him until he was left scarred from the place his ear—which was never located—ought to have been, out across his cheekbone, with smaller scars running up along his temple and out along his jaw.
The stub of an ear was long since gone, but he wasn’t much improved in looks. Quite the opposite, in fact. His mother had watched him pityingly for the first six years of his life, whimpering over her “poor boy.” Eventually she’d moved to Town. Adam only ever saw her when he wandered down to take his seat in Lords—something he did only out of a sense of duty, not for the pleasure of the company. The
he had discovered was not much different from Harrow, very little toleration for deformities.
No one mentioned the scarring any longer. Adam had seen to that. He’d gained a reputation that bred fear into the chickenhearted, which he decided was just about every person on the face of the earth. He was generally left alone, but he was never ignored.
Not once had even the most ambitious of parents attempted to convince him to so much as dance with their daughters.
“No one is that desperate,” Adam answered his own question, his footsteps echoing through the room as he walked to the glass-inlaid doors installed by his grandfather, cut directly into the outer wall of the castle. The door overlooked the back gardens, a formal hedge garden which would be the envy of all England if Adam ever permitted tours. Tucked up as near to Scotland as one could get without actually leaving Britain, Falstone Castle was not precisely a destination for travelers.
“If I knew of a family of good lineage but very limited means with more children than could possibly be provided for,” Jones said, his voice apprehensive, “and possessing a daughter of marriageable age, would you consider the possibility?”
“Blast your eyes, Jones!” Adam spun around to face the quivering mass of jelly. “If you have had the audacity to act without my permission—”
“No, Your Grace! Of course not, Your Grace!” Jones’s face turned as white as Irish linen. “I merely thought—”
“I do not pay you to think.”
“No, Your Grace!”
“Have you been so bacon-brained as to contact this family?”
“Not yet, Your Grace.”
“Yet?” Adam thundered. “Had you planned to?”
“Only if you wished me to,” Jones insisted, beads of perspiration appearing on his forehead.
“I think you had better take some air, Jones,” Adam said, narrowing his eyes. “Take a refreshing walk.”
“Refreshing . . . ?”
“My pistols are kept in this room, Jones. At the moment I am sorely tempted to do far more than clean them.”
He could hear Jones swallow from across the room. “A walk would be most refreshing.” Jones slid out of his chair and slipped behind it, walking backward toward the door.
“A long walk, Jones.
“Yes, Your Grace.” With that, Jones fled.
“Coward,” Adam mumbled under his breath. At least he wasn’t as confoundedly stupid as Gordon Hewitt.
The thought of his not-distant-enough relative had Adam seething once more. He would not leave Falstone to that lack-brains. The idea was nauseating.
Adam felt himself tense at the very thought. She, whoever this impoverished young lady with the horde of siblings was, would run—on foot, if necessary—all the way back to her run-down hovel of a home rather than tie herself to him. One look at the tangled remains of his face and she would get that look of revulsion on her face, perhaps even faint. Others had.
He wouldn’t subject himself to that. Not even for an heir.
His mind was quite suddenly assaulted by the picture of Gordon Hewitt selling the Falstone tapestries to an oily London pawnbroker, the Falstone Forest, the work of generations of his family, leveled, the lake drained. He would put none of it past Mr. Hewitt.
Adam couldn’t prevent Mr. Hewitt from inheriting unless he were to provide an heir apparent to usurp the heir presumptive. And to do that, he would have to marry.
Adam muttered an impressive string of curses, though they were wasted with no one near enough to overhear and feel appropriately apprehensive.
She would run. He would offer, she would come to Falstone, then she would flee.
Adam amended with a sudden dawning of an idea,
she had the chance.
He merely had to find someone desperate enough to not back down.
“Jones!” Adam roared, knowing someone in the house would find the man quickly.
he repeated to himself.
On the shelf. Poor. Probably homely.
In fact, it would be best if she were rather plain. Adam severely disliked beautiful people.
He’d have his heir. Whoever he married would have a title. Her family would have their fortune. And Gordon Hewitt, the cowardly, idiotic slug, would never have a chance to touch a single tapestry or tree on Falstone land.