The Duchess and the Dragon

BOOK: The Duchess and the Dragon
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Copyright © 2008 by Jamie Carie Masopust
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
978-0-8054-4535-0
Published by B&H Publishing Group,
Nashville, Tennessee
Dewey Decimal Classification: F
Subject Heading: ROMANCES \ MYSTERY FICTION \ QUAKERS—FICTION
Scripture taken from The King James Version.
Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
This story is dedicated to my sister, Jennifer—who knew Serena’s strength better than I did. To our deep nights sitting on the deck, dreaming and talking out this story, and to your power (Him and you together) to remain strong and faithful and passionate in the face of hardship and opposition. You are my heroine . . . This one’s for you.
CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
To my editor, Karen Ball—who sweated with me over all the thee’s and thou’s, the wilts and the arts. I’d like to meet Drake someday too!
To the B&H sales guys and gals—whose home is the road most days, who took these books and ran with them, believing in them. I think of you often; I pray for you often. You are the soldiers on the front lines.
To the bookstore owners and their teams—who are a light and a hope to the communities where they serve. I am humbled to be a part of your ministry.
And to Julie Gwinn, my publicist, a woman who knows the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, who moves when He says move and stays when He says stay. You are a multifaceted jewel in His kingdom.
This is a team effort—getting out stories of God’s amazing love. I thank God for each of you.
May the side of good win . . .
Chapter One
NORTHUMBERLAND
Drake’s fist came down on the massive desk with bone crushing impact. Pain radiated up his arm and into his body, a body trained in the art of bland derision. A body broken now, unable to restrain the fury of this betrayal. He cursed, the sound a quiet hiss in the room. He hung his head, his straight, black hair a curtain over clenched eyes. “May he rot in—”
“Quite right.” Charles Blaine, friend and neighbor for as long as Drake could remember, threw himself back into the luxurious cushions of a chair. “Dastardly business, that.” He’d said this already. Twice. He repeated it for the third time, staring at the carpet, shaking his head.
Drake swung away from his friend, wishing to be alone, wishing for only the ears of these four walls that he might truly vent his mingled disbelief and outrage. Instead, he took a bracing breath and pulled himself together. He was giving his friends a start.
Control . . . control, man . . . control everything still within grasp.
His stomach trembled with the effort.
With a short crack of laughter, he swung back to face his guests, his lip curling, his tone edged in the scorn they all expected. “I should have guessed, I suppose. Stupid of me, really, not to have been prepared. Not to have countered the old man somehow.” His voice lowered as he looked down and away from them. “I suppose I never believed he really hated me so much as he let on.”
The other two men in the room exchanged glances, obviously at a loss. How could they have any answers for him? The facts spoke for themselves, glaringly real on the scattered pages that lay against the black gloss of the old duke’s ornate desk.
Albert Radcliff, the family barrister, mopped at his brow and blew his nose, which was forever running—but had been running with particular need in the strain of the last hour. By some odd twist of fate, Albert was visiting Alnwick Castle when the old duke, Ivor Weston, clutched his chest and collapsed onto the rug, gasping for air like a beached trout.
Drake, too, was home, which was stranger yet. As if all the stars had aligned and arranged the drama so that it might unfold exactly as Ivor wanted. It was fully imaginable that Ivor bargained with the devil for such a favor, some last request in exchange for witnessing a son’s destruction.
A favorite pastime of the devil’s to be sure.
Charles, though, must have had an angel nudging him. Drake’s boyhood friend and neighbor arrived full of excitement about his most recent purchase—a new stallion, a white Lipizzan of famed parentage to add to his stables. They’d been admiring the magnificent animal in the drive when they heard shouts for help from the butler. Drake wasn’t sure what he would have done had he not had his friend’s bracing support. He shuddered, imagining his hands around the solicitor’s throat . . . the new will Ivor insisted Albert enact thrown into the fire, curling black and smoking, disguised as ash.
No, it didn’t bear thinking of.
But Drake couldn’t help it, couldn’t escape the memory of his father laid out on the floor. The sound of the old man’s desperate, rasping command—“New will . . . in the safe!”—rang out in the room like a death knell.
He could only watch, his hand stretched out toward his father, while waves of shock rippled through his body. But Ivor was intent on only one thing. He lifted his head off the floor and grasped his solicitor’s hand in a vein-popping, eye-bulging frenzy. “It is what I want . . . nothing else will do. Find it, Albert.”
Drake moved into his father’s field of vision and knelt down beside him, reaching for his hand.
Ivor jerked away, placing the hand on his rasping chest, then finally turned toward Drake. Ivor stared at him—really looked into his eyes as he’d never done before. Drake recoiled as his father’s mask of indifference was stripped away by death’s honesty, exposing the truth of feverish eyes and compressed lips, revealing a long-awaited, gleeful vengeance.
The old duke even cackled in his excitement, a grating, harsh sound that was cut off with a gasp for air. He’d started to speak, then gave up and died—that leering smile lingering around his now frozen lips.
So sinister was the scene that both Drake and Albert backed away from the body as though it were black and stinking with the plague. They’d looked at one another for several shocked moments, then made for the safe.
And now they knew.
Each person in the room knew the depths of his father’s hatred for him. By the end of the month the whole of society would learn the shocking news that Drake Alexander Weston, the only child of the Duke of Northumberland, had mysteriously, inexplicably, been cut from the will.
Albert stood, his hands shaking as he restacked the papers. He looked up at Drake, strain deepening the creases around his mouth and eyes, his age-mottled hand lying flat on the restacked documents.
“A nasty piece of business if ever I saw one. It is not the will he had me draw up years ago, my . . . lord.” He choked on the title, throat working up and down under the loose skin of his neck, then coughed into a hastily pulled handkerchief. That he should now be calling Drake “your grace” instead of “my lord” was one of many mockeries yet in store for Drake.
Drake waved him off. “Never mind, Albert. I suppose I will have to get used it. I suppose I should be happy to have a title a’tall.” He said the words in a clear tone, but had to turn away from their staring faces, his stomach rolling. He fought the nausea threatening his throat.
Unsure of his way, he found himself walking to one of the many masterpieces displayed on a far wall. Van Dyck’s lush
Samson and Delilah
hung suspended like a scene come to life against the swirling mother-of-pearl panels of the walls. He stared at the raw beauty of the scene. Here was a man with strength, the kind of strength to bring down kingdoms. But Samson had his weakness, and Drake? Now he knew his. Tears welled up behind his eyes. He’d only wanted to please his father, to know that he was proud of the man Drake had become. But it wasn’t to be. Now, all he could see was a painting that would never belong to him. A father’s love that he would never have. Why? His mind struggled to grasp it. Why all the grooming and pretending? The years at Eton and then Cambridge, the best schools in England, the military career in His Majesty’s Royal Navy, the constant displeasure at any show of emotion other than self-satisfaction for some material gain. All the torment he’d gone through that made him into the man he now was. He’d thought it was to make him into a duke. He’d thought it was to mold him into a man like his father.
He’d thought wrong.
Drake paced across the rich Savonnerie rug, woven for this very room and placed to complement the gleaming mosaic flooring. His father spent much of his life in this room, overseeing its most minute detail—all part of the grand scheme to reflect the power and honor of the Seat of Northumberland. Drake’s gaze swept the room, trying to grasp some hidden meaning.
He remembered, as a boy, when he’d really seen it for the first time. The richness of color and texture could be overwhelming to someone unused to such luxury. He’d seen the awe on their guests’ faces many times, and he’d always taken pride in the fact that someday . . . someday it would be him greeting that awed visitor; it would be his room that brought gasps of wonder from men and women who could but dream of such wealth.
A trickle of sweat ran down his back as he realized he was gasping for air. This place . . . it was breathtaking. Was there any place on earth more perfect? Alnwick Castle. It was his promised inheritance.
BOOK: The Duchess and the Dragon
10.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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