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Authors: Fenella J Miller

The Duke's Deception

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THE DUKE’S DECEPTION

By

Fenella
J
Miller

 

All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any method, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise,
without the prior written permission of The Author -
Fenella
J. Miller

The Duke’s Deception Copyright
Fenella
J. Miller, 2012

This e-Book is a work of fiction. While
references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents,
and locations within are from the author’ s imagination and are not a
resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any
similarity is coincidental.

 
 

(Originally published
as A DISSEMBLER)

 
 

For Wendy
Soliman
a fellow Regency
writer and good friend.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter One

 

‘What the devil
do you want, Vincent, at this godforsaken time in the morning?’
Theodolphus
, Archibald, Frederick, John,
Rickham
, seventh Duke of Wister, known to his friends as Wister,
or just Theo, yawned hugely and propped himself up on one elbow to scowl at his
valet who had had the temerity to disturb him at dawn.

‘I apologise,
your grace, but the man was most insistent he speak to Sir Richard or Lady
Devenish.’

Theo shot out of
bed. ‘Good God! This is a disaster. Did the man give his name?’

Vincent held out
a brocade dressing gown liberally woven with gold and Theo slipped his arms in.
‘I have some papers he gave me here, sir. He said they would explain
everything.’

The bundle of
papers disappeared into Theo’s hand and he strode across to the candelabra. He
flicked open the first and scanned its contents. He perused the next three, his
eyebrows raised and his brow furrowed as he read.

‘Vincent, what
have you done with the young lady?’

‘I asked Mrs
Blake to conduct her and her
abigail
to the guest rooms in the east wing, your grace. I couldn’t leave her to sleep
on the doorstep. The young men I sent round to the stables, they can find
accommodation there.

‘Excellent man,
you did exactly the right thing. The young lady is it says here, one Marianne
Devenish, a great niece to Sir Richard and since her mother died she became his
ward.’

Vincent looked
grim. ‘That has fairly put the cat amongst the pigeons has it not, your grace.
What are you going to do?’

Theo flung the
papers aside angrily. ‘Quiet man, let me think, I cannot let the arrival of a
stray schoolgirl ruin my plans.’

He ran his hand
absently through his hair and chewed his bottom lip deep in thought. Vincent
left him to it. His valet was better employed warming up some water and
stropping the razor ready for his morning shave.

Theo paced the
room his long strides taking him across and back in easy rhythm. This was a
conundrum of the most unlikely kind. Spies and villains, traitors and ne’er do
wells he could deal with - but a girl, scarce out in society, that was quite a
different matter.

He stared out of
the window; the manicured lawns and elaborate old-fashioned knot gardens for
once invisible to him. ‘I have no choice, dammit! I cannot turn the child away,
but neither can I allow her to live here.’ He spoke aloud causing Vincent to
pop his head round the dressing room door.

‘Did you
call,
your grace?’

‘No, come in and
sit down. I need to talk to you.’

With the ease of
long acquaintance his manservant sat on a convenient chair and waited to be
used, as many times before, as a sounding board for the duke’s machinations.
Theo waited until he was settled.

‘Good man. It
says Marianne is a substantial heiress and has been pursued by several gazetted
fortune hunters and according to her maternal grandmother is in danger of
finding

herself
abducted by one of them. In desperation she has been sent here, supposedly out
of harm’s way and placed in the care of her great uncle Sir Richard Devenish
whose long lost nephew and heir I’m supposed to be.’

‘That’s as
maybe, you grace, but it’s a havey-cavey business arriving in the middle of the
night with no luggage. Why didn’t they come in a carriage like normal folk?’

‘According to
this letter there’s one bastard determined to have the girl, by force if
necessary and that’s why they to travelled incognito. It seems it’s my job to
keep her safe from him.’

‘Well, that
explains one mystery. But it doesn’t solve the problem of how you’re going to
take care of her. You can’t tell her you’re an impostor can you?’

‘No, I cannot. I
have a vital job to do down here and must remain Sir Theodore Devenish until
it’s completed.’ He paused, trying to make up his mind. ‘I have no choice,
Vincent. I must assume responsibility for the girl, become her guardian and
administer her trust funds as requested. At least until this work is done.’

Vincent frowned.
‘If she’s a flighty miss you may have to give up precious time to supervise
her. And she can’t stay here unless you can find an old tabby who can act as
chaperone.’

‘I had thought
to foist her off on the Griersons at Frating Hall. They have a parcel of
youngsters and will hardly notice one extra.’ His valet was about to protest.
‘I intend to offer them an extremely generous remuneration for accommodating
her. Lord Grierson has his dibs permanently out of tune. He will snap my hand
off in his eagerness to take my ward into his family.’

‘Shall I get
over to Frating Hall and inform Lord Grierson of your plans?’

‘I’ll write him
a note explaining how things are. You can wait for his reply.’

‘Very well, your grace.
Will you
be
wanting
a shave before I leave?’

‘I’m quite capable
of doing for myself.’ Theo grinned. ‘Don’t forget in private I’m not the
foppish Sir Theo unable to do his cravat without assistance.’

Vincent got to
his feet unabashed by the reprimand. ‘I believe, your grace, you always say
that in order to bamboozle anyone successfully the act must be kept up at all
times in case one is disturbed unexpectedly.’

‘I haven’t the
time to bandy words with you; I have a letter to write.’

 

Twenty minutes
later Theo headed downstairs. He was smooth cheeked and immaculate in his blue
superfine coat, his brass buttons glinting in the morning light and a snowy
forth of intricately tied cravat nestling under his chin. His top boots were so
shiny he could, if he had so wished, seen his face in them. He was ready to
greet the world. No one would have suspected he was anything other than a
fashionable young buck rusticating in the country.

He scowled as
the morning sun glinted on his buttons. He would be relieved when he could
dispense with such dandyism and return to his plainer garb. He sauntered down
the stairs and remembered to soften his footsteps and pause to admire himself
in the mirror placed conveniently above an inlaid mahogany side table upon
which a silver salver rested.

He glanced
through the pile of cards noting with dismay he had already received two
invitations to dine, one to attend a summer ball, plus a miscellaneous group
merely indicating the person had called.

He had only been
in residence a few days but word had spread like wildfire round the village and
surrounding area. The arrival of an unattached, personable, baronet of eight
and twenty who had a reasonable income and comfortable estate, brought out all
the husband seeking matrons with daughters of marriageable age.

He bent flicking
an imaginary speck of dust from his boots and pondered not for the first time
why he had allowed himself to be talked into this escapade. He was more used to
pursuing his treacherous quarries in France, not a sleepy Essex village.
Somewhere in the neighbourhood a traitor was sending and receiving vital
information which could prove disastrous to the war effort.

Even with the
British Navy in control of the high seas France could still spring a surprise
attack. The barracks at Colchester could be one of the sources but it seemed a local
family was involved as well. His job was to infiltrate the circle of landed
gentry and minor aristocracy in his persona as “Sir Theodore Devenish”. He was
a man about town, a proclaimed
whipster
and gambler
forced to take temporary refuge in his newly acquired country manor until his
next quarter’s funds arrived and he was flush in the pockets once more.

He strolled to
the library smiling kindly on the elderly butler and footman he passed. Once
there he rang the bell. He needed to speak to the housekeeper, there was
information she had that he wanted.

Blake curtsied
and folded her hands politely over her pristine apron, her plump face framed by
an equally crisp white cap. ‘You wished to see me, sir?’

‘Come in, Blake,
I’ll not keep you from your duties for long. So glad you could toddle along to
see me.’ He waved a languid hand indicating she should seat herself on the
wooden chair adjacent to the heavy desk behind which he
lolled,
a fatuous smile on his face.

‘Blake, the
young lady, Miss Devenish, she is my ward. It would appear I have inherited her
along with the estate from old Uncle Richard.’ The housekeeper nodded and
waited, no doubt unsure if she was expected to comment but not wishing to
presume.

‘Now, Blake,
tell me, is she Friday faced? If I am to squire her about it will be uncommon
shabby if she is not up to snuff, would it not?’

Blake’s mouth
pursed. ‘Well, sir, she is very like
yourself
. The
family resemblance is quite striking.’

Theo’s eyes
narrowed but he maintained his leisurely pose, legs outstretched,
one
resting on the other. ‘Like me you say?
What,
has she guinea gold curls and periwinkle blue eyes?’

‘Indeed she has,
sir. As pretty as a picture she is. But as to her form, that was hard to
distinguish under the thick cloak she was wearing. But she is above medium
height for she quite towered over me of that I’m quite sure.’

‘And her speech?
Pray do not tell me this paragon sounded
vulgar and untutored?’

‘Oh no, sir.
She was as well-spoken as
yourself
.
A proper lady if I may be so bold as to say so. It’s a strange thing to come
with no luggage but what they carried in the saddle packs.’


Pon
my word - do you say so? I understand that females need
a substantial wardrobe even

in
such a
restricted society as this.’ He swept his fingers elegantly through his curls
and closed his eyes, as if perplexed by the problem.

‘I have it. Lady
Grierson shall organize it for me. She will know exactly how to go about
things.’ He beamed at his housekeeper. ‘If I supply the blunt she can rig
herself and her eldest daughter out in style at the same time.’

‘Does the young
lady know she’s to reside elsewhere, sir?’

‘No, not yet.
I will inform her of the arrangements when I
return from my ride, if she has risen by then. See the few garments she has are
presentable. Inform the kitchen I will not be dining in tonight.’

Blake stood,
bobbed and departed obviously well satisfied with the exchange of news.

*

It was late
afternoon before Jane was summoned to the guest wing to attend her young
mistress.

‘How are you, Miss
Marianne? I’ve ordered bath water to be sent up immediately and there’s food
here for you.’

The accompanying
maidservant smiled and placed a laden tray on the side table under the window.
‘If you require something else, Miss Devenish, please send down to the kitchen.
Cook says she can find most anything.’

‘Thank you, I’m
sure what I have will do.’ The door which led to the dressing room closed
behind the maid.

‘Marianne
Devenish! How I love that name. Martha Marianne Devenish Frasier is no more.
From this moment on I shall always consider myself as Marianne. I prefer the
name to Martha anyway.’

‘I’ve pressed
your gown, miss, and laid it out ready,’ her
abigail
told her.

The sound of
clanking buckets heralded the arrival of the bath water. When Bentley Hall had
been constructed by the previous owner all modern conveniences had been
installed. A bathroom, its door situated beside the dressing room, meant only
the hot water had to be carried up the back stairs. The dirty water took itself
away.

‘I will eat
after I have bathed and dressed, Jane. Have you met my Great Uncle, Sir Richard
Devenish?’

‘No, miss, but
John has and he wishes to speak to you urgently, as soon as you are ready to
receive him.’

‘Excellent. Send
word to him to come up to my parlour. I do have a private sitting-room, I
hope?’

‘Yes, miss, it’s
through the far door. A very pretty, well-appointed room it is too.’

Marianne’s sole
garment was far short of what was usual for a well-bred and wealthy young lady.
But the old-fashioned cut with its low waist and full skirt did emphasise her
slim figure and the tailored bodice, although high necked, fitted snugly over
her abundant curves.

But the
material, a faded cotton damask of an indeterminable shade halfway between pink
and cerise, did nothing to enhance her appearance. Thoughtfully she fingered
the skirt determined this would be the last hideous gown she should be obliged
to wear. She was an heiress and intended to dress the part.

She scowled as
she recalled her past few years. Mama had been an invalid and not particularly
maternal when she was well and she had never known her papa. Mama had refused
to spend money on refurbishing her wardrobe. When her mother had finally passed
on, she too had been passed on to her grandmother who had even less interest in
fashion and enjoyment than her mother had.

She had swapped
one boring existence for another. Although in Bath she at least had the opportunity to walk
and ride without supervision and consequently had made several undesirable
acquaintances. A lovely heiress, however badly dressed, was an immediate target
for all the least reputable of Bath’s male population. It had been John who
drew Mrs Devenish’s attention to the impending ruin of her granddaughter. This
prompted the lady to dispatch her troublesome relation to the care of her only
male relative, not requiring Marianne to return anytime soon.

Jane appeared
from the bedchamber. ‘John’s on his way up, Miss Marianne.’

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