Debating with the Duke (Second Sons of London Book 2)
A serious duke who has been shattered by war. An opinionated beauty with no interest in marriage. A kiss that should be wrong but is more than right . . .
Major Everett Wayland is stunned when his brother is murdered, making Ev the Duke of Camden. The shy duke meets a matchmaking beauty of the ton who, while unsuited to be his duchess, promises to help Ev find an appropriate woman to become his wife.
Lady Adalyn Porter is not easily intimidated and is a leader in Polite Society, occasionally matching couples together. Her cousin, Tessa, has made a love match and has a new baby, causing Adalyn to rethink her stance on marriage.
When she agrees to find a stodgy duke a bride who is dignified and unapproachable, Adalyn has no idea what she’s in for—especially after the dull duke kisses her—and she finds he’s not quite what he seems.
Will Ev convince Addie that she is everything he wants—and didn’t know he needed?
Find the answer in bestselling author Alexa Aston’s Debating with the Duke, the second book in Second Sons of London.
Each book in Second Sons of London is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1: Educated by the Earl
Book #2: Debating with the Duke
Book #3: Empowered by the Earl
Book #4: Made for the Marquess
Book #5: Dubious about the Duke
Book #6: Valued by the Viscount
Book #7: Meant for the Marquess
Release date: April 6, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Debating with the Duke (Second Sons of London Book 2)
Vitoria, Spain—June 1813
Everett joined his friends just outside Wellington’s tent, which served as the command post for every campaign.
“About time you got here,” Owen said, punching him in the arm as Percy and Win nodded in recognition.
Other officers milled about, speaking in hushed tones as the group awaited entrance. It was just after one o’clock in the morning and Everett thought they would be given their orders to engage at dawn’s light.
“Today could be the day,” Win said, echoing Everett’s own thoughts. “The beginning of the end for the French.”
“We’ve certain slogged through enough of Portugal and Spain,” Percy noted. “I would love to finish off the enemy this day so we could head toward the Little Corporal.”
All four men had been with Wellington since they had been commissioned into His Majesty’s army six years ago. Missing from their group was their longtime friend, Major Spencer Haddock, who had left the military upon the death of his father last autumn. Spencer was now the Earl of Middlefield, safely ensconced in England. The last letter he had sent to their group had been several months ago. At least the last letter that had reached them. Correspondence arriving during wartime to a soldier, even an officer, was unreliable at best.
“Did you hear Jourdan had a fever all yesterday? The French troops remained idle all day,” said Owen. “I heard it from a scout who just returned and is with Wellington now.”
“I heard some rumors, as well,” Percy shared. “That a convoy left Vitoria last night but a slew of siege artillery had to be left behind.”
“Why?” asked Win.
Percy grinned. “Because it seems the French couldn’t find enough draft horses to pull their cannons.”
Everett knew Bonaparte had recalled a huge number of French soldiers to France after his failed invasion of Russia, giving the British and their allies a leg up in Portugal and now Spain. He wondered if that had included animals, as well.
Suddenly, men began moving forward and he fell in line, accompanying his friends inside Wellington’s tent.
Over the next half-hour, their commander laid out his battle plans. The ambitious attack would originate from four directions, with the British having fifty-seven thousand soldiers fighting alongside sixteen thousand Portuguese and eight thousand Spaniards. The action would center on the Zadorra River, running from the east to the west. The hairpin turn that changed the course of the river to the southwest would become instrumental during the attack.
He learned that his regiment, along with those of his friends, would be part of General Rowland Hill’s right column, a force that would push the French on the south side of the river. While they engaged with the Hill’s troops, Wellington’s right center column would cross from the north bank of the Zadorra near the hairpin, which would put them directly behind the French troops’ right flank. That meant three of the columns—those from the south, north, and west—would attack the French while the remaining column would seemingly appear from nowhere at its rear.
The plan was bold and yet strategic, typical of Wellington. As Everett left with his friends, they discussed it as they returned to their own men.
Before they parted, Owen brought the group to a halt. He thrust out a hand and the others covered it with theirs.
“To second sons,” Owen said and the others echoed his words.
Peeling off in different directions, Everett returned to his men, thinking of how second sons in ton families almost always went into the army. A few entered the navy but it was a military way of life for them. All his close friends were the second born sons in their families. Only Spencer had left the military life behind, thanks to the death of his older brother, the heir apparent. At least his old friend was safe back in London. Everett chuckled, thinking that the most dangerous things Spencer now navigated were ambitious mamas seeking a titled gentleman for the daughters they paraded about on the Marriage Mart.
He awakened a few men, who did their job and roused the others. Every soldier knew being roused in the middle of the night meant imminent battle lay ahead. These were seasoned veterans who had fought at Salamanca and Burgos with Everett. He trusted them and they did the same, knowing he would lead them into battle with grit and determination.
It was a twenty mile march by the time they reached their fighting position and Everett worried about the men, having little sleep and already tired. Still, they were His Majesty’s army of redcoats, the best trained forces in the world. He knew today they would taste victory.
The fighting proved fierce as he shouted several times for his men to regroup and push forward. He moved up a slight hill and as he topped it, he came face to face with the enemy. A French bastard, taken by surprise, jabbed Everett in the shoulder with his bayonet. A hot pain seared through him as he brought his sword full force, arcing high overhead, striking his enemy at where the man’s neck joined his shoulder.
Surprise filled his attacker’s face, the blade embedding deep. The Frenchman tried to turn but it only forced the sword further into him, almost severing his head.
Everett lifted a booted foot and kicked the man hard in the chest. As he fell to the ground, his rifle went with him, effectively removing it from Everett’s shoulder.
He continued to fight, feeling the blood gush from the wound. When a brief break came, he bent, dizziness overwhelming him a moment. He took a deep breath and gripped the shirt of a fallen soldier, pulling hard. It ripped away and he folded it several times, stuffing the remnant inside his own shirt, hoping to stanch the bleeding.
He was a bit shaky on his feet, nevertheless he continued to fight. To shout commands. To give encouragement and praise.
Then, hours later, it was over. The French had been defeated, thanks to squabbling among their officers and unanswered calls for help to reinforce those in precarious positions. Unfortunately, many of the enemy soldiers escaped, falling back to the Zuazo ridge, where they had stockpiled large amounts of field artillery. The place only fell to defeat when Gazan and d’Erlon couldn’t agree on a united front and soldiers under both French commanders fled the battlefield, leaving cannons behind. The road became jammed with abandoned wagons, allowing too many of the enemy to make their escape. Even if they had tried to pursue, the allied forces were exhausted from the long march in the early morning and the battle itself.
Everett’s left shoulder ached fiercely now and he knew he needed to have it cleaned and stitched if he was going to have any chance at survival. He shouted to gather his men and became utterly disillusioned at what he witnessed. British soldiers everywhere ignored their commanding officers, turning away to plunder the many French wagons which had been left behind. Everett’s voice grew hoarse trying to get his men to return to their duty. He saw he wasn’t the only officer confronted with the impossible situation.
Owen found him. “You look like a ghost, Ev. You’ve lost a lot of blood. I’ll take you back.”
“No, I must get—”
“There’s no getting these fools to do anything,” Owen said, his disgust obvious. “We have lost control of the situation. Our objective has been met. The French are in retreat. Now, we get you to a doctor.”
He staggered a moment, swaying as if blown by the wind. Owen caught him, slipping one arm about Everett’s waist. They passed dozens of looting soldiers before Owen stopped and thrust him onto the back of a horse. Swinging up behind Everett, Owen dug his heels into the mount and took off.
They reached the medical tents and being an officer helped put Everett near the front of the line. Owen stayed with him as the army physician cut away Everett’s uniform coat and pulled the crumpled shirt off, tossing it to the ground.
“A nasty wound, Major,” the doctor said, cleaning it with water so he could examine it better.
“He needs stitches. Now,” Owen ordered.
“Patience, Major. I will tend to your friend.”
“Use wine,” his friend cautioned. “Brandy if you have it.”
For some reason, the British had learned on the battlefield that if wounds were rinsed with spirits, the likelihood of infection lessened.
The doctor did as Owen requested and, soon, the threaded needle went in and out of Everett’s shoulder, knitting the wounded skin together. He gritted his teeth as Owen tried to distract him, talking of the things they would do when the war was over and they returned to Kent. But Everett knew they would never really return. The army was their life now. Bonaparte would eventually be defeated—and then they would be off to somewhere else in the world. North America. India. The Far East.
Once the wound was sewn closed and bandaged, he thanked the doctor and Owen, who had been joined by Win, led Everett back to his tent.
“Has anyone seen Percy?” he asked.
They all shook their heads, no one voicing their fears that one of them might have fallen in today’s action.
Reaching his tent, he collapsed on top of the cot.
“I’ll stay with Ev,” Win volunteered. “You might need something. Someone should be here with you.”
“I’ll go look for Percy,” Owen said, determination filling his dark brown eyes.
Owen left and Win pulled Everett’s boots off and swung his legs onto the cot. He closed his eyes, the sounds of battle still ringing in his ears. The cannons firing. The cries for help.
“Too many died today,” he said quietly, looking over at his friend.
Win had taken a seat on the next cot. “Too many from both sides,” he agreed. “But not Percy. Never Percy,” he said fiercely.
Win and Percy were cousins and best friends since childhood. If Percy had died in action, a part of Win would die, as well.
“Why did the men break ranks like that?” he asked after a long silence.
“The temptation of all those goods was too great,” Win replied. “Regular soldiers aren’t like us, Ev. They come from hard backgrounds. Their pay is a fraction of ours—and you know ours is a pittance. They saw what they had never had and they wanted it. Felt as if they deserved it.”
Everett shook his head. “Wellington will be furious. Discipline is foremost with him. To have the majority of his soldiers break ranks as they did, completely ignoring their commanding officers while the French retreated, won’t be easily forgotten. Or forgiven.”
“Wellington is hard on himself and harder on his officers. This will be unthinkable,” Win said. “Let us hope that today’s battle at Vitorio is the proverbial straw that has broken the backs of the French here in Spain.”
Everett fell into a troubled sleep, dreaming of images of war. He awoke in a cold sweat.
Win came toward him, placing his palm on Everett’s brow.
“Warm but not the heat of fever. That’s a good sign.”
“Tell that to my aching shoulder,” he joked, relieved that no fever had set in. His shoulder was extremely tender but his gut told him he would recover. Already, he felt stronger and knew once he ate and got a bit more rest, he would recover fully.
His friend removed a flask and handed it over. “Drink,” he advised. “I wanted you to do so earlier but you fell asleep.”
Sipping from the flask, Everett felt the fire of brandy scorch his throat, burning with heat as it moved to his belly.
“More,” Win urged. “Wellington won’t be moving any troops for a few days at least.”
“Have you heard about casualties?” he asked, glancing toward the tent flap, which was pushed open to help catch a breeze. He saw night would soon fall.
“Bad. Over five thousand is the estimate.”
Everett winced at the number and then asked, “Have you heard any other news?”
Win nodded. “Percy is back.”
Relief swept through him. “That is good news.”
“And it looks as if today’s battle may be the final blow. There will be a few other cities that we will need to take. San Sebastián. Pamplona. But once that is accomplished, we will most likely move toward France.”
“So today marks the beginning of the end,” he noted. “At least, if we can get our men back under control.”
Percy and Owen entered the tent. Both men immediately broke out into smiles at seeing Everett awake and talking. They took a seat on the cot next to him and each shared what they had heard.
Then Owen glanced over and retrieved a letter sitting on the ground beside Everett’s trunk.
“This has your name on it,” he said, passing it to Everett.
When an officer wasn’t in his tent as mail was being delivered, it was usually placed atop his cot. The soldier leaving it apparently hadn’t done so. It was good thing Owen had spotted it or the letter might have been swept aside and lost.
He gazed at the writing, expecting to see Spencer’s neat, precise hand. Instead, he didn’t recognize the handwriting.
“Who is it from?” Percy asked. “Spence?”
“No.” He frowned. “The hand is unfamiliar.”
“Open it, Ev,” Win urged. “We need something to talk about besides the battle.”
Flipping it over, he broke the wax seal and unfolded the single page. It contained only a few lines and was signed by a Mr. Scofield. The name rang a bell but he couldn’t place it. He raised his eyes to the top, noting the date was over five weeks ago.
Dear Major Wayland –
I will be brief. You are the new Duke of Camden.
You brother suffered grievous injury and died from his wound. Since he had not yet wed, he had no legitimate heir.
Please sell your commission as soon as possible and return to England. You have a myriad of responsibilities to assume. Come to my offices so I might apprise you of the situation.
Mr. M. Scofield
Stunned, Everett handed the letter to Owen, who read it aloud to the others. Silence filled the tent.
Then Percy spoke. “You will finally leave this hellish life, Ev. Or should I say Your Grace?
He shook his head, no words coming. “I never expected this,” he said, dazed. “It . . . can’t be right. Mervyn . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Mervyn was a fool. Who knows what trouble he got himself into?” Owen asked. He placed a hand on Everett’s shoulder. “I’m certain Lawford was with him. If this Scofield won’t give you the entire story, go and demand it from my brother.”
He and Owen had grown up on neighboring estates and had been friends since their earliest memories. Their older brothers, heirs apparent to the titles, were also close friends. You never saw one without the other.
“You’re right. Perhaps this Mr. Scofield was aiming to be diplomatic by committing none of Mervyn’s sins to paper. If he refuses to give me the truth, I’ll make certain Lawford divulges the circumstances.”
“You better go see General Hill now,” Percy urged. “It’s late but you cannot tarry. You’re a duke now. You are needed at home.”
Everett looked at his friends, his throat thick with emotion. Once Hill had been informed, everything would unfold quickly.
“This might be the last time we are together,” he said.
Thrusting out his hand, the others covered it. “To the Second Sons of London.”
His friends repeated the phrase.
Win helped him to rise. Though a bit unsteady on his feet, he insisted on making his way to General Hill’s tent on his own. As he arrived, he realized that he was the second member of their close-knit group of second sons to leave—and assume the duties and title of a firstborn son.
Stoneridge, Kent—August 1813
Everett climbed from the farmer’s cart and thanked him.
“No, Major,” said the farmer, “I must thank you for your service to king and country. It’s fine men such as you that keep our hopes alive and keep our country from falling under the hands of Bonaparte and the French.”
The farmer gazed at him questioningly. “Are you sure I can’t take you the rest of the way?”
He shook his head. “No, I think I will enjoy stretching my legs. Thank you again for your kindness in taking me this far.”
Everett gave a wave and the farmer clucked his tongue, the cart horse starting up again. He watched the cart roll away for a moment and then turned to start up the drive to Spence’s house.
England was in all its glory at this time of year. The lane leading up to Stoneridge was lined with full, mature trees and Everett could see the main house in the distance. He wondered what Spencer would think with Everett turning up unannounced this way. He had missed his friend, one he had made on their first day of school almost twenty years ago. Along with Owen, the three of them had been a tightknit brotherhood during those school years. They had added to that brotherhood at Cambridge when they met Percy and Win. Everett wasn’t bothered by leaving the war behind but he did hate walking away from his men and his other three friends. At least he would now be back with Spence for company.
His old friend had settled in at Stoneridge. Hopefully, he would be able to help Everett understand more about his responsibilities as a peer. He had still been a bit muddleheaded when he reached England and met with Mr. Scofield. Everett knew he should have gone directly to his country seat at Cliffside but he was terrified to do so.
He had no idea how to be a duke.
Since Spencer was now the Earl of Middlefield and had held the title for almost a year, Everett hoped his friend would be able to show him the ropes. His head still spun at the number of properties he held and the vast amount of wealth that accompanied them. Mr. Scofield had told him there were only a handful of dukes in all of England—and that Everett was among the wealthiest of that select group of peers. He wanted to do right by his people on his many estates.
He also knew he must provide an heir.
He vowed to himself once that heir did arrive that he would teach the boy everything he needed to know to be a good duke.
The idea of marriage, however, terrified him. He was not simply reserved, as Spence and Percy. Everett was incredibly shy. Owen had been the one who had drawn him out from himself but Everett still felt uncomfortable around people, especially in a social situation.
It struck him as he walked briskly toward the house that Spence might not even be in residence. If his friend had ideas of fathering an heir of his own, he most likely would have attended the London Season. All Everett knew was that it started immediately after Easter but he had no clue as to when it ended. Spence might still be in London. He should have thought of that before he left town and came directly to Stoneridge.
He slowed his pace, uncertainty filling him. If Spence wasn’t here, he supposed his friendship would be enough to have the butler grant him a night’s respite. Hopefully, the stablemaster might even lend him a horse in order for him to travel to Cliffside, his country seat fifteen miles away.
Anxiety filled him as he approached the front door and knocked. It was answered by a butler who looked at Everett’s uniform and smiled.
“Welcome, Major,” the butler greeted. “I am Callender. Might you be a friend of Lord Middlefield’s?”
Everett nodded. “I am, Callender. Is Lord Middlefield at home or is he still in London for the Season?”
“His lordship is at Stoneridge and I am certain he will be pleased to see you, Major. Shall I take you to him?”
“I would like that very much, Callender.”
“Follow me, Sir,” the butler said, leading him to a side parlor. “If you will wait a few minutes, Major, I will tell Lord Middlefield you are here. Might I give him your name?”
Everett said, “Please tell him the Duke of Camden is here to see him.”
Callender’s brows rose a good inch. “Of course, Your Grace. Please excuse me.”
The butler vanished and Everett paced about the small room, wondering if he should have used his title. It was the first time he had done so. He knew servants always announced a visitor by his or her title and name. He had resigned his commission so, strictly speaking, he was no longer Major Wayland. If he was going to be the duke he wanted to be, he must start thinking of himself as one.
Then he realized that Spence would think it was Mervyn who had come to call upon him. Unless Spence had heard of Mervyn’s ghastly murder. Either way, Everett was looking forward to seeing the look on his friend’s face.
The butler returned and said, “Lord Middlefield will see you now, Your Grace. Please come with me.”
Instead of leading Everett up the stairs, the butler went down a corridor and entered a room which looked to be Spence’s study. Callender went to the French doors and said, “His lordship is taking tea outside, Your Grace. I will bring another cup.”
Everett moved toward the door and the butler opened it for him. He grinned, eager to see how Spence reacted, and stepped through the doors.
As expected, his friend’s face was wary to start. Then he realized it wasn’t Mervyn at all. Spence leaped to his feet, closing the short distance between them, throwing his arms about Everett.
“Ev!” Spence exclaimed, slapping him on the back and then looking into Everett’s eyes. “It really is you, isn’t it?”
Spence hugged him tightly again. It was then Everett saw the woman sitting at the table. She had golden hair and was a true beauty. Spence must have wed without his friend’s knowing.
Spence pulled away and said, “You must meet Tessa.” He turned as Lady Middlefield rose and smiled warmly.
“It is wonderful to meet you, Your Grace,” she said.
He merely looked at her blankly.
“This would be the part where you take my hand and tell me that you, too, are happy to make my acquaintance,” she said teasingly.
Everett shook his head and reached for her hand. Raising it to his lips, he kissed it and lowered it again, releasing it.
“Forgive my ill manners, Lady Middlefield,” he apologized. “I had no idea my old friend had married.”
Spence laughed heartily. “Well, I wrote you and the boys. I suppose that letter did not reach you before you left the Continent. Just like the letter telling me you were now the Duke of Camden somehow went missing.”
Before he could reply, Lady Middlefield said, “Come, Your Grace. Have a seat. Would you care to join us for tea?”
Callender appeared at that moment with a cup and saucer. “I thought His Grace might wish to partake in tea.”
“Thank you, Callender,” the countess said. “That was most thoughtful.”
“Come and sit,” Spence urged and the three sat as Lady Middlefield poured out and asked Everett how he took his tea.
“I haven’t had tea in so long, I will take it any way you give it to me, my lady.”
She smiled at him. “You are back in England, Your Grace. It is time to spoil yourself a little bit,” and she added two lumps of sugar and a generous splash of cream, handing the saucer to him.
Then she added, “I feel as if I know you because Spencer has spoken of you and his other friends often,” she confided.
“You need to tell us everything, Ev,” Spencer said. “What happened to the despicable Mervyn that made you Camden?”
“How long have you been at Stoneridge?” he asked. “And how long have you been wed?”
Spence said, “Tessa and I met before the Season began. I will tell you for me, it was love at first sight.”
Everett contained his surprise. To hear his friend had wed—much less making a love match—shocked him.
His friend continued. “We wed shortly after the Season was underway. In April. Because neither of us is much for town life, we decided to forgo the Season and a honeymoon and come straight to Stoneridge. We have been here since May.”
Spence reached for his wife’s hand and laced his fingers through hers. The gesture was intimate and loving. It told Everett all he needed to know.
He said, “You are happy then.”
“Very,” the couple answered in unison, laughing.
“But tell us about you,” Spence urged. “And Mervyn.”
“Since you have been gone from London, you would not have heard the news,” he began. “My brother was murdered. His throat slashed by a footpad.”
Lady Middlefield shuddered. “What an awful way to die.”
“Mervyn frequented the stews,” he explained. “His solicitor, Mr. Scofield, gave me a little background as to what my brother had been up to in the years I have been gone from England.”
“When did this occur?” Spencer asked. “And was Owen’s brother with yours? I cannot recall his name.”
Everett said, “Mid-May. Mr. Scofield wrote to me but Wellington’s army was on the march and it took until after the Battle at Vitoria for the missive to catch up to me,” he explained. “Once informed of Mervyn’s death, I knew I had to sell out and return home. As for Lawford, Owen’s brother? You’re right. He was with Mervyn that night. They always were inseparable.”
“Was he, too, murdered?” Lady Middlefield asked.
“He might as well have been. Lawford, who became Earl of Danbury two years ago, was stabbed and his head slammed into the ground. I visited him after I met with Mr. Scofield to see if I could learn anything further about the incident. Danbury has no recollection of that night—or much of anything—due to his head injury. He also has fought numerous infections. Looking at him was like viewing death itself,” Everett revealed. “And you know we have seen more than our share of that, Spence.”
Lady Middlefield’s eyes filled with sympathy. “You have seen much, Your Grace,” she said quietly. “As has Spencer. Please know you are among friends. You need never speak of the war or your brother’s death again.”
“Thank you,” Everett said, feeling a bond with this woman. “I have never been around women before, my lady. I had no sisters. My life was spent at school—and then war.”
She touched his sleeve. “My husband views you as his brother. I do the same. Would you consider calling me Tessa? Lady Middlefield sounds so formal and distant. I hope we will see you often.”
A feeling of peace descended upon Everett. “I was right to come here first. I have no family beyond my close circle of friends. Mr. Scofield dumped so much upon me that I couldn’t even think. I have been frightened to take up my ducal duties. In fact, I have yet to go to Cliffside. I came here, to Spence. To seek his guidance.”
Everett placed his hand atop hers. “I now see I will need yours, as well, Tessa. Please, help me begin. I have no idea where to start. I never thought to be a duke. I have no training in the ways of a titleholder.”
“Neither did I,” Spence said. “You know that. As second sons, we had fathers who ignored us. They thought the army would take care of us.” He gave Everett a wry smile. “Instead, we have inherited unexpectedly. I have learned a great deal since I returned to England last autumn and will share with you everything I know. Tessa can help you see that your house is organized and that you have efficient and effective servants.”
“I adore organizing a household,” Tessa said, her eyes sparkling. “Spencer and I would be happy to go with you now to Cliffside and help you get on your feet as far as your country estate goes.”
Everett chuckled. “You would earn my gratitude if you did so. Of course, besides my country seat, I have half a dozen other properties scattered about England, not counting the London townhouse.”
Tessa’s face filled with determination. “Then we will start at Cliffside and see that it is in order. We can leave tomorrow morning, can’t we, Spencer?”
Tessa rose. “I will go consult with Callender and see that a room is prepared for you, Your Grace.”
“What? You can’t call a brother that,” he teased. “I am Ev. Or Everett.”
She looked pleased at his words. “You shall be Everett to me. Oh, how I look forward to having a brother. My two cousins, Adalyn and Louisa, are like sisters to me and my closest friends. Spencer now looks upon them as his sisters. You will have to meet them.”
A slow smile spread across her face and she said, “Please excuse me. I’ll also let Cook know we have a guest for dinner and I’ll tell Abra and Rigsby to pack for us.”
After she left, Spence started laughing.
“What is so funny?” Everett asked.
“Did you not see that smile my beautiful wife gave you before she left?”
“Yes. What of it?”
Spence chuckled. “She is planning something. Not only will she make certain your households are in good order, but I have the feeling my darling girl has something else in store for you.”
“What?” he asked, clueless.
“I suspect Tessa has in mind to find you a wife, Ev.”
Lady Adalyn Goulding made her way downstairs to her sitting parlor, knowing Louisa would arrive in the next half-hour. They had arranged to go together to visit Tessa, who had arrived in town yesterday afternoon. The three cousins were closer than sisters and Adalyn couldn’t wait to hold little Analise again. Tessa had given birth to her first child two months ago. Adalyn had been present, holding Tessa’s hand and encouraging her as Analise made her appearance in the world. She had helped clean the baby and presented her to Tessa and Spencer, who had been alerted of his daughter’s arrival.
The earl had sneaked into the bedchamber and sat on the bed next to his exhausted wife, his arm about Tessa as he kissed her brow and told her how much he loved her. When Adalyn brought the baby to them, Spencer had claimed his daughter, tears in his eyes. For a moment, she had watched the threesome, a new family coming together, and an ache formed within her.
She wanted a baby. And that meant she needed a husband.
A husband had never been a priority for her. She had gone into her come-out Season unlike most other young women. They sought to make a quick match with the highest title they could land. Adalyn merely wanted to enjoy her youth. She had spent several Seasons doing just that, thanks to her parents indulging her as they usually did since she was their only child. The years had seen her become a leader in fashion, with ladies wishing to copy her style of gowns. She attended every social affair on the calendar. She danced and saw plays and went to garden parties and Vauxhall outings. She had collected numerous suitors who, when they realized she wasn’t interested in marriage, became loyal friends and confidantes.
Somehow, matchmaking became her forte and she had helped bring several couples together by the close of every Season. She had thought to try and match Tessa to a gentleman when her cousin finally came to London last year after being buried in the country nursing her ill parents for five years. Adalyn hadn’t needed to find Tessa a husband, however. Lord Middlefield had pursued Tessa all on his own and Adalyn had heartily approved of the match. She now looked upon Spencer as the brother she had never had and was delighted Tessa had such a fine man who loved her completely.
But seeing Tessa’s happiness last year had changed something in Adalyn. She began to want what Tessa had. She wanted a man to look at her the way Spencer did his wife. And after holding Analise, Adalyn craved a child of her own.
She had decided this would be the Season she would take a husband. If she couldn’t find a gentleman to fall madly in love with, then she would choose the best candidate available and make him her husband. He would be someone who placed a priority on having a large family. A man who would treat her well but absolutely adore their children. At four and twenty, Adalyn was older than the majority of brides on the Marriage Mart. Still, her mirror told her she was attractive. She had sky blue eyes and thick, straight, honey-blond hair. Her skin was smooth and her smile bewitching.
Her huge dowry would also tempt more than few bachelors. At least she had been out in Polite Society long enough to know which ones to avoid. She might be friends with several rogues but she wanted to find a husband who would be faithful to his vows. Perhaps with Bonaparte about to be deposed, if the newspapers could be believed, it might mean an influx of new gentlemen returning from war and attending ton events. No matter, she determined to wed at Season’s end and would be ecstatic if this time next year she had a babe of her own.
Adalyn entered her private parlor and took a seat. She saw her correspondence had been placed upon the table as usual and picked it up. It did not surprise her to find two requests from bachelors she knew well, asking for an audience with her in the next few days. Both gentlemen had recently come into their titles as viscounts and had sown their share of wild oats. She suspected each had now decided to claim a bride and wanted her helping in doing so.
It was unfortunate that neither gentleman would make a good husband for her. Lord Pierce gambled far too much for her tastes. She had observed that once bitten by the gambling bug, many men were lured to their downfalls. She would not see her dowry—much less her future and that of her children—gambled away. As far as Lord Bayless went, he was a handsome devil and knew it. While he would wed and produce the needed heir and spare, he would never be faithful to his wife.
Oh, dear. She already was becoming choosy. But she must stand up for herself and make the best match possible if she were finally to wed. She hadn’t waited all these years to simply agree to wed the first bachelor who asked. No, she would compose a list of the characteristics she would seek in her spouse. Perhaps Tessa and Louisa might help her in this endeavor.
Rainey, their butler, entered and said, “Miss Goulding is here, my lady.”
She chuckled as her cousin entered and they greeted one another. Even after all these years, Rainey insisted upon announcing Louisa. Her cousin only lived two doors down and they were constantly at each other’s houses when Adalyn and her parents were in town.
Louisa smiled cheerfully. “I am so eager to see little Analise. I am jealous that you have already met her.”
“She is adorable, I will give you that,” Adalyn said. “I am happy that Tessa and Spencer decided to come to town so we can enjoy seeing them. Having just given birth two months ago, I thought they might stay at Stoneridge this Season.
“Tessa wrote to me and said there is a reason they have come to town for the Season,” her cousin said. “Hopefully, she will reveal to us why when we visit with her today. Are you ready to leave now?”
“I am if you are.”
Adalyn rang and Rainey appeared again. “Please have the carriage readied,” she told the butler. “We are going to visit Lord and Lady Middlefield.”
“At once, my lady,” the servant said and exited the room.
Half an hour later, they disembarked from the carriage and were shown into the drawing room by Marsh, the Middlefield butler. Tessa sat with Analise in her arms, cooing to the baby. Once again, the tug on Adalyn’s heart told her she would actively pursue a husband this Season. The two cousins went to Tessa and Louisa said, “Please, don’t get up, Tessa. We will just sit here and gaze upon you as you look like the Madonna with her child.”
Tessa chuckled. “Being a mother is something that has changed my world. I am so blessed to have Spencer as my husband. Analise has added a dimension to our lives which I heartily recommend.”
“Might I hold her?” asked Louisa.
Tessa nodded and Louisa went and lifted the babe into her arms. As Louisa gazed at the infant, envy filled Adalyn. She didn’t like experiencing such an ugly feeling, especially because she loved Tessa with all her heart and was happy for her cousin.
Tamping down the hateful feeling, she asked, “Are you going to tell us now why you have decided to come to town? I had thought you would prefer to remain in the country since you’ve so recently given birth.”
Tessa said, “We did not talk about this when you came for Analise’s birth but Spencer’s good friend, the Duke of Camden, will make his first appearance in Polite Society this year. I aim to help him find his duchess.”
“The Duke of Camden!” Louisa exclaimed. “Oh, that was such a huge scandal last spring. I believe you had already left for the country when it occurred, Tessa. The duke being murdered like that and his close friend, the Earl of Danbury, also attacked.”
“I hear Danbury still hovers between life and death all these months later,” Adalyn said, shuddering.
Tessa nodded. “Yes, Camden shared with us what happened to his brother. He, like Spencer, is a second son who now assumes a title he did not know he would ever hold. I like him quite a bit,” Tessa continued. “Spencer and I went with him to Cliffside, his ducal seat in Kent, and helped him get things in order when he first arrived in England from the war.”
“What is he like?” Louisa asked.
“He is friendly once you get to know him,” Tessa said, “but I believe in society he will be quite shy.”
Adalyn chuckled. “He will need to overcome his shyness or else. With a new duke in town, the Marriage Mart will be thrown into a frenzy.”
“I was hoping that the two of you might come to dinner tomorrow evening and meet him,” Tessa said. “Neither of you have yet to wed and I believe one of you could be his future wife.” She looked at Louisa, who had grown still. “You told me last Season that Uncle did not want you to wed because he needed you as his hostess, especially with the war going on. That war is almost over now. It is well past time for you to look for a husband, Louisa. Holding Analise, you look so natural. You need to fulfill your destiny as a wife and mother.”
Louisa stood and brought the baby to Adalyn, handing her over. Adalyn gazed down at the infant, who stared up at her with large, blue eyes, studying her intently.
Louisa seated herself. “I would like to wed,” she said quietly. “I have yet to discuss this with Papa but I agree with you, Tessa. Now that the never-ending war is all but over, I hope to participate in more of the Season’s activities than in the past and entertain any offers of marriage which come my way.”
“That is good to know,” Tessa said. Looking to Adalyn, she asked, “And what of you? I have wed. Louisa intends to. What about you, Adalyn?”
“I have never hidden from you what is in my heart,” she began. “You are my sisters. I have reached a point in my life where I am ready to settle down.” She swallowed and then admitted, “I want what you have, Tessa. Holding Analise only confirms that.”
Tessa clapped her hands in delight. “Then I hope to see both my cousins wed this year,” she proclaimed. “And possibly one of you might end up with Everett.”
“Is that Camden’s Christian name?” Louisa asked.
Tessa nodded. “It is. Just as the two of you have adopted Spencer as your brother, I have done the same with Everett. I hope one of you might grow to love him. He is a fine man.”
“Well, I hope Adalyn and I don’t wind up fighting over him,” Louisa joked.
“It won’t come to that, “Adalyn said. “If you find you have feelings for this duke, you are more than welcome to have him.”
“Then will you come to dinner tomorrow night and meet him?” Tessa asked. “Even if neither of you finds him to your liking, then between the three of us, we should be able to help bring him together with an appropriate woman.”
“That is Adalyn’s specialty,” Louisa said brightly.
Tessa frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I thought I had told you I have a bit of a reputation as a matchmaker,” she said. “I have successfully brought together several couples over the last few years.”
“If I knew this, I have forgotten it,” Tessa said. “So, you are a matchmaker? A matchmaker who now needs to make her own match.”
“Now that you mention it, I thought to ask the both of you for your advice,” she began. “I have thought I should compose a list of the qualities I might seek in a husband.”
Tessa burst out laughing.
“What is so funny?” Adalyn asked, surprised by the outburst.
“Love isn’t like that,” her cousin said. “You can make all the lists you want but your heart will loudly proclaim to be heard. I know mine did. You know I didn’t even like Spencer when we first met.”
“That’s true,” she said. “But Louisa and I did like him. So did Abra, who was responsible for the two of you meeting. We could all see the earl was mad for you and agreed to support him in his efforts to win you over.” She paused. “I said I wanted what you have, Tessa, but I am not certain that includes love.”
“Why else would you wed then?” her cousin asked, perplexed.
“Because I want children,” she explained. “And companionship. Rarely does anyone in the ton make a love match. You are an exception. Please, help me with my list.”
Doubt filled Tessa’s eyes. “I will help with this list but I hope that Cupid’s arrow strikes your heart.”
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