Delighting the Duke (Dukes Done Wrong Book 4)
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An army major whose soul is stained by war. A lonely bluestocking who failed miserably during her first Season. Two strangers who bond over an injured kitten . . .
Aaron Hartfield is forced to leave the army and return to England to claim a title he never wanted when his brother is killed in a scandalous duel. Hart's friends convince him to attend the Season in order to find himself a duchess and provide an heir—but he has no interest in making a love match.
After a disastrous come-out, bluestocking Olivia Knight retreats to her uncle's vicarage in the country for five years. With his death, she returns to London and finds her father and loathsome cousin planning to choose a husband for her. Olivia is interested in a man's character, while her relatives want her to secure a wealthy peer with a lofty title.
When Hart meets Olivia, he realizes no one else will do as his duchess, but he keeps silent, wanting her to grow in confidence and receive the attention she deserves before he offers for her.
Will Hart wait too late and lose his chance with the blossoming Olivia—or will he speak up and find a lasting love with the ugly duckling who has turned into a beautiful swan?
Find the answer in Delighting the Duke, Book 4 in Dukes Done Wrong.
Each book in Dukes Done Wrong is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order and can be read for free in Kindle Unlimited.
Dukes Done Wrong
Discouraging the Duke
Deflecting the Duke
Disrupting the Duke
Delighting the Duke
Destiny with a Duke
Release date: October 27, 2021
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 271
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Delighting the Duke (Dukes Done Wrong Book 4)
Deerfield Park—September 1796
“Do you have to go away next week, Hart?”
Aaron Hartfield ruffled his little brother’s hair. “Yes, Percy. Big boys leave home in order to go to school. You can come with me next year. I will look after you and protect you and make sure you feel at home.”
Percy’s eyes grew round. “Will you?”
“Of course, I will. That’s what big brothers are for.”
“Did Reg take care of you when you went to school?”
He bit his tongue. His mother had asked him never to say an ill word about Reg. Especially to Percy or their younger sister, Ada. Hart found it harder to do as time went by.
At fifteen, Reg was the oldest of the Hartfield children and destined to be the Duke of Mansfield someday, a fact he never let the others forget. Reg had never taken on the role of protector for any of his younger siblings. If anything, he antagonized them. Or ignored them. There was nothing in-between.
When Hart left Deerfield Park and accompanied Reg to school, he had held out the slim hope that Reg would think to take care of him. How wrong he’d been. Reg had nothing to do with his younger brother. When the boys a year ahead of Hart had bullied him unmercifully, Reg never lifted a finger to stop their cruelty. It was a lesson Hart never forgot.
“You have your tutor. Be sure to study hard this year with him,” he encouraged Percy. “You want to be prepared academically. The curriculum is demanding. It’s best to show them you are up to any challenge.”
Percy sighed. “It’s a whole year before I’ll get to go with you. That’s a long time.”
Even at ten, he knew the hours and days passed differently during various times. Since Hart enjoyed school, those months always seemed to fly by. He could imagine, though, how slowly they must go for Percy. Ada was only three and still in the nursery. He knew his little brother must be lonely.
“Would you like to ask Cook to pack a hamper for us?” he asked. “We could have a picnic by the lake.”
Percy looked uneasy at the suggestion. “Do we have to swim?”
“Not if you don’t want to,” he said, knowing Percy, at six, was still afraid of the water and only rarely got in, never further than his knees.
Hart loved the water. Swimming in the lake was only second to riding for him. Water terrified Percy, though. Even as a baby, he would scream at the top of his lungs when dipped into his bathwater. He had never grown out of his fear. Hopefully one day, Hart would be able to teach Percy to swim. He didn’t want other boys making fun of his younger brother.
“Let’s go downstairs,” he suggested. “After we pick up these toy soldiers.”
The two cleared the floor, packing away the soldiers. Hart had outgrown playing with them but continued to do so to please his little brother. They went to see Cook, who stopped rolling out a pie crust, and personally supervised what went into the basket.
“Have fun, little lords,” she told them as they set out from the kitchens.
The lake was about three-quarters of a mile north of the house. Hart helped Percy spread out the blanket they had collected before they left, placing it under the shade of an oak tree. The tree was on a tall bank that overlooked a portion of the lake and gave them a pleasant view. He opened the hamper and lifted out cold legs of roasted chicken, apples, and two pear tarts. Cook had included two jars filled with lemonade and he opened one, handing it to Percy, who drank greedily.
They sat under the tree, eating and talking about school and what it would be like when Percy accompanied him next year. Hart told Percy about his favorite instructors and what was expected of first-year boys. His brother asked a hundred questions, which Hart patiently answered. Percy didn’t get much attention. Their father and mother rarely spent time in the country with their children, preferring to be in London for the Season. When home, the duke closeted himself in his study most days, only admitting Reg, his favorite since he was the heir. The duchess spent her time reading or writing to friends, occasionally calling for Ada and lavishing brief bursts of attention on her youngest child. The two were gone for a two-week stay at her sister’s house and wouldn’t even be back to tell Reg and Hart goodbye before they left for school early next week.
Percy yawned noisily and Hart suggested he curl up and take a nap.
“What will you do?” Percy asked, rubbing his eyes.
“I think I will go for a swim while you rest.”
“I don’t have to go?” Percy asked anxiously.
“No. You stay here.”
His brother did as he was told, slipping off his shoes and curling up on his side. He was already fast asleep by the time Hart had stripped off his clothes. With a running start, he hurdled off the edge and landed in the water. It was chilly but he relished the feel of it and he began kicking, using long strokes to carry himself across the lake.
It took several minutes to reach the opposite bank and he waded out, breathing heavily. Plopping onto the ground, he stretched out his legs and placed his hands behind his back to brace himself as he lifted his face toward the sun. The warm rays sank into him and he grew drowsy, closing his eyes as he basked in the sunlight.
Then he heard a voice carrying across the water. His eyes flew open and he brought a hand up to shade them, wondering if Percy had awakened and called out to him. Hart peered across the distance and saw two figures on the bank, one short and one much taller.
He leaped to his feet and shouted, “Leave him alone!” His gut was telling him that Reg, his older brother, was up to mischief.
With so great a distance, he didn’t think Reg had heard him and he yelled even louder.
This time, Reg looked up. Hart could see he had his hands on Percy and now lifted him. Hart could hear his younger brother’s screams.
“No! Don’t! No, Reg!”
Then Reg swung Percy back and flung him into the water.
Percy didn’t know how to swim.
He scrambled into the water, panicked, and began swimming hard and fast back across the lake. He could hear Percy screaming and Reg’s laughter. Though he drew closer, Percy’s protests seem to weaken.
Then they ceased.
Hart raced through the water and reached the opposite shore. Reg stood looking down from the bank.
“Where is he?” Hart demanded, panic rising as his eyes skimmed the surface.
“I tossed him in. He needs to stop being such a baby. Hartfields aren’t cowards.”
Hart whipped his head around, “Percy! Percy!” he cried.
The water was still.
He dived back in, searching, surfacing, and plunging in again, his hands searching the water.
Then he brushed against Percy and latched on to him, towing him toward the shore. Dragging Percy out of the water, he saw his little brother wasn’t breathing and his head was at an awkward angle.
“No!” he screamed. “No. No. No.”
He pushed on Percy’s chest. Lifted him and turned him to his side. Brought the heel of his hand down hard on Percy’s back.
“Breathe, dammit. Breathe, Percy,” he demanded, shaking his brother by the shoulders.
Percy’s head lolled.
Hart eased his brother back to the ground. He sat in a stupor.
Percy was dead . . .
He gathered his brother into his arms and began rocking him. He talked to Percy, babbling nonsense. The body grew cold in his arms.
With bleary eyes, he looked up. His father stood there, Reg by his side.
The duke pried Hart’s fingers away and lifted Percy into his arms. “My boy.”
“Hart let him drown,” Reg said.
The numbness that had filled him fled in an instant, replaced by a rage so great that Hart leaped to his feet and slammed into Reg. He pounded his brother with his fists, seeing nothing but red.
“Stop!” a voice cried as strong arms jerked him away.
It was the duke who had pulled him off. He had obviously set Percy down.
Anger still bubbling within him, he said, “Reg did this, Father. He threw Percy in, knowing he couldn’t swim.”
Reg pushed to his feet, his nose swollen, blood running from it, staining his cravat and shirt.
“I did not. I came upon them. I saw Hart force Percy into the water. He shouted to me that he was teaching Percy how to swim.”
“You are a liar!” Hart roared, flinging himself at Reg again.
Once more, his father pulled him off and shoved him away. He glared at Hart and said, “Put your clothes on, you bloody blighter.” Mansfield leaned down and scooped up Percy, gazing upon him tenderly.
Standing his ground, he said, “Reg is lying. He is the one who tossed Percy into the water and did nothing to save him. He killed Percy.”
The duke shook his head, storm clouds in his eyes. “You are a bitter disappointment to me, Aaron. First, to force your brother to swim when you knew he was terrified of the water. Second, to have the audacity to blame Reginald for your actions. You are a disgrace to the Hartfield name.”
“He must be punished, Father,” Reg said, rubbing his jaw. “Sent away. Why, he might harm Ada next and that would kill Mother. She dotes on her so.”
Hart shook his head. “Neither of you cared one whit for Percy. I am the one who loved him. I’ve always looked out for him.”
“How can you say that? You killed him,” Reg taunted. “You should be locked away.”
The duke shook his head, bringing Percy close to his chest. “No. It won’t do to have my son to be known as a murderer. We shall say this was an accident. That Percy wanted to learn how to swim to please us. That he suffered a cramp and went under and drowned on his own.”
He turned and glared at Hart. “As for you? I am a perfect duke with a perfect son. I have no room in my life for the imperfect. I have heard of a place for boys such as you. Ones who have done unspeakable things and cannot be trusted around their families. It is called Turner Academy.”
A chill ran through him. He had heard whispered rumors of such a place. How it housed vile, wicked boys who had done terrible things and been sent there in order to protect their families.
“I will see you sent there,” the duke said dismissively. He turned, carrying Percy, and walked away.
Hart watched them, a hard lump in his throat. Bitter tears stung his eyes and poured down his cheeks.
“Cry,” Reg said softly. “It won’t bring him back.”
He looked at his older brother, who had always needled him. His energy sapped, he could only fall to his knees.
“You always thought you could protect him. You didn’t, did you?” Reg taunted. “You have to live with the knowledge that you could have saved him—and you didn’t.”
Hart’s head fell to the ground. He cursed Reg and his father and even God for letting Percy drown.
Finally, he stumbled to his feet and threw his clothes on haphazardly. He glanced to the blanket, where the remnants of their picnic lay. Picking up the jar that Percy had held, guzzling lemonade, the liquid running down his chin, he unleashed an unearthly scream and tossed the jar into the lake.
He should have been the one who died today. He hadn’t kept Percy safe as an older brother should have.
Hart didn’t think he would ever forgive himself.
And he vowed to one day make Reg suffer for what he had done.
Turner Academy—June 1801
Hart placed his pencil on the desk and blew out a long breath. He glanced about the room and saw he was the only pupil left. Rising, he brought the pages of his examination to Mr. Morris, his mathematics tutor.
“How do you think you did, Mr. Hart?”
He pushed a hand through his thick, chestnut hair. “Actually, I believe it’s the best I have ever done, Mr. Morris. Thanks to Donovan.”
Morris’ eyes twinkled. “Mr. Donovan is a very good friend to you.”
Hart grinned. “He spent enough time pounding theorems and equations into my head.” He paused. “Do you think you might have the results before we leave for Markham Park?”
The tutor nodded. “I have evaluated the exams as they have come in. You will know the mark you achieved before you set foot inside the carriage, Mr. Hart.”
“Thank you,” he said, hoping he had done as well as his gut told him.
He left the classroom and found Donovan pacing in the corridor.
“Well?” he demanded.
Hart sighed. “I feel really good about it,” he told his friend.
“You should. I spent enough time going over everything with you. You knew it forward and backward going in.” He threw an arm around Hart’s shoulder. “Let’s go back to the room. We’ll be leaving soon.”
“I just don’t understand how numbers make such sense to you,” he said as they made their way through the large manor house which served as the school they had attended the past five years.
“You should. It’s how you are with languages,” Donovan told him. “You soak them up with ease. I can’t conjugate a verb to save my soul, while you rattle off past participles and future present tense without even having to think about it.”
They entered their dormitory room. Miles sat on his bed patiently waiting, his trunk already packed. He was the most organized of the five Turner Terrors. Wyatt haphazardly threw items inside his trunk, while Finch meticulously folded each piece of clothing and rested it gingerly inside.
He loved these boys as brothers. They had all been sent to Turner Academy five years ago, abandoned by their families and placed into the hands of the Turner brothers, co-founders of the school. Hart had dreaded coming here, having heard a bit about the type of student who attended Turner Academy. Boys who had done terrible things and were shipped off to Kent so they wouldn’t embarrass their families at better known public schools.
Miles had been accused of shooting and killing his beloved younger brother when it was his older brother, a marquess and future duke, who had pulled the trigger. Wyatt’s older brother, also heir apparent to a duke, burned down the family stables, causing over two dozen horses to be lost in the fire. Wyatt, too, had been blamed for the incident. Donovan’s father, the Duke of Haverhill, believed his son caused his wife’s death instead of the poacher who had encroached upon the duke’s lands and left a trap in which the duchess stepped into.
Then there was Finch. None of the Turner Terrors knew why he had been banished from Sommerville, his family home, and dumped at the academy. Finch was the only one who had never shared his tale of woe in the years they had been together. Still, he was the most loyal of all the Terrors and protected them with a fierceness that made all the other pupils give the Terrors a wide berth. No one bullied them. If they had, Finch would have beaten the offender to a bloody pulp.
Wyatt slammed his trunk shut as Finch closed his carefully. Hart and Donovan had finished packing earlier while the other three were in different exams.
“How was the mathematics exam?” Miles asked. “I know you were worried.”
“Hart did well,” Donovan answered. “We need to head downstairs. I’ll go look for Mr. Smythe.”
“We can carry our own trunks,” Finch said. “We are old enough and strong enough. Mr. Smythe has more to do than wait upon us.”
The boys all had a great deal of respect for Mr. Smythe. He was a former soldier who was a jack-of-all-trades at the academy. Besides performing a variety of tasks, Smythe managed to spend time with each individual boy. He listened to them and dispensed sage advice when they solicited it. He was everyone’s favorite, though Mrs. Josiah came in a close second. Her cooking was the best any of the boy’s had ever experienced.
Finch hoisted his trunk up, resting it on his shoulder. The others followed suit and the five brought their trunks downstairs to the foyer, where a familiar liveried footman waited.
“I’ll see to those,” he said.
The footman served the Earl of Marksby, where the boys now headed. While most of the other students returned to their homes during holidays, the Turner Terrors never did. They spent every day at the school with each other. None of them ever received a letter from home nor had any visitor stop by the school to inquire about their health or progress. They were dead to their families. Because of that harsh reality, they had chosen to forge a new one of their own making. Hart trusted his four friends and considered them the brothers of his heart.
“No,” Finch insisted. “We can take them outside and help you load them into the wagon.”
“Very well, Mr. Finch,” the footman replied.
This would be the fifth summer the boys had gone to Markham Park, where they would spend two weeks with the earl and countess. This was the first summer, though, that they would be the only academy students present. The rest were all going home. Some wouldn’t return when autumn came, being sent instead to other schools or on to university.
Home no longer existed for Hart and his companions. Turner Academy had become their world.
It surprised him as they took their trunks outside to only see a single coach and cart. Usually, the earl sent more than one of each since the Turner brothers and their wives, who served as housekeeper and cook at the academy, accompanied them to Markham Park. Lord Marksby had been the one over twenty-five years ago to give the Turners the money in which to start up their school and the earl enjoyed visiting with the men and their wives each summer.
They finished placing their trunks in the wagon and when he turned, Hart saw that all four Turners, along with Mr. Morris and Mr. Whitby, who taught languages, were lined up. Confusion filled him.
“A word, Mr. Hart,” called Mr. Morris.
He trotted over. “Yes?” he asked eagerly, his hands behind his back, fingers crossed.
Donovan joined him. “How did he do, Mr. Morris?”
“I shouldn’t be sharing another boy’s scores with you, Mr. Donovan,” the mathematics tutor gently chided. “However, I will inform Mr. Hart that he passed with flying colors.”
Donovan threw his arms around Hart. “See? I told you that you could do it.”
A rush of pride rippled through him. He turned and said, “Thank you, Mr. Morris.”
“I fear I had little to do with it. Mr. Donovan seems to be the better tutor. In fact, you scored only second to Mr. Donovan. You placed higher than all the other boys except for him.”
“What?” Joy filled him. “That is the same as taking first prize for me.” He thrust out a hand and Mr. Morris took it. Hart pumped enthusiastically. “Thank you!”
He turned and his fellow Terrors cheered, slapping him on the back and telling him how proud they were of him.
After they settled down, Mr. Nehemiah said, “It is time for you to leave, boys.”
“Aren’t you coming?” Miles asked.
“Not this time,” Mr. Nehemiah said. “Since it is only the five of you left at school during this summer holiday, Lord Marksby has extended his invitation for you to remain the entire time.”
“What?” Wyatt cried.
Of all of them, Wyatt loved going to Markham Park the most.
“Yes, you will be there all summer,” Mr. Josiah seconded.
“And his lordship is paying for us to go on holiday to the Lake District,” Mrs. Nehemiah said. “So, you boys are to be on your best behavior. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they all echoed.
Mrs. Josiah raised a hamper and handed it to Hart. “Here are a few treats for the journey.”
He bit back a smile. It was only an hour to Markham Park. Instead, he said, “Thank you, Mrs. Josiah.”
“You are growing boys and need your nourishment,” she told him.
“It’s time for you to leave,” Mr. Nehemiah said. “We will see you come September.”
The five said their goodbyes and climbed into Lord Marksby’s elegant carriage.
As the vehicle took off, Hart opened the basket and distributed its contents. Though they had eaten a filling breakfast only a few hours earlier, they easily finished what Mrs. Josiah had sent.
Soon, the carriage turned and made its way up the drive to Markham Park. Hart alighted first, spying Lord and Lady Marksby waiting to greet them. The others spilled out and the five went to meet the earl and countess.
“We are delighted to have you here for the summer,” Lord Marksby said.
“It wouldn’t be summer without a visit from the Turner Terrors,” Lady Marksby added, her laughter tinkling.
“You know that nickname?” Wyatt asked.
“Of course, we do,” the earl said. “Though it doesn’t seem fitting at all. You boys are the best behaved of the lot. We look upon you as our sons.”
His words touched Hart. The Marksbys were childless. The Turner Terrors were, in effect, orphans.
“Thank you, my lord,” he said on behalf of the others. “We enjoy our time at Markham Park and the attention you lavish upon us.”
“Come inside,” the countess urged. “Cook has prepared all your favorites.”
They followed the couple inside and despite having snacked on the way there, the boys gobbled up everything in sight. When the meal ended, Lord Marksby cleared his throat and they gave the earl their attention.
“We will stay at Markham Park for two weeks and then go to London.”
“London!” Donovan cried. “Why, none of us have ever been to the city.”
“Lady Marksby and I thought as much. It is time to put a little town polish on you. We will take advantage of riding in Hyde Park, as well as go to several museums.”
“Museums?” Miles piped up, his face lighting with interest.
Hart chuckled. Miles loved history more than anyone in all of England. Going to museums and seeing artifacts would make him very happy.
“We’ll also walk through Mayfair,” the earl continued. “You must be exposed to classical architecture. We will take in the Tower of London, as well.”
“And don’t forget,” the countess added, prodding her husband.
“Oh, yes. We must stop for ices at Gunter’s.”
“What are ices?” Finch asked warily, his forever suspicious nature coming out.
Lady Marksby chuckled. “It will be your favorite thing, Finch. I promise.”
“Then after a few weeks in town, it will be back to Markham Park,” the earl finished. “And then you will return to Turner Academy for the new term.”
Hart couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. This summer promised to be the best of his life.
Hart went straight from the London docks to the address on the letter he had received at the beginning of the month. It had come from the same solicitor who had paid the bills for his education at Turner Academy and university. The one who had purchased the army commission for him once he had graduated. He had never heard from Mr. Griffin in the years that followed.
The letter had been penned in July but hadn’t reached Hart for almost four months. Wellington’s army had been on the move, especially after the victory at Salamanca in July. The British Army had then entered Madrid in early August and pushed as far as Burgos before retreating again to Salamanca and then finally Ciudad Rodrigo. No wonder it had taken so long for the news to reach him.
News of death.
Griffin’s letter wasn’t clear as to the order of things but Hart knew two facts. His father, the duke, and his brother, the marquess, were deceased.
Major Aaron Hartfield was now the Duke of Mansfield. Owner of Deerfield Park in Surrey and who knew how many other estates throughout England.
Ambivalence filled him. As did doubt. Hart had only known war for so long that he was almost afraid to return to Polite Society. Not that he had ever truly been a member of it. Reginald had seen to that. To Hart’s banishment from Deerfield Park and the blame for Percy’s death. It riled him that he would never be able to seek the revenge he had wanted for his beloved brother. Hart had wanted to confront Reginald. Make him suffer.
All his life, he had seen everything in black and white, no shades of gray. Something was either right or it was wrong. There was no in-between. Attending Turner Academy had only strengthened his stance. The tutors at Turner Academy had seen that he was a principled boy, one for whom honor, duty, and integrity were his calling cards. Hart would never compromise his moral code. He would sacrifice himself for the greater good of a righteous cause.
That had been his belief when he had gone to war against Bonaparte. The army had bred into him an even stronger sense of duty. At the same time, however, he had seen the immense suffering of soldiers on both sides of the bayonet. Years at war had wearied him. He was so very tired of all the fighting and still didn’t see an end in sight. It was almost a blessing in disguise to receive Griffin’s note informing him of his changed circumstances and pleading for Hart to come home immediately to England and assume the mantle of responsibilities that came with being a duke. Not just any duke. One of the wealthiest and most powerful dukes in all of England.
Now, guilt filled him. Guilt for leaving his men behind to fight a war that might never cease. Guilt for the euphoria that filled him, knowing he would no longer have to dodge bullets and compose letters to the parents and wives of his fallen soldiers. Guilt for delighting in the deaths of the two men he despised. If left to his own intentions, Hart would probably go and dance upon their graves.
He cleared his mind. Hate did no good. He had hated Reginald and his father for years before he saw that hatred only poisoned him and he did his best to abandon it. His changed circumstances had led to the greatest friendships of his life—the Turner Terrors. He had spent every day for over ten years in his fellow Terrors’ company. Four of them had left Finch behind in England as they went off to war. Finch had no one to purchase his military commission and instead had accepted the offer of the living from the Earl of Marksby, a mentor to the Terrors throughout their formative years.
The remaining Terrors had marched off to war and found themselves stationed together in various outfits, still able to cajole and commiserate with one another on almost a daily basis. The only exception was Wyatt, who sometimes took on the role of spy or scout for Wellington. Wyatt would disappear for a stretch of time and then return to the fold, keeping secret where he had been and what he had been sent to accomplish.
Ironically, one by one, the other three Terrors had received similar notifications as Hart had. Miles, their acknowledged leader, was the first to return to England when his drunken brother, the Duke of Winslow, was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot. Wyatt was the next to depart from the Peninsula. Never the best at writing letters, Hart only knew that Clive, Wyatt’s older brother and the Duke of Amesbury, had turned up dead, making Wyatt the new duke.
Finally, Donovan had returned to England. The two of them had been celebrating their elevation in rank when Donovan’s life changed. His father and brother had drowned. Donovan was now the Duke of Haverhill, a name he despised and would now always be known as. His friend had been despondent, losing a brother he had idolized and been kept from seeing or contacting for many years. Hart had sent Donovan on his way, telling him to be a good duke and good man, the kind his brother Sam would have been proud of.
Three friends. Three soldiers. Second sons who had become dukes.
And now Hart joined their company.
Curiosity filled him as he wondered how Mansfield and his heir apparent had died. Had they perished together, as Donovan’s relatives had in a carriage accident? Or separately? Had Reginald died first and then their father—or the other way around?
Soon, he would have answers to his questions. No one would dare keep the truth from a duke.
He arrived at the solicitor’s office and caught his reflection in the window before he reached for the door’s handle. Perhaps he should have shaved before departing the ship which had brought him back from Spain but it was too late now. His thick hair was wind-tossed from standing on the deck, watching their approach to England and then inland to London up the Thames. His uniform, the only clothing he owned, looked worse for the wear, rumpled and stained.
It didn’t matter. He was a duke now. Dukes could go about looking however they pleased and ignore society’s rules. Though it would be nice to finally have a decent bath. He couldn’t remember the last time that had occurred. Hart smiled to himself, wondering what Griffin would make of the new duke.
He entered the offices and went to the first desk he saw. The clerk glanced up and blinked twice.
“May I help you?” he asked, a slight frown on his features.
“I am formerly Major Hartfield—now the Duke of Mansfield. I wish to see your employer immediately.”
Suddenly, the man shot to his feet, his features changing radically. “Of course, Your Grace. If you will have a seat—”
“I won’t need it since I expect to see Mr. Griffin at once,” he curtly replied.
“Yes, Your Grace,” the clerk replied nervously. “Please. Wait here. I will be back shortly.”
The clerk raced from the room as if he had seen the Devil himself. Hart chuckled. Wyatt would have joined in the laughter. Miles would have disapproved of Hart’s arrogant behavior. Donovan would have been bored.
And what of Finch? How would Reverend Finchley have handled the situation?
Hart was close friends with each of the Terrors, probably the closest to Donovan. Of them, though, Finch was the one he felt he knew the least about. All the Terrors had shared their stories of why they had been sent to Turner Academy. All except Finch, that is. To this day, it remained a mystery among them why the blond, angelic Finch had been sent to a place with a reputation for accepting wayward boys.
The clerk returned, this time with his employer in tow. Hart didn’t recognize Griffin but didn’t think he would. After all, other than his one trip with Lord Marksby and the Terrors to London almost ten years ago, Hart had never set foot inside the great city.
“Ah, Your Grace, it is so very good to see you have returned safely from the Continent,” the white-haired man said. “Would you care to come to my office? Might you wish for some tea?”
“Nothing for me, thank you. Lead the way.”
The older man said, “This way, Your Grace.”
Already, he had been called Your Grace four times. He supposed it was something he would have to get used to. That, at least, was tolerable. The moment he was referred to as Mansfield, however, would be a difficult one. He supposed every man had his own cross to bear. In this case, his would be thinking of the man who had fathered him—and hadn’t believed him—when he’d spoken the truth about Percy’s death.
Fresh anger sizzled through him at the thought of Reginald getting away scot-free without having to pay any kind of price for Percy’s death. That Reginald had lived for so many years without ever having paid the proverbial piper stuck in Hart’s craw.
Ushered into Griffin’s office, Hart took the proffered seat and said, “Before anything, tell me about their deaths.”
The solicitor closed the door and took a seat behind his desk. He pulled in a long breath and exhaled it slowly before answering.
“I am afraid you are walking into a bit of a scandal, Your Grace. Nothing of your doing, of course, but tongues do have a tendency to wag within the ton. Hopefully, by next Season when Polite Society reconvenes in London, the events of last July will be mostly forgotten.”
He didn’t reply. Hart had learned to merely sit in silence when he wanted information from someone. His glare usually caused them to continue speaking, revealing whatever he wished to know.
“You see, the marquess found himself in a bit of a pickle.”
Hart crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t want you to prettify the facts, Griffin. I merely want those facts. I can make my own judgment of them. The truth, please. Unvarnished.”
The solicitor’s head bobbed up and down. “I see. Well, then I suppose I will be more frank. The marquess had a terrible reputation among the ton. He was known as the worst of scoundrels.”
“He had gotten more than one woman with child and ignored them afterward. He had numerous affairs with women without regard to discretion. It was the last of these affairs that led to his demise.”
Griffin paused, claiming his handkerchief and dabbing his forehead nervously.
“Your brother engaged in an affair with Viscountess Garner. You may not realize, having been at war and not in Polite Society, that affaires de coeur are tolerated as long as both parties are discreet and the lady in question has provided the expected heir. In this case, the viscountess had done her duty, with both an heir and a spare. She was known for engaging in the occasional affair. Nothing serious.”
“How was this time different?” he asked, curious how an affair could lead to Reginald’s demise.
“The marquess unfortunately spoke about the affair publicly upon numerous occasions. This news got back to Lord Garner. The viscount issued a challenge, which was accepted. The choice of weapons was pistols. Seconds arranged for the place and time the duel would occur. A doctor was engaged to be on the scene in case either participant was wounded.”
Griffin stopped and mopped his brow again. His eyes darted about nervously.
“Just tell me, Man. I will not blame you as the messenger but I do need to know what occurred.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Griffin licked his lips. “Lord Garner was known for being a terrible shot. Your brother had a reputation for knowing his way around guns. For some reason which no one understands, the two men agreed not to turn and fire at will. Instead, alternate shots would be taken, which allowed your brother, the challenged, to fire first.”
Hart understood immediately. Garner, being a poor shot but desperately wanting to defend his reputation and that of his wife’s, had allowed Reginald to go first. If Reginald wounded his challenger, satisfaction would be reached and both men could have left the field with their honor intact. No second shot would need to be fired.
“Continue,” he urged.
Griffin cleared his throat. “The marquess arrived shortly before five that morning in a state of drunkenness, according to witnesses.”
“He didn’t feel Lord Garner had a chance.”
“I suppose not,” Griffin agreed. “The viscount appeared shortly thereafter and the two men took their assigned spots on the field. Your brother could barely stand at this point and fired his pistol. Some say he waved the gun in Garner’s direction and was so drunk he missed. Others stated he deloped.”
“He deliberately missed,” Hart said, shaking his head in disapproval. “Because he thought his opponent was not worth shooting.”
“Yes, Your Grace. That practice is specifically banned and yet occurs upon occasion. In this instance, Viscount Garner felt horribly slighted and shouted this aloud. Then he took aim and fired his own weapon.
“It struck your brother directly in the heart.”
Satisfaction filled Hart. He might not have been the one to put the bullet into Reginald but he was glad this Lord Garner had.
Griffin continued. “Those present were shocked that the viscount managed to even hit his opponent, due to his lack of skill, much less strike true and deadly. The doctor raced to the fallen man and after a moment, declared him dead. Lord Garner fled England for parts unknown. Lady Garner retired to their country estate with her two sons. It is rumored she will return to London for the upcoming Season.”
“And my father?”
“His Grace received the news of his son’s death and retired to his rooms. Shortly afterward, his valet discovered him to be dead. The ton says that Mansfield died of a broken heart.”
At least Hart now knew the story. He didn’t care about the gossip that surrounded his family. He was his own man and would make that clear to Polite Society.
“What else do I need to know?” he inquired.
“Regarding their deaths? Both are buried in the family plot in Rumsford, Your Grace.”
He had no intention of visiting either of their graves. “What of my mother and Ada?”
Griffin frowned, stirring uneasily in his chair. “I suppose you wouldn’t know.”
“No, I wouldn’t know anything, Griffin. I was sent away from my home for a crime I didn’t commit. All contact was cut off.” He paused. “Tell me.”
“Her Grace passed on about five years ago. She is buried next to her husband.”
Hart had tried not to think of his little sister, innocent in all that had occurred. Still, he had each year on her birthday, imagining when she was old enough to ride. To have a governess. To make her come-out. To wed.
“Lady Ada died years ago, Your Grace.”
The solicitor’s words were like a physical blow. “What?”
“I cannot remember exactly when. She was quite young, though. Five or six, I’d say. I believe it was her heart.”
He remembered how delicate and frail Ada had always appeared to be. How late she had walked. How her nursery governess carried her everywhere even after Ada learned to do so.
“She is buried next to your mother.”
Hart bowed his head. He supposed he would have to go and see his sister’s grave at some point. His mother’s, too. Neither had been home at the time of Percy’s drowning. Hart used to wish his mother would arrive at Turner Academy. Not to take him away but just to see him. To tell him she loved him and that she was sorry for him being accused of something she knew he would never have done. As the years passed, though, he knew that visit would never come. The duchess had favored Percy and then Ada and had never given Hart much thought. He finally realized it was for the best. He had brothers in the Terrors. He needed no more family than they.
He swallowed and raised his head, seeing Griffin was studying him. “Go through everything now, Griffin. My holdings. My finances. My investments. I need to know what I possess beyond my title and what obligations I will need to fulfill.”
As the solicitor droned on for the next three hours, Hart grew dizzy with just how much he possessed. Estates. Race horses. Investments in both England and overseas.
“We can meet again to continue our conversation, Your Grace. I fear I have wearied you with all my lengthy explanations.”
“Very well. Nine o’clock tomorrow?”
“If it is convenient with you, it is convenient with me, Your Grace.”
“Point me in the direction of a reliable inn, Griffin. I am in sore need of a bath and a hot meal. And a tailor, I suppose. I am wearing the only clothes I possess and they won’t be suitable for society.”
The solicitor appeared startled at his request. “You have no need of an inn, Your Grace. You have a beautiful London townhouse in which to stay when you come to town.”
It hadn’t occurred to Hart that he had a place in London since he had never visited it before. Of course, his parents left for months at a time to partake in the Season when he was a boy and he supposed it was where they had always stayed.
Griffin offered to accompany him to the townhouse and smooth the way for him with the servants but Hart declined. He asked for the address and then walked there because he didn’t think he had enough to pay for the hackney cab’s fare.
He knocked on the door and a butler opened it. When he explained who he was, he gained admittance. The next few hours were a blur. He was put into a bath in the duke’s rooms, which had been cleared of all personal possessions. A tailor arrived and measured him, promising to have an appropriate outfit at the house early tomorrow morning before he left to visit with Griffin again. He dined in his rooms on shepherd’s pie and a rich claret and then fell into bed, naked, relishing the feel of the feathered pillow and clean bedclothes.
Though he was bone weary, Hart lay looking at the ceiling for a long time, wondering just how much his world would now change.
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