Designs on the Duke (Suddenly a Duke Book 4)
A twin back from war, his brother dying in his arms . . .
A woman who has traveled the world and learned from those travels . . .
Two people who don’t fit into the constricting rules of London’s Polite Society . . .
Major Elijah Young never met his father, the Duke of Bradford, who believed his young wife betrayed him and gave birth to twins sired by another man. Now, two deaths have changed the trajectory of Elijah’s life—and he is the new duke. Elijah vows never to wed and father children, wanting the ducal line to end with him.
Miss Abigail Trent lost both her parents and spent a decade with her guardian, journeying to exotic countries around the world. Abby takes her experiences and begins Trent Furnishings, sketching furniture influenced by her travels and having craftsmen bring her visions to life. The ton is who can afford her designs, and so she enters Polite Society to bring notice to her business.
Neither Elijah nor Abby want marriage—and love is out of the question—yet their attraction grows as she accepts his commission to furnish his entire London townhouse.
Will this unlikely pair admit their feelings for one another—or will their lack of communication prevent them from finding lasting happiness?
Release date: June 8, 2023
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
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Behind the book
My Suddenly a Duke series focuses on women who hold unusual occupations for a Regency miss. Abby, the heroine in Designs on the Duke, is a furniture designer.
Designs on the Duke (Suddenly a Duke Book 4)
Abigail Trent awoke and despair immediately filled her.
This might be the day Papa left this earth.
Her throat thickened with unshed tears as she worried not only about her beloved father, but what would happen to her when he passed. She was an only child who had lost her mother when she was only two and had been raised by her carefree, loving father. He was charming but certainly had his faults. Managing money and his estate had been his downfall. His charm had won him the hand of the daughter of an earl. The couple had impulsively eloped to Gretna Green when her grandfather had denied her father’s suit. Even back then, the viscount’s coffers were fairly empty.
Because of that impulsive elopement, there had been no marriage settlements drawn up. Her grandfather had refused to award the dowry her mother would have brought into the marriage since he did not approve of their union. Abby barely remembered Mama, only a shadowy figure with a voice that used to sing to her as she rocked Abby to sleep. Mama had died in childbirth, along with an infant son, and Abby’s father had raised her. She had never had a governess. Papa had taught her himself. She was talented at maths and knew much about history, while being able to translate any passage she was given into Latin or French.
But what good would those skills do her when her father was gone? She supposed she would follow the path of many impoverished gentlewomen before her and become a governess. How she was to do that, however, was unknown, especially since she was only four and ten. Once Papa passed, the title and estate would revert to the crown since no male heirs existed. She wondered how long she would have before a representative of the king arrived and booted her from the place.
Not that there was much here to begin with. Over the years, her father had sold off almost everything of value within the house, from furniture to paintings to carpets. Servants had been let go at regular intervals, and this past year when Papa had become bedridden and the servants could not be paid at all, all but his valet had left. Abby had taught herself how to cook for them and did all the cleaning of the house on her own. She did what she could with the estate’s bookkeeping when the estate’s steward left. She had even planted a small garden, and they ate from it, while she occasionally wrung the neck of a chicken and plucked its feathers before boiling it, stretching the fowl’s meat and broth for as long as she could between the three of them. Papa barely ate anything nowadays.
Abby rose and washed and dressed for the day. She went to the kitchen and started a fire, another one of those skills she had taught herself by trial and error. She put on a kettle to boil the water for tea and soon Jackson showed up.
The valet had been with her father since Papa was a young man and had remained loyal throughout the years as times grew lean. Abby had explained to Jackson that she had no money to pension him off upon her father’s death. The servant had told her he was too old to find a new position once the viscount went to meet his Maker and hinted that he might be doing the same himself. She had heard him hacking and wondered if his cough meant that he also would meet his demise soon. Jackson had grown almost as gaunt as Papa had, and it took the both of them to move him from the bed when she stripped the bedclothes and put fresh ones on.
She and Jackson drank a cup of tea and ate the hard crusts of the last of the loaves she had baked three days ago, no butter or jam to spread upon them. No flour or yeast was left, and Abby didn’t know what they would eat come tomorrow.
She made a cup of tea for Papa, and Jackson accompanied her upstairs to the viscount’s bedchamber. Papa had soiled the bedclothes again, and she went downstairs to retrieve a bucket of water and cloths to clean him, knowing Jackson didn’t have the strength to haul the items up the stairs himself. Abby promised herself she would not cry. She had shed no tears in a long time, knowing they never improved a situation.
They cleaned her father, and she stripped the bed, taking the bedclothes downstairs to be washed later. Of all the tasks she had learned to do, washing was by far the most time-consuming and difficult. She wouldn’t think about the hours of work which lay ahead. She would go and be with Papa, knowing today might be his last.
Jackson helped her make the bed again and between the two of them, they got Papa back into it.
“His lordship drank some of his tea, Miss Trent,” the valet said.
She smiled brightly. “That is good news. Do you think you could drink some more now, Papa?”
“No,” he said weakly and then glanced at the servant. “Leave us.”
Abby pulled up a chair to the bed and took Papa’s hands in hers. He was so cold even though it was midsummer. She gave thanks that they weren’t in the midst of winter because she was not very good at swinging an ax and chopping wood. She knew Papa would not make it to the autumn, much less winter, and wondered what might be in store for her come the first snowfall.
He mustered a smile and said, “I have written to Ladiwyck. It took a few times, but I managed to finish the letter over several days’ time. I had Jackson send it some time ago.”
Abby had heard stories her entire life of Lord Ladiwyck, her father’s closest friend, who was an earl and adventurer.
“Has he returned to England?” she asked. “Might he be able to come and visit you?”
She had never laid eyes upon the earl, though her father spoke of the man with great fondness. Lord Ladiwyck did write regularly, however, even sending items from his travels as gifts. Abby used a shawl he had gifted to her mother from one of his visits to India. Other items Lord Ladiwyck had sent, she sold in the nearby village for whatever she could get.
“I told him my time draws near and asked him to come and take responsibility for you.”
His words surprised her. She had wondered who might take her in, supposing the vicar and his wife would on a temporary basis until something was decided, or she was old enough to earn a living on her own.
“I received a letter from him just yesterday,” Papa revealed.
Hurt this had been kept from her, Abby asked, “Did Jackson bring it to you?”
“He did. I did not want you to know what I had asked of Magnus until I heard from him. He is not a family man, but a world traveler and adventurer at heart. Magnus is willing, however, to make you his ward. When I am gone, I am certain he will send you to school and help you in making your come-out.”
Sadness filled Papa’s face. “I am sorry I have no dowry to give you, Abby. Unfortunately, that is what most gentlemen seek. You are fair of face, however, and have a sweet spirit about you. Perhaps there will be some gentleman, low on the rung of Polite Society, who might offer for you. It is my greatest hope that this happens.”
Her father began coughing, and she quickly grabbed one of the cloths that sat beside the bed, holding it under his mouth. It quickly soaked with blood.
He fell back into the pillows, exhausted. “We will talk more of this later,” he promised, patting her hand.
Papa closed his eyes, and she saw he drifted off. Abby should get up. There was so much to do. Washing the soiled bedclothes and his nightshirts. Finding something for her and Jackson to eat. But a voice inside her told Abby to stay where she was.
She placed her hand over Papa’s, knowing he was breathing his last.
When the end came, he went quietly, never awakening again. She felt the hot hand beneath hers grow warm. Then cool. And finally, cold. She remained with him until Jackson entered the bedchamber again.
“He is gone,” she told the valet. “No more suffering.”
Jackson winced. “His lordship was a good man, Miss Trent. Full of life and laughter. No one had a sunnier nature than the viscount.”
“But not one much for responsibility, I am afraid. Nor did he have a head for figures. We must alert his solicitor, Jackson. I will write to him today. He will need to notify the crown of Papa’s death.”
“There is someone here to see you, Miss Trent. That is why I came upstairs.”
“No, tell them Papa has just passed. I need to wash his body. Find something for him to wear. He has lost so much weight in this past year. Most of his clothes swallow him.”
“You must see this visitor, Miss Trent. It is the Earl of Ladiwyck.”
Abby sighed. “Send him in.”
She watched the valet leave and then return moments later, guessing the earl had been waiting in the corridor for admittance to the bedchamber. Abby moved to greet him.
As Ladiwyck entered the room, he looked larger than life. He was several inches above six feet and with a robust look about him that let all know he was in good health and even better spirits. He stepped toward her and offered his hand, and she curtseyed and took it.
“Good afternoon, Lord Ladiwyck. I am sorry, but you have arrived too late. Papa passed about an hour ago.”
The earl’s eyes went to the bed and then back to her. “I am deeply sorry for your loss, Abby.”
He enveloped her, making her feel small and yet safe at the same time. Tears slid down her cheeks as the earl rubbed her back in comfort.
Finally, Lord Ladiwyck released her and asked, “May I have a few moments alone with my dear friend?”
“Of course, my lord. I will wait for you in the drawing room.”
She and Jackson left the bedchamber, and she told the valet to wait for Lord Ladiwyck and bring him to the drawing room. She knew it would be teatime soon but had nothing to offer their guest other than a cup of tea. Abby recalled there was some madeira in her father’s study and went there. Retrieving it, she took it to the drawing room and waited for the earl to appear.
When he did, she asked if she could pour him a glass, and he agreed.
They sat in silence for a moment on the lone settee in the room, and then Abby said, “Papa told me that you would make me your ward. He said you might possibly send me to school.”
“I haven’t had much time to think about it. I will admit that the idea of having a ward and being responsible for you is a bit overwhelming to me.”
Anger rippled through her, and Abby did not mince words. “I know you gallivant about the world, my lord. If it is inconvenient for you to become a guardian to me, then I am perfectly capable of making my way in the world.”
Amusement flickered in his eyes, riling her even further.
“How old are you, Abby?”
“Abby was Papa’s nickname for me,” she snapped. “We do not know one another, my lord. I am Miss Trent—or possibly Abigail—to you.”
The earl did not bother to hide his smile. “Ah, you are as spirited as your mother was.”
Immediately, she deflated. “You knew Mama?”
“I most certainly did. I even tried to court her—but she only had eyes for your father. Perhaps she saw the wanderlust within me and knew I would never be good at settling down. I haven’t in all these years. Settled down. My title will go to a cousin or his son. I have enjoyed a life of privilege and traveled the globe.”
He paused. “Yet I would have liked to have done so with your mother.”
“Did you love Mama?” Abby asked.
“It was such a long time ago. Perhaps I did—and she spoiled me for any other woman. You do favor her in looks, though I see a bit of your father in you, as well.”
He reached and took her hands in his. “I do not think I would be much of a father figure to you, Abigail. But I would like to be your friend. I would be happy to help guide you. I am going to give you a choice now. How old are you?”
“Four and ten, my lord.”
His eyes flickered about the room and then landed upon her. “It looks as if not much is here.”
“We are destitute,” she admitted. “Anything of value—even gifts you have sent over the years—has been sold off. The only servant is Jackson, Papa’s valet, whom you have met. We could not pay our servants or our bills.”
“And you have been managing everything, haven’t you?”
“I have, my lord. I learned to cook and clean and have taken care of the estate as best I could.”
“Did you have a governess? Or did you go away to school at some point?” he asked.
“There was never enough money for such a luxury. Papa taught me himself, though. If you do send me to school, I would not be far behind the other girls. In fact, I think I might run circles about them.”
“Confident. I like that. I said that I would give you a choice, Abigail. I think you are mature enough to make the decision yourself. I will do as your father asked and become the guardian that sends you off to school and helps you make your debut into Polite Society when the time comes. I will even provide a dowry for you so that some young swain might snatch you up. It would be the conventional life of a young woman in the ton.”
She had not dreamed of being able to take her place among the ton, knowing of her financial situation. Yet curiosity filled her, and Abby asked, “And what would the second choice be, Lord Ladiwyck?”
He smiled broadly. “It would be to become my traveling companion. I am not one to stay in one place for too long. It would be a nomadic life. You would see the world. Experience new countries and different cultures.”
His gaze bored into her, as if he could see into her very soul.
“It is your choice, Abigail. Follow the typical route of a lady in Polite Society—or see places others never will and be educated by your experiences in the world.”
The choice boggled her mind. She hesitated a brief moment, weighing the options.
And then made the decision which would change the course of her life.
“There is no choice to make, my lord,” Abby said with confidence. “I want a life others only dream of. I want to see the world by your side.”
Lord Ladiwyck squeezed her hands. “I think you have made the wisest decision, Abigail.”
She smiled up at him. “Why don’t you call me Abby?”
Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain—19 January 1812
Major Elijah Young left Wellington’s tent with his brother, Captain Gilford Young. They trailed after their commanding officer, Major-General Sir Robert Craufurd, known as Black Bob by the men of the Light Division. Although a strict disciplinarian, Craufurd had a violent temper and cursed heavily when he lost it. The nickname referred to Craufurd’s black moods as much as it did his dark, heavy facial stubble. Despite the moniker, both Youngs found their leader brilliant and had been thrilled when Craufurd had been given command of the Light Division two years ago. The company was an elite group of foot soldiers and had been a stalwart of the Peninsular War, a shining light for Wellington in his quest to rid Spain of the French forces of Bonaparte.
Major-General Craufurd now paused, pivoting to look at the twins. “What do you think of our battle orders?”
Picton’s Third Division had been ordered to storm the greater breach on the northwest side of the French garrison, while the Light Division would go against the lesser breach on the north.
“We will notch a victory with ease,” predicted Gil airily, always one to speak and act quickly.
Elijah proved the more thoughtful of the twins, preferring to mull over things before he spoke.
“And you, Major? Do you agree with your brother?”
“The fortress is second class in every regard, Major-General. The walls may be just over thirty feet high, but they are composed of poor masonry and weak parapets. The narrow ramparts will also give the French trouble when we attack.”
“True,” Craufurd said, his hands linked behind his back. “Go now. Prepare the men. We must be in place within half an hour for the attack at seven o’clock.”
As the Young brothers hurried away, Elijah knew night attacks were notorious for heavy casualties. He worried not for himself but for his twin, who seemed to always be in the thick of the fighting, no matter what his orders were, taking unnecessary risks that one day might very well cost Gil his life.
Elijah placed his hands on Gil’s shoulders. “Be careful tonight,” he cautioned.
“We are fortunate that we have good men under us, Eli. They are seasoned soldiers and would follow us to the ends of the earth. They will support us this night.”
He embraced his brother, feeling as if they were one spirit in two bodies, clapping Gil hard on the back before stepping back.
In unison, they said, “For God. For country. For us and Mama,” the words they repeated before going into every battle.
“Good luck,” Gil said, smiling.
“You know I do not believe in luck,” Elijah replied. “We are prepared. Well trained and supplied.”
Gil laughed. “Well, I say we have God and Wellington on our side.”
They parted, each to go to gather his own troops.
Soon, Elijah had his men formed in their battle lines, ready to march. They headed to the fort, the winter’s dark night having come a little over an hour earlier. He looked down the lines and saw Gil, nodding at his twin. Gil waved back and then turned toward his men.
The battle commenced. Elijah was glad Denis Pack’s Portuguese brigade would attack on the east, testing the defenses at the San Pelayo Gate. It would be an added distraction. In total, Wellington would be using close to eleven thousand men in this assault. It had taken almost ten days of fighting leading up to this moment, with the Greater and Lesser Tesons being captured prior to tonight’s attack.
The signal came, and Elijah moved quickly, his men following. Fighting proved fierce, but the Light Division overran the fortress’ lesser breach. He tried not to think of the deaths at his hands as he wiped the blood from his sword and sheathed it.
As his men rounded up captives, Gil appeared at Elijah’s side.
“Picton’s having a harder go of it,” his brother said. “But our soldiers can push through the fort now and help smooth the way. Be safe.”
Gil motioned for his troops to continue moving deeper within the fort.
Two hours later, news traveled quickly that the fort had fallen. Elijah asked for a status report from an arriving lieutenant.
“Casualties were on the heavy side, Major Young, especially a significant number among the Light Division. It looks as if almost two hundred Allies were lost. The early count also has nine hundred wounded.” The officer paused. “Major-General Mackinnon was killed in action. Major-General Craufurd was hit in the lung. Lieutenant Shaw, his staff officer, carried him from the action.”
“Is he alive?” Elijah demanded, knowing a shot to the lung would eventually be fatal.
“Barely,” the lieutenant replied. “It is said he was mortally wounded, Major.”
Anger sizzled through him, but he kept it in check. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
He looked over his shoulder and saw his twin approaching, a grim look on his face.
“Did you hear about Craufurd?”
Elijah nodded. “Mackinnon was lost, as well.” He glanced around. “There should be more men here, even with the numerous casualties.”
“The looting has begun,” his brother said. “That is what I came to tell you. With Craufurd out of action, we need to quell it as quickly as possible.”
Though not sanctioned, British soldiers, often from the lowest class of society, would sack a city after a victory, despite the best efforts of the officers to prevent this from happening. This instance should be different, with the people of Cuidad Rodrigo being their allies. Still, Elijah knew the soldiers would pillage, nonetheless.
“Let’s go and try to stop as much as we can,” he said, dreading the new fight ahead, one where he would go head-to-head with his own countrymen.
Fires had already been started throughout the city. British soldiers ran wild, emerging from houses ladened with sacks that held their spoils of war, everything from money and clothes to food and works of art. The twins did their best to stop the looting but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of men feeling entitled after a victory.
Above the shouts, a scream sounded. Both brothers looked up to a burning house, seeing a woman at the window, a babe in her arms.
“Ayúdeme!” she cried.
“I’ll get her and the child,” Gil said impulsively.
Before Elijah could stop his brother, Gil had raced across the street and inside the house, flames licking the doorway where he entered.
“Gil!” he cried fruitlessly, knowing his brother had no fear of death.
Then he heard a shriek nearby and raced to the alley. He saw a soldier with a young girl of twelve or thirteen, pressed against the brick wall. The soldier held his forearm against her throat and yanked up her skirts as she cried.
Racing to the pair, Elijah knocked the private away, and the man sprawled on the ground. The girl collapsed, tears streaming down her cheeks. A sudden rage filled him, and he yanked out his sword and thrust it into the private lying there. He withdrew it and stabbed the soldier a second time. A third.
Finally, his anger subsided. The private stared lifelessly up at him.
Stumbling away, he went to the girl and bent, taking her elbow. She shrieked in terror.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said gently, only knowing a few words of Spanish, hoping his gentle tone would convey that he meant her no harm. “I will take you home. To your casa. To your madre and padre.”
Slowly, he guided her to her feet. They left the alley, and she pointed to the house that Gil had rashly run into.
“Mi casa,” she told him.
The house was now engulfed in flames. Elijah stood looking at it, tears welling in his eyes.
“Madre!” the girl cried, breaking away from him.
He followed her, seeing her fall into the arms of the woman who had appeared at the window with the babe. If she got out, surely Gil had also been able to do so. He turned wildly in circles and spied his brother, sitting on the ground across the street from the burning structure. He rushed to his brother.
Gil had a blanket wrapped about him. His face was dark with soot, and he was coughing deeply. Elijah knelt next to his twin.
“Are you all right?” he asked, worried not only about the hacking cough but the confusion he saw in Gil’s eyes.
“Where are they?” Gil asked, his voice hoarse and his breathing noisy. “The woman and child.”
Putting an arm about Gil, Elijah sat next to him. “They got out. You saved them both. They are fine.”
Another coughing spell erupted, with Gil spitting out dark mucus. Elijah tightened his hold on his twin, feeling helpless as Gil continued to cough and wheeze.
“Where is Mama?” his brother asked, frowning, his eyes glazed.
“Mama is at home. In England. We are in Spain, Gil. Fighting for the crown,” he said, stroking his brother’s hair in comfort, cold fear pooling in his belly as he began to realize his brother’s muddled thoughts and disorientation indicated he was physically worse than Elijah had first believed.
“My hands. They hurt,” Gil said, raising them and looking at them dully.
Elijah saw the burns on them, even as he heard Gil rasping, his breath labored and weak.
“Stay with me, Brother,” he urged, tears beginning to stream down his face as he recognized he only had moments remaining with his twin. “Don’t leave me.”
In a moment of clarity, Gil met his gaze. “You will be duke someday, Eli. Be a . . . good one . . .”
Gil’s voice trailed off, and his eyes went glassy. He coughed again, dark mucus dribbling down his chin.
“No, don’t go,” he begged. “I cannot do this without you.”
His brother shuddered. His body went limp. Elijah knew Gil was gone. He continued to hold his twin, though, as the chaos raged on about them. He could only think that Gil had died a hero. Perhaps not on the battlefield, but a hero all the same. A mother and her child would live instead of being placed in early graves.
Eventually, more officers arrived. Soldiers came to their senses and began leaving the town, ready to return to the outskirts of Cuidad Rodrigo, where their camp was. He watched everything unfold, feeling nothing. Then he rose, scooping up his brother’s body into his arms.
Passing the woman and babe Gil had saved, as well as the girl Elijah had helped, he saw them huddled together, their home and possessions now gone. Still, they lived.
While his twin was dead.
He slowly made his way along the streets filled with debris and came upon an abandoned flower cart. He placed Gil amidst the flowers and began rolling it back to camp, ignoring everything around him. He steered the cart to the medical tent, knowing the physicians could do nothing. Elijah collapsed beside the cart, his mournful wail filling the night.
Soldiers came. Some of his own men. They led him away, promising to care for Gil’s body, and returned him to the tent he had shared with his twin. Stumbling inside, he fell upon Gil’s cot and curled into a ball, the pain of losing his brother engulfing him. He lay there throughout the night, thinking of their lives together. Sharing meals with Mama. Fishing in a nearby stream. Going to the local clergyman’s parsonage for lessons. Leaving for war.
He had nothing to live for now that his twin was gone. How would he look Mama in the eyes and tell her this horrible news? She had told him to protect Gil. Sweet, rash, impulsive, goodhearted Gil.
Dawn came. With it, he knew they would soon be on the move once the area had been secured. Wellington’s plans had hinged on a victory at Ciudad Rodrigo. That having occurred, they would now proceed to march to Badajoz. Elijah no longer had the heart—or the stomach—for war. Yet he was a commissioned officer, one who needed to continue to lead his men.
And a future duke.
That thought made him grow nauseous. He rolled from the cot and vomited on the ground next to it, the stench making him queasy. He stepped outside the tent, dawn just beginning to break on the horizon. He watched the sunrise and the camp come to life again, melancholy filling him at the thought of writing to Mama.
He would not write to Bradford. Their father had washed his hands of the three of them only a few months after he wed Mama. The duke had been thirty-five years Mama’s senior, while she was a girl of eighteen making her come-out. Somehow, the duke came to believe that Mama had been unfaithful to him and banished her from Marblebridge, his ducal seat in Surrey. He sent her to his only estate in the north. She had given birth to the duke’s twins there. Not in the duke’s house, but rather in the small cottage on the estate in Norfolk where he had exiled Mama. She might have been a duchess—but they lived as paupers.
Mama never told them why her husband thought her unfaithful, only that he believed the twins were not his issue. Bradford had nothing to do with them over the years as they struggled to make ends meet. Elijah thought it a joke when others addressed him as Lord Elijah, such as the clergyman whom they’d taken lessons with. Mama did the man’s laundry in exchange for teaching her boys, having no spare coin to give.
While Mama took in sewing to provide some income, Elijah and Gil had gone to work at ten, toiling at a variety of odd jobs from chopping firewood to painting until they turned eighteen. Mama had told them her favorite aunt had died and left her a bequeathal. Instead of spending it on herself, she insisted upon buying a commission for both her boys. They had been at war ever since.
Until now. When he must write her and tell her of Gil’s death.
Elijah would make certain Mama knew Gil died a hero, saving a woman and her babe from a burning building. Without meaning to, Mama had always favored Gil. He looked to be the male version of her, with blond hair and brown eyes. Elijah assumed he resembled the duke, and that small thing slightly influenced his mother’s behavior toward her younger son. Still, he knew she loved him fiercely.
Would she still love him now that he had let Gil die?
He glanced up and saw a young private with a bundle of letters in his hand.
“For you and Captain Young,” the soldier said, handing over two letters.
He accepted them, seeing Mama’s handwriting on each. His gut churned, knowing one was for Gil.
He sat on the ground, the letters in his lap. Finally, he opened the one addressed to him.
My dear Elijah –
I hope this finds you well. As always, I have followed news of the war in the newspapers and pray for you and Gil each night, hoping God will keep my boys safe. Thank you for your last letter. I hope Wellington will find success in Spain, and you will be able to move on from there. Oh, how I hope this war will end someday soon!
I must now share news with you that is not entirely unexpected. The Duke of Bradford is no more. He would have turned one and eighty recently. That means that your brother is no longer the heir apparent; he is the new Duke of Bradford. I have written to him separately but wanted you to know, as well. Gil should inform Major-General Craufurd as soon as possible of the change in his circumstances. He must sell his commission and return to England in order to assume his seat in the House of Lords and his place at Marblebridge.
I know you have always felt a strong sense of duty, Elijah, and will think you should remain and continue to fight against the French. I am asking that you also sell your commission and return with your brother. Gil will need your guidance in the weeks and months ahead. He can be impulsive—even a bit reckless at times—and will need your calming influence upon him. Gil may hold the ducal title—but he will need your advice as he becomes the Duke of Bradford and learns to fulfill all his responsivities. You are so organized and intelligent. He might make you his secretary or even the steward at Marblebridge.
I know I am asking a lot of you, Elijah. I always seem to do so, especially when it concerns your brother. He will need you more than your men now do, however. Navigating Polite Society and running several estates is no easy task. Gil will do well to have you by his side. Though there is no title for you, you are Lord Elijah Young, brother to a duke. The two of you should assume your places in Polite Society together. I would be delighted if you both attended the upcoming Season and found ladies to wed. We could all live together at Marblebridge as a family.
Support Gil now in all that you do. Help him in speaking with your commanding officer and ridding yourselves of your commissions. Come home to England—to me—and we’ll be together again. I will be waiting in Norfolk for you both. From there, we can travel to London to meet with Bradford’s solicitor and gain a clearer picture of the situation.
I have missed you, Elijah. You and Gil. I am ready now for you both to have all that you missed out on, thanks to your father’s misguided beliefs. You and Gil will be shining lights in Polite Society, my son.
My love to you always.
Your Loving Mama
Elijah’s throat tightened with emotion, making it hard to breathe. He was now the Duke of Bradford. A title which was never supposed to be his.
One he would not be able to reject.
Abby raised her face to the sun, letting the rays wash over her. The warmth spread through her. She shielded her eyes and looked at the pyramid again, awed by its splendor.
Then something distracted her. She frowned. A cloud hid the sun, and the warmth fled.
She awoke with a start, confused at first. Then she realized she was back in England—and had been since early last summer.
Her days of traveling were behind her. At least, for now. Her focus after living abroad for almost a decade would remain on her new business. Bits and pieces of the dream, which receded quickly, caused her to leap from bed. She located her sketchpad and rushed to capture what she could before the idea dissipated. When she finished, she took a moment to study her drawing. Incorporating the sphinx into the chairback’s design worked. It was small and in the center, subtle and yet a bold statement. She thought it would look best in ebony, but mahogany was a close second choice.
Setting down her pencil, she rang for Ethel, and the maid helped Abby dress for the day. Her life seemed so normal now, so routine, unlike the years spent outside England with Magnus, moving from country to country. Her guardian had opened the world to Abby, taking her to several continents. She had tasted local cuisines, dining on exotic fare such as caruru in South America and smoked ham and clam chowder in the United States to vada pav in India and zalabyas while in Turkey. Wherever she and Magnus journeyed, they had studied architecture, history, and art.
Abby had fancied herself an artist at one time, in those years before Papa died. She had sketched objects and even people, thinking that one day she might become a famous painter. Her drawing skills had paid off in a way she never would have thought.
The more she traveled, the more she had been drawn to the furniture they saw. She began drawing various pieces in sketchbooks, filling them and starting others, until now she had hundreds of them. Once she had studied furniture in different countries and from varying eras, she started designing her own furniture. That had led her to her life’s ambition.
Opening her own furniture shop.
Magnus had escorted her back to England and put Mr. Peak, his solicitor, at Abby’s disposal. Her guardian took off again for Eastern Europe, while she met many hours with Mr. Peak. He had drawn up the papers making Magnus and Abby partners in her venture. For now, Magnus funded her. His generosity had allowed her to rent a place for her furniture designs to come to life, as well as pay the salaries for the craftsmen who did so. It also had provided funds to rent a shop in Mayfair amidst several fashionable shops. Madame Planche, a famous modiste was on one side of her soon-to-open shop and a shirtmaker was on the other. Across the street was one of London’s largest bookshops.
She would be opening the doors to her shop in a week’s time, the realization of all the months of hard work by her and others on her behalf.
“Thank you, Ethel,” she said, dismissing the maid.
Abby sat at her dressing table and brushed her long, dark blond locks, twisting and pinning them up. She remembered how years ago Magnus had given her a choice—either have a conventional life as a lady of the ton or become an adventurer with him.
She had never regretted the decision to follow him around the world.
Of course, it meant a different kind of life for her. Magnus had been her only steady companion for all those years. Yes, they had made friends wherever they went in countries near and wide. Eventually, they left those friends behind, sometimes never seeing them again. When they had finally returned to England early last June, Magnus had only stayed ten days and then was off again. Abby knew no one in London. She had no time to make friends because she was eager to begin the foundation for her new business.
No, she would never be one for the ton. She would never attend social affairs held by members of Polite Society. Never gossip with women her own age. She would never marry and raise a family.
But she would continue to live a life that others might envy. She was her own woman, capable of running her own business. She had always been good with maths and could keep her own ledgers. She would design her furniture and slowly build a client base.
Already, she had studied some of the more famous furniture designers of the day in England, leaning toward the work of Thomas Sheraton and to a lesser degree, Thomas Hope. Abby had devoured Sheraton’s written works, especially The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book and his later The Cabinet-maker, Upholsterer and General Artists’ Encyclopaedia.
One day she hoped to write her own encyclopaedia and inspire future designers. Until then, she had plenty to keep her busy.
She went downstairs to the breakfast room, and Feathers greeted her.
“What might you like this morning, Miss Trent?”
“I believe I will have two poached eggs and some toast points, Feathers.”
“I will inform Cook of your decision.” The butler left the room.
She liked that the room was now empty. Magnus did not employ a group of servants since he was so rarely at his townhouse. Instead, he left things to Feathers and Cook. They could hire help to come in on a weekly or monthly basis to clean the townhouse or do the laundry. Because of that, no footmen hovered in the background as she ate her meals. Ethel had been hired to help take care of Abby and also do light cleaning about the house. She was the only new addition to the household ever since Magnus had become the Earl of Ladiwyck when he turned twenty.
Feathers returned with her breakfast and the one newspaper Abby subscribed to. She liked to peruse the articles and see what was going on in the world as she wondered where Magnus might be. One day, she believed Britain and her allies would best Bonaparte and send him into exile. If so, she knew she and Magnus would be on the first ship bound across the English Channel for France. Magnus had seen Paris before the war began. Abby had only seen the great city through books. She couldn’t wait to travel the French countryside, sampling its cuisine and going to the great museums in Paris.
As she turned the page, Feathers entered the room again. “Miss Trent, we have a surprise guest.”
She couldn’t for the life of her imagine who would be calling, since no visitors had done so since she had lived here.
Then Magnus rounded the corner, and she let out a cry of joy, leaping to her feet and racing to him, falling into his arms.
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