Duke of Arrogance (Dukes of Distinction Book 4)
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Who doesn’t love a duke? How about five of them?
Welcome to bestselling author Alexa Aston’s new Regency romance series, the Dukes of Distinction! These five aristocrats all come with nicknames Polite Society has bestowed upon them. Renown. Charm. Disrepute. Arrogance. Honor.
A woman spurned by the ton . . .
A duke harboring an appalling secret . . .
Life radically changes for Arabella Jennings, the daughter of an Oxford don, when her father becomes the Earl of Barrington. She’s an intellectual who would rather be discussing Shakespeare’s works but now finds herself navigating the vicious waters of Polite Society.
Jonathan Sutton’s twin dies, making him the new Duke of Blackmore. Pledging to live for both himself and Arch, Jon becomes one of London’s leading rakes, breaking rules and bedding women as his brother would have done had he lived.
Jon meets Arabella the first night of the Season and decides this woman, so different from every conquest he’s made, might help him from the abyss he’s sunk into.
Can a bluestocking with a quick wit tame the disreputable Duke of Arrogance—and save his soul?
Find the answer in The Duke of Arrogance, Book 4 in the Dukes of Distinction.
Each book in Dukes of Distinction is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order and can be read for free in Kindle Unlimited.
Book #1: Duke of Renown
Book #2: Duke of Charm
Book #3: Duke of Disrepute
Book #4: Duke of Arrogance
Book #5: Duke of Honor
Release date: May 6, 2021
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Print pages: 230
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Duke of Arrogance (Dukes of Distinction Book 4)
Blackstone Manor, Dorset—July 1802
Jonathan Sutton gazed out the window as the carriage rolled through Dorchester. Once they traveled the length of the city, it would be another few miles until he would finally be home after his last miserable term at school. He shifted uncomfortably on the seat, his buttocks still aching from the caning delivered by Mr. Rochester, though it had been over a week since the incident occurred. The headmaster packed quite a wallop for a man in his sixties. He’d certainly had enough practice, especially when it came to Jon. He’d earned his fair share of punishments and then taken on more ones in place of Arch. Since they were identical twins, it had been easy for Jon to step in and accept the disciplinary penalty meant for his brother.
He often took the blame for Arch’s actions. Because he loved him. Everyone seemed to love Archibald Sutton, Marquess of Grafton and future Duke of Blackmore. Arch had a sunny nature and always aimed to please everyone he came in contact with, from the lowest servant to the highest peer. He also had a mischievous side to him, one which got him into frequent trouble. Most people didn’t know that—because Jon always stepped up and claimed responsibility for whatever scheme Arch had gotten caught up in.
Most people didn’t like Jon. They might have if they hadn’t had his brother to compare him against. On his own, Jon was an accomplished rider and boxer and one of the smartest boys in his class. Next to Arch, though, he seemed sullen and moody. In truth, he was quite shy and covered it by acting as if he didn’t care for the opinion of others. He actually liked following the rules which Arch broke all the time. Because Jon took the blame for his twin and suffered the consequences for his twin’s actions, everyone expected the worse from him.
This last term of public school before he left for university had been the worst. While he had excelled in his classes with very little need to study, he’d gotten into constant trouble, this time of his own making since Arch wasn’t around. His twin had been sent home early in the term with some mysterious illness. A rash had broken out across the palms of Arch’s hands and the soles of his feet. It had spread to his trunk and down to his groin. He had run a slight fever, as well. The headmaster had declared for the other boys’ safety that Arch should return home. Some coursework was sent with him but Jon didn’t know if his brother would bother completing it. Arch only finished his assignments because he liked the competition between the two of them. Without Jon to spur him on, he was certain Arch had ignored the work. If he had, he might have to return to Harrow for another term to finish up.
It had been hard enough to be separated from Arch these last two months. They had never been parted, always sharing a room both at home and sleeping next to each other at school. Jon couldn’t imagine himself at university and Arch still back at Harrow. The place was a hellhole. Despite the exorbitant fees, the accommodations had been atrocious, with the sleeping quarters cold and damp. Meals had been tasteless and meager, causing his belly to cramp more often than not. It was commonly thought if schoolboys could survive such abysmal conditions and adhere to the strict obedience imposed by those in authority, they would become the leaders society looked for them to be.
Jon only knew he was excited to reach Blackstone Manor and be reunited with his twin. Surely, by now, the village doctor would have seen to Arch and he’d be fit as a fiddle. Hopefully, they could go riding. Being confined in this coach had worn on Jon’s nerves. Even though his rump was still raw, he’d rather be in the saddle and outdoors than cooped up inside. Especially if Mr. Rochester had written Father regarding Jon’s latest brawl with the pretentious little sod who would be a viscount one day. The boy had said awful things about Arch, which had led to Jon thrashing him soundly. In turn, Mr. Rochester had caned Jon’s buttocks so hard, it had caused them to bleed. The headmaster had told him he couldn’t wait for the Sutton twins to leave Harrow. Since it was the end of term, he’d had to stand at the back of the room and lean over to write upon a desk since he wasn’t able to sit. Both his history and Latin tutors had taken pity on him and allowed him to take his exams orally once the other students left.
If his father knew about this latest incident, though, it would be worse than a caning. The duke had little regard for his second son, who had missed being the heir apparent by seven minutes. All his life, his father had lavished praise upon Arch and condemned every action Jon took. His overt favor should have turned Jon against his brother; instead, he loved Arch all the more for having to spend time with such a reprehensible man. All the Blackmore wealth, lands, and title would fall to Arch one day but Jon knew his brother would take care of him. That’s what they did. Take care of one another.
The carriage turned and journeyed up the lane to Blackstone Manor, taking another fifteen minutes before arriving at the main house. It pulled up and the door opened. Standing in the doorway was Elizabeth, his little sister. Her face lit with a smile as she saw him and she began bouncing up and down in excitement.
“Jon! Jon! You’re home!” She ran toward him, laughing.
He climbed from the carriage and swept her in his arms, soundly smacking her cheek.
“I’ve missed you brat,” he declared.
“I am not a brat,” she retorted. “I am Lady Elizabeth Sutton.”
“Well, I am glad Lady Elizabeth missed me for I certainly missed her.”
“Will you take me riding?” she begged as he strode toward the house. “I’m just learning how but I know you would be a good person to teach me. Will you?”
“I will. If not today, then tomorrow. For now, I want to go see Arch.”
The door opened and he greeted Roy, the footman who had been promoted to butler two years earlier.
“It is good to have you back, Lord Jonathan,” the servant said.
“I can’t tell you how good it is to be back, Roy. Tell Cook that I am starving. Have her send something up to our room.” He kissed Elizabeth again and set her on the ground. “I’m anxious to see Arch, sprite.”
A shadow crossed the butler’s face. Immediately, Jon asked, “What is it, Roy?”
“Lord Grafton is no longer in your shared chambers,” Roy informed him. “He has been moved.”
Puzzled, he asked, “Where is he?”
When the butler hesitated, Jon knelt and looked his little sister in the eye. “Elizabeth? Where is Arch?”
“The dower house,” she said, her bottom lip trembling. “I can’t see him. They won’t let me.” Tears welled in her eyes. “The doctor comes all the time. Father says Arch is very sick.”
Jon stood. “I will go see him at once.”
“Lord Jonathan, His Grace wishes you to—”
“His Grace can wait,” he spat out. “I want to see my brother.”
Hurrying from the main house, he set off at a quick pace and reached the dower house ten minutes later. A cart hitched to a horse stood outside it. As he approached the door, Dr. Broll ventured outside, his physician’s satchel in hand.
“Lord Jonathan. You’ve come home from Harrow, I see.”
“What is wrong with my brother?” he demanded. “When they sent him home from Harrow, he had a rash. Copper in color. It had spread. Has he gotten worse? Why would he be here, living in isolation?”
“Walk with me,” Dr. Broll suggested, setting his case in the cart and then stepping away.
Jon fell into step with the man, apprehension filling him. His twin must have been much sicker than was first thought. The rash might be contagious, which is why he had been taken from the house. But it didn’t make any sense. Father adored Arch. He doted upon him. If Arch were truly ill, he never would have isolated him at the dower house. It didn’t make any sense.
“What’s wrong with my brother?” he asked quietly, apprehension filling him.
“Lord Grafton has contracted a disease,” the physician began. “A very serious one. I should like to check you for it, as well, Lord Jonathan.”
“I don’t have a rash like the one Arch got on his hands and feet,” he quickly said.
“What about ulcers?’ Dr. Broll asked.
“I remember several months ago that Arch complained about ulcers inside his mouth. He also had one in the corner of his mouth which he said was quite painful. They healed, though. Have they returned? Is that what is making him so ill? I don’t have any.”
“They wouldn’t necessarily be in your mouth. They could be on your genitals. Or your anus.”
“No,” he said quickly, covering his embarrassment. “I’ve experienced nothing like that. Has . . . Arch?”
Dr. Broll nodded. “His rash—the one he experienced at school—has spread rapidly. White patches cover the inside of his mouth. He’s also suffering from other symptoms.”
“What is wrong with him, Doctor? Surely, you can cure him.”
The older man shook his head sadly. “Believe me when I say that I have tried to, my lord. I’ve even used mercury, dangerous as it is.”
“Why?” he demanded. “Tell me the truth and quit avoiding my questions.”
The doctor placed a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “Your brother has syphilis, Lord Jonathan. It is incurable. It will lead to severe problems as it spreads throughout his body, stage by stage. It can lead to problems with his heart. His brain. His nerves. It might paralyze him. Lead to him becoming blind or deaf. It will render him impotent. He may even go mad.”
Disbelief flooded him. “No!” he shouted. “I don’t believe you. Arch is only sixteen.” He shucked off Broll’s hand. “You’re lying.”
The doctor sighed. “I wish I were, Lord Jonathan. The syphilis will render your brother useless. He’s already in a great deal of pain.”
Anger now filled him. “Then why has Father sent him away? He needs to be with his loved ones, not stuck alone in the dower house.”
Broll’s expression grew pained. “His Grace is very unhappy. He blames himself for the circumstances Lord Grafton finds himself in.”
“How? What did Father do to make Arch sick?”
Dr. Broll looked away. “I am not at liberty to discuss this with you, my lord.”
His eyes narrowed. He glared at the physician. “How did my brother contract . . . what did you call it?”
“Syphilis. Where does it come from? Tell me,” he urged. “Please.”
Sadness filled Dr. Broll’s eyes. “It is from sexual congress with an unclean woman who carries the disease.”
Jon staggered back. Immediately, he thought of the visit Arch had made to a brothel, courtesy of their father. Jon hadn’t been invited. It often was that way, with the duke taking his heir on various excursions, preparing him for his future role. Arch had allowed their father to believe it was his first time with a women, despite the fact the twins had been sexually active since they were fourteen.
But to contract some horrid disease from a woman simply because you had sex with her? It was unthinkable. And now this man was telling him that Arch would slowly fall to pieces before their eyes.
“I want to see him,” he said firmly. “Now.”
“Your twin is in a great deal of pain. He might not want a visit from you.”
He stared at the doctor. “Arch will want to see me.”
Turning, he strode toward the dower house. Inside, he passed a maid, who looked startled to see anyone there.
“Where is he?” he barked.
“Upstairs. Third door on the left,” she squeaked and hurried away.
Jon took the stairs two at a time and hurried down the hall, only to pause in front of the door. It was as if his feet wouldn’t let him continue.
“This is Arch,” he said under his breath. “He needs you. Go.”
Steeling himself, he rapped lightly on the door. When Arch didn’t call out, Jon let himself in and went toward the bed.
His twin was propped up with pillows behind him, a shadow of his former self. Jon forced his face to remain a mask, burying the shock of Arch’s appearance deep within him. His brother had lost a good deal of weight and looked painfully thin. His face was flushed with fever. Much of his hair had fallen out.
“Jon,” Arch rasped. “You’re here.”
“Of course, I am here,” he said, lifting a chair and bringing it to the bed. “Do you think I would hang about school when I could be home with you?”
He sat and reached for his brother’s hand. Arch pulled away.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, revealing a glimpse of white patches inside his mouth. He winced.
“Are you in much pain?”
“Every minute of every hour of every day,” Arch said jokingly before he sobered. “Repulsive sores covering my genitals. Abscesses and ulcers decorate my body, a foul smell rising from them. My eyesight is fading fast. Though I haven’t told Dr. Broll, I think he’s guessed that’s the case.”
“You should tell him,” Jon urged. “See if he can do anything for you.”
“Oh, he tried, Brother. But this disease holds you hostage. It squeezes the very life out of you.” He licked his dry, cracked lips. “Broll has been honest with me when no one else has been. I know I could be paralyzed. That my heart will weaken. The headaches are already blinding. He said it’s a matter of time before I begin to lose control over what little muscles I have left.” He closed his eyes.
“I am so sorry, Arch.”
Jon sat in the chair mute for minutes, watching his twin, each breath looking like a struggle.
“I should have worn a French letter,” Arch muttered and opened his eyes again. “You always do. And I’ve made fun of you for it. Called you a coward. You were always the smarter of us, Jon. Now, you will be the duke one day.”
Shock reverberated through him. “No!” he hissed. “You are meant to be Blackmore. Not me. Never me.”
Arch managed a dry chuckle. “What beautiful revenge on Father, me dying and you becoming his heir apparent. He hasn’t had a decent word to say to you in a good decade or more. Now, he will have to grovel while you’ll have to learn to be someone you never wanted to be.”
He leaned forward and placed his hand on his brother’s. Arch gasped in pain and Jon withdrew it.
“Sorry,” Arch apologized. “It hurts to be touched.”
“Elizabeth said she’s not allowed to come see you.”
“No. I don’t want her to think of me like this, Jon. She’s only six. The memory would stay with her forever. Take care of her. You always have. I know she favors you.”
He chuckled. “She’s the only one who does.”
Arch looked at him with tired eyes. “I know you have taken the brunt of my punishments. Gotten me out of many a scrape. Covered my tracks and made it look as if you were the guilty one too many times to count. At least your reward will be that you will be Blackmore. You’ll be better at it than I ever could.”
“Don’t say that, Arch,” he pleaded.
“It’s true. Just don’t be an ass to your second son like Father was to you. Love all your children. Not just your heir.”
“I don’t know if I want children.”
“You’ll have to provide an heir for the dukedom,” Arch pointed out.
Jon smirked. “Perhaps that would be my greatest revenge on Father as he burns in Hell. Letting it pass to someone not of his immediate blood.”
Arch closed his eyes again and they fell silent for some minutes. Finally, his twin opened his eyes again.
“I’ve waited for you to come home. I needed your help with one last thing.”
“Anything. I swear it.”
“It might cause you to join Father in Hell,” Arch warned.
Jon never hesitated. “Whatever you need, I will do it.”
“I am in a great deal of pain. Dr. Broll has left laudanum for me. It’s in the amber bottle.”
He turned and saw it. Standing, he retrieved it. “What do I do?”
Weariness blanketed Arch. “Broll has been putting a few drops in a cup of water.”
He looked over and saw a pitcher sitting on the table, a pewter cup next to it. Retrieving it, he poured water into it and asked, “How many drops?”
“Dump the contents into the glass,” Arch instructed.
Alarm filled him. “Arch, that would . . .” His voice trailed off as understanding filled him.
“Kill you.” Jon looked at his brother, the person who was a part of him, the one he loved more than anyone in the world. “Kill you,” he repeated.
“Please.” Arch’s eyes pleaded with him. “Please, Jon.”
He saw how much pain his twin was in and how he was the only one who could end Arch’s misery.
“Dr. Broll is certain you won’t improve?” he asked, wanting to be certain before he acted.
“Syphilis is a death sentence, Brother. Some can live with the symptoms for years but they never improve. Some go downhill rapidly, as I have. I cannot take the pain anymore, Jon. My sight is going. I fear my mind will be next. Already, things are fuzzy to me when I try to recall them. The headaches are excruciating. The sores throb and ache constantly. I lie here in my own urine and wish I were dead.
“Help me. Only you can.”
Indecision might render him useless. Jon thrust it aside, thinking of how much he loved Arch. He opened the bottle of laudanum and turned it upside down, emptying the contents into the cup. With a heavy heart, he handed it to his twin. Arch couldn’t hold it steady, even using both hands. Jon placed his hands around his brother’s and brought the drink of death to Arch’s mouth.
“Are you certain?”
“More than you could ever know.”
With a nod, Jon tilted the glass and Arch drank the entire contents. Jon pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his brother’s lips.
“Fill the bottle with some water,” Arch said. “It won’t fool Dr. Broll but he won’t say anything.”
“You told him I would help you?”
His brother nodded. “I told him you were my other half. That we share in everything.”
Jon sat on the bed, taking Arch’s hand. “You will always be with me. You know that.”
“I do. Go make something decent of yourself, Jon. I won’t be around to drag you down. Find good friends. Live an interesting life. Marry a woman who will challenge you. Have children.”
“No one could be a better friend than you, Arch. And if I do have a son, I will name him after you.” He smiled sadly. “That way an Archibald Sutton could one day become the Duke of Blackmore.”
He didn’t know if his brother heard his last words. His eyes closed and his breathing ceased. Jon waited a few minutes and then kissed the top of his brother’s head.
“Farewell, Archibald Sutton, Marquess of Grafton.”
Bringing the bedclothes up, he covered his twin and left the dower house. He would see what his father wanted. More importantly, he would never let the duke belittle him again. He would stand up and hold his ground.
Because now he stood for two. Himself and Arch. Forever and always.
Jon went to the basin in the room and thoroughly washed his hands, not knowing if briefly touching Arch had spread the wicked disease to him. He doubted it but thought he should take the precaution nonetheless. Returning to the house, he found Elizabeth waiting for him in the foyer.
“Did you get to see Arch?” she asked anxiously.
He didn’t want to tell her that her brother was dead but knew it was better hearing it from him than anyone else.
Seeking privacy, he took her hand and said, “Let’s walk down to the stables. You can show me the pony you’ve been riding.”
He let her chatter on as they crossed the lawn and headed toward the stables. She told him about learning to read and that she could already add sums in double digits. She seemed to like her new governess but what she really wanted to do was learn to ride.
They entered the stables and he greeted the head groom. “Good afternoon, Mallory. I hear my sister is learning to ride. Who is teaching her?”
“It’s good to see you back, Lord Jonathan. And Lady Elizabeth has only had the one riding lesson with me.”
“Might I step in and help with those lessons?”
“Of course, my lord.” Mallory winked at Elizabeth. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, my lady? Your brother is a fine horseman. I’m happy to put you in his capable hands.”
Elizabeth’s eyes lit up and she stared at him in adoration. “You’ll really teach me yourself, Jon?”
“I will. You are the perfect age to start.”
“I already love horses.”
“She does, my lord,” Mallory seconded. “Lady Elizabeth comes to the stables every day and talks to every horse in its stall. She also likes to help me brush the gentler ones.”
“I hope Father doesn’t know about that.”
Mallory shrugged, a twinkle in his eyes. “We know not to bother His Grace with small matters.”
Unsaid was that the duke would have put a stop to Elizabeth’s visits. The thought of his daughter doing manual labor would have thoroughly disgusted him.
“I’ll take over the lessons for now,” he told his sister, “but if I’m not available, Mallory is an excellent teacher. He taught both Arch and me.” A lump formed in his throat at speaking his twin’s name.
“Come see my pony,” Elizabeth urged, taking his hand and dragging him along.
They visited the horse and several others before he said it was time to head back to the house. As they walked together, he knew he couldn’t put off the bad news any longer.
“Elizabeth, there is something I must tell you. About Arch.”
She stopped and gazed up at him. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Jon nodded. “He was very, very sick.”
Her mouth set in a hard line. Suddenly, she looked years older. “I should have been able to see him. To tell him goodbye.”
“You should have,” he agreed. “But Arch didn’t want you to remember him that way.”
“He didn’t?” she questioned. “He said so?”
“We talked about you. He missed seeing you and loved you very much. But he’s gone now.”
She blinked several times, her eyes bright with tears, and then clasped him. “You won’t die, will you, Jon? If you did, I couldn’t stand it.”
He lifted her in his arms. “I am far too mean to die, Little Sister.”
“You aren’t mean,” she chided. “Arch could be mean sometimes. Not to me. But sometimes to others.”
“I know. But we still loved him, didn’t we? And we’ll go on loving him. He will always be a part of us.” He tapped his chest. “Here. Inside our hearts.”
He carried her back the rest of the way, her cheek against his chest. When they arrived at the house, he set her down.
“Go find your governess. I need to speak to Father.”
Elizabeth shuddered. “He’ll be angry.”
“I suppose he will. He loved Arch and now he is gone.”
“You’ll be the duke now, won’t you, Jon?”
“I will when Father is gone.”
“I hate him,” she said vehemently, surprising him.
“Because he doesn’t like you or me. He only liked Arch. He never wants to see me. He said I was a silly girl and he didn’t have time for girls.”
Jon smoothed her hair. “Fathers can be many things. Sometimes he is mean sometimes he is nice. We just happened to see more of the mean side of him.”
“You won’t be a mean father, will you?”
He laughed. “I may not be a father at all.”
Her eyes widened. “You have to. If you’re the duke, you have to have a boy so he can be the duke after you.”
It surprised him at six, Elizabeth had already grasped the politics of the family.
“Well, I am only sixteen now though I’ll be seventeen shortly. I still must go to university and then I have years before I need to wed and have children.”
“I will be a good mother when I have children,” she proclaimed. “Even though my mother died, I think I can be a good one.”
He kissed the top of her head. “You will be a wonderful mother, Elizabeth. Off you go. I must speak to Father.”
He opened the door and watched as she skipped across the foyer and scampered up the steps. It saddened him that their father had cast her aside. He thought in part it might be because Elizabeth favored their mother so. She’d died giving birth to her daughter. Knowing the duke, he held Elizabeth responsible for her mother’s death. Jon vowed to keep a close eye on his sister and make sure she had both attention and affection from him since she lacked receiving either from her only parent.
Turning to the footman in the foyer, he asked, “Do you know where His Grace is?”
“He was in the library the last I knew, Lord Jonathan.”
“Would you send for Dr. Broll? I need to see him at once. It’s most urgent.”
“Of course, my lord.”
Jon nodded and proceeded upstairs. He entered the library and saw his father seated in a chair, gazing out the window. Slowly, the duke turned his gaze upon his son.
“You were to come to me when you arrived home.” His wintry tone could have frozen the lake at Blackstone Manor.
“I needed to see Arch first.”
His father’s features softened for a moment before they twisted. He glared at his son, his ire obvious.
“You are to obey me, Jonathan. In everything. Without question.”
“You are not a general. I am not your foot soldier. I spent far too long being afraid of you. Fearful of the beatings you dispensed and yet still longing to impress you. Hoping for a single look or a kind word. When I stopped caring what you thought or said, it was quite liberating.”
“You insolent, ignorant—”
“I’d wait on listing so many derogatory adjectives. Especially when you describe your heir.”
His words were like a slap in the face. His father went from stunned to grief-stricken in a matter of seconds. For a moment, Jon wanted to comfort him. He held his ground, though, knowing the duke would recover. As expected, he did, and turned his venom on his only remaining son.
“You are worthless as an heir,” Blackmore lashed out. “You look like Archibald and yet you are nothing like him. My son is good and kind and smart and wonderful.”
Jon kept silent. There was no need to blacken his twin’s name. Even if he told his father what Arch could be like, the duke never would have believed him. He’d favored his heir from the very beginning.
“The tutors at Harrow would tell you that I am intelligent,” he pointed out. “Athletic, as well. I may not be the duke that Arch could have been but I sure as hell will be better at it than you. I can’t help it that you took my brother to a place where a whore gave him syphilis. I cannot change the fact that he was in agony until he took his last breath. And yes, I got to speak to him before he died. I might have missed that opportunity if I had come to see you first.”
His father leaped from his chair and slapped Jon. The sting his face felt was nothing compared to the curses that sprang from the duke’s lips. He berated Jon, calling him vile and useless, telling him he would disown him if he could.
Finally, Blackmore collapsed into a nearby chair. “I loved Archibald. I gave everything I had to him. He was my heir. My hope for the future. You are a worthless nothing. I hate you. I never want to . . .”
Jon had already turned to leave, not wanting to listen to the continuing tirade. He spun around, however, and saw his father sputtering. His eyes went wild. His left hand clutched the right arm and shook it. Then he slid from the chair and hit the floor. Jon returned and knelt as his father tried to speak—and couldn’t.
Calmly, he said, “You have suffered at attack of apoplexy, Father. I had a friend at school whose uncle suffered one. He was bedridden for years, one side of his body paralyzed. That could be you. Or you might go quickly. Knowing you, you will want to be with Arch.”
He rose. “I’d already sent for Dr. Broll so he could confirm Arch was gone. I will see that he tends to you, as well.”
Leaving the library, he met up with Roy and said, “His Grace has fallen ill. He will need several footman to carry him to his chambers. Dr. Broll should already be on his way back to Blackstone Manor. We lost my brother today.”
The butler’s face betrayed no emotion. “I’ll see to His Grace at once, my lord.”
Dr. Broll arrived an hour later. By then, the duke had been taken to his bedchamber, unable to speak and only moving his left hand. His mouth drooped to one side, drool dribbling down his chin.
Jon rose from his chair by the bedside and greeted the physician.
“I believe my father has suffered a sudden attack which may be apoplexy. And during my visit with my brother, he passed on.”
A look of understanding passed between the two men and the physician said, “It was not unexpected. Lord Grafton was very ill. I know he was comforted in getting to see his brother a final time before he moved on.”
“We had a good conversation,” Jon confirmed. “He was at peace when he went.”
“Let me examine His Grace.”
Dr. Broll went to the bed as Jon crossed the room and stood next to the window. He gazed out on the rolling green lawn as he heard the doctor ask several questions. His father could only grunt a response. Despite the horrible treatment he had received over the years from the duke, inwardly Jon flinched. It didn’t take a doctor to tell him that the once larger than life Duke of Blackmore had been reduced to nothing in a matter of seconds—and that he would never recovery his robust health again.
After several minutes, the physician called to him and Jon returned, coming to his father’s bedside, Broll facing him on the opposite side.
“His Grace’s condition is very serious, Lord Grafton.”
Jon tried not to react, hearing himself referred to by his brother’s title for the first time. A title that was now his. It seemed surreal to think he was now Lord Grafton, a peer with a title. A man who was heir to a dukedom.
“What can be done for him?” he asked, looking to the bed and seeing his father’s gaze fixed upon him, his eyes full of hostility even now as he lay helplessly in the bed. For his part, Jon could only ignore it. He’d grown rather good at ignoring his father the past few years.
He turned back and saw Dr. Broll had witnessed the silent exchange between father and son. Pity filled the physician’s eyes, making Jon angry. He tamped down his ire, knowing to express it would serve no purpose.
“His Grace can be kept comfortable,” the physician said. “Eating will be a challenge since I doubt he can chew. Many peers who find themselves in this position have their valets act as a nurse to them. If His Grace chooses not to do so, I can recommend—”
The doctor’s words were interrupted by wild grunts from the duke. Seeing he had their attention, he tried to speak. Only garbled noise came out, frustrating him further. He attempted to shake his head.
“How long does he have, Doctor?” Jon asked.
“It’s hard to say, my lord. I have seen men live for years in this state.”
A whimper came from the bed. He forced himself to look upon his father, now defeated, and saw him go limp, as if he’d given up. His eyes closed. It looked as if his breathing halted.
The physician grabbed for his stethoscope and placed it to the duke’s chest, listening for several seconds. He finally lifted it and placed two fingers against the duke’s throat and shook his head.
Dr. Broll looked to Jon. “Your father is dead, Your Grace.”
In the midst of a single hour, Jon had gone from being a sixteen-year-old with no title or fortune to becoming one of the most powerful figures in all of England.
Arabella Jennings finished pinning up her hair and made her way to breakfast. She hoped her father, an Oxford don, would be in better spirits today. Yesterday, he had received a letter from the widow of one of his brothers, informing him that her clergyman husband had passed away from a heart attack. Arabella didn’t know this brother, who was a dozen years older than her father and the third son of the Earl of Barrington. In fact, she had never met Reverend Jennings or the eldest two brothers. Her father told her the second son, fifteen years his senior, had gone into the army, as was expected of second sons. The current earl, the eldest of the four boys and the one who had inherited the title, was eighteen years older than her father.
In part because of the age discrepancy, Arabella’s father had never been close to his brothers, who were all away at school when he was born. She came to understand that these three men blamed her father for killing their mother, since the countess had died giving birth to Reginald, a very unexpected arrival. It led to an estrangement that had never healed. Her father had no social connections, being a fourth son, and he told Arabella the way Polite Society worked, his brothers hadn’t needed him because he could do nothing for them.
From the moment she had learned of this hostility and how her father’s position in the birth order caused the family to practically disown him, she’d had no tolerance for the ways of the ton. Fortunately, she would never experience moving through society. She didn’t need it and it certainly would have had nothing to do with her.
It didn’t matter. She liked her life as it was, other than Mama harping on occasion for Arabella to wed. She didn’t have time to be married and have babies. Her life was much too exciting, being her father’s assistant. As an Oxford don, he lectured and regularly met with his students. Over the years, she had spent much of her time sitting in the back of his class, soaking up all the knowledge he bestowed upon his rapt pupils, and even attending the seminars of small groups which her father led in various discussions. After all this time, Arabella had come to write most of her father’s lectures, researching in various libraries and adding to his already full notes.
Her favorite times were when they ate supper with the young men he taught. Many of the dons regularly dined at night with their pupils throughout the various colleges. Since her mother ate like a bird and never wanted anything at the evening meal, Arabella and her father had taken to having their final meal of the day with his students. The lively discussions—some turning to arguments and occasionally heated blows—were always intriguing and entertaining. At first, students new to university would question her presence but she proved herself time and again as being an intellectual equal. They then forgot she was a woman and often sought out her opinion on a variety of topics. It warmed her that by the time a young man left Oxford, she would have won him over. She only wished that women could become tutors but she knew that was only wishful thinking on her part.
The Michaelmas term was about to end, however, which would bring weeks of quiet to their household until the new year, when Hilary term would begin in January and run through March. Arabella found herself becoming bored during these breaks and flung herself into further research to occupy her time.
She found her mother already sitting at the breakfast table. Her father hadn’t yet arrived.
“I’ve made toast for you,” her mother said. “There’s some new marmalade, as well. The tea is ready. Pour out for you and me if you would.”
“Of course, Mama. Thank you for making breakfast.”
As she readied the tea, she felt a pang of sympathy for her mother, who had been a doctor’s daughter. Mama had always wanted to be a part of Polite Society and had thought marrying the son of an earl, who was an Oxford don, would change things for the better. Instead, she quickly realized that her husband had no standing in society. Her mother wore her disappointment in her lot in life as a blanket, her dour expression rarely changing. At least Papa earned enough for them to have a maid and cook come in twice a week. The maid did all the heavy cleaning that Mama didn’t want to do, including their laundry, while the cook prepared a few hearty meals they could eat from for a few days. That was why Arabella enjoyed going to eat with her father’s students because the fare at the places they dined stuck to her ribs. She enjoyed eating and was fortunate that she never seemed to put on weight despite her healthy appetite.
Her father came and sat, a pensive look on his face. She wondered if he still thought about his dead brother—and if it caused him to think about his own mortality even though he was years younger than his three siblings.
“Tea, Papa?” she asked.
He nodded and she prepared a cup for him as her mother filled his plate from a chafing dish. She placed eggs and ham in front of her husband but he seemed lost in thought, pushing the food around on the plate.
When Arabella had finished her tea and toast, she saw he wasn’t going to eat and said, “Papa, I would like to go over your upcoming lecture with you. I found a few fascinating facts that I’d like you to include.”
“Hmm. What?” he asked, his distraction plain.
“Papa, the term is almost over. You only have two more lectures to give. I wish to talk about them with you. Why don’t we go to your study?”
“Of course, Arabella.” He rose and smiled fondly at her. “I look forward to seeing what you have discovered.” His eyes twinkled at her. “Sometimes, I think you are more the scholar than I am.”
Relief filled her. He suddenly seemed like his old self again. “Good. Come along then. I have a tidbit or two that will surprise you.”
It didn’t take but a moment to reach his study. Their house was small, consisting of a parlor that doubled as their dining space, along with a tiny kitchen, the study, and two small bedchambers. Once when she was much younger and her mother had told her she was the granddaughter of an earl, she had asked Papa about the house he’d grown up in and he had told her all he could remember. It shocked her that he’d had no idea how many rooms it contained. The more he spoke, the more she realized how far down in the world he’d come. While he might be a distinguished university don, their entire home would most like have fit inside his childhood home’s drawing room.
They entered the cramped room, where they had their two desks pushed together, facing each other, and each took a seat opposite the other. Arabella began telling her father what she had discovered and told him the exact place he could weave the new facts into his lecture.
“Oh, my!” he exclaimed. “This is enlightening. A bit controversial.” His eyes lit with mischief. “And it will make for an excellent discussion topic at supper tomorrow night after my pupils have heard it.”
“I thought so, too,” she agreed quickly. “Lord Smithson will totally embrace it. Mr. Johnson will merely fight him tooth and nail.”
“Because Mr. Johnson enjoys verbal sparring,” Papa said, laughing. “More than most young men his age.”
“I would also add Lord—”
The door swung open, her mother bursting into the room. Immediately, Arabella knew something of importance had occurred because Mama never interrupted them when they were at work.
“You must come quickly, Mr. Jennings,” she said, out of breath, the color high on her cheeks. “A solicitor from London has arrived. He says he has news of the utmost importance. Oh, I wonder if I should have offered him tea,” she fretted.
Both Arabella and her father rose and he said, “Let’s see what he has to say first, my dear. To see if he is worthy of tea.”
Mama gave him a bewildered look. “Of course, he’s worthy, Mr. Jennings. He’s from London! I will go now and put on the kettle.” She quickly turned and left them alone.
“Shall we go see what this so-called important visitor has to share with us, Daughter?”
“Perhaps it has something to do with your brother’s passing,” she ventured.
He frowned. “I don’t see why it would. The living was near Barrington Hall, where I grew up. It will go to someone new, of course. It wouldn’t have anything to do with a London solicitor.”
“Let’s not keep him waiting, Papa,” she urged, taking his arm and guiding him to the parlor.
When they reached the doorway, she looked at the small parlor through different eyes, wondering what the well-dressed visitor who sat there thought about the place. He was a small man, his pate bald and his clothing immaculate. His dark eyes cast about the room. Something in his expression told her he found things lacking.
“Good day. I am Reginald Jennings,” her father announced as they entered the room. “This is my daughter, Arabella. My wife said you wished to see me. How may I be of help?”
The man rose. “I am Malcolm Price.” He glanced to Arabella and then back to her father and said, “I have a grave matter to discuss with you.”
Her mother rushed in. “The kettle’s on, Mr. Price. We’ll have tea in no time,” she said brightly.
The solicitor nodded curtly. “Thank you. As to the matter at hand, I believe we should speak in private,” directing the statement to her father. “Perhaps we might go somewhere else.”
Papa chuckled. “There is nowhere else to go, Mr. Price, unless you want to speak in my bedchamber while seated upon the bed.” He held out a hand. “Please, have a seat again. We will stay here and talk.”
“Then I would ask that the ladies—”
“My daughter will stay,” Papa said flatly, brokering no nonsense. “I value her opinion and would have her hear what you’ve come to say to me.”
“What about me, Husband?” her mother asked.
“Of course, you will also stay, my dear.” He smiled benignly at her and then took a seat, indicating for Arabella and her mother to also sit in the remaining chairs. “Go ahead, Mr. Price. Share your news.”
The solicitor took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. She tensed, worried what he might say. Already, her father was upset over the death of his brother and she didn’t want something to be added to the burden he carried.
“I have come with several pieces of news,” Mr. Price began. “The first is that your brother, Reverend Jennings, passed away a week ago.”
“Yes, I know of it,” Papa said brusquely, his voice tight, making Arabella realize he fought back tears. “My brother’s widow wrote to me. I received the letter only yesterday.”
“My impression was that you were not in touch with anyone within the family,” Mr. Price said, surprise evident in his voice.
“We weren’t,” Papa assured him. “I have not spoken to or written my brothers in decades. The letter came as quite a surprise.”
“Well, there are more to come,” the solicitor said cryptically.
His words irritated her and she said, “Speak plainly, Mr. Price. My father is a busy man, preparing for his final lectures of the term to be delivered later this week.”
His brows knit together in what she decided was anger because she’d spoken up but for some unknown reason, the solicitor held his tongue. Disapproval still shone in his eyes as he continued.
“Your second brother died three weeks ago from war wounds previously received.”
Papa started. “Oh, my.”
“Yes. Lieutenant General Jennings was hit by a stray bullet almost two months ago. The doctors thought they’d gotten out all the lead but must have been mistaken.”
“A lieutenant general, you say. He would have been happy to achieve such a high rank,” Papa murmured, his eyes filling with tears.
Arabella took his hand in hers and squeezed. “I am sorry you have lost not one but two of your brothers, Papa. Perhaps now would be a good time to reach out to the earl and share your sorrow. I know you are estranged but you might be able to offer him some comfort.”
“That won’t be possible, Miss Jennings,” their visitor continued. “You see, I am also here to deliver the news that Lord Barrington passed away four days ago. He had been ill for quite some time. The earl only had one son, who predeceased him in death many years ago. His other two children were girls.” The solicitor paused. “I know this comes as a shock but, Mr. Jennings, you are now the Earl of Barrington.”
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