Made for the Marquess (Second Sons of London Book 4)
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A reticent army officer who loses a beloved brother. A personable beauty eager to make up for lost time. And one magical kiss that changes everything . . .
Lieutenant-Colonel Percival Perry maybe be reserved, but he is an outstanding army officer. When Percy receives news of his brother’s accidental drowning, he is forced to sell his commission and take up his title as Marquess of Kingston. Nightmares of the war plague Percy even as he longs for a wife and family. When he meets an attractive, spirited woman, he can barely speak and knows he made a poor impression upon her.
Araminta Nicholls is two and twenty and missed making her come-out, thanks to the pesky Americans who started a war that kept her stuck in Canada for several years. Minta is ready to make up for lost time and find a husband so she can have the children she longs for. When she is introduced to a solemn marquess, Minta believes him to be much like her own shy twin and comes to have feelings for Lord Kingston.
But Percy’s nightmares continue and he fears he might plunge into madness, taking Minta with him. Knowing he loves her, he makes the decision to give her up, believing he is damaged goods. But Minta is a fighter—and she isn’t going anywhere.
Can Minta convince Percy that opposites can make for a wonderful marriage—and that love can conquer any problem if they face it together?
Find the answer in bestselling author Alexa Aston’s Made for the Marquess, the fourth book in Second Sons of London.
Each book in Second Sons of London is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1: Educated by the Earl
Book #2: Debating with the Duke
Book #3: Empowered by the Earl
Book #4: Made for the Marquess
Book #5: Dubious about the Duke
Book #6: Valued by the Viscount
Book #7: Meant for the Marquess
Release date: July 6, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Made for the Marquess (Second Sons of London Book 4)
Waterloo, Netherlands—June 1815
Lieutenant-Colonel Percival Perry halted in his tracks, exhausted.
This day would be one for the history books. Years from now, military strategists would study this battle, one Percy hoped would be the final one in this endless, bloody conflict with Bonaparte. It wasn’t good enough that the Coalition had defeated the Little General last year and exiled him to Elba. No, Bonaparte had escaped and formed a new army, which had been soundly defeated today.
The heavy rains of last night had left the battlefield as mush. Fighting hadn’t commenced until almost noon—and had been fierce throughout the afternoon. As dusk descended, all three French columns had failed, with their artillery and supplies falling into the hands of Anglo-allied and Prussian armies.
It was close to ten o’clock now and he didn’t think he could make it back to camp. Every place on his body ached. While his sword was sheathed, he almost dragged his rifle and bayonet. His temples pounded, a headache pressing against them and the back of his head.
But he was alive, by God. Only a few scratches. A minor miracle considering how many men had fallen today on both sides.
As he trudged back toward camp and Wellington’s command post, Percy forced himself to look straight ahead. Because what lay all about him was a horror almost too great to conceive.
Bodies lay scattered across the land, the tinny scent of blood thick in the summer night’s air. The wounded, many missing limbs, were mixed among the dead as they cried out. For help. For water. For their mothers, wives, and sweethearts. The various languages swirled about him. Perry hardened his heart and kept moving forward. He knew the medical tents would be filled to the brim with wounded men. He himself had assigned various soldiers under his command to look among those injured—and only transport those that had a true chance of survival. These that were left lying in the blood and mud would be the ones the town of Waterloo dug thousands of graves for.
He arrived back at camp, scanning for Win as he went. He had not seen his cousin since mid-afternoon and prayed Win lived.
As he drew closer to Wellington’s tent, he saw officers he knew heading away from it. Approaching more quickly now, Percy greeted the sentry on duty, who saluted him.
“What word is there?” he asked, his voice hoarse from shouting commands over today’s gun and cannon fire.
“The last report we received was that Wellington and Blucher were meeting at Genappe at nine this evening, Lieutenant-Colonel.”
“Any casualty notices reported for the day?”
The soldier looked grim as he said, “His Majesty’s army lost around fifteen thousand men. That’s both dead and wounded. The Prussians, last we heard, totaled around seven thousand.”
“And Bonaparte’s forces?”
“They’re saying prisoners of war might be as many as eight thousand, with another twenty-five thousand killed or hurt.”
“Any standing orders?” he asked, astounded at the figures the sentry had revealed.
“I’d get some sleep, Lieutenant-Colonel,” the soldier recommended. “From what I gather, Wellington’s army will be on the march tomorrow, headed toward Paris.”
“Then Bonaparte has yet to be captured.”
“I believe that is correct.”
“Goodnight,” Percy murmured, turning away from the sentry and making the long walk back to the tent he shared with Win.
When he arrived, he found himself alone. Cold sweat broke out across his brow. Win had to be alive. Percy couldn’t lose him. His cousin was as close as a brother to him. They had gone to school and university together and served alongside one another during the past seven years of war. He had always depended upon Win, never more so than when their trio of good friends from Cambridge left the military one by one, returning to England to claim titles. The five had called themselves the Second Sons because they were all the second males born into their families, destined for military service. Through odd circumstances and fate, Spence, Ev, and, finally, Owen had all become peers of the land, selling their military commissions and returning to England. All three had wed, with Spence and Ev already becoming fathers and Owen about to be one in two months’ time.
Percy collapsed on his cot, too tired to remove any of his clothing. As he lay there, he thought how much he had begun to hate his life. How jealous he was that his friends had escaped this bloody war. How that bloody bastard Bonaparte’s escape had extended this lengthy war. If only today marked the beginning of the end for the Corsican dictator.
He hoped it signaled the end of fighting for him. Percy felt as if he were about to lose his soul, thanks to all these years of conflict. He needed to escape. To have a quiet, uneventful life. To find the man he once was before war invaded his body and soul.
The tent flap moved and he quickly sat up in anticipation.
Win walked through, a broad smile on his handsome face.
He leaped to his feet and wrapped his arms tightly about his cousin. They pounded one another on the back, grinned at each other, and pounded some more.
Win was the first to break free. He reached under his cot and withdrew a bottle of French brandy. Opening it, he took a swig and handed it to Percy, who sat on his cot and did the same, returning the bottle. They passed it back and forth several times before he shook his head and Win retained custody of the bottle.
“They haven’t found Bonaparte yet,” Percy began. “I hear we’re clearing out tomorrow morning for Paris.”
His cousin nodded. “I have heard the same.” A shadow crossed his face. “I stopped by the hospital tents. That was a mistake.”
“We will be leaving many men behind,” Percy agreed. Hesitating a moment, he admitted, “I wish I were one of them.”
Win’s startled look had him quickly amending his words. “No, I don’t wish to be dead or severely injured. But I am so very tired, Win. Tired to my bones. To my soul.”
“We all are.”
He shook his head. “This is different. I feel as if I am being swallowed up,” he shared. “That if I don’t get out, nothing will be left of me.”
Perplexed, Win asked, “What would you do if you sold out, Percy? We are second sons. We are meant for a lifetime in the army. Once this conflict finally ends—and it will because we have the Little General on the run and have decimated his troops—we will be sent other places. A few months ago, before the treaty was signed at Ghent, it might have been the Americas. We could still be shipped overseas to Canada to help in its defense. In case those pesky Americans get a wild idea to try and invade again.”
His cousin leaned over and placed a hand on Win’s knee. “But we will be together.”
“You don’t know that,” he said woodenly. “You could receive orders to report to Canada. I could be sent to India. Or back to England. The Caribbean. There is no guarantee we will fight side-by-side for the rest of our lives, Win. We could be assigned posts thousands of miles away and never see one another again.”
Win leaned back, his brow furrowed. “You have always been a gentle soul, Percy. That is a compliment. You see with your heart, as well as your mind. I understand how war has ravaged your soul. But what choice do you have? Do we have?”
“In Rupert’s last letter, he told me his estate manager was thinking of retirement. I want to go home, Win. To Kingwood. I wasn’t raised to be the marquess. I won’t be jealous of my brother. I just need the peace and quiet of the country. Of home. I have missed Essex and dream of it. If Rupert has already hired a new steward, perhaps I could be his game warden. Anything but a man who kills for a living.”
Win studied him a long moment and then said, “Then go home, Percy. Rupert will make a place for you. Do it now—before it is too late.”
“Oh, I will wait until we see this thing with Bonaparte through. I owe it to king and country.”
A wave of exhaustion hit him. Mixed with the brandy, it made him sleepy.
“We will talk more of this, Win. But for now, I must close my eyes.”
He did—and blackness enveloped him.
Percy awoke, his mouth dry from the brandy he had consumed the previous night. He glanced over and saw Win beginning to stir.
He wondered if it had been wise to share with his cousin what had lain so heavy on his heart for so long. In truth, Percy had never wanted to go to war. As a second son, however, his only option had been the military. He had understood at a young age, thanks to the simple explanation from his father, what his role in the family would be. That he would be the son given over to the military and if war came, he would lead men into battle. It was ironic because he hated the sight and smell of blood. Skinning his knee as a child not only pained him but looking at the scrape would throw him into a frenzy.
For that reason, he had campaigned to go into the navy. Unfortunately, most noblemen who turned their sons over to that branch of the military did so at a very young age. He would have had to leave home at twelve—thirteen at the latest—in order to move up through the ranks. His mother had put her foot down regarding that plan, saying she would not turn over her child to men. Even his father had agreed, sharing two stories with Percy that came secondhand from friends. Both instances his father recalled made Percy’s hair almost stand up on end. Papa had said the navy was known for its cruelty and harsh punishments. He preferred Percy follow his cousin, Winston, into the army once the pair had completed university.
That had settled matters and Percy had been glad he had not only Win but the other Second Sons accompanying him to war. His years at Cambridge had been ones of learning and great fun, thanks to Owen, Ev, and Spence. The latter two were more reserved as Percy was but Owen and Win were outgoing and charming and did everything in their power to bring the other three Second Sons out of their shells.
He had been able to tolerate the war when it was the five of them standing together. As his friends left, however, it seemed as if the world were closing in on Percy. He was glad he had shared his feelings with Win and yet hated how his cousin and closest friend had encouraged him to sell out.
Because it would leave Win alone in the world. Wherever he was sent by his commanding officers, Win would be separated from the solid friendships of the Second Sons.
Percy swung his legs from the cot and Win did the same. Both men set about readying themselves for the day, knowing they would have troops to rally and prepare for the long march toward Paris.
The tent flap stirred and he looked up, seeing a private with a bundle of letters.
“For Lieutenant-Colonel Percival Perry,” the soldier said, looking barely old enough to shave.
“I am Perry,” he said, reaching out and collecting the two. He glanced to Win, who shrugged.
“You thought Terrance would write to me?” His cousin snorted.
Terrance was eight years older than Win and Percy and had never had anything to do with either boy. He had been wild from birth and Percy assumed since the years they had left England that Terrance had become one of the biggest rakes and gamblers of Polite Society. The only letter Win had received from his brother was when Terrance wrote four years ago of the Duke of Woodmont’s death. Terrance hadn’t even told Win what his father had died from.
And hadn’t answered a single letter Win sent after that.
Eventually, Win stopped writing them and never spoke of home.
Percy turned to the letters in his hand. The top one came from Rupert. He sat on his cot and eagerly tore it open, always happy to hear from his brother, who was three years Percy’s senior and had always looked out for Percy and Win while they were at school. No boys had dared to bully them because Rupert Perry would have made mincemeat of them if they had.
The letter was typical Rupert, giving Percy the local gossip in the neighborhood and then sharing that he was off to London for the Season, hoping something might come of it this year. Glancing at the date, Percy saw it was dated over two months ago. He wondered if Rupert meant this might be the year he took a bride. His brother was two and thirty now and had mentioned in his last correspondence that he was seriously considering finding his marchioness. Percy hoped his brother would. No one was kinder or would be a better husband and father than Rupert.
“Any news from Rupert?”
“The usual. Talk of spring planting and gossip about his tenants and acquaintances in the neighborhood. It sounds as if he also might offer for someone this Season.”
Win pulled on his boot. “He should. It’s about time he settled down and got an heir.”
Percy refolded the letter and set it on the cot beside him. Picking up the other letter, he broke the seal, not recognizing it or the handwriting on the front. His eyes looked first at the date, which was three weeks ago, then fell to the bottom of the page. He frowned, not being acquainted with a B. Harris. His eyes returned to the top.
26 May 1815
Dear Lieutenant-Colonel Perry,
It is with deep sorrow that I must inform you of the passing of your brother, the Marquess of Kingston. Lord Kingston was in London for the Season and had gone sailing with friends on Saturday last. Unfortunately, the weather grew rough, with high winds, and the sailboat was overcome. Your brother and two others drowned. A fourth made it to shore but died shortly afterward.
I am sorry to break this news to you through a letter but traveling to see you in the Netherlands was impossible. I pray that this letter finds you well and that the Coalition will find Bonaparte and end this evil from the face of Europe.
It goes without saying that you must resign your commission and return to England to take up your title and duties as Marquess of Kingston. Once you have left the military, please come to my offices in London (address below). I will be able to give you a clearer picture of your state of affairs since I served as your father’s solicitor for several years and then your brother’s, as well.
My deepest sympathies to you, my lord.
Your humble servant,
The page fluttered to the floor as a numbness filled Percy. Rupert. Dead. It seemed impossible. Yet this Harris must be telling the truth.
Win was saying something to him but he couldn’t seem to make out the words. His cousin reached for the letter and scanned it quickly.
“My God, Percy. You are Lord Kingston.”
This was not how he wanted to leave the army. He never would have wished for his brother’s death. He didn’t even want the bloody title. But he had no choice. Lieutenant-Colonel Percival Perry had ceased to exist.
In his place stood the Marquess of Kingston.
Ontario, Canada—August 1815
Minta Nicholls stood on the wharf, her father to her left and her twin sister on her right. Sera took Minta’s hand and squeezed it in anticipation.
Looking out, she saw the long-awaited ship now sailing into the harbor. They had every indication that Mama would be onboard. Mama had stayed behind in England when Papa had been appointed as an assistant to the Administrator of Upper Canada four years earlier. While Papa had taken his daughters to Ontario with him, Mama had remained in England to nurse her father in the last few weeks of his life. They had expected her to follow shortly.
Then the war with the Americans broke out and Mama was stuck in England. Minta thought it bad enough England was already at war with Bonaparte and resented the brash Americans for trying to take advantage of England’s attention being elsewhere and attempting to annex parts of Canada to their new United States.
What was supposed to have been a year in Ontario had turned into four. Minta and Sera had missed making their come-outs in Polite Society. Their aunt, Lady Westlake, had always promised a Season for the twins. Now, however, they had missed it and the two Seasons beyond that. If they returned by next spring, they would be two and twenty, already considered on the shelf by many of the ton. Minta already worried about finding a husband.
Not Sera. She had lost her Canadian sweetheart in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and still mourned for him, despite the fact there had been no formal arrangement between them. Minta hoped returning to England and taking part in next spring’s Season would bring Sera out of the sadness that clung to her.
“I think I see Mama!” cried Sera. “Look, to the right.”
“It is Mama,” she agreed, squeezing her twin’s hand.
While Minta had missed her mother terribly, she knew it had been far worse for Sera. Sera and Mama were so like one other, reserved in nature. Minta took after her father, Sir Radford Nicholls. He was a larger-than-life figure and enthused about everything. In a way, Minta felt a bit guilty that because of her vivacity, she was always noticed well before Sera. Because of that, she had grown quite protective of her twin over the years, never more so than during their sojourn in Canada.
“I hope your mother will like the house,” Papa commented. “Of course, you girls have put nice touches on it.”
She wondered how her father felt about seeing his wife after such a long time. She knew theirs had been that rare love match, and the thought they had been apart for so long tugged at her heart. She couldn’t imagine how lonely her father had been.
Anticipation rippled through her as the ship drew near and Mama caught sight of them on the docks. She began waving wildly, which was very much out of character for her. It let Minta know just how eagerly Mama looked forward to the reunion with her husband and daughters.
By the time the ship docked, they had moved close to the ramp and watched as Mama was the first down the gangplank. Sera started to break free from Minta to rush to their mother, but Minta held her fast, predicting Papa would want to be the first to greet Mama. Sure enough, he moved swiftly toward the gangplank, his gaze focused on his wife. Mama lifted her skirts and ran the rest of the way, throwing herself into his arms. In an uncharacteristic display of public affection, Papa briefly kissed Mama and then grinned at her.
“Come see the girls,” Minta heard him say and Mama briskly moved the rest of the way down the gangplank and reached them.
Minta released her hold on Sera’s hand and her sister flung herself into Mama’s arms. By now, both women were crying and Minta herself blinked back tears. Mama and Sera embraced for a long moment and then Mama pulled back and cradled Sera’s cheek.
“My Seraphina, how you have grown into such a beauty.”
Her twin blushed profusely, as she did whenever she received any compliment.
Mama turned and smiled broadly. “Araminta, my darling. Come here.”
She moved to her mother and warmly embraced her, the familiar smell of roses clinging to Mama. Suddenly, tears poured down Minta’s cheeks and she realized how much she had also missed Mama.
Holding her at arm’s length, Mama said, “You, too, Araminta, have grown into a beauty just as your sister. Oh, how I regret these years apart from you girls.”
While Papa saw to Mama’s luggage, the three women linked arms and returned to the waiting carriage.
Sera insisted on sitting by their mother, lacing her fingers through Mama’s as she asked, “But how are you, Mama? The three of us have had each other these past few years. I am so sorry about Grandpapa’s death.”
As usual, her mother looked stoic and briefly told them about the last few days of her own father’s life. Letters had been sparse during the war and so they began filling in the blanks as to what had happened during their long separation.
Papa joined them in the carriage, sitting next to Minta, smiling across at his wife.
“I cannot tell you how good it is to see you here,” he proclaimed. “We have missed you so very much, my love.”
With watery eyes, Mama echoed the same sentiments.
Twenty minutes later, they arrived at what had been their assigned home in Ontario. While Papa had been the chief civilian aide to Major General Isaac Brock when they’d first arrived in Upper Canada, he had taken over a large part of duties as the Administrator of UC, the title held by Brock, since the major general was already so involved in the military affairs of Upper Canada. When Brock was killed in battle the following October, the crown had assigned a new Administrator for Upper Canada. With the war continuing, however, the subsequent military commanders focused more on battles and were frequently gone, leaving Papa, a civilian, in charge of the day-to-day duties.
Minta wondered just how long her father would remain in this post. Now that the war with the Americans had ended, thanks to the Treaty of Ghent, she assumed a permanent administrator would be named. She did not know whether Papa would feel obligated to remain or if he would ask to be reassigned and come home to England.
Whatever his plans might be, however, Minta would be returning to London as soon as possible. She hoped her aunt’s offer of providing a Season still held. She would ask Mama about it, but wanted to give her a little time before broaching the subject.
Papa allowed the twins to show Mama around the house, a spacious three-story home which had been bare when they’d arrived. Furnishing and decorating it had been an arduous task but one Minta and Sera enjoyed very much. It had given them both confidence for the time they would be managing their own households. Minta wondered if she would marry a man with a title as her aunt had done. She hoped so. She knew despite what a wonderful man Papa was, that Mama’s parents had not liked the fact their daughter had fallen in love with a mere baron. They had favored her aunt, who had wed the Earl of Westlake.
After they had shown Mama the house from top to bottom, her mother’s praise was effusive for their efforts.
“I am simply astounded that you could take a blank canvas and create such a lovely home,” Mama praised.
“We did it together,” she said. “It will probably be my favorite project I ever work on.”
“Until you have a household of your own, Araminta,” Mama said. “Come, let us call for tea. We can have a nice chat then. For now, I am going to freshen up.”
“I will see to tea,” Sera said and left them.
Minta went to their parlor, her father absent since he had duties to see to. He had told them he would return in time for dinner.
A quarter-hour later, the three gathered in the intimate parlor.
“This will be your space, Mama,” Sera said. “There is a larger room we have used for limited entertaining, though not much of that has gone on during the war.”
“I only received a handful of letters from you girls,” their mother said. “I wrote you and your father once a week but I was told that very few of those letters would get through with all the naval battles disrupting the post. Because of that, I seem to need to get to know both of you all over again.”
Mama gazed from Sera to Minta and added, “When you left me, you were on the cusp of womanhood. You are both now matured and so lovely.”
Mama looked to Sera and said, “I do know that you have a man you are interested in. Captain Marsh. Tell me about him.”
Immediately, Sera’s eyes filled with tears. Even Minta’s throat grew thick with emotion, hurting for her twin.
“I must excuse myself,” Sera said abruptly. “I have something in my eye.” She fled the room.
“What did I say wrong?” Mama asked. “Has the young man broken it off with her?”
“Captain Marsh died in battle last July, Mama,” Minta explained gently. “Although no formal betrothal existed between them, Edward had promised to court and marry Sera when he returned from the war.”
Her mother’s cheeks flushed. “Oh, dear. I have put my foot in my mouth, reminding my dear Seraphina of something so painful to her.” She hesitated and then asked, “Did your sister love this man? You would know better than anyone.”
She shrugged. “They were quite fond of one another, Mama, but I cannot say Sera loved Edward. They had only known each other for a short while before he left to go to the front. I think that is why he wanted no betrothal announced between them. In case he did not return. He would not have wanted Sera to grieve.”
“And yet Seraphina still does,” Mama said wisely.
“She does. She has spoken very little about Edward’s death, even to me.” Minta paused a moment and then decided to plunge ahead.
“I know you have just arrived in Ontario, Mama, and I have yet to learn from Papa what his plans are. I believe it would be in Sera’s best interest, however, to return to England and attend the Season next April if Aunt Phyllis still wishes to sponsor us. We have only had one letter from her during the entire war. You stayed with her and Uncle West. What are your thoughts?”
“Of course, Phyllis still wants you,” Mama insisted. “The both of you. We spoke many times about that very thing. If your father wishes to remain here in Canada, then I will stay with him. I would want you girls to go to Westfield. I think you are right. Seraphina must get over this loss. The sooner, the better. The Season—and finding a husband—would be the perfect solution.”
“Then you wouldn’t be upset with us leaving? We have been apart so long and that would mean another long separation if you and Papa remain here.”
Mama took Minta’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “I have always wanted what was best for you girls. I think this time with your papa has been good for you but you need the company of Polite Society. Oh, I so hope that you both will find a love match as I did.”
Minta wasn’t especially interested in a love match. She knew they were uncommon among members of the ton. She was independent from birth, the first exiting her mother’s womb, and always had a mind of her own. She did not see herself misty-eyed, catering to a husband’s every whim. She wanted the thrill of society and all the many activities it provided. She also wanted the assurance of a husband and his name. She looked forward to providing an heir for her husband but she assumed they would go their own ways and pursue their own interests, just as her aunt and uncle and most other couples of the ton did.
She figured Sera would have a very different opinion, however. She did not think Sera had been in love with Edward Marsh, only the idea of being in love with him. It would do Sera a world of good to get away from Ontario, particularly since they seemed to run into Edward’s parents far too often for Sera’s emotional wounds to heal.
“We will enjoy some time together,” her mother promised, “and then I will suggest that the two of you return to London. Crossing the Atlantic in the harsh winter months is difficult. I would not want you to wait until spring because there would be no time to outfit you with a new wardrobe, which Phyllis has promised for you and Seraphina.”
“When do you think we should return then, Mama?” Minta asked with enthusiasm.
“I believe early September would be best. By then, I would know your father’s plans and if we were to accompany you or if I needed to find a chaperone for the two of you.”
Minta did not point out that she and Sera were already one and twenty years old and of legal age. She hoped her parents would return with them but if that proved not to be the case, she prayed an appropriate chaperone could be found because she did not see Mama letting them leave otherwise.
“Shall we keep our conversation between us?” Mama asked. “We will talk again in a couple of weeks and begin making plans.”
“Whatever you say, Mama,” Minta said, eager now to know what her future held.
And by this time next year, she would have completed her first Season, hopefully with a fiancé in hand.
Kingwood, Essex—February 1816
Percy awoke with a start and immediately flipped to his side, grabbing hold of the pillow and burying his face into it as the scream tore from his mouth. His quick action allowed the unholy noise to be muffled so that only a small sound escaped. Slowly, he released the pillow and turned onto his back, feeling the sweat that drenched him.
He still had trouble sleeping after all these months away from the front and when he did, nightmares of the war came to him as if he had never left. He saw the charges. Smelled the blood. Heard the cries of the barely living. The scenes haunted him.
He wondered if he would ever escape the horrible memories.
Rising, he washed and padded naked to the chair sitting by the window. Though the room was chilly, he sat there, bare, hoping to cool his body before dressing and going to breakfast. He was in a routine now, for the most part, since his return to England almost seven months ago. He rose early and breakfasted. Met with Smith, his steward, though the man was on the verge of retiring. Percy had even gone for brief visits to the other two estates he had inherited, along with Kingwood, which was the country seat of the Marquess of Kingston. He had hoped one of those two stewards might transition to Kingwood and take Smith’s place. Instead, he found each of them fairly new to his position and not capable of handling the affairs of a larger estate.
He supposed once Smith retired that he would have to find someone to replace the man. For now, he asked that Smith stay on for a full year from Rupert’s death. That would give Percy time to glean as much information as possible from Smith, as well as look for an adequate replacement.
He’d had plenty of advice, thanks to the Second Sons who now resided in England, just one county south of him in Kent. Percy had visited each of his friends, meeting their wives and children. Spence, Owen, and Ev had all come to Kingwood, as well, riding the property with him and dispensing advice when asked. Having the trio only a few hours away by carriage brought relief to Percy.
Yet, at the same time, the three men he knew were very different. Oh, Spence and Ev were still a bit reserved and Owen was someone who had never met a stranger. Percy still felt comfortable in their company. Subtle differences had occurred, however. In part, he knew it was because of the titles the three men now held. They had gone from the duties they had fulfilled as officers in His Majesty’s army to taking on the responsibilities of their titles and all that entailed.
Moreover, all three men had wed and had children. In their visits together, he had come to know and appreciate the ladies he called the Three Cousins, who were now wed to his friends. They were remarkable women—and they had influenced their husbands in broad and subtle ways. Percy understood just how close all three men were to their spouses and how taken they were with not only their wives but their children.
He had never given children an ounce of thought. Nor marriage, for that matter. Yet he understood now that he was a marquess, it was his duty to find a wife and sire an heir to continue the Perry line for another generation to come. That fact had come out during each of his visits to his friends’ estates. Adalyn, in particular, told Percy she had a knack for placing couples of the ton together and would be happy to help him find a bride.
That thought terrified him.
He might look in control on the outside, but inside he swirled with turmoil. The war had affected him in ways both small and large. What woman would want to be in his bed, only to be awakened by his screams and shouts? It also felt as if something were missing inside him. Never one to express his emotions, Percy felt dead inside. He didn’t seem to experience joy or happiness. It wouldn’t be fair to claim a wife and have her tied to life to a man who felt nothing. Yet he wanted to feel again. Live again. Perhaps, even love, as his friends did.
Of the three, Owen had been the one to pull Percy aside and tell him when he did seek a bride, to make sure he loved her. Owen admitted he had never truly believed in love, even seeing how besotted Spence and Ev were with Tessa and Adalyn. Once he had found it with Louisa, however, he understood what his friends had. Owen said he wanted that for Percy, too.
He thought he should ring for Huston and dress for the day. Owen and Louisa were staying at Kingwood for a few days, along with Margaret, their infant daughter. The three were early risers and would most likely be at breakfast soon. He and Owen were going to meet with the manager of Percy’s mill today and then Owen and his family would return to Danfield for a couple of weeks before making their way to town for the upcoming Season.
Percy dreaded the thought of the Season. Endless parties. Standing about talking with strangers he had nothing in common with. Dancing with young misses who would be dazzled not by him but his lofty title. Tessa had warned him about that, something Percy never would have considered. He didn’t even know how to dance. He supposed he had better learn by April, when the Season would begin.
The thought depressed him to no end. He had never been comfortable around others and froze up when meeting strangers. Socializing—and finding a bride—would be even worse than going to war.
He rang for Huston and the valet shaved and then dressed Percy for the day. He liked the servant simply because Huston said so little, merely performed his required duties. Huston had been with Rupert for many years, ever since his brother had left Cambridge. It had been Huston who had accompanied Rupert’s body back to Kingwood for burial. Huston who had dressed his master and sat beside the coffin. Upon visiting Rupert’s grave when he’d first arrived, Percy had found a bouquet of fresh flowers upon it, later discovering Huston placed an arrangement upon the grave weekly.
Percy left his bedchamber and went downstairs to meet his friends for breakfast. As he had guessed, Owen and Louisa were already present in the breakfast room, little Margaret cradled in the crook of Owen’s arm.
It had surprised Percy how involved his three friends were with their children. His own father had been kind but distant to his two sons and his mother paid him and Rupert very little attention. Sometimes, it surprised him how loving and open Rupert had turned out. Once again, he wished that his brother would have wed and provided an heir so that Percy wouldn’t be in the position of being the Marquess of Kingston and having to do so. Yet his brother’s death had allowed Percy to leave the army. For that, he was grateful, though he felt at times he barely clung to his sanity as it was.
“Good morning, Percy,” Louisa said, giving him a gracious smile.
“Good morning,” he replied, liking Louisa a great deal. She had tamed Owen and Percy felt that his friend would live up to all the potential within him, thanks to his sweet wife.
He looked to Owen, who was doing everything one-handed since he held Margaret in the crook of his arm. She was six months old now and beginning to learn she had a voice. Suddenly, she squealed and then smiled in delight at the noise she’d made.
Owen finished buttering a toast point and held it up to his daughter.
“Why don’t you gum this, my little love?” he asked.
“You know she only has three teeth, Owen,” Louisa pointed out. “She is going to gnaw on it at best.”
Owen smiled at his wife. “Then let her gnaw away.”
By now, Percy had gone through the buffet and put a few items on his plate, returning to the table. A footman seated him and another brought him a hot cup of tea. While most of his friends favored coffee in the morning, Percy still preferred tea. He wasn’t fond of the bitter taste of coffee, no matter how much sugar and milk he put in it. What passed for coffee on the battlefront was like drinking sludge. No, give him a cup of strong tea anytime. Even multiple times a day. It was one of the reasons he was grateful to be home again.
“What do you two have planned today since it is our last day at Kingwood?” Louisa asked.
“We are going to the mill,” Percy told her and launched into a brief explanation of their day.
The entire time he spoke, he watched as Owen played with Margaret, a huge grin on his face.
For a moment, Percy experienced a yearning, one so powerful because it struck him from nowhere. Though he knew nothing about children, he realized the same had been true for his friends and saw how comfortable they’d grown with them. Perhaps it was in the cards for him to find a bride and have a family, after all.
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