Meant for the Marquess (Book 7 Second Sons of London)
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An army major compelled to leave the military. A lady forced to earn her living. Two souls finding a new way of life . . . and each other . . . along with love.
A brutal attack leaves Major Devin Hunt missing two fingers. Unable to fire a gun, he sells his commission and takes refuge with a former fellow officer who has now become a duke. His friend offers Devin the opportunity to become the estate’s steward and forge a new life.
Lady Julia Birmingham loses both her parents just before she makes her come-out. Her half-brother, who never considered her family, banishes Julia from her childhood home and she is forced to earn her living, eventually becoming the governess to the Duke of Woodmont’s nephews.
Devin asks the family governess to help him to learn to write with his left hand, knowing keeping records is an important part of his new position. Their attraction turns into love and Devin is ready to spend his life with Julia—until he suddenly becomes the Marquess of Bedford.
Can Devin convince Julia they can have a life together—or will his new title and wealth tear them apart?
Find the answer in bestselling author Alexa Aston’s Meant for the Marquess, the final 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: November 16, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Print pages: 252
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Meant for the Marquess (Book 7 Second Sons of London)
Tilbury Manor, Durham—February 1809
Lady Julia Birmingham clasped her father’s hand, knowing his time drew near. Her mother sat opposite her, silent tears coursing down her cheeks as she kissed her husband’s hand.
“Please don’t leave me, dearest,” Mama said, holding Papa’s hand to her cheek. “I cannot live without you.”
The Earl of Tilton looked at his wife sadly. “You will go on, my love.”
“I cannot,” she insisted. “I do not want to be without you.”
“Julia . . . has her Season. You must . . . see her wed.”
But Julia knew her come-out would be delayed. She would be in mourning for the man who was her world. It didn’t matter to her. She had never truly been interested in the world of the ton. Though she had enjoyed her trips to London, her heart was in the country.
Papa looked to her. “Wish the title could . . . go to you.”
She wished the same. Julia had spent her entire life as her father’s shadow. Riding out with him to visit tenants. Going over ledgers. Reading journals about raising crops and breeding animals. She knew absolutely everything there was to know about the estate and how to manage it. Unfortunately, English law awarded the title and entailed estates to the eldest son.
That meant Rodney would soon be in charge of Tilbury. What worried her even more was he would also have absolute control over her life and Mama’s. At thirty-five, Rodney rarely came to the country, preferring his fast set of friends in town. He had resented when his father wed a second time to a much younger woman. Rodney’s resentment grew when Julia, their only child, arrived. She didn’t trusted her half-brother in the slightest.
The door opened and none other than Rodney strode in, dressed in what she assumed was the latest London fashion. She knew exactly how much his tailoring cost because she saw the bills. Papa had a difficult relationship with his son from his first marriage. As long as the money flowed freely from Papa to Rodney, it had kept an unsteady peace between them.
He came to the foot of the bed and peered at his father. “I am here. As you requested.”
No words of love or support or even encouragement for a dying man. Anger simmered within Julia but she kept silent, not wanting to cause a scene at her father’s deathbed.
Papa blinked a few times and said, “Take care . . . of my girls.”
Rodney cleared his throat. “I will do the right thing. Of that, I can assure you, Father.”
Hearing that, the air—and life—seemed to go out of her father. Julia clung to his hand, tears now streaming down her cheeks. Mama wept softly.
The three watched as the Earl of Tilton took a final breath and expelled it. Then he lay still.
Realizing her husband had moved on, Mama wailed, her upper body falling across his as she clung to him. Her wrenching sobs broke Julia’s heart.
“Quit your bloody blubbering,” commanded Rodney. “You are embarrassing yourself and us.”
Either Mama didn’t hear her stepson or chose to ignore him as she continued weeping.
Julia came to her mother’s defense. “No one is here to hear her, Rodney. She should be allowed to grieve.”
His eyes narrowed. “You will address me as Tilton.”
A chill ran through her. “Of course,” she said, bowing her head so he wouldn’t see the loathing—and fear—in her eyes.
“We will hold the funeral tomorrow afternoon. You will not attend. See to the body and whatever else needs to be done.” With that, the new Earl of Tilton left the room.
Julia allowed her mother time to cry and when her tears were spent, she went to the other side of the bed. Wrapping her mother in an embrace, she said, “Go to your room, Mama. I will send for the doctor. He will give you something to help you sleep.”
Numbly, her mother nodded and left the room. Julia rang for the butler and valet and when they arrived, she told them to take care of her father.
“Lord Tilton wishes the funeral to take place tomorrow afternoon. I will see to the arrangements now.”
Their butler frowned. “Shouldn’t Lord—”
“His lordship requested that I handle the details.”
“I see. Very well, Lady Julia.”
She exited the room, going downstairs and sending one footman to summon the doctor and another the local clergyman. She longed to go to Papa’s study so that she might sit in his chair and breathe in the scent of tobacco that hovered in the room but she knew she would not be welcomed there.
Once the doctor arrived, she told him the situation and asked that he give her mother some laudanum to calm her. The clergyman arrived and she met with him in a small parlor, discussing the particulars of tomorrow’s service.
“Lord Tilton will be greatly missed, Lady Julia. He was highly thought of by all.”
She thanked him and spent the rest of the afternoon arranging to have a coffin sent to Tilbury Manor, as well as speaking with Cook about preparing food for the guests that would surely return to the house after the funeral. She understood that oftentimes females did not attend funerals but she wished she could be present at Papa’s gravesite to tell him farewell. Going to the graveyard after they entertained the expected guests might be better, she supposed. She could then say her goodbyes in private and place flowers upon his grave. The hothouse had been his favorite place and she knew exactly what blooms to choose.
Julia checked on her mother and found her fast asleep, her cheeks and the pillowcase stained with tears. Retiring to her own bedchamber, she sat in a chair, worry filling her. She wasn’t concerned about missing the Season. What did upset her was how brusque Rodney had been. No, Tilton. He would be a stickler for hearing her recognize him by his title. She would not make that mistake again. She would need to make certain Mama also understood that they walked a fine line now. Yes, Tilton had promised to take care of them—but she still didn’t trust him.
She assumed he would banish them to the dower house, which would suit her. Staying at Tilbury Manor with the new earl would be unpleasant. Julia also supposed he would attend the Season with finding a bride in mind. Though in his mid-thirties, Tilton had never considered settling down but she knew he would think of his obligations now in providing an heir.
She thought of the beautiful wardrobe that had already been created for her. Mama had sent to London for a seamstress who had been sewing away the past two months, creating wonderful gowns for Julia’s come-out. She would simply wear them next Season. She and Mama would go to town and Julia would find a husband, one who would also agree for Mama to come live with them. Better yet, Mama was three years shy of forty. She might even find a husband of her own. She was still a beautiful woman, with the same silvery-blond hair and azure eyes she had passed along to her daughter.
The thought soothed Julia. She rang for a maid and prepared herself for bed though it took a long time for sleep to come.
Julia’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much. So many people sought her out, telling her what a wonderful man her father was and how much the community would miss him. She had always known Papa was a good man but the outpouring of love for him made her proud to be his daughter.
She thanked the last guests for coming and saw them to the drawing room door, ready to collapse. Locating her mother, she saw how fragile Mama looked and went to her.
“Why don’t I send for some tea, Mama? Better yet, we could take it in your room.”
Tilton, who had been staring out the window, came toward them. “We must talk.”
“Shall I send for tea first?” she asked.
Cold fear filled her belly as she led her mother to a settee and sat beside her, slipping her hand around her mother’s cold one. Tilton moved closer to them, his hands clasped behind his back. He did not take a seat.
“Changes will be made now that I am the earl,” he began, studying them carefully.
Surprisingly, Mama spoke up. “I know we are in your way here, Rodney. We can move to the dower house.”
His mouth tightened. “It is Tilton, Madam. You are to address me that way in the short time left.”
“Left?” Julia questioned, her eyes narrowing.
“You will be leaving Tilbury.”
“Oh!” Mama said. “I had not thought of us still going to London. You see, Julia will not be making her come-out, my lord, due to our being in mourning. But if you wish us to be in town, we would be happy to go with you when you return. It is important for family to remain together, especially as we mourn. I know you will now look to the Season in order to find a bride so that you may get an heir.”
“You foolish woman!” Tilton said harshly, stunning the both of them. “You are and have never been family to me.”
Julia maintained her composure as she said, “You promised Papa you would take care of us, Tilton.”
He snorted. “I promised nothing to that old fool. I told him I would do what was right and I intend to keep to that.”
“We are family, Tilton,” Mama insisted. “I was wed to your father for almost twenty years. And Julia is your half-sister.”
“You are nothing to me!” he roared, marching toward them and glaring down at them. “You are imposters. He loved my mother. My mother. Not you. You sashayed about and caught his eye and he wed you because the fool thought he could recapture his youth. But you are not and never will be my family. I want you gone from here.”
Julia clutched her mother’s hand. “We said we would go to the dower house. We will not bother you being there.”
Tilton shook his head. “You are just as foolish as he was. The dower house is not for you. Neither is the London townhouse. Everything is mine now. Do you understand?”
She saw the blank look on her mother’s face as Mama asked, “But where would you like us to go, Tilton?”
“Straight to hell would be preferable,” he said. “Pack your things and first thing tomorrow morning, I will have the carriage take you into the village. From there, you can catch a mail coach to London. I hear there are plenty of agencies that employ impoverished gentlewomen. You can become a companion or governess.”
“You are removing us from our home?” Julia asked, knowing the die had already been cast and not caring that what she now said would anger him.
“My home. Not yours. You are to leave all Tilton jewels behind. Don’t think you can sneak anything into your luggage and sell it once you reach London.”
“And how are we to pay for tickets on the mail coach?” she demanded. “We have nothing other than the pin money Papa gave the both of us.”
He frowned. “I had not considered that. Very well, I will provide enough to pay for tickets to London.”
“More than that, my lord. London is far to the south and the journey will be long. We will need ample funds for meals and lodging.” She paused. “If you don’t provide this, I will be certain your name is blackened in the village before we leave. And when we arrive in London, I will do the same. By the time you arrive for the Season, the gossip will have spread everywhere. How you turned out your stepmother into the cold. How you—”
“Enough!” Tilton cried.
“I also want my dowry,” she said firmly.
“You receive a dowry when you wed a man of my choice,” he snapped. “Considering you will be working for a living and not frittering away your time with bachelors of the ton, I doubt you will wed. And if you do, I will not have granted you permission. Therefore, the dowry is mine.”
Julia started to protest but he held up a hand. “I have already discussed this matter with a solicitor. You are guaranteed nothing. Feel safe to assume that you will never see a farthing of that money.”
Fury filled her. She leaped to her feet. “You are as despicable as they come, Tilton. Papa would be ashamed of having produced such a vile, wicked man. I will loathe you until the day you die—and dance on your grave when you are in it.”
She turned and clasped her mother’s wrist, bringing her to her feet. “Come, Mama. We have packing to do.”
Leading her mother from the room, Julia was too furious to speak. They arrived at her mother’s bedchamber.
“Ring for a maid, Mama. Pack only essential things. The mail coaches are crowded and we will not be able to take much with us.”
Her mother slumped into a chair, looking helpless.
Julia reconsidered. “Better yet, let me go pack my things and then I will return and do the same for you.”
Mama began weeping and Julia embraced her. “He is a loathsome man. Do not shed tears over him or our situation. We will be fine, Mama. I promise you that.”
Looking up helplessly, Mama said, “How can you say that, Julia? Our lives are over. Mine was over the moment your father took his last breath. I don’t know how to go on without him.”
“We will do just that, Mama.”
She led her mother to the bed. Taking off her slippers, Julia eased her mother onto the bed. “Lie down, dearest, and rest. I will be back soon.”
An hour later when she did, Julia found her mother dead.
Occupied France—July 1816
Major Devin Hunt combed through the dispatches, sorting them into piles which he prioritized. As an officer, he enjoyed the balance of training his men in the field with the paperwork that came with the position. Training had stepped up, thanks to the upcoming general inspection, where each battalion was evaluated by brigade commanders every six months. These inspections tested the capabilities of units and their officers. The reports sent in were compiled by Wellington into a general report. Wellington also had decided to come annually each autumn to the plains of Denain and see the occupation forces in person.
Devin was glad after the Battle of Waterloo that he had been assigned to remain in France. The Occupation army consisted of thirty thousand troops composed of the allies who had claimed victory in the war. He had gotten to know several officers from these various groups. The Austrians trained hard and drank heavily at the end of the day. The Prussians thought they were superior to all others and rarely mixed with the British. The Russians proved serious during training and fun-loving when off the field. He had even picked up a smattering of phrases from their various languages.
The local French women were also a perk. Devin had not lacked for female companionship in the year since Waterloo had brought Bonaparte to his knees and the conflict in Europe finally to an end. The Little Corporal had surrendered to British forces at Rochefort and while Bonaparte had hoped to go to the United States, England’s king wasn’t taking any chances after Bonaparte’s escape from Elba Island. The defeated Corsican was exiled to St. Helena, a remote island off the African coast, where he would live out his final days. A friend of Devin’s had been sent as a part of the British guard which oversaw Bonaparte there.
He reached for the next piece of correspondence and found it was a personal letter from Percy. Devin had become good friends with Percy Perry and his cousin, Win Cutler, both now gone from His Majesty’s army. Percy had sold out shortly after Waterloo when he had received word that his beloved brother, the Marquess of Kingston, had drown.
Win had followed his cousin back to England only a handful of months later when notification came that the Duke of Woodmont had perished in a fire. His friend never spoke of the details of his older brother’s death, merely stopping by to tell Devin that he had sold his commission and would be returning to England. Win had encouraged Devin to come and visit both him and Percy should he ever be granted a long leave. The cousins lived on adjoining estates in Essex, so a visit to both would be convenient.
He doubted that would occur anytime soon. Rumors abounded that the Occupation army numbers would be cut soon. He also had it on good word that the British army would be reducing their forces by three hundred thousand men come the beginning of next year. Devin supposed the occupation in France would then come to a complete end. Most likely, he would end up in India, a place he had never seen. Those who had been stationed there told him the heat was intense but the food and people made up for it.
Breaking the seal, he read Percy’s letter, the contents which surprised—and delighted—Devin to no end. His friend was most reserved. While an excellent, respected officer, Percy was the shyest man Devin had ever met. Percy wrote of his marriage to a woman named Araminta, Minta for short. Love for his bride leaped off the page and Devin couldn’t have been happier for the marquess. Apparently, from what Percy wrote, Minta was beautiful and outgoing and he had stepped up to claim her from others. It made him long to see Percy and the changes the new marchioness had brought to his friend.
Percy also wrote of Win and how he was settling into his duties as the Duke of Woodmont. Win, like Percy and Devin himself, were second sons. Mere spares rather than heirs. In the case of both of his friends, however, those spares had been called upon when the heirs fell. He couldn’t be happier for the pair and hoped that he would be able to visit with them one day.
Until then, duty called. As a second son, he was destined for a lifetime in the army. As for his own family, he had lost contact with his older brother, the Marquess of Bedford. Or rather, Prentis had chosen to cut ties with Devin. Devin had been the one their father gravitated to, despite the fact that Prentis was the heir. Devin was the most like their father and had the most in common with the marquess. He realized now that Prentis had felt left out. As a result, the brothers had become estranged long before their father’s death. Devin hadn’t received a single letter from his brother in all his years in the army. He would turn thirty soon and it saddened him that rift between him and Prentis would never heal.
Setting aside Percy’s letter, Devin reached for the final item and found it to be a list of the upcoming court martials. He truly despised this part of his job. He was loyal to a fault, both to friends and His Majesty’s army, and could not understand why others would choose to falter in their duty or behave in a dishonorable fashion. He had witnessed acts which led to a soldier being court martialed, as well as investigated other ones. The latest had involved a despicable corporal who served as a quartermaster. Part of the tariff annexed to the military convention of last November set the number of rations France would provide for each soldier in the Occupied army.
While he understood that France had been hit hard with reparations and had mounting financial difficulties, the soldiers from these four countries were protecting France’s borders, as well as the country itself from unrest, and they were due certain items by their hosts. The rations spelled out were what he considered to be fair. Corporal John Kerley, in his capacity as quartermaster, had abused his position, collecting rations from the French and distributing them unevenly, even keeping portions to sell on the growing black market which had developed after the war concluded. Kerley’s trial would begin mid-afternoon tomorrow, after the first rounds of inspections and a two-hour simulated war games exercise.
Devin would provide direct testimony to the court of officers assembled, as well as evidence directly drawn from the quartermaster’s reports—and secret ledgers. He had found those hidden away after his initial investigation, stored at the cottage of Kerley’s French mistress. He made certain he had all the paperwork pertaining to Kerley’s prosecution and then decided he needed a break.
Stretching his arms high, he yawned loudly and then stood. He removed the gold pocket watch that had belonged to his maternal grandfather. Mama had given it to him and a signet ring to Prentis when she passed. The watch was his most treasured position. Naturally, Prentis had grumbled when he hadn’t received both, which was typically of his entitled brother.
He would have time for a quick bowl of stew before he needed to be at the field for a final round of drills before tomorrow’s inspection began. Training had proved to be difficult in the post-war period. A lack of fallow fields, coupled with poor weather, had limited some of their practice maneuvers. Of course, there were always the hours spent marching in lines, forming squares, and deploying into battle formations, as well as target practice. Fundamentals were important to Wellington and so officers such as Devin continued to stress them. The army had even established a riding school to train and retrain men in order that they became one with their horses.
Exiting his tent, he headed across the camp to where the kitchens were located and scooped a healthy portion of stew into a wooden bowl. A soldier handed him a spoon and a piece of bread and Devin stepped to the side, finding a fallen tree trunk to sit upon as he ate. An observer from an early age, he watched the men scurrying about the camp, glad to have a home in the army.
Finishing the stew, he took the bread and sopped up the remaining liquid. If there was one thing the French knew how to do, it was bake bread. The army had given up on this and merely purchased bread from the local bakers. If he were sent to India, he would miss French bread. The croissants. And the women.
Oh, those French women . . .
Devin returned his bowl and spoon to a private and started across the yard when he saw a line of soldiers being marched in his direction. Immediately, he recognized Corporal Kerley, along with three others who had been charged with various offenses, and supposed they were being transferred to a place closer to where their trials would take place.
As they approached, he stepped aside to allow the line to pass, an officer barking out a cadence to the men, whose hands were shackled.
Then Kerley caught sight of him. A sneer appeared upon the corporal’s face and he stopped marching.
“You think you’re so high and mighty, Major. All I was doing was trying to eke out a few extra coins to feed my boy back home. You went and ruined my life, you did.” Kerley spat in Devin’s face.
The officer assigned to the group rushed toward them as Devin wiped the spittle from his face.
“I’m sorry, Major,” he apologized frantically.
“Don’t think a thing of it, Captain,” he replied.
“Get back in line,” the captain barked at Kerley.
What happened next was a blur, something Devin could only recall bits and pieces of. Kerley slammed his bound hands hard into the captain’s chest, causing him to fall backward. As he did, Kerley grabbed the hilt of the officer’s sword, yanking it from where it rested. He turned, arcing it overhead.
Devin threw up his arm over his head to protect himself and felt the bite of steel slice into his hand. He jerked it backward and the sword continued its downward path, catching Devin on the chin. He felt the angry jolt of fire as the steel cut through skin. Stumbling back, he raised his right hand, cradling it in his left.
Two fingers were hanging by a thread, the smallest and ring finger. Even as the pain shot through him and blood poured from his hand, he called for a handkerchief. A soldier rushed up with one, holding it below Devin’s hand. He rested his right hand in it and wrapped it tightly, binding the fingers to his hand, praying they could be saved.
When he knew they would be lost.
Blood poured from his chin, dripping onto his coat. He glanced up and saw Kerley on the ground, being pummeled by several men. Devin grew lightheaded. Dizzy. Cold. Nausea swept through him.
“We’ve got you, Major Hunt,” someone said as things grew dark.
He felt himself being lifted, carried by who knew how many men. They raced along, arriving at the medical tent. He was lowered to an operating table and heard voices as he drifted in and out.
“Drink this, Major,” someone said, helping him to sit and putting a bottle of brandy to his lips.
He did as told, the liquid blazing like fire down his throat and to his belly, with some dribbling down his chin. Pain streaked through him and he realized his chin had also suffered from the sword.
“More,” the voice urged, so he continued to drink.
Then he was lowered back and darkness rushed up to greet him.
It did not last long, however. Agony caused his eyes to fly open. Devin tried to move but found himself restrained as he bucked. He heard a plop and looked up, seeing that a surgeon had dropped something into a bowl. Then agony rippled through him again and, this time he watched as the surgeon dropped a second finger into the bowl.
“Keep him steady, boys,” the doctor said. Looking down at Devin, he added, “I’ve got to cauterize your hand. That’s going to hurt like bloody hell. Then I’ll work on stitching up that slice on your chin, Major. You’ll have a nice little scar to impress the ladies.”
The next few minutes were tortuous as the pain seared him. Devin tried to think and then gave up, rational thought impossible. His hand felt like it had been lit on fire. He closed his eyes and sensed the in and out movement as the doctor stitched his chin together.
He was given another healthy dose of brandy.
“Sleep,” the doctor recommended. “You’ll feel better when you awake.”
When he did, he knew the doctor had lied through his teeth.
Devin also knew his career in the army had come to an abrupt end.
Woodbridge, Essex—late October
Julia awoke early, as was her custom, and thought on the day to come. One thing her father had always emphasized to her was to count her many blessings and she did so each morning before she rose and started her day. She was grateful for many things since having come to Woodbridge two weeks ago. Her charges were a delight and she knew the next year—or possibly two—would be very satisfying.
She had been fortunate ever since she’d left her childhood home. After discovering her mother’s cold, still body, Julia did not know if she would be able to go on or not. But that would have been a victory for her half-brother and she would never let him see her cower in defeat. She had gone straight to him and made what some might have considered a devil’s bargain. She demanded Mama be given a proper funeral and buried in the churchyard next to Papa, with no hint of her death being a suicide. For her part, Julia would keep silent about what Tilton was truly like. She swore on her mother that she would never tell Polite Society any of his sins.
Tilton had agreed and another funeral was held. This time, Julia demanded that she be present to say goodbye to Mama. So many people attended, much as had for her father, and the outpouring of love she experienced had been what sustained her for the next several weeks. She had traveled to London, an incredibly long and hard journey, on the crowded mail coach. Once there, she had found an employment agency and requested a position as a companion. She preferred to be in the country and lead a quiet life after the death of both her parents. The agency had the ideal position, that as companion to the Dower Marchioness of Sowbury. She lived in Somerset, far to the west, and once more, Julia embarked upon a long journey to reach her new place of employment.
Once she reached the Sowbury estate, however, she spent a delightful four years with the old woman, who was in her mid-eighties when Julia arrived. Fortunately, she had all her faculties and they had spent a pleasant time together, more as friends than employer and employee. The dowager marchioness was much loved by her family but she enjoyed her privacy living at the dower house. Julia spent many hours at the old woman’s side, reading to her, doing embroidery as they conversed, listening to stories of the old woman’s life.
She had mourned her employer’s death and returned to London to the same agency as before. This time, she’d requested a position in order to be around children. She realized she had no place in Polite Society and most likely would never wed. But being a governess would almost be as if she had her own children.
Her next assignment took her to two precious boys. She had spent three years with them until two months ago when they went off to school together. She had thought to take a bit of a break from her work when she had been approached by the Duke of Woodmont and his fiancée, now his wife. After hearing a bit about His Grace’s nephews, Julia decided, once again, she was needed and had agreed to come to Woodbridge after a brief sojourn in London. Freddie and Charlie would probably be her favorite charges of her entire career. They were both bright and inquisitive and two of the sweetest boys she had ever encountered.
Julia said her morning prayers, giving thanks for all her blessings, and then rose. Soon, Sara appeared with hot water. The maid assisted Julia in dressing each morning. Though her last employer had been kind, no one had thought of the governess needing help to dress. Things were different here at Woodbridge, however, mostly due to Her Grace. Not only had the duchess mentioned that Sara would help Julia dress and undress each morning and evening, but Her Grace these last two weeks had also spent time with the boys. Julia had learned that the duchess had functioned as a governess for the pair after the duke brought them home from London. The duke and duchess had a long talk with Julia, explaining the boys were by-blows of the previous duke, and the current duke had learned of the possibility of their existence when he assumed his title.
He had gone in search of them and found Charlie and Freddie, their mother on her deathbed. Actually, the dying woman, an actress, had been Freddie’s mother. Her dresser, mother to Charlie, had been another of the previous duke’s conquests. The dresser had died giving birth to his son, while Freddie’s mother had generously taken on the raising of the child, the boys were actually half-brothers. His Grace had seen to the poor woman’s burial and brought the boys home with him. Her Grace, recently returned from Upper Canada, had come to the household to help manage and teach the boys until a permanent governess could be found. The couple had wed and taken an extended honeymoon, leaving Woodbridge for almost three months as they toured the duke’s many properties, taking Freddie and Charlie along with them.
Now, they had returned to stay at Woodbridge and Her Grace made it clear she still wanted to spend time with her nephews-by-marriage. She had come to the schoolroom on several occasions and watched and even participated in the boys’ lessons. The duchess had discussed with Julia where the boys were in their education and the two woman had talked over ideas on how to progress with it.
Charlie was the more naïve of the two and a follower to Freddie. Charlie enjoyed reading and writing and was already becoming a storyteller in his own right. He particularly enjoyed reading stories from a collection His Grace had shared with his nephews. Puss in Boots and Cinderella were Charlie’s favorite stories and he called for them again and again.
Freddie, on the other hand, tolerated reading and writing. He enjoyed mathematics above all else and was starting to show signs of enjoying geography, as well. Julia would be introducing the boys to history this week. Her Grace had also mentioned music to Julia. She had an excellent signing voice and could play adequately, enough to begin the boys on lessons at the pianoforte.
Surprisingly, she had much more time to herself than she’d had in her previous two positions. The duke and duchess both wanted to play an active role with their nephews and spent more time with them than she had imagined others in the ton did. Because of it, she had been free to use the duke’s massive library and also walk and ride on the estate. After only two weeks at Woodbridge, she realized she would miss it and its occupants very much when her time here came to a close.
She used the water Sara now brought to wash and then the young maid helped Julia to dress for the day, lacing her into her corset and helping her don her petticoat and gown.
Crossing from her room into the schoolroom, Julia then set out the lessons for the morning. The duchess had recommended a healthy balance between schoolroom lessons and outdoor activities. Julia agreed with her, knowing growing boys’ could wander if they were left in the schoolroom too long. She also thought lessons could occur anywhere and so several of theirs had occurred outside. She finished preparing for the morning and then knocked softly and heard Freddie call out to her.
Opening the door, she found both boys already dressed and combing their hair. The duchess had started the boys on simple tasks in which they would be responsible for and contribute to the household. This included rising early each day to feed the chickens and collect the eggs that had been laid. Though both boys were only six, Julia couldn’t help but appreciate what the duchess had done. These boys, as by-blows, would inherit no title and need to work for a living someday. While she knew the duke planned to give them an excellent education, learning the value of hard work and receiving satisfaction from a job well done were important lessons for Freddie and Charlie to learn.
“Good morning, boys,” she greeted and they replied in kind.
Charlie enthusiastically told her about a dream he’d had the previous night, in which his pony, Brownie, had been able to fly. Both boys enjoyed riding and Julia made certain to incorporate a ride into their daily activities.
They went down the back staircase, reserved for servants, it being closer to the kitchens and the habit the duchess had started before Julia had arrived. They greeted Cook and the scullery maids who were already at work and Cook accompanied the boys outside, where she supervised them in their tasks. Julia had thought to do so herself, but the routine had already been established by the duchess. Cook had insisted Julia was to take a cup of tea while she was outside with the boys. Julia had gone out the first day just to see what her charges did and noted they completed all the tasks themselves, with Cook shouting instructions and praise.
A scullery maid brought a cup of tea and Julia seated herself, enjoying watching the hustle and bustle of the kitchens. Soon, Freddie and Charlie returned with their baskets full of eggs and they joined her at the table. This was another unusual activity which Her Grace told Julia that Freddie had thought of. His Grace had stressed to the boys to always do the right thing and be kind to others, no matter what their positions in life. Freddie had thought it silly for them to return upstairs to the schoolroom and have their breakfast brought to them when they were already right there in the kitchens. That meant every day she and her charges ate at the small table in the corner as the kitchen staff prepared breakfast for Their Graces and all those who worked in the household.
The day continued much as the ones before them had, with them finishing breakfast and returning to the schoolroom. The lessons for the day included both adding and subtracting sums. The boys had worked on addition before Julia had arrived and she’d introduced subtraction into their world last week. Charlie was indifferent but completed the problems he was to solve in order to practice his handwriting while Freddie raced through the problems and turned to the spelling words for this week. She checked both boys’ work, Freddie’s perfect and Charlie having missed one problem. She went over with him where he had made a mistake and then allowed him to return to his task.
The rest of the morning consisted of a geography lesson that also included a touch of history and she saw that topic lit an interest in both boys.
“We have completed our lessons and I think it is time we go and visit Blackie and Brownie,” she told them.
Both boys leaped to their feet, ready to ride. They made their way to the stables and Harrison, the head groom, greeted them.
“How were lessons this morning, Miss Birmingham?” he asked.
“They went very well, Harrison.”
“How was your ride yesterday? Did you like the mount I selected for you?”
The groom had given her three different horses to ride since she had arrived at Woodbridge and she found she had liked yesterday’s choice the best.
“I would like to keep with Whiskers in the future if you don’t mind.”
He nodded sagely. “She’s a beauty with a sweet temperament. You couldn’t do better than Whiskers. Be back in a jiffy,” he promised.
“Where are we going to ride today?” Charlie asked.
Julia had learned that the boys, who had never left London until their uncle located them, had only begun riding lessons back in July. Harrison had been in charge of teaching them during those early weeks and His Grace had told Julia the boys had continued to ride at each of the estates they had visited. Though they had only been in the saddle three and a half months, each had taken to it and they usually set out for at least an hour a day.
“I thought we would go to the meadow and pass by the tenants’ cottages, then come around and ride the lane back up to the main house.”
“I like that view,” Freddie said. “The house is pretty. We like living here.”
Neither boy had spoken about their mother or previous life during her short time here and Julia would not press them. She would wait until they brought up their mother to her. Her Grace had mentioned to Julia that the mother was named Sandra Sawyer and the boys, after much thought, had decided to assume the family name instead. From what Julia gathered, the duke had abandoned his mistress and the boys had taken their mother’s name. Twice, she had overheard servants talking about the deceased duke and how happy they were things had changed when His Grace had assumed the dukedom. The servants also spoke highly of Her Grace, as well.
Julia knew the couple was very much in love, not only by the fond gazes they gave one another but the small demonstrations of their affection. Their Graces did not hide the fact that they enjoyed holding hands and Julia had even come upon them kissing on occasion. A pang of regret filled her, knowing she would never have love in her life or a husband. Of course, love was not common among the ton. Though her parents were friendly toward one another, Mama had explained to Julia many times that marriages were business arrangements. Families were joined through betrothals and marriages most often were made to gain social or financial status within the ton. Her current employers were an exception. Her Grace was the sister of the Marchioness of Kingston and married to His Grace’s cousin. Their estates adjoined one another and Julia had already met Lord and Lady Kingston. Lady Kingston was due to deliver a child early in the coming year. Julia had a suspicion Her Grace also carried a child from the glow about her and soon would find out whether she was right or not. It might make a difference in how much time the duchess spent with the boys once she grew large and delivered her own babe. Naturally, she would want to spend more time with her own flesh and blood than her bastard nephews-by-marriage. Still, Julia couldn’t see the sweet duchess ignoring these wonderful boys.
Harrison arrived with their horses, another groom accompanying him, and soon she and her charges were in the saddle. They rode for well over an hour and then came up the main road that ran in front of Woodbridge. From a distance, she saw a cart stop and a man climb from it. He waved to the driver and then turned to start up the lane toward the house.
Curiosity filled her. She wondered who this visitor might be, arriving with no luggage and no transportation of his own. She had not heard any of the servants mentioning a guest would be arriving. The boys had been talking to one another and apparently missed this but, as they drew close and turned their horses onto the lane, Charlie said, “Look. There is someone walking up the road. I wonder who he is.”
“He must be a friend of Uncle Win’s,” Freddie replied. “We should stop and talk to him, Miss Birmingham.”
Her Grace had emphasized she wanted the boys taught manners and so Julia said, “Yes, we will welcome him to Woodbridge and see his purpose in calling.”
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