Music for the Duke
A rule-following viscount who becomes a sudden duke . . .
A young woman who loses her parents and turns to music for solace . . .
Two people who want very different things from life . . .
Lord Henry Vaughn witnesses the deaths of his father and grandfather and becomes the new Duke of Linberry. A decent, kind, and responsible man, Henry knows after this double tragedy that it is important he take a wife and provide a ducal heir since death can come calling unexpectedly.
Lady Sophia Sawyer loses both her parents closely together and mourns them the requisite year. When her cousin, the new Lord Parkhurst, calls her to London, she believes it is so she might make her delayed come-out. Instead, Fia is banished to live in the attic like a servant, while Parkhurst schedules her to give music lessons to children of the ton, keeping the fees for himself.
The couple meets through mutual friends and the duke is drawn to the quiet, golden-haired beauty. When Fia shares she wants to play and compose her own music, however, Henry is torn, worried what Polite Society would think of a duchess who is anything but conventional.
Will the duke learn to bend—and even let go of the ton’s rigid, unwritten rules—and instead choose to follow his heart?
Each book in the Suddenly a Duke series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order and can be read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Suddenly a Duke
Book 1 – Portrait of the Duke
Book 2 – Music for the Duke
Book 3 – Polishing the Duke
Book 4 – Designs on the Duke
Book 5 – Fashioning the Duke
Book 6 – Love Blooms with the Duke
Book 7 – Training the Duke
Book 8 – Investigating the Duke
Release date: March 17, 2023
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Print pages: 267
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Behind the book
I wanted my Suddenly a Duke series to spotlight unusual women. In Music for the Duke, Fia gi ves music lessons to children, bur she longs to play her instruments at the events held by Polite Society and compose music.
Music for the Duke
Fia left the schoolroom and headed downstairs. Her governess had gone to her bedchamber for a nap. At least that’s what she’d said. Fia knew Miss Blankenship would drink the funny-smelling liquid from the little tin she kept with her. Anytime Miss Blankenship did that, she would grow silly and then sleepy. She would give Fia a task to complete and then go to her room. Sometimes for hours.
Fia always finished what she was supposed to do and then found something to entertain herself with. She knew what Miss Blankenship did must be wrong, but she felt sorry for the governess. Once, she had come across Miss Blankenship crying after she had been drinking from the tin. The governess told her just how alone she was. How she had no family and no friends and went from position to position. She begged Fia not to say anything to her parents before she drifted off to sleep. Fia had watched the governess’ drool pooling in the corner of her mouth and then dribbling down her chin. When she was feeling well, Miss Blankenship was a good teacher to her. Fia did not want to be the one who would tattle on the woman so she would be forced to leave.
Downstairs, she first went to the drawing room, thinking she might practice the pianoforte. She had just started taking lessons and felt alive every time she sat and played. Three maids were cleaning the room, though, so she retreated to the library, retrieving Papa’s atlas. The atlas fascinated her. Papa had showed her where England was and told her it was the greatest country in all the world. He showed her the many places England and its king ruled. Papa told Fia that one day he would take her to all of them.
She doubted that would ever happen. Or if it did, they would have to leave Mama behind. Mama always seemed to be sick. She would tell Fia a babe was coming, and Fia would grow happy at the prospect of being a big sister. Sometimes, Mama’s belly swelled large, and Fia could place her hand atop it, feeling the soft kicks against her palm.
But no babies ever arrived. Mama would grow ill and take to her bed for weeks. When she emerged, she would tell Fia the babe had gone up to Heaven. Fia had finally stopped getting excited at the idea of having a little brother or sister. At least she could get out on the estate with Papa and walk and ride. With Mama, she would read and draw pictures. After a while, Mama would stop being sad and once more spend time outside her bedchamber with Fia.
She took the atlas to the large window seat and sat in it, her back against the wall and her legs stretched out in front of her. Opening it, she looked at different countries in Europe and then the Far East. She was distantly aware of two maids who entered the room to dust, but she tuned out their chatter.
Until she heard her name.
She realized the maids did not know she was in the room with them. Papa would have told Fia to make her presence known. He had said listening to others when they were unaware you were present was called eavesdropping. He claimed eavesdroppers sometimes learned things they did not know, but oftentimes heard things they wished they would not have.
Fia closed the atlas and started to slip from the window seat but froze at the conversation.
“They say the countess can no longer try for a baby,” one maid said. “That the doctor warned her if she did so, it would cost her her life.”
“But the earl needs an heir,” the second maid said. “Else his brother—and that bratty boy of his—will become the heirs.”
Fia did not like her uncle or her cousin. Theo was eight, two years older than she was, and lorded over her. He was mean to her—pulling her hair, pinching her sides, even kicking her shins. She had grown increasingly afraid of Theo but tried not to show it.
“It won’t matter. His lordship worships the ground his wife walks upon. He will not let her become with child again.”
“I heard his brother and nephew are arriving later today. Best we finish in here and report to the housekeeper.”
Fia curled up and sat silently while the maids finished their work and then left the library. No one had told her they had guests coming. No one had told her anything.
She did not want Mama to die. She also didn’t want Papa’s title to go to her uncle or Cousin Theo. Fia wished with all her heart that she could have been a boy and realized by being a girl, she had been a disappointment to both her parents.
Two hours later, her uncle and cousin arrived. She saw the carriage pull up in the drive and watched it, her insides twisting, making her want to retch. Miss Blankenship, who had finally roused herself, called Fia away from the window and had her copy spelling words onto a slate. She tried to think about the letters, but it was hard, knowing Cousin Theo would be here any minute.
A maid arrived and told Miss Blankenship, “Her ladyship wishes for Lady Fia to come down to the drawing room for tea.”
Relief swept over the governess’ face. “Ah, I see. Your cousin must have arrived. Go along, my lady. We will continue with this lesson tomorrow morning.”
Reluctantly, Fia followed the maid downstairs and entered the drawing room. This was the first time Mama had left her bedchamber since the last babe didn’t arrive. She was pale but smiling.
“Ah, Fia, my darling. Come say hello to your uncle and cousin,” Mama encouraged.
She moved slowly across the room and stopped, dropping a curtsey. “Hello, Uncle.”
She ignored Cousin Theo.
“It is too bad she is your only one,” her uncle said, causing her mother to flinch and her father to wince.
Papa slipped an arm about her waist, pulling Fia closer to him. “We are blessed to have Fia,” he said firmly.
She sat on Papa’s lap for tea though she knew she was too old to do so. She didn’t listen to what the adults said and avoided looking at Cousin Theo, who ate seven scones and two pieces of cake. Fia thought he would be very fat by the time he grew up if he kept eating so many sweets.
“I do think it is the right thing,” Uncle said, his gaze landing on her. “What do you think, Sophia?”
She didn’t want to admit that she hadn’t been listening, and so she shrugged. Her uncle smiled broadly.
“See, Fia will be happy to have her cousin with her all the time. Of course, he will go away to school soon. Still, it will be good for Theodore to spend his holidays at Parkwood.”
Her belly clenched. She stopped breathing.
What had she missed?
Papa said, “It will be good for Theodore to learn about Parkwood.”
Fia heard the resignation in Papa’s voice. At once, she understood that he accepted that there would be no new baby. No heir. That his nephew would one day inherit the estate and title.
“I am glad you think so,” Uncle said jovially. “Of course, there is always the possibility that I might become the Earl of Parkhurst after your passing. After all, I am younger than you. I do believe it is the right choice to allow Theodore to be brought up at Parkwood, though.” He turned to his son, who was stuffing yet another scone into his mouth. “You will like living here at Parkwood with your uncle and aunt, won’t you, Theodore?”
Cousin Theo shrugged and continued chewing.
“I will come to see you during some of your holidays,” Uncle continued.
Fia realized that her cousin would live here from now on. The thought of him terrorizing her on a daily basis made her feel both fear and sadness. She looked to Mama, whose eyes were bright with tears.
“I am so sorry to have let you down, Parkhurst,” she said, her voice a whisper.
Papa took her hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing it tenderly. “You have not disappointed me, love. You have given me Fia. We will be happy,” he promised.
But she knew things would never be the same again. Cousin Theo would always be around. They would no longer be a happy family of three.
“Stop eating those scones,” barked her uncle, startling all of them. “Go and play with your cousin. Think of her as your sister now. We adults have matters to discuss.”
She gripped her father’s tailcoat, not wishing to leave with her cousin.
“Go on,” Papa urged, lifting her from his lap and giving her a slight nudge.
Quickly, Fia left the drawing room. She hurried up the stairs, hoping Cousin Theo wouldn’t follow her.
He did, though, dogging her heels. “Where is your bedchamber?” he demanded.
She took him to the top floor and showed him her room and the schoolroom. “Miss Blankenship’s bedchamber is behind that door. She’s my governess.”
“I don’t need a governess,” Theo proclaimed. “I am going away to school. And then I will come here.”
He backed Fia into a corner. “You will have to always do what I say,” he bragged. “One day, I will be the Earl of Parkhurst since your mama can’t have a son. You will have to listen to me and do everything I say.”
“I won’t,” Fia said stubbornly. “You cannot make me, Theo.”
He stepped menacingly toward her, his hand spanning her throat. Theo began squeezing, tighter and tighter, until Fia could not breathe. She did the only thing she could think to do. She thrust her knee violently into his tender parts.
Theo screamed and released her.
Fia fled the schoolroom, running blindly down the corridor, trying to think of where to hide. She knew she couldn’t go to her parents. Mama would believe her, but Papa would tell her she and Theo had to get along now because Theo was the new heir.
Pausing at the top of the stairs, Fia frantically wondered where she could go. Where she might hide.
Then she was violently yanked back by her lone braid. Her cousin had followed her and now wrapped the long braid around his hand. His eyes were shining, looking so scary that she could not breathe.
Theo held her in place, his face coming so close his nose almost touched hers.
“You will do what I say,” he told her.
“Let go,” she pleaded. “You’re hurting me. You’re going to pull out my hair.”
“I will jerk it all out until you are bald if I want,” he threatened. “You are no one. I am the favorite now because I am a boy. Girls can’t inherit anything. I get it all.” He smiled gleefully. “You don’t get anything. You will have to depend on me.”
Tears rolled down her face. “All right,” she agreed, wanting him to release her.
He did so, slowly unwinding her braid until he only held the tip of it. His tone menacing, he said, “From now on, you will do whatever I want.”
Defiance filled her. Fia placed fisted hands at her waist. “I don’t have to until you are the earl.”
Theo slammed his hands into her chest, knocking her backward. She sailed through the air, panic filling her, knowing she had no control. Then she landed hard, hearing the crack as pain rocketed up her left leg, and she screamed.
Theo stood gloating at the top of the stairs. Quickly, he raced down them, bending close.
“You think you hurt now? I will hurt you more if you tell on me. I will sneak in and smother your worthless mother and stupid father.”
Through the radiating pain, she shook her head. “No, please, Theo. Don’t.”
“Then swear you will obey me.”
Fia looked up as he loomed over her, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I promise.”
Then her cousin began shouting, “Come quick! Cousin Fia fell. She’s hurt.”
He kept on shouting as she lay there. Servants appeared. Her parents and uncle, too. Papa lifted her, and Fia screamed, her leg hurting so much she wished she were dead.
And Cousin Theo stood off to the side.
Smiling all the while.
Henry Vaughn, Viscount North, awoke and rang for his valet. Ripley arrived soon after with hot water, first shaving Henry and then assisting him in dressing. He made his way down to the breakfast room, knowing he would find his parents there despite the ball they had hosted ending in the wee hours of the morning. Neither his father nor mother liked to lie abed, and Henry greeted them as he entered the room and went straight to the sideboard, placing eggs and ham on his plate before taking his usual seat at the table.
“My, our ball will be talked about throughout the Season,” Mama remarked. “Thanks to the Duke of Westfield’s proposal to Lady Margaret Townsend.”
Henry had danced with Lady Margaret and even called upon her twice, finding her rather interesting. He wasn’t sure, though, about her desire to paint others in Polite Society. Because of that, he had shied away, sending her flowers but not certain he wished to court her.
The Duke of Westfield, on the other hand, had taken the proverbial bull by the horns and made his intentions quite clear with a public declaration in front of the entire ton in the Strumbull ballroom last night. Henry knew the first dance was not supposed to be a waltz and had been looking about, curious as to why the musicians began playing one. When he saw Westfield take Lord Audley’s place and began dancing with Lady Margaret, Henry had an idea His Grace had somehow had a hand in the change of music.
Sure enough, Henry stopped dancing with his partner—as did every other couple in the ballroom—watching an incredible scene unfold. The duke wanted to wed Lady Margaret and she obviously was having none of it. Henry couldn’t hear quite everything His Grace said, but he saw the look in Lady Margaret’s eyes and knew the duke was swaying her opinion.
Then Westfield had dropped to one knee and proclaimed his love for the lady. She had accepted his offer of marriage. Rising, the Duke of Westfield had embraced his new fiancée and given her a kiss the likes of which no one had ever seen in public before. It was long, passionate, and truth be told, made Henry just a bit jealous, seeing how much this man loved this woman.
Then in a grand gesture, the Duke of Westfield had swept up his betrothed and carried her from the ballroom. The sea of voices rose in gossip, which had not ceased the entire evening.
“Yes, Mama, you will be the most famous hostess of this Season, I daresay.”
She looked at her husband and smiled fondly. “I do not recall any grand gestures from you on my behalf, my lord,” she said.
“Shall I make one now, my dear?” the earl asked.
Mama tittered and Henry smiled, happy he had parents who genuinely loved one another. They hadn’t at the start of their marriage. Theirs had been an arranged one, but over the years, they had grown very close and fallen in love. Henry was their sole child, the only disappointment in their marriage. He knew they would have liked to have had many more. Because of that, he tried to be the best son he could be, earning high marks at school and university and not playing the rogue as so many of his schoolmates did. In fact, he was at a point where he would like to settle down. Perhaps this Season would be the one he took a bride. He would not share this with his parents now, though, else Mama would be after him every single day, shoving girls making their come-outs into his path and trying to help him find a bride. Henry decided he could do so on his own, without help from anyone else.
Because of the circumstances of his parents’ marriage, he also knew love wasn’t necessary at the beginning. True, it would be wonderful to find a woman to love and have those feelings before their wedding, but he would simply look for someone who was kind, generous, and a lively conversationalist. It would help if she preferred the city over the country. Though he enjoyed time spent at his father’s country estate, he preferred the amenities of the city. In fact, he even thought he would like to do a bit of traveling once he did take a wife. There were places he longed to see. Perhaps he could take his bride on a honeymoon and visit some of them. Of course, with the war with Bonaparte still going on, he would have to watch where they traveled. Paris would be out of the question, though Henry did wish to see it someday.
He finished breakfast and said, “I think I will go up and see Linberry now.”
His mother frowned but said nothing. His father said, “He is becoming harder and harder to control. I am thinking we may have to hire additional help. Bosley is no longer able to manage him strictly on his own.”
Henry excused himself and went up the stairs. His grandfather, the Duke of Linberry, had gone into a steep decline several years ago when he reached his mid-sixties. Now seventy-one, Linberry needed watching around the clock, due to what the doctors called senility. His grandfather rarely knew who his family was anymore and sat staring into space for long periods of time. He had no memory of events in recent years but sometimes would speak of things from decades ago with clarity. Henry hoped this dotage did not run in the family. His father was in excellent health. Henry hoped he had many years before succeeding Father as both earl and finally duke.
He reached the bedchamber and rapped softly on the door, knowing that loud noises sometimes startled Linberry and set him on edge.
Henry heard the lock thrown, and the door opened. Bosley opened the door and quickly ushered Henry in.
“How is he today?”
The former valet to the duke shook his head. “Today is not one of His Grace’s better days,” Bosley said diplomatically. “I hope seeing you, my lord, will calm His Grace some.”
He stepped further into the room and saw his grandfather pacing back and forth, something he did when he was agitated. He had begun doing it so often that he was wearing a path into the Aubusson carpet.
“Good morning, Your Grace. How are you feeling today?”
His grandfather turned, his eyes wild. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“I am Henry, your grandson, Your Grace. My father is Lord Strumbull. He is your son.”
“Son?” the duke scoffed. “How can I have a son? I am but twenty years of age. I should be meeting with my tutor now.”
His grandfather often thought he was back at Cambridge. Those must have been happy years for him. He rarely spoke of anything beyond them and never mentioned his wife.
“Why don’t we have a seat, and you can tell me what you are studying.”
Henry moved to a chair, hoping Linberry would do the same. Instead, his grandfather continued his frantic pacing and ignored everyone. Bosley shrugged, standing ready in case he needed to step in.
Then the pacing ceased, and the duke moved to sit in a chair near Henry. He looked blankly at him. “Who are you?”
“I am your grandson, Your Grace,” he repeated. “My name is Henry. I was named after you.”
The duke snorted. “Henry is a terrible name. I don’t like it at all. It couldn’t be my name.” He thought a moment. “A-ha! It’s not. Or rather, it is—but I go by Harry. That’s it.”
It was at times like these that he discovered small nuggets about his grandfather.
“You do look like a Harry, Your Grace.”
Linberry nodded. “I never liked the name Henry. I always went by Harry. My sister used it immediately.” His face soured. “My brother was another matter.”
Knowing his great-uncle’s disposition, Henry did not doubt it.
“Why, I had to box his ears but good before he agreed to call me Harry.” The duke sniffed. “He was always a troublemaker, that one. Couldn’t keep his cock in his breeches. Spread his seed everywhere.”
Yes, the duke definitely described the man Henry knew.
“What does it take to get something to eat around here?” his grandfather asked.
Bosley stepped forward. “I have breakfast for you, Your Grace. I will fetch it now.”
Henry knew at times Linberry could be quite finicky about food and hoped this wouldn’t be one of them.
Bosley rolled a cart in front of the duke and lifted the silver cover, revealing a breakfast of porridge and scrambled eggs. The duke could only eat soft foods now, having lost several of his teeth.
As he ate, Linberry told Henry several amusing stories about his childhood, most of them casting him in the light of hero and his brother as villain. He did have a few nice things to say about his sister. Suddenly, the duke burst into tears and looked into Henry’s eyes.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
He nodded. “Yes, Your Grace. She died five years ago.”
“She was a good woman,” Linberry said, sadly shaking his head. “She should have had a better life.”
Henry had liked his great-aunt quite a bit. She had never wed and had lived with her older brother her entire life. Her death seemed to be the catalyst which had plunged the duke into this darkness of senility, where he remembered few people or events of the present and preferred to live in the past.
His grandfather spoke at length about childhood games he played with his sister and brother before he jumped ahead again to his university years, telling a few bawdy stories which left Henry blushing.
“Do you go to university?” the old man demanded.
“I attended Cambridge as you did, Your Grace. I have finished my studies there.”
His grandfather nodded sagely. “Then I hope you are enjoying your life.” He held up a finger and warned, “Don’t ever wed, young man. I was forced to do so and hated the woman who became my wife.”
How ironic that his grandfather had an arranged marriage and despised it. Yet he had turned around and done the same thing to his own son. Fortunately, his father and mother had found love.
“I say a mistress is always best,” the duke declared. “I used to juggle two or three at a time. My wife couldn’t stand that. She was a dried-up old prune by the time she was twenty. She gave me two boys, and I didn’t like either of them.”
Linberry’s face went slack again and then he asked, “Who are you?”
Henry decided to take his leave with that question and rose. “It was nice visiting with you, Your Grace.”
A worried look shone in his grandfather’s eyes. “You will come back tomorrow? You will visit me again?”
He nodded reassuringly. “Of course, Your Grace. I come to see you every day.”
The duke seemed to lose interest and returned to picking at his food as Henry moved to the door. Bosley followed.
“Thank you for your calming influence, Lord North. Even though His Grace doesn’t seem to know you anymore, you are a good influence upon him. I know this is difficult for you to see.”
It was—and it wasn’t. Henry had never been close to his grandfather, who refused any affectionate names and demanded his grandson call him Linberry. He knew, however, that Bosley had been extremely close to the duke for decades, serving as his valet.
“This is most likely harder on you than me, Bosley.” He studied the servant’s graying hair and wrinkled face and realized just how fragile Bosley was. It would be wise for his father to hire additional help to manage Linberry and his mercurial moods.
He left his grandfather’s rooms, going to the library where the newspapers awaited him. A footman brought coffee, and Henry spent the remainder of his morning perusing them. The war news seemed positive, with the government believing they had Bonaparte on the run. It was only a matter of time before the British and their allies defeated him. War seemed to be the only thing he could recall since England had been at it for so long with the Little Corporal.
The economic news was bleak, and he skipped over it, turning to the gossip columns. As expected, they were full of reports regarding the Duke of Westfield’s very public marriage proposal to Lady Margaret Townsend. For a moment, Henry was a bit jealous of the pair, again, having seen the love they held for one another as they gazed at each other while Westfield carried his betrothed from the ballroom.
Finally finished with his reading, he folded the newspapers and set them aside, downing the last of his coffee. He thought he might go to his club now and went downstairs. In the foyer, he thought he might see if his father wished to join him and asked a footman at the door, “Do you know where Lord Strumbull is now?”
“I believe his lordship has gone to visit with His Grace, my lord.”
Henry did not want to interrupt that visit and decided to depart alone.
Suddenly, he heard shouts from above and looked up, seeing his grandfather at the rail. To be as old as he was, Linberry agilely climbed atop the rail and stood, his arms stretched wide. Fear filled Henry, knowing within seconds his grandfather would lose his balance and fall to his death.
Shouting up, he cried, “Linberry! Get down from there!”
The duke stared down to the foyer, and his gaze met Henry’s from that distance.
In that moment, he knew the man would jump before he fell.
Then the earl appeared, slowly moving toward Linberry. Henry could only catch a few words since he was at such a distance, but he knew his father begged for the duke to come down.
The duke was having none of it.
Linberry’s gaze again met Henry’s, and he knew his grandfather was about to leap. That there was nothing he could do to stop the action. His father, though, must have realized the same and reached out, latching on to his own father’s legs to prevent him from jumping, just as the duke hurdled over the railing.
Taking his son with him.
Henry saw it unfold as if in slow motion, seeing the gleeful smile on his grandfather’s face as his banyan billowed wide, while his own father’s look of terror sliced through Henry’s heart.
Then both men landed on the marble floor merely feet in front of him. Immediately, he rushed to them, hearing the moans of his father, who had landed on his back. Agony shone in Strumbull’s eyes.
“Fetch the doctor!”
Servants appeared, scurrying about.
Henry took his father’s hand, clasping it gently, his other hand stroking the earl’s brow.
“Help is coming, Father,” he said reassuringly, though he believed his father beyond it.
Strumbull’s eyes fluttered and then closed, and Henry looked to his grandfather. He, too, had landed on his back, spread-eagle. A pool of blood seeped from beneath him, his eyes wide in death.
Henry swallowed the bile that threatened to spew from him. With his free hand, he reached and brushed his grandfather’s eyes until they were closed.
The next few hours were a blur. His mother coming out and shrieking, falling to her knees at her husband’s side, weeping profusely. The doctor arriving. The duke’s body being removed, and the new duke’s body taken gingerly up the stairs. Henry led his mother to her bedchamber and put her to bed, a maid watching over her. Returning to his father’s rooms, he asked the doctor to provide a sleeping draught.
The doctor took something from his satchel and gave it to Henry, explaining how to administer it. He left and returned to his crying mother, having her drink it and staying with her until she fell asleep.
Going again to his father’s bedside, he joined the doctor, who said, “His Grace’s back is broken, my lord. Other bones, as well. I have administered morphine.”
“Does he feel any pain?” Henry asked anxiously.
“At this point, no.” The doctor gazed at Henry in sympathy. “You must be strong, Lord North. The duke has very little time to live. I will stay and continue administering the morphine to keep him as comfortable as possible.”
Dully, he nodded. “Will he regain consciousness?”
“It is possible but not likely,” the physician told him.
Thus, the vigil began, with Henry sitting at the new duke’s beside, his hand covering the duke’s cold one.
Late that afternoon, his father’s eyes opened. Immediately, Henry saw the agony in them.
“It is all right, Father. You had a fall, but the doctor is here. You will get better. It will take time.”
Sadness filled Strumbull’s face. “I have never lied to you, Henry. I would ask . . . for the same courtesy. Tell me, what is it?”
“Your back is broken, as is your left leg and shoulder.”
The physician had determined those, and he told Henry there was no reason to try to set or stabilize them because in all likelihood, the fall had paralyzed his father.
“How long do I have?” the duke asked, his voice low and weak.
“Not long,” he said, deciding honesty would be best as his throat thickened with tears.
“You . . . have been the best son . . . a father could ever wish for.” The duke coughed, his face scrunching up. “Take care . . . of your mother. This will be hard on her.”
With those words, the Duke of Linberry took his final breath.
Horror filled Henry.
He was now the Duke of Linberry.
Lady Sophia Sawyer awoke in the cramped, windowless room and remembered she was back in town at her cousin’s residence. Parkhurst had exiled Fia to the top floor of the servants’ quarters after her parents’ deaths. They had both taken ill and passed away shortly after her seventeenth birthday. Her uncle had already been gone for five years, making her cousin Theodore the heir. Theo had immediately left university and come to Parkwood, ordering everyone about before he left for London. It had been a relief to see him go and allowed Fia to mourn in peace.
Little did she know those months spent alone at Parkwood would be the last peaceful ones of her life, months where music became her solace and refuge.
Once her year of mourning ended, Theo had summoned Fia to town before the start of the Season. Fool that she was, she thought he had sent for her to outfit her with a new wardrobe and see her make her come-out. She went into their meeting knowing she would have to tolerate him for a short while, but hoped she would wed and be able to leave his household.
Instead, he sentenced her to a life where he had absolute control over her.
Fia was to always call him Parkhurst. Never Cousin Theo. She would not make her come-out as planned. Rather, she was to earn her keep by giving music lessons to the children of the ton. Theo asked how many instruments she had mastered and listened to her play a selection on each one before making his announcement. While Fia loved music, she had thought to wed and begin her own family, teaching her children how to play the piano or violin.
She was exiled to the attic room, which held a single bed and a trunk to store her clothing. Thankfully, she did not have to share it with another servant because the rest of the room was filled with the various instruments she played. Her violin and viola. Her flute and cello. And for a time, her harp. The harp had finally been moved to the drawing room because Parkhurst would call upon Fia to play it for his dinner guests.
Dinners which she never attended but only entertained at.
For four years now, she had given lessons to children, most often starting them on the pianoforte and if they showed any talent, moving them to the violin or flute. Fia never saw a farthing from the lessons she gave. Parkhurst had told her it was gauche for a female in Polite Society to discuss money. He was the one to accept new clients and charge whatever he saw fit, pocketing every penny of the money.
He did give her pin money, as a husband would a wife, but it was so little that she could not afford to see a modiste or milliner. Fia had learned to sew from Millie, one of the household maids who had served as Mama’s lady’s maid. Parkhurst emphasized that Fia must always look presentable when she entered the houses of her students and she did, thanks to buying fabrics that were neutral and sewing her gowns herself, changing the trims to update them from year to year. She also learned from Millie how to craft her own bonnets.
Fia thought if she could take the money earned from the many lessons she gave, she might be able to live on her own. She had even brought it up once to Parkhurst on one of the rare occasions she saw him. The cold look he gave her was like a slap in the face. He told her never to address the subject again.
Millie appeared now, helping Fia to dress.
“It’s good to see you again, my lady. Did you enjoy your time at Lord Capwell’s estate?”
She taught both of Lord and Lady Capwell’s daughters, girls who were nine and ten years of age and the most talented students she had spent time with. Because the Capwells thought their daughters held promise, they had asked Fia at the end of last Season if she might return to the country with them and tutor the girls until the next spring when the Season began. She had told them she must check with her cousin, Lord Parkhurst. Lord Capwell had said he would handle the matter.
The next thing Fia knew, she was packing to go Oxfordshire.
She had relished the months spent with the Capwells in the country. Parkhurst never went to Parkwood, preferring his steward manage the estate in his absence. That meant Fia, too, stayed in town year-round. To be able to take long walks in the country, breathing in its fresh air, had been the most she had enjoyed herself since her parents’ passing. She had remained in Oxfordshire throughout all the holidays, accompanying the family back to town and arriving only yesterday.
It had been hard to part from Maisie and Daisy, but Lady Capwell had assured her daughters that they would continue their lessons with Fia. She only wished she could have remained in their household instead of returning to her cousin’s residence.
She realized she had been woolgathering and apologized to Millie. “Yes, my time in the country was most enjoyable. Maisie and Daisy both show true promise. It is unusual seeing ones so young with their talent.”
“You are also talented when it comes to music, my lady,” Millie said. “Why, I remember all the times hearing you practice when we were at Parkwood. And you would bring your violin or cello to her ladyship’s rooms and play for her to soothe her.” The servant grew misty-eyed.
Fia took Millie’s hand and squeezed it. “I know you miss Mama. I do, too.”
“His lordship told me when he weds that I can serve as a lady’s maid again to the countess,” the older woman revealed. “I think he’s ready to look for a wife this Season.”
She didn’t really care what her cousin did. Any woman Parkhurst wed would probably be just as selfish as he was. Besides, her cousin’s marriage would have nothing to do with her. Her only involvement, if any, would be to play for his guests at his wedding breakfast.
Millie excused herself, needing to get back to her duties. Fia brushed her hair and pinned it up, leaving her room to head down to the kitchens for breakfast.
When she arrived, the housekeeper said, “Lord Parkhurst wishes for you to breakfast with him, my lady.”
“I see,” she said guardedly.
Parkhurst must want something. Fia was never allowed to dine with him, having her breakfast and tea with the servants and eating from a dinner tray brought to her room at night.
She made her way to the breakfast room and steeled herself before entering, determined not to let her cousin chip away at any confidence she had gained while outside his presence during the autumn and winter months.
“Good morning, my lord,” Fia said formally, moving toward the table.
A footman seated her as another brought her a cup of tea. A third brought a plate to her, removing its silver cover after he set it before her.
She began buttering her toast points, ignoring Parkhurst. If he wanted to speak with her, he would need to initiate the conversation.
She didn’t have to wait long. He came directly to the point.
“I received a note from Lord and Lady Capwell. They are quite pleased with the progress their daughters made during your months with them. I have already set up twice weekly lessons with both girls.”
He paused, sipping his coffee. “Now that you have returned to town, I will begin booking other lessons for you to give. There are several who wish for you to start up lessons with their children again. I am certain new ones will also want to come onboard. I will provide you with a schedule.”
Fia knew she had no say in the matter. Parkhurst would schedule multiple lessons six days a week, giving her little free time to do her own practicing. She decided to address that now.
“In the past, you have had me giving lessons six days a week. I wish to cut it to five.”
He scowled at her, not used to her speaking up. “That is not for you to manage.”
“I need a day of my own to practice, Parkhurst. I must keep my skills fresh. Many times, parents ask to hear me play before they agree to allowing their children to study with me. If I misplay, they will think me untalented. Word will spread—and that could lead in a drop of people engaging my services. It would also give me not only time to practice on my various instruments, but I could also plan my lessons for my pupils with greater care. Surely, you can understand this.”
She paused and added, “It would also make my playing for your guests more enjoyable. I would never wish to embarrass you by stumbling through a piece. Practice is important to a musician. We must never slack off or our playing will suffer the consequences.”
She saw him considering her words before he grumbled, “It would mean less students.”
“Then charge more,” she told him. “You say that I am in demand. Have people pay what I am worth.”
He stroked his chin, which was already doubled. Fia thought he had put on another stone since she had last seen him. Of course, he would not have trouble securing a bride. He was an earl. A wealthy one, at that. Some doting mama in the ton would find Parkhurst a suitable husband for her daughter, despite his ill-humor and girth.
“All right. You may have Saturday as your day for practicing and planning your lessons.” He sipped his coffee again and added, “Lady Capwell asked for you to begin lessons this afternoon. She does not wish for either of her daughters to lose a step. You should arrive at one o’clock.”
“Yes, she had mentioned that to me in the carriage yesterday.”
“Lord Capwell compensated you well for your time at his estate,” Parkhurst said. “You must keep him happy.”
Fia wanted to point out that she had not been compensated at all, and that every bit had gone into her cousin’s pockets. Still, she kept silent, not wishing to bait him and grateful that he had agreed to her sojourn with the Capwells in Oxfordshire.
“Then I will go to the Capwells’ home this afternoon and begin again with the girls’ lessons,” she said lightly. “You will provide me the new schedule of lessons as clients are booked?”
“My secretary will. I will pass along to him which members of Polite Society wish to engage your services. You can meet with Bibby early tomorrow morning. As more return to town during the next two weeks before the Season begins, Bibby will add to your diary.”
She liked Mr. Bibby, who worked with her on scheduling her pupils. Bibby was most efficient and tried to make certain lessons were given with adequate traveling time between houses. He also grouped pupils from the same area together so Fia would not have to travel far to each lesson on a daily basis.
Taking a bite of her eggs, Fia paused to savor sitting in the breakfast room again. She remembered dining here with her parents. A wave of sadness engulfed her.
“You are dismissed,” Parkhurst said. “We have concluded our business.”
“I have not eaten all my breakfast,” she protested.
“Take it with you and finish elsewhere,” he said airily, opening the newspaper that sat next to his plate.
Her cheeks grew hot as she rose, picking up her plate and saucer. A footman rushed to help her.
“I can take it myself. Thank you,” she told him, trying to maintain her dignity as she saw pity in his eyes.
Another footman opened the closed door, and Fia moved toward the kitchens, her appetite now gone. She handed the plate and saucer to a scullery maid and went up the servants’ staircase to her room. It was always either too cold or stifling hot. Today was a cold day even though it was the beginning of April. Soon, the days would grow warm and the heat would become unbearable.
For now, though, she had the morning to herself. She did not mind beginning the Capwell girls’ lessons so soon. She knew Lady Capwell would look in near the end, which she looked forward to. The countess treated Fia with respect, and a friendship of sorts had formed between them during Fia’s time in Oxfordshire.
She decided to go for a walk in Hyde Park. After spending several days in the carriage traveling back to London, she was ready to stretch her legs a bit. Returning to her room, she donned her bonnet and slipped her reticule onto her arm before heading down the stairs and leaving the house.
As she walked to the park, she thought of how she did have small bits of freedom. Other young, unmarried ladies would have required a chaperone to take a walk in the park. Fia came and went as she pleased without having to worry about that. When Parkhurst had not wanted to provide funds for her to hire hansom cabs to travel to each of her lessons, she had demanded he supply her with some kind of transportation. She had instruments she brought to different lessons and sheet music, as well, and she couldn’t very well carry all that each day. He had relented, allowing her the use of a horse from his stables and a small cart. Again, she took no chaperone with her when she drove it from residence to residence and lesson to lesson.
Fia cherished these small things since so much of her life and position had been taken from her by Parkhurst. She doubted she would ever have the opportunity to wed or have children of her own because she was so busy giving music lessons. At least her work allowed her to be around children, whom she adored.
Reaching the gates of Hyde Park, she entered it and walked briskly, enjoying the movement and freedom of being on her own. She came upon Rotten Row, where so many of the ton rode, and saw but a few horses there. Not everyone had returned to town just yet, which might account for the sparseness of riders.
Fia did stop and admire two of the riders, one on a chestnut horse that must be sixteen hands, the other riding a black which might be seventeen hands. Both men rode with great skill, a grace about them and the movement of their horses. They flew by her, racing against one another. She only got a good look at the rider on the chestnut horse since he was closer to her. He was quite handsome, with brown hair and broad shoulders.
She hurried along, recalling how she had enjoyed riding with Papa. She hadn’t been atop a horse in years and wondered if she even remembered how to ride.
Her left knee began troubling her, and she realized she had walked too fast after many days of no exercise at all. She had broken both the knee and lower left leg eighteen years ago.
When Theo had pushed her down the stairs.
No, Parkhurst. She mustn’t forget to call him that, even in her thoughts. He had punished her the only time she had referred to him as Theo, sending her to her room before supper one night. Fia had been locked in her bedchamber without food or water for three days.
She had never made that mistake again.
It worried her that she might have grown soft, having spent so many months in Oxfordshire, away from Parkhurst. She must remain on her toes at all times. She hardly saw him as it was so any time she spent in his company meant she must always be on her guard.
Reversing direction, Fia crossed paths with the two riders again, glancing up and acknowledging them. They walked their horses this time, and she took in their appearances quickly. The man riding the black sat very tall in the saddle. He had coal-black hair and gray eyes. The other rider’s brown hair shone in the sunlight. His warm, brown eyes regarded her with interest.
Fia moved on, leaving the park and returning home. She went to the kitchens and got a cup of tea and a biscuit from Cook, sitting in a corner and eating it before returning upstairs to her room. Once there, she took out her viola and played for a good hour before switching to her cello and finally her flute. Her fingers finally tired, she changed her gown and touched up her hair before leaving for the Capwells’ townhouse.
Lord and Lady Capwell only lived two blocks away, and she walked to their townhouse, arriving only a few minutes later. No cart was necessary since both girls had their own instruments. A footman showed her to the drawing room, where only Maisie and Daisy were present.
“Lady Fia!” they cried in unison, coming to give her a hug.
“We missed you,” Daisy told her.
“We’ve been practicing,” Maisie added. “The Bach.”
“Then why don’t you play it for me? Or better yet, I shall accompany you.”
Moving to the piano, Fia took a seat on the bench. “Invention Number Eight?” she confirmed, her hands hovering over the keys.
“In F Major,” Maisie said, smiling brightly as she picked up her viola.
Daisy lifted her violin and bow, readying herself.
Fia counted and then they began playing together, continuing to do so until they finished. Surprisingly, she heard applause and glanced over her shoulder.
Lady Capwell had entered the room, as well as her mother-in-law, the Dowager Countess of Capwell, who had also been present during Fia’s stay in the country. With them was another woman she did not know. She was elderly and yet held herself regally. Fia thought in her day, the woman must have been a great beauty.
“Come, girls,” Lady Capwell said. “I want you to meet your grandmother’s friend, the Dowager Duchess of Westfield.”
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