Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
For Kathy Jorgenson.
I am wealthy in my friends
Phillip Maddox, Duke of Colster, walked through the crowded halls…
Gale-force winds of a sudden Highland storm pounded Charlotte Cameron’s…
He had her frightened, and that was what Phillip wanted…
The pistol had been stored in a hidden holster attached…
Charlotte could not believe what she was reading. The moonlight…
As the full meaning of his words sank in, Charlotte…
No one knew better than Tavis what Bruce was capable…
Charlotte glanced over her shoulder to Colster. He watched the…
Tavis’s cottage was attached to his blacksmith’s forge. Inside, Father…
The laird enjoyed ceremony. It was a testimony to his…
The blacksmith? They wanted him to fight the blacksmith?
Lady Rowena’s hysterical screaming sounded as if someone were being…
Stunned not only by the violence between the two brothers…
Unamused, Phillip said, “Go away.”
Phillip looked to Charlotte with admiration. “You are amazing. How…
Charlotte sensed a change in Phillip, but she couldn’t understand…
hillip Maddox, Duke of Colster, walked through the crowded halls of Parliament not meeting the eye of anyone he passed.
They made way for him.
He was a duke, after all, and one with enviable power. Here and there, someone would nod, and murmur, “Your Grace,” but for the most part, they waited until he’d gone by to speak—and when they did, he knew they were talking about
and how Miranda Cameron had jilted him at his own betrothal ball. She’d run away with her lover while her sister Charlotte, a brazen, unprincipled woman, had openly defied him when he’d attempted to stop her.
For eight months he’d had to put up with this. He’d tried to carry on, certain some other scandal
would come along to occupy idle tongues. After all, what had happened was his private business. But London was a town of gossips and, unfortunately, of matchmakers. They didn’t show any sign of letting this matter go.
Apparently, his offer to Miss Miranda Cameron had surprised everyone. His wife Elizabeth’s death had been an emotional pivot point in his life, and, in his grief, he’d vowed not to marry again.
However, now that money-hungry mothers and fathers with marriageable daughters knew he
bring himself to marry again, they were determined that he
Every acquaintance had a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, and perhaps even an aunt or two, who would make a perfect duchess. Phillip could paper the walls of his house with the invitations he’d received, many of them hiding a scheme to see him wed.
And he didn’t want any of it.
Miranda Cameron had been a grave miscalculation on his part. Perhaps the only one he’d ever made. People thought he’d been drawn to her because she was beautiful, but that wasn’t quite it. Miranda had reminded him of Elizabeth, who had died in childbirth. Seeing the resemblance had made him long to try and right a wrong, something he now realized he was powerless to do.
He didn’t need an heir. His cousin could inherit the title. He’d make a good duke, and Phillip
could maintain his stoic existence. There was peace in that decision, a peace he’d longed for since Elizabeth’s death.
“I say, Colster, wait up,” Lord Heaton’s voice said from behind him.
Phillip paused. He knew Heaton from school and rather liked the man. Their fathers had been good friends and had served on numerous diplomatic envoys together. Heaton had a good head on his shoulders. Phillip enjoyed listening to his arguments and valued his counsel in the House of Lords. Here was a man who, like Phillip, didn’t put up with nonsense. Furthermore, Heaton had no daughters of a marriageable age.
“How are you, Your Grace?” Heaton said in greeting.
“Fine, and yourself?” Phillip asked, nodding for Heaton to walk with him toward the Members’ Entrance ahead. “My coach is waiting outside. May I offer you a ride?”
“That would be kind. I’m to my club. Perhaps you will join me?”
“Would that I could,” Phillip answered. They were of two different political spectrums and Phillip could not politically afford to be seen in a liberal club.
The assessing look in Heaton’s eye told him he knew the reason behind his refusal. “Is there anyone you trust?”
Heaton raised his brows. “Be careful, Your Grace, you are in danger becoming a hermit, hair shirt and all.”
The observation was a bit too apt for comfort. Nor could its ring of truth be denied. Phillip hid his uneasiness by changing the subject. “What did you think of—?” he started, but Heaton’s hand on his arm interrupted him.
“Damn, there is Monarch.” Heaton glanced around. “It doesn’t appear as if we can dodge him.”
“Monarch?” Phillip scanned the men crowded by the entrance, uncertain which one Heaton meant.
“You haven’t met him yet?” He dropped his voice. “You don’t know how fortunate you are. No man has ever been more misnamed. He’s an out-and-out reformer who’s new to the Lords. Down from Edinburgh. Inherited his title last summer and is determined to do something with it. He’s been anxious to meet you.”
Phillip let his step slow. “Me?”
“Was not your father one of the prime supporters of the Clearances? Monarch is keen to see us do something about them and has been talking about how your support is vital to any legislation.”
Phillip had to consider a moment what he was talking about. “The Clearances? You mean where
landowners evict tenants who can’t pay their rents?”
“Something like that. It’s a Scottish issue,” Heaton answered breezily just as young Lord Monarch approached.
Monarch had a shock of orange-red hair that fell over one eye. He couldn’t be older than four-and-twenty and had that earnest puppy air Phillip associated with the true crusader of social justice. The jaded denizens of London would gobble him up in two bites.
“Lord Heaton,” Monarch said, his voice cracking on the second syllable as if it was taking courage for him to approach them. He cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed, and Phillip couldn’t help but feel a touch sorry for him.
“Hallo, Monarch,” Heaton said, and would have marched right on by without pause except for the young Scotsman’s placing himself squarely in Phillip’s path, forcing both him and Heaton to stop.
“May I beg an introduction?” Lord Monarch asked without preamble. “I’ve heard much of the great Duke of Colster.” He held out his hand to Phillip. His
He truly was a republican.
“It’s a pleasure to be introduced to you, Your Grace,” he said, his voice again in danger of cracking. Interestingly, Phillip didn’t hear an
echo of a Scottish lilt in it. This young man was English-educated…and fighting for the Scottish cause.
Heaton was not pleased with Monarch’s forwardness. “I don’t like being forced into matters,” he informed the Scotsman coolly, and would have walked on except Phillip reached out and shook the offered hand.
“Colster,” he introduced himself. “I hear you are new to London.”
Monarch had the good grace to blush. “I am.”
“Then welcome,” Phillip said genially, aware that by now, everyone within listening distance was attending to their conversation. They had all registered Monarch’s social blunders. Phillip wouldn’t be surprised to learn the man had not followed any protocol at all with anyone—and he rather liked him for it. Protocol and the “rules” of polite society had been drummed into Phillip’s head since birth. However, now that the Duke of Colster had recognized the man, society would keep their criticisms to themselves. Sometimes, power was a good thing.
“Thank you, Your Grace—”
“Ah, well, that’s done,” Heaton cut in. “Shall we go, Colster?”
“Let me have my hat,” Phillip announced, looking over to the attendant who handled such things. The servant stepped forward with his
wide-brimmed beaver hat, bowing when Phillip slipped a guinea in his hand from the leather purse of coins he kept for such occasions. He liked being thought of as generous.
The beadle attending the door leading out to St. Margaret’s Street opened it for them, but Monarch wasn’t ready to conclude the interview. “I need a moment of your precious time, Your Grace. Please.”
he was going to make a request, and Phillip didn’t want to talk about something as old-fashioned as the Clearances right now.
“Not here,” he counseled Monarch in a low voice. “Later. Arrange an appointment with my man Freedman.”
later. I’ve been called out of town, and I must leave. My wife’s mother is ill.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Heaton said cheerily. “Your conversation with Colster will just have to wait.”
Phillip turned to the door, but Monarch would not give up. He raised his voice. “There are people dying, Your Grace. Women and children. Whole families are starving over the Clearances. You must use your influence to help.”
The conversation in the hall stopped. Annoyed, Phillip silently amended his opinion of Monarch. Heaton had been right. The man was an idiot.
Aware that all listened, Phillip answered in a calm, steady voice, making his decision on the matter in that moment, a decision his father had once explained to him. “This is a private matter between tenants and landowners. It’s not the business of the Lords.”
“Who better to censure us than our peers?” Monarch argued. “The situation is desperate. You are of Scottish descent, Your Grace—”
“But I don’t own land there.”
“No, your father was one of the first to sell out.”
“Precisely because my family has no interests there. We’re English. Not Scot. And I mean no offense,” Phillip continued smoothly, “but that is the true reason why my father sold.”
He would have walked out the door save for Monarch’s bold, “And not to line your family’s coffers?”
Phillip’s indulgent attitude toward the new lord evaporated. “My family does not need its coffers lined.”
“They don’t,” Heaton agreed, obviously pleased that his prediction about Monarch was proving to be correct. They should have avoided him. “If you knew anything, Monarch, you’d know you are speaking to one of the wealthiest men in Britain.”
“Wealth gained at what price?” Monarch asked.
Jaws dropped. The men standing around them
were the leaders of the realm. These were not accusations to toss around lightly.
Phillip faced Monarch. “I take my honor seriously,” he said.
Realizing the insult he’d just paid, the pup started to stammer an apology, but Phillip wasn’t letting him off that easily. “It’s true my sire was a hard man—some have even called him ruthless, and I would not disagree. However, he also served his country well. As do I. Accusing the line of Colster of the deaths of women and children is not something I will allow.”
The young lord opened and closed his mouth like a fish gasping on dry land. He glanced around, becoming alarmed at exactly how large an audience they had attracted. “I—I,” he started and then froze, words finally failing him.
Heaton’s dramatic sigh filled the void. “I don’t believe I’ve mentioned to you, Monarch, that the Duke of Colster is a crack shot and a well-regarded swordsman. You aren’t, by chance, one of those two things yourself…?”
“I am not.” Monarch paused a moment, and then confessed faintly, “I just want to do what is right.”
“As do we all,” Phillip answered. “As do we all.” He took a step away before turning. “I’m not unsympathetic in your concerns, my lord. Prepare a paper on your position and send it round. I’ll
read it. It’s all I can offer until I am better educated on the matter.”
Monarch appeared ready to collapse with relief. “I shall, Your Grace. Thank you. I shall.”
“And, Monarch,” Phillip said, couldn’t resist adding, “don’t be so blunt with these others.” He nodded to the lords and statesmen gathered round them. “They lack my tolerance.”
“Yes, Your Grace. I shall remember that.”
His point having been made, Phillip left the building, Heaton beside him. They’d barely made it out the door before Heaton almost doubled up with glee.
“’Pon my soul, I do believe Monarch has learned a lesson,” Heaton said. “What a moment! You had him quaking in his shoes. He’s a hopelessly knotty head. Imagine leaving London because your wife’s mother had taken ill?”
Phillip smiled. “He’s not such a bad sort. He’s what you said—a reformer. We were all starry at one time.”
“Not me. And you were far gentler with him than any of the others have been. With his attitude and lack of manners, he belongs in the Commons, not the Lords.”
The arrogance behind his comment stopped Phillip. “Why do you say that? Are we not also tasked to see to the common good?”
Heaton made a dismissive sound. “We see
after our interests, just as they are to fight for theirs. It’s fair. The best man always wins.”
“Or the one with the most power.”
His companion smiled. “There is that, too. But then, power, like the land, was given over to us for safekeeping. Could you possibly believe it fair to order Scottish lords to give up rights that have been theirs for centuries?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never thought of Scotland or visited it.”
“Not even to hunt?”
“I don’t have time for such pursuits.”
“You should take time. You work too hard.”
But before Phillip could answer, a lad ran up to him. “Message for Your Grace, the Duke of Colster.” He held a letter in his filthy hand.
Phillip looked the boy’s bare feet and thought of Monarch’s accusations. He flipped a guinea toward the boy, who caught it in midair before handing over the letter.
The envelope’s expensive vellum was marred by the lad’s dirty fingerprints. There was no seal. Colster’s title was written in a spidery handwriting on the back. “Who gave this to you?”
“A man at the Old Ship. It’s a tavern by the docks.”
“Did you know the man?” Phillip asked, knowing what the answer would be before the boy shook his head.
“No, Your Grace.”
“You can solve the mystery by opening it,” Heaton suggested.
Phillip’s coach pulled up to the walk. Before the vehicle had completely stopped, one of the two footmen accompanying the driver jumped down to open the door for Phillip.
“We’re taking Lord Heaton to his club,” Phillip informed the driver.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
While Heaton gave the address, Phillip climbed into the coach and opened the envelope. All of his correspondence went through Freedman. He had no idea what this was about or why someone would make the effort of bypassing his secretary.
He read the first lines—and his world came to a halt.
Few knew that he’d had a twin who had died at birth.
He reread the opening paragraph again, thinking his mind must be playing tricks. It wasn’t.
…I have been party to a most grievous crime, a sin so black the Almighty may not forgive me. Your twin brother did not die.
Heaton joined him in the coach, the footman shutting the door after him. “I can’t believe even
in the city you travel with two outriders—” He broke off. “Is something the matter, Your Grace? You look pale.”