Authors: Fenella J Miller
The Duke’s Reform
The Duke’s Reform
Copyright © Fenella J. Miller, 2011
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'Your grace, shall I remove the tray?'
Alex glanced over his shoulder at
the butler hovering anxiously behind him. 'Take it, I've no appetite.' He
turned back to staring morosely over the park.
Once this view
had pleased him, now it meant nothing.
Without Eleanor and the girls
Newcomb was an empty shell, no longer a home.
He rubbed his hand over his
jaw. He must look like a brigand. His clothes were in little better state than
his person. Grief at the death of his wife and daughters had all but
overwhelmed him. He was rudderless— like a ship in a storm buffeted this way
and that, unable to find a direction to guide him to safety.
What day was it? How long had
it been since his life had been torn apart?
Visitors no longer called to leave their cards of sympathy. No doubt someone
had dealt with them, written suitable replies. He had not married Eleanor for
love, but had come to love her as the years passed. With her at his side he had
been happy, able to forget his miserable upbringing and make this mausoleum
into a happy place.
He would not make the same mistake—far better to remain aloof.
He vowed never to love again and to remain safe, with his emotions hidden. To
experience such pain a second time would surely kill him. Sometime in the
future he would have to marry; he must provide an heir, but would make sure he
selected a suitable girl and not one who would expect him to love her. All he
could offer his next bride was affection, respect and his title.
He would abandon this place, his
ancestral seat, and remove to London and crowd his days with pointless
activities until he was himself again. Decision made, he strode from the study
and shouted for his valet. The sooner he was gone the better. Newcomb held
nothing but sadness for him. His loyal staff must come with him to Grosvenor
Square—with familiar faces around at least he could be sure his household would
run smoothly without his interference.
He yawned and rubbed his unshaved
jaw. If he was not the last in line he would get up a regiment of his own and
join Wellington in Spain. Fighting for King and country might help to fill the
the loss of his beloved wife and children had made in
Alex glared at his lawyer. How dare he have the temerity to
interfere with his life? 'Dewberry, you forget yourself. When I take a wife is
entirely my concern, kindly don't forget that.'
'Forgive me, your grace, but
I owe it to your father to speak plainly. Your dissolute lifestyle these past
five years is a matter of grave concern. If you are determined to destroy your
health in this way then could I ask you to find yourself a suitable wife and
set up your
nursery before matters overtake
have no wish to marry
I have nothing to offer
apart from my title and wealth. I cannot expect a young woman to accept me as I
am.' Dewberry's look of astonishment almost made him laugh. 'The sort of woman
who would be satisfied with just that is
someone I would wish to
bear my children.'
'There are dozens of eligible young ladies in the marriage mart this year who
would think themselves fortunate to be selected by
You are a handsome man, if you will forgive me for saying so, your grace, and
in your prime.'
outside perhaps, but I no longer have it in me to be a caring partner. It would
be a marriage of convenience; my wife would have to understand it will be a
business arrangement. She to provide me with children and
in return, to keep her in luxury for the rest of her life.'
He yawned, it had been a late
night and he had not yet been to bed. The black crow was staring at him
he'd get no peace until he agreed.
shall do as you suggest.'
The elderly lawyer beamed. 'I should be happy to arrange for you to meet
suitable young ladies, there are several debutantes who would be ideal.'
'I shall do my own selecting, Dewberry.' He raised one eyebrow. 'I do not
expect my search to become common gossip.'
The man coloured.
'Of course not, your grace.
that is said in my chambers remains confidential. However, your appearance at
I'd rather have my teeth pulled them go there. I
shall attend a few functions and see for myself what is on offer.'
strode from the office determined to get away from Town. Whatever Dewberry said
matchmaking mamas would soon be on the lookout. He didn't want to go to
he would go to Norfolk and do some shooting. Keep
his head down until he was obliged to appear in public when the Season started
in March. He'd find a few cronies to accompany him, there were always fellows
willing to follow his lead as long as he picked up the bill.
Lady Isobel Drummond stormed out of the library. To be
ignored by her parents unless they
required her assistance with her many younger siblings was
one thing, to be told it was her duty to marry a wealthy man in order to save
the family from ruin, was quite another.
Gathering her dogs from the
kitchens she snatched up her cloak and pushed her feet into the wooden clogs
she used for gardening. She had to get out, get away from the house,
herself time to recover her composure. She paused, she
would dearly love to run upstairs and change into her habit. A wild gallop
across the Fens was exactly what she needed, but that would mean risking
meeting her weeping mother and furious father. No, far better to walk.
Othello and Ebony barked and
raced around her in circles, as eager as she to be away from Drummond Hall. It
was a blustery November day, a hint of snow on the wind whipped from the sea.
Thank God she did not have to make a decision about going to London to join her
aunt and uncle for the season until after Christmas.
Deep in contemplation she
failed to hear the rattle of a carriage approaching at speed. Ebony barked
sharply and she looked round. Instinct made her throw herself prone, her
bladder almost emptied as a team of horses, followed by the wheels of the
carriage, thundered above her. For a moment she was unable to move, shock
rendering her almost insensible. Then righteous indignation flooded through her
and she pushed herself onto her knees. She came face-to-face with a veritable
giant, and not a particularly friendly one at that.
'God's teeth, woman, what the
hell do you think you're doing wandering down the middle of highway? I could
have killed you.'
Spitting mud in his direction
she glared back into his furious face. 'Are you insane, sir? This is not a toll
road but a country lane. What would you have done if there had been a flock of
sheep across your path?'
In answer he reached out and
hauled her to her feet, then dropping to his knees, with firm hands brushed off
the worst of the debris from her person. At every touch she flinched, unused to
any gentleman taking such liberties. For some reason her anger dissipated to be
replaced by a strange internal heat that followed the path of his fingers. She
found herself gazing down at his dark hair which curled intriguingly over the
collar of his many caped
Enough was enough. 'Desist at
once, sir, I have no wish to be manhandled by you. I am quite capable of
removing the dirt for myself. You had best look to your team, your carriage is
in imminent danger of tipping into the ditch.'
His head shot up; his eyes were a
peculiar shade halfway between blue and black, his nose patrician and his lips
mobile. Warmth spread across her breasts and into her face. She could not tear
her glance away; she was pinned like a butterfly on a board by the glitter in
his eyes. Then it was gone and he was
'Dammit! Out of the way,
madam, haven't you done enough damage already this morning?'
The spirited team stamped and
tossed their heads in impatience and the rear wheel of the vehicle began to
slide inexorably backwards. Without thinking, she raced to the lead horse and
snatched the bit. The gentleman shouted from behind the carriage.
'Good girl, move them
forwards as rapidly as you can.'
Ignoring his instructions, she
was well able to handle his horses without his highhanded
, she urged the
chestnut sideways, following her instincts. Going this way would move the wheel
away from danger far more efficiently. The team threw their weight into the
traces and the carriage shot forward removing the wheel from danger.
Unfortunately the irascible gentleman fell headlong into the ditch instead.
The air was
she thought it wise to absent herself as hastily as
possible. Quickly checking the brake was on and the reins securely tied around
the pole, she prepared to creep away. Although it wasn't her fault he'd fallen,
no doubt he would blame
foolhardiness as he had done
She prepared to make a run
for it. Too late! A dripping figure emerged from behind the horses and strode
towards her. She couldn't help herself; her scream echoed down the lane.
Suddenly two black shapes hurtled past and for the second time the unfortunate
gentleman was tipped backwards into the noxious water.
Not waiting to see him emerge
and seek revenge on the person who was responsible for dumping him twice into
the ditch, she raced full pelt down the lane. She scrambled over a five barred
gate and tore across the meadow scattering cows in all directions in her head
long flight. Her dogs were beside her, tongues lolling out, obviously delighted
with the game.
Alexander shook his head, sending foul water in all
directions. He scraped the muck from his eyes and watched his quarry vanish
down the lane. Who the devil was she? Dressed like a servant but quite
obviously gently born. She was a conundrum. He stepped out of the ditch and
propped himself against the carriage wheel in order to remove his boots and tip
out the water. It was fortunate they no longer fitted him as snugly as
they'd used to.
He tossed his sodden cape on
to the box and stared gloomily at his ruined topcoat. The blue superfine jacket
had cost him a pretty penny and it, like the rest of his garments, was quite
beyond salvage. The young woman was right to castigate
been driving far too fast. He
he seldom drove any other way, caring little if
came to grief.
However, he had no wish to take anyone else with him if he went, and certainly
not the lovely young termagant he'd just encountered.
He checked his horses were
none the worse their experience and then leaped into his carriage and recovered
the reins. His breeches were so wet he slid from side to side as the curricle
gathered speed. He had no option, unless he wished to nosedive over the edge he
must return to his hunting box at a walk.