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Authors: Lyndsey Norton

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BOOK: Pride and Retribution
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Right then the lady of the house opened the door and waddled into the breakfast room. She was wearing a very voluminous day gown of the palest lemon muslin, the cuffs edged in pale cream lace, the pearl buttons on the bodice vanishing under the pale cream fichu about her décolletage. She smiled at Wilfred and kissed the top of his head as she passed him by on the way to the sideboard. ‘Good morning Howard, how are you today?’

‘I’m not blooming as much as you.’ He replied as he stood and went over to his hostess. He kissed her firmly on the cheek. ‘Try the kidney’s, they are spectacular this morning.’

‘Actually I’m not particularly hungry,’ Lucy admitted as she lifted the lid on a salver of buttered kippers. She grimaced in distaste. ‘I was just going to have a little toast. I really don’t fancy a big breakfast.’ She turned and smiled at Howard, who was holding out a chair for her. ‘Do you know, darling? I don’t need you
when Howard is around. He fusses over me like a mother hen!’

Wilfred signalled the footman and he vanished away to fetch fresh tea and toast for the Countess. ‘Good! I’m glad my best friend and saviour knows how to treat my wife.’ He sighed and put down the paper. ‘You never know, maybe one day he will have one of his own.’

‘Not possible, Will! You took the best one for yourself!’ and all three laughed. ‘Anyway, you know I’m waiting for Eleanor.’

The footman returned with a huge tray with tea things, a toast rack and all the post on it. ‘Ah! The post!’ Wilfred said with a smile and snapped his paper closed.

‘Good! Maybe I can have this and Lucy can flick through the gossip rag left on your doorstep!’ Howard said cheerfully as he snatched up The Times and snapped the paper to read the front page.

Lucy looked disgusted. ‘Why would anyone leave this rag on my step?!’ she asked indignantly. ‘I have never subscribed to it and neither did my mother.’ Handling the paper with distaste, she laid it flat on its face on the table and started opening the pages from the back. She had only turned three pages when she sucked in a huge breath in shock. ‘Oh! My God!’ burst from her as her hand flew to her throat.

‘What is it?’ Wilfred asked, immediately on his feet and standing over his wife. ‘Is it time?’ He placed a hand on her shoulder.

‘No, my love. No,’ she patted his hand absently. ‘It’s this.’ She said and pointed to the printed page and the main article.

PROMINENT DUKE MURDERED!
Screamed across the top of the page. Both men gathered to read the article over Lucy’s shoulder.

The very prominent and debauched Duke of Markham, known especially for his vices and sins, was discovered yesterday morning brutally murdered in his bed! Having been tied to the bed with silk ribbons, his nightshirt had been slashed open and his body had been stabbed at least a hundred times. Certain debauched parts of his anatomy had been separated from his body and placed prominently in his mouth, one can only wonder if this defacement had occurred post mortem, or whether he was still alive before the knife was thrust into his heart to end his life! The investigators suspect more than one perpetrator as the Duke’s body was left with a dozen knives standing in his flesh.

His household servants were shocked to make the discovery, but they don’t seem particularly surprised by this turn of events. The butler has assured the investigators that he saw no callers that evening after he had sent the two courtesans the Duke had entertained himself with, off to a physician and his master had retired to bed. It’s strange that they didn’t hear anything either!

This gossip columnist is not surprised that the debauched and vicious Duke should meet his maker in such a fashion. I’m sure half of the father’s in London
will be breathing easier this morning! And certainly so will many courtesans, Cyprians and mistresses. Praise God that all future debutantes will not suffer at the hands of so debauched a noble!

There was a profound silence at the table and all three looked at each other. Both men had resumed their seats. ‘I guess he raped one debutante too many.’ Howard said softly.

‘Or maybe his victims took revenge on him.’ Lucy said coldly, ‘you know the old saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? Well he left a lot of scorned victims behind.’

Wilfred tried very hard not to squirm at that adage, as he recalled saying exactly that to Harriet Saunders. ‘It is a fitting fate, though. Don’t you think?’ Wilfred said and smiled.

‘I did see the notice in The Observer, yesterday....’ Howard started but both men turned to Lucy.

‘Oooh!’ Lucy jumped and smoothed a hand over her belly. ‘That was a rather hard kick.’

‘Are you all right, Lucy?’ Wilfred asked. ‘You looked rather pale first thing.’

‘Your child is kicking me again.’ She said with a frown as she climbed laboriously to her feet and paced across the breakfast parlour. ‘I will be fine.’ She said and smiled for her husband’s worried expression.

Howard picked up the conversation again. ‘Yes. I saw the obituary in The Observer, but all they said was that he’d died. Maybe his family had decided it was better to be discreet.’

With a rather large splash, Lucy’s waters broke and she stood looking down at the huge puddle at her feet in shock. ‘Is that normal?’ she asked calmly as Wilfred rushed to the door and yelled for Connors.

‘Yes, My Lord?’ the unshakeable butler took one look at Lucy’s feet and called for a boy to fetch the midwife.

Wilfred swept his beautiful wife up in his arms and rushed up the stairs to the main suite. By the time he carefully laid Lucy on the bed, Betsy and at least another two housemaids were there to assist and he was chased out of the room. He stood outside on the landing and watched the maids run in and out of the room, with piles of towels, bowls of water and
, at long last, the cradle that had been banished to the carriage mews on the orders of Mrs. Hastings.  Some old wives tale about not having the baby’s cradle in the house until it was time. He shook his head in wonder and fear as Lucy’s first shouts of pain sounded through the door.

Eventually Howard collected him, led him back downstairs to the brandy and the waiting began in earnest. Wilfred paced, then he sent a missive to his mother and one to Lucy’s, then he paced again. His family arrived, including the Duke, who made himself comfortable in the study and got on with some work. It wasn’t long before Evelyn Hastings arrived and bustled off upstairs leaving her sons to drink his brandy. Wilfred was surprised to find all four at home.
Robert, of course, made a beeline for Caroline and the two secluded themselves in a corner of the drawing room and the company left them alone. Their wedding was due to take place the following week.

It was some hours later that
the Duke came for an update and smiled proudly at his son. ‘You should come in the study and do some work. It will help the time pass.’ He patted Wilfred on the shoulder and steered him into a chair in front of the fire in the study. Wilfred was quiet, but he couldn’t sit for long and was soon pacing in front of his own desk.

‘How long was mother in labour?’ Wilfred asked and the Duke could see the trepidation in his son
’s face.

‘Three days, with you, but less with both the girls. I found it very useful to keep myself busy instead of worrying.’
He sighed deeply. ‘Helena was quick. From first pain to my son being born was less than forty minutes.’

Just mentioning his father’s first wife threw Wilfred into terror.
She could die!
Rattled around in circles, driving him mad. ‘I can’t stand it in here.’ Wilfred said in panic. ‘I must go  back to the drawing room.’ He jerked the door open and stumbled back to the main drawing room, but before he could get there he heard the querulous cry of an infant. His heart hammered against his chest and he sucked in a huge breath and held it as he waited at the bottom of the stairs. His mother appeared at the top of the stairs and glided sedately down. When she stood on the floor, she kissed him softly on the cheek and smiled broadly.

‘You should
go up and see your wife and child.’ She said proudly.

Wilfred had never run as fast as he did up the stairs that evening. He burst through the door into the bedroom and there she was, looking tired and happy, the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Just as beautiful in the child bed as she was at the Prince Regent’s ball. The midwife had just han
ded her a bundle of blankets as he rushed to the bed and looked down on his child.

‘It’s a son, Wilfred.’ She smiled proudly, as if her reason for being was accomplished. ‘Say hello to your son.’ She said and held out the bundle of blankets. He looked at the scrunched up, ruddy face and felt his heart trip. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed and just enveloped them both in his arms. He pulled back her head and kissed her softly.

‘I’m very proud of you, my love.’ He whispered and let her place the baby in his arms. ‘Gosh! He’s so tiny.’ He said in wonder. ‘Poor little mite! He’s going to be a duke someday.’ He murmured as his son pulled faces and rubbed his little fist over his cheek. Wilfred gasped as he touched a finger to that small fist and the baby grasped his digit in a death grip. ‘He’s so strong!’ He laughed in excitement and looked up at his wife in time to see her eyelids droop from exhaustion. He asked everyone to clear the room and sat in the rocker, nursing his son and watching his wife sleep. He was as contented as any man could be. He knew there would be difficult times ahead, all of life was a string of near disasters and peaks of happiness and he was sitting on a rather large peak!

*****

 

Harriet Saunders sat at her breakfast table in a small hotel in Rome and smiled at the headlines in the same gossip rag two weeks later. She had a self-satisfied smile on her face. She opened the letter beside her toast rack and was warmed by the content.

 

 

My dearest Harriet,

 

I do hope you are enjoying your sojourn on the continent. I’m happy to say the furore has died down here almost as soon as it arose. He was a terribly unpopular man and I don’t think the Bow Street Runners are really trying to find his murderers. They don’t even know where to start! Anyway, I have discovered that there is no heir to the Dukedom and it has already been reclaimed by the crown, so no poor, unfortunate child will have to follow in such debauched and brutal footsteps! Robert assures me that the Prince Regent has agreed to place the title in permanent abeyance. So the Dukedom of Markham is no more!

The debutante’s ball is next week at Carlton House, so this year’s crop of new faces will have a little more freedom.

Some good news for you, Wilfred and Lucy have had a son, I’m sure you will allow me to wish them happy from you.

Don’t stay abroad for too long, I shall miss you a
nd thank you for all your help.

 

Your grateful friend and cousin,

 

Evelyn Hastings.

 

 

Harriet smiled contentedly, rose from the table and threw the letter on the fire. ‘I should thank you.’ she murmured.  She stood there for a while watching the vellum twist and incinerate. She sighed deeply and went back to her breakfast.

Other Titles by Lyndsey Norton

 

A Lust for Gold

Erica Young

Fire! At the Al-Hejira

Jealousy

The Avenging Angel

Torture in the Sun

 

Regency Stories

Two Notorious Dukes

The Duke and the Governess

The Theft of a Dukedom

 

Inspector Castle Series

Dating and Dying

Bombs on Trains

Castle’s Nightmare

The Red Suitcases

 

BOOK: Pride and Retribution
4.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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