Read Song Of The Nightingale (DeWinter's Song 1) Online

Authors: Constance O'Banyon

Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Regency, #19th Century, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE, #British Officer, #Protector, #England, #Five Years, #Treachery, #Duchess, #English Castle, #Battlefields, #Waterloo, #London, #Extraordinary Love, #Honor, #Passion, #DeWinter Family

Song Of The Nightingale (DeWinter's Song 1)

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Song of the Nightingale

by

Constance O’Banyon

 

 

Copyright © 1992

Constance O'Banyon

All rights reserved.

 

 

This one's for you, Bobbi Smith Walton. If wealth can
be measured in the loyalty of a friend, I am rich indeed.

To my husband, Jim, and my children, Pam, Rick, Kim,
and Jason, who allow Mom to go into metamorphosis
when I near a deadline, and still love me when it's over.
To you, Sharon, wonderful daughter-in-law, who so often comes to my rescue.

My special thanks to a lovely little girl, Kassidy Sullivan,
who allowed me to borrow her beautiful Scottish name.

 

 

Song of the Nightingale

On the breath of summer winds, if you listen well, you
may hear the song of the nightingale.

On the eve of true love's awakening, he serenades with a passionate tale. So heed, ye lovers, the enchantment
of the nightingale.

Driven by melancholy, he sings with intensive longing,
to hold back the night and winter's impending dawning.

—Constance O'Banyon

1

 

London, 1810

A House On Percy Street

 

Raile DeWinter ascended the steps of the
fashionable town house, wondering why his uncle, the duke of Ravenworth, had summoned him so urgently.
His uncle had been ill for over three years, and now Raile feared he was dying.

He handed his hat to the butler, who greeted him with a stiff smile.

“Do you have any notion why my uncle wants to see
me, Larkin?” Raile asked, knowing the butler was aware of everything that occurred in his uncle’s house.

The old retainer’s eyes did not flicker. “His grace does not confide in me.”

“Does he wish to see me now?”

“I was told to show you up the moment you arrived.
The doctor, Lord John . . . and your stepmother are already with his grace.”

Raile’s eyes clouded. “So, but for my brother, Hugh, the clan has gathered.”

“Your half brother is not expected,” the butler stat
ed, as he turned toward the stairs and climbed briskly upward, expecting Raile to follow.

When they reached his uncle’s bedroom, Raile fore
stalled Larkin. “Why don’t you go about your duties. I’ll announce myself.”

The butler looked disapproving for a moment, but
obediently turned and moved stiffly away while Raile
opened the door and slipped inside.

The duke had an aversion to sunlight, so Raile was not surprised to find the bedroom in darkness. The only light
came from a lamp on the bedside table which illuminated
the bed but left the rest of the room in shadows. Even
though it was a warm day, a fire smoldered in the black
marble fireplace, making the room unbearably hot and
oppressive and intensifying the sickroom smell.

Since no one had noticed Raile’s entrance, he stood
in the shadows so he could observe them.

His grace, William DeWinter, the duke of Raven-worth, lay in a massive bed, his gouty leg propped on
several pillows, and a twisted scowl marring his heavily
lined face.

Dr. Worthington, after giving the duke a nervous glance,
moved to the foot of the bed and began adjusting the ban
dages that were wrapped about his leg, then dodged the old man’s cane when he touched a sensitive place.

Raile’s lips twitched. The duke was not near death as
he had feared, and he was relieved, for he was truly fond of that bitter old man.

Raile glanced at the others gathered in the room. His
cousin John, heir to the title, had been Raile’s friend
since boyhood. John stood near the bed, talking to his
father in encouraging tones.

Raile’s gaze moved reluctantly to his stepmother,
Lavinia, who stood apart, seemingly detached from the
proceedings, her eyes unreadable. He had never felt close to the woman his father had married after the
death of his own mother. Of course, he had never lived
with them, so he’d had little opportunity to know
Lavinia. His father had died only a year after Raile’s half
brother, Hugh, had been born, and Lavinia and her son
had continued to reside in London, while Raile remained
in the country, on his uncle’s estate.

Raile tried to think of Lavinia objectively. He could
see why his father had been attracted to her. Her dark hair was clustered about her face in ringlets, and her figure was as slender as a young girl’s. She had an arresting face, and in her youth she must have been beautiful, for she was still an attractive woman. Of
course, he found something distasteful in the hardness
of her eyes and the pout to her lips.

Raile pitied Hugh. Lavinia so dominated her son that he had become a weakling, clinging to her every word as if he
had no mind of his own. Raile did not admire either of
them, but he tolerated them because they were his family.

Suddenly the duke uttered an obscenity and hurled a glass through the air. It missed Dr. Worthington’s head
by inches, but some of the water splattered on him. The poor doctor dabbed at his face with the cuff of his shirt.

“Your grace, how can I treat your gout when you criticize my methods? When I would have relieved
some of your pain, you admonished me not to use any
of my ‘new scientific treatments’ on you. Then when I
suggested wrapping your legs in tight bandages, you accused me of practicing antiquated medicine. I ask you, your grace, what am I to do?”

“Get out, man—get out!” the duke roared with such
force the veins in his neck stood out. “Take your witch
doctoring out of here and torture some other wretched fool.”

The doctor brushed past Raile, tore open the door, and made a hasty exit.

“Good morning, Uncle,” Raile drawled, stepping into
the light. “I see you are still terrorizing Doctor Wor
thington. It’s a marvel he keeps coming back.”

The duke’s eyes snapped with anger. “I sent for you
over three hours ago. You sure took your time getting here,” he said sourly.

“I came as soon as I received your message, Uncle. I
can see my concern for your health was unfounded if you can still torment poor Doctor Worthington and keep him under your domination.”

For a moment the old man’s expression held respect.
“You’re the only one I could never control, Raile,” he said grudgingly.

Their eyes met in understanding. A faint smile tugged at Raile’s lips. “That’s not entirely so, Uncle. Like Doctor Worthington, do I not come when you summon me?”

The duke eased himself to a sitting position, his eyes suddenly hard, his temper barely controlled. “I have little liking for the circumstances that made me send for you this day, Raile,” he snapped.

“Why is that?” Rail asked, mystified. “Are you disturbed about something?”

“I treated you like a son, took you into my home when my brother remarried and raised you with my own son, John, did I not?”

Raile looked quizzically at John before answering.
“You did, Uncle,” he agreed at last. “I have always been
grateful to you for that.”

“And when you reached your twenty-first birthday,
did I not allow you to leave Ravenworth Castle and seek your own life—answer me that!”

Raile moved closer to his uncle. “That is so. You did all those things.”

“And you repay my generosity by bringing dishonor
to the very old and distinguished DeWinter name,” the
duke accused, his face reddening as he shook his fist at
Raile. “I tell you, I won’t have it!”

Raile stared at his uncle for a long moment. “I know of no instance when I brought shame on our name,” he said in a controlled voice, his own anger tapped. “If I
have been charged with something, let my accuser step
forward.”

“Have you or have you not been seen in the company o
f Lady Harriet Pinsworthy?” the duke demanded.

Raile looked quickly at his stepmother. At the moment Lavinia appeared to be inspecting the hem of her gown, but Raile noticed she was smiling smugly.
Lavinia knew it had been Hugh who had taken up with
Lady Harriet—all of London knew it, but apparently
she was not going to admit it to his uncle.

Wordlessly, he turned back to the duke.

The old man continued raving: “It’s my understanding
that you not only flaunted that shameful alliance, but you also shot the woman’s husband in a duel of honor.”

The duke’s face turned ashen with anger, and his
gnarled hands trembled as he squeezed them into fists.
His voice rose. “A duel of honor, where by your cow
ardly action, Raile, you shot the man while his back
was turned! It’s a mercy that Lord Pinsworthy lives. Did
you think just because the disgrace occurred in an obscure little village that it would escape my notice? Did you think I would allow this family’s name to be linked with cowardice?”

Raile’s expression showed none of the turmoil that
churned inside him. A bolt of pain stabbed at his heart
that his uncle could believe such a villainous deed of
him. His eyes were cold, his voice even. “May I inquire
how you came by this information?”

His uncle’s face paled even more, and he lay back, closing his eyes. “You may well ask, bat I don’t feel inclined to answer.”

Raile looked at John, who nodded slightly in Lavinia’s direction. He swung around to face his stepmother, who stared at him with unmasked triumph in
her cold blue eyes. It was as if she had told this lie delib
erately—he could not think why.

Raile’s voice was controlled, but his eyes emitted
sparks of anger, “You told my uncle this, Lavinia?”

She moved forward hastily to stand beside the duke,
putting the bed between her and Raile. “I didn’t want to
tell, Raile, but to allow your actions to go unchecked, would be the ruination of us all,” she said in a tremu
lous voice.

At last Raile understood that Lavinia must have lied
about him to discredit him and to keep Hugh in their uncle’s good graces.

“What of my brother, Lavinia?” he asked grimly.
“Why is he not present when I face my accusers?”

“I’m not accusing you, Raile,” John spoke up with rare defiance against his father.

“No one asked your opinion, John,” the duke roared. “Just keep quiet while I deal with your cousin.”

For a moment it looked as if John would say more,
but his gaze fell away from his father’s, and he stepped back several paces.

Raile knew he would get no support from John. He
was in this alone. Could he untangle the wall of lies Lavinia had woven? “You didn’t answer me, Lavinia. Where is my brother?” he pressed.

“My son is at school. As one would expect of him, he
is applying himself to his studies.” Lavinia tossed her head and met Raile’s contemptuous gaze defiantly. “I
told your uncle you would deny this, Raile.”

Pride struggled with pain. “No,” he said at last. “If my uncle believes this of me on your word alone, Lavinia, I will not deny it.”

The duke eased himself up on his elbow. “Of course,

I believe her. Unlike my brother’s first wife, Lavinia is
from an old and respected family. I told your father
nothing good would come from marrying a tradesman’s daughter. But he would not heed my warning. I’m only
glad he didn’t live to see the shame the tradeswoman’s
son has brought down on this family.”

Enraged, Raile took a step toward his uncle, who shrank back against his pillows. “Say what you like about me, but I won’t hear another word against my
mother. My father was a broken man when she died. It
was his first marriage that brought him love and wealth,
and you know that as well as I.”

The duke’s face turned livid, and his hand shook.
“What I know, Raile DeWinter, is you can’t buy
respectability. Oh, I realize that you have been paying my
expenses these last five years. But I never asked you to, and
don’t expect me to be grateful to you, because I’m not.”

“Does it gall you, Uncle, to know it’s my mother’s
money that keeps the DeWinter family from living in a
less magnificent manner?”

His uncle glared at him. “Keep your money and be damned, Raile!”

“Why would I, Uncle? I want you to remember, every
time you put a morsel of food in your mouth, or pay your butler to attend you, that it’s money, earned in
trade by my mother’s father, that makes it possible.”

“You are a discredit to us all,” the duke raged.
“Leave this house and do not come back in my lifetime.
If my son foolishly allows you back after my death, he
will suffer for your scandalous conduct.”

With fury choking him, Raile turned to leave, wishing
there was someone or something he could strike out
against.

His uncle’s angry voice followed him out the door
and down the stairs. “Take yourself out of the country
and never come back to England.”

He descended the stairs angrily and was at the front door before John caught up with him.

“Wait, Raile, I must talk to you.”

Raile shook off John’s hand and shoved the startled
butler out of the way, ripping the front door open. He
knew that John was following him, but he didn’t want to talk to anyone at the moment.

John insisted on being heard. He took Raile’s arm and swung him around. “We both know Hugh is the
one who fought the duel with Lord Pinsworthy.”

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