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Authors: Emilyn Hendrickson

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The Debonair Duke

BOOK: The Debonair Duke
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THE DEBONAIR DUKE

 

Emily Hendrickson

 

Chapter One

 

“What is this world coming to, I ask you!” his lordship, the Earl of Gresham, muttered to the room in general.

His wife, Sophia, quite accustomed to these outbursts while her husband perused the morning papers, said nothing in reply.

“What is the trouble today, Papa?” Lady Pamela Taylor, his slightly indulged only daughter, inquired. Her pretty blue eyes grew troubled at his words.

That she truly wished to know her father’s thoughts on contemporary happenings was dismissed by him as utter nonsense. Everyone knew that women had smaller brains, hence one did not bother their little minds with facts and unnecessary information.

“ ‘Tis a matter of another robbery here in London. There have been a great number as of late. I’m pleased your jewels are safe, m’dear,” he added to his wife. “No thief shall ever find the way into our strongbox. Clever idea, that chap had.” He raised his paper again, cutting off additional comments.

“Who had what idea, Papa?” Pamela persisted. She was rather tired of being treated as though she hadn’t two thoughts to rub together in her brain.

“Happened to discuss the problem of all these robberies with the young duke
—the Duke of Wexford, you know. He gave me a capital idea for safeguarding our valuables. No outsider knows a thing because he helped me install the box himself. Clever chap.” Her father gave every evidence of being enormously pleased with himself and the duke.

Pamela suspected the box
—whatever it might look like—had been put into place while she and her mother were in the country on a visit to her grandmother, the Dowager Countess
of Gresham. Her father’s mother was as shrewd as may be and would give lie to any notion that females do not have brains, had anyone bothered to pay attention to her.

“In regard to crime, well…” her mother intoned, “as someone once said, wickedness is always easier than virtue.”

Her father bestowed a sharp glance on her mother, then resumed his reading. Pamela resigned herself to another day just like yesterday and most likely like tomorrow. Dull.

Her father began muttering again as he continued to study the article in the paper. Pamela resolved to read that article once he had left the house for his daily routine. First he would go to Tattersall’s, then meet a few friends at his club, perhaps lunching there. He might pause at the House of Lords to see what topic would be in debate. Most often he returned for dinner, though sometimes not.

Her mother would supervise the housekeeper and cook, planning meals and that sort of thing. And then dearest Mama would be off to confer with Lady de Clifford regarding the education of the Princess Charlotte. The young girl must have the finest of educations, what with little likelihood of another child for the prince. From what Pamela had heard, the girl was willful and spoiled and not much given to take advantage of that education.

Odd, that. Amazing how the Princess Charlotte was considered to have a mind fit to educate, yet not other girls, namely Pamela. They were only a few years apart in age, but a world apart otherwise.

At last the morning meal was concluded; the earl rose, bid farewell to his family, then left. Shortly after, Pamela could hear her mother informing the cook what was desired for dinner. Once they went out, Pamela was alone.

However, Pamela had work to do. There was to be no novel reading, no frivolous pastime. Mama firmly believed that one must not have idle hands, so Pamela worked a set of chair seat covers. She had now reached the eighth of a set of twelve. Each depicted clusters of flowers from a month of the year. At least that way she had a bit of variety.

She was about to seek out the morning paper before commencing her “work” when the family butler entered the room, a puzzled look on his usually placid face.

“What is it, Grimes?” She glanced at the stout, graying, middle-aged man, obviously perturbed, yet too conscious of his position to say why.

“There is a parcel for you, Lady Pamela.” He stood stiffly at her side, proffering the package as though it contained something of which he did not approve.

She accepted the white paper-wrapped parcel, frowning at the thing, quite puzzled as to who might send her something that would set Grimes on edge. The parcel was about twelve inches long and ten inches wide, flat, and it did not rattle in the least when she gently shook it. Wrapped in plain white paper, there was no name on the outside. Indeed, there was no address, nothing to offer a clue as to the sender.

“That will be all, Grimes.” She received so few packages, she wished to keep this to herself, savor the unexpected. When he had left the room, she eagerly tore at the wrapping to find a box
—the sort that usually held jewelry—within. The day suddenly promised to be different.

Feeling a bit like a Pandora seeking untold mysteries, she undid the clasp of the brown leather box. Lifting the lid, she gasped at what she saw within. A magnificent necklace of exquisite sapphires surrounded with brilliant diamonds rested on a bed of cream velvet.

At first. Pamela could only stare at the lovely creation. Then her sensible nature asserted itself. Examining the wrapping and box more carefully, she discovered a card that had been tucked into the box but had fallen aside when she opened it.

With trembling fingers, she held the card to the light. “Keep this safe for me
—for us—until I come for both my treasures, my dearest.” It was signed with the initials, “J.R.”

“J.R.?” she said, her voice sounding frightfully loud in the silence of the room. Across from her, placed adjacent to the door, the longcase clock ticked away, the hour nearing eleven. What could she possibly learn of the mysterious package at this time of day, or from whom?

Arising from her chair, she brought the little case over to the window that she might study the perfectly splendid jewels again. Shafts of sunlight threw hundreds of glittering sparks from the facets of the sapphires and diamonds throughout the room, creating shards of brilliant color. My, how she wished this belonged to her.

Naturally, whoever sent the package here had made a mistake! But if not hers, then to whom did the jewels belong? What other Lady Pamela knew a man with the initials J.R. who would bestow this necklace upon her with the admonition to keep it safe until he could take it and the lady far away? Until Pamela could solve the mystery, she must keep the necklace secret, for if society knew, what a scandal would befall her.

Closing the lid with a snap, Pamela pondered on the proper course of action with such an intriguing item. That it was risqué, she had no doubt. She did not think a man would send such a lavish gift accompanied by a note of such a highly personal nature to a mere acquaintance. She was quite sure the jewels held a much deeper secret.

Good heavens! Might she be holding stolen goods? She clutched the box more tightly in her hands. She was not so protected that she wasn’t aware of women who lived on the fringe of respectability and needed financial help. The way wills and property settlements were arranged, it was far too common a predicament. Lady Pamela had often heard her grandmother rage on about the wretched manner with which women were treated in modern England; she was not unaware of destitute gentlewomen, cut out of an inheritance by a clever lawyer or by purpose left out of a will entirely.

“My dearest,” the note had concluded. Fancy being someone’s dearest, inspiring a gift of such magnitude. Concealing the box in the folds of her shawl, she ventured into the hallway to find Grimes.

“Did you perchance take note of the livery worn by the person who delivered this package?”

“No livery, milady. Just ordinary clothing and an ordinary face that I cannot remember in the least.”

“No matter
,
Grimes. ‘Twas merely a jest of sorts. Ah, a friend has sent me a book…a lovely book of poetry and included naught but a cryptic message. I am to guess who it is and I must be a ninny, for I cannot think who might do such a charming thing,” she finished in a rush.

Unaccustomed to deceit of any sort, Pamela had floundered for a moment until she had caught the notion of the package containing a book. It
could
have been a book, for she actually possessed a book of poetry roughly this size if a trifle smaller.

The leather box enclosed in the folds of her shawl seemed to burn into her hands. Yet she would not reveal the contents to anyone just yet. It was a mystery
—her very own mystery. She intended to solve it if she could. Of course, she might need a bit of help, come to think on it. A young unmarried woman of the
ton
could do little on her own. But should she consult her parents, they would be horrified and ask all manner of questions. Her innocence in the matter might not be believed, for although she sought to please them, she always felt as though she fell short of their standard.

She left the entryway and marched back to the breakfast room, searching for the newspaper that had put her father to muttering this morning. Finally, she found it, precisely folded, its neatly ironed pages looking just as though it had come from the press.

“Ah, here it is, the article about the robberies.” A chill began to creep within her bones. She strongly suspected the necklace was a piece of stolen goods.

If the lady was not J.R.’s wife, she must have had a clandestine relationship with him, for no true lady accepted jewels from a gentleman who was not her husband. If he could not give the sapphire-and-diamond creation to the woman in person, it must be because it was simply too dangerous to do so.

Placing the case carefully in her lap, then draping her pretty Norwich shawl over it so as to conceal it from accidental discovery, Pamela began to read more of the account in the newspaper.

“Goodness, I had no idea there was such a wealth of jewelry laying about the city, badly protected and subject to thievery,” she murmured when she finished the article. “There are a great many foolish people in town.” The latest theft had been foiled by the same man who had assisted her father
—the Duke of Wexford.

Robert William James Musgrave, the eighth Duke of Wexford, was described as tall and dark and very clever. She wondered if he was handsome as well. Probably not. It had been her experience that a title rarely went with excellent looks. He most likely had a weak chin, a beaky nose, and a lean face topped by thinning brown locks.

But…he did appear to possess an excellent mind.

“I must think about this,” she murmured to the pot of geraniums sitting on the table in front of the only window in the room. Rising from her chair, she tucked the folded paper under her arm, then hurried up the stairs holding the box as though it actually contained the book she had claimed it did. If anyone knew the truth…

* * * *

When her father came home for dinner that evening, Pamela could barely contain her impatience. She wished to quiz him ever so gently on the matter of gifts from gentlemen to ladies. Could there be an exception that her governess. Miss Osborn, had not told her about?

“Papa,” she began during their soup course, “is it
ever
proper for a gentleman to present a lady with jewelry?”

“Whatever brought that subject to mind?” he queried with a gleam of suspicion in his pale blue eyes.

“I merely wondered about it,” she said, adopting as innocent an expression as she might manage.

“Well, no gentleman would offend a lady by offering her such a gift. It is only proper for a husband to do so,” he concluded with a snap.

“Or a relative,” the countess added calmly. “Your grandmother presented you with your pearls, if you recall.”

“True,” Pamela replied, hoping that she did not display any uneasiness.

“And there are other relatives who possess family jewels that might come to you on a special occasion as well,” her mother said with a reflective wrinkle of her brow.

“Like marriage, I suppose,” Pamela said before she carefully thought about her words.

“No chap has dared to approach you without consulting me first, has he?” her father demanded, his spoon in midair. “I’ll not suffer any improprieties.”

“Never, Papa,” Pamela gently replied. “I feel certain you are too well-known for a gentleman to trespass in such a manner.”

“A book of poetry is acceptable from a gentleman, or a posy, something small and not too valuable,” her mother concluded scrupulously before concentrating on her coming evening entertainment.

Pamela ate her way through a well-planned and well-cooked meal, scarcely tasting a bite. She was utterly absorbed in her problem. Since it was now plain that the Lady Pamela of the sapphires was not a real lady and that the man who had sent them was not a true gentleman, she was in a bind. She had no acquaintance with such people. At least, she amended, she didn’t think she knew any like them.

How to discover the identity of the unknown J.R, occupied her thoughts during the concert of antique music she attended with her mother that evening.

BOOK: The Debonair Duke
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