The Duke
Genre: Victorian Romance
ISBN: 978-1-60504-182-7

Book 2 in the Gypsy Legacy Series

He doesn’t need a wife. She doesn’t want a husband. Destiny’s not listening.

As children, Brand Waring, heir to the Duke of Warringham, and his brother were kidnapped and sold to a plantation in the West Indies. Now Brand is back to wreak vengeance on those responsible for his brother’s subsequent death. The last thing he wants, or needs, is to be distracted by an instant attraction to a flighty Society belle.

Felicia Collings has found it easy to refuse every marriage proposal, thanks to a ring left to her by her gypsy great-grandmother. Reportedly it will lead her to the man whom she is destined to marry. To her relief, the ring has been blessedly silent on this issue. Until Brand recognizes it, and sparks fly.

In spite of himself, Brand finds himself drawn to the beauty, and to the wounded soul reflected in her eyes. At his gentle hands, Felicia begins to learn what it means to be cherished and loved.

Then the past rears its head to threaten their fragile happiness. As Brand begins to doubt whether vengeance is as sweet as a lifetime with Felicia, he finds himself racing to save them both from not one cold-blooded killer—but two.

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Gypsy Legacy:  The Duke

                          Chapter One

April 1864 London

“I’m sorry, my lord, but my answer is still no.”

A light breeze moved across the terrace, disturbing the ebony curls resting against Lady  Felicia Collings’s temples. The cool night air, however, was not the reason she felt a small shiver  go through her. No, that was caused by the intense, almost desperate look in Lord Caverdown’s  eyes as she turned down his third proposal of marriage.

“Why?” His voice was low, but the demand was obvious.

“Because I do not feel we would suit.” She edged slightly away from him, toward the  ballroom door.

“You should not dismiss me so cavalierly.”

“I am not. I thought I made myself perfectly clear on the two previous occasions. Asking  again will not change my mind.” She half-turned toward the door. “I would like to return to the ballroom.”

He said nothing, but merely continued to stare at her with a look she could only describe as distaste. She shivered lightly again. If he disliked her, why did he want to marry her? 

The answer didn’t matter, since she did not want to marry him, but she wondered at his tenacity nevertheless.

“Lord Edward is not likely to come up to scratch.” His voice had a hard edge to it.  She faced Lord Caverdown again, exasperated. “I do not expect him to.”  Disbelief was clearly written on his face.

“Everyone knows Lord Edward has only one ambition. A wife would only hamper him,” she said.

“Ahh, but Parliament no longer allows the purchasing of commissions.”

“That, my lord, is none of my concern, as I have no intention of marrying him.”

“You will regret this.” Frustration welled up inside her. Why was it men reverted  to spoiled little boys when something didn’t go their way? She had nothing against Lord Caverdown. She just didn’t want to  marry him.

“Will you escort me back, or shall I return alone?”

The intensity in his golden eyes cleared and a moment later he gave her a short bow and offered his arm.

“I apologize if I have offended. I will trouble you no more on the subject.”  Felicia couldn’t believe he had become a different person right before her eyes. Gone was the rejected suitor who had nearly threatened her. In his place stood the handsome and charming dance partner she had accompanied around the floor many times. How did he do that? But, more to the point, why did his ability to do that make her uneasy?

Entering the brightly lit ballroom, they were met by a whirlwind in blue silk.

“There you are!” Lady Amanda Cookeson nearly pounced on her. “Come with me. I need  your help.”

She turned to smile at Lord Caverdown. “If you will excuse me, my lord.”

“Of course.” He gave her another short bow, then turned and walked away.

“Now, what is wrong?” Felicia asked Amanda as the two of them hurried in the other direction. “Has something happened?”

“Not really,” Amanda answered, glancing back over her shoulder.

“Then why are we leaving? Edward will be looking for me for the next set.”  Amanda shook her head, setting her golden curls to dancing. “No he won’t. His mother arrived a few moments ago.”

Felicia said no more as they strolled down a hallway lined with doors. Finding a sitting room unoccupied, they slipped inside. Felicia locked the door while Amanda lit a lamp.

Collapsing into one of the chairs by the fireplace, she let out a long breath. Amanda dropped into a chair opposite.

“Did Caverdown propose again?”  “How did you know?”

 “You have a long-suffering look about you whenever one of your admirers proposes and you tell him no. Why do you think I came along when I did? Besides seeing the duchess arrive, I  suspected when he asked you to walk with him that he was going to press his suit again. I’m glad  you continue to refuse him. He’s nice on the surface, but he makes me nervous.”

“Did Edward send you to find me?”

“Not really. But, he did mention to me that you were his next partner. I think he assumed I’d tell you.”

Felicia chewed her lower lip thoughtfully. Lord Edward’s mother, Emily Waring, was the Duchess of Warringham. It was no secret she didn’t like Felicia and had accused her of trying to trap Edward into marriage. Although friends, she and Edward agreed they needn’t annoy his mother by being seen together. She knew he was protecting her against his mother’s dislike, so at  times like this, they kept their distance from one another.

“You’re probably right,” she said absently.

Amanda nodded. “And you should forget Lord  Caverdown too. He’s only after your dowry anyway. Eliza says he has connections in the French court, but there’s some scandal in his background. It happened before she was born, so she doesn’t know  much about it, but she says the older people haven’t forgotten because it involved an earl being convicted of treason by Parliament and stripped of his title.”

Felicia laughed. Amanda’s stepmother, the Countess of Barrington, seemed to know everyone, and Felicia wasn’t surprised she knew about scandals that happened even before she was born.

“He’s jealous of Edward.”

Amanda’s laughter echoed off the high, frescoed ceiling. “Edward? Why that’s…”

“Preposterous? Of course, but he doesn’t believe it. Like everyone else, he thinks I’m out for a duke, and Edward’s the closest there is.”

Amanda’s blue eyes sparkled. “Hmmm. That might be true if Grandpa would acknowledge him as such. But, since he won’t, Edward’s out of luck.”

“Actually, he’s in luck. We’ve been through this before. Edward does not want to be the next Duke of Warringham. I wish his mother would leave him be—and me too. I’ve never done anything to her.”

“It’s not your fault, you know. Edward knows he’s to blame for her unrelenting hostility toward you. If he hadn’t told her he was going to offer for you, she probably would have just  ignored you.” Amanda sighed. “Life would be so much easier if his brother would just show up.”

Felicia agreed. Lord Edward Waring was the third, and youngest, son of the Duke of  Warringham. The current Duchess of Warringham, Edward’s mother, was the duke’s second  wife. His first wife had given him three children, of which Amanda’s stepmother, Eliza, had  been the youngest. The two oldest boys had vanished from the ducal seat over twenty years ago, and despite an exhaustive search, no trace of them was found.

A number of years after their disappearance, a gypsy purportedly told the duke his oldest  son was still alive and would return someday. Since then the duke clung to the gypsy’s words, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge Lord Edward as his heir. Even now, with his health failing, he was certain his oldest son was on his way home. And, although no one would express the opinion to her face, there were many who secretly thought the duchess had somehow been involved in the older boys’ disappearance.

A rumor had surfaced not long ago which said the duke received a letter from his oldest son.  The duchess, however, had confirmed the rumor about the letter by insisting it was a hoax. And a cruel one at that. Whenever it was mentioned in her hearing, she insisted someone was being deliberately callous by trying to keep a false hope alive.

Felicia didn’t know whether it was true or not, but she had no interest in Lord Edward beyond the fact that he was Amanda’s stepmother’s brother. The problem was that the duchess, while insisting that Edward was his father’s heir, was also very controlling. And Felicia, with her unusual background, was not considered suitable company for Edward, much less wife material. Of course, Edward had never followed through on his ridiculous comment, so she hadn’t the chance to turn him down and thereby show the duchess she was not after him or his supposed  title.

The truth was she didn’t want to marry anyone. But she knew better than to let information like that out in public.

She’d never told anyone she didn’t intend to marry. Her siblings all thought she was  diligently searching for the person who could identify her ring. While she wouldn’t discount the possibility such a person existed, the likelihood of her finding him, in her book, was slim to none. Which suited her plans nicely, because the ring was the perfect excuse to her brothers each time she refused an offer.

Two weeks later

The Gypsy Star pulled smoothly into the designated berth in the harbor. At the helm, Brand experienced a sense of satisfaction. He’d returned to England yet again, this time for good. This last voyage had spanned more than a year, and he’d sailed nearly around the world, buying and selling cargoes as he went. The ship’s hold was filled with silks, spices, gold, silver, ivory, and  jewels. There were also two horses—an Arabian stallion and mare purchased in a horse market in Egypt.

“McGregor!” He called to the flame-haired giant who stood on deck snapping out orders.

Casting one final look at the progress on deck, Sean McGregor turned to approach him. Bushy red hair and a full beard and mustache meant there was little to be seen of his face besides brown eyes and a small amount of sun-browned skin.

“Come with me.” Brand turned to head down past the galley, to the captain’s cabin.

His trunk and two smaller bags sat near the door of the large, comfortably appointed room.  Sunlight streamed through the two portholes, and fell on the table bolted to the floor in the  middle of the room. The captain’s ledger sat open on the table, fitted into a specially carved indentation.

“You will probably be in dry dock for repairs for the next two months. I have created a list of repairs which need to be made, and some improvements that might be added. I will have Mr. Percival at the office make arrangements to have them carried out.”

“Two months! I won’t know what to do wi’ meself on dry land for so long.” 

Brand laughed. “I’m sure you’ll find something. In the meantime, I wanted you to know this was my last voyage. I need to return home and see to my father, so when it is time for the Gypsy Star to sail again, I have decided you will be her captain.”

The statement rendered McGregor speechless, but only for a few moments. “Me? Captain?”

Brand smiled broadly. “I think you’ve earned it. You have been an admirable first mate, the men like you and will follow you, and I’ve no doubt as to your abilities.”

Brand left the ship a short time later, McGregor’s appreciation and gratitude ringing in his ears, and headed for the shipping offices. London’s docks were crowded and noisy. The damp, fishy smell associated with a harbor assailed his senses as he strode purposefully toward the offices of Star Fleet Shipping. He wondered briefly where the rest of the fleet was, and did a quick accounting in his head. Night Star should be somewhere in America. Diamond Star might be in the Orient, but Twin Star, their newest ship, he had no idea.

The manager, Mr. Percival, greeted him warmly, showing him into an elegantly furnished office overlooking warehouses and a quieter part of the docks. They discussed the disposal of the cargo he brought back, the repairs needed to the Gypsy Star, and his selection of Sean McGregor to replace him as captain. Then he learned his partner and his wife were on holiday in Italy. “However, he did leave you this.” The manager passed him an envelope. “And said I should tell you it was time for you to remain on dry land for a while.”

Brand grinned. Just as his partner, the Marquis of Thanet, had returned home to an uncertain future three years before, so had he. He knew who he was, but he wasn’t sure he could prove it.

He and his brother had been kidnapped as children. Small and ailing, his brother died within days, but Brand was sent to a plantation in the Caribbean as a bondslave. He might not have endured, but just before he was put on the ship a gypsy approached him on the beach and told him he would someday return. His memory of  his childhood, including his own name, was lost amid the work and abuse he suffered, but her words remained.

Someday you will return to your father’s side.

Now, it was time. He’d briefly been in England three years ago and hired a detective to find out who he was. The knowledge stunned him, but the name had been the beginning of the return of his memory. Bit by bit over the last three years, pieces of memory returned and he now had a clearer picture of who he had been. And who he should be.

“Then I suppose I ought to take his advice and do just that.”

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. A clerk entered to inform them the Earl of Wynton was outside to see the captain. Surprised, Brand told the clerk to show him in.

Rising to his feet, Brand eagerly greeted his partner’s brother-in-law. “Jon! It’s good to see you again. How’d you know I was here?”

“I’ve had a man watching the docks for almost a month now. He was to inform me as soon as the Gypsy Star docked. I came straight here when I got the word this morning. Jay thought you might need help and I promised to lend whatever assistance was necessary once you returned.”

Brand nodded. “Good. I could use a friend. I suppose I’m finished here for now, Percy. I will keep in touch.”

Once in the Earl’s coach, Brand looked down at his shirt, breeches and boots. “I suppose a new wardrobe will be in order.” He stated the obvious. “But I’ve always hated dressing up.”

The earl grinned, unrepentant. “If you plan to take your rightful place, you have little  choice.”

Brand stared out the small window, watching the traffic and buildings pass by. After a  while, he spoke. “So, how’s my father?”

“Not well, according to the rumors. Your stepmother has taken him back to the ducal seat. The word about town is the doctors have given him very little time, but he is stubbornly holding on in the hope you will return. If the gossip mill is to be believed, so are many others.”

That surprised him. “Why would anyone care whether I returned or not?”

“Because your dear stepmother  has declared the letter your father received three years ago was nothing more than a hoax—and a cruel one at that. She insists Edward should be the Marquess of Lofton, yet your father stubbornly refuses to allow him to use the title.”

“I see. So, the gossip mill is anxiously awaiting my stepmother to be proved wrong and her darling Edward to become a mere second son?” The earl nodded. “And what does Edward think of all this?”

“Actually, Edward is anxiously waiting for you to return too.”  Brand straightened, giving the earl his full attention. “Why?”

“So he can finally get out from under his mother’s thumb. She has kept that poor boy on a short rein for most of his life and he is beginning to chomp at the bit. If you show up, he’s off the hook.”

“I would have thought being the heir to a dukedom would compensate for an overbearing mother.”

The earl shook his head. “Edward’s a good man, and he has stuck around because of your father, but I suspect if he inherited the title, he would be an absentee landholder. According to my sister, he would dearly love a commission.”

“Your sister?”

“Felicia.” The earl smiled. “She’s in her second Season now. Jay and Tina brought her out last year, but this year I was left to watch over her. Thankfully the Duchess of Westover is officially sponsoring her, but I’m required to make an appearance now and again.”

“You have my sympathy.”

The earl’s smile became a grin. “Save that sympathy for yourself.  Felicia is stubborn, headstrong and has a mind of her own, but she makes the Season bearable—and she keeps the marriage-mart mamas and their daughters at bay for me.”

Brand was curious. He’d met his partner’s wife and she was a beauty. If her sister even remotely resembled her, she ought to be tripping over proposals right and left. “Hasn’t she had any offers?”

“She’s had her share of proposals, but none have appealed to her. And neither Jay nor I would force her to wed unless we felt it was in her best interests.”

Reaching the earl’s home, they retired to the library to discuss and create a plan of action.  Brand needed not only a complete new wardrobe, but also to see his father without anyone else being aware of his presence. He might be the  Marquess of Lofton, but  without his father’s acknowledgment, it was highly unlikely anyone would accept his word for it. As the earl noted, it was fortuitous the duchess had removed the duke from London. He could easily travel to the ducal seat for a reunion without the gossips intruding.

“I don’t know how my stepmother did it, but I’m sure she was behind the kidnapping. It couldn’t have been too hard to hire someone to do the job when she was conveniently away.”  They were settled in comfortable chairs, each sipping a drink. Light spilled into the room from two large windows behind Brand. “The trick was she  had to arrange it so she had Edward with her when Michael and I disappeared.”

The earl shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense to me. If she wanted Edward to inherit, why didn’t the men just kill both of you? Then she would have been sure of it.”

Brand grimaced and shifted in his chair. “I’ve wondered about that too. Just last month another piece of my memory dropped into place.” He took a large swallow of whiskey, feeling the liquid burn its way to his stomach. “When I was on the beach, just before they put Michael and me on the ship, I overheard some of the men laughing about being paid twice for one job.”

The earl’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t think she paid them to kill you, but they decided on their own to sell you to slavers?”

Brand nodded. “I’m sure it’s happened before. It’s difficult to trust a job is done right unless you do it yourself.” He drained the glass and set it down on the table beside him. “I’m sure they never expected I might return.  I suppose I should be thankful for their greed. Without it, she would have succeeded.”

 “If there was a bright side to any of this—that may well be it.”

“According to the letter Jay left me, she has apparently denied time and time again that I could possibly be alive. I would think unless she knew there was absolutely no possibility, she might have some hope—for my father’s sake. The fact that she seems to continue to insist I’m not points to her guilt as far as I’m concerned, especially in light of the letter I sent three years  ago.”

“You may be right, but if I could make a suggestion. Be cautious. There are others involved who may be hurt by the revelations. This might be…”

The door to the library burst open and a woman breezed in. “Jon, I need your help.”

Dressed in a daffodil-yellow walking dress adorned with blue ribbon, the vision brought with her sunshine and a breath of fresh air. Brand had no doubt this was the  stubborn, headstrong, with-a-mind-of-her-own sister.

“Felicia!” Jon surged to his feet. “How many times must I tell you not to barge in without being announced?”

“Why should Higgins announce me? You’re not doing anything I shouldn’t see. At least, not in the library, I hope.” Her smile was more potent than the whiskey he’d just finished.

Jon sighed, his frustration nearly tangible.

“Besides, I need your help. It’s Davey.”

Crossing the expanse of wine red carpet, she seated herself on one of the sofas and folded her hands primly in her lap.

“What about him?”

 “He’s been injured. I sent a footman with a message to Thane Park to find out what was  wrong, but he brought Davey back to Town. I can’t keep him at Westover House, so I need you to take him in until I decide what to do with him.”

Either Jon had forgotten him, which Brand doubted, or he’d chosen not to make introductions. Brand suspected the latter, so he merely continued to observe the interaction between the siblings.

The Earl’s eyebrows furrowed. “Injured? How?”

“At the moment, he has a broken arm. Some of the boys in the village set upon him. I know Ella would protect him if she could, but she and Daisy aren’t enough and Ella’s husband would be just as happy if he weren’t there. I need to find someplace else for him to go.”

Felicia was counting on her brother. He had always been there for her and she knew he’d know what to do.

She had been stunned when the footman, Henry, showed up at Westover House last evening with Davey in tow. She hadn’t asked him to bring the boy to her—she just wanted to know how he fared. One look at Davey, however, and she knew sending him back to Thane Park was out of the question.

The inhabitants of Parkton, the village on the  edge of Thane Park, never forgot that the cook’s oldest granddaughter, Ella, had given birth to a bastard at age seventeen. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that the child had been the product of a rape by Felicia’s oldest brother, Aaron, then Viscount Collings. Aaron had been killed not long afterwards, but once Ella married the blacksmith’s son and he refused to take Davey in, the boy became the target of all manner of taunts and cruelties. Left with Ella’s mother, Daisy tried to protect him from the slurs and namecalling, but she was little protection.

Through correspondence with the housekeeper at Thane Park she learned Davey had been injured, and sent a footman down to find out what happened. When he showed up last night with Davey, she had been shocked. Although the bruises had begun to fade, she could tell there had been many over time. But, worst of all, his arm was horribly swollen and bruised.

Summoning a physician to attend him, she’d allowed Davey to stay the night with Henry in the Westover nursery, but she knew he couldn’t stay  there. Trying to decide what to do with him was difficult. She knew she couldn’t send him back to Thane Park, but she also understood if she kept him with her and it got out many would speculate as to his identity and the speculation would drag her reputation through the mud. Something she could ill afford. Jon was her best hope for now.

Movement on the edge of her vision made her  suddenly aware of another presence in the room. Turning, she found herself looking at the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Widespaced violet eyes under dark blond brows, high, defined cheekbones creating angles and planes, a sharp patrician nose over a full-lipped mobile mouth and a dimpled chin melded to create an arresting face. Skimming over his loose-fitting shirt, buff-colored thigh-hugging breeches and knee-high boots, she felt the blood rise in her cheeks as she realized he watched her with the same curiosity she extended to him. If he’d been sporting an eye patch, she would have thought him a pirate.

Jon made the introductions, and she was immediately aware of the differences between the two men. Jon’s coal black hair was, like hers, inherited from their mother, his emerald green eyes  from his father.

“Felicia, may I introduce Jay’s partner, Brand. His ship just docked this morning.”

Brand rose to his feet with an agility that belied his size. Felicia was used to looking up at  Jon, but Brand seemed to tower over him. She rose to her feet as well, partly so as not to feel so small. There were times, like now, when she cursed her size. Her head just reached Brand’s chin  but she refused to be cowed. The dark blond hair hanging over his collar put her in mind of a  lion’s mane and she sensed the power he kept firmly leashed.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” she said, still staring openly at Brand. Then, realizing she was being rude, smiled and held out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. er…” she stumbled over his name.

Brand was instantly mesmerized by the blue-eyed, ebony-haired siren standing before him.  All of his senses kicked in when she first entered the room and her soft yet husky voice drew him in. Then she smiled and held out her hand. For a moment, he forgot where he was. Taking the proffered hand, he bowed over it and raised it to his lips.

“Just Brand,” he replied smoothly. “And the pleasure is all mine, my lady.” Her hand was warm and soft, sending a spark right through him, and causing his heartbeat to double. It was suddenly warm in the room where a short time before he had been comfortable. His breeches were suddenly tighter and he could feel the blood rush into his nether regions as his body reacted to her touch.

“Brand.” Hearing his name on her lips caused his blood to heat.

“Shall I order you some refreshment, Felicia?” The earl’s voice brought Brand back to himself with a vengeance.

She turned to reply and the contact was broken. Brand let out a breath he didn’t realize he held and watched her move back to the sofa and seat herself. Hell. What was he doing staring at her like an untried schoolboy? What had come over him? He shook his head as he resumed his seat, moving the chair slightly so he could watch her better.

She turned suddenly as Jon moved to the door and pinned him with deep blue orbs.

“Did Jon tell you Jay and Tina are in Italy?”

“Yes, but it’s unimportant, for now. So, who is Davey?”

A delicate shade of pink colored her cheeks and she dropped her eyes to her lap.  “He’s…uh…just one of the boys from the village near Thane Park.”

Brand watched her twist her hands together in agitation. Obviously a family situation. Perhaps he should leave her and her brother to sort out Davey’s fate. Because she came to the earl for help, he wondered if he wasn’t eavesdropping on a private matter, but his curiosity was aroused. Having just made her acquaintance, he was intrigued enough to want to know more.

Jon returned and reclaimed his chair across from Brand.

“Perhaps we should forget the refreshments, and I should leave you two to continue  whatever I interrupted,” Felicia said to Jon with a glance in Brand’s general direction.
“It’s a little late for that. And what do you propose to do about Davey?”

“I will send him to you and you can decide. I would like, eventually, to send him to Journey’s End.”

This obviously surprised Jon. “Why would you do that? He’s what? Eight, nine years old?  Why would you want to send him there?”

Felicia’s posture became rigid and Brand read defiance in every line as she answered her brother. “He’s nine. And I won’t send him alone, if that’s what you think. But since I eventually plan to give him the property, I thought it might be nice for him to grow up there.”

Jon looked at her closely for a few moments. “And when were you going to tell Jay about this decision?”

Felicia shrugged. “Someday, I suppose.”

Jon grimaced as Higgins entered with a tray. Setting it on a low table beside Felicia, he inquired if Jon needed anything else.

“No, that will be all for now.” Felicia also thanked the butler and helped herself to a small scone.

Brand watched Felicia nibble at the delicate pastry, his wayward thoughts imagining other uses for the enticing pink tongue he glimpsed.  Get a grip on yourself, his conscience admonished. Perhaps now would be a good time to make his escape, but Jon’s next words piqued his curiosity further.

“I suppose your future husband might have a say in the matter?”

She shrugged one slim shoulder, but did not answer him directly. Instead, she returned to her previous question.

“So, will you take Davey in until I make arrangements to travel to Journey’s End?”

“Felicia, I’m a bachelor. What am I supposed to do with a nine-year-old boy?”

“It’s only for a few days. I can make arrangements to leave by week’s end.”

“What?” Jon sat up straighter and turned narrowed eyes in her direction. “And just how do you think you’ll get to this place?”

“I’ll take Jay’s traveling coach. It’s here in London at Thane House.” The glibness with which she answered seemed to indicate she’d thought about it for some time.

“I see. And were you planning on doing away with me before then?” Jon’s voice had  become hard.

Felicia laughed. “Don’t be silly, Jon. Of course I wasn’t planning on doing you in. What would make you think that?”

“It might have something to do with you taking Davey to visit a place you’ve never been, without a proper escort—or is there something else I don’t know?”

For the first time, Brand noticed her smile falter. White teeth worried her bottom lip. The  tension in the room increased. The silence stretched for a few moments, then her eyes lit up.

“You could come along too,” she said brightly, rising to her feet. “Then you wouldn’t have Amanda stalking your every move.” Her attempt at lightening the tension only partially succeeded. “I’ll send Davey over this afternoon.” And with a brilliant smile which encompassed both Jon and Brand, she hurried out of the room.

Jon sat back in his chair with a groan.

Brand watched her sail out the door and knew he was grinning like a fool. She was  incredible. Incredibly young and naive, that is. No woman dared to travel alone, especially one so young, and unmarried. She must have lost her mind. Still, he couldn’t help but admire her aplomb, and found himself chuckling.

Jon glanced over at him and grimaced. “You’re a fine one to be laughing. I should have told her who you were.”

“Would it have mattered?” She hadn’t seemed like a young woman who would fall over someone for a title and the earl’s next words confirmed it.

“No,” he sighed. “But she might have been  more interested in you because she is well acquainted with the rest of your family. Amanda, her bosom bow, happens to be your niece of sorts.”

“Niece of sorts? I can’t imagine either of my siblings would have produced a girl old enough to be stalking you.”

“She’s your sister’s stepdaughter, but since she considers Edward her uncle, you would probably be cast in the same role.”

“And she’s been stalking you?”

“Ever since she made her bow. She’s a pretty  little thing, but not my type. Unfortunately, she refuses to take no for an answer.”

“I see.”

 The two sat in silence for a short while, then the earl got to his feet.

“I should inform Higgins young Davey will be arriving soon. Felicia rarely makes promises she doesn’t keep. I suppose we can entertain a nine-year-old boy for a few days. I’ll have to think about Journey’s End.”

“What and where is Journey’s End?”

“It’s a small property on the west coast in the Lake District. I understand she might not want the property—in fact, I don’t remember her being pleased when Jay included it in her dowry. But to want to give it to Davey might be going a bit far.”

“Why?” When the earl hesitated, Brand added hastily, “If this is family business, just tell me to mind my own.”

Jon detoured to the sideboard and poured himself another whiskey, offering Brand a refill as he did so. Brand declined.

“It’s not that—it’s just…complicated.” He resumed his seat across from Brand. “I’m pretty certain Jay has no idea why Felicia is so attached to Davey. Perhaps he’d agree if he knew, but  with Felicia things are rarely so simple.”

“I thought she was your sister. Why does it matter what Jay knows?”

“She is also his sister. My father died when I was six and my mother married Jay’s father a year later. Felicia was their only child. I suppose she’s closer to me than Jay, but Jay is her guardian, not I.”

“And Davey?”

“Davey’s story isn’t pretty. I’ve never asked how she knew, but Felicia has told me that her oldest brother, Aaron—who is now deceased—forced himself on Ella. Davey was the result.”

 Brand wasn’t surprised at Aaron’s actions. Too often members of the nobility felt young  women not of the nobility were fair game. What surprised him was that Felicia felt responsible for Davey for some reason. Although he hadn’t been in England for most of his life, he knew many of the same rules applied in societies around the world and in most of them, someone in Felicia’s position would have been expected to turn a blind eye—if they knew about it at all. That she hadn’t ignored the situation brought forth his reluctant admiration.


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