This one is about half done. The working title is Duke in All But Name.
Kendrick Colliery, Wales, August 1818
The rich wood paneling of the mine owner’s office glowed in flickering lamplight. Though barely noon, grey clouds hung heavily over the valley and little light filtered through the window.
Gideon Kendrick reread the letter in his hands, swore vehemently, and crumpled it up. slamming the desk with his fist, toppling his Sèvres cup, and spilling the dregs of his coffee onto his walnut desk. He grabbed the offending missive, wiped the spill with his handkerchief, and groaned.
He spread the letter on his desk, sunk his head into his hands, and read it again. His damned brother had done it.
At least, he tried.
…however long I’m gone, I left papers with my solicitors giving you full authority over the Glenmoor estate and all my holdings…
The damned fool determined to tie the loathsome place around Gideon’s neck one way or another. His brother Phillip Tavernash, Duke of Glenmoor, would have wiggled out of his title if he could, but they both knew that neither the Committee for Privileges nor Prinny himself would rescind a title once it had been confirmed—as it had been ten years before—no matter how much evidence Phillip brought to bear that Gideon should have been the heir and not Phillip.
He could ignore his brother—they’d been strangers for over a decade until their recent reconciliation. He could let the duchy sink into ruin. Except Phillip trapped him with more words, arrows to his heart.
My solicitors have a sealed envelope to be opened upon my death. It lays out the truth. Daniel will need you to be familiar with the estate, should something happen to me. Don’t fail me.
Gideon unleashed a formidable flood of filthy curses, exhausting every profane word he’d learned in the mines, from his time in the pit to his rise as owner. It changed nothing. His well-meaning but unwise brother sought to burden Gideon’s five-year-old son Daniel with his title and responsibilities. Except Phillip viewed it as a gift, a privilege, a righting of a grave injustice.
Gideon glared at the letter as long as he could stand, smoothed it out, and folded it. He needed to think. He needed advice. He rose, stuffing the letter in his coat pocket, and lurched to the door, groaning a little. Tension made the curvature in his back hurt worse than usual.
“Alyx! Have my horse brought round,” he barked through the door.
He must have been uncharacteristically harsh because his secretary’s eyes flew open. “Yes, Mr. Kendrick.”
“And send word to the governess that I will be late tonight. I may not return until morning.” Miss Huntington could be trusted with the welfare of his children.
A few hours later, he sat in a cozy parlor and warmed his aching bones before a fire to ward off early autumn chill, sunk in gloom, while his host waited patiently for an explanation. Gavin Morgan, a longtime associate who had become a friend during the previous year, was one of the few people in the united kingdoms who knew the truth. Gideon Kendrick, né Tavernash, was the legitimate son of the late duke and rightful Duke of Glenmoor, though the title had been confirmed on his younger brother, the product of a later, albeit bigamous, marriage.
Gideon handed him the letter and concentrated on his drink, a hot toddy laced with rum.
Gavin whistled soft and slow. “He’s handing over the keys to the kingdom, and you act like the dog died. One gathers you don’t choose to accept.”
“Hell no. I loathe the place. I loathe everything to do with the Glenmoor name,” Gideon muttered.
“Except His Grace,” Gavin said.
“Except Phillip, yes.” His pox-ridden Grace, may he rot in his grave, is the snake who sired me. My brother is something else entirely. “I didn’t think he’d bolt,” Gideon mumbled morosely, staring into his mug, inhaling steam for comfort.
“I heard the girl jilted him,” Gavin said. “That sort of disappointment drives some men to foolishness.”
“There was never a betrothal. We could have buried the whole business, but the benighted fool told her everything, even the business about his mother’s marriage being invalid, and the likelihood that their son would never inherit the title. She refused him.” Gideon shook his head. “I think he actually loved the chit. Or so he believed. Spent the summer hiding in that village in the middle of nowhere.”
“Ashmead? Where your stepmother lives?”
“That’s the one. Tried to drown himself in the tavern’s ale while weeping on sympathetic shoulders. Now this.”
“It must have taken him all summer to come up with this harebrained scheme. Where do you think he went?” Gavin asked.
Gideon had no idea and said so.
“Scotland?” Gavin lifted a brow.
“More likely France. He rather liked Paris, I recall. Or Rome. Constantinople. Darkest Africa. I have no idea. He’s disappeared to God knows where, and expects me to step in and take over the whole damned Glenmoor operation—for which I have no desire, questionable right, and precious little authority. No matter what papers he signed, they’d never let me through the door.”
“My father’s warped ideas infested the entire place, from his steward and butler to the lowest pot boy to the neighborhood. I had naught but insult from the lot of them.”
Gavin shook his head. “The duke seemed to think your father sent you here to die, but the mines may have been a relief,” he said with a twist of his lips.
“Daniel Kendrick was more a father to me than the one who sired me. The colliery is my home.”
Gavin Morgan didn’t have to respond; he shared the feeling. The two men sat in companionable silence, finishing one mug and then another until the warmth seeped all the way to Gideon’s soul.
The colliery, the valley, Wales. That was home. The only kindness he’d had before coming here had been from Pritchard, the stable-master, and occasionally from his father’s young wife when she was able.
Gavin brought one more mug, wobbling a bit when he rose. “So, what are you going to do?”
Gideon breathed deeply. The valley was home, but Phillip, in spite of everything, was family. “I’ll go of course.” He waved the letter. “To London. Long enough to speak to the solicitors about this nonsense. I may have to rescue my brother from folly.”
He would stay far away from the duchy’s primary seat at Mountglen, scene of his nightmares, and its sewer of rumors. He’d make a quick trip and be back to his children in a month. Decision made, he nodded off.
Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!