Excerpt: Duke in Name Only

Misfortune is an excellent teacher...

“So, who are you really?” demanded the ruffian at the rear of the canoe paddling through the changing currents of the Mississippi River. He spat over the side and grinned, gap-toothed, at his helpless passenger.

Wet, wounded, and weary, Phillip felt no humor whatsoever.

I’m the damned fool who walked away from the greatest house in Dorset, an army of servants, and great piles of money only to get bamboozled, robbed, and beaten into the bargain. Stupidity hurt worse than the bruises. The seeping wound in his side stuffed full of moss by his unlikely rescuer was another matter.

“I told you,” he groaned, his voice shaking with cold. He’d blurted out more than he should have in his delirium.

“Yer feisty for a man with nuthin’ but the shirt on his back at the mercy of a stranger’s kindness. Say the other again then. I need a laugh, and you sure as hell aren’t pulling your weight any other way,” the uncouth boatman demanded. A great mountain of a man, he smelled as foul as he looked—dirty, unshaven, dressed in filthy buckskins, with a nasty scar down one cheek.

Fair enough. Phillip sighed and forced the words drilled into him from his youth through shivering lips. “I am Phillip Roland George Arthur Tavernash, Sixth Duke of Glenmoor, Earl of Wentworth, Viscount Gradington, Baron Walsh.”

The boatman let out a bark of laughter so strong it rocked the boat. “Well, Artie, you’re entertaining. I’ll give you that. Folks may pay money to hear you say it with that fancy accent of yours. God knows you’re gonna need it.”

“What’s your name then? Perhaps I’ll laugh,” Phillip said, his voice growing weaker.

His companion didn’t answer. Experienced travelers told Phillip to expect the water of the great rivers, both the Ohio and the Mississippi, to be treacherous. No one warned him about pirates and swindlers.

The boatman put his back into his work and, with astonishing skill, neatly avoided a floating log that threatened to collide with them. He maneuvered the canoe through swirling eddies, slid around into a calmer channel, and guided the canoe south with the current.

“Luke Archer,” the ruffian replied a moment later. “The one you can thank when I drag your worthless carcass ashore.” He said nothing else, or if he did, Phillip didn’t hear it.

Several hours—or perhaps days—later, sharp pains brought him to awareness as he was dragged from the canoe, thrust over the man’s shoulders, and carried a short distance.

“Nan! Get yourself over here. I brought you a wounded duck!” his rescuer shouted as he dropped Phillip to a rough floor. Heat enveloped Phillip before, blessedly, the world went dark again.