To Love a Chivalrous Duke (Preview)


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Chapter One

A hot dagger of pain pierced Marcus through the chest, right where his heart was situated. He looked to Lady Louisa, his fiancée, and shook his head, not wanting to understand the plain words she had spoken. Not wanting to face the consequences of her speech.

Lady Louisa stood with the shine of tears in her eyes, but her cheeks were dry. “Oh, Marcus, my love, I am sorry for the situation to come to light for you in such a shocking fashion. I never meant to hurt you.”

Her words and countenance, at such odds with one another, set his teeth on edge. The dagger in his heart twisted. He feared it might twist until his heart simply refused to feel anything more, and then he would be a right curmudgeon for the rest of his life. A boyhood friend’s grandfather had been that way. None of the grandchildren wanted to be around the old man as they were fearful of his sour, hateful scowls and booming voice; in fact, his own adult children wanted very little to do with him.

Marcus did not wish to share the same fate; but there it was again. That blade of pain, slicing in hot, twisting, and leaving ice in its wake. Each time he looked at Louisa, his love, his future wife, another pain; another vein of ice.

With no emotion in her voice, and an absolutely uncaring, and slightly scathing expression, Louisa said, “Marcus? Are you not going to speak a word? Are you only going to sit there scorching me with your fiery glare? I am in a delicate state right now, and I cannot stand to sit here in silence much longer. It’s not good in my condition to be overly stressed, you know.”

She barely hid her small smile which became a smirk. Or a sneer; he could not be sure which.

“How?” That was the only word Marcus could manage before the pain took him again. He wanted to cry, scream, throw things, and pummel Louisa’s lover, who was not going to be only a lover anymore. The world spun out of control, threatening to cause an upheaval of the scant breakfast he had only an hour before.

With more audacity than he had thought she could manage, Louisa chuckled. “Dear, dear, Marcus. Honestly, I don’t think I have to explain that to you.” Her cheeks pinked as she chuckled again.

Ruthless tramp, he thought. Anger bolted through him like a racehorse, pounding away the heartache, grinding it under smoldering hooves and leaving only ash behind. “How … could … you?” he asked through gritted teeth. Standing so abruptly that his chair clattered back against the hearthstones, he planted his hands palm-down on the table and leaned across, toward Louisa. “How could you go behind my back and be unfaithful? How could you get pregnant with another man’s child? If anyone had said, even a month past, that you would become only a bit of muslin, I would have taken him to duel for the slander! I am sick with grief and torn with anger at such un-righteous betrayal.”

Much to his satisfaction, her eyes grew large and her mouth dropped open. She stood, her face paling. Her hand fluttered from her stomach to her breast and then back to her stomach. “How dare you, Marcus! Such insults, I will not stand for. Not from you!” Her voice was hollow and tremulous.

“How can the truth be an insult, dear Lady Louisa?” Sarcasm dripped from his words. Marcus stormed toward the door of the parlor, stopping at the threshold. “I trust you can find your way out.” He turned to look at her sideways, adding, “And don’t bother finding your way here again.”

Marcus went upstairs, leaving Lady Louisa demanding an apology in a high-pitched, whining voice that set his teeth on edge. All he wanted was to be away from her. The sooner, the better.


After the ugly and tension-filled scene at his home, Marcus was unable to remain there for very long. From his bedchamber window, he watched Lady Louisa’s carriage exit his property. The pain that spiraled through his chest and guts was even worse than when she had been there revealing her secret.

When she had disappeared from view, he crumpled into an armchair and dropped his head into his hands. The world spun out of control again, and he gasped for air, sitting tense and gripping the arms of the brocade chair until the spinning stopped. Sweat oozed from his forehead; his stomach flipped despite his best efforts for control.

Several hours later, he found himself sitting at a large mahogany table with four of his friends. The night thus far had consisted of several—he had lost count of how many—games of whist, and more rounds of port and Blue Ruin than he had needed. Sitting with good friends at Redfield’s, and laughing with them, he knew it had worked. The pain of Louisa’s revelation had been blunted by friends and distraction, and surely by the alcohol.

He looked around the table at his friends. Nathaniel, twenty-six, the same age as Marcus, came from a very wealthy peerage line and was the founder of Redfield’s. William, only three years older, was successful in the textile company he owned. Tristan, at thirty, was a prominent London doctor, and well-respected amongst the ton. And, then there was Robert, the wealthy merchant from a broken background.

Finally, Marcus thought of himself. His father, the Marquess of Glenshire, had been killed in a carriage robbery when Marcus was only fifteen. Marcus grew up under the strict rules of his grandfather, the Duke of Thurlstone. After a manner, he supposed he was from a broken background, too.

What do we all have in common? Marcus wondered. He rubbed his forehead, and took another look at them each, his thoughts turning serious as he realized their profound connection.

Each man was wealthy, a member of London society, and they all got on with each other famously. They were of close ages, but their interests were widely varied; yet they were still very close friends.

Each of us has reason to doubt that love can last, he thought.

Nathaniel had witnessed the loveless and miserable marriage of his parents. William was once in love, but the relationship ended badly and with his heart shattered. Tristan was the doctor who could not save his wife. After only two short years of marriage, she died of an illness. Robert, for all his success and good looks, kept his emotions guarded because of his parents’ breakup.

Nathaniel raised his glass and cleared his throat, drawing the collective attention to himself. “Gentlemen, I say that we should raise a toast to a future devoid of all society’s mores and expectations of us. We, as men, are more than products of our environment, are we not?”

“Hear, hear!” was the resounding answer from all.

“We need a new outlook on life, my friends,” Nathaniel continued. “I propose not only a toast, but a little wager amongst us, as well.” His eyes twinkled, and he grinned.

Everyone quieted. Eyeing him with a touch of suspicion, Marcus asked, “What’s this wager to be?”

“I propose that we each enter into an agreement right here, right this very instant, the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and eleven, in the month of April. We shall never fall in love. Never shall we enter into the confines of a loveless marriage for convenience. Nor shall we, for the oldest reason of all—true love—enter into marriage. True love, which so often transforms from a loving embrace to the jailor of men after only a short while, is toxic; a trap into which we, as men with a new outlook on life, shall never fall. To the devil with society’s expectations of us as men.” He held his glass aloft. “What say you all?”

Marcus’s glass was the first to be raised, followed in quick succession by the others around the table. “I’ll gladly enter into this wager,” he nearly shouted. “To the devil with expectations!”

The others shouted in unison as their glasses clinked, “Hear, hear! To the devil with expectations!”

“Everyone puts in five guineas!” Nathaniel said. “Winner takes all!”

They downed the port in their glasses and set them on the table, sealing the deal. Marcus had to admit that he felt lighter afterward, as if he had been freed of some horrible weight that had been riding upon his shoulders, unnoticed until it had gone.

Chapter Two

The bedchamber was pitch dark, and Gemma tossed under the covers, alternately squeezing her eyes shut and opening them wide. There was little difference in what she could see either way, except for the faintest glow of cold, springtime moonlight. The moon, she supposed, was somewhere far off from any of her windows, perhaps even hiding behind clouds, or too shy to crest the distant mountainous horizon.

Thoughts of her mother tumbled and twisted through her mind, giving rise to the anxiety of facing life without a mother, without a sister or brother, and with no other family to speak of, save her father.

Why did Mother have to die? Gemma wondered as she turned her face away from the windows again. Why did she leave me here completely alone with Father? With no one in whom to confide my deepest wishes and most horrendous fears.

It had been dark for ages; or, at least, it seemed that way to Gemma. She thought if her mother had only been there to read her one more bedtime story from one of the books in the library, things would be better. Sleep would come and hug her in its warm and peaceful embrace, and in the morning, the world would look brighter.

But her mother would never read her another story. She would never smile at her and hold her finger to her lips as they tiptoed to the library and sneaked a book from the shelves. They would never run barefoot back to Gemma’s bedchamber, giggling as they avoided detection by the Duke of Amerden, Gemma’s father.

He always hated the idea of women reading anything. Books were for men. Plain and simple. Women had no business reading, and if one did so, it dropped his already low opinion of females even further.

It stung Gemma’s spirit to know her father’s opinion of women and their place in the world. Secretly, she was furious with him for his failings as a husband, which he never saw as failings. The numerous affairs he had were simply the way life was for him, and he expected his wife to be content with his decisions. If she wasn’t? That was no concern of his.

Pulling the cover up to her chin, Gemma rolled to face the window, sighing loudly in irritation at her inability to just fall asleep. Such a simple task should be easy to accomplish, she thought. But not that night. Not while memories of her mother and her sudden passing kept flooding her mind.

The brevity and precariousness of life, to some, made it sweeter, but for Gemma, it made it scary.

She rolled to her back, clutching the cover close, and stared up into the blackness of her room. “Mother, you’ve been gone for three years now. I miss you more with every passing day,” she whispered into the emptiness.

Sleep seemed to be moving farther away from her as the night wore on. Finally, she tossed the cover aside and sat on the edge of the bed. The air had a distinct spring chill and goose bumps ran over her arms as she stood. The cold wood of the floor beneath her feet brought a smile as she recalled earlier times with her mother. Laughing and running down the long corridor barefoot no matter the time of year or how cold the floor was.

She moved carefully to the little gas lamp and lit it. Turning to her bedside, she took up the white muslin shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders. Her shoes sat at the end of her bed, but she decided against them; she wanted to relive a good memory, and the cold floor beneath her feet would be a nice touch of reality.

Feeling somewhat close in spirit to her mother again, she stepped quietly into the long, dark corridor. Her little light was inadequate to do more than show her path a few feet ahead, but it was enough. Being alone in the semi-darkness with her memories was fine with her.

Turning right, she headed toward the library. If the duke caught her in there, it would mean another severe scolding, but she was almost certain he was entertaining one of his female cohorts in another wing of the house. For him, little had changed since his wife’s death, and that infuriated Gemma.

Over the years, especially since growing older and a bit wiser to the ways of men and women, Gemma had realized her parents had been deadlocked in a loveless marriage for a decade or more. All the more reason for her to avoid a marriage of her own. Keeping up appearances and playing to the expectations of society were not her strong points. Gemma valued transparency and honesty in all things. Especially in one’s marriage.

As a child, Gemma had thought of marriage as a sacred institution full of love and happiness, security and acceptance. At the age of nineteen, she understood that marriage and love, happiness, security, and acceptance were not synonymous, and that they likely had never been except in fairy tales.

The gas light illuminated the tall, ornate door of the library, and Gemma’s pulse quickened. Extending her hand toward the knob, she glanced back the way she had come to make sure she was still alone in the hallway, and then she entered the room. Quickly, she shut the door, making as little noise as possible. The same thrill ran through her as it had when she was younger and accompanied by her mother. The excitement of doing something forbidden was perhaps wicked, she thought; it arose from being in a room not designed for women; a place of secrets and wonders reserved for the men of the world, the leaders, the rulers.

Placing the lamp on the table, Gemma suppressed a giggle. The wall of shelves soared to the upper reaches of the room, accessible by a single, narrow staircase. She eyed the upper level, but only to see that no one was standing there peering down at her. She supposed it was her guilty conscience that allowed such a thought into her mind. In the middle of the night, no one should be in the library—not even Gemma. After assuring herself that she was indeed alone, she moved toward the familiar shelves. The ones at eye level, where her favorite books were kept.

As she squinted at the titles, she let her fingers trail over familiar tomes and beloved bedtime stories from her youth. Considering a book, she paused. After a moment of mulling it over, she decided to choose something different. It was not a night for flights of fancy and scenarios that she understood were only alive in her imagination. She wanted something with more meaning; with multi-leveled and deeper meanings than bedtime tales would offer.

At last, her gaze fell upon a volume of poetry. She recalled seeing the book hidden away in her mother’s bedchamber, usually under the pillow on her immaculately neat bed. Lyrical Ballads with a Few Other Poems published in London in 1798. William Wordsworth was the main contributor, and a fantastic poet in her opinion, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge was just as talented, and she thought she might have preferred his work to that of Mr. Wordsworth.

It was a question she was eager to answer by means of her own research into the matter. Unable to suppress the giggle, she slid the book from the shelf and arranged the remaining books so that it was not obvious at a glance that one was missing. Pleased with her work, she picked up the lamp and stood at the door looking at the shelf that held her mother’s favorite fairy tale book. Though she wanted to take it, she feared that two books missing would be noticed.

With the door open only a crack, she peered into the darkness, her heartbeat picking up a few extra beats as she half-expected to see her father bearing down on her, his permanently scowling face twisted in anger. But there was nothing but darkness out there. No father; no sound; no movement at all. Flashes of a motionless ship, stuck on a painted ocean, flitted through her mind as she stepped into the thick darkness.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge had been one of her favorite poems a few years prior, and as she moved at a determined pace down the length of lonely corridor, specters dredged up from that poem played on her imagination. Slimy things crawling upon a slimy sea; a spirit nine fathoms deep moving the ship from beneath; dead men with their expressions frozen in a forever-accusation; the horrors of being surrounded by water but not being able to slake thirst; the complete and utter solitude …

Gemma broke into a quickened trot and veered into her room, slamming the door behind. Clamping her teeth together, she sucked in air. Her eyes flew wide at the horrendously large and echoing sound of the door hitting its jamb.

Holding her breath, she strained her ears against the silence for the sound of her father’s footfalls or voice that might signal she had alerted him. No sound came, and after a few horribly drawn-out moments, she let out her pent-up breath. It rushed out in a half-laugh. The room spun slightly and she nearly fainted as she set the lamp on her bedside table.

With the book in one hand, she removed her shawl and crawled into bed once again. With the images still vivid in her mind’s eye, she turned to Rime of the Ancient Mariner and began reading. She read slowly, deliberately taking in each stanza at a rate that allowed her mind to paint new pictures or add more details to the existing ones. As the ancient mariner heard the two voices from above as he lay in a trance, Gemma’s eyelids betrayed her and fell closed.

Her sleep was deep, complete, and troubled only by the dream of a lone albatross circling in the bright blue and cloudless sky above her. It should have been a pleasant dream to have, but with it came a feeling of impending doom of which she could not rid herself.

Sometime later, loud knocking at her bedchamber door awakened Gemma.

Struggling to awareness, Gemma noted the hard edge of the book biting into her upper arm. She had rolled partially onto it. The sun painted her room in bright strokes of peach and gold, and she squinted as the knock sounded again. This time it accompanied by the voice of her lady’s maid, Susan.

Shoving the book under her pillow, Gemma called out, “You may enter.”

The door burst open, and Susan rushed in, her eyes flitting around the room. “Milady, it’s your father. He has requested to see you.”

“Of course. I’ll join him as soon as I am dressed.” Gemma sat and stretched, wondering why Susan seemed so frantic.

“He insisted that you join him immediately for breakfast.” Susan pulled a morning dress from the wardrobe and laid it beside a lace cap. “We must hurry; it is already late, milady.”

“Late? Whatever do you mean, Susan? I’ve only just awoken.” Gemma’s brow furrowed.

“You slept later than you have since … since …” Susan looked at her pleadingly and then apologetically before continuing in a voice barely above a whisper, “since your mother passed, milady.” Averting her eyes, Susan reached for the morning dress, adjusting a sleeve as she waited for Gemma’s response.

A jolt ran through Gemma’s chest at the mention of her mother, and she stood. Her melancholy mood immediately after the funeral had become so bad that she had barely left her bed for weeks. Her father was not one to be kept waiting, no matter the circumstance.

“I did not realize I had overslept.” She moved to get dressed.

Susan had her presentable within a quarter of an hour, and Gemma hurried to the dining hall. Fear built as she neared the room. A requested meeting with her father could not bode well for her.

The duke sat at the table, fingers steepled under his chin, his expression cold and sour as he eyed her and then glanced at the clock. She had kept him waiting, and he was displeased. Her heart dropped and her smile faltered. Greeting him, she took her seat and placed her hands in her lap. Food was the last thing on her mind as he glared at her.

“You’ve kept me waiting far too long; rude behavior begets you no favors from me, young lady.” His voice was low, even, and full of exasperation.

Only glancing at him, unable to hold his gaze, she replied, “I’m sorry, Father. I overslept because I could not fall asleep last night.”

“Hmm.” He nodded once. “It’s been three years since your mother died. I know you came out two years ago, but it was no great success by any stretch of the imagination.” He held up a quieting hand as she started to speak. “Do not interrupt me. I know that you were still grieving for your loss. I have given you plenty of time to get over it. You are far too old to still be clinging to childish ways.”

He had said her loss, not his, as if her mother had meant nothing to him at all. Anger boiled in her chest, but she dared not be impertinent with him. Nodding, she gritted her teeth, clenched her hands tight, and dropped her gaze to hide the rage in it.

“It is eighteen-fourteen, Gemma. Do you see the steady progression of time? Its constant movement forward?” He paused.

Gemma glanced up and nodded. “Yes, Father.” She knew where the conversation was headed, and she did not like it.

“I won’t have you being a spinster because you refuse the natural order of things. Forward motion is the nature of all things. Until death, we move forward. Stagnation is against the natural order, and that’s exactly what you are doing. Stagnating.”

Images of the slimy sea and the slimy things that crawl upon it leaped into her mind again. A shiver ran down her spine.

“On that note, you will be attending the London Season this year. I will hear no arguments about it from you or anyone on your behalf. You will attend, and you will try harder than in your previous Season. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.” She understood perfectly. He could not stomach the thought of his daughter remaining at home with him another year. He was so eager to be rid of her, no matter how fragile her emotional state, that he would be keen on pushing her into the first marriage proposal to be heard, she was sure.

“Very good. I must go now. Your duty is to be ready to leave for London within the week. Do not disappoint me, Gemma.” He stood and left briskly without a backward glance.

The London Season, she thought, I would rather be stranded on the ship of the ancient mariner than to be thrust into the pack of wolves slavering around in London during the season.

With tears in her eyes and fury in her breast, Gemma left the table without eating a bite. Her stomach twisted into a knot so tight she was pretty sure that air would not enter, let alone something as solid as food.

Trudging up the stairs, she frantically thought of any and every excuse in the world to get out of attending the cattle auction in the city. In the end, though, she knew her father had given a command, and she had no choice but to obey. The dutiful daughter. The blight and bane of her life was the fact that she was a woman with a mind and opinion of her own. Yet a woman with no world of her own in which to think her own thoughts freely, and opine openly without fear of retribution from a heavy-handed man.

Chapter Three

Having left London three years prior, Marcus was not overly joyous to return. Africa and India, where he had spent most of his time lately, were vastly different in every way from the hustle and bustle of London and its ton.

Some months before, he had received a letter from his beloved mother. His grandfather, the Duke of Thurlstone, had passed away six months ago, and it was urgent that Marcus return to claim his inheritance and the title that accompanied it.

Peering out the carriage window, Marcus saw Thurlstone Manor rise from the thick fog like a specter in a dream. Huge and daunting, it contained memories Marcus wished to forget. His time at Thurlstone had not been happy or carefree as some would have believed. His grandfather was strict and there was a cruelty to his ways that had left young Marcus torn between hating the man and keeping his mouth shut to keep the peace. After the death of Marcus’s father, the old man had taken in Marcus and his mother. This was probably only because he felt duty-bound to do so, but he could have turned them out. Sometimes Marcus wondered if it would have been better had the duke turned a blind eye to their plight.

Putting aside his personal feelings toward his grandfather and the manor, Marcus stepped out of the carriage and looked up at the stone face of the house. In so many ways, the house was a reflection of the stony, cold, and stoic character of his grandfather.

Sighing, he dropped his gaze as Jennings, the family butler, greeted him from the main entrance. He had been the butler at Thurlstone for as long as Marcus could remember. He returned the greeting with a smile that was not forced; Jennings had a stern but kind face, and Marcus remembered that the man had always been loyal in his duties to the family. On more than one occasion, Jennings had shown kindness toward the teenage Marcus upon the boy’s arrival under less-than-pleasant life circumstances, and now that the boy was a man, he would not forget those small kindnesses.

“Jennings, is my mother here?” Marcus asked as he stepped through the open doors into the cool, dim interior of the manor.

“Yes, Your Lordship. She is with Mr. Carter, your grandfather’s solicitor. They are expecting you in the study.” Jennings studied Marcus a tick longer and then turned on his heel. “Right this way, Your Lordship.”

Marcus saw the small smile before Jennings turned away. At least he is happy to have me here again, Marcus thought. His grandfather had been happy to see him go all those years ago, and Marcus had been happy to get away from him. He had put thoughts of returning out of his mind. After Lady Louisa and their horribly-ended relationship, and his ensuing argument with the duke, Marcus had intended to stay away much longer.

Following Jennings, Marcus fought the heavy feeling of dread at having to sit through the reading of the will. He supposed the most difficult part of his life at Thurlstone had passed. The old man was dead and gone. How much trouble could he cause from the grave? Marcus wondered ruefully as Jennings announced him.

“Thank you, Jennings.” Marcus stepped into the room.

Anne, the Dowager Marchioness of Glenshire, stood to greet her only son. Her beauty never failed to inspire awe in Marcus. It had been an unfair turn of fate that left her a widow so early. At forty-eight, her beauty had only refined and become more elegant as a few streaks of silver adorned her wavy blond hair and small wrinkles outlined her eyes and marionette lines. Her deep blue eyes were clear as ever, and she could have passed for a woman in her early thirties. It was beyond his reckoning that she had never remarried. There were plenty of eligible men who would have been happy to take her as their wife.

“Marcus!” She wrapped him in a warm embrace and kissed his cheek before putting him at arm’s length to study his face. “I am so pleased you are finally here. You have grown so handsome over the last two years.” She hugged him once more, briefly.

“Thank you, Mother. I wish it were under different circumstances that I returned, though.”

Nodding, she smiled lovingly and motioned for him to sit. “This is Mr. Carter, your grandfather’s solicitor.”

Marcus gave a perfunctory handshake in greeting and then took his seat. The chair seemed made of solid stone for all the comfort it gave. He thought his grandfather probably had the seat made specially to inflict discomfort; that would have been something the old man would have drawn a bit of joy from.

Mr. Carter’s voice droned like the monotone buzzing of a large and rather annoying insect, and Marcus had trouble following pronouncements laid out by his grandfather. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, and the air grew thick and too warm.

For Marcus the title and wealth were secondary consequences of Carew Colborne’s death. The one and only thing that interested him, kept him pinned to the uncomfortable chair listening to the droning of a man he did not know, was the piece of land that his father, Alexander, had once owned at Southend-on-Sea.

Alexander had wanted more than anything to build a seaside resort there. When he died, the property ownership reverted to his father, the duke. Marcus was now the heir to said property, but he had to withstand the other consequences to acquire that one thing he desired.

As he listened, his attention strayed to the seaside resort. Since he would be inheriting the estate and all its wealth, he would have enough money to build the resort of which his father had dreamed aloud so often.

The reading proceeded boringly, as Marcus expected, until near the end. Mr. Carter cleared his throat, adjusted his eyeglasses, and laid the papers on the desk. “Your Lordship should pay special attention to the next part of the will; it includes a very specific …well, specification, for lack of a better word.”

“Of course, it would come with some stipulation; my grandfather had a special relationship with stipulations, it seems.” Annoyed, and a bit worried, he made a rolling gesture with his hand. “Continue, Mr. Carter.”

As Mr. Carter read aloud in his horrible drone, Marcus’s stomach twisted into a knot, then into several knots. “Stop! What do you mean? I must take a wife within three months or forfeit my entire inheritance?” Marcus shot to his feet and shoved the uncomfortable chair out of his way with his foot.

His mother’s hand flew to cover her mouth. All he could see of her face was her wide eyes above her hand. Mr. Carter’s eyes also flew wide, and his mouth pursed into a thin, pale line of worry and disapproval.

“Yes, Your Lordship. That’s what it says. It was as your grandfather, the late Duke of Thurlstone, wished.”

Marcus shook his head as he paced to the window. “No. That can’t be right. Why would he do that? Why would he make such a demand? Am I not the rightful heir to Thurlstone Manor,” he motioned wildly over his head, “and everything else?” He spun toward his mother. “Did he hate me so much, Mother?”

Anne dropped her hand from her mouth and shook her head. “Please, Marcus, sit. We shall puzzle this out. Maybe there is another stipulation. One that, if fulfilled, would free you of this one.” She looked to Mr. Carter hopefully, a small smile trying to be born on her face.

Mr. Carter shook his head and averted his eyes. “I am sorry, My Lady, but there is no other stipulation. That was the only one.”

Marcus stomped back to his chair, pulled it right again, and sat on the edge, leaned toward the desk and Mr. Carter. “What else is in the will? What else did my loving grandfather put in there for me?”

Mr. Carter shook his head again. “There is nothing more, Your Lordship.”

Marcus nodded, clamping his jaws tight. “I have three months from today, correct?” He did not look at the solicitor.

“Yes, Your Lordship, that is correct. Ninety days from today. Take a wife from any family in good standing amongst the ton, a lady, and everything herein is yours. You will forfeit nothing.”

Scoffing, Marcus shook his head. “No. I will forfeit nothing except my pride, my chosen lifestyle, my freedom to make my own choices, and my sense of individualism. But who needs those things?” He threw his hands up in anger. “Apparently, I don’t need them. What’s my sense of self-worth in the face of a stipulation left on a piece of paper by a man who hated me?”

Anne leaned forward and laid a hand on Marcus’s forearm. “My son, please calm yourself.”

“Mr. Carter, if that is all, I am sure you have better things to do with your time other than sitting here. I bid you a good day.” Marcus nodded curtly at the man and turned to his mother again. “Mother, I must apologize, but I need some time to myself. I must mull over this thing that Grandfather has demanded of me.” As he moved toward the door, he paused long enough to touch his mother’s shoulder apologetically, and then stormed up the stairs to his old room.

It was exactly as he had left it years before. He could not say exactly why, but it infuriated him further that the room should have remained unchanged in all that time. Pacing its length, he realized it was no longer his only option. The entire house belonged to him; he could choose any room at his leisure. Any one that he liked.

“Only if I go out and pick a wife as if I’m merely picking an apple from a tree. So says my grandfather,” he muttered to no one as he continued to pace.

A hollow feeling overtook him as he thought how like his grandfather it was to find a way to control his grandson even from the grave. The old man had figured out how to inflict as much grief and strife as possible long after he had died.

For the millionth time, Marcus wondered at the tragic death of his father. Why had someone so loving and caring been ripped from the world prematurely in a carriage robbery, when a man as loathsome and vile as his grandfather had lived to a ripe old age, tormenting all who he chose? There was no suitable answer to be had. Marcus believed the Fates had dealt his family a mighty and unfair blow by taking his father so soon from this world.

The estate grounds were enormous, and Marcus undertook to walk them alone. Being out of the house and away from the place where the late duke had spent so much time deliberating the fates of others was a necessity. After two hours of walking the grounds and inspecting the gardens, Marcus went to the stable and chose a horse. The forested property to the east seemed like the exact place he wanted to be for a while. Alone. Isolated. Surrounded by the beauty and serenity of nature, he would be able to think more clearly.

The misery followed him into the shaded and quiet forest. Nipped at his heels like a six-week pup intent on making its presence known; intent upon taking up all Marcus’s attention.

Birds took flight, and hares and squirrels ran away into thickets and up trees as his horse walked along a wide path full of dead leaves from the previous season. New green shoots were just beginning to poke up through the layer of death and decay. All around, he noted the new beginnings taking root where only death had been for months. Hardy, early-blooming flowers had unfolded their colors in sporadic patches of two or three; just enough to give one hope for the beauty that undoubtedly lay ahead. In a few weeks, the forest would be a mosaic of fresh life in every color imaginable.

Is it possible? he wondered. Is it possible that life imitates nature, and from the rot and ruin of one act, beauty and life spring forth? From misery, happiness? Do our lives mimic nature? From the death of my grandfather, I have risen as a duke.

It was a bleak outlook, he supposed, to entertain the idea of living and dying as the plants he observed. Only from death could life arise. And what of love? he wondered. Where did that feeling fit into the scheme of life? Or, did it fit in at all? He saw no love between plants, only a harmony achieved by mutually beneficial pairings.

Is that not what I have witnessed even in Africa and India? he wondered. The beneficial pairings of men in business; families tied together via marriage for the benefit of wealth and connections in the sugar and coffee trades? What man or woman do I know who married only for love?

The answer was simple. His mother and father.

Lady Louisa had taught him a painful, wretched truth with her misconduct and betrayal, but it was a lesson he would never forget. Neither did he wish to muddle through such a thing again.

“That is why I swore off relationships and marriage,” he announced to the trees, exasperated at finding no amount of peace in his commune with nature.

To become the rightful owner of the seaside property, which was really all the inheritance he cared about, Marcus would need to find a wife within three months. An impossible amount of time in which to find love, he thought. But that is not what Grandfather intended. He intended for me to grab a wife with whom I would be miserable for the rest of my life. In my haste, he hoped I would take a woman who would drag me down and make me as curmudgeonly as he was.

Disgusted at the common ground on which all his thoughts ended, Marcus kicked his horse into a trot, following the wending path to its conclusion on the estate’s northerly border. The lunch hour had come and gone by the time he handed the reins to a stable hand and stalked toward the house. His mood had darkened during his outing; no longer volatile, it had settled into a grim state.

Unable and unwilling to sit around wallowing in his misery any longer, he changed clothes and headed to Redfield’s. The hour-long ride from Stepney to the gentlemen’s club on Seymour Street in London would be long enough to slightly clear his head of the worries imposed upon him by the late duke.

Upon entering, Marcus spotted Nathaniel, who waved and hurried to greet him with a wide smile.

“Marcus! It’s good to see you again. We’ve been expecting you all day.” He pumped Marcus’s hand energetically.

“It’s good to see you, too, Nathaniel.” He withdrew his hand and asked, “We? Who else is here?”

Motioning for Marcus to follow, Nathaniel led him to a large, dark-lacquered table. Tristan, Robert and William looked up in unison. “This shady lot of hooligans say they know you. Is it true?” Nathaniel laughed as all three expressions soured at him.

“I think I might have a faint inkling of who they are.” Marcus laughed and shook hands with each of them as they greeted him, welcomed him, and bade him sit with them.

The welcome was exactly what he had needed. The genuine warmth of their unwavering friendship anchored him. When they said they were glad to see him, he believed them.

An evening lost in port, tales of the good old days, and whist amongst true friends would be no loss at all. In fact, he thought it would be a rather treasured moment in his memories.


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One thought on “To Love a Chivalrous Duke (Preview)”

  1. Hello, my dears! I hope you enjoyed this small preview and that it left you wishing for more! I look forward to reading your comments here. Thank you so much! ♥️

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