Excerpts for One Night in London : The Truth About the Duke


One Night in London

The Truth About the Duke
By Caroline Linden

Avon

Copyright © 2011 Caroline Linden
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062025326


Chapter One

he Duke of Durham was dying.
It wasn’t spoken of openly, but everyone knew.
With quiet steps and whispered instructions the servants
were already preparing for the mourning. The solicitor
had been sent for. Letters had been urgently dispatched
to the duke’s sons, one in the army and one in London,
summoning them home. Durham himself knew his
death was nigh, and until a sudden attack of heart pains
the previous evening, he had been approving the funeral
arrangements personally.
Edward de Lacey watched his father doze, the gaunt,
stooped figure propped up on pillows in the bed as he
struggled to breathe. The doctor had assured him there
was no hope, and that the end was swiftly approaching.
Edward would be very sorry to lose his father, but there
was no question that the duke’s time on earth was spent.
Durham stirred. “Charles?” he said faintly. “Is that
you?”
Edward moved forward. “No, sir,” he said quietly.
“Not yet.”
“I must . . . speak . . . to Charles,” his father gasped.
“Need.  .  . to—” He raised one hand and clutched
weakly at Edward’s sleeve. “Get Charles . . . you must.”
“He’s on his way,” promised Edward, although he
wasn’t sure of any such thing. He’d filled the letter to his
brother with the direst language possible, but that could
only have any effect after the letter found its way into
Charlie’s hands, and even then he might be too drunk
to understand that he must come home immediately, let
alone actually make the journey. Edward clasped his
father’s hand between his own and expressed his hope,
rather than his expectation. “He will surely be here at
any moment.”
“I have to tell him . . .” Durham mumbled fretfully.
“All of you . . .”
Edward waited, but his father just closed his eyes,
looking anguished. Unwillingly, Edward felt a flicker
of petty annoyance; always Charlie, the firstborn, even
though he was the son who was always there when the
duke wanted him. He shoved it aside. It was unworthy to
think such a thought as his father sank closer and closer
to mortality. “Tell me, sir,” he whispered. “I will tell
Charlie in the event . . .” In the event he doesn’t arrive in
time. “I will make sure he knows as soon as he arrives,
if you should be asleep then.”
“Yes . . .” came the duke’s soft, slurred voice. “Sleep.
Soon. But not . . . without . . . telling Charles . . .” He
sighed, and went so still Edward feared the worst for a
moment, until the faint rise of his father’s chest proved
him still alive.
In the utter quiet of the room a distant drumming
sounded. Hooves pounding hard up the gravel drive,
Edward realized, at the same moment his father bolted
upright in bed. “Charles,” croaked the duke, his face
ashen. “Charles—is it he, Edward?”
Edward rushed to the window in time to see the rider’s
scarlet coat before he flashed out of sight beneath
the portico in front of the house. “It’s Gerard, Father.”
“Ah,” said Durham, slumping once more into his pillows.
“A good boy, Gerard.”
Edward smiled wryly at his father’s masked disappointment.
He was glad his younger brother, at least,
was home. “I’ll go fetch him right up.”
“Do that,” murmured Durham. “I will be glad to see
him. And Charles . . . Charles will be here soon?”
“At any moment,” Edward said again as he slipped
through the door, then held it for the doctor to take his
place in the room. He reached the top of the stairs just
as his brother came running up.
“Am I too late?” demanded Gerard.
Edward shook his head.
Gerard exhaled and ran one hand over his head. His
dark hair was damp with sweat, and dust covered him
from head to toe. “Thank God. I’ve been riding all day;
probably damn near killed the poor horse.” He glanced
at Edward. “Charlie?”
“No sign of him, as usual,” muttered Edward as they
walked down the hall. “Father’s been calling for him
for two days now.”
“Well, some things never change.” Gerard sighed and
pulled loose a few buttons of his coat. “I should wash.”
Edward nodded. “I had all the rooms prepared. But
Gerard—hurry.”
His brother paused on the threshold of his bedchamber.
“He’s really dying, then?”


It did seem incredible, even to Edward. Durham had
been a vital person, every bit as robust and daring as his
sons. Since the death of the duchess over twenty years
ago, the household had been a preserve of male pursuits,
and no one pursued them harder than Durham himself.
Edward was almost eighteen before any of the brothers
could outshoot their father, and they out rode him only
when the doctor flatly ordered His Grace out of the saddle
at the age of seventy after a bad fall injured his back.
But now Durham was eighty. He was an old man,
and had been dying for the better part of a year. Gerard
just hadn’t seen the decline. “Yes, he’s really dying,”
he said in answer to his brother’s question. “I would be
surprised if he lasts the night.”
When his younger brother slipped into the sickroom
a few minutes later, Edward had already returned to
his post by the window. Durham had told him to wait
there, to announce Charlie the moment he arrived. He
wondered what his father wanted so desperately to tell
Charlie; God knew Charlie hadn’t cared much for anything
the duke had to say for the last ten years or so,
and apparently still didn’t. But whatever final words
Durham had for his heir, they were obviously of
tremendous importance. When the duke heard the creak of
the door at Gerard’s entrance, he lurched up again and
cried out, “Charles?”
“No, Father, ’tis Gerard.” Not a trace of offense or
upset marred Gerard’s soft tone. He crossed to the bed
and took his father’s hand. “Edward wrote me some
nonsense that you were ill,” he said. “I came to thrash
some sense into him.”
“But why did you not bring Charles?” whispered the
duke in anguish. “Ah, lads. I have to tell Charles . . . ask
his forgiveness . . .”
That was new. Edward abandoned his window post as
Gerard shot him a curious look. “Forgiveness, Father?”
A tear leaked from the duke’s eye, tracing a glistening
path down his sunken cheek. “I must beg pardon
of you all. I didn’t know . . . If only I had known, in
time . . . You, Gerard, will come out well enough—you
always do—and Edward will have Lady Louisa . . . But
Charles—Charles will not know what to do . . .”
“What do you mean?” Edward had to admire his
brother’s calm, even tone. The duke’s demeanor was
raising the hair on the back of his neck.
“Edward . . .” Durham reached feebly for him, and
Edward stepped forward. He knelt beside the bed, leaning
closer to hear the duke’s quavering voice. “I know
you would forgive me, and even know what to do . . .
Forgive me, I should have told you earlier . . . before it
was too late . . .”
“Told me what, Father? What is too late?” Edward
fought down a surge of apprehension. Behind his back,
Gerard hissed quietly at the doctor to leave.
“Tell Charles . . .” rasped the duke. An ominous rattle
echoed in his breath. “Tell Charles . . . I am sorry.”
“You will tell him yourself when he arrives,” Edward
said. Gerard crossed the room in two strides, but shook
his head as he gazed out the window facing the road
from London. Edward turned back to his father. “Rest
yourself, sir.”
“Rest!” Durham coughed, his entire body convulsing.
“Not until you grant me forgiveness . . .” His blue
eyes were almost wild as he stared at Edward.
“I—” Edward stared. “Yes. Whatever it is, Father, I
forgive you.”
“Gerard!” cried the duke.
“You know I will forgive you, sir.” Gerard had come
back to the bed. “But for what sin?” Even he couldn’t
joke now. “I tried . . .” The duke’s voice faded. “The
solicitor .  .  . will tell .  .  . Sorry.  .  .” Durham never
spoke with any clarity again. He slipped in and out of
consciousness the rest of the day and into the evening,
and finally breathed his last in the darkest hour of the
night. Edward slumped in the chair next to the bed and
listened to the silence when the tortured breathing
finally stopped. Gerard had been sitting with him until a
few hours ago, when he finally went to bed, exhausted
from his hard ride. The doctor had long since dozed
off, and Edward saw no reason to wake him, either.
Durham had lived a long and full life, and suffered the
last several months of it in pain. It was a kindness that
he was at peace now.
Slowly, he levered himself upright in the chair and
leaned forward to take his father’s hand. It was still
warm; it felt just as it had for the last year or so, when
the wasting illness had taken hold of the duke and shriveled
his flesh. But there was no strength in it, and never
would be again. “Fare thee well, Father,” he said quietly,
and laid the limp hand back on his father’s chest.
The duke’s solicitor, Mr. Pierce, arrived the following
day. He had handled the Durham affairs for twenty
years, as his father and grandfather had done before
him. Edward was waiting in the front hall when his
carriage pulled up to the steps.
“I see I should begin with condolences,” Pierce said,
glancing at the black crepe already on the door. “I am
very sorry for your loss, my lord.”
“Thank you.” Edward bowed his head.
“His Grace sent full instructions, as always. I was
delayed a day, gathering everything he wished me to
provide you.” Pierce paused. “I will be available as soon
as you are ready.”
“My brother, Lord Gresham, is not yet here. Captain
de Lacey and I are in no hurry to proceed without him.”
Pierce nodded. “As you wish, sir.”
“There is just one thing.” Edward raised one hand.
“My father was quite agitated near the end, begging us
to forgive him, but he wouldn’t say for what sin. He said
you would explain.”
Pierce looked startled. “He didn’t—he didn’t tell
you?”
“Tell us what?” Gerard was coming down the stairs,
buttoning his scarlet jacket.
“Welcome home, Captain. My deepest sympathies,”
said the solicitor with a quick bow.
“Thank you, Mr. Pierce.” Gerard turned to Edward.
“The mysterious sin?” Edward nodded once, and Gerard
fixed his penetrating gaze on Mr. Pierce again. “Do you
know what Durham meant by that?” he asked in his
usual direct way.
Mr. Pierce’s eyes darted between the two of them.
“Yes,” he said. “I believe I do. I have a letter, as well
as many other documents from His Grace, which will
explain everything—as much as can be explained. But I
think we should await Lord Gresham so that you might
hear it, and the contents of His Grace’s will, together.”
“God only knows when Gresham will find his way
out to Sussex,” said Gerard. “My brother and I would
like to know now.”
“Yes,” Edward said when the solicitor shot him a
questioning look. He and Gerard had been unable to
guess what Durham meant, and it was bothering Gerard
as much as it was him. Over breakfast they agreed that
since Durham had pushed the task onto the solicitor, it
was undoubtedly some matter of inheritance. Perhaps
their father had imposed some onerous conditions in
his will or made some unexpected bequests—but that,
of all things, was something completely in Durham’s
power to change, and had no need of forgiveness. They
were both at a complete loss, and very impatient to
know the answer.
Mr. Pierce drew in a deep breath. “His Grace wished
you to hear it at once—all three of you, since it affects
you all.”
“Now, Mr. Pierce,” snapped Gerard.
“If you please,” Edward added more politely. “On
this we do not wish to wait.”
“Your father—”
“Is dead,” said Edward. “I believe you are in my
brother’s employ now—at the moment.”
Everyone knew Edward ran Durham, right down to
which flowers were planted in the gardens. Everyone
knew Charles, the new duke, wouldn’t give a damn
which solicitor handled his affairs. If Edward wanted
to sack Pierce, Charles wouldn’t lift a finger in protest.
And Mr. Pierce knew just how profitable it was
to handle Durham’s legal affairs. He hesitated only a
moment, glancing from Edward to Gerard and back.
“The trouble is,” the solicitor began in a lowered
voice, “it is not a well-defined problem; it stems from
events many, many years ago, and unwinding the knot
after so long has proven very difficult.”
“What knot?” growled Gerard.
“There is a chance,” said Mr. Pierce, as though
choosing each word with care, “a very small, remote
possibility, although it is impossible to ignore, that . . .”
“What?” prompted Edward sharply when the man
hesitated again. This was doing nothing to ease his bad
feeling about anything.
“That you—all of you, I mean—may . . . not be . . .
able to receive your . . . full inheritances.”
“What?”
“Explain.” Edward held up one hand to quell Gerald's
outburst. “Why not?”
Mr. Pierce winced at his cold tone. “His Grace was
married before he wed your late mother, the duchess,”
he said, almost whispering. “Long ago.” He paused. “He
and the young lady both decided the marriage had been
a rash, youthful mistake and they parted ways.” Another
pause. “But . . . there was no divorce.”
He didn’t need to say more. The implications came
at Edward in a blinding rush. He looked at his brother,
whose expression reflected his own dawning horror.
Holy God. If Durham had been married . . . If his first
wife had still survived when he married again . . . when
he married their mother . . .
The solicitor was still speaking. “Unfortunately,
recent letters received by the duke made clear this marriage
was not as forgotten as His Grace had believed,
and implied the woman might still be alive. His Grace
expended a great deal of effort and expense trying to
locate her—”
“Are you saying,” said Gerard in an ominous voice,
“our father was a bigamist?”
A fine flush of perspiration broke out on Mr. Pierce’s
forehead. “That has not been proved.”
“But it is a distinct possibility.” Gerard stabbed one
finger at the man. “And you didn’t tell us!”
“I was expressly ordered not to, sir!”

(Continues...)



Excerpted from One Night in London by Caroline Linden Copyright © 2011 by Caroline Linden. Excerpted by permission of Avon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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