Falling Into Bed with a Duke

By: Lorraine Heath

 (Hellions of Havisham)


On the night of November 15, one of the most horrific disasters in British railway history occurred when a passenger train collided head-on with a train transporting flammable goods. Several cars were instantly engulfed in a fireball of orange flames. It is impossible to adequately describe the horrendous carnage of mangled bodies, impaled and dismembered travelers, and blackened corpses. Twenty-seven souls were lost . . .

Reported in the Times, 1858

As the coach rattled over the rough, uneven road, Nicholson Lambert, the recently anointed Duke of Ashebury, stared at the passing landscape that was as bleak and dreary as his soul. He felt hollow, empty, as though, at any moment, his body would simply crumple in on itself and cease to exist. He didn’t know how much longer he could continue to breathe, to carry on, to—

“Don’t touch me,” the Earl of Greyling, sitting across from him, demanded.

Nicky glanced over in time to see the earl’s twin, Edward, shove on his brother’s shoulder. The earl pushed back. Edward slapped at him. The earl scrambled onto the seat, resting on his knees, his new position giving him height as he made a fist, brought his arm back—

“That’s enough now, lads,” Mr. Beckwith said, quickly setting aside the book he’d been reading and lurching forward to put out an arm to shield Edward from his brother’s attack. Still, the earl let his balled fist fly. It landed with an undamaging thud on Mr. Beckwith’s forearm.

Any other time, Nicky might have laughed at the younger boy’s ineffectual fighting technique. Only a few months before, shortly after Nicky turned eight, his father had taken him to view a boxing match, so he was quite familiar with the sound of a punch that carried power behind it as flesh met flesh. The earl’s fist could have been a rose petal floating to the ground for all the impact it had made.

“That is not the sort of behavior that a lord of the realm displays,” Mr. Beckwith admonished.

“He started it,” Greyling grumbled, not for the first time since they’d begun this arduous and horrendous journey from London.

“Yes, and I’m finishing it. Your Grace, please trade places with the earl.” The order was spoken easily as though Nicky—he was having a difficult time thinking of himself as Ashebury, wondered if he ever would—had the ability to move at will, as though he didn’t have to dredge up the strength from some hidden reservoir buried deep inside him.

Glancing back over his shoulder, Mr. Beckwith arched a brow over blue eyes that seemed to see far too much. “Your Grace?”

Taking a deep breath, Nicky summoned up the fortitude to push off the bench until his booted feet thudded to the floor. With a great deal of effort, he maintained his balance and swapped places with the Earl of Greyling. Once they were all situated to Beckwith’s satisfaction, the solicitor adjusted his spectacles and returned his attention to reading his book. Edward stuck his tongue out at his brother. Lord Greyling crossed his eyes and pushed up the end of his nose until he resembled a pig. Nicky looked back out the window to the passing scenery, wishing Mr. Beckwith would read aloud so his voice might drown out the screeching of the wind over the moors. He wished—

“I’m not staying,” Edward announced. “I’m going to run off. You can’t make me stay.”

Nicky looked over at Edward. He appeared so confident, so assured, his chin held high, his dark brown eyes penetrating as he glared at the solicitor. Was that all it took to end this nightmarish journey to Dartmoor? To simply make a proclamation that it wasn’t going to be so?

Slowly, Beckwith lowered his book, his eyes filling with understanding, compassion, and sorrow. “That would not please your father.”

“My father’s dead.”

The earl gasped. For Nicky, the words were a physical blow to his chest. He could hardly breathe at the stark truth that he’d not dared whisper even to himself. He kept thinking if he never thought the words, they wouldn’t be true, his father wouldn’t be gone, and he wouldn’t be the Duke of Ashebury. But he was struggling to hold on to the illusion that his world hadn’t shattered.

“Still, he would expect you to behave in a manner befitting your station,” Mr. Beckwith assured him kindly.

“I don’t want to be here,” Edward said with vehemence. “I want to go home.”

“And you shall . . . in time. Your father”—he looked at Nicky—“both your fathers knew the Marquess of Marsden quite well. They went to school together, were mates. They trust him with your upbringing. As I’ve explained before, they left instructions that in the event of their deaths, the marquess was to serve as your guardian. And so it shall be.”