The Truth About Cads and Dukes(112)

By: Elisa Braden

She propped herself on an elbow, then rearranged his arms so she could roll on top of him, straddling his hips and hovering her face above his. Her dark hair fell like a curtain around them, playfully shadowing the obvious spark of joy in his eyes. Grinning down at her beautiful husband, she laid a tiny kiss on his nose and winked. “Would you care to wager on that, my love?”



“I must say, the foolishness of this younger generation is quite a challenge. Where would they be without my superior judgment and wisdom to guide them?” —The Dowager Marchioness of Wallingham to her new companion, Humphrey.

December 5, 1817

Grimsgate Castle, Northumberland

The teacup rattled in its saucer as Lady Wallingham’s new lady’s maid placed it on the small table next to her chair in the yellow parlor. Lady Wallingham glared at the girl sharply. Christina was her name. A local girl. Collette had been too haughty by half, as were many of the French ones. Lady Wallingham had dismissed her last month after an abominable incident with the hair iron. She still had not decided whether the scorching had been intentional.

“For the love of God, girl, leave before you spill the tea and burn us both,” she barked. Christina cringed and curtsied, scurrying out the room. “Hmmph. That one won’t last long, I daresay.”

Picking up her lorgnette and the first page from the stack of letters in her lap, she proceeded to read the latest reports from her contacts across ten of England’s counties. Several pages later, she found herself tsking as she shared the more significant bits of news with her companion, who occupied the chair adjacent to hers. “It appears the Marquess of Rutherford has died, Humphrey. Which means his derelict son, Lord Chatham, shall inherit the title. Most unfortunate. How dreadfully far that dynasty has fallen to have the most disreputable scoundrel in England as its standard bearer. Shameful, would you not agree?”

Humphrey, who had been snoring rather loudly, did not wake to comment.

She took a sip of tea and continued reading. “The Duke and Duchess of Blackmore are rather nauseatingly blissful, or so Lady Atherbourne reports. I expect numerous offspring from that union      . Her mother was prolific, and the apple does not fall far from the birthing tree. Additionally, the duke has never known a pursuit which he could not master in short order. Mark my words, Humphrey. Lady Berne will be gloating. I must brace myself for the onslaught.”

Humphrey merely shifted and grunted in response.

She shook the next letter to straighten it and held the lorgnette closer to her eyes. “Lady Mary Thorpe has become engaged, it seems. To … Lord Stickley? Ha! A perfect pairing. They can croon to each other their mutual love of hounds and leave the rest of us in peace.”

Grumbling a bit, Humphrey sent her a stare of somber condemnation.

“Yes, well. They are tiresome and ridiculous about their affection, Humphrey. Others choose dignity over such an obvious display of sentiment.”

His response was to sniff, blink slowly twice, then close his eyes in an attempt to resume his nap.

“Now, here is an amusing report. That red-haired, half-American heiress, Miss Charlotte Lancaster, was mortified when she fell on the ice of the Serpentine and lost control of her skirts. They flew up, apparently, leaving nothing at all to the imagination.” She chuckled and shook her head.

Hearing her laugh, Humphrey awakened, yawning widely and sighing.

She raised a brow at him. “I suppose you wish to go for a walk, now.”

Eyes brightening, he wriggled to stand on the cushion of the chair, his wrinkled brown body quivering in anticipatory delight.

She set her lorgnette and letters aside, picked up her new pup from his chair, and held him close to kiss one of his long, floppy ears. They were not as large as those of Cornelius, but he was a fine-looking specimen, nevertheless. “Very well. A short one today. It is too cold for one of our lengthy rambles. We wouldn’t wish to slip on a patch of ice like the pitiful Miss Lancaster.” She set him down and let him chase her slippers across the parlor floor. “I must say, the foolishness of this younger generation is quite a challenge. Where would they be without my superior judgment and wisdom to guide them?”

Rather than answer, Humphrey sniffed the floor behind her until they reached the entrance hall, where she donned her fur-trimmed pelisse, her boots, and her muff before opening the door. The dog bounded out into the snow with joyful abandon, then halted to look back at her expectantly.

“You are most discerning, Humphrey,” she said, following him out into the crisp December air, the snow crunching beneath her feet. “They would be lost without me. I could not agree more.”