Mending the Duke’s Pride – C. H. Admirand

THE DUKE WOKE with a start, gasping for breath, hands outstretched to pull his younger brother and sister from the horrors of Fleet Street—and the notorious debtor’s prison. “Not real.” He scrubbed his hands over his face and dragged himself out of bed. The water from the porcelain pitcher was cool and soothing as he dipped his hands into the basin over and over to wash away the images imprinted on his brain. “Cannot happen.” He shook free from the nightmare he hadn’t had in weeks. Standing in front of the window facing east, he saw the horizon tinged a faint yellow as the first rays of the sun signaled the dawn and start of another day. “They’re safe. We’re safe. No creditors camped out on our doorstep, waiting their turn to demand money.” The windfall investment was unexpected and timely. The family’s fortune restored and their coffers full once more. He was no longer held in the crushing grip of doubt and despair, fearing for the safety of his younger siblings. “Good God! Why can I not let it go?” Jared Malcolm Lippincott, the newly-minted Sixth Duke of Wyndmere, watched the sunrise contemplating what came next. Falling back on his father’s sage advice, he concentrated on the day ahead and the endless duties to see to, since the dukedom had landed in his lap.

He had never aspired to filling his father’s shoes —glad he was the middle son. He’d been devastated when his father had passed on, leaving his older brother in charge of keeping the family name and fortune above reproach. “Didn’t quite manage that, now did you, Oliver?” His brother couldn’t hear or answer him. But if the duke believed in life beyond the grave, mayhap his brother could still hear him. On the off chance he could, the duke bit out, “You bloody well dragged us down and tossed us into the fire with you, didn’t you? Damn your penchant for innocent debutantes, fast horses, and games of chance!” He vowed not to fall back into the whirlwind of despair he’d wallowed in after the sudden death of his brother. The never-ending gossip dogged his heels until he’d retreated to the solitude and quiet of the family estate in the Lake District. Now that the period of mourning had passed, he was once again in the city he had little use for. He’d spent an exhausting week ensconced with the family solicitors discussing affairs and responsibilities of his new title and all it entailed. He could not, and would not, deny his duty to his family—restoring the family name. If only he could reason out a way to do so without involving his younger brother and sister.

They would not be used as pawns again. “Enough,” he murmured. Time to set those thoughts aside. He rang for his valet and ordered a bath drawn to wash away the remnants of his nightmare. Refreshed, clothed in his new uniform of severe, but well-tailored, black cutaway coat and closely tailored trousers, he was ready. Being a duke had its advantages. He could follow the trend or be de rigueur and set his own style. No one would dare question him now that he had stepped into the role of the Sixth Duke of Wyndmere. “Breakfast is being served as you requested, Your Grace,” his butler announced. “In the rear dining room.

” “Very good, Jenkins.” After a restorative meal and bracing cup of tea, the duke was ready to meet the first of his appointments for the day…his brother, the earl. Wishing he were anywhere but seated behind the massive walnut desk used by the last five Dukes of Wyndmere, Jared waited for his brother to arrive. Thirty minutes past the appointed hour, his brother strolled in through the open door. “Ah Jared, could you not have waited until a decent hour to bombard me with questions about my schedule for the day?” The duke met his brother’s gaze and motioned for him to sit. When he complied, the duke steepled his fingers, tapping them together while he waited for his brother’s full attention. The youngest brother had always been a bit scatterbrained before breakfast. Mayhap he should have waited, but this discussion had to happen before he could move on to the next item on his schedule. “As you are aware, we’ve cleared one hurdle only to be faced with another. The family’s name must be restored to its former state.

” “Dash it all, Jared! If that’s why you dragged me out of bed, then it’s been a waste of your time.” His brother shot to his feet and strode to the door. Before he could leave, the duke had a hold of his arm. “Edward, wait. Please?” He hated being in charge, disliked handing out orders. He much preferred living life on his own terms, responsible for his own deeds, his own actions. Being a duke was going to be bloody inconvenient. His brother looked over his shoulder, meeting his gaze. “Well?” “We have Phoebe’s reputation to think of,” the duke reminded him. “It’s not as detrimental to have a colored reputation if one is a gentleman…however in a lady, once tarnished, it cannot be repaired.

” The earl’s shoulders slumped at the mention of their younger sister’s name. He turned and walked back to his seat. “What would you have me do?” The duke sat across from his brother and laid out his plans to start the battle to regain the family’s former reputation. “No more trips to the stews or gaming hells, Edward.” His brother’s face turned beet red and his hands fisted. “Not your call, Brother.” The duke disagreed. “I wish it weren’t, but it’s not me I’m thinking of,” he reminded his younger brother. “It’s Phoebe. If we cannot save the family name, she’ll never make the right connections and meet gentlemen worthy of her consequence and social standing.

” His brother opened his mouth and closed it without uttering a word. “She’s been through enough,” the duke reminded him. “Having to live through the horror of these last months instead of enjoying her first Season.” His brother met his gaze and held it. “Agreed,” Edward said. “How she’s managed to keep her head up despite losing Oliver—and in such a scandalous manner—is a credit to her.” “She’s as green as they come,” Edward added. “Probably had no idea how dissolute our brother had become,” the duke murmured, falling silent as the horrific scene replayed in his mind—the midnight messenger…the blood, the gore—his brother’s sightless eyes… “Phoebe has a heart of gold,” Edward said, drawing him back to the present. The duke drew in one breath and then another. “Despite being reserved around people she does not know, I believe our sister will no doubt cause a bit of a sensation once she’s made her debut— albeit delayed.

” Edward agreed. “She’s grown into a stunning beauty with her chestnut hair and blue eyes.” “Lippincott coloring,” the duke acknowledged, “but her temperament,” he sighed. “My courier reports she threw a tantrum when she read the missive I’d sent to her insisting she stay on at Wyndmere Hall while I settle matters here in London.” Edward’s posture relaxed for the first time since he’d entered the duke’s study. “Our little sister has a temper around people she’s familiar with, but she’s always been a ray of sunshine in our lives.” “There will be talk and innuendo among our peers, who will be only too happy to share the details of our brother’s demise. But I daresay there will be a few influential members of society who remember Father and his impeccable reputation and see most of those rumors squashed.” “The endless round of balls and entertainments are a bore,” his brother grumbled. Jared would have readily agreed, but the new Duke of Wyndmere had responsibilities to more than his brother and sister—to the title and all it entailed.

“Essential for our sister, the Lady Phoebe, to be a success. We have to present a united front,” the duke continued, “our behavior above reproach for this first part of our campaign to be successful.” “Dash it all, Jared! You make it sound as if we’re at war.” The duke slowly rose from his seat. “We are.” Finally realizing the depth and severity of their plight, Edward rose and offered his hand. “I give you my word not to frequent the stews or gaming hells until dear Phoebe has accepted an offer of marriage.” “That I have approved,” the duke added. “That we have approved.” The duke searched his brother’s face for a clue as to whether or not his brother jested.

When he realized his brother was as intent on seeing their sister settled as he was, he nodded. “Your connections in society will aid in our selection of potential suitors.” His brother smiled. “Why don’t you draw up a list of candidates?” The duke’s eyes narrowed while he considered the suggestion. “I shall give the matter my full consideration.” “Good God, Jared,” his brother drawled, “you sound just like Father.” The duke smiled. “Thank you.” His brother waited a beat then asked, “Am I dismissed? I’m rather famished and desperately need a—” “Bracing cup of tea.” Edward grinned.

“Quite so, Your Grace.” “Edward?” His brother paused in the doorway and looked over his shoulder. “What now?” “Thank you.” Relief filled the duke as his brother quit the room. Their discussion had gone far better than expected. Now to the next task on his list. A bit more difficult than the face to face discussion he’d had with his brother would be writing to their sister explaining her arrival in London would be delayed a bit longer. He fully expected her to balk—as the correct period of mourning had passed, but the delay was twofold and necessary. He planned to screen potential suitors while continuing to rebuild the family’s reputation. Dash it all, he would see his plans put into motion before she made her bow into society.

His sister’s future depended upon it. He glanced at the Ormolu clock on the mantel, dipped his quill in the inkwell, and penned the letter to his sister. * “DARLİNG MUST YOU be so difficult?” Lady Farnsworth was at her wit’s end, trying to reason with her headstrong daughter. “Would you rather I keep to my rooms than accompany you to the Hollisters’ ball? If not, then at least allow me to wear my new ballgown…please?” Lady Farnsworth narrowed her gaze. “I chanced to overhear our modiste Madame Beaudoine discussing the choice of color for your gown.” Persephone froze. Would Madame betray a confidence? She drew in a calming breath before replying, “You readily approved it, Mamma.” Her mother straightened to her full height. Lady Farnsworth cut quite a commanding figure when she chose to. “You know I suffer an affliction of the eyes and cannot see true colors.

” “Yes, Mamma. I do and am so sorry for it because the roses in our gardens are such a lovely shade of peach right now.” Her mother sighed. “You are so like your father.” Persephone felt the small catch in her throat at the mention of her father. “In a good way?” Her mother laughed, a soft pleasing sound. “At times, my dear,” she reassured her. “At times.” “But not at the moment?” Persephone pressed. Lady Farnsworth tilted her head to one side, studying her daughter.

“I suspect if your father were still alive, he would most likely be wishing he could do as he chose. But in the end, he would invariably escort us to the Hollisters’ ball.” “I remember the way Father would stand at the foot of the staircase, watching you descend—hand outstretched, eyes shining with love and admiration.” Lady Farnsworth’s eyes filled, and Persephone rushed over to grasp her mother’s hand. “Don’t cry,” she whispered. “Father hated whenever you or I turned into a watering pot.” The expression had her mother blinking and her tears receding. “You are right, my dear. But distracting me from getting to the bottom of the rumors circulating belowstairs will not keep me from hearing the truth. Does the color become you?” Persephone wished she could fib without her face turning scarlet.

But alas, there were things in life one could change…and things one could not. “Erm…perhaps if my hair were slightly lighter in color.” “Ah, so mayhap if your hair were a lovely shade of mink brown?” “Hmmm…yes…perhaps.” “Persephone…” “Dash it all—” Her mother’s eyes flashed a split-second warning. “Persephone Amelia Farnsworth! You will not speak in such a vulgar manner again!” Persephone lowered her gaze to her toes, staring at the soft muted greens and roses of the carpet in her mother’s retiring room. Colors always soothed her—but had the opposite effect on her mother, who couldn’t see the varying shades clearly. She should feel guilty. She’d used her mother’s affliction to her own ends. But she bloody well wasn’t going to marry any one of the numerous suitors lined up, determined to add Persephone’s fortune to their coffers. “I’m waiting, Daughter.

” She knew it was time to acquiesce, but she was not ready to admit total defeat. “Mother, you promised.” “I’ve made so many to you since your father died, I cannot keep track. Which promise exactly?” A glimmer of hope filled Persephone’s breast. “The one where you would allow me to choose the color of my ballgowns as long I had Madame Beaudoine’s stamp of approval.” “And I distinctly recall I had full say over the cut of your gowns.” “Well yes, of course, Mamma.” “I’ve sent word around to Madame Beaudoine, your future depends upon—” “Please don’t blame Madame,” Persephone interrupted. “She only wishes to please the both of us…no small task as you know.” Lady Farnsworth was listening—intently.

“Of course. Now as to the color of your gown—” Persephone’s shoulders slumped. She’d have to tell the whole of it. “It’s an odd shade of yellow…with a greenish tinge to it.” Her mother’s mouth opened and closed twice. “What are you about, Daughter? You look positively dreadful in yellow.” “Don’t forget it has a hint of green.” “I would imagine everyone at the ball will give you a wide birth, fearing you are about to cast up your accounts on their shoes.” Persephone’s eyes widened at her mother’s use of such an expression…well, truth be told, her father had said the same on more than one occasion, but never her mother. Stifling the laughter bubbling inside of her, she agreed, “Perhaps.

” Her mother raised her eyes heavenward and Persephone waited for her mother to finish counting. “I realize you don’t want to marry, but it is your duty. One does not simply refuse every suitor because of the worry he is after your inheritance. Oft times, it is what seals the deal as your father was wont to say.” “I know. But Mamma, you said you had an affection for Father before you wed.” Her mother’s smile blossomed slowly before fading away. “I did.” “And he was taken with you.” “He was.

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