So, how is that son of yours?” “Which one?” “The future duke, of course.” The current Duke of Ware sighed, looking upward, hopeful that God would hear his silent prayers. “Daniel is just the same as always. Hard, angry, bitter, alone — as he has been for years now.” The Marquess of Burrton nodded sagely, his wispy gray hair bobbing as he did so. “Still keeping himself closeted away?” Heaviness settled over the duke’s heart when he thought of his son, though he would never reveal such emotion to his friend. “I do not know what he does with his days, nor what he intends to do with his life. I have taught him all I can, of course, so he is more than ready to take on the title when the time comes, but he shows no enthusiasm for it.” “And he is not married.” “No.” “He will need an heir — and I can see that troubles you,” Lord Burrton said, inclining his head. “I understand that. I went through the same thing with my boy.” A chuckle worked itself free as the duke remembered how Lord Burrton had often complained about his son doing nothing but throwing money away in London. One year later, however, and the young man was now married with a child on the way.
“I suppose it means that, in time, all will be well if we put our trust in our children.” Lord Burrton snorted. “As you did with your other children?” Recalling the measures he and his wife had taken to try to push their children to find matches, the duke shifted uncomfortably in his seat. It had all worked out wonderfully, however, with his children now not only married but happy. With one exception. “And do not think that I waited for Henderson to make the right decision on his own, either,” Lord Burrton replied, with a wide grin of self-satisfaction. “It is my own doing that brought about his married state. I threw the two of them together, I did.” Frowning, the duke sat up a little straighter and sharpened his gaze, regarding his friend carefully. “You did?” “Of course I did!” the marquess exclaimed, as though Ware should have known. “You did not think I would let my son continue in his foolish ways without doing something about it, did you?” A little surprised, the duke sat back in his chair and studied his friend. They had been companions for over two decades, and he considered Burrton to be one of his closest friends. They’d shared much of their lives with one another, although apparently, he did not know everything that Burrton had been up to lately. “So, you found your son a bride,” Ware murmured, thoughtfully. “Did you find any difficulty in securing his agreement?” “None whatsoever,” Burrton replied, with a glint in his eye.
“I simply threatened to take away a great deal of his fortune if he did not.” Ware frowned, rolling his glass between his fingers. “I do not think I could do that to Daniel. The lad has been through enough.” Lord Burrton chuckled, lifting his brandy glass with a wink for the duke. “Of course you could. You can do whatever you need to in order to secure the future of your line. Sure, Daniel has had his trials, but it has been years now. Where is that second son of yours, anyway? He is not the kind of gentleman who could take over the line if Daniel fails to do so, I don’t think.” A slight nudge of regret tugged at the duke as he thought of Thomas, but he brushed it away quickly. The boy — the man, he should say — was happy now. Ware had pushed him to the sea, and Thomas had turned around and made a life for himself. Burrton was just being blunt and direct, as usual, although the duke didn’t think he ever intended to be either rude or condescending. “My second son did well for himself in the navy,” he now said, slowly, “but he has chosen his own path for a time. I know he would step up to the task if it was required of him, however.
” “A free spirit, eh?” Lord Burrton grinned, waggling one finger in Ware’s direction. “Always a little trickier to manage, that kind of son. However, your eldest son appears not to be that way, although I will confess that I do not quite know what to make of a gentleman who likes to remain at his remote estate and very rarely attend any kind of social gathering.” “I think that is the problem,” the duke agreed, somewhat sadly. “I do not know much about my son either any longer. I cannot tell you why he shuns society and why he insists on remaining at his estate for the Season. He did attend before, some years ago, but has not done so for some time now.” That had always weighed rather heavily on his soul, the fact that he had lost such touch with his eldest son when they had once been so close. They had spent a great deal of time together when Daniel was growing up, in between his stints at Eton. It was important that a duke’s son learn his role for when the time came for him to take his place. However, while Ware was certain that Daniel knew what was expected of him and he could put it all into practice when required — evident by the fact Daniel ran his own, smaller estate very well — a coldness had formed between them. Ever since the death of the woman Daniel was courting, it was as if he had built a wall of ice around himself, keeping to his own home and very rarely venturing from it. At least, he did not think that Daniel often took himself away, for there was rarely news that his son had been seen in London or Bath, or any other of his once-frequent haunts. “You are aware that I have a daughter.” Lord Burrton’s voice broke into the duke’s thoughts, and he stared up at his friend in surprise while the marquess poured himself another brandy.
“She is not remarkably pretty, that I will say, but she is as accomplished as you would expect any young lady to be,” Burrton continued, regarding the duke with an almost serene expression on his face. “She is well mannered, genteel, quiet, and with a decent brain in her head.” He chuckled, shrugging his shoulders. “I must say she is actually altogether too practical, but one cannot stop one’s daughter from reading, and that is all she appears to do!” “She does not enjoy society?” Lord Burrton appeared to grow a little uncomfortable, his eyes darting away as he shifted in his seat. “Truth be told, old friend, I have not encouraged her in the way I ought to have done. She has no mother, as you know, and so I put all my energies into finding my son a bride before thinking of her.” He shrugged slightly, as though the death of his wife some years ago was an excuse for ignoring his daughter’s future. “I have always intended to take her to London, but I can hardly stomach the idea of having to take her about places in the hope that she will find a suitable gentleman. She has a decent dowry, of course, but I know what the gentlemen of the ton are like. They will not care for a bluestocking who fills her head with knowledge, regardless of how amiable she is. I always feared she would be something of a wallflower, and I did not wish that upon her.” He shrugged again, looking back at the duke. “As I said, she is not a diamond of the first water or anything close to it, but I am sure she would do. Now I myself have … prospects, and I realize it would be much easier to take a new wife if my daughter were married.” “Ah, so you are serious about Lady Aster,” the duke said, grinning at his friend, who nodded back at him with a satisfied smile.
“And you are thinking that my son could marry your daughter.” Lord Burrton nodded, his eyes alight with hope. “I think that would be a marvelous idea,” he said, as though Ware had come up with the plan himself. “It would save me having to fret about whom Christina is to marry, and it means that your son will finally have himself a wife and, hopefully in time, an heir.” The duke nodded slowly, considering things carefully. The rest of his children had all married and were now happy and settled — which meant that Daniel’s lack of interest in the matrimonial state was now all the more evident. Even his wife had nearly given up hope, and she was as stubborn as they came. “It would be a good match,” Lord Burrton continued, eagerly. “Joining our families together, eh? You know that I would not present her if I did not think her capable of being a duchess one day, do you not?” “I do,” the duke replied. “Do you think your daughter would agree to it?” Burrton grinned, his eyes shining with delight at the duke’s acceptance of his proposal. “I think she will do what she is told,” he exclaimed, chuckling. “What of your son?” Hesitating, Ware looked back at his old friend and pursed his lips. “Daniel may take a little … persuading, but I will do what I have to. Typically, it’s my wife meddling in our children’s affairs, but Daniel will be duke one day, so I suppose I ought to see to him. It is far past time he takes a bride.
” “Of course he must!” Lord Burrton exclaimed. “He is the heir to the dukedom. He ought to have been the first to marry.” Nodding, the duke felt himself fill with a sudden and fierce resolution. Lord Burrton was right. Daniel should have been the first to marry, the first to produce a child, but instead, he was shutting himself away in his country home and refusing to engage with society in any way. As the current duke and also Daniel’s father, Ware had let this go for too long, had been far too indulgent with his son. “Very well,” he said, firmly, the matter now decided. “I will have my solicitor draw up the contracts.” Lord Burrton nodded, raising his glass in a toast. “To the future.” The Duke of Ware followed suit, lifting his glass in return. “To the future,” he agreed, before throwing his brandy back, draining every last drop.