Lord Hugh Blackmore stood on wobbly feet in a public park close to his townhouse in London as he did his best to pay attention to what Portlock was trying to explain to him. Between watching Portlock prepare the pistol and trying to keep his balance after a night out at the gaming hell, Hugh was having a difficult time preparing for the untimely duel. Dawn was quickly approaching, so Hugh knew that he had little time left. And therefore, was doing his utmost best at concentrating on the demonstration given by his trusty butler. “Now, Your Grace, you’ll want to keep your eye on the target,” Portlock explained as he pointed to a white handkerchief he’d placed in the bushes about ten metres away. “Just pick a place on the person’s body and don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.” “I knew I could count on you, Portlock,” Hugh said in a low voice. He was a little worse for wear after enjoying the gaming hell and all its pleasures. Hugh always loved a good brandy and could never turn down an invitation to play cards. But when he won a handsome sum from an earl, he’d been immediately challenged by Lord Smithers to a duel at dawn. Thus, Hugh had nominated his butler as his second in the duel and was hoping to learn how to use a pistol before his untimely demise. “Your Grace, please pay attention,” Portlock said with a sigh. Hugh pulled himself away from his thoughts as he focused his eyes on the butler once more. “Now, when you get ready to fire, make sure you squeeze the trigger. The last thing you want is a misfire.
” Hugh nodded his head, seeming to understand when he’d never held a pistol before. He watched as Portlock took aim and fired, the sound of the bang ringing through the early morning hour and piercing the silence. The sound immediately gave Hugh a headache as he wished he could simply hurry home to bed. As Hugh turned his head and looked at the handkerchief, he was surprised to see that Portlock had shot the centre of it perfectly. He whistled as he slapped the butler playfully on the back. “My goodness, Portlock. I never knew you were such a crack shot,” Hugh exclaimed. Portlock chuckled as he began to reset the pistol for the Duke. “For as quiet as I normally am, Your Grace, you’d be surprised at how much I do know,” Portlock commented. “Seems that is a conversation for another time,” Hugh said as he ran his fingers through his dark hair.
He was a bit nervous about using a pistol and hoped that Lord Smithers was as drunk as he was. He only planned to injure the man and no more simply so he could prove a point that he never backed down from a challenge. He loved the thrills of life, and his reputation in Town certainly reflected that. The sound of someone hiccupping pulled their attention to a gentleman rounding the bend near the bush that held the handkerchief with the hole in it. From the distance, Hugh could see that it was Lord Smithers himself and watched as the earl looked closely at the handkerchief. Hugh smirked, surprised that the earl had even shown up for the dual. “You’re quite a shot there, Blackmore,” Lord Smithers said as he walked over to the pair, his movements slow as he did his best not to trip. Hugh could tell that the man was as drunk as he was. He planned to use it to his advantage. “I’ve been practicing all my life, Smithers,” Hugh said.
“My father was an avid hunter, and I learned a lot from him.” Though it was a complete lie, Hugh wasn’t afraid of bending words to his advantage. Hugh saw the whites in Lord Smithers’ eyes as he looked at him with surprise. “Please forgive me, Your Grace,” Lord Smithers said as he bent down on one knee before him. “It was so foolish of me to ever call for a duel with you. I was simply put off and spoke rashly. Please, consider calling off the duel.” Hugh hadn’t been expecting this, and as he exchanged looks with Portlock, who was smirking, Hugh figured it was a good idea. “Very well, Lord Smithers,” Hugh said as he slowly bent down and helped the earl to his feet. “Let us speak no more about this matter and go on our way.
” Lord Smithers’ face lit up with glee as he shook Hugh’s hand with enthusiasm. “Oh, thank you, Your Grace,” Lord Smithers said with a smile of relief. “No matter what anyone says about you, I’ll always tell people that Lord Blackmore is a kind and merciful man.” “You’re too kind, Lord Smithers. Now, be gone with you,” Hugh said as he reclaimed his hand and made a shooing gesture. Lord Smithers didn’t hesitate in turning around and leaving the way he came. He waited till the man was out of earshot before a wave of laughter came over him. He laughed till his sides hurt while Portlock simply looked at him, seeming to be unamused once again by one of the Duke’s many antics. “This calls for a celebration,” Hugh declared once his mirth had subsided. “Do you really think that is necessary, Your Grace?” Portlock asked as he began to pull the cotton from the firing pin.
He then blew out the coal and started to knock the ball and gunfire from the barrel as he followed after the Duke. Hugh walked the best he could from the park, intent on returning to the townhouse to celebrate his victory. But it took Portlock pulling him in the right direction for him to find his way home. “Life is always worth celebrating,” Hugh said. “My goodness, Portlock. What a great shot. It seems you’ve saved my life once again.” “A pleasure as always, Your Grace,” Portlock said with a smirk on his face. “I mean, can you believe that Lord Smithers even wanted a duel?” Hugh continued to ramble as Portlock guided him by the elbow down the street. “Nowadays, anyone would be mad to challenge someone to a duel.
” “Your Grace, when have you ever been known to turn down a challenge?” Portlock pointed out. “You’re a good man, Portlock. You know me so well. And though I do like the thrill of a duel, I think the idea is completely mad,” Hugh explained, the grogginess of being out all night and having drank too much brandy starting to kick in. “All I can say is that I’m glad it never came to pass.” “As am I, Your Grace,” Portlock admitted as he steered the Duke up the stairs to the townhouse and promptly opened the door for his master. But the moment Hugh stepped through the threshold, exhaustion caught up to him, and he immediately fainted on the polished marble floor. ~*~ Miss Katherine Worthington was in her carriage much earlier than she’d preferred. But the moment her lady-in-waiting had told Kitty the circulating rumours of the Duke of Ormondene being challenged to a duel by the earl, Lord Smithers, Kitty couldn’t help herself. She’d asked her lady-in-waiting to help her prepare as quickly as possible, and after eating only a bit of toast, Kitty had hopped in her carriage and was making her way to her dear friend’s home in the hopes of seeing if he was still alive.
Kitty wrung her gloved hands together as she did her best to keep her worry and fear at bay. Of all the things Lord Blackmore had done over the years to earn him a tarnished reputation of being a womaniser, gambler, and often a drunk in public, this had to be the cherry on top. She couldn’t believe that he’d accepted to participate in a duel and figured that her childhood friend had finally lost his mind. It was only a matter of time, Kitty realised, but a part of her heart still felt for her dear friend. “Oh, Hugh. What have you done this time?” Kitty mumbled to herself as the carriage was drawn towards his townhouse a few neighbourhoods over. Kitty liked to think she lived in the more up and coming part of Town, while Hugh resided in his family’s home in the older, more prestigious part of Town. It was enough distance to where she could pay her friend a visit anytime she was in Town, but far enough that she didn’t have to be constantly reminded of their younger years together. As the carriage made its way through the early morning congestion on the streets, Kitty thought about how Hugh often let his mouth run wild. She’d witnessed how his words could often get him into trouble as he often spoke before he clearly thought out his words.
She’d heard plenty of rumours of how his mouth had landed him in dangerous and loathsome troubles more often than not. But when it came to the name of Lord Blackmore, there was plenty of stipulation and gossip that surrounded him. Anymore, no one could tell what was truth or false rumours. The moment the carriage came to a halt, Kitty flung open the carriage door herself, not even waiting for the footman to come down from the driver’s bench to assist her. Lifting the hem of her gown with one hand, she used the other to guide herself down to the street and quickly up the walkway to the Duke’s townhouse. Kitty didn’t even bother with pulling the service cord. She pushed open the front door and was soon greeted by the familiar butler, Portlock Gravis. “Miss Worthington,” Portlock said with a pleased smile. “What a pleasure to see you again.” “Tell me that the fool is at least still alive,” Kitty said as Portlock shut the front door.
“Yes, he’s alive,” Portlock explained as he motioned towards the sitting room. Kitty didn’t wait to be led away as she left the foyer and travelled down the hallway. The sitting room doors had been left open, and as she stepped into the fashionable room, she saw that Hugh was lying down on a large settee with a physician beside him. Seeing the physician made Kitty’s heart beat fast in her chest, her worst fears coming to life. “Is he going to live?” Kitty asked as she came close. Her eyes searched Hugh’s muscular body for any sign of a gunshot wound. She’d expected to see the settee soaked with blood, but as the physician moved smelling salts underneath Hugh’s nose, the Duke quickly woke up, coughing as he clutched the side of the settee. “His Grace is simply intoxicated with a sore bump on the back of his head,” the physician said with a smirk. “A little bit of rest, and I’m sure he’ll live for many years more.” The physician bowed to them both before leaving the room.
The worry that Kitty had been feeling for Hugh quickly disappeared as she watched him pull himself up into a sitting position. His dark hair was dishevelled when it was normally well kept, and his dining jacket and vest had been removed, leaving only his muslin shirt that showed hints of his bare chest. Kitty blushed, knowing she shouldn’t be looking at him in this state. “Good morning, Kitty,” Hugh said as he looked up at her. He squinted at her as he shielded his eyes from the morning sun. Kitty almost had the nerve to throw open the curtains and really make him pay for worrying her. “Where is Aunt Matilda?” “My aunt is currently at home, probably enjoying a leisurely breakfast by now,” Kitty said as she placed her hands on her hips and peered down at Hugh. “Then why are you here?” Hugh asked as he stretched his arms over his head and yawned. “Because, Your Grace, I heard that you’d accepted a duel. I simply assumed you were dead by now,” Kitty said, her anger only rising.
Hugh wrinkled his nose at her. She knew how much he hated it when she used formal titles around him. They’d known each other for so long that he’d insisted that they didn’t speak that way with one another. “So, come to collect all my valuables before I was cold in the ground?” Hugh asked with a chuckle. “This is very unlike you, Kitty.” “Yes, it was rather unthoughtful of me to come right away,” Kitty said with a huff. “Next time I shall wait for the news of your death to ever come visiting the Blackmore home again.” And with that, Kitty picked up the hem of her gown and turned on her heels before storming out of the sitting room. Kitty felt rather foolish as she walked down the hallway, her walking shoes clacking on the marble floors. Portlock only dipped his head as he opened the front door, and Kitty was grateful that the faithful butler didn’t stop her to make idle chat.
As Kitty made her way to the carriage, her footman was ready for her this time. He quickly opened the carriage door and helped her up into it before shutting the door and returning to his post next to the driver’s seat. Kitty was fuming with anger as the carriage took off once more. She should have never jumped to conclusions and should have sent an errand boy to gather the information she wanted. Even though a part of her wanted to see for herself if Hugh was still alive or not, she chastised herself for being so foolish once again. She knew that now was the time to start caring about her childhood friend. He’d made a terrible reputation for himself, and that type of connection was not one that Kitty needed in her life. As Kitty rode silently back, she knew that her aunt would question her about her whereabouts the moment she returned home. Though Lady Winthrop was very familiar with Hugh, often allowing him to call her Aunt Matilda, too, it was no excuse for Kitty to dash away from home unescorted to check on him. Right there and then, Kitty silently vowed never to fall for the petulant and boyish actions of the Duke ever again.
She needed to focus all her attention on good society and one day find herself a real gentleman to marry. Her aunt and only guardian had been reminding her more and more about the importance of marrying. Kitty had been out in society for three years and thoroughly enjoyed attending social gatherings. She could dance all night at a ball or spend the evening enjoying a good opera. And a part of her didn’t want to give up her freedom of doing as she chose. Since her brother was abroad, she was left with her aunt who needed more care than she could give. Therefore, Kitty had been able to make a lot of her own choices. It was a freedom that Kitty wouldn’t give up so easily when marrying.