Someday My Duke Will Come – Christina Britton

Quincy had not cried since they’d told him his father was dead. His older brothers hadn’t shed a tear. Already adults, they had stood silently by as their father’s ornate casket had been interred in the family vault, their harsh faces impassive in the shadows of their umbrellas. Their mother, too, had not broken down. If anything, she had looked put out by the whole ordeal. But then he had never expected any of the softer emotions from her. Now, however, his father two weeks dead and Quincy back in London with his mother, he felt his grief slowly begin to break through. In this house where he had grown up, he was surrounded by memories he could no longer hold at bay. A sob bubbled up in his throat. He pressed his fist to his lips, the metallic tinge of blood hitting his tongue as the force of his teeth split his skin. What was the point in crying, after all? Not only would it bring his mother’s wrath down on his head should she hear him, but no amount of tears would bring his father back. He dug his fingers into the worn leather spine of his father’s favorite book, clutched tight to his narrow chest. How often had they pored over the contents, folding out the maps, tracing the mountain ranges and rivers, their combined imaginings spinning adventures from the very air? So many plans for the future, dreaming of life far away from English shores, seeing together the wonders of the world they had only read about. All gone now. Desolation swept over him until he felt he’d drown in it.

He curled into a tighter ball, doing his best to tuck his long, lanky frame into the recess under his father’s desk. He used to hide here when he was young, listening as his father did business with his solicitors, resting his cheek on his father’s knee and taking the biscuits he used to pass down to him with a wink and a smile. He had never once scolded Quincy for his intrusion, never told him to run off and play and leave him in peace. Quincy was fourteen now, and it had been years since he had fit into this small space. Yet the memory was as vivid as if it were yesterday. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the deep rumble of his father’s voice, could feel his strong fingers as they mussed his hair. Another sob threatened. How could he live without his father? He had been the only thing that had made living with his mother bearable. That woman who showed no one, not even her sons, an ounce of affection. But most especially Quincy, who she seemed to despise above all others.

As if he had conjured her from the ether, her voice trailed to where he hid; a cold, creeping mist that had him shivering. “…Quincy must be off hiding. I’ve told the servants to keep a closer eye on him.” “He’ll turn up for supper, no doubt.” His brother Gordon, now the head of the family, sounded utterly bored. As he ever did when speaking of, or to, Quincy. Being so far behind any of the other Nesbitt boys in age, Quincy had always been an afterthought in his elder brothers’ minds. Something to be tolerated on holidays from school or outright ignored when they were feeling particularly cruel. Their footsteps sounded in the hall, coming closer. Quincy held the book tighter, squeezing himself down as small as he was able.

He remembered too late that this was no longer his father’s desk, but Gordon’s; his father had effectively been replaced. But there was no time for tears. He had to escape without being seen. There would be no smile and pat on the head from Gordon once he was discovered. He peered out, his eyes hot and anxious as he scanned the room behind the desk. The windows were locked up tight against the inclement weather. Yet perhaps, if he was very quiet, he might slink to the sash and unhinge the lock… The footsteps stopped abruptly. Quincy, preparing to creep from his hiding place, froze, holding his breath as his mother spoke again. “I have decided what to do with the boy.” “I’ve already looked into other schools that might take him,” his brother mumbled.

“No matter his unfortunate record at Eton, our name will erase the worst of his offenses. You needn’t have him underfoot for long.” “I needn’t have him underfoot at all.” “I hardly think sending him to rusticate at our country estate will be a proper punishment,” Gordon replied. “He will merely get into more mischief.” “Do you think I’m stupid?” she snapped. “Of course I will not send him back there. No, what I have in mind for your brother will toughen him as time in the country never could.” There was a pause. And then, “I don’t understand what you mean.

” “The navy is always looking for recruits. I’ve signed your brother up for service aboard one of His Majesty’s finest ships.” Quincy’s stomach dropped out from under him and he blanched. The navy? Surely he’d misheard. Gordon seemed equally stunned. “He’s but fourteen.” There was a dismissive scoff from his mother. “Boys much younger than him are made to serve.” “But our father—” “Is dead.” His mother’s voice was cold and flat, and brooked no argument.

But Gordon was head of the family now. And while he had never showed Quincy even a modicum of affection, he did not hate him. Surely he would fight for him now that he had the power to. But Gordon’s voice carried to him, once more indifferent now that his initial shock had worn off. “Very well. I suppose it will save us the cost of a new school.” “Precisely. It’s best he learn his place sooner rather than later. We can finalize details of the arrangement tomorrow…” Their voices trailed off, their footsteps receding. It took Quincy some time to emerge from the stunned grief that enveloped him, to realize that he was once more alone.

Alone. That word took on an entirely new meaning. The tears came then, falling down his cheeks, soaking the soft lawn of his shirt. Life had never been ideal. But he’d at least had his father’s love. Even when his pranks had gotten him sent down from school, when disappointment had been greatest, his father had always made sure Quincy understood that he was loved. Now, however, he was simply a burden, to be gotten rid of at the earliest convenience. The tears came faster. He let them fall unchecked until there was nothing left in him to give. When he was wrung dry of emotion, he felt his grief shift to anger.

And not just anger, but a fury greater than any he had ever felt. They wished to be rid of him? Very well, they would get their wish. But it would be on his terms. Running his sleeve under his streaming nose, he crept from his hiding spot and pulled open the bottom drawer of the desk. Pushing aside the ledgers that filled the space, he carefully pried open the false bottom and slid his father’s book back within the shallow confines. It had been their secret from the world, their place to store dreams away from his mother’s sharp eyes. Tears threatened once more. Would that he could take the book with him. But while it was compact for all the treasures it held, light travel was imperative. “I’ll see them all, Papa,” he vowed brokenly as he gazed down at the book, nestled in its bed of papers, before carefully closing the hidden space up tight.

“For the both of us.” With one last parting look at the room he had spent so many happy afternoons in, he hurried out the door, making his way on stockinged feet through the silent house to his room. Once there he hurriedly packed what he could before slipping back to the ground floor. Daylight was beginning to wane, the shadows deepening, and he clung to them as he made his way into the garden, letting himself out the back gate and to the alleyway that fronted the mews. And he did not look back. Chapter 1 1818 Mr. Quincy Nesbitt had suspected his return to London would be painful—that riding down streets that were at once foreign and familiar would be like tearing open an old wound. It brought him not an ounce of pleasure to know just how right he had been. He took a deep breath as he headed down Brook Street from his hotel, trying to rein in the sensation of being suffocated under a wet blanket. But no matter his attempts, the feeling persisted, increasing with each clip of his horse’s hooves on the cobbles.

Damnation, but this had been a mistake. He had thought it the ideal plan when setting sail from Boston: he could visit with his closest friend, Peter Ashford, now Duke of Dane, before setting off on the first leg of his world travels. And with Peter in London for the season, it gave Quincy the push he needed to finally confront the ghosts of his past. It was something he should have done long ago. Now that he was here, however… His mount tossed its head in protest. Quincy took a deep breath, relaxing his iron grip on the reins, silently reproaching himself for his distracted ham-handedness. There was no reason for his anxiety. Though his family’s townhome was two streets up in Berkeley Square, though he was closer to that place than he had been in fourteen years, he was not headed there just yet. He would see Peter first before bearding that particular lion. The thought eased some of the tension from his shoulders.

Over the past decade and a half, nearly from the moment Quincy had run from home and joined the crew of the American merchant ship The Persistence, he and Peter had been inseparable. And while he was thrilled for the new life his friend had made for himself since returning to England, the past year with the whole of the Atlantic Ocean between them had been a long one. With the last of their business in America sold off and his responsibilities firmly behind him, Quincy could visit with his friend and make up for lost time. He urged his mount on until, finally, he was before Peter’s London home in Grosvenor Square. Though the townhouse blended in with its surroundings in an understated way, it was an impressive specimen. Quincy gazed up at it as he dismounted, a low whistle escaping his lips. The filthy orphan he’d found hiding away in the hull of The Persistence had certainly come up in the world. Back then Peter had been reeling from his mother’s untimely death and running from an uncertain and abhorrent future. Their fears had bound them, the friendship a lifeline for two young boys. Now Peter was a duke.

Quincy grinned, anticipation overriding his anxiety for the first time since he’d stepped foot off the ship and onto English soil. Damn, but he had missed his friend. Securing his horse, he strode up the front stairs to the imposing black door. His knock was answered with alacrity by a stoic-faced butler. “May I help you, sir?” “Is His Grace in?” “Who may I ask is calling?” Quincy grinned. “Oh, now, don’t spoil the fun.” The man blinked. “Pardon me, sir?” “I shall, and gladly,” Quincy said, pushing into the front hall, “if you play along and show me to the duke.” The butler’s mouth fell open. “Sir, I must insist—” “Have no fear,” he declared, holding up a hand.

“His Grace will not bring down fire and brimstone on your head. Though he can be a grim fellow at times, I promise he will be happy to see me.” He smiled his most charming smile. “Now do a man a favor, for I’ve traveled long and hard to see my friend and I cannot wait a moment longer.” The man, no doubt dazed by the barrage of charm Quincy was piling on his head, nodded and mumbled, “If you’ll follow me?” Quincy’s grin of victory faded as he took in the interior of the cavernous house. Though the place had been impressive from the street, he hadn’t expected such a behemoth to be hiding behind the elegant façade. They’d lived a comfortable life in Boston, yes. And he had not been a stranger to these places of wealth and excess in the past. But this put that all in the dust. Soaring ceilings painted with heavenly landscapes of cavorting cherubim basking in their divinity, black-and-white marble tiles glistening at his feet, the walls a buttery yellow and covered with all manner of paintings.

He just managed to swallow down a chortle. Best to save his mirth for Peter, when it would annoy the most. The butler stopped before a closed door. Instead of opening it, however, he looked at Quincy with a healthy dose of uncertainty. “Sir, if you would only let me introduce you—” In answer, Quincy clapped the man on the shoulder, winked, and threw open the door. It hit the wall with a resounding thud as he strode within. “His Grace, the Duke of Dane, I presume,” he bellowed into the silence. Peter, seated behind the desk, jumped a foot, nearly falling out of his chair before catching himself on the edge of his desk. “What the ever-loving…Quincy?” He grinned. “Surprised to see me, old man?” When Peter only sat there, mouth hanging comically open, eyes like saucers, Quincy laughed.

“Damn, but that expression is worth delaying my travels. Now come and give me a proper greeting. I’ve missed you like the devil.” Peter, it seemed, needed no further encouragement. He surged from his chair, a grin breaking over his face. Quincy barely had time to brace for impact before his friend’s bulk hit him like a veritable wave. The breath was knocked from his body, meaty arms surrounding him in a crushing embrace. “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” Peter exclaimed. “Air!” Quincy managed. Peter merely chuckled, squeezing a bit tighter—how was that even possible?—before releasing him.

“When last I heard from you, you had just sold off the remaining business and were setting sail. What are you doing in England, man?” Quincy grinned, the restlessness of the past year—no, he had been restless for much longer than that, hadn’t he?—beginning to ease. “I thought I’d visit with my dearest friend before starting my travels in earnest.” Though Peter rolled his eyes, Quincy couldn’t fail to see the smile tugging on his lips. “I’m sure my charms pale in comparison with the wonders you’ll see. You must be ecstatic to finally be setting off.” “You’ve no idea. If only my father had been alive to join me.” A vision of his father’s face swam up in his mind, that long-ago grief tempered by the distance of time, and by the knowledge that he was finally realizing their shared dream. He had worked hard over the years, surviving, building an empire to be proud of with Peter.

Now, however, it was time to return to that promise he had made so long ago when leaving his family’s house. He gave Peter a considering look. “You made a pretty penny in the liquidation of our assets. I don’t suppose I could ever tempt you into joining me, even for a short while?” Peter grinned. “Not on your life. But I do plan on enjoying your company while you’re in town. How long before you start off?” Quincy smiled, satisfaction coiling within him. “I’ve booked passage for Spain a fortnight from now.” “You will stay here at Dane House, of course.” “Certainly not,” he said in mock horror before grinning.

“I’m a bachelor in London. If you think I’m going to miss out on cavorting to my heart’s content, you’re sorely mistaken.” He laughed as Peter rolled his eyes heavenward. “But Mivart’s is just a street away, so you may see me much more often than you’d like. Though”—he cast a glance about him, taking in the richly carved bookcases, the deep-blue-silk-covered walls, the towering windows looking out onto a verdant garden—“I admit to feeling more than a bit of regret now that I’ve seen your London residence. The place is amazing, man. Is Danesford even half as incredible?” “Even more so.” A quiet pride shone from Peter’s eyes. “I thought I would forever despise the place, that I would be glad to see it fall to ruins. Yet now my feelings could not be more different.

” “And I suppose having Lenora by your side has not aided in that about-face,” Quincy murmured with humor. “Laugh all you want. I don’t mind telling you that she’s had everything to do with it.” Peter chuckled. Quincy shook his head, grinning. “I cannot believe the change in you, man. When last I was here, you were in the throes of despair for love of Lenora. And now look at you, happily married, master of all this.” He swept his arm out. “And a damn duke.

Don’t tell me I have to start calling you Your Grace now.” “Arse,” Peter muttered. “If I hear those words from your lips, I’ll gladly trounce you. Sit, while I pour us something to celebrate this visit.” As Quincy settled himself into an overstuffed chair, his friend went to the small cabinet in the corner. “Never tell me you’re drinking strong spirits now.” Peter chuckled. “I’ve not changed that much. Though,” he added, his tone turning rueful as the sound of clinking glass echoed about the room, “there are times I wish for a small dose of something stronger than lemonade or wine.” “Has it been much of an adjustment then, taking over the dukedom?” Quincy asked, stretching out his long legs.

Peter’s lips twisted as he turned and made his way to his friend, a glass of whiskey in one hand and something that looked suspiciously like ratafia in the other. “Transitioning from commoner and self-made man to a duke has been…difficult,” he said. “There are so many people’s well-beings and livelihoods I’m responsible for. It boggles my mind. Without Lenora by my side, I don’t know that I would have taken to the position with any grace.” Quincy snorted as he accepted his glass and Peter settled across from him. “Grace. That is one word I would have never associated with you. But how is our dear Lenora? I look forward to seeing her again after so long.” At the mention of his bride, Peter’s face lit up.

That was the only phrase to describe it. It was an expression Quincy had never witnessed before in his normally stoic friend, a softening of features typically held tight against the rest of the world. “Lenora is wonderful. She’s out with Clara and Phoebe just now.” Ah, yes, the Ladies Clara and Phoebe, Peter’s cousins, daughters of the previous Duke of Dane and now under Peter’s protection. Lovely girls, both of them. Or rather, Lady Phoebe was a lovely girl. Lady Clara, on the other hand, was most definitely a woman, and a stunning one at that. Most women were pretty in some way to him, of course. He found something to admire in every female he came in contact with.

But Lady Clara had captured his interest much more than he’d expected. Not that anything could come of it. She was under Peter’s protection, after all, and the man would have Quincy’s head if he so much as looked at the lady wrong. And so any attraction he might possess for Lady Clara would have to be kept under strict lock and key. But Quincy’s imagination was a healthy thing, often manifesting at the most inopportune times. So it was a blessing when Peter spoke, breaking him from thoughts of a freckled, round face and dark blue eyes. Unfortunately, it was to ask about the very last thing Quincy wished to discuss. “Doesn’t your family hail from London?” Quincy pulled a face and took a healthy swallow of his drink, his mood souring in an instant. “Yes. Not that it brings me an ounce of pleasure to realize just how close I am to them.

I hope you comprehend how much you mean to me,” he said with a severe look his friend’s way, “that I would willingly find myself in the same city as them.” “I shall take the compliment, and gladly,” Peter regarded Quincy over the rim of his glass. “Do you plan to see them while you’re in town?”

.

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