The Defiant One – Danelle Harmon

Lord Andrew de Montforte hadn’t set out to discover an aphrodisiac. He was an inventor. He was a man of science. He was an attentive student of the laws of physics, nature, and God. He was not a crack-brained amateur, some curious schoolboy mixing random chemicals in the hopes of making a pretty color or getting a violent reaction. However, the discovery of the aphrodisiac was just that, the product of random mixing, and it resulted in a very interesting reaction indeed. It all started when Andrew and his impossibly interfering, maddeningly Machiavellian eldest brother Lucien, His Grace the fifth duke of Blackheath, had another furious row concerning Andrew’s questionable health. Ever since the fire that had so changed the life of the youngest of the de Montforte brothers, Lucien been calling in reputed experts in an attempt to “cure” him and return him to the man that he had been. All four of the late duke’s sons had been given nicknames by the villagers of Ravenscombe, and Andrew’s sobriquet, “The Defiant One,” was well-deserved. He had been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a fiery temper, a strong will, and a blatant disregard for his brother’s ducal wishes, and his only desire was to be left alone. He wanted to set about getting a patent for his newest invention, a double-compartmented coach designed to carry more passengers than the conventional ones. He wanted to redeem himself in the eyes of both society and the scientific community after his flying machine had plummeted to earth eleven months past, humiliating him in front of not only two hundred onlookers, but the king of England himself. And by God, he wanted Lucien to stop calling in these infernal charlatans—some physicians, some university dons, some men of the cloth—none of whom had been able to tell him what was wrong. And now the dogs were barking. Andrew, standing in the library and making notes from an ancient book of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, lifted his head.

He shot a glance at Lucien, who relaxed near the fire with a book. His brother never looked up. Narrowing his eyes, Andrew gazed out through the leaded windows that overlooked the meticulously groomed lawns of Blackheath Castle, the copper beeches whose branches were nearly bare, the sparkling moat beyond. A gig was coming up the long drive of crushed stone. Immediately, his expression hardened. Damn you, Lucien! Incensed, he slammed the book down on the table, strode past Lucien, and headed for the door. “Discover something interesting in that old tome of yours, Andrew?” the duke asked, his expression benignly innocent as he finally looked up from his own book. Andrew whirled, his fists clenched and his eyes full of fire. “What I’ve discovered is another meddling popinjay on his way up the drive, no doubt summoned by you to poke, prick and prod me, and I’m having none of it.” “Ah, but perhaps Dr.

Turner will be able to cure your problem.” “The devil he will. My problem is only getting worse and you know it as well as I do. There is no cure, I am a marked man!” “Which is exactly why I have asked Dr. Turner to attend you. He is a most respected authority on—” “Perhaps I don’t want Dr. Turner to attend me. Perhaps I don’t want any more baconbrained pillocks examining me as though I were some freak at the village fair. Perhaps I’m sick to death of being treated as if I had no feelings, thoughts, or dignity, and perhaps you should damn well start minding your own bloody business for once!” Andrew stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. His anger, his resentment, and yes, even his fear that one of these “experts” would give him the diagnosis he dreaded burned hotter with every stride he took.

Determined not to let this latest fool have so much as a glimpse of him, he stalked down the hall, his height and bad temper making him a formidable presence indeed. Even a trio of comely young chambermaids, who usually giggled and blushed behind their hands when he passed, curtsied and shrank back against Blackheath’s forbidding stone walls, silently staring after his commanding figure as it moved down the castle’s ancient corridors . “’E must’ve ’ad another row with ’is Grace, I reckon,” said one, sighing as she watched those broad shoulders round a corner and disappear from sight. “No doubt about that. An’ I wager I knows what it’s about, too. Lord Andrew’s far smarter than all these doctors and other learned men that ’e’s consented to let examine ’im! Ye know ’ow well ’e did at Oxford! Why, I ’spect ’is patience with the lot of ’em must be pretty well exhausted.” “Can’t blame ’im there . ’E’s so smart ’e could probably teach them a thing or two!” Their whispers were lost on Andrew, who didn’t stop until he’d reached his new laboratory on the second floor of the recently-rebuilt west wing. Barricading himself in the room, he splashed port in a glass, drained it I one swallow, and finally threw himself down at his worktable where he wished both his brother and his manipulations to hell. It was only as he stretched his long legs out beneath the table, and his toes bumped something soft and yielding, that he realized he was not alone.

He peered under the table and saw a pair of caramel-colored eyes, sleek, shining fur that was only slightly redder than his own tousled queue, and a long tail, now thumping the floor in greeting. “Esmerelda. What in blazes are you doing under there?” Andrew kept a jar of biscuits on his desk; opening it, he took one out and offered it to the elegant red and white setter. Always the lady, she took it from his fingers, chewing it thoroughly before swallowing and pleading with her eyes for more. She was not alone. Pork, her fat companion, was down there, too. Pork belonged to Andrew’s sister Nerissa, and he was as common as Esmeralda was aristocratic. Seeing that Esmerelda had received a treat and feeling left out, the bulldog heaved himself out from beneath the table and waddled up to Andrew. Pork was in no need of a midday snack, but Andrew was a fair-minded man. He took another biscuit, gave it to Pork, and watched as the bulldog bolted the morsel without bothering to chew.

Disgusted, Esmerelda turned her head away from Pork with lofty disdain, one lip curling as the bulldog sniffed her muzzle. She was nearly as well bred as the dukes of Blackheath, and would not suffer the attentions of a common cur like Pork. The dogs might have softened Andrew’s surliness if the crunch of gravel outside hadn’t reclaimed his attention. Moving to the window and craning his neck, he could just see the doctor’s gig, empty now, standing in the drive. His ears burned. He knew they were downstairs discussing him as though he were an object instead of a man, perhaps, even at this moment, on their way up here to invade his private sanctuary. And he could just imagine Lucien walking along with the physician, describing his “condition” in that suave, careless drawl that could be so bloody irritating . “You see, Doctor, my brother was perfectly all right until he was caught in the fire last year. That’s when he changed . ” Andrew clenched his jaw.

Why don’t you just go ahead and say it, Lucien? Why don’t you just go ahead and tell him what we all know is really wrong with me! His anger, a worthy defense against the fear that always lurked beneath, blazed back into force. The hell with Lucien. The hell with all of them. Mouth hard, pulse starting to hammer, Andrew turned from the window, smashed a space through the papers and notes that cluttered his worktable, and dumped a measure of sodium carbonate into a glass beaker. “Miserable bastards,” he snarled, trying to take his mind off the discussion he knew was occurring downstairs as he absently splashed oil of vitriol into the beaker and watched it fizz to the top. “Miserable, interfering bastards . ” He poured himself another glass of port. It had come from Lucien’s private stock and was vintage 1754, the year Andrew had been born. He polished off two thirds of the glass in one swallow and then, as if to show his absent brother just what he thought of both him and his port, dumped the rest of it into the beaker. The devil take it.

He threw in some vinegar and some harmless indigo dye and something left over in a long-forgotten jar, and sat there stewing in his anger as he stared into the solution without really seeing it. A loud rap at the door jolted him from his sullen reverie. Barking furiously, the dogs shot out from beneath the table, Pork’s stout body catching one of the legs. The beaker tipped. Cursing, Andrew grabbed it just in time to save most of the contents, but a stream of purple-garnet liquid spilled onto the floor, where it hissed and bubbled and fizzed like a live thing. The dogs immediately fell on it. Andrew, desperate to haul them off before they could poison themselves, immediately fell on the dogs. “Andrew, open the door.” “Go to the devil!” he shouted over a fresh outbreak of barking as he pushed the dogs away, grabbed a cloth and tried to wipe up the spill. The duke’s voice, still mild, had an edge to it now.

“Andrew, for the sake of you and you alone, Dr. Turner has left his research and traveled all the way here from Paris. Surely you can spare him a few moments of your time. After all, we only want what is best for you.” “I am tired of people who think they know best for me!” “Andrew, must you behave like such a . juvenile?” Balling the damp cloth and hurling it across the room, Andrew stalked to the door and tore it open. There stood the duke, looking as impeccably contained as ever, one black brow arching in that unique mixture of reproach and hauteur that he’d probably mastered by the time he was old enough to crawl. He was gazing most intently beyond Andrew’s shoulder. With him stood an erect, white-haired gentleman whose kind, intelligent eyes were widening with shock as he, too, stared at something behind Andrew. Andrew scowled, turned on his heel— And froze.

His jaw dropped open. For there was fat, drooling, bug-eyed Pork, struggling quite valiantly to climb up on Esmerelda’s aristocratic haunches. And she was not only letting him, but crouching to make his amorous ascent easier! “Good God above,” Andrew breathed, in astonishment. “I daresay I’ve discovered an aphrodisiac!


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