The Teatime Tattler has learned of a report of a most grievous nature via The Warwickshire Warbler. It seems that Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, went missing from his mother’s annual summer fête for more than a week, and no one knows what stratagems he practiced during his absence in order to prevent the duke from forcing a marriage upon the marquess. Other guests at the Duchess of Devilfoard’s entertainment speak of the oddity of the situation.
“It is well known that the duke means for his heir to marry the Earl of Sandahl’s daughter, Lady Mathild,” Lady Falonwick shared, “but Malvern foils his father upon each entreaty, even taking up with that lightskirt, Miss Alexandra Dandridge, rather than to marry and produce an heir for the dukedom. In my opinion, it is a shame that the young hold no knowledge of their obligations. One evening after his arrival, I spoke to Malvern of Lord Falonwick’s heir presumptive and it was as if Malvern knew not of whom I spoke. In my opinion, the marquess should be made to memorize Debrett’s. How will he oversee the dukedom upon Devilfoard’s demise if he knows nothing of the peerage?”
Lady Beatrice Cuthbert confirmed what Lady Falonwick purported. “Lord Malvern was more than a week tardy making an appearance at Her Grace’s table, and even then he remained from company, choosing instead to spend his time with his sister, the Viscountess Stoke. Something is definitely amiss. Only last year, Lord Malvern led the nature walk and all that the adventure entailed for the young ladies and gentlemen of the duchess’s party, and this year he barely leaves one of the chairs meant for the elder attendees. The man is not yet thirty! And more circumspect is the way the marquess’s family treats him, as if there is more than a simple shoulder injury from his reported accident, the excuse given for his tardiness. I cannot decipher what the Duke and Duchess of Devilfoard hide from their guests, but there is a silent uproar brewing beneath the roof of the Devil’s Keep, and when it explodes it will shake the dukedom to his core.”
This reporter wonders if Lord Malvern has a malady not apparent to those who look upon his fine countenance and if Devilfoard conceals the truth of his son’s weak mind. Perhaps the marquess suffered more than initially reported when he was held prisoner upon the French border. Or mayhap it is Lady Mathild who drives him from his home. It is known that the Earl of Sandahl, his countess, and Lady Mathild departed Devil’s Keep the day following the marquess’s return. Surely Sandahl will not readily abandon his hopes of making Lady Mathild the future duchess. Those who know Sandahl recognize that nothing stands in the earl way once he has set his mind to the task.
Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep
(AVAILABLE AUGUST 6)
HUNTINGTON McLAUGHLIN, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and ANGELICA LOVELACE is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?
Excerpt – Chapter 7
Despite the impropriety of doing so, Hunt poured himself a shot of brandy from a decanter beside the duke’s—correction, beside his father’s—desk. He was not certain whether his doing so was customary or not, but he required liquid courage to face his future. However, before he finished the drink, he heard the quick steps of soft slippers upon the marbled floors he noted outside the room’s open door.
“Oh, Hunt!” the woman gasped as she rushed into his one-arm embrace, seeking his comfort. My mother, he thought. Yet, there was nothing familiar about her—not her appearance, nor her voice, nor even the cloying scent of roses she wore. Surely, such was his mother’s favorite fragrance. Devastation took hold of his heart when he realized if a bevy of other ladies of the same age and social class surrounded the woman in his embrace, Hunt could not chose her from the group. The thought had his heartbeat hitching faster.
“I have worried so,” she whispered as she caressed his cheek. “You are injured?” she said as she noted the crude sling.
“Alibi threw me during the storm,” he said simply, knowing he would be expected to repeat his tale several more times this evening. “Let us wait upon the others,” he said in kindness. “I am exhausted and would tell my tale but once.”
Tears misting her eyes, the duchess nodded. “While we wait, permit me to ask Mr. Strasser to send for Mr. Roddick.”
“If it eases your concerns,” he said with a squeeze of her hand. She rushed to the bell cord, and Hunt studied her. His mother was an exceedingly handsome woman, likely in her late forties. Slender. Taller than he expected, nearly reaching his shoulder. He thought Miss Lovelace would appear a petite touch of sunlight beside the magnificently coiffed duchess. The thought of Miss Lovelace brought a sad smile to his lips. He would never see her again.
Gold and a bit of silver feathered his mother’s warm brown hair. Brown eyes, the color of walnuts. He noted few of his own features in her countenance.
Louder footsteps announced his father’s approach. Instinctively, Hunt straightened his shoulders to meet the man he would one day replace.
“He is home, Hamilton, and safe,” his mother explained to the man who commanded the room with his presence.
“I can see that much for myself, Duchess,” the duke declared with what appeared to be pure relief crossing his countenance. “Harry says you suffered greatly.” Hamilton McLaughlin’s gaze skimmed Hunt’s stance, and Hunt fought the urge to squirm. He wondered how often his father summoned him to this very room. Had he been an exemplary son or a total rascal?
Hunt swallowed the rising consternation flooding his throat. “It was more difficult than I would like.”
The appearance of what had to be Henrietta upon Harrison’s arm brought Hunt further regret. His twin. The woman who entered the world only ten minutes before he. When Harrison told him of the family awaiting Hunt’s return, Hunt imagined if no one else, he would instantly recognize Henrietta. Did not twins possess a special bond?
His sister was beautiful. Yet, she favored their mother. Hunt found himself a bit disappointed not to feel anything exceptional for any of his dear family.
“Thank goodness,” Henrietta gasped as she took his free hand in her two. “Even when some considered the worst, I knew we had not lost you. My heart remained as one. I knew we would find you again. We are two, Huntington. You cannot leave me without my heart knowing.”
Hunt wished he could say the same, but his mental turmoil continued.
Harry cleared his throat. “Perhaps, we should all assume a seat. There is more to Huntington’s story than his obvious shoulder injury.” His brother assisted Etta to a nearby chair. Hunt watched her lower her girth into the cushions, and he wondered how often he assisted his twin in such situations.
“What else is there to know?” the duchess asked suspiciously. She reached for the duke’s hand in comfort.
Harry kept the floor, and Hunt held no objections. He possessed no desire to announce his lack of knowledge of these people, who obviously experienced real concern over his absence.
“Hunt suffered another injury beyond his displaced shoulder.”
The duke’s eyes scanned Hunt’s body again. “Such as?” His father stood imperiously behind his duchess, his hand resting nobly upon her shoulder. Hunt could easily recognize his own countenance in the man. Even a stranger’s assessment would proclaim Hunt his father’s son. He was his father come to life a second time, Etta, his mother, and Harry a combination of the two.
Hunt discovered his voice. “Despite appearing only in disarray, I endured a head injury, which robbed me of a portion of my memory.”
Henrietta’s features scrunched up in confusion. “What portion?”
Hunt’s gaze remained locked upon his father’s. He possessed no doubt of his mother’s and Etta’s sympathy, but the duke would hold other concerns, those directed to the responsibilities of the title. “I recall the names of writers and painters and musicians, as well as the details of historical accounts. I know my sums, my letters, and my gentlemanly manners. All my education as a duke’s son.” He paused to set his stance. “Yet, I hold no knowledge of the Devil’s Keep beyond what I learned of this room with my entrance a quarter hour past.” Hunt went very still. “Nor of its inhabitants.”
The duchess paled. “You mean the identity of my guests?” his mother asked through trembling lips. “Surely, you cannot mean to say…” Her voice trailed off.
In the distant depths of his mind, Hunt studied the terrible tableau before him. His father’s mouth was thin lipped, and his countenance stony, but he said, “You possess no memory of being Malvern?”
“No, sir.” Hunt sucked in a steadying breath. “I imagine I could muster an understanding of estate books and investments specific to the dukedom. I was not struck dumb nor am I without intelligence. I simply lost the names of those most dear to me.” He smiled wryly. “And other members of Society. I have no social history.”
His mother gasped and clutched at the duke’s hand. “How is that possible? Surely you know your own parents!”
“Until you walked into this room, Duchess, I could not conjure your image,” Hunt admitted. He wished to add the only image he owned was that of Miss Angelica Lovelace, but he could not share that particular fact with his family.
“Hamilton, do something!” his mother pleaded.
“What would you have me do, Alberta? Even as a duke, I cannot order the return of my heir’s memory.”
His father’s gaze did not falter. Hunt admired the duke’s control.
His mother was on her feet and pacing. “I want the most learned medical man in the kingdom summoned to Malvern’s side.”
The duke gathered his duchess into his arms. It was a telling moment. It spoke of the state of his parents’ marriage. “We will do all that is necessary, Duchess,” he assured her.
Harry rushed to Hunt’s aid. “Until that time I intend to remain at Hunt’s side so he can manage his social obligations.”
“I can send our guests away,” his mother offered. “Beg off with a family emergency.”
Hunt gestured in the negative. “For now, I would prefer you not bring more attention to my condition. It is my hope just being at the Keep will bring new life to my recollections. I will use my shoulder injury to withdraw when I am overwhelmed by so many new faces.”
“You can use my condition as an alternate excuse. You can be a doting twin brother in Lord Stoke’s absence,” Etta suggested.
A tremendous ache to know his twin again filled Hunt’s heart. “Harry tells me such actions would not be a divergence from character for us.”
A questioning restlessness crossed Henrietta’s countenance. “Soon your reminiscences will belong to you alone and not simply ones borrowed from Harry.”
“It is my dearest hope,” he confessed.
The duke set the duchess from him. “I am not one who acts upon hope. If Malvern is well enough, we should devise some sort of plan to keep this development from becoming common knowledge. There are those who would move against the dukedom if they think Malvern incapable of making fair judgments. Harry, who else knows of Malvern’s dilemma?”
Harry shot a quick glance at Hunt. “Only the Earl of Remmington. He and I traveled together in our search for Huntington.”
“Where is Remmington?” Etta asked. “Did he not return with you?”
“The earl’s horse took on a stone,” Hunt supplied. “His seeking a farrier brought us together, as I was seated on the back of a farm wagon at the time. We met in a small village. Remmington will return when the horse can carry him without pain.”
“Remmington and Hunt have held a close association since their university days. The earl will not jeopardize Hunt’s position in Society,” Harry confirmed. “Remmington understands the demands of a title.”
“Then let us be about discovering a means to protect Malvern from censure.”
The story is charming, with interesting and realistic characters, a complex plot with plenty of surprises, and a sweet romance woven through it all. The author has a good command of what it was like to be a woman in nineteenth-century England–almost as if she had been there. She really did her research for this one.
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