Sam, you were right about the story, but you can’t use it. You’ll have two dukes down on you like a ton of bricks. You won’t be able to hide this one in initials and pretend you’re talking about someone else.
I’ve written it up anyway. Maybe it will come in handy when their Graces have gone to their reward — which, if there’s any justice in the afterlife, will involve hot flame and pitchforks. In any case, it will satisfy your curiosity.
Mr Redding, the young man who insisted on seeing the Duke of Sutton, was a gentleman — Perkins could tell a fake a mile off — but almost certainly a younger son, and so of no account. He had an attempt to spruce himself up, but the marks of travel were clear to an experienced butler. Poverty, too.
Perkins thought it unlikely that His Grace would receive Mr Redding, but he was not prepared to take the risk of making the decision for that irascible peer. To interrupt him and his friend the Duke of Haverford at their port might earn him a glass flung at his head. To fail to interrupt him if Mr Redding’s claim of urgency was true would see him on the street, never mind a lifetime’s faithful service.
To Perkin’s surprise, he was ordered to show Mr Redding in immediately. “You’ll be interested in this, Haverford,” His Grace of Winshire told his friend.
Perkins was, too, so he was careful not to completely close the door once he’d ushered Mr Redding inside, so that any conversation would reach the ear he put to the crack.
“Well, Redding,” the duke said. “Where’s my son?” His son? Lord Sutton was probably at his club, Lord Richard had been dead nearly two years, and Lord James, God bless him, had met his end on foreign shores fifteen years ago.
“I’m sorry, Your Grace,” Mr Redding replied. “We weren’t able to persuade him.”
“What!” Even over the duke’s roar, Perkins could hear the crash as he leapt to his feet fast enough to knock his chair over. More crashes followed. He’d be sweeping anything before him off the table. Perkins winced as priceless Italian crystal goblets and fine Chinese porcelain were sacrificed to the duke’s rage.
“You should have abducted him!” the old man shouted. “The Devil knows I gave you a large enough purse to hire an army.”
“We did, Your Grace. We had men at the ready, but we thought to persuade him first. He seemed open to it. Then he asked if he could bring his wife and eight children home, four of them sons.”
The duke’s snort gave all the answer needed.
“Exactly, Your Grace. A native woman and her brats? And him the heir to one of the premier titles in Britain?” Perkins could almost hear Mr Redding shake his head. “We weren’t fool enough to tell him that, but he must have known, because he slipped away in the night, and managed to evade the men we had ready to detain him.”
“That was it? He escaped and you let him go?”
“We chased him, of course, Your Grace.” Mr Redding managed to sound a little hurt. “No catching him. Those horses they breed in Turkmenistan are devilish fast, and you’ve never seen endurance like it. Of course, once he made it into his mountains, and was locked up in that kingdom of his, there was no point in anything but going home. He left a note for you, Your Grace.”
There was silence for a moment, then the duke’s voice, raised again. “Cognizant of your generosity. Must regretfully decline at this time. Will pray for good health and a long life for my nephew. Damn the boy. How dare he!”
Haverford’s voice sounded amused. “Refused you, did he? He always was an ungrateful cub. Never mind, Winshire. Sutton’s whelp seems to be in better health. You don’t need your youngest son. He has clearly gone native, and is unfit for your high position.”
Winshire snapped at his old friend. “You’re just upset because he coveted your wife, Haverford! Four sons! He’s a good breeder, I’ll give him that. I’ll get him home if it’s the last thing I do. Get out, Redding. I don’t want to see your face.” Something smashed on the door, warning Perkins, and he stepped away in time to escape being caught as Mr Redding scurried out of the room, just ahead of another crash.
Perkins, his mind seething with conjecture, conducted Mr Perkins to a small parlour, well away from the salon where the duke still raged. Lady Georgiana, the duke’s daughter, would not be pleased if he let the man leave without consulting her. Besides, Perkins himself wanted to hear news of Lord James, whom all the servants had loved — something that could not be said for the duke or his eldest son.
“Sit yourself down, Mr Perkins. You are fatigued and must be hungry. Let me get you something to eat and perhaps a drink. Do you have somewhere to stay the night? Shall I have them make up a bed?”
He sent a maid scurrying to the kitchen and another to the third floor where an anonymous guest might stay with the duke none the wiser, and hurried upstairs to her ladyship. If he was fortunate, she might permit him to stay and listen when she questioned Mr Perkins.
In discovering the mysteries of the East, James has built a new life. Will unveiling the secrets in his wife’s heart destroy it?
James Winderfield yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.
With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.
But the greatest threats to their marriage and their lives together is the widening distance between them. To win Paradise, they must face the truths in their hearts.
Paradise Regained takes place in 1794. Eighteen years later, the hero of this novella, now a widower, returns to England with six of his children. The series that tells of the adventures and romances of these children will begin publication around March next year.
James regarded the Russian and the Englishman across the delicately hand-knotted silk and woolen rug. He may have made a tactical error in wearing European clothes. He’d thought to emphasise to Redding and Michaelov that he was English and a duke’s son and to be treated with respect. Instead, they appeared to have taken the message that he was ready to abandon the life he had built here in the Middle East and crawl back to accept whatever crumbs fell from his father’s table.
Their contempt and condescension grew as the interview, if you could call it that when he sat silent and impassive, continued.
At his shoulder, Yousef bristled with anger on his behalf, but he would do nothing without James’s signal.
“You can be sure of the prodigal’s welcome,” Redding said, folding his hands across an incipient paunch with a smug smile. “Your father is prepared to forgive all and to welcome you with the fatted calf.”
Forgive him? For what? For being exiled? For continuing to live after he was imprisoned by the Persians and his father refused to pay the ransom? For certain, Garshasp Khan would have had him beheaded or at least castrated if the man’s mother had not been English and ready to intervene on a fellow countryman’s behalf by pointing out that James had weapons skills that made him valuable to the Khan’s guard.
James inclined his head at Redding’s nonsensical comment, a noncommittal sign but one Michaelov took as agreement.
“And you may yet be duke, Lord James. Lord Sutton has only the one son, and he is a sickly boy. With Lord Edward’s death, you are third in line.”
Time to end this.
“I have four sons,” James told them, “and three daughters.” And another child by now, whose birth he had missed, thanks to the troubles they had encountered and a further delay to meet these idiots. “I take it that my father is willing to accept Lady James and our children with the same enthusiasm?”
Not likely and the expressions on the faces of his father’s men confirmed it.
“Lady James?” Redding said cautiously. “Your native wife, is it?”
His Mahzad, royal in all her bloodlines, every inch a princess and the holder of his heart, though that organ did not appear to be as essential to her as the children and the kingdom they shared. If he were to abandon good sense and his duty to their people and traipse back to England to live on his father’s erratic goodwill, he had very little hope she would come with him.
After that, the meeting broke up fairly quickly. Redding did a good job of hiding his shock that James would put his “native wife” ahead of the supposed advantages of being possible heir to a duke, but Michaelov showed open disdain, and James left before he lost his temper.
“We’ll leave as soon as we can pack, Yousef,” James said as they arrived back in their room.
“Carefully, my lord,” Peter warned. “They have a force of armed men just outside the village.”
James raised his brows. “Good to know. How big a force, and how did you find out?”
“I went to find the black cat I spoke of, my lord. Sure enough, it brought us good luck, though I did not think so when it walked away from me, staying just out of reach until we left the caravanserai and crossed the whole of the village. Then, it dived behind a wall, and when I went after them, I heard them say your name, Winderfield, so I hid and listened.”
“Just as well for us, Peter,” Yousef agreed. “What did you hear?”
Peter explained that the men were itching for action, since they’d been lying in wait for several days. “But Michaelov said you were going to come of your own accord, so they wouldn’t be needed, and they were complaining about having to camp out in the fields in the cold.”
James asked a few more questions about the disposition of the men and the number. “We leave tonight, as quietly as possible, after the caravanserai is asleep,” he decided. “Yousef, let the men know. Once we are out in the desert, no one will catch our horses.” He left Peter to pack up the room and Yousef to organise the men while he wrote a note for Redding to take to the duke a few conciliatory words. If he had to go back to England one day to be duke, as well to leave the door open.