The Teatime Tattler has just confirmed that Lady Katherine Thornton has laid her uncle, Bennett Sutton to rest in the family mausoleum. It is with a great deal of hunting and pecking that this reporter has found some shocking information. Bennett Sutton was murdered in the most dreadful manner. He was poisoned with snake venom, a venom that has no antidote.
It has also come to my attention that before his demise, Mr. Sutton made his business partner, the very eligible and handsome Lord Ian Wallace, the 4th Duke of Blackhall, vow to marry his niece, Lady Katherine, not once, but twice. I also have reliable information from Mr. Hawkins, the editor of the Sommer Sentinel that he’s been contacted by the London Gazette regarding a statement in that was published in said publication regarding His Grace’s vow. It seems, London is abuzz with gossip and mothers and their debutante daughters are in mourning.
I wonder if that is why Lord Ryder Whitaker has been seen in town. You remember the young rogue. Five years ago, when Lady Katherine had her first (and only) Season in London, he was her constant companion. The queen’s Diamond, everyone thought Lord Whitaker had won her heart until one day she got up and returned to Sommer-by-the-Sea. Has the rake renewed his interest knowing Lord Wallace will take her for his wife? The young cad is outranked in so many ways. I understand he is not welcome in any home of good standing, nor the gambling hells.
My sources have not rested. To add to this mix, I have it on very good authority that prior to the duel gone wrong that took her uncle’s life, Sutton lost the deed to Thornton Abbey to His Grace in a card game. I can only imagine what will happen when the very outspoken Lady Katherine finds out she’s lost her home and her independence to His Grace, a man she’s never met, all in one fell swoop.
Can all this get sorted out to a happily ever after? Read on my friends. I hear there are swords and kidnappings involved as well.
The Lady and Her Duke
Could she use her skills as a lockpick to crack open the secrets to the murder as well as unlock his heart?
Lady Katherine Thornton has no interest in men after an indiscretion at her disastrous Season in London. No man can be trusted. Instead, she indulges in her fascination for gears and all things mechanical. Her unique drafting skill is an asset to her uncle Bennett Sutton, who is automating his textile factory. She doesn’t need anything else.
Lord Ian Wallace, the 4th Duke of Blackhall, is a retired military officer. An accidental duke after the deaths of his father and brother, he retreats from society and the clawing mothers and debutantes who stalk him. He’s focused all his energy on his partnership with Sutton. He’s satisfied and needs nothing else.
An oath to marry, a family legend to preserve, an uprising of the factory workers, and Sutton’s murder, throw Katherine and Wallace together to find a blackmailer and murderer. They also will find two things neither knew they were missing… each other and their happily ever after.
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Excerpt from Chapter One
June 20, 1815
Royston Mills, Baycliff Woods
The blast of a pistol shattered the quiet afternoon. Shouts and screams rose, their sound carrying into the surrounding area. In a clearing by the lake where the wood bordered the village, the shock and chaos subsided into a deafening silence.
Lord Ian Wallace knelt next to his business partner, Bennett Sutton. His bruised and bloody face was a mess of soot and gunpowder. Wallace glanced over his shoulder, signaling his valet.
“Water. Quick. His eyes need to be flushed.” Wallace wavered between restraint and rage as he ministered to Sutton. “Stay calm and whatever you do, keep your eyes closed.” His hands ran over Sutton’s torso checking for injuries. He found none, other than the small tremors he assumed were from shock.
“I’m dying.” Sutton spoke not in disbelief, but in resignation, as if his dying was an undisputed conclusion.
Wallace’s chest tightened at the sound of those words. He had heard them before from the injured men he commanded in Spain. For a moment he was back on the battlefield going from man to man comforting them, waiting for medical attention and, in too many cases, saying good-bye.
“Swear to me.” Sutton, agitated and breathing hard, reached up and grabbed his lapel. “Swear to me you’ll marry my niece, Ivy-Rose.”
What niece? Sutton had a niece?
“Yes, yes. I swear.” In a fit of rage, he’d say anything to escape from the madman. It was luck that Sutton’s gun misfired. He gazed at his friend and partner in disbelief. From the moment his valet pulled him to the ground he found it difficult to comprehend why his friend and partner tried to kill him, tried to shoot him in the back.
Sutton tugged on his lapels. “No, on your honor as a gentleman. Swear it.” Another tug. Bennett’s strength was waning.
Wallace’s anger softened. The man had to be kept calm. Roddy, his foreman, and Lord Ryder Whitaker had gone to fetch Dr. Price. The doctor had left the clearing when Sutton called off the duel.
“Swear it.” The man sounded as if it was his last breath.
“As a gentleman, I, Lord Ian Wallace, 4th Duke of Blackhall, promise to marry your Ivy-Rose.” He bent closer to him. “Is that better?”
Sutton released his lapels and slumped onto the ground, his breath coming in spurts.
Lenard returned carrying a basin of warm water.
Wallace stood aside and gave his valet room. They had been together a long time. Lenard was his personal attendant at Cambridge as well as in Spain during the war. Together they had seen worse. Now he flushed the gunpowder and soot out from Sutton’s eyes. It would serve Sutton right if the pain was unbearable.
“Much better.” Sutton’s voice faded to a calm stillness.
Wallace wasn’t sure if his partner referred to the oath he gave or the warm water.
“Your Grace. I cannot find any wound.” Lenard kept streaming water over the man’s face.
The battlefield images flashed in his head. Some had outcomes that were more severe than others. But that was war, not a card game gone wrong.
“God’s blood, where is that doctor?” He glanced about.
Sutton raised his face to Lenard as the man ran more water over him and, with a gentle touch, wiped him dry.
“You have my thanks.” Quiet at last, Sutton winced when he tried to lay down on the ground.
“Over here, Dr. Price.” Whitaker and Roddy led the doctor to the injured man.
“I thought Sutton had the good sense to call off the duel.” Dr. Price pushed his way in front of Wallace. “Where did your bullet hit him?”
“I never fired my weapon.” Wallace stood back to let the doctor do his job.
“His pistol misfired when he aimed at Wallace’s back.” Whitaker stepped forward. “I stood in shock when he raised his pistol and took aim.”
The doctor, on his knees, paused and glanced up at him.
“That’s not at all like Sutton. Wallace, what did you say to him?” The doctor resumed examining Sutton’s head.
“Not a thing. I convinced him to call off this ridiculous duel. I thought to give him time and hoped he’d have more sense in the morning. I was leaving the clearing, not far behind you when the shot went off.”
“There are some abrasions from the powder blast and irritation from the gunpowder, but no wound.” Price examined Sutton’s hands. Scrapes, a bit of a burn in places, but nothing fatal. “Sutton’s a lucky man.”
The doctor stood up cleaning his hands with a cloth from his bag.
“Help me bring him to my carriage. We’ll take him to the inn. I want to watch him until tomorrow rather than have him brought back to Sommer-by-the-Sea now.”
Roddy and Lenard lifted Sutton, made their way through the gathered onlookers, and laid him in the back of the doctor’s carriage.
“There’s room enough for you and me up here.” Roddy tapped Lenard and pointed next to the driver.
“I can go with them if you prefer.” Whitaker stood next to him. “I know you’re the man’s partner, but no one would blame you for washing your hands of him.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll go with him. I’m staying at the inn.” Wallace got in the carriage still thinking through the events. He agreed with Dr. Price: this wasn’t at all like Sutton.
The door closed, Whitaker signaled the driver, and the carriage pulled away.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him.” Wallace stared at Sutton propped up on the seat across from him.
“I’ve known that man since he was a boy and agree this is out of character for him. But don’t you worry, Your Grace. We’ll have him all to rights soon enough.”
The carriage pulled up to Weaver’s Inn. News of the incident traveled faster than he imagined. More onlookers buzzed about them like a swarm of angry bees. Wallace led the way for Lenard and Roddy to bring Sutton up the stairs to his room.
“I’ll stay with him for a while. Head injuries can be nasty.” Dr. Price stood over his patient and checked Sutton’s breathing again.
“Ale for you both and watered ale for Mr. Sutton.” Lenard put the tankards on the table. “Your Grace, I have the papers you gave me earlier. I’ll put them in your room.”
“I’ll take them. I can review the documents while I sit with him.” Wallace nodded toward Sutton.
“If that will be all, I’ll be in the tavern if you need me.” Lenard put the folio on the table.
“I’ll go with you.” Roddy looked at the patient lying in the bed and shook his head. The two men left and closed the door behind them.
Dr. Price sat at the table and took a tankard of ale. “How did this start?”
Wallace sat next to the doctor and reached for the second tankard.
“I found him troubled over several issues when I came up from London. He was in a fit over worker demands. He also expected a sizeable amount of fleece, but instead received a smaller delivery than promised.
“I had an issue to discuss with him, but in his state I knew it would be impossible. I thought to divert his attention, a game of cards to take his mind off everything. Once he was himself, we could address the business problems and go over my visit to Cambridge. But Sutton drank too much, took risks no man in his right mind would take, and lost miserably.”
“And his mood went from bad to worse.” Dr. Price glanced at his patient, shook his head, and took a draw on the tankard.
“Yes, it did. I was at a loss what to do. Sutton wouldn’t stop playing despite losing one game after another. I couldn’t imagine the situation getting any worse, but it did.
“I dealt the cards. How Sutton preened like a peacock, so sure the winning hand was his. He drank and taunted me. He drained his flask dry and had Mr. Jackson fill it to the top. I was astounded when the deed to his home landed on the table.”
“His cards…” The doctor closed his eyes and moaned.
“A beginner would know better than to bet on the cards Sutton held. He had no chance of winning.” Wallace let out a strained laugh. “I conceded defeat and laid my cards face down, but Sutton demanded to see them. I refused. He reached across the table and turned them over. Then he went mad. Sutton grabbed a pen from the bar, sat down, and started writing. I stayed his hand. I didn’t want his home. I thought to entice him with the best two out of three games, but he refused. I pay my debts.”
“Sutton is a proud man and a man of his word. But I’ve never known him to be this reckless.” Price sat back, his legs out in front of him, staring at the tankard in his hand.
“Man of his word. We wouldn’t be here if our workers believed him. I told them over and over the new mechanicals would not replace them. But fear does strange things to people. If things go as Sutton and I plan, there will be more work for more people and more money, not less.
“I offered to speak with the workers and explain the plan. That’s when Sutton exploded. I tried my best to calm him, but now I understand. Sutton didn’t calm down during the game. If anything, his card playing was more intense, more erratic, more irrational.” He stared at his partner. “My strategy to calm him with the card game did the opposite. It pushed him over the edge.”
“Don’t blame yourself. From what you’ve told me, Sutton was already agitated. It wasn’t one thing. It was everything.”
“My partner accused me of siding with the workers and called me out in front of everyone demanding satisfaction. A duel.” Wallace glanced at the doctor. The incident still beyond belief. “I refused. I told him I had enough of weapons in Spain. Businessmen didn’t settle disputes with weapons. To everyone’s horror, he slapped my face. I remember his odd smirk, daring me to ignore the affront.
“Choose your weapon. I refused. Pistols. You didn’t think I’d want to be near you with a blade. At least with a pistol I have a fighting chance.
“I still didn’t give up.
“All the way to the field and even when we arrived, I tried to dissuade him. I would have gladly shot myself to put an end to his stupidity. At last, the fight went out of him. You witnessed how we called off the duel, shook hands, and sent everyone home. Sutton was still holding his loaded pistol. I told him to take his anger out on the red maple tree, the one by the lake.” He paused and glanced at Sutton. “I thought he came to his senses.”
“That is how I remember the morning.” Dr. Price nodded.
“I turned to leave with the others, only to hear Sutton’s pistol discharge. Lenard pulled me to the ground. When we got to our feet, it was Sutton who was down.
* * * *
The Lady and Her Duke is book 3 of the regency series, The Ladies of Sommer-by-the-Sea
- The Lady and Her Quill
- The Lady and the Spy
- The Lady and her Duke.
About the Author
Ruth A Casie is a USA Today bestselling author. She writes historical adventures from the shores of medieval Scotland to the cobblestone streets of Regency London. Her stories embrace strong women and the men who deserve them. Within the pages you’ll discover ‘edge-of-your-seat’ suspense, mind boggling drama, and heart melting emotions. Grab your favorite cup of tea, or an ale if you prefer, and join her heroes and heroines as they race across the pages to find their happily ever after.
She lives in New Jersey with her hero, three empty bedrooms and a growing number of incomplete counted cross-stitch projects. Before she found her voice, she was a speech therapist (pun intended), client liaison for a corrugated manufacturer, and vice president at an international bank where she was a product/ marketing manager, but her favorite job is the one she’s doing now—writing romance. Ruth hopes her stories become your favorite adventures.
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