“No, James, you most certainly did not mention it before today. In fact, I would go as far to say that would have been your intention, rather than a simple oversight.” The Duke of Sandford’s keen blue eyes peered over at his son from the other side of the breakfast table. “And I am by no means the fool you seem to take me for. One of these days I daresay you will realize it. But until that time is upon us, I shall have to settle for reminding you.” He took a huge mouthful of bacon, for which his son was extraordinarily grateful.
For one thing, it meant his father would remain silent on the subject of his sporting excursion to the east of the county for a few moments and, for another, it meant he would have less of the slightly undercooked bacon to eat himself.
James Harrington was by no means a wasteful young man, but his father’s habit for ensuring everything provided was eaten would have worked a good deal better if less were provided in the first place. His father was a full-bellied man with time on his hands to make every meal last an eternity.
James, on the other hand, could not abide to sit three times a day in his father’s company as it was, much less drag the whole thing out because there was far too much food for two men to eat.
“And I shall remind you daily if this sort of thing continues.” The Duke started to speak again and James winced as he was confronted with a mouthful of partially-chewed bacon. “Every day.” The Duke filled his mouth again.
“Father, I said it was an oversight, and an oversight it was. Although I am sure I mentioned my excursion some weeks back.” James always found it a little too easy to lie to his father; nobody else, just the Duke.
Perhaps nobody else in James’ sphere of society had the sort of character that made the occasional lie something far less of a sin and rather more of a necessity.
“Mmmph.” His father grunted as he continued to chew, his mouth mercifully closed this time.
“And in any case, I cannot see the need for all this high dudgeon. I am away for the weekend at Hanover Hall. What on earth can my absence matter?”
“James, I might well have arranged a dinner or something similar here. And it might well have been a dinner to which your own attendance was vital. Pivotal even.”
James groaned inwardly. What his father meant by that was obvious to him. The Duke was talking of one of his tedious attempts to find a match for his son. A young lady who, in the Duke’s eyes, would be absolutely suitable but who would undoubtedly, in James’ own eyes, be anything but.
“Well, you have not arranged such a dinner that I am aware of, Father.” James knew he was being a little obtuse but frankly did not care.
“No, I have not.” The Duke conceded gruffly; his patience was being stretched.
“Then surely there is no issue of particular note. Likely there is nothing for us even to discuss, let alone to get cross about and interfere with the process of trying to digest the indigestible.” He looked significantly at the unappetizing piece of bacon on the end of his own fork.
“Why must you always try to be so clever?” The Duke was no better than an angry bear before mid-afternoon on most days; just one little prod and the volume of his voice raised by several decibels.
“Father?” James said with amusement as he popped the bacon into his mouth.
“You twist everything and make a jape of it all. Well, you are not funny, and I am not at all amused by you. Your friend, Hector Hanover, might appreciate your witticisms, but then I daresay Eton and Oxford must have changed a good deal since I went, if this is what passes as proper behavior these days.” The Duke furiously stabbed a kidney, and for an awful moment, James thought his father was about to push the whole thing into his anger-tortured mouth.
Fortunately, the Duke dropped it down onto his plate and began to cut it.
“Father, I do not mean to have you in all this state before we have even finished our breakfast.” James’ attempt at an apology was certainly going to be a sarcastic one. “And I really did think I had mentioned the sporting event at Hanover Hall. I can only apologize for not being absolutely sure and admit myself to be greatly relieved not to have interfered with the plans you did not make.” James looked truly apologetic and his father, initially looking as if he was sure he had been tied up in knots but was unsure howexactly, nodded his acceptance of the dubious apology.
“Well, I must admit I am a little surprised you are going at all. I thought you had more or less parted company with Hector Hanover.” The Duke had calmed down and James resisted the opportunity to smirk.
“No, we are as friendly as ever we were. I daresay the little distance between Sandford and Hanover has something to do with it all. But I am bound to say that whenever we find ourselves in company, we are much as we ever were.”
“I have no doubt.” His father said disapprovingly. “As frivolous and irreverent as always.”
“I daresay.” James said, thinking it pointless to argue, especially since what his father had said was, on this occasion, largely true.
James had to admit that he was looking forward to a few days away. Not only to rid himself of the ever-present and always rather bullying tones of his father, but to see his old school friend.
Despite his father’s assumption, James and Hector really were as close as they had ever been. James missed his old friend a great deal and blamed his father’s constant demands for attention for it. He was forever arranging something truly dreadful in the social engagement arena or demanding that his son follow him all day every day so that he might learn the art of running a Duchy.
Of course, James, being very much sharper than his father, realized that the best way to run a Duchy was to let the overseer and managers do the jobs they were paid for. They were, after all, the professionals in such things.
James was not entirely without interest in the whole thing, it was just that he could see that once you knew the ins and outs, you knew them. That was enough to be able to say with confidence that your staff were doing a good job. A person did not need, in his opinion, to practice the whole thing over and over again. Once you had the gist of it, there was no more sense in continually practicing than there was in consciously practicing how to breathe in and out.
You knew what to do; it took care of itself.
James knew that, at nine and twenty, it really was time he turned his attention to more in life than just amusement, but knowing it and implementing it were two different things.
He had always been of a bright, almost sunny disposition, very much like the mother who had departed this world far too soon.
He most certainly had nothing in common with his father and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that his beautiful, intelligent mother had only married the old brute because her own father had brought so much pressure to bear.
“I am bound to say that I have never particularly considered you a sportsman, James.” The Duke was back on the hobby horse of disapproval, his agitation at the idea of his son’s disappearance to Hanover Hall still clear. “So, I would say that such a social gathering would be of little or no benefit to you.”
“It is true I am not a dedicated sportsman.” James said with lofty amusement.
It was true that James derived none of the pleasure from hunting and fishing that he gathered he was supposed to. Killing something for the simple sake of killing it, or in competition, was not a pastime that James had ever taken to. If he was honest, it rather sickened him.
He was by no means a weak man, however, and was physically very fit and strong, with the height and build of a well-fed farm laborer. And he was an exceptional horseman who liked nothing better than to tackle the most impossible looking obstacles when he cantered across country.
“Although I am rather good at archery, as you know.” He went on in his own defense. “A very decisive shot, as it happens.”
“So are a lot of women.” His father snorted with victory as if there were no greater insult than to be compared unfavorably to a woman.
“Indeed,” James said heartily, determined not to let his father have his own way. “If I remember rightly, Mama was a most exceptional archer.” James saw his father bristle and knew he had made a very palpable hit, one he was truly proud of.
His mother had been a woman of many skills and passions, and archery was but one of them. And she far outstripped his father in anything which required a moment’s thought, concentration, or contemplation of any kind.
Time and again the Duke of Sandford had tried to fire his arrows with more accuracy than his beautiful wife, and time and again he had failed. In truth, James could not remember his mother conceding a single shot to the husband whose own fury and determination to win had made him over emotional and reckless, loosing arrows off in a way that always made the household staff look extremely nervous and determinedly vigilant.
And it was clear that, even after all these years, it was still a bone of contention with the arrogant old man.
“And I do like to ride out, of course. I like to go at a fair old lick on horseback.” James went on.
“Yes, but you never concentrate upon the hunt.” His father sneered.
“There is a very good reason for that, Father.”
“And that is?”
“I do not like the hunt.”
“What sort of full-blooded man does not like the hunt?”
“This full-blooded man.” James looked dolefully at the plate of cool, damp-looking bacon that seemed not to be diminishing for a moment. He leaned over the table and speared two slices with his fork; there was nothing else for it, he would either have to help or find himself still sitting at the breakfast table with his father as darkness fell.
“I hardly think a man who does not like to hunt can describe himself as full-blooded.” His father grumbled on.
“There are many ways in which a man can tackle life with gusto, Father. Laying waste to anything with fur or feathers is but one of them.” James realized that he had truly nothing in common with his own father at all.
They were opposites in all things, even looks. Where the old Duke, had always been fair, James was dark. He had dark, neatly cut thick hair and his green eyes were just like his mother’s had been. But the old Duke had always been pale, his fair hair boasting none of the thickness of his son’s.
In fact, James’ hair was so dark that the few greys he had stood out like fine silver, but his father’s hair simply looked a faded version of what it had always been and was not at all grey.
And the Duke had always been and still was, something of a flabby man, one who always ran to fat no matter what he did. James, on the other hand, was taller and leaner, with no more than the simplest of activities keeping him fit and taut.
As for character, nobody could be forgiven for thinking that the two men came from different worlds, never mind the same family. The Duke was a bully who thought that everybody around him had been put there by the Lord God Almighty himself with no better purpose than to do his bidding.
He was feared by their staff and tradesmen alike, and there were few in society who did not simply agree with him on every opinion because it was unwise to do any other.
James was an entirely different sort of a man. He loved life and liked nothing better than to be greatly amused. He was, perhaps, not as serious as a young man with his inevitable responsibilities should have been, but everybody who was acquainted with him liked him. Staff, friends, vague acquaintances; it was impossible not to like a young man who was so very handsome and so very obviously lighthearted.
“I suppose you are talking about women, James.” His father’s disapproval was growing. “And you needn’t smirk.” He went on. “It is time you settled yourself down to some proper course of action as far as the opposite sex are concerned. You cannot simply flit this way and that, you are nine and twenty years old and time is wasting, slipping through your fingers like fine sand.”
“I hardly think I am in my dotage yet, Father.” James was light, but he knew his father had something of a point.
“It is time you fathered an heir.”
“Ought I not to find a wife first?”
“Do not be flippant with me, James.” The Duke took two large tomatoes, another kidney, and two slices of the dreadful, floppy bacon. James was astounded as always by his father’s gluttony. “The time has come for you to settle down. Now, when you get back from this few days of foolishness over at Hanover Hall, I want to sit down with you and review a list of suitable young woman I have devised with the help of Charles Holt.”
“Suitable for whom?” James said and his tone became a little aggressive for the first time in their conversation.
He detested the idea of having a woman presented to him and resented further still the idea that he would be expected to marry her, whoever she was.
James would never be in the mood to accept such an obvious attack on his own liberty, his very freedom to choose for himself. The thought was sickening to him.
As far as James was concerned, his father and the ruthless old attorney, Charles Holt, could draft as many lists as they liked, for he would never choose a woman from them. Even if he liked one of the women, he would not have something so basic, so fundamental, dictated to him.
“Suitable for all.” His father said in a very final tone of voice.
“Very well, I shall be ready to sit down and peruse your list as soon as I am returned from the east of the county.” James said with an inward stab of belligerence.
James would only marry a woman of his own choosing, and only when he was good and ready to marry. And, as far as James was concerned, he was not going to be good and ready anytime soon.
“Is Papa settled in?” Charlotte Cunningham said when her maid, Ruth, bustled into the chamber.
“Yes, I’ve unpacked his things and he is taking a few minutes’ rest before this evening’s little event. Or obligation, as he calls it.” Ruth laughed.
“He is a dear, but not always in the mood for society.” Charlotte laughed also. “But he will be better for a little nap, I daresay.”
“You have already unpacked.” Ruth looked at the open door which led to a small, square space in which a rail was set.
Charlotte, never one to sit idle, had hung the few garments she had brought with her whilst her maid attended her father, Lord Lucas Cunningham traveling, as always, without a valet of his own.
Her father was a pleasantly down-to-earth sort of a man who liked to manage for himself. And as far as appearances went, he was little bothered what his hosts thought him for traveling without the sort of entourage that other men of title did as a means of further emphasizing their status. Lucas Cunningham just did not think in such convoluted circles; he was as he was.
Still, he was in the home of distant relatives this time, people who knew him well and fully expected him to leave the majority of his household staff at home.
Lawrence Hanover was a second cousin to Charlotte’s father, or at least she thought he was. Either way, the men had been good friends and Lord Cunningham had readily accepted the invitation of a few days of sport, an event being largely arranged by Lawrence Hanover’s son, Hector.
Hector was a very pleasing, if rarely serious, man whom Charlotte had always liked. He was always amusing company and so lighthearted it was impossible to be in low spirits in his presence. Whilst there were few sports that Charlotte was particularly interested in, she was a good horsewoman and had been promised a little archery. All in all, she was looking forward to the gathering very much indeed.
“Oh yes, Miss,” Ruth said suddenly, clearly having just remembered something. “I have discovered the identity of the young man who stared at you so brazenly when we arrived.” She looked triumphant.
“Goodness me, you do not waste any time, Ruth.” Charlotte laughed and sat on the bed, patting hard upon the extraordinarily firm mattress to indicate her maid should sit next to her.
Ruth sat down with a bump and her eyes widened.
“You shall do well to have a good night’s sleep on this.” She laughed. “It’s a little…. Firm… is it not?”
“Lawrence Hanover likes to invest in things which last.”Charlotte grimaced as she bounced a little. “There’s not a lot of give, is there?”
“My mattress in the visiting servants’ quarters is more comfortable.” Ruth sat right next to her.
The two young woman had been together for years. Ruth Clarkin had come to Thurlow Manor, her father’s estate when she was just eleven and Charlotte thirteen.
Her father had decided out of the blue that his daughter would have her own maid and gave the reason that she was to be cossetted a little for having no mother living. Charlotte had been thrilled at first, thinking herself a little grand to enjoy such a consideration. But she soon forgot her little ideas of elevated status when the two of them got along better than sisters.
Ruth Clarkin was a fine young girl who had come to them from a local family and Charlotte, being at home and a little lonely much of the time, found herself turning to her new maid as a friend more than anything else.
And it was a relationship which had blossomed and gone from strength to strength ever since. Now that Charlotte was twenty and Ruth eighteen, they were closer than anyone knew. Charlotte often mused that she had friends in society whom she always regarded simply as acquaintances because she knew in her heart what a real friend was. She counted herself blessed, thinking how hard it must be for other young ladies who do not enjoy such closeness.
“I might have to swap places with you then. This is more an instrument of torture than a bed.” Charlotte gave Ruth’s arm a light and playful pinch. “Anyway, who was this Mr. Brazen you have already tracked down? I am keen to hear his name and see if I know it.” Charlotte’s eyes were wide with inquiry.
“He is Lord James Harrington.” Ruth said with a flourish, her eyebrows raised so high she looked a little startled.
“Lord James Harrington,” Charlotte repeated in a quiet voice, searching her mind for any reference. “No, I cannot place the name, although Harrington is familiar to me.”
“Well, it would be.” Ruth said and it was clear she knew exactly who the young man was and was relishing her moment.
When they had drawn up more than an hour before,at the front of Hanover House, it was to find themselves a part of a rather grand melee. There were carriages all over the place, and footmen racing about with bags and leather-bound traveling trunks.
Charlotte had peered out of the carriage window to secretly study some of the guests, looking for faces she recognized before getting out.
There were people she recognized by sight but had yet to be introduced to and she was pleased about that. She liked to meet new people and thought it was always fun to have conversations with others who were trying to be impressive. It amused her in a harmless sort of a way.
And the sport going on for a few days would mean that there would be time for her to see the mask of impression slip from one or two of them if she was lucky.
“Have you finished with your secret observations my dear? Can I get out of this carriage yet? I want to straighten my old bones.” He father said and Charlotte caught Ruth’s amused look.
“My Lord, we have been traveling only twenty minutes.” Ruth said brightly and Charlotte’s father laughed.
Ruth had a way with Lord Cunningham and was always able to convince him out of any tendency towards ill humor.
“Quite so, my dear Ruth. You are always here to bring me back down to earth, are you not?” He let himself out of the carriage and stretchedand straightened, just as promised.
The driver came around to help the ladies down, but Lord Cunningham released him so that he might deal with their luggage and helped Charlotte and Ruth down himself.
As soon as the ladies were out, Lord Cunningham wandered around to the back of the carriage to give the driver gentle instruction and advice that he truly did not need, but which he accepted with practiced grace.
Charlotte was about to make some humorous aside to Ruth when she suddenly became intensely aware that she was being studied herself.
She turned her head a little and found herself looking at a handsome man a few years her senior. He was exceptionally well groomed, with the neatest thick dark hair she had ever seen. He was very tall and built in a rather manly way, being broad and strong-looking.
Realizing that she had perceived his interest, Charlotte thought he would likely look away from her. However, he continued to stare in her direction and, after a moment or two, Charlotte found herself growing a little annoyed with his impertinence.
Ruth disappeared around the back of the carriage and Charlotte could hear her deftly intervening in the little conversation taking place there, seamlessly handling Lord Cunningham’s misguided attempts at assistance.
Charlotte, standing alone, turned so that she was square on to the persistent man. She thought that such an obvious display of displeasure on her part might go some way to dissuading him from his current occupation.
However, it did not. He continued to stare at her, only now he was smiling. Charlotte felt her mouth drop open just a little; the nerve of the man to stand and stare at her like that when she had made it plain she had seen him!
Charlotte had the most curious feeling as the two of them stood staring at one another, neither of them ready to give in and look away. It was as if they were suddenly in a silent world of their own, with people dashing this way and that, activity going on all around them, but they were both still. They remained almost as two points of reference; static hinges about which the rest of the world turned in its own bustling, noisy fashion. Yet still, their own silent and still world remained.
Charlotte, wanting to break the gaze, tipped her head a little to one side and raised her eyebrows at the man quizzically. She would have broken their stare herself, but she did not want to be the first to give in.
Something about it all had become a little competitive, and she had the sense of wanting this man to know he had already bitten off far more than he could chew in choosing to stare at her. Much better he stare at some other young lady; one who would blush and look away, only to peer back and see if the handsome man was still studying her.
Charlotte was most certainly not that sort of young lady, and she would have stamped on her own foot if her cheeks had dared to blush and let her down in such a way.
The man smiled wider still, and she felt a further stab of annoyance that it made him even more handsome. His skin was very tanned as if he spent much of his time out of doors, and his eyes were light, either green or blue, she could not quite tell from that distance.
His hair looked as if it was a little prematurely greying in parts, just here and there and predominately at the temples. She could not think he was older than thirty years, and perhaps he was not even that.
He wore a tan colored tailcoat over a dark brown waistcoat and breeches, and it was a shade which suited him very well. She could not help but think that a man who was so well proportioned must be a true delight to his tailor, for surely it was a much simpler thing to make such well-fitting clothes for a well-favored man.
It seemed to Charlotte that the more determined she became to hold his gaze and not look away, the more determined he became to do the same. She realized that, despite the fact that the man had started it all, she had taken her part very well and was likely now as guilty of such foolery as he was.
Charlotte became aware that Ruth had returned to her side, but her maid remained silent and it was clear that she too had perceived the man’s interest.
In the end, the man was forced to relent. Hector Hanover had clearly spotted him from a distance and was calling out to him in his customarily noisy fashion. The man, realizing he would have to concede victory, bowed deeply at Charlotte and smiled before turning to Hector and greeting him warmly.
“Well, I must say, what a brazen man,” Ruth whispered in her ear. “How long has he studied you like that?”
“For some minutes,” Charlotte said and, with an effort she had not expected, finally tore her own gaze away from him. “But I did not blush, nor did I give in.”
“That’s good, Miss. You taught him a lesson.” Ruth said with admiration.
“I am not so sure. I cannot escape the feeling that one would have to go a very long way to teach a man like that a lesson of any kind. I can quite imagine he is impervious to most lessons.”
“Handsome though.” Ruth added with a wicked chuckle.
“Yes, he is that, Ruth.” Charlotte bit her bottom lip in an attempt to shake herself out of the curious little spell she seemed to be under. “I shall take care not to find myself alone with him.” She laughed as Ruth sucked in her breath.
She had nearly, but not quite, forgotten about the little encounter as she had settled herself into the chamber allotted her by the Hanover family.
Now that Ruth had more details, however, Charlotte found herself interested to discover exactly who her staring opponent was.
“So, tell me, why would the name Harrington be familiar to me? Do not leave me hanging.” Charlotte said when Ruth had maintained an amused silence for quite long enough.
“Well, as I said, he is Lord James Harrington.” Ruth began a little grandly. “Son of Richard Harrington, the Duke of Sandford, no less!” Ruth finished with a flourish.
“The Duke of Sandford. Yes, that is how I know the name Harrington.” Charlotte said.
“Are you not impressed, Miss? The man who studied you is the son of a Duke. A man who would be Duke one day.” Ruth was clearly excited.
“Oh dear, I would rather he was not.” Charlotte said and Ruth gripped her hand.
“Because he will undoubtedly suffer from the sort of character which finds itself forever entitled. Men of such title, or who are one day to inherit such titles, are almost always the same. I find them rather tedious in their manners and their over-confidence always grates upon my nerves.”
“But this one studied you, Miss. Really studied you.”
“Yes, like a leaf under a microscope. Really, such scrutiny should only be used by scientists and botanists!” Charlotte said pettishly and Ruth burst into noisy laughter.
“Oh, you do make me laugh.” She said and her eyes shone with mirth. “Really, any other young lady in the county would be thrilled to be so looked upon by a handsome man who would one day be Duke.” Ruth caught her breath. “But not you. You are determined to pull him to pieces and decide his character before he has a chance to show it to you.”
“You may laugh, Ruth,” Charlotte said, laughing herself in what was always a contagious form of her maid’s high spirits. “But I think he already showed me enough of his character in that look of his.”
“By not looking away when I perceived his interest.”
“Then you wanted to beat him at his own game and you are annoyed that he did not readily give in to you.” Ruth was so amused that Charlotte could hardly wait for her next encounter with the impertinent Duke-in-waiting.
“Perhaps.” She said and grinned. “Let us see what else he has in his arsenal, shall we?”
“For his sake, I hope it is more than a hard stare.” Ruth said, and the two women began to laugh heartily.
“A Damsel for the Daring Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When James Harrington, heir to the Duchy of Sandford, goes to see an old friend in the east of the county, it is to do no more than escape his father’s constant interference in his life. The old Duke is determined that his son marry soon and marry a bride of his choosing. But when James meets the beautiful Miss Charlotte Cunningham, he knows that his few days away look set to complicate his life further still.
Charlotte Cunningham can hardly believe the audacity of the handsome man who stared at her so openly at Hanover Hall. And when she discovers he is the son of a Duke, she is no better impressed. But James Harrington is not a man to be put off, and he quickly sets about courting the bright young woman.
However, when the old Duke unearths a shocking secret, James knows that all his hope for happiness has gone. He is left with only one option – leave the woman he loves without explanation, or risk her discovering the truth and being ruined forever.
When the dust settles, and the years have passed, can James ever find a way back into the heart of the only woman he has ever loved? And can Charlotte ever forgive him and learn to trust him once again?
“A Damsel for the Daring Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.