The scowl on his father’s face told Edward that he was about to hear yet again all the reasons his father held against Edward enlisting to fight the French. Edward stood facing his father’s desk as his parent weighed things out. Surely the man must have believed if he could just come up with a good angle that Edward would overturn his illogical reasoning and give in. Edward sighed internally as his father eyed him discerningly.
Edward’s father, the Duke of Danborough, said with a great deal of restraint, “I understand the fire in a young man’s belly to prove himself, Edward, but you must think of your inheritance. What will become of the family line if you die?”
“Father, I am not having this discussion again,” Edward said firmly as he clasped his hands behind his back. He relented a bit at the look in his father’s eyes and added quietly, “I shall not die, and if such a thing should come to pass, then there are other relatives, surely.”
The Duke grumbled as he tapped the desk in front of him, “I suppose that makes it alright then. Some nameless person who has no idea of our family history getting the Duchy would suit you well, would it?”
“Of course not, Father,” Edward said. “Look, I am not doing this out of spite. I will do my heritage proud, but I would like to see the world first. I want to do some good.”
The scowl was back in full force again on the Duke’s face. “What of Miss Daventry? Do you think that I have been passed out in my cups for these past few years? You will break that poor girl’s heart if you go running off to war after those friends of yours.”
“I will speak to her,” Edward said earnestly. “She knows that we have been speaking of it for a long while now. I bet by this time next year we will be back and home safe. She worries too much, and so do you, Father.”
The Duke’s face softened. He whispered, “To have that bluster and clarity of mind that comes with youth once more.” The Duke sighed and spoke up, “Perhaps I do worry, Edward. This whole war does not like me very much. The way the noblemen and gentlemen take to it with such zeal you would think they were headed off under the herald of the Lionheart himself.”
“I will come home,” Edward said again. He hoped he could derail his father going off on one of the man’s tirades about the war’s impact and growing unrest and how the conflict had hurt the trade markets.
Nodding his head, the Duke said, “I believe you. I just worry. A father can worry, Edward. Your mother is gone, and I am the only one left to worry. She would rise up out of her grave and haunt me most horribly if I did not.”
“I am sure that if anyone could, then Mama would, Father,” Edward said with a smile. His mother had passed a few years back of a sickness that had come on so suddenly that they hardly had time to say goodbye. His mother had always been a comforting woman, but she had never travelled further than London while raising Edward and tending to the household’s needs. Edward often thought of what it must have been like for his mother. “I think Mama would want me to go out into the world, Father,” Edward said. He felt guilty for using his mother’s name to persuade his father, but it was also true.
The Duke huffed. “Travelling the world is a bit different than going off to war, Edward.”
“I know,” Edward said with a nod. “I am going, Father. You can remain against it if you wish, but it will not change my mind.”
Edward watched his father take a deep breath in then let it out slowly as if calming himself. The Duke’s neatly tied back hair moved slightly as the man dipped his head forward as if accepting his son’s words. The Duke said softly, “You have always had your mother’s stubbornness.” He hummed in dissatisfaction. “Knowing that you will not win and knowing how to lose well is something that every gentleman must learn. I learned it a long time ago, and I am going use that skill now.”
“So you are going to assent to me going?” Edward asked cautiously.
The Duke snorted and eyed his son with a slight smile. “I do not think that assent is the word I would use, but I do accept that you are set on going.”
Edward nodded slowly. “I understand,” Edward said. He looked down at his boots for a moment and then back up at his father. “I had better go and meet up with the boys.”
“I will do my best to watch out for Miss Daventry,” the Duke said as he nodded back at his son. “Go on and meet those ruffians that you call friends. I swear they are a bad influence on you sometimes.”
Edward chuckled as he turned to leave. He walked to the door but stopped with his hand on the doorknob. Edward looked back over at his father. “You might be right about that, Father. Maybe, just maybe, I can be a good influence on them. I think James might need it.”
“You just watch out for yourself, Edward. It is noble to want to better others. Just be aware that those same others have a way of bringing us down in the ditches with them instead of us lifting them out.” The Duke spoke with a warning tone as he eyed his son intently.
Edward nodded slowly. “I remember that sermon from church quite well. Do not worry yourself, Father. I am solid and unwavering as they come. I just hope I make you proud.”
The Duke shook his head at his son. He spoke quietly, “You have always made me proud, Edward.”
Emily Daventry stood stalwart in her promise to herself that she would remain unflustered by Edward’s appeal to her that she meet with him before he disembarked on his great adventure. She drew in a calming breath of the chilly November air. The footsteps behind her made her heart leap against her ribcage with such noise she thought that surely her calm visage would fool no one.
“Miss,” a female voice called softly behind Emily. When Emily turned, she saw Rosa, one of the household maids, waiting patiently. Rosa ducked her head. “Begging your pardon, Miss Emily, but I was sent to tell you that Lord Dalton is here to call upon you.”
Emily nodded as she cleared her throat, replying as she fought to keep the emotion out of her voice, “Please have him shown to the East garden pavilion, Rosa. I will entertain him there.” Rosa nodded, but Emily was sure her voice had been too tight, too strained. When Rosa was gone, Emily drew herself up. She muttered to herself, “Calm down. Is this really how I want Edward to remember me?”
She finally managed to regain her composure and practiced keeping her face placid as she walked along the path that circled the manor house toward the East garden. When she reached the East garden, she found their butler Tomlin waiting near the roses. “Do you wish me to be with you at the pavilion, Miss?”
“Heaven, no,” Emily said with a shake of her head. “It is just Edward. I promise to call out if I need you.”
The man nodded his head and escorted Emily to the pavilion which was up around the next bend of the path. Emily gave the man a smile as she turned to go to the pavilion. Tomlin returned the smile with a pat on Emily’s shoulder before he distanced himself a little to give them privacy. Emily was grateful for the show of support, even if her mother would have frowned upon such things from the help. Tomlin had been with their family for so long that Emily just considered him family as well.
Inside the pavilion, Edward rose from the bench he had been sitting on and smoothed down his jacket even if it did not appear creased. “Miss Daventry,” Edward said in a far too formal tone for Emily’s liking.
She decided to return the favour and be formal as well. “Lord Dalton, I am glad that you chose to come to see me before you left,” Emily said as she crossed to a seat far enough away to make it clear that she was choosing to be away from him not the other way around. She sat down daintily and tried her best to ignore the flutter in her stomach that threatened to upset her lunch.
Edward frowned and moved to a seat closer to Emily. He sank down on the bench with an easy grace that Emily had always admired. He looked worried, Emily decided. The idea of Edward Dalton being ill at ease pleased Emily far more than it should have.
“I know that I should have come to see you before now,” Edward said quietly.
Emily intervened before he could continue onto whatever trite excuse he was about to give. “You should have,” Emily agreed as she eyed the man with a frown on her face. “I have made my peace with finding out second-hand that you are abandoning me.”
“I would never abandon you,” Edward protested. “This is just something that I feel I have to do.”
Emily scoffed, “And if James and the others were not going, would you still be eager to trot off to war?”
Edward was silent for a moment before he said softly, “I am sorry that I have slighted you, Emily. I never intended to. I just did not know how to say that I was leaving.”
“One generally just states the fact that they are leaving, Edward,” Emily said as she folded her hands in her lap. “I fail to see how that particular point could be so difficult for you.”
The man fingered the hat he held in his hands with nervousness that Emily had never seen in Edward before. She watched the man intently. His eyes were cast downward. When he looked back up, Emily saw that his eyes shone with what she would have sworn were tears.
Edward spoke tightly. “It is not the words that stopped me. It was the look I knew I would see on your face; the one I see now.”
“Is that supposed to make me contrite?” Emily asked the question more to buoy her own flagging courage than to scold Edward. The sadness on the man’s face was making it harder for her to keep her visage from showing her own sadness at the situation. She would not let Edward Dalton make her cry, though. He was leaving her, and she was angry with him, Emily reminded herself.
Edward shook his head. “No,” he said honestly. “I merely doubted I could face it.”
“Why is that?” Emily asked curiously.
Emily watched Edward intently as the man seemed to be struggling to find words. His fashionable coat hugged his shoulders, and Emily could see the movement as Edward’s shoulders slumped slightly downward. Edward said, “I knew that I would see anger and pain. It hurts to know that I have caused you such pain.”
“I am sure it does not hurt enough to make you reconsider,” Emily said softly as she looked at her hands in her lap.
Emily heard Edward move, but she did not look up. She did not trust herself to look at the man. The emotions she had pushed down were close to overflowing, and Emily did not want Edward to see that.
He knelt in front of her. His hands reached out to cover her hands in an embrace that begged her to look at him. Emily gathered her courage and looked up into Edward’s eyes. She whispered, “All at once my childhood friends leave without me. It is a hard blow, Edward. Not only do I lose the people I grew up with, but I lose the man I love.” She took a deep breath. “What of us, Edward?”
Edward gave her hands a squeeze. “I am not gone forever. Do not mourn me before I am dead.” He lifted her left hand and clasped it between his larger hands as he looked into her eyes. “I will not only come back safely but a war hero, your war hero.”
“I do not need a war hero, Edward,” Emily said with a shake of her head. She tugged her hand as if to pull it away but found Edward refused to relinquish it. “Unhand me.”
Edward said defiantly, “Never. I shall never let you go until you promise me that you will be waiting when I return.”
“That is not fair, Edward,” Emily said with a frown. “Saying such things …” Her voice trailed off, and she looked away from the man. “I shall refrain from speaking of it and make you stay.”
There was a chuckle from Edward. “That is the Emily that I know and hopefully the one that shall be my bride when I return triumphantly.”
Emily looked at Edward, her eyes wide. “What did you just say?”
“I simply asked if you would marry me upon my return,” Edward said with a smile.
Emily’s mouth opened, and then she snapped it shut. She shook her head. “That is not fair of you, Edward.”
“Life is generally not very fair according to my father,” Edward said. “Please tell me you will wait for me.” He said the last part with such earnestness that Emily felt the barrier of restraint she had so carefully built up crumble and fall away.
Emily nodded, for words failed her at the moment. Tears welled up in her eyes as she fought to speak. “Of course I will wait for you, Edward. When have I not waited for you?”
“For all the pain I have caused you, I hope you can forgive me, Emily,” Edward said as he gave her hand a squeeze. “Once I return, I shall spend the rest of my days seeking nothing but to make you the happiest woman in the world.”
Emily smiled sadly at the man. She would give anything to make him stay, but she saw that Edward had set his mind to go. Once Edward Dalton set his mind to something, well, there was no talking him out of it. Emily sighed. “Return safely to me, and I shall already be the happiest woman ever to walk this Earth.”
Edward smiled back at Emily. He reached up and brushed a fingertip lightly across her cheek. It was such an intimate gesture that Emily felt a flush of heat to her face. She cleared her throat and freed herself from Edward’s other hand that still held her own hand prisoner.
Emily reached up and took off the necklace that she often wore. It was a simple silver chain and locket that had been given to her many years ago by her mother. “Take this,” Emily said as she held the locket out to Edward. “Take it to remember me while you are gone.”
“Like a knight-errant with his lady’s favour,” Edward said with a wry smile as he took the locket, “I do not need a locket to remember you, Emily, but I will keep it near my heart always.”
Emily shook her head at the man, her heart full of her love for him and also aching for the loss of him. “Favours are really more for the one giving them rather than the ones receiving,” she said simply.
Edward stood up, and Emily stood with him. She put her hand gently on his arm, and Edward watched her with eyes that seemed to be searching for something. Emily stilled as Edward leaned over to brush his lips against hers. It was the lightest of touches and lasted such a brief moment. Yet, the touch left Emily’s head awhirl with thoughts and her heart with feelings.
“I should go,” Edward said softly as if he were out of breath. But how could he be? Emily pondered the thought then realized Edward was leaving.
All at once, Emily grabbed the man’s coat much as she had when they were children. “Come back to me,” Emily said. She was unaware of whether she was begging him to come back to her in that instant or telling him to come back from the war safely. She just knew that she wanted Edward to return.
Edward gave her a smile that was as dashing as its owner. “I promise,” Edward said, and then the man was gone. Emily felt like running after him but restrained herself. She would not be one of those women who flailed around the floor and screamed as if they were being tortured. No, she would be the woman her mother had raised and not embarrass her family even if she felt like she would die as she sat down again heavily on the wooden bench behind her.
Edward despised himself deep down for leaving Emily upset, but he had to remain focused. He had to go and meet the boys soon. It would do him little good to be wet around the eyes when he saw them. They would give him no quarter with their sharp tongues if they perceived his softness on the matter.
The wind outside swept across the English countryside bringing with it the smells of wood smoke and the sweet, fermented smell of leaves decaying underfoot. Edward wondered what would await him in France and how long it would be before he smelled the sweet air as he walked up those steps again. Edward’s eyes glanced back at the house with its large stone steps.
The doorman gave Edward a nod which Edward returned. He must look frightfully silly dallying around in the driveway. Edward took a deep breath and hoisted himself astride his horse. He clicked his tongue and gave the horse a gentle nudge with his boot to set the stallion to trotting. It was not far from here to London, but he still would need to make good time not to be late.
The countryside going by along the roadside lulled Edward into a stupor, allowing his thoughts to wander. Soon 1812 would be at an end. The New Year would find Edward and his fellows in France. The thought of what that might mean more than anything sent a shiver down Edward’s spine that he would never admit was there.
A carriage coming along the road toward Edward slowed to allow him to maneuver around them on the country lane. Edward recognized it at once and gave the driver a friendly lift of his hand which the man returned with a smile. As Edward came alongside the carriage, he heard a familiar baritone voice.
“Lord Dalton, I would have thought you were readying to embark upon your hero’s journey,” Sir Daventry said with an amused smile. Edward pulled up on the reins and brought the horse to a stop as Sir Daventry spoke. Sir Daventry looked over towards his home and then asked, “Have you been to call upon my daughter then?”
Edward dipped his head. “Yes, Sir,” Edward said respectfully. Sir Daventry, Emily’s father, always seemed to have a smile upon his lips. It was a peculiar trait of the man that Edward both admired and was amused by.
“I trust care was taken,” Sir Daventry said. The look the man gave Edward held a protectiveness that Edward did not often see from the man.
Edward patted the horse’s shoulder to calm him as the horse grew restless. He assured Sir Daventry, “I was a gentleman.” Edward cleared his throat and said, “I fear she is upset with me still.”
Sir Daventry sighed and leaned back in his carriage seat. “My daughter is a stubborn one sometimes, but she loves you dearly. That much I do know.”
“And I love her,” Edward said with a sad smile. “I asked for her hand.”
Sir Daventry’s smile grew wider. “About time that you did,” the man said with a chuckle. “Be safe, Lord Dalton. We all expect you home.”
“I shall do my best, Sir,” Edward said earnestly.
James Winchester, son of the Earl of Hanley, leaned against the stone wall that bordered the garden. He had come to call on Emily before he met up with the others, but apparently, Edward had beaten James to it. A frown settled on James’ face as he watched Emily sit down in the pavilion again.
If she had just looked a bit to her left, she might have even spied James beside the gate, but Emily never really saw James. They had all grown up together, James, Emily, Edward, and their other friends. Yet, Emily had only had eyes for Edward.
James turned and went to get his horse from where he had left it. Part of him had hoped that Edward might stay home, even if he did not wish the man any closer to Emily. The very idea that Edward might show a bit of cowardice set James’ course. Yet, Edward had not even flinched at the idea of leaving Emily.
There had been some hope that Emily might see Edward as James saw him finally. Yet, there the fool girl was promising herself to Edward. James scowled as he pulled himself up into the saddle. He patted the brown mare as he thought to himself that at least now there was a chance that perhaps Edward would die in the war. Surely Emily could not prefer a dead man over James, after all.
He had only ridden a short piece when he ran into Oscar Turlington, one of their group of friends. “Ah,” Oscar called as he rode up to James, “I see that I am not the only one running behind.”
“Yes, I went by to give my regards to Emily, but found her otherwise engaged and thought better of it,” James said as he eyed Oscar’s coat. “Are those stripes?”
Oscar looked down at his overcoat and shrugged. “I suppose they might be,” Oscar said in amusement. “What do you have on yours? Ruffles?”
James chuckled. “And petticoats aplenty,” he said with a smile. “I am glad you are going, Oscar. I would hate to think that I was stuck on this adventure with just Edward and Augustus.”
“That would be a horrid fate,” Oscar agreed. “Augustus is a good enough chap; he just tries a bit too hard.”
James nodded. “Yes, and Edward is a fine fellow; he just cannot see past his highbrow to see how the world really is.”
“Bet he will get quite a shock when he realizes that his titles here will mean precious little there,” Oscar said.
They rode along in companionable silence. James looked over at Oscar, and he saw a bit of worry in the man’s face. “What troubles you, Oscar?”
“We are going off to war, James. What does not trouble you about that?” Oscar looked over at James, and James could see the apprehension fully displayed on Oscar’s face.
James nodded. “I suppose that I do not mind leaving home. My father certainly did not mind when I told him I was going,” James said sourly. “Got everything squared with your father then?”
“Oh yes,” Oscar said with a nod. “He is rather proud of me for choosing to enlist even though we cannot afford a commission.”
James said with a grin, “You have myself and Edward to look after you, though. We will do our best to see that you are treated fairly.”
“A couple of fine captains looking out for my well-being,” Oscar said with a light laugh. “I feel as well kept as a mistress in the padded bedroom of a diplomat.”
The two of them enjoyed a laugh and then lapsed into silence as they rode onward towards London. Despite what James had said to Oscar, there was a ball of lead in James’ stomach at the thought of going to war. To actually kill or die was one thing to read about, but quite another to experience. They were not knights of old, and the enemy would not have mere swords.
“Thought I was going to be here by my lonesome,” Augustus Milford said with what sounded like relief as James and Oscar came into the tavern where they had agreed to meet and share a drink before going to meet their collective fate.
Oscar chortled with laughter. “I do believe Augustus is afraid to be alone.”
“Much like how he used to hide behind his mother’s skirts when we played as children,” James said as he pulled out a wooden chair and sat down at Augustus’ table.
Augustus did not look well-pleased to have such things brought up. The man shook his head. “Shall I never outlive that youthful folly?”
“No one ever outlives anything,” James reminded Augustus.
Oscar agreed, “Right. Like James here, he will probably die of the bottle or women.”
“Too right,” Augustus said as he lifted his mug of beer in a salute.
James chuckled good-naturedly. Let them take their sport of him; he knew he was their better. “Careful boys, or I might not bring you along on those sordid adventures.”
“Or invite us to those lovely society gatherings that we otherwise could not procure invitations to,” Oscar said with a grin. “Such lovely ladies at those society doings.”
“Now that I will toast,” Augustus said with an earnest fervour.
James leaned back in his chair. “Speaking of toasts, we seem to be lacking in service.” James looked around and saw a slip of a girl setting a drink down on a table nearby. “Darling,” James called coaxingly. He put on his best smile as the girl looked over at him warily. “Could we get something to drink before we dry up and blow away?”
“I suppose you can,” the girl said with a soft, lilting accent that James thought was probably Irish.
After the girl had left, James said to his fellows, “A sweet Irish lass, gentlemen.”
“You will not be making her an Irish beauty, James,” Augustus said as he raised his mug back to his lips. “She seems a decent little lass.”
James pursed out his lips and sighed. “I have but a few hours before I am shipped off to fight, and you will not even indulge me this one small thing, Augustus?”
Oscar stretched out his legs and groaned, “My legs are sore.”
“Oh, you will make a fine soldier,” James teased.
Oscar scowled. “I never said I was made for such things. Yet, if it will make my father proud, then I will do it.”
“My father wants me to look around for trade while I am fighting,” August scoffed. He looked over at James. “You reckon Edward is coming? He is awfully late.”
James nodded and frowned. “He will come.”
“Seems as if you would like it better if he did not come at all,” Augustus said.
James opened his mouth to speak but spotted the barmaid making her way over to them with two mugs for himself and Oscar. She approached the table with a wary smile and placed the mugs down gingerly. “Your drinks, gentlemen,” she said.
“What is your name?” James asked before the girl could leave.
The barmaid shook her head as she held the tray under one arm. “I thought you might be the rogue of the group,” she said with a knowing glint in her eyes. “My name is Rosalyn, and what might your name be?”
James grinned. “She has cheek this one.”
The girl raised an eyebrow at James. “You can ask my name, but I cannot ask yours? Have I offended my betters then?”
James was quite amused by the girl, and he shrugged. “I am James,” he said.
“Oi, just James then?” the barmaid asked. “Thought you might be a Lord. I am terribly disappointed.”
Augustus chuckled and patted the table with his hand. “Oh he is a Lord, but we are all off to battle soon.”
The girl looked over at James curiously. “Is that so, Your Lordship?”
“It is,” James said with false humility.
Rosalyn smiled at the man. “Are you to fight at sea or in France?”
“France,” James said with a shrug.
Rosalyn seemed intrigued now. The older man behind the counter eyed the barmaid with a frown, but James looked over at the man. He quickly went back to scrubbing the counter. James smiled at the girl.
“Better be careful, the navy might just impress you into service,” Rosalyn said lightly.
James chuckled. “That is the way the Americans would have everyone see it.” He shook his head. “We are more concerned with fighting Napoleon than the dull Americans.”
“He is a frightful one,” the girl said with a frown.
James assured her, “We will do our best.”
“Is there anything I can do to help your journey?” Rosalyn asked the question with a smile.
James looked over at Oscar and Augustus who were watching him intently. James conceded with a nod. “There might be.” He stood up, and the girl gave him a slight tilt of her head to tell James to follow her. “Await my return, boys,” James said to Oscar and Augustus. “Do not let Edward wax on too long about Emily when he gets here. He might just lose his nerve.”
“We will set the man straight,” Oscar assured James.
James nodded with a smile and followed the slim Irish girl to the stairs that led upstairs to a set of rooms that they boarded out. He glanced around at Oscar and Augustus who still looked after James in disbelief. James chuckled to himself and turned his attention squarely back on the beauty leading him up the stairs.
When Edward finally arrived at the tavern where he had agreed to meet Augustus, Oscar, and James, he stood outside the door for a long moment. Part of him wanted to just return home, but his honour would not let him. It would do little good to delay the inevitable. Yet, Edward stood and stared at that wooden door as if it would carry him to another time and place, a fate filled with sorrow, and he chided himself for the fanciful thought.
Edward opened the heavy door and squinted a bit as his eyes adjusted. He spied Augustus and Oscar at a table. He lifted his hand and walked over to them. “Fine day to head to war, chaps?” Edward asked with a measure of bravado that he did not feel deep in his bones.
“Oh yes,” Oscar agreed with a nod of his head. “Come and have a drink with us.”
Edward frowned as he sat down. “Not fond of the idea of travelling while deep in my cups,” he said honestly.
“You will die of thirst if you do not drink something,” Augustus said in mimicry of a motherly tone.
Edward snorted with laughter. “Thank you kindly, Madam, for your concern.” They all laughed, and Edward relented. “I think I will have some beer. It would be better not to have my throat cracked with dust.”
“May have to go to the bar,” Oscar said with a grin. “I fear James has the barmaid a bit busy.”
Edward scowled. “Does he really think that appropriate at a time like this?”
“Hardly any better time than this to have a bit of fun,” Augustus said with a shrug.
Oscar chimed in, “I do believe the Reverend Dalton is about to admonish us for our sins.”
Edward shook his head. Oscar and Augustus were good at heart, but too easily swayed by the illusion of glittering gold that made the aristocracy look so appealing. Edward could not convince them that the upper crust was filled with empty chatter and eager ears.
“He can do as he wishes; I just think it ill-timing,” Edward said to dismiss the matter. He stood up and went to the bar.
The bartender looked up at him with a smile. “What can I get you, Your Lordship?”
“Just a beer,” Edward said amicably. “Charles, was it?”
The man bobbed his head up and down as he fetched Edward’s drink. “It is indeed. I am most honoured that you remembered from the last time we spoke.”
“As good a beer as this deserves to be remembered, along with the person who bestowed it upon me,” Edward said with a smile as he paid the man for the beer.
Charles, the bartender, gladly took the money as he deposited the mug of beer in front of the nobleman. “Always a pleasure,” Charles said as he went back to scrubbing.
Edward made his way back to the table with his mug of beer. He sat down, took a sip, and made an appreciative sound. “That does feel better,” Edward said.
“Hits the spot,” Augustus agreed.
James groaned inwardly when he came down the stairs to find Edward nursing his beer. Oscar looked over the top of Edward’s head and grinned at James. James put on a grin of his own as he approached the table and slapped Edward on the back.
“Good of you to join us, Edward,” James said with forced humour.
Edward looked around at James and said, “Nice of you to join us as well.”
“Now, now, Cousin Dear,” James said with a cluck of his tongue. “Do not be so austere. You will never find a good husband that way.”
Oscar bellowed with laughter as Edward frowned at James. Oscar said, “Men like an agreeable lass.” Oscar nudged Edward a bit too hard with his elbow, and James was amused at the way Edward jostled a bit to the side while hastily putting his beer down.
“Now see here, Oscar,” Edward chastised.
Oscar slapped the table. “Sorry,” he said with a chortle of laughter. “I guess that I did not really need that last beer.” The man’s words slurred together somewhat, and James shook his head at him.
James leaned on the back of his own chair for a moment as he eyed Edward. When the moment passed, James sat down heavily on his chair. He took a large gulp of the beer he had left earlier to go off with Rosalyn. James savored the feel of the liquid on his throat after his exertions.
“I trust you have spent all your restless energy and now can focus on the journey ahead of us?” Edward asked James. Augustus turned towards James as if he too were eager to hear James’ answer.
James nodded. “Ready as the rain,” he quipped back at Edward. Although he and Edward were the farthest of cousins, they had always given each other a bit of ribbing about it. While Edward’s father was a Duke, James’ father was an Earl. Edward did not have to say that his father was better than James’ father. James saw it in everything that Edward did.
Edward was eyeing James curiously, but James looked over at Augustus who was still looking at James. Augustus asked, “What of the lass?”
“What of her?” James asked. He knew that Augustus was after details, but James was not in the mood for retelling any devious deeds at the moment.
Augustus frowned. “You were nice to the lass, were you not? She seemed like a lovely girl.”
“You seem very fond of the girl,” James noted. “Even going so far as to warn me off when I asked after her. Do you fancy her a bit then?”
Augustus waved off the idea. “I just know how you can sometimes be. She seemed amicable enough to me. It is not like you forced her hand.”
“I do believe that Gustus just called me something vile,” James said with a chortle of laughter.
Oscar grinned. “He is just a bit jealous, is all.”
“I would think that you all would be thinking about what we are about to do, rather than some barmaid,” Edward said disparagingly.
Oscar frowned at his friend, but it was James who spoke up. “Perhaps that is the whole reason to talk more of barmaids. We are all just into our nineteenth years in this world, Edward. I think we can be allowed a bit of jest to calm our nerves.”
“Of course,” Edward said softly. “I did not mean that you should not—forgive me. I am just still thinking of Emily.”
Augustus asked, “Did she not take it well?”
“Not well at all,” Edward said softly. “I asked her to marry me when I return.” Edward clasped his hands around his mug of beer and looked up at Augustus who slapped him on the shoulder.
Augustus said jokingly, “Let me guess, she turned you away.”
“She actually accepted,” Edward said as he furrowed his eyebrows. “Leaving her this way seems callous.”
Augustus shouted with merriment, “You should be celebrating! Emily is a fine young lady. She will wait for you.”
“Indeed! Congratulations,” Oscar said as he reached over to place his own slap on Edward’s other shoulder.
James alone remained silent. He had not needed Edward’s haphazard announcement. James had seen the proposal first-hand, not that Edward knew that. He also had no interest in celebrating such a heinous thing as Emily marrying Edward.
“Don’t you think, James?” Augustus asked, and James looked at him in confusion. Clearly, the man had been talking to him, but James had been lost in thought. Augustus clarified, “Do you not think that Edward will make a fine officer?”
James nodded slowly. “Yes, I think he will,” James said and wished that he did not think so. It was the truth, though. Edward had a way about him that was calm and reasonable which to many was the mark of a leader. James knew that he would show them all that he was the one that really was the true leader. Oscar and Augustus followed his words well enough, and why should not others? James smiled at Edward. “Worry not. You will come home a war hero,” James said as he raised his glass.
Oscar and Augustus quickly joined James in the toast and drank merrily after. Edward’s eyes, however, stayed on James. James met Edward’s eyes and gave the man a dip of his head and a smile. He did not even care if Edward saw the malice behind the words. What could he do now that they were all headed off to fight?
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When Edward decided to join the army with his friends and set off to war, he had no idea what a journey awaited him. His only company being his love’s medallion, he found himself trapped in a long adventure filled with betrayal and deceit. Lost and exiled, Edward can think of nothing but Emily and her enduring faithfulness to get him through. Will he ever find his way back to his home and to the heart of the woman he left behind?
Emily Daventry watched her friends and her love of her life march for war with a heavy heart. The only thing she could cling to was that one day Edward would come back for her. She had to wait, no matter what. When dreadful news comes that Edward was killed during the war, Emily vows to seal her heart and never love again. But with her love gone and her family in need of saving, will Emily stay true to her promise?
With Edward seeking revenge, feeling that all his life was a lie, and Emily unwillingly settling in an arrangement she would never expect, will love give them a second chance? Life has been unfair to them, but will they find the courage to face the hard truth and start over?
“The Revenge of the Betrayed Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.