Lady Eve's Indiscretion

The Duke's Daughters - 4


Grace Burrowes

This book is dedicated to my beloved daughter, who has taught me more about love, and more about getting back on the horse, than anyone else in my life. Heather, being your mom is and ever shall be my greatest privilege and my greatest joy.


“What you seek to accomplish, my lord, is arguably impossible.”

Earnest Hooker shuffled files while he sat in judgment of the Marquis of Deene’s aspirations. When the ensuing silence stretched more than a few moments, the solicitor readjusted his neck cloth, cleared his throat, and shifted his inkwell one inch closer to the edge of the blotter centered on his gargantuan desk.

Two of his minions watched the client—whom they no doubt expected to rant and throw things in the grand family tradition—from a careful distance.

Lucas Denning, newly minted Marquis of Deene, took out the gold watch Marie had given him when he’d come down from university. The thing had stopped for lack of timely winding, but Deene made it a point to stare at his timepiece before speaking.

“Impossible, Hooker? I’m curious as to the motivation for such hyperbole from a man of the law.”

One clerk glanced nervously at the other when Hooker stopped fussing with his files.

“My lord, you cannot mean to deprive a man of the company of his legitimate offspring.” Hooker’s pudgy, lily-white hands continued to fiddle with the accoutrements of his trade. “We’re discussing a girl child, true, but one in her father’s possession in even the simplest sense. The courts do not exist to satisfy anybody’s whims, and you can’t expect them to pluck that child from her father’s care and place her in… in yours. You have no children of your own, my lord, no wife, no experience raising children, and you’ve yet to see to your own succession. Even were the man demented, the courts would likely consider other possibilities before placing the girl in your care.”

Deene snapped the watch shut. “I heard her mother’s dying wishes. That should count for something. Wellington wrote me up in the dispatches often enough.”

One of the other men came forward, a prissier, desiccated version of Hooker, with fewer chins and less hair.

“My lord, do you proceed on dying declarations alone, that will land you in Chancery, where you’ll be lucky to have the case heard before the girl reaches her majority. And endorsements of a man’s wartime abilities by the Iron Duke are all well and good, but consider that raising children, most especially young girl children, should not have much in common with battling the Corsican.”

An insult lurked in that soft reply, but truth as well. Every street sweeper in London knew the futility of resorting to the Court of Chancery. The clerk had not exaggerated about the delays and idiosyncrasies of that institution.

“I’m sorry, my lord.” Hooker rose, while Deene remained seated. “We look forward to serving the marquessate in all of its legal undertakings, but in this, I’m afraid, we cannot honestly advise you to proceed.”

Deene got to his feet, taking small satisfaction from being able to look down his nose, quite literally, at the useless ciphers whose families he kept housed and fed. “Draw up the pleadings anyway.”

He stalked out of the room, the urge to destroy something, to pitch Hooker’s idiot files into the fire, to snatch up the fireplace poker and lay about with it, nigh overcoming his self-discipline.

“My lord?”

The third man had the temerity to follow Deene from the room, which was going to serve as a wonderful excuse for Deene’s long-denied display of frustration—a marquis did not have tantrums —when Deene realized the man was carrying a pair of well-made leather gloves.

“My thanks.” Deene snatched the gloves from the man’s hand, but to his consternation, the fellow held onto the gloves for a bit, making for a short tug-of-war.

“If your lordship has one more moment?”

The clerk let the gloves go. The exchange had been bizarre enough to penetrate Deene’s ire, mostly because, between Hooker & Sons and the Marquis of Deene, obsequies were the order of the day and had been for generations.

“Speak.” Deene pulled on a glove. “You’re obviously ready to burst with some crumb of legal wisdom your confreres were not inclined to share.”

“Not legal wisdom, my lord.” The man glanced over his shoulder at the closed door behind them. “Simple common sense. You’ll not be able to wrest the girl from her father through litigious means, but there are other ways.”

Yes, there were. Most of them illegal, dangerous, and unethical—but tempting.

Deene yanked on the second glove. “If I provoke him to a duel, Dolan stands an even chance of putting out my lights, sir, a consummation my cousin and sole heir claims would serve him very ill. I doubt I’d enjoy it myself.”

This fellow was considerably younger than the other two, with an underfed, scholarly air about him and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses gracing his nose. The man drew himself up as if preparing for oral argument.

“I do not advocate murder, my lord, but every man, every person, has considerations motivating them. The girl’s father is noted to be mindful of his social standing and his wealth.”

Vulgarly so. “Your point?”

“If you offer him something he wants more than he wants to torment you over the girl, he might part with her. The problem isn’t legal. The solution might not be legal either.”

If there was sense in what the young man was saying, Deene was too angry to parse it out.

“My thanks. I will consider the not legal alternatives, as you suggest. Good day.”

“My lord, that wasn’t what I meant—”

Deene was down the stairs and out the door before the idiot could finish his sentence. Fortunately for all in Deene’s path, his coachman was just bringing the horses around the corner at a sedate walk. Deene climbed in before the vehicle even stopped moving.

Anthony Denning folded down his edition of the Times, his expression impassive. “Any luck with your pet weasels?”

Deene appropriated the spot beside him, since Anthony was on the forward-facing seat. “They were waiting for me to lay waste to the office from the moment I arrived.”

“Uncle once said that was the best way to get their attention.”

Deene stared out the window, knowing Anthony was simply trying to make conversation. “His tempers were just another way for him to feel powerful while incurring ridiculous costs and earning a reputation as a dangerous lunatic.”

Anthony set the paper aside as Deene banged twice on the roof quite stoutly. The horses moved up to the trot only to come back to the walk two blocks later.

“I should have ridden.”

“You should have let me accompany you,” Anthony said. He had the knack of sounding not like he was scolding, which he was, but like he was saddened to have been denied an opportunity to serve.

“You’ll make a lousy marquis when Dolan douses my lights, Anthony. I appreciate the support, but my problems with Dolan are personal.”

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