The Duke of Murnane moved with ease in the highest circles. Few people set Charles off his confidence. The Duchess of Haverford was one of them. Standing now, hat in hand, in the anteroom to her inner sanctum while her bespectacled assistant announced his presence, he almost succumbed to the temptation to bolt for the door.
He had only come to town because his vote on one of the reform bills had been deemed vital, a vote that went against Haverford’s firmly held beliefs—the duke’s that is, not his lady wife’s. He intended to return to Eversham Hall as swiftly as he could, but he still had matters to attend to on behalf of his cousin’s… He had no words for what Clare Armbruster meant to his cousin since the two of them seemed intent on pretending their connection was entirely business. This summons had been inconvenient at best.
“The duchess will greet you, now,” the assistant said, her voice from the doorway pitched so low he almost missed it.
The lady smiled from her place on a gilt brocade settee. Without appearing to do anything so tasteless as “holding court,” she managed to reflect power wrapped in compassion. It was the latter that made his knees wobble.
“Charles,” she beamed at him when he bowed over her hand. “Thank you for find a moment for me.”
He took the delicate porcelain teacup she offered. What choice did he have? When she offered, he took a lemon cake as well, a small masterpiece from the Haverford kitchens.
“Tell me the final tally. Did the reform pass?”
“Just.” Had she asked him here to discuss politics? She must have better sources, he thought. “Two votes. Mine wasn’t strictly necessary as it turned out, but it might have been. Haverford will not be pleased,” he grinned, amusement getting the better of him.
“The duke is rarely pleased,” she replied tartly. “You’ve been in the country for weeks this time. We’ve missed you in London. Is it Lord Jonathon ‘s condition that keeps you away?”
The duke’s son suffered from a weakness of the heart. Episodes in which his lungs filled with fluid occurred periodically, coming more frequently this past year. He took a shuddering breath. “You know me well. Yes, Jonny has been failing. He rallied this week, however, and there are others to care for him while I’m gone”
“Forgive me for intruding Charles, but it is Lord Jonathon’s health that concerns me. He is your only heir, is he not?”
“Of course I have only one heir, Your Grace.” Unease prickled up the back of his neck.
She waved an irritated hand. “Do not try to flummox me, Charles. I’ve known you since Chadbourn brought you up to London when you were twelve years old. You have no other son, and, as you have made clear, Jonny, poor darling, is unlikely to outlive you. What do you plan to do about it?”
There it was. He looked around for escape and found none. “What can I do about it? If the worst happens, Fred is my heir after Jonny. What more do I need.”
The duchess put her cup down and reached for his hand. He had the oddest feeling—as if he were twelve again, and her warmth wrapped him like a blanket. “You deserve better, Charles.”
“Better than my cousin Fred? He is home from India, you know, at Eversham looking after Jonny.”
She shook her head sadly. “Don’t put me off. You deserve better than this half-life you live. Whatever they may say, not one person in London, their heart of hearts, would begrudge you happiness. Divorce that harpy you married and find a woman who will make you happy.”
He pulled his hands back. “And give me an heir,” he spat bitterly, immediately regretting it. The Duchess of Haverford, shrewd as she was, meant nothing but kindness.
“Fred Wheatly knows his duty and will do it if he must,” she said gently. “He has enough backbone and integrity to know the position is more than a title. However, the weight of it would not be his choice, I think. So, yes, better for all around if you had another son.”
“Jonny doesn’t deserve the scandal and I won’t have him thinking he isn’t enough for me.” He made a helpless gesture. “I would have to sue her lover first and I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s some German baron this time. She is back in Baden.”
“Nonsense. You could find any one of a number of barons, land stewards, or—”
“Enough! You’ve made my point. Isn’t it enough Julia has humiliated me every year we’ve been married? Do you really think my family wants me to drag it all out in the courts?”
“Don’t they?” She pinned him with the gaze that made even Aldridge quail.
He put the cup down with deliberate care. “My compliments to the chef, Your Grace. The cakes were exquisite and the company, as always, delightful.” When he bowed over her hand, she didn’t try to prevent his departure.
The story of Charles’s cousin Fred will unfold in Caroline Warfield’s The Reluctant Wife, to be published the end of April, 2017.
When Bengal Army Captain Fred Wheatly is forced to resign in disgrace, and his mistress dies leaving him with two half-caste daughters to raise, he reluctantly turns to Clare Armbruster for help. But the interfering, beautiful widow demands more of him than he’s ready to give. He’s failed so often in the past. Clare’s made mistakes as well. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?
Charles also plays a key role in The Renegade Wife, helping his cousin Rand unravel his love life while protecting the crown from a nasty gang of counterfeiters. It is available for purchase now or free with Kindle unlimited.
Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly finds his solitude disrupted by a desperate woman running with her children from an ugly past. But even his remote cabin in Upper Canada isn’t safe enough. Meggy Blair may have lied to him, but she breached the walls of his betrayed heart. Now she’s on the run again and time is running out for all of them.
Bluestocking Belle and award winning author Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she works in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.