How to Deny a Duke (Preview)

Chapter 1

“How can there be more to do?” Clarissa protested as her lady’s maid, Louise, pressed down on her shoulders, encouraging her to sit at the dressing table.

“Because it is your debut, my lady,” Louise exclaimed, guiding Clarissa to sit, staring in the mirror.

“We have already fussed over the gown, I am dressed, I am wearing gloves, for goodness’ sake!” Clarissa groaned, pulling at the front of her gown, which was far too low and revealing for her liking. Her mother had chosen it for the occasion, a pretty white and silver lace gown that practically announced a young lady’s debut. Clarissa could not stand it. It was too tight around the bust, displaying too much of her creamy, pale skin, the sleeves were too thin showing too much of her arms, and the material was too light and floaty, making her feel as if she were wearing nothing but her petticoats. How she longed for her old, comfortable blue cotton gown that she liked to wear when reading and studying.

“Your hair still needs arranging, my lady,” Louise chortled, gently beginning to pin white roses into Clarissa’s golden hair. “Sit still.”

“More senseless decoration,” Clarissa scoffed, eyeing the pearls Louise was threading into her curls with distaste. “I hate all this frippery. It is so meaningless.”

“You must shine, my lady.” Louise smiled at her gently. “Don’t you want to shine?”

“Not particularly,” Clarissa said, thinking of how nice it would be not to go to the ball at all and to curl up in the library with her favourite book. “I should rather prefer it if no one were to look at me at all.”

“This is your debut,” Louise said, straightening Clarissa’s shoulders. “You cannot fade into the background tonight, the Countess would never allow it.”

“Louise, I truly appreciate what you are doing for me, but I cannot help the way I feel. I have often wondered what it would be like if I was to not have a debut at all.”

“No debut?” Louise repeated, pausing with the pearls as if Clarissa had uttered the most horiffic thing. “It is what’s done.”

“Exactly.” Clarissa glanced at her maid in the looking glass with a rather sad smile. “Do not you think that ladies like me at such events are rather paraded around? Rather like those prize pigs at fairs.” Clarissa’s jest pulled a humored smile from Louise’s face before the maid quickly straightened her expression.

“You are the daughter of the Earl of Berkshire,” Louise said softly. “Is it not what ladies in your position do?”

“Oh, yes, my father certainly expects it of me. He called me a jewel the other day, that I had to be presented like a jewel to the world! What nonsense,” Clarissa laughed off the idea. “I am not a jewel.” Clarissa said with all humor gone. “I am a person with my own mind.”

“What did your father say to that?” Louise asked gently as she continued with Clarissa’s hair.

“He said even people with their own minds need to be married. I could have gone to school instead,” Clarissa said quietly, fiddling with one of the white roses on the dressing table. “If only it had been possible…”

All Clarissa had wanted this season was to attend the lady’s seminary school in Bath. She had longed for a place there, and had read all the newspaper articles about it, both good and bad. She had fantasized about long days away from her family with nothing to do but read and study. How perfect it would have been, to have nothing to concern me but reading and writing! Yet when she had worked up the courage to present her idea to her mother and father, they had been dismayed.

That school is for young ladies with no prospects!” her mother had exclaimed, glaring daggers at Clarissa. “Poor, plain girls with no chance of marriage or a dowry who have nothing else to do but read. You are the daughter of an Earl, Clarissa! It is high time you stared to act like it.”

Clarissa had not been surprised by her mother’s vehemence on the topic. Since Clarissa was fifteen years old, she and her mother had been engaged in an ongoing domestic war about Clarissa’s reading habits. When she had forbidden Clarissa to read anymore romance novels because they were ‘corrupting her mind,’ Clarissa had simply responded by hiding her romance novels in other books and leaving them in secret locations all over the house to read in places she could not be found. As much as her mother detested Clarissa’s obsession, Clarissa had been determined not to beaten. However, her father’s firmness was a complete surprise.

“Reading and studying is well and good for a young girl who is still expanding her mind,” her father had said solemnly. “But you are not a young girl anymore, Clarissa. You are a young lady and must give up these childish pursuits. It is time to take your place in the family.”

Clarissa had known immediately what he meant. Her role in this family had always been clear: marry well. It was a role she had always wanted to shun but now, Clarissa was staring it in the face. She looked at herself in the mirror, in a gown that she didn’t like and a hairstyle that was far too regal and gaudy for her simple tastes. I do not even recognize myself, Clarissa thought bitterly.

“I know how dearly you wished to attend the school, my lady,” Louise said softly, squeezing Clarissa’s shoulder sweetly. “It dismays me to see you so worried. Perhaps there is a way you can try to make the best of it, at least? You are a fortunate young lady, with beauty, youth and wealth all on your side. There are many who would count their blessings.”

Clarissa looked up into her maid’s sweet face, knowing that Louise was right. Clarissa knew it, she was blessed as other daughters were not. She had the money and the reputation to choose an eligible suitor where other daughters would be scrambling for any suitor who would look their way. She was pretty enough, or so her mother told her, and she was young. Her debut may have been delayed by a year thanks to her pleading with her mother and father, who had decided at eighteen she was not yet mature enough for her debut, but nineteen was different. She had matured in their eyes and was more than ready to be married.

Yet Clarissa could not stop herself from seeing all of these things as curses. For if I was plain, old and poor, no one should mind if I attended school in Bath. They should probably be glad to be rid of me. Then I could be happy.

“I can try to be happy,” Clarissa said, smiling tightly. Louise was such a good maid, a kind and gentle-hearted girl who was only a few years older than Clarissa. Unlike her parents who thought only of family status and improving their connections, Clarissa knew that Louise genuinely wished for Clarissa to marry to be happy. It was not Louise’s fault that Clarissa longed for a different life altogether.

“Try and think of it like one of your romance novels,” Louise said kindly. “This is the moment when you are presented to the ton and you will meet charming suitors. It can be what dreams are made of, my lady.”

Louise meant well, Clarissa knew that, but Louise knew very little of the type of romance novels Clarissa secretly enjoyed. They were not the rather reserved and prim romances, as Louise thought, but daring romances with heroines who were captured in remote castles in far flung places, where they were held captive by terrible relatives or nightmarish monsters. Clarissa did not long for a ball and charming suitors. Her fantasy was for a hero who would snatch her from the jaws of danger. For adventure and frightening encounters and impossible escapes. Reality is so dull in comparison, Clarissa thought.

“Of course,” Clarissa said, knowing it was better to shake herself from her foul mood. “You are right, Louise, I shall put my best foot forward.”

“That is all anyone can ask of you,” Louise said softly, threading pearl drop earrings through Clarissa’s lobes. “There. You are ready, my lady. You look perfect. A diamond of the first water.”

Clarissa stared at herself in the mirror. She couldn’t agree with Louise’s assessment. She felt like she looked exactly the same as every other debutante entering society. They all wore similar dresses, they all wore the same hairstyles, and they all looked the picture of the perfect society lady. There was nothing remarkable about her, except perhaps that she was a little naturally prettier than some, but that hardly seemed worth celebrating. She longed to be the way her heroines were always described, with their hair flowing loose and wild, their dresses wispy and ragged from running through forests or castles. How Clarissa longed for a similar type of freedom!

“Thank you, Louise, you have done a fine job,” Clarissa said summoning a smile as Louise beamed at the comment.

“I shall leave you for a moment, my lady,” Louise said, looking happy with her completed work. “Your mother and father shall call on you before long. Oh, they shall be so pleased.”

“I am sure you are right,” Clarissa said, trying to maintain the smile but struggling.

She watched as Louise walked to the door, closing it behind her. Then, as soon as she was alone, Clarissa let out a sigh. Despite knowing she should try to be happy, her heart was restless.

All night she would struggle to make small talk, bearing company of those who weren’t truly interested in conversing, or dancing with gentlemen who only thought of doweries and made insipid. Clarissa had no interest in that type of conversation.

She wondered briefly, madly, if would ever be possible for her to find a gentleman who would consider holding a conversation about books. What I would not give to have that experience tonight! It had to be possible, surely? It was a reason to smile at least.

Clarissa rose from the dressing table and crossed to her bed, glancing at her closed door and listening carefully for sounds of footsteps, before pulling a novel out from under her pillow. Usually, she only read in her bedchamber deep in the night, when she was assured that her mother was asleep. If she ever tried to read in the daytime, she had to find secret places, usually her favored spot was outside in the rose garden.

This was another contested point with her mother. Clarissa had developed a love of the outdoors, and her father often boasted that she was a healthy, strong young lady with excellent habits. Her mother rather thought it futile when she could be preparing her ladylike habits, such as playing the piano. Little did her parents know that her long walks were actually long reading sessions hidden deep in her mother’s lavish rose garden. They were the only moments of quiet in a busy schedule of teas, calls and ladylike pursuits that her mother hounded her with daily. Tonight, however, she had no time to slip outside, so she carefully withdrew her novel from its hiding spot and sat cautiously down on the floor beside her bed, slightly hidden from view of the door. Eagerly, Clarissa opened the pages to read…

‘Marietta ran through the trees, feeling the oppressive weight of the darkness behind her, of the horrible evil of the castle and the man who ruled it at her back. She knew she must find a way out of the enchanted forest if she was to survive.’

Clarissa sighed happily, settling comfortably with her back against the bed. This was her latest novel, and so far, it was living up to all of her favorite ideals. She loved stories set in far-flung corners of the globe – the forests of eastern Europe, the islands of the Indies, and the dark mountains of the East. She felt a thrill of escape when she entered the world between the pages, a sweet relief from the life she found herself in, even if the relief only lasted for a few hours a day.

‘Marietta stumbled down a small hill, her feet plunging into icy water, crashing over slippery rocks. Then, a strong, pleasant baritone voice called out, so different from the slick, accursed voice of the Count of the Castle.’

“Tread carefully my lady!” the voice called out, and a hand grasped her waist. Marietta gasped and looked up into the young, handsome face of the hunter. “The forest is full of dangers.”

Clarissa looked down at the description mournfully. If only she could find a gentleman who would protect her, who would see her for more than her fortune or beauty. The real world, Clarissa had learned at a young age, was nothing like the world between the pages. There, gentleman were heroes with golden hearts and ladies were brave. Clarissa had long ago given up on finding that kind of gentleman in society. Yet maybe, one day, maybe I might find someone. Still, she feared hope was a cruel thing. No amount of reasoning could ever completely cast it out.

“Why did you come?” Marietta gasped, unable to stop herself from clutching at his warm hand to steady herself. With strength and capable ease, he pulled her out of the icy river. “If he finds you here, he will surely kill you on the spot!”

“I care not for the Count of the Castle,” the hunter said with a stoic, brave expression. “I could not face the good Lord in heaven if I had knowingly left you behind, sweet Marietta.”

Clarissa sighed softly. How perfect it would be to have a gentleman say such things for her. To denounce evil and its workings and throw himself into danger, devil may care, to rescue her. She was not sure that kind of gentleman even existed in real life. One thing was for certain, however. Clarissa knew she would not find him in the London Ton.

“Clarissa! What are you doing?”

Clarissa jumped and looked up, guiltily shoving the novel under the bed and looking up into the irate face of her beautiful mother, Althea Powell, the Countess of Berkshire.

“Nothing, Mother,” Clarissa said quickly, scrambling to her feet and quailing slightly under her mother’s brutal glare.

“Why would you be sitting on the floor in your gown?” her mother demanded. “That gown is brand new, Clarissa!”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Clarissa said demurely, looking down at her dancing slippers as Althea glanced her up and down as if searching for answers.

“You were reading again,” she said flatly, and Clarissa’s heart dropped. There seemed little point in denying it. If she did, it was possible that her mother would come looking for the evidence and then she might not be able to finish
her book to find out how Marietta and the Hunter escape the clutches of the evil Count. Clarissa shrugged non-committedly.

“Clarissa! How many times have I told you?” her mother snapped angrily, folding her arms in distaste. “Young ladies who read are not attractive to gentlemen.”

“Surely there must be some out there,” Clarissa muttered mutinously. “It surely cannot be that all gentlemen everywhere despise reading. Why is it so wrong for me to like reading?”

“Gentlemen can enjoy reading, but what gentleman is going to be interested in pursuing you if they know you have your nose buried in a book all day?” Althea demanded nastily. “Gentlemen desire ladies who are attentive to them, Clarissa, and spend their time becoming accomplished, being jewels of society. They are not fond of ladies who are obsessed with fantasies and have their heads in the clouds.”

“I know, Mother,” Clarissa said.

“Stand up straight,” her mother snapped, as if knowing which way Clarissa’s thoughts were leaning. “Do not slouch like a commoner.”

Clarissa obeyed, staring at the floorboards so her mother would not see her dislike.

“Well, that is better,” her mother said sounding more pleased at last. “That dress can cover a multitude of sins, Clarissa, but it cannot make up for your speech. You must refrain from speaking of books or novels or studying tonight. Even I cannot help you find a gentleman who will endure you then.”

“Yes, Mother,” Clarissa said obediently, staring at the floor.

“Good,” her mother said grudgingly. “Let us depart. Please, Clarissa, I am beginning you. Try not embarrass me or your father tonight.”

“Yes, Mother,” Clarissa said yet again, following her out of the bedroom. On the outside, she was a picture of demur obedience. On the inside, Clarissa was seething. I have no intention of finding a gentleman to endure me, Clarissa swore to herself angrily. I shall have a gentleman who loves me for who I am, or I shall have none at all!

Chapter 2

Dylan looked out of the window of his carriage as it rattled over the cobbled streets of London. Already he could feel the dense, smoggy air pushing in on him from all sides, and could practically taste the dung in the air that was stamped into the muddy roads by countless carriages and horses. Dylan had resisted coming back to this city. In Bath, he enjoyed the clean air along with the excellent bookshops and company, but his older brother had called for him. He had taken a carriage back to the city with one of his Bath acquaintances at his side, Mr Gerden.

“The air in London is so foul compared to Bath,” Mr Gerden sniffed, looking out of the window. “It is a wonder anyone comes here.”

“It is a wonder,” Dylan agreed, distracted by the view of familiar streets and houses.

“Yet I heard you grew up here.”

“I did,” Dylan said as they passed by St Paul’s. “This is where my family seat is.”

“Oh?” Mr Gerden exclaimed, frowning and turning his gaze on Dylan. “I did not know that, Lord Wentworth. What is the name of the seat?”

“Worthendale,” Dylan said, swallowing hard. “The Duchy of Worthendale. I am the second son.”

“Worthendale?” Mr Gerden said in astonishment, eyes wide. “Why, that is a name known even to me, a mere gentleman from Bath!”

“It is?” Dylan said heavily, groaning inwardly. The last thing he wanted to discuss was the stories surrounding his family.

“Oh yes, it was in all the papers,” Mr Gerden said, leaning forward eagerly. “The charming and elegant son of the Duke of Worthendale was shot in the leg by Highway men on the road out of London. Was that you?”

“No,” Dylan said shortly, staring pointedly out of the window. “My elder brother.”

The Duke of Worthendale’s name had been well-known and respected throughout the city. Almost two years ago to the week, the Duke of Worthendale and his son had been stopped by Highwaymen on their way out of the city. Dylan’s older brother, Noah, had stood in front of the robbers to protect their father but it had done little good. Noah had sustained a terrible injury and their father, the imitable Duke of Worthendale, was fatally shot. Dylan had found he couldn’t stay in the city after that.

“I am sorry for your loss,” Mr Gerden said humbly. “What brings you back to the city?”

“I have come to oversee some business matters on my brother’s behalf,” Dylan spoke shortly.

“The new Duke of Worthendale,” Mr Gerden mused rather wistfully. “I am sure he greatly appreciates your assistance.”

“Yes.” The carriage pulled up outside the great gates of Worthendale Manor, the lovely townhouses set back from the busy street. Dylan felt a strange pang of familiarity and sadness to see it. He hated arriving home knowing his father would not be there to greet him.

“I wish you very well, Lord Wentworth,” Mr Gerden said, tipping his hat to Dylan as the footman opened the door and Dylan climbed out. “I hope to see you again in Bath.”

“You also, Mr Gerden.”

Dylan was beginning to regret agreeing the share the carriage. He felt his secrets were laid bare now. He nodded his head in passing one last time to Mr Gerden, before he stepped out onto the driveway, breathing in the scent of the gardener’s plant pots that surrounded the door, the bright, sharp scent of rosemary. The front door opened, and Dylan saw the familiar face of Bradford, his father’s old butler, standing in the doorway.

“Good afternoon, Lord Wentworth,” Bradford called jovially. At the warm familiar sound, Dylan smiled. His father might not be there to greet him, but this at least was something familiar to him and it brought a comforting feeling.

“Good afternoon, Bradford,” Dylan said, walking into the house and allowing the butler to close the door behind him.

“How was your trip from Bath, my Lord?” Bradford asked politely. “Are you in need of refreshment?”

“Yes, some coffee would be good.” Dylan removed his top hat and handed it to the old butler. “Where might I find the Duke?”

It was strange for Dylan to stand in this house, enquiring after the Duke and no longer mean his father. My brother, the Duke of Worthendale.

“He is in his study, my Lord,” Bradford said, shaking his head regretfully. “His Grace is always in his study.”

Dylan nodded, knowingly. The brothers had both dealt with their grief in differing ways. Dylan had sought pleasure and solitude, travelling and reading and spending time away from the city. It was an adventure! With that adventure came distraction and the promise of future enjoyments. Noah had thrown himself into work, dedicating himself to the Worthendale estate and to the various social responsibilities with political obligations inherited from their father.

They were always different, Dylan and Noah. Dylan could remember their mother saying as much, countless times. Whenever he saw her, she would refer to their differences. Whilst Dylan was warm and friendly in manner, Noah was cold and distant. Where Dylan was artistic Noah was mathematical, whilst Dylan was passionate Noah was logical. They had always been fire and ice and their father had always been the one to ground them both, the one who understood them and could bring them together. Dylan missed his father greatly at that moment. With his father gone, he had to learn to balance his hardworking, sometimes severe older brother alone.

Dylan walked slowly down the corridor to the study, accosted by memories of his childhood. He remembered how he and Noah had raced along the corridor, chasing one another. He knew how, on one particular day, he and Noah had brought their cricket bats inside out of the rain and bowled balls along the corridor down toward the study.

“Boys!” Their father had shouted, flinging open the study door with an irate look on his face. “What do you think you are doing?”

“Playing cricket!” Dylan had announced happily, waving the bat perilously close to an antique vase.

“Shh, Dylan!” Noah hissed, ever the older brother and trying to hide the cricket ball behind his back. Dylan, who was younger and confused, simply stared between his big brother and his father, who were staring at one another, with Noah looking slightly fearful.

“Cricket, is it?” their father had said, raising his eyebrows with a smirk in the corner of his mouth. “Well, then…” Dylan watched in amazement as his stoic, reserved father rolled up his sleeves and smiled down at his sons. “I’ll bowl!”

Dylan faced the door to his father’s study, pulling up the courage to knock, feeling overwhelmed with the memories of his past. They had become a trio, a father and two sons, one son made of passion and one of ice, balanced by their father who had both in him. Now all of that is gone. We have lost our footing, both of us.

Dylan sighed heavily and knocked on the door.

“Enter!” Noah’s voice called through the wood. Dylan pushed open the door.

“Ah, brother,” Noah said. “You came.”

Noah was sitting in their father’s old chair, a drink in hand. Even for Noah, who enjoyed a brandy, it seemed early in the day.

“Are you well, brother?” Dylan said, stepping forward to sit in the chair on the opposite side of the desk. We used to be on the same side of the desk, facing father.

“I have been better.” Noah sighed heavily with the words, pulling himself to his feet. Dylan tried not to wince as he watched his brother limp over to the drinks’ cabinet, pouring himself a second brandy. He hated to be reminded of Noah’s injury, the brutal shot to the knee that had crippled him for life. It was unfair that Noah, the oldest son, the one with all the responsibility, was the one who had suffered so badly. Dylan was the second son, he had none of Noah’s burdens, yet Noah was the one who was permanently disabled.

“Would you care to explain?” Dylan asked, keeping his tone cautious.

“Here.” Noah handed Dylan a glass of brandy. “Drink a sip of this before I tell you.”

Dylan raised his eyebrows at his brother but complied, taking a small sip, even though brandy was not his favorite.

“Now that is done,” he said, setting the glass down on the desk in front of him. “What is this about?”

“This.” Noah handed over a letter. “Father’s solicitor, Mr. Ramsey, came to call two days ago. We talked for a long time. He gave me this.”

Dylan looked down at the letter, unfolding it carefully to read it through. The more Dylan read the letter, the more he sat forward in his seat, feeling the discomfort grow. That acknowledgement of how unfair the world was on Noah was beginning to grow so much that Dylan was restless, his hands moving constantly across the letter.

“I do not understand.” Dylan said, glancing back up at his brother. “There is a condition on the Trust?”

Their father had left behind a sizable trust worth a fortune that Noah, as the heir, was responsible for. This letter was something new though. After so long had passed since their father’s death, it suggested that there were stipulations upon the trust. It was something that their father had never, ever mentioned to Dylan or Noah.

“Yes, there is,” Noah sipped his own drink. “I confess, I do not know how to make head nor tail of it.”

“Am I understanding this right?” Dylan asked, shaking his head back and forth. “Father left a condition that you must marry or the trust will be inherited by another? That is absurd!”

“That was my first thought too.” Noah grimaced, knocking back even more of the brandy and making Dylan wince at the sight.

He has grown too dependent on drinking such things.

“He insists I must marry within the season or I will forfeit the trust to an unknown beneficiary.”

“This is bizarre,” Dylan blustered, staring down at the letter. His father had certainly impressed upon his children the need for family, but he had never pressured Noah to seek a wife. It had been expected, of course, Dylan knew that their mother held hopes for grandchildren from both of them. Yet it was never demanded. “How did this happen?” Dylan tossed down the letter on the desk between them, unable to hold it in his hands anymore.

“It seems when our father made his will, he was rather keen for the family line to be continued. There must always be a Duke!” He spoke the latter in a mocking tone as if imitating their father. “Apparently that is what he said to the solicitor. Mr. Ramsey has explained to me that father gave him strict instructions to only deliver the letter two years after his death.”

“Two years?” Dylan shook his head, trying to understand. “Did he expect you to be married by now?”

“Apparently not,” Noah said, sighing heavily and lowering himself gingerly into his seat. Dylan remembered how Noah used to move when he was fit and well, his strong athletic older brother who had been the envy of every young gentleman. Now, all because of a horrible accident, their father had been taken from him and his brother’s life had been changed entirely. “Apparently father thought two years would have been enough time for me to have mourned him and made the necessary adjustments to my life in taking over the dukedom.”

“And have you?” Dylan asked, swallowing heavily. Dylan knew he should be gratified that his father had worked so hard to continue the line, but it was not good news to hear. It was devastating. To threaten to cut Noah off entirely unless he was quick to wed was odd indeed. Who is this other beneficiary? Why would father bestow the fortune and the Dukedom elsewhere?

“I… believe I have,” Noah said slowly, swirling his brandy around in his glass and watching it sadly. The pause spoke volumes to Dylan’s mind though. There were worries here to address. “It has not been easy, certainly, it has been very challenging, but yes. I believe I have ceased to mourn.”

Dylan nodded quietly, taking a big gulp of his drink. Perhaps it was because he had been away from the city whilst Noah had stayed at home, but he did not feel ready to say he was no longer mourning. Everywhere he looked in the house he was reminded of his father’s death, and he felt a pang of mournfulness he could not contain.

“Father is very specific in his conditions,” Noah continued slowly. “He commands that I shall not ‘settle’ for anything less than an Earl’s daughter.”

“Ah.” Dylan sighed softly, looking at his brother uncomfortably. “Could this be because of the –?”

“Yes,” Noah said shortly, placing his glass to lips and saying nothing more.

Dylan could see his father’s fingerprints on the situation. It was an attempt ensure Noah had a good future and there was a future to the family line, yet he had made it a difficult situation for his son.

“You cannot just marry anyone,” Dylan murmured. “Not after…”

“I know,” Noah said, rubbing his face in frustration. “I made some poor decisions before father died. He clearly knew of it, which is why he made this stipulation. Since then… I have not recovered fortunes quite as much as I would have liked to.”

“That explains that then,” Dylan said. He knew well enough that when Noah had first taken a few responsibilities off their father, he had not been ready for it and made some wrong decisions. Since then, it could have been grief or it could have been that Noah was simply unprepared, but the Dukedom had still suffered the occasional financial woe. Noah had clearly made some damaging business deals and depleted some of the trust. It had made both Dylan and Noah particularly guarded about the state of the trust and who could access it. “So all we need to do is find an Earl’s daughter who we think is trustworthy.”

“Is that all?” Noah said.

“It shall not be too challenging,” Dylan spoke confidently. “You were much desired as a young man, you are strong and you are now a Duke –”

“And a cripple!” Noah laughed bitterly, taking a sip of his drink and staring at the ceiling with mournful eyes. “What lady would want a crippled husband?”

“Noah,” Dylan cut in gently. “You truly underestimate yourself. You are the Duke of Worthendale.”

“I am.” Noah’s voice was sharp. “I have no intention of humiliating myself in an attempt to find a wife.”

“It does not need to be a humiliation,” Dylan protested.

“But it will be,” Noah said, with a tone of finality. “I shall not endure it. I shall find another way, brother. Do not worry.”

“You are a good brother,” Dylan said softly, knowing that he should not press Noah anymore on this issue, though there was something discomforting in Dylan’s chest. If it is the terms of the trust… surely there is no way around this?

“Thank you,” Noah said, nodding formally and reaching out to tuck the offending letter away in a drawer. “I think it is for the best if we do not discuss this with mother. It shall only worry her.”

“I agree.” Dylan nodded. He knew his brother was doing what was best for their family and himself, but Dylan also knew the stipulations of the trust was something that could not be avoided. As he downed the last of the brandy, he made a decision. He would do what was best for his brother, even if Noah tried to avoid the matter. Dylan would do everything in his power to ensure that Noah found the perfect wife he deserved, no matter what.

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  • Interesting idea of a crippled Duke and possible loss of the Dukedom because of his single status in the will made before the accident that killed the Duke and crippled the heir

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