My Dearest Grandson Lucien,
You would do well in life to heed Lord Chesterfield's wise words: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today."
Your loving Grandmother,
Lucien Trent Blakewell, the fifth Duke of Blakewell, strode through the front door of his town house, taking off his riding gloves.
"Your Grace, I'm glad you're home."
"Not now, Ashby," Blake said, tossing his gloves, hat, and cloak into the butler's hands without breaking his stride. "I don't have time." He'd stayed too long at the shooting match, and now he was running late.
One of his cousins was racing a new horse in Hyde Park at four o'clock, and the other had a high-stakes card game starting at six. Blake didn't plan on missing either event. But in order to make both, he had to finish reviewing at least one account book for his solicitor. The poor fellow had been begging for them for over a month.
From the corridor, Blake walked into his book room. Piled high on his desk was the stack of ledgers, numerous miscellaneous correspondence, and invitations he'd left unopened for weeks.
He shrugged out of his coat, loosened his neckcloth, and sat down at his desk with an impatient sigh. There were times when being a duke was downright hellish. Grudgingly, he opened the top book, determined to make a dent in the work he had to do.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Your Grace," Ashby said from the doorway.
Blake didn't bother to glance up from the ledger he was thumbing through, trying to find where he'd left off the last time he looked at it… which was too many days ago to remember. He still hadn't become completely used to hearing himself called 'Your Grace,' even though his father had been dead almost two years.
It was a time-consuming task, keeping up-to-date with all his holdings and property, not to mention the details of the various businesses in which his father had invested over the years. His solicitor constantly sent documents for him to sign or account books to check. And, last year when his grandmother had passed on, her estate had added more responsibilities to his already full desk of unattended paperwork.
His new role in life had certainly curtailed his once daily and quite enjoyable activities of riding,
fencing, and late afternoon games of billiards and cards at White's or one of the other gentlemen's clubs he belonged to. He was not accustomed to being on anyone's schedule but his own.
The butler cleared his throat.
"Yes, Ashby, what is it?" Blake finally said when it was apparent the man wasn't going to leave him alone until he had his say.
"There's a young lady here to see you, sir."
That got Blake's attention. He glanced up at the tall, thin, and immaculately dressed butler, who wore his long graying hair held neatly away from his sharp face in a queue.
"A young lady, you say?"
"Yes, Your Grace."
"Who is she?"
"Miss Henrietta Tweed."
"Tweed," Blake said aloud as he thought about the name for a moment. He couldn't place it. "Who is with her?"
"Just her maid."
"No other chaperone?"
"None that I saw."
That was odd.
It was unusual for a young lady, or any gentleman, to call on him without making prior arrangementsand altogether inappropriate for a lady to do so without a suitable chaperone. Blake shrugged. On another afternoon he might have been intrigued by this strange request to see him, but not today. He didn't have time to entertain anyone.
"Just take her card and send her away."
Blake picked up his quill, dipped it in the ink jar he'd just opened, and returned his attention to the numbers in front of him.
"I tried that, Your Grace. She says she doesn't have a card."
The quill stilled in his hand. That was most curious, too. A woman without an appropriate chaperone and without a proper calling card. For half a second he wondered if one of the ladies he'd met earlier in the day at Hyde Park had followed him home. And there were other possibilities. It was rare, but he knew that sometimes a lady of the evening would be bold enough to seek out a titled man in hopes of bettering her station in life by earning a few coins or becoming his latest mistress.
Blake's interest was piqued once again, though he had to admit almost anything could take his mind off accounts and ledgers.
He glanced back up at the butler. "What does she look like?" he asked, thinking that would help him determine if she warranted interrupting his work. Ashby's chin lifted and his eyebrows rose slightly.
"Like a young lady."
Sometimes Blake wished he hadn't kept his father's annoying butler. The old man could be downright impudent at times. But Ashby kept the household and the sizable staff running in near-perfect order. The butler's work was testimony to the care with which his father had trained the man. That, and that alone, was what kept the aging servant at his job.
"Did she say why she wanted to see me?"
"Not exactly, Your Grace."
In exasperation, Blake laid down the quill he had just picked up. "Ashby, what the hell did she say?"
Unflustered, the butler replied, "She said you were expecting her."
"Was I?" Blake asked. Since Blake had turned off his father's secretary a few months earlier, the
butler had tried to help him keep up with his social calendar, but so far neither one of them was doing a good job.
"Not that I'm aware of, Your Grace. She also said that her trunks were on the front steps."
Blake made a noise in his throat that sounded like a mixture of a grunt and a laugh. He must have been in too big a hurry to notice her luggage when he came through the front door.
"What the devil?" Blake said. "I'm expecting no one, especially a young woman with baggage and no proper chaperone. She obviously has the wrong house." He rose from his chair. "Did you question her about who she is looking for?"
"Yes, Your Grace. She said the Duke of Blakewell was expecting her."
"That's not bloody likely when I have no recollection of knowing anyone by the name of Tweed."
"She also suggested that I should speak to you at once so that you could clear up what she called my obvious confusion."
That sounded rather impertinent coming from someone who was apparently befuddled herself. No doubt the quickest way to handle this situation was for him to take a moment or two to speak with her.
Blake looked down at his paper-cluttered desk. His eyes centered on the open book in front of him, and he swore softly to himself. Reviewing the latest entries would have to wait again.
"Show her to the front parlor and say I'll be in to see her."
"Right away, Your Grace." Ashby turned stiffly and walked out.
Blake marked his place in the ledger with a dry quill. He hastily retied his neckcloth and reached for his coat. No doubt the woman had him mixed up with someone else. The sooner he dealt with the waif and sent her on her way, the faster he could get back to checking the balances in the accounts book so he wouldn't miss the race or the card game. For the most part he got along quite well with his cousins, but they would be unforgiving if they felt he'd slighted them.
When Blake approached the doorway to the drawing room, he saw a short, rotund lady with her
back to him warming herself in front of the low-burning fireplace. It took only a glance at the fabric of her cloak and bonnet to know that she was not a lady of means.
What was Ashby thinking to allow her entrance into the house?
"Miss Tweed," he said, striding into the room, determined to set her straight and then have a word
with his errant butler.
The chit turned to face him and he immediately realized she had on a maid's frock. At the same time, from the corner of his eye, he saw a rather tall, slender, young lady rise from a side chair in the far corner and come toward him. When he looked at her, Blake felt his stomach do a slow roll.