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In the Bed of a Duke
By Cathy Maxwell
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Cathy Maxwell
All right reserved.
Phillip Maddox, Duke of Colster, walked through the crowded halls of Parliament not meeting the eye of anyone he passed.
They made way for him.
He was a duke, after all, and one with enviable power. Here and there, someone would nod, and murmur, "Your Grace," but for the most part, they waited until he'd gone by to speak -- and when they did, he knew they were talking about him and how Miranda Cameron had jilted him at his own betrothal ball. She'd run away with her lover while her sister Charlotte, a brazen, unprincipled woman, had openly defied him when he'd attempted to stop her.
For eight months he'd had to put up with this. He'd tried to carry on, certain some other scandal would come along to occupy idle tongues. After all, what had happened was his private business. But London was a town of gossips and, unfortunately, of matchmakers. They didn't show any sign of letting this matter go.
Apparently, his offer to Miss Miranda Cameron had surprised everyone. His wife Elizabeth's death had been an emotional pivot point in his life, and, in his grief, he'd vowed not to marry again.
However, now that money-hungry mothers and fathers with marriageable daughters knew he could bring himself to marry again,they were determined that he should. Every acquaintance had a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, and perhaps even an aunt or two, who would make a perfect duchess. Phillip could paper the walls of his house with the invitations he'd received, many of them hiding a scheme to see him wed.
And he didn't want any of it.
Miranda Cameron had been a grave miscalculation on his part. Perhaps the only one he'd ever made. People thought he'd been drawn to her because she was beautiful, but that wasn't quite it. Miranda had reminded him of Elizabeth, who had died in childbirth. Seeing the resemblance had made him long to try and right a wrong, something he now realized he was powerless to do.
He didn't need an heir. His cousin could inherit the title. He'd make a good duke, and Phillip could maintain his stoic existence. There was peace in that decision, a peace he'd longed for since Elizabeth's death.
"I say, Colster, wait up," Lord Heaton's voice said from behind him.
Phillip paused. He knew Heaton from school and rather liked the man. Their fathers had been good friends and had served on numerous diplomatic envoys together. Heaton had a good head on his shoulders. Phillip enjoyed listening to his arguments and valued his counsel in the House of Lords. Here was a man who, like Phillip, didn't put up with nonsense. Furthermore, Heaton had no daughters of a marriageable age.
"How are you, Your Grace?" Heaton said in greeting.
"Fine, and yourself?" Phillip asked, nodding for Heaton to walk with him toward the Members' Entrance ahead. "My coach is waiting outside. May I offer you a ride?"
"That would be kind. I'm to my club. Perhaps you will join me?"
"Would that I could," Phillip answered. They were of two different political spectrums and Phillip could not politically afford to be seen in a liberal club.
The assessing look in Heaton's eye told him he knew the reason behind his refusal. "Is there anyone you trust?"
Heaton raised his brows. "Be careful, Your Grace, you are in danger becoming a hermit, hair shirt and all."
The observation was a bit too apt for comfort. Nor could its ring of truth be denied. Phillip hid his uneasiness by changing the subject. "What did you think of -- ?" he started, but Heaton's hand on his arm interrupted him.
"Damn, there is Monarch." Heaton glanced around. "It doesn't appear as if we can dodge him."
"Monarch?" Phillip scanned the men crowded by the entrance, uncertain which one Heaton meant.
"You haven't met him yet?" He dropped his voice. "You don't know how fortunate you are. No man has ever been more misnamed. He's an out-and-out reformer who's new to the Lords. Down from Edinburgh. Inherited his title last summer and is determined to do something with it. He's been anxious to meet you."
Phillip let his step slow. "Me?"
"Was not your father one of the prime supporters of the Clearances? Monarch is keen to see us do something about them and has been talking about how your support is vital to any legislation."
Phillip had to consider a moment what he was talking about. "The Clearances? You mean where landowners evict tenants who can't pay their rents?"
"Something like that. It's a Scottish issue," Heaton answered breezily just as young Lord Monarch approached.
Monarch had a shock of orange-red hair that fell over one eye. He couldn't be older than four-and-twenty and had that earnest puppy air Phillip associated with the true crusader of social justice. The jaded denizens of London would gobble him up in two bites.
"Lord Heaton," Monarch said, his voice cracking on the second syllable as if it was taking courage for him to approach them. He cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed, and Phillip couldn't help but feel a touch sorry for him.
"Hallo, Monarch," Heaton said, and would have marched right on by without pause except for the young Scotsman's placing himself squarely in Phillip's path, forcing both him and Heaton to stop.
"May I beg an introduction?" Lord Monarch asked without preamble. "I've heard much of the great Duke of Colster." He held out his hand to Phillip. His ungloved hand.
He truly was a republican.
"It's a pleasure to be introduced to you, Your Grace," he said, his voice again in danger of cracking. Interestingly, Phillip didn't hear an echo of a Scottish lilt in it. This young man was English-educated . . . and fighting for the Scottish cause. Interesting.
Heaton was not pleased with Monarch's forwardness. "I don't like being forced into matters," he informed the Scotsman coolly, and would have walked on except Phillip reached out and shook the offered hand.
Excerpted from In the Bed of a Duke by Cathy Maxwell Copyright ©2006 by Cathy Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
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