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Sins of a Duke
From the expressions on the faces of the soldiers who marched up from the Horse Guards, someone was in for a bloodbath. With a silent curse Sebastian Griffin, the Duke of Melbourne, galloped past them, reaching his destination a half mile in front of the soldiers. Not much distance, and not much time.
He pulled his bay stallion to a halt and swung to the ground. "Who's in charge here?" he yelled into the wall of noise before him, scarcely noting his two younger brothers and his brother-in-law riding up behind him.
"That would be me," a guttural voice came from the front of the angry crowd. A stout man dressed as most of his fellows were in the worn clothing of farmers and other members of the working class pushed his way through to Sebastian on one side of the crowd. "What d'you want, boy?"
Boy. No one had called him a boy in seventeen years, since he'd inherited the dukedom at the age of seventeen. He lifted an eyebrow. "I want to know why you think that battering down the gates of Carlton House will gain any of you either food or sympathy for your cause."
"And who the bloody hell are you, to ride up on your fancy horse with your fancy friends?" the fellow demanded.
Sebastian ignored the question, instead turning to face the second group of riders just arriving. "Buy every food item in the market at Picadilly," he instructed his secretary. "Have it delivered to Westminster Abbey."
Rivers nodded, turning his gelding. "Right away, Your Grace."
"Jennings, go with him. I want blankets and a selection of clothing for any who might need them."
"Fast as the wind, Your Grace."
When he faced the large fellow again, a portion of his belligerent expression had been replaced by confusion. "So you think you can give us some bread and a shirt and we'll go away? That is not"
"There are what, three hundred of you?" Sebastian broke in, taking a moment to look at the dirty, hungry, desperate faces in the crowd and resisting the urge to check over his shoulder for the soldiers. "Go to Westminster, and I'll meet you there. We will sit down like gentlemen and discuss how to keep your people well and fed until your fields can be replanted and the irrigation situation improved."
"If you persist in attacking the Prince Regent's residence, he will be forced to summon soldiers for his own protection." He held the man's gaze for a moment. "You have children here, sir. Do not make this worse. Not when I give you my word to help you make it better."
"I still don't have your name, sir . . . Your Grace. Don't know that I trust a nobleman."
"I am the Duke of Melbourne. If you know anything about me, you know that when I give my word, I do not break it."
The fellow took an abrupt step forward. Both Shay and Zachary moved in, but Sebastian motioned his brothers back. These people were desperate, and looking for someone on whom to take out a season's worth of frustrations. Damn Kesling for ignoring the plight of people whose farms bordered his estate. With a measured breath he held out his hand.
The muscles of his jaw jumping, the farmer shook it. "I'm Brown, Your Grace. Nathan Brown. And I have heard of you."
"I will meet you in the Abbey in two hours, Mr. Brown."
Brown nodded. "I'll be there."
At Mr. Brown's encouragement, the crowd began to move east, in the direction of Westminster Abbey. Several of them grabbed his hands, and he smiled and nodded at them as they passed. As the last of them left the Carlton House gates, he took a deep breath.
"Well done, Seb," his youngest brother, Lord Zachary Griffin, commented. "Considering that I only had one pistol with me, that might have been a bit sticky."
"Mm-hm. Shay, go tell the Rector of St. Margaret's that the Abbey will have guests for a day or two."
His middle brother turned for the Abbey. "On my way."
Sebastian swung back up onto Merlin. "So am I. I have a meeting in two hours."
His brother-in-law, Valentine Corbett, Lord Deverill, flashed him a grin. "What do you do on mornings when you're not rescuing the monarchy and feeding the poor and the destitute?"
"I feed Zachary, which can be nearly as perilous," he returned, trotting over to have a word with a shaken-looking secretary of Prinny's as the man appeared on the far side of the gate, flanked by a half dozen equally unnerved royal guards. "The rest of you go back to whatever you were doing. Green will stay with me."
His groomsman nodded, and the rest of his group departed, Zach and Valentine last. Though he pretended not to, he could hear their muttering about the chances he took and what might have happened if Mr. Brown had been armed with more than righteous indignation. As far as he was concerned, though, as a duke, and in particular as the Duke of Melbourne, he was doing no more and no less than his duty to the Crown, and to the people of England. And that was how he spent every morning. And afternoon. And evening.
Once he left Carlton House, passing the soldiers less than a street away from the Regent's residence, he slowed the bay to a civilized trot more suitable for navigating Mayfair. Three streets down they turned onto Grosvenor Square and then up the gated drive of Griffin House. Sliding out of the saddle, Sebastian flipped the reins to Green and strode up the front steps as the groom took Merlin around the house to the stable.
As he reached the front door it opened. "I trust you were successful, Your Grace?" the butler asked, stepping back to allow Sebastian entry.
"Thankfully, Stanton. Is my daughter awake yet?" Sins of a Duke
. Copyright © by Suzanne Enoch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.