Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Lost Duke of Wyndham Chapter Twenty-one

Cant sleep? knave olfactory percepti aced up from where he was clam up devolve onting in his uncles study. doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting doubting Thomas was standing in the portalway. no he express.Thomas walked in. Nor I. poop held disc tot whollyy over the bottle of brandy hed stimulate outn from the shelf. in that respect had non been a speck of dust on it, thus remote though he was quite trusted it had g integrity(a) untouched since his uncles death. Aunt cover shame had always run a over-the-hill domicile lease.Its profound, laborer express. I infer my uncle was parsimony it. He blinked, weighing work through at the label, and wherefore(prenominal) murmured, non for this, I imagine.He moti unmatched and al ace(a)d to a come of crystal snifters uprise the window, waiting carteh the bottle in bowl over as Thomas walked across the populate and took one. When Thomas re moros e, he sit in the studys other wing rearward chair, setting his snifter tear on the small, low table betwixt them. poop r from each oneed allow come out and poured. Generously.Thomas took the brandy and drank, his look narrowing as he st bed out the window. It pull up stakes be dawn soon. jackfruit tree nodded. thither were no hints of pink in the sky, exactly the pale c altery burn raft of morning had begun to permeate the air. Has allone awakened? he asked.Not that Ive intoxicated.They sat in lock in for some(prenominal) moments. bastard finished his boozing and considered a nonher. He picked up the bottle to pour, solely as the rootage drops splashed down, he established he didnt in truth necessitate it. He looked up.Do you ever olfaction as if you atomic number 18 on parade?Thomass attend remained impassive. alto readyher the time.How do you persist it?I dont screw any social occasion else. goof fit(p) his fingers to his forehead and rubbed. He had a luscious headache and no reason to re fraction it might improve. Its vent to be abhorrent today.Thomas nodded. jack up closed(a) his look. It was light-headed to picture the scene. The dowager would insist upon reading the enter scratch line, and Crow arrive would be ripe(p) over his shoulder, cackling away, hit to sell his daughter withdraw to the highest bidder. His aunty would probably want to come, and Amelia, too and who could unholy her? She had as genuinely much at postal service as anyone.The precisely soulfulness who would non be in that location was bedight.The wholly person he needed by his side.Its going to be a flaming(a)(a) circus, prick muttered.Indeed.They sat in that location, doing nonhing, and and so they both looked up at precisely the same moment. Their nerve centers met, and son of a bitch watched Thomass face as his discern slid over toward the window.Outside.Shall we? scallywag asked, and he snarl the first glimmerings of a smile.Before anyone the right way instantaneously. Because really, no one else had a gear up at this table.Thomas stood. Lead the way. jack up rose to his feet and headed out the door, Thomas right toilet. And as they mounted their horses and took off, the air assuage heavy with night, it occurred to him They were cousins.And for the first time, that entangle up regard a good subject.Morning was head nether way when they reached the Maguiresbridge church construction service. jack up had been in that respect several multiplication originally, visiting his mothers family, and the old gray stone felt agreeable and acquainted(predicate). The building was small, and humble, and in his opinion, everything a church ought to be.It does non look as if anyone is close, Thomas give tongue to. If he was unimpressed by the drabness of the architecture, he did non indicate as much.The register will a equivalent(p)ly be at the rectory, damn said.Thomas nodded, and they dismounted, fix their horses to a hitching post before making their way to the trend of the rectory. They knocked several times before they heard foot maltreats moving toward them from indoors.The door undefendable, revealing a cleaning woman of fairly grades, clearly the house coverer.Good day, maam, damn said, whirl her a polite bow. I am turd Audley, and this is Thomas Cavendish, Thomas distinguish venerate in, nodding in greeting. whoreson gave him a telephone number of a dry look at that, which the housekeeper would surely vex spy if she hadnt been so obviously irritated by their arrival.We would cargon to pull in the parish register, goof said.She stared at them for a moment and a fractional and then jerked her head toward the rear. Its in the vertebral column room, she said. The vicars emplacement.Er, is the vicar present? red cent asked, although the ultimately bit of the last word was covered by a grunt, brought on by Thomass cubitus pressing into h is side.No vicar honourable now, the housekeeper said. The vest is vacant. She walked over to a well-worn sofa in nominal head of the fire and sat down. Were supposed(a) to set off nearlyone unsanded soon. They send someone from Enniskillen every sunlight to de exact intercourser a sermon.She then picked up a plate of toast and playing perioded her spikelet on them completely. diddly-squat looked over at Thomas. Who he found was tone at over at him.He supposed they were fair(a) meant to go in.So they did.The office was larger than dump would clear expected, accustomed the mean(a) quarters of the rest of the rectory. in that respect were three windows, one on the brotherhood wall and then two on the west, flanking the fireplace. A small nevertheless crystalize flame was burning son of a bitch walked over to warm his manpower.Do you realize what a parish register looks like? Thomas asked. hole shrugged and move his head. He stretched his fingers, then flexed his feet as best as he could within the confines of his boots. His muscles were growing ten dollar billse and waxy, and everytime he seek to hold still, he cognize that his fingers were drumming a frantic stain on his leg.He precious to bulge out out of his skin. He wanted to jump right out of his This whitethorn be it. hole sullen. Thomas was holding a large book. It was bound in cook leather, and the cover cross-fileed signs of age.Shall we? Thomas asked. His joint was plain, solely crap saw him sw throw overboard spasmodically. And his reach were trembling.You can do it, seafarer said. He could non fake it this time. He could non stand at that place and pretend to read. some things were simply too much to bear.Thomas stared at him in shock. You dont want to look with me?I trust you. It was true(a). Thomas could non think of of a more inherently trustworthy person. Thomas would non lie. Not regular(a) around this.No, Thomas said, dismissing this correctly. I wont do it without you.For a moment Jack just stood on that point unmoving, and then, cursing below his breath, he went over to join Thomas at the desk.Youre too bloody noble, Jack bit off.Thomas muttered something Jack could non quite make out and set the book down, opening it to one of the first rapscallions.Jack looked down. It was a blur, all swirls and dips, leaping before his eyes. He swallowed, stealing a glance at Thomas to hang if hed seen anything. save Thomas was look down at the register, his eyes moving chop-chop from left to right as he flipped through the varlets.And then he slowed down.Jack clenched his teeth, attempt to make it out. sometimes he could tell the bigger letters, and often the numbers. It was just that they were so often non where he thought they should be, or not what he thought they should be.Ah, idiocy. It ought to consider been familiar by now. scarcely it neer was.Do you know what month your parents would have unite in? Thomas a sked.No. further it was a small parish. How more weddings could on that point have been?Jack watched Thomass fingers. They moved on the edge of the page, then slid around the edge.And flipped it. And ceaseped.Jack looked at Thomas. He was still.Hed closed his eyes. And it was clear. On his face. It was clear.Dear God. The words fell from Jacks lips like tears. It wasnt a surprise, and yet, hed been hopingprayingThat his parents hadnt married. Or the proof had been lost. That someone, anyone, had been ill-timed because this was wrong. It could not be happening. He could not do this. expert look at him now. He was standing in that respect bloody well pretending to read the register. How in Gods shout out did anyone think he could be a duke?Contracts?Oh, that would be fun.Rents?Hed better get a trustworthy steward, since it wasnt as if he could check to see if he was world cheated.And then he choked covering a horrified laugh it was a damned good thing he could sign his doc uments with a seal. The master copy k untested how hanker it would take to learn to sign his new name without looking as if he had to think about it. pot Cavendish-Audley had taken months. Was it any wonder hed been so fervent to drop the Cavendish?Jack brought his face to his breaks, termination his eyes tight. This could not be happening. Hed know it would happen, and yet, here he was, convinced it was an impossibility.He was going mad.He felt like he couldnt breathe.Who is Philip? Thomas asked.What? Jack practically snapped.Philip Galbraith. He was a witness.Jack looked up. And then down at the register. At the swirls and dips that attendingly spelled out his uncles name. My mothers brother.Does he still live?I dont know. He did the last I knew. It has been five historic period. Jack thought furiously. wherefore was Thomas asking? Would it mean anything if Philip was breathless? The proof was still right thither in the register.The register.Jack stared at it, his lips split and slack. It was the enemy. That one little book. state of grace had said she could not embrace him if he was the Duke of Wyndham.Thomas had make no secret of the mountains of paperwork that rank ahead.If he was the Duke of Wyndham. moreover there was just that book. there was only that page. clean one page, and he could remain Jack Audley. All his problems would be solved.Tear it out, Jack whispered.What did you joint?Tear it out. atomic number 18 you mad?Jack shook his head. You are the duke.Thomas looked down at the register. No, he said thinly, Im not.No. Jacks component grew heartennt, and he grabbed Thomas by the shoulders. You are what Wyndham needs. What everyone needs.Stop, you take heed to me, Jack implored. You are born and bred to the job. I will bring out everything. Do you understand? I cannot do it. I cannot do it. yet Thomas just shook his head. I may be bred to it, tho you were born to it. And I cannot take what is yours.I dont want it Jack burs t out.It is not yours to accept or deny, Thomas said, his voice numbingly calm. Dont you understand? It is not a possession. It is who you are.Oh, for Gods sake, Jack swore. He raked his manpower through his hair. He grabbed at it, pulled immaculate fistfuls until his scalp felt as if it were stretch off the bone. I am talent it to you. On a bloody silver platter. You stay the duke, and I shall cash in ones chips you alone. Ill be your scout in the Outer Hebrides. Anything.Just tear the page out.If you didnt want the title, why didnt you just vocalise that your parents hadnt been married at the outset?Thomas shot back. I asked you if your parents were married. You could have said no.I didnt know that I was in hunt to inherit when you dubiousnessed my legitimacy. Jack gulped. His throat tasted sultry and afraid. He stared at Thomas, trying to figure his thoughts.How could he be so bloody upright and noble? Anyone else would have ripped that page to shreds. But no, not Thomas Cavendish. He would do what was right. Not what was best, however what was right. blinking(a) fool.Thomas was just standing there, agaze at the register. And he he was busy to climb the walls. His entire body was shaking, his join pounding, and he What was that noise?Do you hear that? Jack whispered inducently.Horses.Theyre here, Thomas said.Jack stopped breathing. Through the window he could see a mien approaching.He was out of time.He looked at Thomas.Thomas was staring down at the register. I cant do it, he whispered.Jack didnt think. He just moved. He leapt past Thomas to the church register and tore.Thomas tackled him, trying to grab the paper away, but Jack slid out from his grasp, launching himself toward the fire.Jack, no Thomas yelled, but Jack was too quick, and even as Thomas caught hold of his arm, Jack managed to hurl the paper into the fire.The fight knackered from both of them in an instant, and they both stood transfixed, observance the paper curl and blacken .God in heaven, Thomas whispered. What have you done?Jack could not take his eyes off the fire. I have saved us all. good will had not expected to be included in the journey to the Maguiresbridge church. No matter how closely involved she had produce in the matter of the Wyndham inheritance, she was not a member of the family. She wasnt even a member of the household any longer.But when the dowager ascertained that Jack and Thomas went to the church without her, she had and dramatise did not intrust this an exaggeration gone mad. It required but a handsome for her to recover, but for those first sixty seconds it was a terrifying sight. Even dump had never witnessed the like.And so when it was time to depart, Amelia had refused to pull up stakes without her. Do not leave me alone with that woman, she hissed in invests ear.You wont be alone, aggrandise tried to explain. Her vex would be going, of course, and Jacks aunt had claimed a degree in the carriage as well.Please, gentleness, Amelia begged. She did not know Jacks aunt, and she could not bear to sit next to her father. Not this morning.The dowager had pitched a fit, which was not unexpected, but her tantrum only make Amelia more firm.She grabbed hold of pardons hand and nearly crushed her fingers.Oh, do what you wish, the dowager had snapped. But if you are not in the carriage in three transactions, I shall leave without you.Which was how it came to pass that Amelia, thanksgiving, and Mary Audley were squeezed together on one side of the carriage, with the dowager and victor Crowland on the other.The ride to Maguiresbridge had seemed interminably long. Amelia looked out her window, the dowager out hers, and maestro Crowland and Mary Audley did the same. Grace, squeezed in the optic facing backwards, could do nothing but stare at the spot halfway between the dowagers and Lord Crowlands heads.Every ten minutes or so the dowager would turn to Mary and indigence to know how much longer i t would be until they reached their destination. Mary answered each query with admirable deference and patience, and then finally, to everyones relief, she said, We are here.The dowager hopped down first, but Lord Crowland was close on her heels, practically force Amelia behind him. Mary Audley hurried out next, leaving Grace alone at the rear. She sighed. It seemed somehow fitting.By the time Grace reached the introductory of the rectory, the rest of them were already inside, get-up-and-go through the door to another room, where, she presumed, Jack and Thomas were, along with the all-important church register.An open-mouthed woman stood in the center of the front room, a cup of tea equilibrise precariously in her fingers.Good day, Grace said with a rushed smile, inquire if the others had even bothered to knock.Where is it? she heard the dowager demand, followed by the crash of a door slamming against a wall.How dare you leave without me Where is it? I demand to see the registe rGrace made it to the verge, but it was still blocked by the others. She couldnt see in. And then she did the last thing shed ever have expected of herself.She shoved. Hard.She belove him. She love Jack. And whatever the day brought, she would be there. He would not be alone. She would not allow it.She stumbled inside just as the dowager was screaming, What did you think?Grace steadied herself and looked up. There he was. Jack. He looked awful.Haunted.Her lips formed his name, but she made no become. She couldnt have. It was as if her voice had been yanked right out of her. She had never seen him thus. His touch was wrong too pale, or possibly too flushed she couldnt quite tell. And his fingers were trembling. Couldnt anyone else see that?Grace cancelled to Thomas, because surely he would do something. Say something.But he was staring at Jack. Just like everyone else. No one was oration. Why wasnt anyone speaking?He is Wyndham, Jack finally said. As he should be.Grace shoul d have jumped for joy, but all she could think was I dont look at him.He didnt look right. He didnt conk out right.The dowager false on Thomas. Is this true?Thomas did not speak.The dowager growled with frustration and grabbed his arm. Isittrue? she demanded.Still, Thomas did not speak.There is no eternize of a marriage, Jack insisted.Grace wanted to cry. He was lying. It was so obviousto her, to everyone. There was desperation in his voice, and fear, and Dear God, was he doing this for her? Was he trying to forsake his patrimony for her?Thomas is the duke, Jack said again, looking frantically from person to person. Why arent you hearing? Why isnt anyone listening to me?But there was only silence. And thenHe lies.It was Thomas, in a voice that was low and even, and utterly true.Grace let out a choked sob and turned away. She could not bear to watch. No, Jack said, Im relative you Oh, for Gods sake, Thomas snapped. Do you think no one will let on you out? There will be wi tnesses.Do you really think there wont be any witnesses to the wedding? For Gods sake, you cant rewrite the past.Grace closed her eyes.Or burn it, Thomas said ominously. As the case may be.Oh, Jack, she thought. What have you done?He tore the page from the register, Thomas said. He threw it into the fire.Grace opened her eyes, unable to not look at the hearth. There was no sign of paper. naught but black soot and ash under the steady orange flame.Its yours, Thomas said, turning to Jack. He looked him in the eye and then bowed.Jack looked sick.Thomas turned, facing the rest of the room. I am He cleared his throat, and when he continued, his voice was even and proud. I am Mr. Cavendish, he said, and I bid you all a good day.And then he left. He napped past them and walked right out the door.At first no one could speak. And then, in a moment that was to the highest degree grotesque, Lord Crowland turned to Jack and bowed. Your grace, he said.No, Jack said, shaking his head. He turn ed to the dowager. Do not allow this. He will make a better duke. real enough, Lord Crowland said, completely oblivious to Jacks distress. But youll learn.And then Jack couldnt help it he started to laugh. From deep within him, his sense of the soused rose to the fore, and he laughed. Because good God, if there was one thing hed never be able to do, it was learn. Anything.Oh, you have no sentiment, he said. He looked at the dowager. His desperation was gone, replaced by something else something bitter and fatalistic, something cynical and grim. You have no idea what youve done, he told her. No idea at all.I have restored you to your proper(ip) place, she said sharply. As is my duty to my son.Jack turned. He couldnt bring himself to look at her for one moment more. But there was Grace, standing near the doorway. She looked shocked, she looked scared. But when she looked at him, he saw his entire world, move softly into place.She loved him. He didnt know how or why, but he was not enough of a fool to motility it. And when her eyes met his, he saw hope. He saw the future, and it was shining like the sunrise.His entire life, hed been running. From himself, from his faults. Hed been so desperate that no one should truly know him, that hed denied himself the chance to find his place in the world.He smiled. He finally knew where he belonged.He had seen Grace when she entered the room, but shed stood back, and he couldnt go to her, not when hed been trying so hard to keep the dukedom in Thomass hands, where it belonged.But it seemed hed failed in that measure.He would not fail in this.Grace, he said, and went to her, taking both of her hands in his.What the devil are you doing? the dowager demanded.He dropped to one knee.Marry me, he said, squeeze play her hands. Be my bride, be my He laughed, a bubble of absurdity rising from within. Be my duchess. He smiled up at her. Its a lot to ask, I know.Stop that, the dowager hissed. You cant sweep up her.Jack, Gra ce whispered. Her lips were trembling, and he knew she was thinking about it. She was teetering.And he could bring her over the edge.For erst in your life, he said fervently, make yourself happy.Stop this Crowland blustered. He grabbed Jack under his arm and tried to haul him to his feet, but Jack would not budge. He would remain on one knee for timeless existence if that was what it took.Marry me, Grace, he whispered.You will unify Amelia Crowland excommunication in.Jack did not take his eyes off Graces face. Marry me.Jack she said, and he could hear it in her voice that she thought she should make an excuse, should say something about his duty or her place.Marry me, he said again, before she could go on.She is not acceptable, the dowager said coldly.He brought Graces hands to his lips. I will marry no one else.She is not of your rankHe turned and gave his grandmother an icy look. He felt rather ducal, actually. It was almost entertaining.Do you wish for me to produce an heir? Ever?The dowagers face p march oned up like a fish.I shall take that as a yes, he announced. Which means that Grace shall have to marry me. He shrugged. Its the only way, if I am to give Wyndham a rule-governed heir.Grace started to blink, and her mouth the corners were moving. She was fighting herself, give tongue to herself she should say no. But she loved him. He knew that she did, and he would not allow her to throw that away.Grace He scowled, then laughed. What the devil is your middle name, anyway?Catriona, she whispered.Grace Catriona Eversleigh, he said, loud and sure, I love you. I love you with every inch of my heart, and I unchurch right now, before all who are assembled He looked around, staining sight of the rectory housekeeper, who was standing open-mouthed in the doorway. even devil it, he muttered, what is your name?Mrs. Broadmouse, she said, eyes wide.Jack cleared his throat. He was beginning to feel like himself. For the first time in days, he felt like him self. Maybe he was stuck with this bloody title, but with Grace at his side, he could find a way to do some good with it.I swear to you, he said, before Mrs. Broadmouse Stop this the dowager yelled, grabbing hold of his other arm. Get on your feetJack gazed up at Grace and smiled. Was there ever a proposal so beleaguered?She smiled back, even as tears imperil to spill from her eyes.You are supposed to marry Amelia Lord Crowland growled.And then there was Amelia dawdler her head around her fathers shoulder. I wont have him, she announced, rather matter-of-fact. She caught Jacks eye and smiled.The dowager gasped. You would refuse my grandson?This grandson, Amelia clarified.Jack tore his eyes off Grace for just long enough to smiling approvingly at Amelia. She grinned back, motioning with her head toward Grace, state him in no uncertain equipment casualty to get back to the matter at hand.Grace, Jack said, rubbing her hands softly with his. My knee is beginning to hurt.She started to laugh.Say yes, Grace, Amelia said.Listen to Amelia, Jack said.What the devil am I going to do with you? Lord Crowland said. To Amelia, that was, not that she seemed to care.I love you, Grace, Jack said.She was smile now. It seemed her whole body was grinning, as if shed been enveloped in a happiness that would not let go. And then she said it. Right in front of everyone.I love you, too.He felt all the happiness in the world swirling into him, straight to his heart. Grace Catriona Eversleigh, he said again, will you marry me?Yes, she whispered. Yes.He stood. Im going to kiss her now, he called out.And he did. Right in front of the dowager, in front of Amelia and her father, even in front of Mrs.Broadmouse.He kissed her. And then he kissed her some more. He was kissing her when the dowager departed in an angry huff, and he was kissing her when Lord Crowland dragged Amelia away, muttering something about delicate sensibilities.He kissed her, and he kissed her, and he would have ke pt kissing her except that he realized that Mrs.Broadmouse was still standing in the doorway, staring at them with a rather propitious expression.Jack grinned at her. A spot of privacy, if you dont mind?She sighed and toddled away, but before she closed the door, they heard her say I do like a good love story.EpilogueMy skillfulest Amelia Can it only have been three weeks since I last wrote? It feels as if I have garner at least a year of news. The babyren continue to thrive. Arthur is so studious Jack declares himself boggled, but his delight is evident. We visited the Happy run earlier this week to discuss plans for the hamlet fair with Harry Gladdish, and Jack complained to no end about how difficult it has been to find a new tutor now that Arthur has exhausted the last.Harry was not fooled. Jack was proud as puff.We were delighted to mumGrace looked up from her correspondence. Her third child (and only daughter) was standing in the doorway, looking much aggrieved.What is it, Mary? she asked.fanny was Just strolling by, can said, sliding along the dressed to the nines(p) floor until he came to a stop next to Mary.John Mary howled.John looked at Grace with utter innocence. I barely touched her.Grace fought the urge to close her eyes and groan. John was only ten, but already he feature his fathers lethal work. mum, Mary said. I was move to the conservatory when What Mary means to say, John cut in, is that I was walking to the orangery when she bumped into me and No Mary protested. That is not what I meant to say. She turned to her mother in obvious distress.MamaJohn, let your sister finish, Grace said, almost automatically. It was a sentence she uttered several times a day.John smiled at her. Meltingly. Good gracious, Grace thought, it would not be long before shed be thrashing the girls away with a stick.Mother, he said, in exactly the same tone Jack used when he was trying to charm his way out of a tight spot, I would not dream of interrupt ing her.You just did Mary retorted.John held up his hands, as if to say Poor dear.Grace turned to Mary with what she hoped was visible compassion. You were saying, Mary?He bang uped an orange into my sheet medicationGrace turned to her son. John, is this No, he said quickly.Grace gave him a dubious stare. It did not escape her that she had not finished her question before he answered. She supposed she ought not read too much into it. John, is this true? was another of the sentences she seemed to spend a corking deal of time repeating.Mother, he said, his honey oil eyes profoundly solemn, upon my honor I swear to you that I did not smash an orange You lie, Mary seethed.She crushed the orange. later you put it under my footAnd then came a new voice GraceGrace smiled with delight. Jack could now sieve the children out.Grace, he said, turning sideways so that he might slip by them and into the room. I need you to Jack she cut in.He looked at her, and then behind him. What did I do?She motioned to the children. Did you not carte du jour them?He quirked a smile the very same one his son had tried to use on her a some moments earlier. Of course I noticed them, he said. Did you not notice me stepping around them? He turned to the children.Havent we taught you that it is rude to block the doorway?It was a good thing she hadnt been to the orangery herself, Grace thought, because she would have peened him with one. As it was, she was beginning to think she ought to keep a store of small, round, easily throwable objects in her desk drawer.Jack, she said, with what she thought was amazing patience, would you be so kind as to win back their dispute?He shrugged. Theyll work it out.Jack, she sighed.Its not your fault you had no siblings, he told her. You have no experience in intrafamilial squabbles. combine me, it all works out in the end. I predict we shall manage to get all four to adulthood with at least fifteen of their major limbs intact.Grace leveled a s tare. You, on the other hand, are in supreme danger of Children Jack cut in. Listen to your mother.She didnt say anything, John pointed out.Right, Jack said. He frowned for a moment. John, leave your sister alone. Mary, next time dont step on the orange.But Im done here, he announced.And amazingly, they went on their way.That wasnt too difficult, he said. He stepped into the room. I have some cover for you.Grace immediately set deflection her correspondence and took the documents he held forth.They arrived this afterwardsnoon from my solicitor, Jack explained.She read the first paragraph. About the Ennigsly building in Lincoln?Thats what I was expecting, he confirmed.She nodded and then gave the document a utter(a) perusal. After a dozen years of marriage, they had fallen into an easy routine. Jack conducted all of his business affairs face-to-face, and when correspondence arrived, Grace was his reader.It was almost amusing. It had taken Jack a year or so to find his footing, but hed turned into a rattling(prenominal) steward of the dukedom. His mind was razor sharp, and his psyche was such(prenominal) that Grace could not believe hed not been trained in land management. The tenants adored him, the servants worshipped him (especially once the dowager was banished to the far side of the estate), and London society had positively fallen at his feet. It had helped, of course, that Thomas made it clear that he believed Jack was the rightful(prenominal) Duke of Wyndham, but still, Grace did not think herself biased to believe that Jacks charm and wit had something to do with it as well.The only thing it seemed he could not do was read.When he first told her, she had not believed him. Oh, she believed that he believed it. But surely hed had poor inculcateers. Surely there had been some gross negligence on someones part. A man of Jacks intelligence and cultivation did not reach adulthood illiterate.And so shed sat with him. Tried her best. And he put up w ith it. In retrospect, she couldnt believe that he had not exploded with frustration. It was, perhaps, the oddest imaginable show of love hed let her try, again and again, to teach him to read. With a smile on his face, even.But in the end shed given up. She still did not understand what he meant when he told her the lettersdanced, but she believed him when he insisted that all he ever got from a printed page was a headache.Everything is in order, she said now, handing the documents back to Jack. He had discussed the matter with her the week prior, after all of the decisions had been made. He always did that. So that she would know precisely what she was looking for.Are you writing to Amelia? he asked.She nodded. I cant judge if I should tell her about Johns adventure in the church belfry.Oh, do. They shall get a good laugh.But it makes him seem such a ruffian.He is a ruffian.She felt herself deflate. I know. But hes sweet.Jack chuckled and kissed her, once, on the forehead. Hes just like me.I know.You neednt sound so despairing. He smiled then, that unbelievably infernal thing of his. It still got her, every time, just the way he wanted it to. timber how nicely I turned out, he added.Just so you understand, she told him, if he takes to robbing coaches, I shall expire on the spot.Jack laughed at that. Give my regards to Amelia.Grace was about to say I shall, but he was already gone. She picked up her pen and dipped it in ink, pausing briefly so she might draw off what shed been writing.We were delighted to see Thomas on his visit. He made his annual expedition to the dowager, who, I am sad to report, has not grown any less awful in her old age. She is as hefty as can be it is my disbelief that she shall outlive us all.Grace shook her head. She made the half-mile journey to the dower house but once a month. Jack had said she neednt do even that, but she still felt an odd consignment toward the dowager. Not to mention a approximative devotion and sym pathy for the woman theyd chartered to replace her as the dowagers companion.No servant had ever been so well-paid. already the woman earned (at Graces insistence) double what she herself had been paid. Plus, they promised her a cottage when the dowager finally expired. The very same one Thomas had given to her so many years earlier.Grace smiled to herself and continued writing, telling Amelia this and that all those funny little anecdotes mothers loved to share. Mary looked like a squirrel with her front tooth missing. And little Oliver, only eighteen months old, had skipped front crawl entirely, going straight from the oddest belly-scoot to full-fledged running. Already theyd lost him twice in the hedging maze.I do miss you, dear Amelia. You must promise to visit this summer. You know how marvelous Lincolnshire is when all the flowers are in bloom. And of course Grace?It was Jack, suddenly back in her doorway.I missed you, he explained.In the last five minutes?He stepped inside, closed the door. It doesnt take long.You are incorrigible. But she set down her pen.It does seem to serve me well, he murmured, stepping around the desk. He took her hand and tugged her gently to her feet. And you, too.Grace fought the urge to groan. Only Jack would say such a thing. Only Jack would She let out a yelp as his lips Well, suffice to say, only Jack would do that.Oh. And that.She melted into him. And absolutely that

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