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Authors: Regina Jeffers

The Scandal of Lady Eleanor

BOOK: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
I dedicate this book to my readers, who believe,
as I do, that love is the most compelling of tasks.
PROLOGUE
“WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO?” James Kerrington rasped as he leaned across Brantley Fowler, pretending to reach for the bowl of fruit. Kerrington watched Fowler's countenance tighten as the man stared toward where the Baloch warriors held the girl. Kerrington really did not need to ask. He and Fowler were the original members of a group the British government “lovingly” called the Realm. All seven of the unit ranged between the ages of nineteen and five and twenty. As he was the oldest among them, the others called Kerrington “Captain.” In many ways, he had served as the leader of their unit, although the government never made any such distinction.
The others called Fowler “The Vicar” because he always wanted to
save
every lost soul he saw, especially the women and children. Surprisingly, through an authoritative persuasion, people confessed to Fowler nearly as quickly as they did an actual clergyman. He had joined Kerrington after a short stint with some shady seamen following the young man's alienation from his father and the title he would eventually inherit. His friend never said exactly what happened, but Kerrington's family knew Fowler's indirectly. James's mother, Lady Camelia Kerrington, had made her Come Out with Fowler's aunt, Agatha Braton, the Duchess of Norfield, and so James knew some of the family history. Fowler's father, the Duke of Thornhill, held a reputation for his lusty sexual appetite. Having seen his friend try to save more than one woman who suffered at the hands of a brute, Kerrington suspected some truth to the gossip.
Fowler gritted his teeth, offering a grim smile to the Baloch warriors sitting about the low table, while Kerrington immediately assessed the situation. Fowler hissed, “Each man who enters that tent gives the girl a rupee because Mir says that is all she is worth—one rupee—one shilling and fourpence in England.” His friend's breathing became shallow, obviously biting back anger. “She is not yet sixteen.”
“You cannot save the world, Fowler,” Gabriel Crowden, another Realm member, cautioned.
Fowler insisted, “I can save her.”
“Oh, Lord, here we go again,” Crowden grumbled as he slid across the bench and into the shadows. “Give me time to get into place.”
Kerrington stiffened in anticipation as the future Duke of Thornhill stood slowly and stretched, pretending to need to exercise his legs. “I think I will take a walk,” Fowler announced, but before he could execute more than five steps in the direction of the girl's tent, a burly-looking soldier blocked his friend's path. Without saying a word, the man told Fowler to reconsider his choices.
Raising his hands in an act of submission, Fowler smiled largely and turned to Kerrington with a warning of what was to come. He shrugged as if to agree with the warrior, but in a split second, he struck the guard an uppercut, sending the man reeling with a broken nose.
A heartbeat later, Kerrington and Fowler stood back-to-back, taking on all comers, delivering lethal thrust after deathly jab. “I have it,” Kerrington called as he parlayed a broken chair for a weapon. “Get the girl. Take her to the Bombay safe house.” He shoved Fowler toward the girl's tent.
Kerrington's partner did not look back; Fowler knew he could count on James and the others in his group. Together, they would give him time to make a complete getaway.
Preparing for the next assault, he wondered about his own sanity. How many times over the past two years had Fowler gotten him in “a fight to the death” in order to save some female? Somehow,
James had accepted his friend's “need” to rescue the disadvantaged. It seemed only fair, if he was to die, that James should do so in an effort to save some woman—an act of penance, so to speak. Kerrington could not save the woman he had loved—Elizabeth Morris—the woman he had married and had promised to love and to honor and to protect “as long as we both shall live.” Unfortunately, Elizabeth Kerrington had lived but two years, two months, and ten days before she died in childbirth—his child—their child. Maybe by saving these women he might atone for what he could not do for Elizabeth, and what he did to Daniel—just walking away from the boy, unable to look at his own child without seeing Elizabeth and feeling the pain of her loss.
Turning his head, Kerrington saw Fowler pulling the scantily clad girl behind him, heading for the horses. James spun, twirling a sword he pulled from his walking stick, using the stick and the rapier in tandem with swinging figure eights to ward off three Baloch soldiers. “Now!” he called above the battle's clamor, and the Realm members synchronized their final strikes, leaving their opponents sprawled on the tent's floor. They dashed toward their tethered horses, swinging up into the saddles. They would distract their pursuers, heading in three different directions—all different from the way Fowler fled—to meet again in two days at their common house.
Racing toward the nearest hill, Kerrington pulled up the reins to take a quick look, making sure they all made it out safely. He felt responsible, although each man was quite capable and very menacing in his own right. “Let us depart, Captain,” Aidan Kimbolt called from somewhere behind him. James had seen all he needed to see—they all were moving away from Shaheed Mir's tents.Turning the horse in a complete circle, he simply nodded to his riding partner before galloping away into the dying sunset.
CHAPTER 1
FIVE YEARS LATER.
 
“How are you, Sir?” James sat in the wing chair beside his father's bed. The Earl of Linworth suffered from a weak heart and had been abed for well over a year. James had returned home nearly two years earlier to assume the position as his father's heir.
“Your mother tells me you are off to Kent.” James noted that the earl's voice seemed stronger than usual.
“Brantley Fowler finally returned to claim his title; Thornhill passed two months ago after a long illness. Fowler asked if I would come and take a look at the books for the estate. He says something does not seem right. I cannot imagine what it might be, but considering the late Duke was ill for some time, possibly someone took advantage of the situation.”
“How long will you be away?” The earl shifted up in the bed, trying to use the many pillows as support.
James stuffed one of the smaller cushions into the stack to brace his father's lower back. “I can handle the books from anywhere, so unless you need me for something specific at Linton Park, I thought of taking in some of the Season. I will stay at Worthing Hall.”
The earl gave a slight shake of his head in the positive. “You mean to look for a wife?”
“It is time, but I will not settle for the first girl out of the schoolroom. Daniel will inherit so I do not need an heir. I plan to just
look. I heard from Crowden; he will be in London also. It will be more pleasant with old friends.” James silently cringed every time he thought of Daniel and the wrongs he did to the boy. His poor Daniel still faltered and seemed out of place when James showed him any attention, and although he knew things were inherently better, he did not know exactly how to repair things with the boy, and so the awkwardness continued.
James knew his answer would not please his father, who wanted to see him married and starting up a nursery before the man passed. However, the earl tactfully said, “Did you see to the new seed?”
“Yes, Sir. Everything is ready for the growing season. I met with the cottagers and with Mackleroy; there will be no problems.”
“You are a good son,” his father looked directly at James. “I could not ask for better.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
The earl took on a serious mien. “I want you to look for a school for Daniel; the boy is old enough for Eton. We cannot coddle him forever.”
James did not wish to send his son away; he had wasted too many years trying to kill the pain of losing Elizabeth. He realized his father was of the “old school,” those who sent their children off to be educated by others, but, despite being an absent father for so many years, James had hoped to be an influence on his son's life—to show his child his love. “I will look into it, Sir.” He would wait before parting with Elizabeth's child; once Daniel started school, James would see very little of him. He had recently decided that in his search for a wife he would consider Daniel's needs also. His son needed a mother, or, at least, a woman who would treat him with some kindness, maybe even affection. He would add those qualities to his list for his new bride.
“You will give Fowler our regards.”
“Yes, Sir.”
“And if you make the acquaintance of his aunt, the Dowager Duchess, hint that your mother might wish to renew their social
relationship. Camelia spends all her time tending to me; she deserves a life of her own, especially when my time is over.”
James looked uncomfortable, not wishing to speak of such a loss. “You have many years ahead of you, Father, and neither Mother nor I will hear of anything less. However, I will foster Her Grace's good favor for Mother's sake.”
BOOK: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor
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