Home > Someday My Duke Will Come

Someday My Duke Will Come
Author: Christina Britton


Prologue

1804

 

Quincy had not cried since they’d told him his father was dead.

His older brothers hadn’t shed a tear. Already adults, they had stood silently by as their father’s ornate casket had been interred in the family vault, their harsh faces impassive in the shadows of their umbrellas. Their mother, too, had not broken down. If anything, she had looked put out by the whole ordeal.

But then he had never expected any of the softer emotions from her.

Now, however, his father two weeks dead and Quincy back in London with his mother, he felt his grief slowly begin to break through. In this house where he had grown up, he was surrounded by memories he could no longer hold at bay.

A sob bubbled up in his throat. He pressed his fist to his lips, the metallic tinge of blood hitting his tongue as the force of his teeth split his skin. What was the point in crying, after all? Not only would it bring his mother’s wrath down on his head should she hear him, but no amount of tears would bring his father back.

He dug his fingers into the worn leather spine of his father’s favorite book, clutched tight to his narrow chest. How often had they pored over the contents, folding out the maps, tracing the mountain ranges and rivers, their combined imaginings spinning adventures from the very air? So many plans for the future, dreaming of life far away from English shores, seeing together the wonders of the world they had only read about.

All gone now.

Desolation swept over him until he felt he’d drown in it. He curled into a tighter ball, doing his best to tuck his long, lanky frame into the recess under his father’s desk. He used to hide here when he was young, listening as his father did business with his solicitors, resting his cheek on his father’s knee and taking the biscuits he used to pass down to him with a wink and a smile. He had never once scolded Quincy for his intrusion, never told him to run off and play and leave him in peace.

Quincy was fourteen now, and it had been years since he had fit into this small space. Yet the memory was as vivid as if it were yesterday. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the deep rumble of his father’s voice, could feel his strong fingers as they mussed his hair.

Another sob threatened. How could he live without his father? He had been the only thing that had made living with his mother bearable. That woman who showed no one, not even her sons, an ounce of affection. But most especially Quincy, who she seemed to despise above all others.

As if he had conjured her from the ether, her voice trailed to where he hid; a cold, creeping mist that had him shivering.

“…Quincy must be off hiding. I’ve told the servants to keep a closer eye on him.”

“He’ll turn up for supper, no doubt.” His brother Gordon, now the head of the family, sounded utterly bored. As he ever did when speaking of, or to, Quincy. Being so far behind any of the other Nesbitt boys in age, Quincy had always been an afterthought in his elder brothers’ minds. Something to be tolerated on holidays from school or outright ignored when they were feeling particularly cruel.

Their footsteps sounded in the hall, coming closer. Quincy held the book tighter, squeezing himself down as small as he was able. He remembered too late that this was no longer his father’s desk, but Gordon’s; his father had effectively been replaced.

But there was no time for tears. He had to escape without being seen. There would be no smile and pat on the head from Gordon once he was discovered. He peered out, his eyes hot and anxious as he scanned the room behind the desk. The windows were locked up tight against the inclement weather. Yet perhaps, if he was very quiet, he might slink to the sash and unhinge the lock…

The footsteps stopped abruptly. Quincy, preparing to creep from his hiding place, froze, holding his breath as his mother spoke again.

“I have decided what to do with the boy.”

“I’ve already looked into other schools that might take him,” his brother mumbled. “No matter his unfortunate record at Eton, our name will erase the worst of his offenses. You needn’t have him underfoot for long.”

“I needn’t have him underfoot at all.”

“I hardly think sending him to rusticate at our country estate will be a proper punishment,” Gordon replied. “He will merely get into more mischief.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” she snapped. “Of course I will not send him back there. No, what I have in mind for your brother will toughen him as time in the country never could.”

There was a pause. And then, “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“The navy is always looking for recruits. I’ve signed your brother up for service aboard one of His Majesty’s finest ships.”

Quincy’s stomach dropped out from under him and he blanched. The navy? Surely he’d misheard.

Gordon seemed equally stunned. “He’s but fourteen.”

There was a dismissive scoff from his mother. “Boys much younger than him are made to serve.”

“But our father—”

“Is dead.”

His mother’s voice was cold and flat, and brooked no argument. But Gordon was head of the family now. And while he had never showed Quincy even a modicum of affection, he did not hate him. Surely he would fight for him now that he had the power to.

But Gordon’s voice carried to him, once more indifferent now that his initial shock had worn off. “Very well. I suppose it will save us the cost of a new school.”

“Precisely. It’s best he learn his place sooner rather than later. We can finalize details of the arrangement tomorrow…”

Their voices trailed off, their footsteps receding. It took Quincy some time to emerge from the stunned grief that enveloped him, to realize that he was once more alone.

Alone. That word took on an entirely new meaning. The tears came then, falling down his cheeks, soaking the soft lawn of his shirt. Life had never been ideal. But he’d at least had his father’s love. Even when his pranks had gotten him sent down from school, when disappointment had been greatest, his father had always made sure Quincy understood that he was loved.

Now, however, he was simply a burden, to be gotten rid of at the earliest convenience.

The tears came faster. He let them fall unchecked until there was nothing left in him to give. When he was wrung dry of emotion, he felt his grief shift to anger. And not just anger, but a fury greater than any he had ever felt. They wished to be rid of him? Very well, they would get their wish. But it would be on his terms.

Running his sleeve under his streaming nose, he crept from his hiding spot and pulled open the bottom drawer of the desk. Pushing aside the ledgers that filled the space, he carefully pried open the false bottom and slid his father’s book back within the shallow confines. It had been their secret from the world, their place to store dreams away from his mother’s sharp eyes. Tears threatened once more. Would that he could take the book with him. But while it was compact for all the treasures it held, light travel was imperative. “I’ll see them all, Papa,” he vowed brokenly as he gazed down at the book, nestled in its bed of papers, before carefully closing the hidden space up tight. “For the both of us.”

With one last parting look at the room he had spent so many happy afternoons in, he hurried out the door, making his way on stockinged feet through the silent house to his room. Once there he hurriedly packed what he could before slipping back to the ground floor.

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