Home > Undercover Duke (Duke Dynasty #4)

Undercover Duke (Duke Dynasty #4)
Author: Sabrina Jeffries

 

 


Chapter One


Armitage House, London

November 1809

“The Duke of Greycourt is here to see you, Your Grace.”

Sheridan Wolfe, the Duke of Armitage, looked up from the list of horses in the stables of his family seat, Armitage Hall, to find his butler in the doorway. “Show him in.”

Grey, his half brother, was supposed to be in Suffolk. Thank God that wasn’t the case. Grey would be a welcome distraction from trying to decide which horses should be auctioned off. Sheridan didn’t want to get rid of any of the truly superior mounts or prime goers. But the Armitage dukedom was being crushed by a mountain of debt, thanks to his late uncle’s overspending and the fact that Sheridan’s father . . .

A lump stuck in his throat. The fact that his father—Grey’s stepfather—had died much too soon.

Sheridan shoved the list aside. Damn it, it had been a year already. Why did Father’s death still haunt him so? Even Mother seemed to be handling it better than he was. If not for Grey’s arrival, he could take Juno out for a run in Hyde Park to get his mind off of it.

Perhaps later. The Thoroughbred mare had a knack for—

With a groan, he remembered that Juno no longer belonged to him. She’d been the first he’d had to sell to keep the estate afloat. He’d hated to do so—she was the best saddle mare in his late uncle’s stables—but it was either sell her or one of the racing Thoroughbreds, and he could still get money out of those in stud fees and racing prizes, even if they didn’t make good saddle horses.

What a depressing thought. He rose and walked over to the brandy decanter. He supposed midafternoon was early for spirits, but if he couldn’t ride, then he needed a brandy and a pleasant chat with Grey. He poured himself a glass and was about to pour one for his half brother when the butler showed Grey in, and Sheridan’s idea of a pleasant chat evaporated.

His brother looked as if he’d drunk one too many brandies already and was now about to cast up his accounts. Pale and agitated, Grey scanned the study of Sheridan’s London manor as if expecting a footpad to leap out from behind a bookcase at any moment.

“Do you want anything?” Sheridan asked his brother, motioning to the butler to wait a moment. “Tea? Coffee?” He lifted the glass in his hand. “Brandy?”

“I’ve no time for that, I’m afraid.”

Sheridan waved the butler off. As soon as the door closed, he asked, “What has happened? Is it Beatrice? Surely you’re not in town for the play, not under the circumstances.”

In a few hours the rest of the family would be attending a charitable production of Konrad Juncker’s The Wild Adventures of a Foreign Gentleman Loose in London at the Parthenon Theater. Although Sheridan barely knew the playwright, his other half brother, Thorn, had asked him to go because the charity was a cause near and dear to his wife’s heart: Half Moon House, which helped women of all situations and stations get back on their feet.

Grey shook his head. “No, I came to fetch an accoucheur to attend Beatrice. Our local midwife says my wife may give birth sooner rather than later, and she is worried about complications. So I’ve rushed to London to find a physician to examine Beatrice, in case the midwife is right. The man awaits me in my carriage even as we speak.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Sheridan said, “I would suspect you of having taken Beatrice to bed ‘sooner rather than later,’ but you’ve been married ten months, so this is hardly an early babe.”

“No, indeed. And the midwife might be wrong, but I can’t count on that. That’s why I stopped here on my way out. I need a favor.”

Sheridan cocked his head. “Sadly I have no skills in the area of bringing babies into this world, so—”

“Do you remember how we decided I should be the one to question Aunt Cora about those two house parties we suspected were attended by my father’s killer?”

“I do indeed.”

Their mother’s five children had finally concluded that her thrice-widowed status had not been just a tragic confluence of events. Someone had murdered her husbands, including Maurice Wolfe, the father of Sheridan and his brother Heywood, and the previous holder of the title Duke of Armitage. They suspected the person behind the murders was one of three women, all of whom had been at the house parties underway when the first two husbands had died. So Sheridan and his siblings were now engaged in a covert investigation, and had each taken assignments. Grey’s was to question his aunt Cora, otherwise known as Lady Eustace, who was no relation to any of the rest of them.

Sheridan suddenly realized what the “favor” must be. “No. God, no. I am not doing that.” Damn.

“You don’t know what I’m going to ask,” Grey said.

“I can guess. You want me to be the one to question Lady Eustace.”

Grey sighed. “Yes, given the situation.”

“You’ll be back in town soon enough. It can wait until then, can’t it?”

“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea how long I shall have to be in the country.”

Sheridan dragged in a heavy breath. “Yes, but why ask me to do it? I barely know her.”

“The others don’t know her at all,” Grey pointed out. “But you at least are friendly with Vanessa, and that gives you an excuse.”

Which was precisely why Sheridan didn’t want to do it. Because questioning Lady Eustace meant being around her daughter, Miss Vanessa Pryde, who was too attractive for his sanity, with her raven curls and lush figure and vivacious smile.

“I’ve chatted with Vanessa a handful of times,” Sheridan said. “That hardly makes me ideal for this.”

“Ah, but my aunt and I hate each other. That hardly makes me ideal, since it’s unlikely she’d tell me the truth.”

It was a poorly kept secret in their family that Grey’s uncle Eustace had badly mistreated Grey as a boy, hoping to force him to sign over several properties. That Grey’s aunt Eustace had looked the other way while her husband had done so.

Sheridan sipped some of his brandy. “And why should your aunt tell me the truth?”

“Because you’re an eligible duke. And her daughter is an eligible young lady. Not that I’m suggesting you should even pretend to court Vanessa, but her mother will certainly see the opportunity, and be more likely to let her guard down.”

“I’m not so sure. Your aunt has always been cold to me, probably because I’m a poor eligible duke. She’s looking for a wealthy man for Vanessa. And Vanessa will need one, to be honest. The chit is spoiled and impudent, a dangerous combination for a man who can’t afford expensive gowns and furs and jewelry for his wife. I’m already barely treading water. A wife like Vanessa would drown me.”

Grey narrowed his gaze. “Vanessa isn’t so much spoiled as determined to get her own way.”

“How is that different?”

“A spoiled girl has had everything handed to her, so she expects that to continue once she’s married. Trust me, while Vanessa has been given certain advantages, she’s also had to grow up in a turbulent household. Hence her determination not to let anyone ride roughshod over her.”

“Still, marrying such a woman means having constant strife in one’s marriage.”

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