(Four months till the wedding)
“I tell you, my lady; I have it on good authority that his Grace, your very own betrothed has sacked a man who worked for his household nigh on twenty years. He had the audacity to tell him he would be thrown out on his ear, with no references or even his clothes. It is savage I tell you, savage!”
For the past hour while helping her dress, and fixing her hair, her maid had been engaged in gossip, so engrossed in hearing her own voice that when the brush had begun pulling her hair, the woman never noticed when she exclaimed, “Ouch!” or “Please take care Elizabeth!”
The only thing she focused on was relaying the nasty on dits of the day. She had began with the sordid love affairs of the ton's unmarried ladies, and ended with this new found news about her intended husband. By the end of the day, everyone would probably hear about his supposed temper.
Knowing her maid as she did, the lady had probably not heard anything other than the servant's point of view. That if she inquired further, she could have surmised that said servant, angry at being released for whatever reason, could have spread some untrue rumors.
As she thought back to the kiss he had forced upon her, she believed him capable of anything. Another note had been sent to her this morning, the Duke telling her of his intention to escort to his mother's residence, so that they could finally meet. At the end of his message, he claimed that his sisters would be in attendance, evening out the numbers, so to speak.
Even knowing that they would be there, somehow the knowledge did not make her feel better. Uneasiness had stolen over her, refusing to leave.
When the Duke did show himself, he stayed to speak with her parents for a short time, making idle conversation. Afterward, he led her toward a phaeton, lifting her bodily into the high seat. He joined her shortly thereafter, leaving her in a precarious position. With every turn he made, she became squished against his side.
He firmly held the reins, so he could not look her way. For some odd reason, she could practically feel the weight of his stare through the bodice of her lavender dress. They drove so fast that when they reached the estate, she became startled. Like a gentleman should, he helped her down, she thanked him properly.
As they walked toward the front door, she took in lush gardens filled with various colored flowers. Immaculately trimmed bushes stood up against the four huge columns of the three stories home. He walked her past all the beauty of the outside, and into the front hall. All color fled, becoming replaced with something she rather expected.
Black and white marble tile lined the floor. A candle chandelier, gilded with diamonds, along with black candle holders cast shadows on paintings of relatives hanging on every surface of the walls. Suits of silver armor stood sentry at the base of a formal set of spiraling stairs, all of them highly polished, at the ready for battle, if necessary.
Firmly he compelled her down a few hallways, through a few turns before stopping at a huge set of double doors with two small windows at the top. A servant, most likely the butler opened the door, leading her to her doom. He announced their names, then departed.
An older lady sat regally on a floral chaise lounge, dazzling diamonds at her throat, wrists and ears. Her body showed the wealth of her station. Her head held high, the woman exuded complete authority.
As Prudence came forward, her mouth pinched. Whether the Duke noticed her immediate dislike, or did not care, she had not a clue. He clicked his heels together when they stopped in front of her chair. She curtsied, he bowed deep.
The Dowager Duchess pasted a smile of false welcome upon her lips. Piercing gray eyes showed her disdain. “So, you are the one my son has chosen?”
She nodded. “Yes, your Grace. And, as we are all here to become acquainted, I am curious, what are your interests, my lady?”
Waving a hand in the air, she almost poked Prudence in the eye. “Take a seat, both of you. I do not wish to speak till we are all refreshed. Did you know that it is rude to talk over someone while they are seated?”
Her face heated as he led her to a grouping of seats. Instead of choosing individual chairs for each of them, he waved her to a settee so he could sit as close to her side as possible. A servant came in a few moments later with tea and scones. They were served; his mother ate and drank rather slowly before saying another word.
“I have been taught the usual lady-like pursuits. I can embroider, play pianoforte and paint. What of your talents?”
Only at that moment did she realize that the twins had not come. She wondered why he promised her they would, then decided that she could not ask, for she would probably be chastised as being rude again. “I am nimble with the needles only, your Grace. I fear that is all I can do well.”
A bushy eyebrow shot practically all the way up to her dark hairline, barely a speck of gray to be seen. “I am disappointed to hear of your lack of proper education. What then do you profess to bring with you when you marry my son? So far, I have seen nothing to impress me.”
Prudence sucked in an outraged breath, taking much needed time to calm herself. “I have my dowry, and a sizable part of my father's land. That should surely be enough of an impression my lady.”
Turning her focus upon her son, her mouth turned sour. “Do you think your bride to be, should be speaking of such matters? It is such a crass subject for ladies.”
Daring not to move a muscle, she eagerly awaited his response. “Ladies often handle estate matters, along with their household duties these days. As I do not wish for an ignorant help mate as a Duchess, I can not say I object.”
Utter disappointment filled her. He had neither complimented or insulted her. Like usual, she had no comprehension of how best to live with a man like him.
“Son, you know how I feel about modern approaches. I hope from this day forward you dare not mention them to me again. What you do while not in my presence, though, is none of my concern.”
Prudence stiffened when the Duchess eyed her with further annoyance. “Bringing this one to my home makes me wonder if you are perhaps playing some jest at my expense. Of course, I could overlook such an ill attempt at humor, if you promise to get a child on this one as soon as possible.”
Her face flamed at the implication. His words made her feel worse. “I have never failed at any responsibility you have tossed my way.”
She sighed loudly. “Yes, you have been a very obedient son for a long time. I should have never implied otherwise.”
Her eyes turning into miniature shards, she continued her hostility. “My dear, since your parents were remiss in providing a proper upbringing, it will pass to me to take over the reins after the marriage. You will learn to show me proper respect.”
Two opposing thoughts clashed through her mind. First, being that she wanted to claw the harpy's eyes out of her skull. The second, more submissive part of her wished she could sink through the floor never to be seen again. Self-preservation won, she wanted this meeting over with as soon as possible.
“Yes, your Grace.”
“Wonderful, you do possess some common sense. The task of molding you into my image will be easier than I had hoped. I will be most eager to begin our lessons when the time comes.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched the Duke sip his cup of tea, nonchalant about his mother's behavior; it vexed her that he let the awful woman go on with her poisonous rant.
“You have made sure your bride has her dress and jewelry by now, I assume?”
He put his drink in the saucer. “I have purchased what she needs. Including some flowers I saw the other day. My steward has informed me that everything is going smoothly. The church, thanks to Miss Prescott's father, will be St. George. The date has been set, July, I believe.”
“The banns have been read three times, the license procured by now?” She lifted her brow, seeming to be very curious about an event in which she clearly disapproved.
Worry scrunched her brow. “There is another matter I wish to discuss with you that is very urgent. It is something to do with family business. Even though, this woman is your soon to be wife, I would like to speak to you about it privately. But, I would like her to stay in another room until our discussion is over.”
The Duke nodded, helping her up out of her seat. “Leave us for a while. I will come to fetch you when we are finished. I am sure you can find a servant, apprise them of the situation and stay put?”
Prudence reluctantly nodded even though she feared his confidence would land her in trouble, if she were to become lost or disoriented. Of course, she put on her best smile, pretending to have her wits under control. “That should not be a problem, my lord.”
She closed the door behind her. As luck would have it, she found the man she had assumed to be the butler earlier, found out she had been correct, informed him of the Duke's wishes, and so she sat in another room for a long while waiting...
When the door closed behind Prudence, Julius took in his mother’s expression and knew without a doubt that whatever she had to say would be dire.
“You recall that despicable servant Geoffrey, the one you dismissed?”
A twinge of alarm went down his spine. “But, of course, how could I forget his blatant thievery?”
“Then, I expect you have also heard the rumors circulating about how awful you had been when the poor man was ousted from his position?”
His back stiffened, he felt his hands curling. Rage built within him. “Yes, how could I not? I have heard the outrage. Others have defended my actions as well. It is the usual ton fodder, I have no use for it.”
“You should have a use for it son. This is why I had to speak to you privately. There is something in which I should have told you a long time ago, but did not have the heart.”
Going over to the sideboard, she poured herself some brandy, swallowing the drink in one large gulp. Nothing could have surprised him more; she had never had anything stronger than tea in front of him for over twenty years.
“What is wrong mother?”
“Because of your hasty decision, something I hoped would remain buried is about to be dug up. That is, of course, unless we do something to stop it from happening.”
His head began spinning; he had to retake his seat. “I fear I am at a loss. For you know something I do not.”
He watched her take a deep breath, releasing it slowly before she came to sit at his feet. Pure fear, along with tears appeared within her eyes, she clutched at his legs.
“If this knowledge becomes released, or should I say when, our family will be ruined. Your sisters will not find husbands. We might lose our entire livelihood.”
If you have missed the story from the beginning, here are the links:
Part One: RewriteofPartOne
Part Two: PartTwo
Part Three: DukeofDarknessPartThree
Part Four: DukeofDarknessPartFour
Part Five: DukeofDarknessPartFive