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Monday Puzzler > Puzzler: 16 September 2019

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message 1: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1127 comments Greetings!
I really enjoyed this book - I loved both the hero and heroine! plus the added mystery!
I hope you enjoy!
xxx

“Stop the carriage!” roared Hero FirstName, Duke of Txxxx, pounding on the ceiling with his fist.

The carriage slowed and swerved to the side of the avenue. He unlatched the window and stuck out his head. Unfortunately, his eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on him.

His younger brother Brother was sprinting down the Strand holding up the front of his breeches with one hand, arse shining behind for all of London to see.

Hero briefly closed his eyes. Dear Lord, why me?

This time Brother had gone too far. Running through the streets of London with his trousers undone wasn’t the worst of it. Not even close.

Hero unclenched his fingers from the crumpled scrap of paper and read the chilling words one more time:
I know what your brother is doing. You must PAY. Await further instructions and TELL NO ONE or Lady Sister will be KIDNAPPED. He’d left his estate in Cornwall within hours of receiving the letter. He wasn’t going to sit around waiting for another threatening letter to arrive. Anger infiltrated his mind like weeds choking a wheat field.

He would never allow his innocent younger sister, Sister, to be kidnapped and held for ransom. Whatever trouble Brother was in, Hero would fix it swiftly and be back in Cornwall well before the July barley harvest.

His manservant, C-Man, opened the carriage door. “Is anything the matter, Your Grace?”

Hero pointed back the way they’d come. “That is the matter.”

C-Man’s mouth gaped open. “Is that . . . Lord Brother?”

“Indeed.”

“And is he . . . ?”

“Bare-arsed naked? Yes, yes he is. Probably being chased. Possibly by an angry mob brandishing pitchforks.”

“Good heavens!”

“Heaven had nothing to do with it.”

Brother stumbled and nearly collided with a gaggle of shop girls who turned to giggle and stare at his retreating posterior.

“He appears to be rather intoxicated, Your Grace,” C-Man observed.

“Hasn’t been sober since our father’s death.”

In the five years since the old duke had died of a ruptured spleen, Brother, always their father’s favorite, had spiraled downward into a debauched life of gambling, mistresses, and misdeeds.

Hero had traveled in the opposite direction, retiring from the maelstrom of London society to the quiet seclusion of T-hill House in Cornwall, where he led an orderly, predictable, and useful life. He’d discovered a talent for agricultural innovations. If successful, his new system of crop rotation would mean better yields for his tenants—more crops to feed more hungry mouths on his lands, and hopefully, on the lands of other noblemen.

Brother caught sight of Hero and waved frantically, nearly losing his trousers. “T-ny,” he shouted. “T-ny, it’s me. Give us a lift?”

Heads swiveled. Inquisitive gazes drilled into Hero like beetles boring through rotting wood. He retreated into the gloom of the carriage. “Hoist him in, C-Man, and try to be discreet about it.”

“Very good, Your Grace.”

Hero closed the blinds. The last thing he wanted was more notoriety.

London brought the past careening back, threatening to smash the hard-won equilibrium he’d finally achieved.

He’d been kidnapped as a boy of fifteen and held for ransom by a desperate tenant farmer seeking revenge on Hero’s father, the duke, because the farmer lost his leasehold when he couldn’t pay his rent, taxes, and the Church’s tithes after several years of poor crops.

His kidnapper had kept Hero chained in the small, dark hull of a ship in the London harbor for ten endless days, feeding him only thin gruel.

Hero’s kidnapping had gripped London, whipping the newspapermen and the public into a feeding frenzy. Duke’s Heir Held for King’s Ransom. Will the Duke Pay?

The duke hadn’t paid.

Hero had negotiated for his own freedom. Clawed his own way back from Hell.

Long-buried memories hooked his mind, trying to drag him down.

Smell of filth and bilge water. Straw pallet crawling with vermin. Gray metallic taste of thin gruel coating his mouth, leaving a film on his mind.

He clenched and unclenched his fists, fighting for control. He took a deep breath in through his nostrils and exhaled slowly.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my memories.

I’m carved from ice. Impervious. I feel nothing.

He would never allow the same fate to happen to Sister.

Never.

The door opened and his brother landed in a heap on the opposite seat. The carriage shuddered back to life. Brother buttoned his breeches and tucked in his shirt. He wasn’t wearing a coat, or a hat, and his blond hair was a tangled mess.

“Is someone chasing you, Brother?” Hero asked.

“Fitzbart. With a pistol. Not loaded . . . least I don’t think so. Can’t be sure.”

“Because . . . ?”

“Caught me tupping his mistress.”

“Of course he did.”

“Don’t look at me like that.” Brother gestured defensively. “He’ll forget all about it tomorrow. Sod it, I need a drink. Don’t suppose you keep any tipple in this hearse?”

Hero steadied his breathing. He wasn’t the same man who’d left London five years ago. He was in complete control of his life and his emotions now.

“You don’t look well, Brother.” His brother’s face was bloated from too much drink and unhealthful living, his blue eyes bloodshot.

“And you look disgustingly fit,” replied Brother. “Still dressing like a country parson, I see. What brings you to London after all these years?”

Hero winced. “I’ve been meaning to visit, it just never seemed like the right time.” The letter had forced his hand.

“Why are you here now?” Brother asked. “Must be something dire. Finally decided to cut me off?” Spoken with a laugh, though Hero caught the underlying panic.

Hero smoothed the creases out of the letter. “I received this and departed for London immediately.” He handed the letter to Brother. “Been searching for you all afternoon.”

Brother read the brief words. “Christ.” He wiped a trembling hand across his brow. “I honestly have no idea what this means. I . . . Christ. It’s bloody hot in this carriage.” He plucked at the collar of his shirt, which was stuck to his chest with sweat. “A fellow can’t breathe.”

Hero leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. “What the devil are you up to?”

“It’s just a jest. Someone trying to scare you.”

“Then why did you shudder when you read it, as if someone had walked over your grave?”

Brother shrugged. “Too much drink last night.”

Hero caught his gaze and held it. “You’d better tell me what this is all about. Don’t forget that I’ve been financing your gambling sprees, buying your mistresses diamonds, paying off all of those jealous lovers. Who sent this?”

“None of your concern.” Brother handed him back the note. “This is my problem, not yours. Sister is quite safe. Go back to Cornwall, we don’t want you here.” Brother didn’t meet his eyes. He was hiding something.

“How do you know that Sister is safe?” Hero asked. “Do you know who sent this?”

“I don’t,” his brother replied quickly—too quickly. “But I’ll find out and I’ll take care of everything.”

“Can you promise me that?”

“Absolutely.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Brother glowered at him. “Not your problem. I’ll see that it ends here. Go and visit Sister. You’ll have enough problems once Mother catches wind of your arrival. The prodigal son returns, and all that. She’ll have every debutante in London nipping at your heels within hours.”

Which was another item on the long list of duties Hero had been delaying for far too long: taking a wife. It was high time he produced an heir. “Have to marry someday, don’t I?”

“Can’t have a wastrel like me inherit,” said Brother.

“Precisely.” Brother would undo all of the hard-earned progress that Hero had made on improving the living conditions and livelihood of the tenants who worked his holdings.

Hero wished he knew the right words to say to make his brother see that the path he was on would lead to an early grave. “Have you forgotten that I used to be you? I know the low places you frequent. I know the emptiness, the self-loathing. The evil waiting to swallow you whole.”

“Spare me your sermons, parson.”

“I have a duty to this family. There must be a stouthearted lady so desperate to become a duchess that she’s willing to wed an uncivilized duke and live in the wilds of Cornwall in a crumbling old house.”

“Crumbling old haunted house,” amended Brother.

You know as well as I do that T-hill House is just a house, not some gathering ground for ghosts and devil worship.”

“There was a double murder there.”

“In fifteen seventy.”

“England has a long memory.”

“Especially when you keep feeding it fresh details. I know you’ve been spreading rumors about me and T-hill House. A malevolent headless horseman . . . a young mother with a dead baby inhabiting a mirror . . . really? Does it all have to be so very gothic?”

“Well, you’re not here to counter the rumors. I’ll tell whatever stories I please.”

“I’m here now. And I’m not amused.”

“I don’t know how you can stand living like that. Only sheep and fields as far as the eye can see. I’d go mad.”

“That’s what they say about me, I hear.”

“Mother will be overcome with joy to see you. She’s gone marriage-mad. Won’t stop hounding me. And poor Sister, Mother’s hosting a ball in her honor tonight. Not that she’ll receive any proposals.”

Hero couldn’t believe that Sister was old enough to marry. When he’d left London she’d been a scrawny, bookish young girl with her hair in plaits. He’d been gone too long.

Guilt pricked his heart like stinging nettles.

“I’m sure she’s grown into a lovely girl. She’s always been fiercely clever. If the bachelors of London can’t see her charms, then they’re blind fools.”

Brother gave him an incredulous look. “Not exactly a beauty, now is she? My friends call her Beastly Sister.” He caught sight of the look on Hero’s face. “’Course I always defend her.”

“Case in point. Your friends are idiots. One of them could have written this letter. Someone wrote it.” Hero prayed that it was only a prank.

He would never allow history to repeat itself.


Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1221 comments Doesn't seem familiar...


message 3: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2059 comments Mod
I have no idea


message 4: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 984 comments No clue, but Brother had better shape up or T-ny will put Brother out of T-ny's misery. Probably by shooting the twit himself.


Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1221 comments Susan wrote: "No clue, but Brother had better shape up or T-ny will put Brother out of T-ny's misery. Probably by shooting the twit himself."

Crack up! Yes, I got the same feeling. ;-)


message 6: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1127 comments Hi guys!
The book is One Fine Duke by Lenora Bell
I really enjoyed this book and there is the added "ransom" mystery to solve!


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 984 comments Good news! I hate to admit that this is on my e-reader but I haven't read it yet. Now I can look forward to laughing with "Brother and the Twit"!


Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1221 comments Susan wrote: "Good news! I hate to admit that this is on my e-reader but I haven't read it yet. Now I can look forward to laughing with "Brother and the Twit"!"

Lucky you. :-)


message 9: by Susan (new)

Susan (shaydock) | 644 comments Dang this one sounds so good !


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