Updated: Jul 7, 2020
This takes place shortly after the climax of Duke of Disgrace, but before the wedding and epilogue. I think you'll enjoy it!
Paul felt awful for his older brother, who paced about like he was awaiting the birth of his next child. Jeremy wasn’t, and he was sober at the moment.
He had been just this side of drunk while Luke was busy being born. Drowning his nerves, Paul supposed. He smirked at the memory of Jeremy draped in a chair looking as though he were in some den of inequity, and not just passing the time his own study.
But the smirk ebbed away as soon as it came: Luke wasn't Jeremy's son by blood. No trivial circumstance, that. It doesn't matter, thought Paul, who adored the little lad. Not to us.
Maybe Jeremy might like a drink, now? The future seemed to be weighing upon him, an albatross rather than a boon.
Tilting his head, Paul considered the thought. Not even a month ago, he would be pouring all the decanters and bottles out into the road to stop Jeremy getting any drop of spirits. No matter how expensive or rare their contents.
I suppose I could also just drink them, myself. Or take them home to the Albany.
But Jeremy had mostly abstained since his misadventure, which was sensible. If one drank too much in combination with opiates, it was likely to cause trouble. In his case, it had. There was a terrible, heavy moment when Paul thought he might have lost him — not to war, not to violence, but to his own carelessness.
What a thing that would have been. For him to have survived battle and an amputation only to succumb to his private vices, the secretive self-medication of a man who felt he must seem calm at all costs. Paul had immense sympathy; he would not presume to judge why Jeremy turned to substances for succor.
But he loved him and did not wish to see him come to harm.
“I worry for the drawing room carpets,” said Paul, eyeing Jeremy’s shoes.
“We could step outside if you wish to take exercise.” Paul gestured at the scuffed imprints Jeremy had already made in one garish rug. “I don’t particularly enjoy that one. It’s a little much. But Grandfather was so very fond of it.” Grandfather had been fond of the lurid, and Paul nursed suspicions that perhaps he could not see color at all.
Paul was not sure how one would know for certain, particularly because all one had for reference was one’s own experience. Still, the man’s taste provided enough evidence that something about his aesthetics left much to be desired. Possibly even the ability to discern violet from ruby.
“Oh.” Jeremy rubbed at his eyes with his good hand, then came to sit next to Paul on the chaise lounge. Neither of them was a slight man, but both were trim enough to fit without taxing it.
With a little smile, Paul shifted over and leaned against the back, leaving Jeremy more room at the open side. He was so restless. It might help to give him the space.
“Jeremy, it’s going to be all right, you know.”
“I don’t know. That’s the problem.”
Paul sighed and toyed with his own lapel. In truth and all fairness, he did not know how it was going to be all right — it being Jeremy’s resolution to secure a divorce. To remarry.
But things had to be all right. They needed to be all right for somebody, Christ above. The most important people of his life had suffered far too much.
“I didn’t say I knew how they’d be set right.”
No doubt, the road would be arduous. The gossipers would find new sustenance. Jeremy would positively bleed money and effort in equal amounts. The money was not concerning, but the effort was. Paul also worried for Charlotte, whose self-respect and mind had suffered enough at the hands of an aristocrat. Poor Lottie, he thought.
Looking at him with open fear in his face, Jeremy said, “Yet, somehow, you’re always right. Do you really think it will end well?”
It was his unguarded, palpable terror that made Paul so resolute. Jeremy — stoic, stalwart, gentle Jeremy — never looked scared. He might be frightened internally, but he took his role as the duke seriously. Besides that and before then, he viewed his place as an older brother with the fervor of a religious calling. Paul took to teasing him about it, but he was forever grateful for his protector.
“What would you say if I traded my career as a libertine for one as an assassin? It wouldn’t be too difficult to murder Lady Hareden. She did ask me to bed, once, and I expect her offer has not expired.” It helped that he and Jeremy favored each other in build and likeness.
The duchess was currently in London, supposedly hiding away in the townhouse. It was more likely that she was cavorting with her primary lover, Sir Walter.
"Jeremy." He gestured airily with his right hand. “People are so very vulnerable in the midst of carnal ecstasy. I think I could manage a very tidy murder, personally.”
Jeremy’s expression faded from fear into bewilderment. "In bed. You would slaughter my wife in bed."
"It would be very poetic, do not you think?"
Then, as Paul was hoping he would, Jeremy started to laugh.
We might just get through this.
Duke of Misfortune, which features more of Lord Paul as a secondary character, releases tomorrow! If you hurry, you can still preorder it today for 99 cents.