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Forbidden to Love the Duke(10)

By:Jillian Hunter

Unpaid bills replaced cards from admirers. It was something of a blessing, Ivy came to realize, when they could no longer afford newspapers and read the libelous stories published about their family. One reporter claimed that each of the four daughters had been born of a different sire.

In the year following the earl’s death, the family’s infamy grew until it subsided into a fairy tale. The sisters, who struggled to exist on their own, were glad to be forgotten by society. In all the rumors written about them the only truth was that their father’s scandal had ruined their reputations overnight.

But at least they still had one another.

Chapter 5

James Merrit, Duke of Ellsworth, bachelor and returned soldier, who had promised himself months of shallow pleasures before succumbing to society’s expectations, found himself in an intolerable situation. His younger brother had gone off to war, which was good. But his brother’s wife had gone off to Sweden with another man, which wasn’t good, and James had a bewildered niece and nephew occupying the bedchamber that Elora had chosen for her suite when she stayed at Ellsworth.

A gnarled hand touched his arm. It brought him back to the present. “Your Grace, are you well?” Carstairs asked with a troubled look at the brandy bottle clutched between James’s hands.

James raised his head from the desk. “There’s only one solution.”

“You would like me to pen a letter advising Miss Denman that this is not a proper time for a visit?”

“No, Carstairs. I would like you to pen an advert for a governess to protect my niece and nephew from the appalling behavior of their mother. And myself.”

“But the process of interviewing suitable applicants for a noble household is not one to be taken lightly, Your Grace.”

“That is why I depend on you, Carstairs, to research all character references.” Although with Elora’s arrival imminent, James might hire the devil’s handmaiden to assure his personal affairs weren’t interrupted. “Have the children gone to bed?”

“Yes, Your Grace. Unwillingly, I might add. They are eager to see you.”

“Under other circumstances, I’d be delighted to see them, too.” James pushed aside the bottle on his desk. “Carstairs, do you remember the Tudor house by the stone bridge that runs through an oak wood?”

Carstairs straightened his bony shoulders. “Indeed, I do. Such a tragedy, Your Grace. To tumble from splendor to shame virtually overnight. It shocked those of us who knew of the family.”

James sat back in his chair. “Are you sure you and the staff don’t write for the scandal sheets?”

“Your Grace, really.”

“I’ve caught you reading them. Tell me what you know about the place.”

“It’s called Fenwick Manor. The earl who owned it left it to his four daughters, in addition to an inheritance of debt and disgrace. He died in a fool’s challenge.”

“Over a woman?”

“He cheated at cards. How the sisters have survived one dares not speculate.”

“Four of them?”

“Unless one of the sisters has perished.”

James didn’t feel this was an appropriate time to admit that at least one of the young ladies seemed fleet of foot and another two capable of mustering a strong defense against a duke who thought himself persuasive and quick on the offense. “Do you suppose they’d consider selling the manor?”

Carstairs threw him a poorly veiled look of contempt before he returned to his usual respectful mien. “That would be a sacrilege, Your Grace.”

“Why?” James asked, thoroughly amused. “Was the manor built on the ruins of a sacred abbey?”

Carstairs lowered his voice.

James leaned forward.

“The ladies who reside within Fenwick Manor are of royal descent.”

“Well, no wonder they slammed the door in my impertinent face.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Find out more tomorrow, Carstairs. Tonight I wish you to write that advertisement and have it posted in the morning.”

Wanted, immediately, a respectable young woman as governess, for two young children in a nobleman’s household. She must be honest, well educated, and unencumbered. Wages no object. Interview, Friday next, Ellsworth Park.

WANTED, EMPLOYMENT as GOVERNESS, in a respectable house. Knowledgeable in French, literature, history, and finishing. Available immediately. Inquire at Fenwick Manor.

It was James, and not Carstairs, who realized that his notice had been printed in the newspaper directly above that of the goddess he had pursued in her private garden. A mere coincidence. It meant nothing. His was a need motivated by selfish desire, while she sought the job out of desperation.