The Duke's Lost Love - part of A Duke in Winter Anthology - Excerpt


The Duke's Lost Love

Will they fight the obvious, that their ideal person is in front of them, 
or will they walk away from their heart’s desire?

Lady Nanette de Chappell, the Comtesse de Moyne and Lord Morgan Fitzhugh, the reluctant 5th Duke of Preswick grew up near each other in Sommer by the Sea. Nanette at her grandparent’s Dunamara Castle and Fitzhugh at Preswick Hall.

Fitzhugh is at Preswick Hall with his three closest friends. Each of them suffer from a form of feminine defeat. Fitzhugh has decided never to marry and pass the title to his younger brother. After a night of drinking and discussion, they all swear off the company of women for three years determined to study chivalrous love.

That snowy morning, Nanette and her three ladies arrive at Fitzhugh’s doorstep in broken carriage. After years apart, she is on her way to retrieve an item from the shuttered Castles for her ill grand mere. Avoiding a dinner party to meet yet another suitor she will find lacking, she seeks the solitude of Dunamara to determine if her ideal is realistic or a dream no man can fulfill.

Fitzhugh takes her to Dunamara. The weather changes and they are stranded at the castle by a snowstorm. Fighting through an avalanche and tunnel cave in, they must depend on each other to escape.

In the process of completing their quests, they both find something else. Will they fight the obvious, that their ideal person is in front of them, or will they walk away from their heart’s desire?

Chapter One

December 16, 1815

The wind whipped Lord Morgan Fitzhugh's hair as he galloped across the park. The air was thick with unexpected snow. Baron, his stallion, enjoyed the adventure, kicking up the snow as they raced along the familiar path back to the stable.

The heavy snowfall was unusual for Sommer-by-the-Sea, even at Christmastide. But that didn't stop their morning ride. Fitzhugh gave the animal his bit, laid out along Baron's neck, and spoke softly, encouraging him along.

"Gallop like the wind."

He reveled in Baron's thundering hooves, bunching muscles, and playful spirit as they powered along.

Up ahead, the park fence came into view. Their fun over, Fitzhugh shifted in his seat and picked up the reins.

"Ease up. No jumping today, my friend. Not in this weather." Rather than take the fence, he slowed Baron to a trot and brought him through the gate into the estate drive.

Winded from the ride, Fitzhugh rode up to his Preswick Hall. He dismounted and rubbed the horse's neck as the stable boy approached.

"Thank you for an exhilarating ride. You earned your prize." He took an apple from his pocket, held it in his palm as the horse smiled in its fashion, and gently took the offered treat.

Fitzhugh gave him a final pat, handed the reins to the stable boy, and hurried across the porch as the butler opened the door.

"Good morning, Your Grace."

Fitzhugh stomped and knocked the snow from his boots before he stepped into the vestibule.

"Mr. Keats." Fitzhugh brushed the last of the snowflakes from his greatcoat before the man helped him out of it. "Where's my brother?"

"Lord Matthew is in the drawing room with your guests."

Fitzhugh took the three vestibule steps in one stride. The click of his Hessian boots echoed as he hurried across the black and white marble reception floor.

The white walls made the sizeable area, grand enough to host a modest sized soiree, look even larger. A balcony, where he and his brother had once spied on their parents’ routs, encircled the area. But the soaring sky-blue dome with its gold trimmed oculus was the most striking feature. He imagined it a magical looking glass into the world beyond. Now, he enjoyed the flood of light it provided.

Six doors encircled the hall’s perimeter. They led to the dining hall, drawing room, library, parlor, conservatory, and a hallway to the estate office and steward’s rooms. Twin staircases, one to his left, and the other to his right, met at a landing in the middle and continued to the first floor.

"Your Grace." Fitzhugh, his hand on the door latch to the drawing room turned and glanced to his right. Mr. Jennings, his steward, came through the hallway door carrying a journal.

"Just the man I wanted to see. I'd like to see a report of the Count de Moyne's mountain holdings. I went as far as the Dunamara pass this morning. De Moyne will be here today for his annual review. I want to make certain everything is in good order."

"Right here, Your Grace." Jennings handed Fitzhugh the accounts.

"Good man. You best be on your way. Send my regards to your father and the rest of your family.”

“I’ve already packed the brandy. We will all drink to your good health.”

A brandy together was the senior Jenning’s and Fitzhugh’s father’s favorite drink after seeing to the accounts.

“Enjoy your holiday. We'll see you back here for Twelfth Night."

"Thank you, Your Grace. And a good holiday to you." Jennings returned to the estate office.

Young Jennings had served him well while he was in London. The man was accurate and timely. He returned his attention to the task at hand and entered the drawing room.

This was one of his favorite rooms. The room held the personal essence and character of the Fitzhugh family. Christmas. The room reminded him of Christmas ever since he was a young boy.

The warmth of the room went beyond the green wallcovering that reminded him of the outdoors, red drapes that picked up the color from the carpet, and the oversized hearth with its welcoming fire. He was surrounded by leather-bound books in the bookcases that faced the fireplace, and the walls and surfaces were filled with artworks and personal collectibles his father had brought back from his travels.

The two green and white striped sofas that faced each other in front of the fireplace were soft and comfortable, whether one was reading or relaxing. A pianoforte waited to be played in one corner of the room, while a round table with four chairs were in the other.

"Ah, there you are." Three gentlemen sat around the table with their morning beverages. Lord Matthew put down his cup of coffee and wiped his mouth with a serviette. Lord Anthony Linton and Sir Edward Drummond halted their conversation and gave him their attention.

"Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you slept well." Fitzhugh put the journals on his desk as he made his way to the hearth to warm his hands. "You should have joined me this morning. There is a beauty and serenity to the snow. It's quite invigorating."

"You must have been up before dawn. Despite your early activity, you appear to be energized. You make me tired just looking at you." Linton shook his head and took a sip of his coffee.

"You should come riding with me. That would be enough to get your heart racing and set you to rights for the day. It certainly gave me an appetite." He turned away from the fire and glanced at the sideboard. "Come. Eat. Mrs. Howard's breakfast will inspire you." Fitzhugh stepped to the buffet and took a plate.

"Ride? In this weather? I don't think any of us expected this much snow." Matthew joined him at the sideboard. "Although it is fitting for the season."

Fitzhugh opened the chafing dish, spooned eggs onto this plate, and passed the spoon to his brother. "I'm sure it will stop soon. The sun will come out and melt it all away. By tomorrow, the snow will be a fleeting memory."

He looked at his brother then glanced over his shoulder at the others. He turned away and stifled a smile having glanced at his guests’ narrow squinted eye. "What time did you go to sleep? Or have you been up all night?" Fitzhugh moved on to the pork.

"While you took to your bed last night, we continued our discussion." Matthew popped a piece of morning cake into his mouth.

Their plates full, Fitzhugh and Matthew took their seats. Linton and Drummond went to the sideboard and portioned out their meal.

"What kept you out of your beds?" Fitzhugh gave his eggs a dash of salt and sprinkle of pepper.

"We deliberated which historical figures are the embodiment of chivalry." Matthew placed the serviette on his lap.

Fitzhugh stared at Matthew, his fork, loaded with eggs, poised in midair.

"We congratulated Drummond on his knighthood."

"Teasing him, no doubt." Fitzhugh ate his eggs.

"Of course. We likened him to the knights of old. One topic led to another." Linton brought his plate to the table.

"And that's how you came to chivalry."

Fitzhugh nodded to Drummond who took the seat across from him. "Again, congratulations on your appointment. New knight of the realm. It is well deserved."

His friend had proven himself on the battlefields in Spain and had the wounds to show for it.

Fitzhugh turned his attention to the footman and motioned to him for coffee.

"You really should have remained with us last evening." The smile on his cousin Linton's face warned him of something afoot.

"Am I to assume that your enthralling discussion continued into the morning?" Fitzhugh shook his head as he glanced at the others. They didn't meet his glance. He schooled his face not to give himself away. What are they up to?

"Indeed we did stay up to early hours of the morning," Matthew announced with a bit of pride. His gaze ran from Linton to Drummond, and back to Fitzhugh. "It was like being back in philosophy with Professor Eliot. Our discussion ran the gamut. From chivalry, to friendship, to happiness, to the purpose of life."

"Today is a time of great change in art and literature, much of it driven by the Prince Regent himself."

"Linton, you sound like you're giving a lecture." Fitzhugh chuckled and continued eating.

"You laugh.” Linton kept eating. “We discussed the impact of the wars in America as well as the domination these last years with the war with Napoleon. Let's hope he's captured, and soon."

"Everything around us seems to be changing. People are moving to the cities in droves, and industry is creating a new wealthy class not dependent on land." Matthew joined the discussion.

"In the midst of all this our social systems are changing." Linton put down his fork and motioned for more coffee.

"Ah. We're back to your discussion on chivalry," Fitzhugh offered.

"You mock us, but I tell you we are quite serious. We thought to establish an academy. Mrs. Bainbridge has her Female Seminary that sparks debates on topics that are most interesting. We would like to develop our own and hope you will join us." Matthew kept his eyes on his plate.

"All this from discussing chivalry." Fitzhugh slathered Mrs. Howard's warm bilberry muffins with butter and glanced at Drummond.

Drummond put his fork down. With his elbows on the table, he tented his hands, and stared at Fitzhugh. "We went on to discuss chivalrous love."

"Chivalrous love?" Fitzhugh finished eating and sat back with his cup of coffee.

"What do we know of such things? Look at us." No one raised an eyebrow at his assertion. "What a sorry sight we are on that topic."

All of them were suffering from one form or another of feminine defeat. Matthew lost his love to a rival. Linton made his career a priority and drove his love away with indifference. Drummond, off serving his king, was never in one place long enough to fall in love.

Yes, they were a sorry sight. It was the reason he invited them for Christmastide, to bolster their spirits. Although, to be honest, Fitzhugh didn't want to spend another holiday alone. He believed this time of year was for new plans, new beginnings. But to move forward, the past had to be buried and forgotten.

Matthew shook his head. "You may be right, but you are one of us, my dear brother. Your isolation here at Preswick Hall doesn't fool us. You remain sequestered, hiding behind the family obligations ever since—”

Fitzhugh turned toward his brother with his unmistakable hard glare. The incident was no longer the talk of the ton. Only the guilt remained.

Matthew didn’t flinch at his brother’s scowl. Fitzhugh's unfortunate incident happened two years ago. They never spoke of the episode, and Fitzhugh had no intention of doing so now.

“You threw yourself into managing the family affairs and I am in awe that under your guidance, they have grown substantially. There are enough houses and properties to give one to each of us, as well as one to each of the staff. How many houses and farms must we have? Is wealth the purpose in life, or it is happiness?"

"That would be a good topic to study." Fitzhugh and Matthew shot Linton a glance surprised the man would think the topic was appropriate.

"Study?" Fitzhugh glowered at Linton. What is Matthew up to? His brother knew some topics were not for discussion. Was this a way of Matthew wheedling information from two years ago out of him? At the moment, he kept what he wanted to say behind his clenched teeth.

"Yes. The academy Matthew mentioned." Drummond nearly jumped out of his chair. "We agreed we wanted to commit to a life of study and self-improvement. We simply need to decide on a topic and commit ourselves to the task."

"Drummond is right." Linton's face lit with excitement. "We spent most of the night discussing happiness. You remember. What was the question?"

Linton gestured to Matthew while he rubbed the back of his neck. "You must remember it. We spent time researching in Fitzhugh’s library." At last he remembered and pointed to the others. "Is happiness the most important purpose in life?"

"We all agreed we enjoyed the evening studying and debating." Matthew's eyes sparkled. He grabbed Fitzhugh's arm.

Fitzhugh hadn't seen his brother or friends this enthusiastic in a long time. His Cambridge days. And nights. The four of them had been close. Exploring. Researching. Debating. Nothing was impossible. Everything was an adventure. It would be good to feel that alive again.

"The discussion went better than we expected. Drummond, you found the quotation from Aristotle, ‘Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’"

Matthew stood and paced in front of the fireplace. "We said finding happiness requires a life in which every aspect contributes toward personal fulfillment. It is a decision an individual makes. Yet." He stood still and faced Linton. "You brought a different point of view into the discussion."

"Happiness is an emotion based on a positive circumstance that happens by chance. Nothing more." Linton motioned to the footman for more coffee.

"I can see you are all committed to returning to Cambridge." Fitzhugh smirked, knowing returning to the university was not what they intended.

Matthew went to the desk and took out writing materials. Sitting with the others, he scratched some words onto the parchment, crossed some out, and wrote some more. Finished, he put down his quill. Content with his writing, he glanced at his friends, and handed the declaration to his brother.

Fitzhugh took the document. He shook his head when he finished it and glanced at his brother.

"Go on. Read it to everyone."

Fitzhugh nodded and raised the document.

"We the undersigned, members of the prestigious Preswick Academy for Men, agree to the following: for the period of three years, we will abstain from women, fast one day a week, eat but one meal on the other days, and sleep no more than three hours a night. All our waking hours will be spent in the pursuit of knowledge."

"No women is one thing, but that is barely enough food to survive. What will Mrs. Howard think of that?" Fitzhugh looked at Matthew.

Drummond got to his feet. "And no sleep to allow more time to study. Exhaustion and starvation is what this is. We'd have no strength to think about eating or a woman, for that matter. You go too far."

Fitzhugh draped his arm around his friend. "Our time will be well spent. No distractions. I will tell Mr. Keats to turn all guests away. Think of all we will learn. And we will learn together."

Fitzhugh took up the quill and signed his name. He stood and held out the writing implement to the next taker.

"I'll sign." Matthew took the quill and signed, Linton behind him. When Linton finished, he turned to Drummond.

The knight looked at his childhood friends, men he respected and trusted. Shaking his head, he took the quill and signed his name with a flourish.

"Well done." Linton and Matthew pounded the knight's back.

Fitzhugh handed a glass of port to each of them. He raised his glass. "Our hunger for knowledge will soothe our appetites for all things. This holiday will be different. We will enjoy our time with peace, study, and discussion."

"And no women," Drummond added.

Currently in pre-order - Release date December 29, 2022 - Amazon

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