Why Dukes Say I Do(8)

By: Manda Collins

“I do not use the title, as you would know if you’d done any sort of investigation at all.” He kept his gaze on the road ahead of them.

He felt her head shake against his chest. “I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes,” she said. “I knew of course that you had been raised in the country and had some sort of foolish notion about refusing to take up your responsibilities, but I thought that it was an exaggeration. But it’s true.”

“You and I both know that it’s not possible for me to give up the title completely,” Trevor said reasonably. “And I fear that my grandmother’s tale of my refusal to take up my responsibilities is, like much of her talk, an exaggeration. I consult regularly with the stewards and secretaries of the duchy; I simply do not choose to go to London or to set myself up in grandeur at the ducal estate.”

“So you choose to remain here in Yorkshire playing at the role of gentleman farmer,” Lady Isabella said with a shudder. “I cannot say that I understand your position, because I do not.”

“I choose to remain here in Yorkshire because it is my home,” he said stiffly. “I have a responsibility to the people of Nettlefield and I intend to remain here, dukedom or no dukedom.

“Now,” he went on, “what brings you to Yorkshire, my lady? Are you perhaps a distant cousin in need of a loan? A young widow whose son wishes to attend Eton? Or did you come at my grandmother’s behest to persuade me to come down to London?”

She did him the courtesy of not misunderstanding him.

“The latter,” she said calmly, as if he hadn’t just accused her of being a toady. “Your grandmother has need of you in London. She is quite ill.”

“Bollocks,” he said, not bothering to guard his language. “She has need of my position because she does not have enough power on her own as the dowager. And if she’s ill then I’ll eat my hat. She sent you here to lure me with your looks—which are quite splendid by the way—back to town so that she can direct me as she sees fit. Which will not happen while there is breath in my body.”

“Oh dear,” Lady Isabella murmured. “You are quite averse to the notion, aren’t you?”

“I am indeed, so you may return to London at once and inform Her Grace that I have no intention of dancing to her tune.”

“I can hardly do so at the moment, given the state of her traveling carriage,” Lady Isabella said calmly. “I hope you do not mean to refuse me accommodation, Your Grace.” She put special emphasis on his title. “Rustic though I suppose it must be.”

“I can hardly do so and continue to call myself a gentleman,” Trevor returned. Though he’d like to, just to prove a point to his grandmother. But the punishment would be for Lady Isabella, not the dowager. Which would be fruitless. “And fear not. I believe you will find Nettlefield up to your, no doubt, exacting standards.”

They rode along in silence until finally they reached the lane leading to the manor. It was full dark now and visibility was such that only the front step was illuminated in the gloom. Even so, the house was not an unimpressive sight. Nettlefield had been built sometime in the seventeenth century by a prosperous squire whose descendent had sold the property off some two hundred years later to Trevor’s father, who had been in search of a place to settle his young family. The façade was grayed with age and weather and rather dour, but it was home.

“Your Grace,” Templeton, his butler, said from the top step, “we had begun to fear you’d met with some misadventure.”

Dismounting and reaching up to lower Lady Isabella to the ground, Trevor was pleased to see her mouth agape. Rustic accommodation indeed, he thought wryly.

“Templeton, see that the blue room is readied for our guest,” he told the butler, offering Isabella his arm as he led her up the steps. “Lady Isabella Wharton will be our guest for a few days before she returns to London.”

If Templeton thought there was anything untoward about the fact that his master had returned home with a strange lady on his arm, the older man didn’t mention it.