The Trouble With Dukes

By: Grace Burrowes

\To my late, red-haired, blue-eyed mother





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I’m so very happy to be writing in the Windham world again, and I have to thank my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, at Grand Central/Forever, for giving me this opportunity. The book you’re holding is the result of an entire village’s hard work and goodwill, from our cover model (who is really and truly named Megan), to the art department that made a stunning image into a luscious cover, to the unseen heroes in copyediting and proofreading, as well as marketing and sales representatives whose diligent efforts are responsible for the book finding its way to many shelves. I have the kindest readers in the world (no bias here), and this book has had the nicest team in the world supporting it. Thanks to one and all—it’s good to be the author!





Chapter One


I don’t want any damned dukedom, Mr. Anderson,” Hamish MacHugh said softly.

Colin MacHugh took to studying the door to Neville Anderson’s office, for when Hamish spoke that quietly, his siblings knew to locate the exits.

The solicitor’s establishment boasted deep Turkey carpets, oak furniture, and red velvet curtains. The standish and ink bottles on Anderson’s desk were silver, the blotter a thick morocco leather. Portraits of well-fed, well-powdered Englishmen adorned the walls.

Hamish felt as if he’d walked into an ambush, as if these old lords and knights were smirking down at the fool who’d blundered into their midst. Beyond the office walls, harnesses jingled to the tune of London happily about its business, while Hamish’s heart beat with a silent tattoo of dread.

“I am at Your Grace’s service,” Anderson murmured from his side of the massive desk, “and eager to hear any explanations Your Grace cares to bestow.”

The solicitor, who’d been retained by Hamish’s late grandfather decades before Hamish’s birth, was like a midge. Swat at Anderson, curse him, wave him off, threaten flame and riot, and he still hovered nearby, relentlessly annoying.

The French infantry had had the same qualities.

“I am not a bloody Your Grace,” Hamish said, thanks be to the clemency of the Almighty.

“I do beg Your Grace’s—your pardon,” Anderson replied, soft white hands folded on his blotter. “Your great-great-aunt Minerva married the third son of the fifth Duke of Murdoch and Tingley, and while the English dukedom must, regrettably, fall prey to escheat, the Scottish portion of the title, due to the more, er, liberal patents and peregrinations common to Scottish nobility, devolves to yourself.”

Devolving was one of those English undertakings that prettied up a load of shite.

Hamish rose, and for reasons known only to the English, Anderson popped to his feet as well.

“Devolve the peregrinating title to some other poor sod,” Hamish said.

Colin’s staring match with the lintel of Anderson’s door had acquired the quality of a man trying to hold in a fart—or laughter.

“I am sorry, Your—sir,” Anderson said, looking about as sorry as Hamish’s sisters on the way to the milliner’s, “but titles land where they please, and there they stay. The only way out from under a title is death, and then your brother here would become duke in your place.”

Colin’s smirk winked out like a candle in a gale. “What if I die?”

“I believe there are several younger siblings,” Anderson said, “should death befall you both.”

“But this title is Hamish’s as long as he’s alive, right?” Colin was not quite as large as Hamish. What little Colin lacked in height, he made up for in brawn and speed.

“That is correct,” Anderson said, beaming like a headmaster when a dull scholar had finally grasped his first Latin conjugation. “In the normal course, a celebratory tot would be in order, gentlemen. The title does bring responsibilities, but your great-great-aunt and her late daughter were excellent businesswomen. I’m delighted to tell you that the Murdoch holdings prosper.”

Worse and worse. The gleeful wiggle of Anderson’s eyebrows meant prosper translated into “made a stinking lot of money, much of which would find its way into a solicitor’s greedy English paws.”