The latest peerage to be created by our beloved monarch is a Toad. Yes, my dears, you heard correctly. A Toad, or so says the King, and who is Madame Cancanier to gainsay such an esteemed prince? His Majesty has seen fit to bestow a barony on the infant son of none other than the Duke of W— (once a regular source of scandal, but now—so we are told—reformed). A source close to the palace has given your faithful correspondent the true tale of the amphibious appellation our newest baron shall undoubtedly bear from this day forth. I trust he will be suitably grateful to His Majesty upon reaching his majority.
Prinny dandled his godson, the young Marquess of Abersham, on his knee with a bit more abandon than comfortable for the boy’s father, the Duke of Wellbridge. The duke’s hands seemed to try to hold the four-year-old boy aloft, even from across the card table. There was no chance of removing him from the king’s lap, however, as Prinny had won three rounds easily with his “Lucky Piece” at hand.
“Draw a card, Abersham, my boy,” the king said, offering the deck.
Davey took a card from the top and threw it on the table, face-down. A slight grin on the king’s face showed that his good-luck charm had proven effective once again, and the duke let out an almost imperceptible sigh of relief. If anyone knew the limits of royal regard, it was the Duke of Wellbridge, who had fought his way back into Prinny’s good graces only by the skin of his teeth. In part, because he was highly skilled at purposefully losing money to the king, a game made more difficult with his heir in the middle of things. He wished Davey’s sniffles had remained, so he would have had an excuse to keep the boy from his royal godfather’s presence. He wished he had gone along with the duchess’s suggestion that they remove to the countryside, rather than remaining in London.
Thankfully, once more, Prinny held winning cards. Wellbridge was another thousand guineas down, but he was in need of the magnanimous side of his sovereign’s nature. And it seemed he was on the right track. When Davey began wiggling and climbing on the king’s lap, he was indulged, even as he crawled halfway onto the table to grab at the royal plate of foodstuffs.
“Davey! That is not yours!” Nick snapped, but Prinny corrected the duke, not the child.
“Let him have it. I am not hungry.”
Prinny seated Davey on the edge of the table, and the boy grabbed handfuls of whatever was on the plate, but none of it found favor, and to his father’s horror, he threw it on the floor, where one of His Majesty’s pugs rid the world of excess mushroom tart. Rubbing his hand over his face, Nick said, “Truly, it is time for Master David to be in bed. To say nothing of his mother’s opinion of him being engaged in gambling.”
Prinny chuckled, “I do not envy you the sharp tongue of your wife, Wellbridge, through her sharp mind holds great appeal.”
“I cannot say I disagree with your assessment, Sire.”
Davey continued to throw mushroom tart at the dog, with the king offering up commentary on his aim, and the dog continued to make a meal of his master’s supper. Until, suddenly, it began choking, frothing at the mouth, and fell to its tiny knees.
At a glance, Nick swept around the table to pick up his son and shield him from the sight he had already seen and clean his hands and face of any trace of poison. Prinny sat staring in shock at the dog, dead not three minutes after eating from the king’s plate, while Nick tried to keep Davey from wiggling his way out of his father’s arms. With one word from Nick at the door, guards came in and removed Prinny and the dead animal, and began detaining everyone else currently in the castle. At the top of the list, the two gentlemen who had been closeted with His Majesty for two hours before the attempted poisoning: the Duke of Wellbridge and his heir.
It was the next morning, and many hours of questioning by men who should know better, before they were allowed to leave the palace. First, though, Wellbridge and his tired, cranky, frightened son were escorted to the king’s chambers, where Prinny made much of Davey, calling him, “my own toadstone,” feeding him from his tray, and casually giving him the Barony of Harburn, which included a manor house Prinny renamed Toadstone Hall, in recognition of the service Davey had unknowingly provided by virtue of poor manners.
His father’s courtesy title was rendered unnecessary, he now a peer in his own right, as well as heir to all of his father’s titles. But the whispers through Court didn’t now call him Harburn, but rather, they called the little boy “the king’s toadstone.” Within a week, Davey was called “The Toadstone” in his father’s presence; in a month, he was “Toad” to anyone who knew, or knew of, him. Within a half-year, it was obvious: he would remain “Toad Northope, Wellbridge’s boy,” the rest of his days.
His mother has sworn never to forgive His Majesty.
Meet the Duke and Duchess of Wellbridge, and read about their tense relationship with the monarch, in Royal Regard, by Mariana Gabrielle. Meet Toad Northope as a young man about town in Never Kiss a Toad, by Mariana Gabrielle and Jude Knight, serialized for free on Wattpad.
After fifteen years roaming the globe, the Countess of Huntleigh returns to England with her dying husband. She soon finds herself plagued by terrible troubles: a new title, estate, and sizable fortune; marked attentions from the marriage mart; the long-awaited reunion with her loving family; and a growing friendship with King George IV.
Settling into her new life, this shy-but-not-timid, not-so-young lady faces society’s censure, the Earl’s decline, false friends with wicked agendas, and the singular sufferings of a world-wise wallflower. Guided by her well-meaning husband, subject to interference by a meddlesome monarch, she must now choose the dastardly rogue who says he loves her, the charming French devil with a silver tongue, or the quiet country life she has traveled the world to find.