A Quick Jump Across a Narrow Stream

November 19, 1820

While this newspaper always approaches purloined correspondence with suspicion, we wish to assure our loyal readers that this particular missive came into our possession directly from the hand of the recipient. The marchioness so named in her correspondence is at some pains to defend the reputation of her cousin, the Countess of H_____, in the matter of her husband’s death and the unfortunate involvement of the Duke of W_____. She claims the letter shows the late earl’s illnesses, which the countess blames for his untimely demise, were more extensive and long-lasting than has been widely known heretofore. We leave our readers to draw their own conclusions.

August 1819

To Charlotte Marloughe, Marchioness of Firthley
London, England

By the hand of Bella Clewes, Baroness Holsworthy
Aboard the Arabella, flagship of Seventh Sea Shipping

My Dearest Charlotte,

Can it really be fifteen years since we have seen each other? We are only days away from France now; if the winds remain in our favor, we will make landfall in less than a sennight (when I will post this letter). From Paris to London, after so many years of travelling, seems like naught but a quick jump across a narrow stream.

I cannot say how thrilled I am to be so close to the family I left behind in England, though was deeply distraught to hear of your father’s passing. Uncle Howard was the only man in my family to treat me with any respect or dignity, and I am heartbroken I will now never be able to tell him how much that has meant in my adulthood.

Royal-Regard-Cover-Art-Parts-08Lord Holsworthy and I will remain guests of King Louis and the Duke and Duchess d’Angoulême at the Tuileries Palace until they are satisfied with my husband’s report on their investments, and have decided on a course going forward. We hope His Majesty will add another ship to the fleet, as he is second only to the Prince Regent in the returns my husband has accomplished on his behalf. Knowing royalty as I now do, I expect we will either be in London within a fortnight, or I will not see you for another twelvemonth or longer. I know better than most, the whims of the nobility can never be predicted, and the higher the rank, the more capricious they become. (I shudder to think how fifteen years of marriage to a marquess has “improved upon” your youthful impetuosity.)

It is with great sadness and concern that I confess substantial fear for my husband’s wellbeing. His gout continues to progress, the chalkstones increasing in severity and frequency, leaving him feverish and, for days or weeks at a time, unable to perform the most basic shipboard tasks. Added to this constant worry, his lungs have been visited this past year by a chronic complaint, and he begins to suffer a mild loss of hearing, which he is loath to admit.

Bella Clewes, Lady Holsworthy (A Sweet Glance, Émile Vernon)

I hope to persuade Lord Holsworthy to remain in England upon our return, rather than the short sojourn he intends. His advancing years beg rest and comfort, not further travels that can never improve upon his lifetime of adventure. I am not certain I can change his mind, and I pray you ask your husband to quietly speak to any gentlemen at Court who might assist. In correspondence, His Royal Highness seems reluctant to take my part, if only because it will cut into his profits. Until he can see Lord Holsworthy’s decline for himself, I am afraid he will continue to ask too much of a man who has very nearly given his life for the Crown.

I anxiously await our reunion, and look forward, with great pleasure, to meeting my niece and new nephew.

Your loving sister,
Bella, Lady Holsworthy

Learn what happens to the Holsworthys when Charlotte and Bella are reunited in Royal Regard.Royal-Regard-cover-500x750

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.

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Meet Charlotte and Bella as young women in ‘Tis Her Season, a Royal Regard prequel novella.

Charlotte Amberly would rather eat a lump of coal for Christmas dinner than marry the Marquess of Firthley, so when her parents cancel her London Season in favor of a rush to the altar, the feisty debutante takes husband-hunting into her own hands.

Alexander Marloughe, reluctant heir to a marquessate, would rather not spend his holiday dashing through the snow after a flibbertigibbet just out of the schoolroom, but no woman before Charlotte has ever led him such a merry chase.

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New Baroness Sails Away From Family Scandal

As only one of several avid news gatherers at the wedding of Viscount Effingale’s niece, Miss Isabella Smithson, to the Prince of Wales’ pet cit and latest baron, Holsworthy, of Seventh Sea Shipping, this reporter can nevertheless assure you this information is perfectly truthful, accurate, and directly from the source. You see, Readers, I myself am the source.

I sat in the same taproom—heavily veiled, of course—where the three gentlemen in question held their consultation. An invited guest to the wedding, along with the Prince of Wales and Princess Amelia and a sizable handful of lords and ladies who had traveled to Saltash on Seventh Sea’s new flagship to celebrate the wedding and the launch of the Prince’s latest enterprise, in which we are all now heavily invested.

Of course, the royals were not staying at the inn, but rather in the richly appointed quarters on the new ship, but the small village hostelry was packed to the rafters, more than half the bride’s family: the Viscount and Viscountess Effingale and their two sons, Hugh and Guy Amberly; the Marquess and Marchioness of Firthley, Charlotte and Alexander Marloughe; and the bride’s father, Sir Jasper Smithson, 2nd Baronet, and his two sons, John and Jeremy.

The baron stayed his last night as a bachelor at his parents’ cottage, a good walk away, which might have been a mistake, given what I overheard, late at night, on the eve of our latest diplomat’s departure. And not such a strange thing does it seem, now, that the bride’s father and brothers turned up the night before her nuptials, but did not appear for her wedding, for it was these three whom I overheard, discussing deeds of such infamy that I wrote to Bow Street before I wrote this column.

All I can say, Readers, is it is a very good thing Miss Smithson married money and a title and left the country when she did.

Sir Jasper Smithson, 2nd Baronet

Mr. John Smithson slipped to the back of the taproom, kicking his brother’s boot as he passed, to get Jeremy to pull his head off the table, hissing under his breath to pull the attention of his father, Sir Jasper Smithson, from the pot of ale before him.

“We must leave, and now.”

“Leave?” John’s father scoffed. “I haven’t yet spoken to the Prince of Wales about my tin mine.”

“If you speak to him of your tin mine, Father, we will all hang. We must all leave. Effingale and Firthley have been gathering evidence, and you can be sure Bella turned coat. Have you got Holsworthy’s money yet?”

“You know as well as I, we receive the money tomorrow afternoon at his solicitor’s office, after the wedding.” Jasper Smithson’s eyes narrowed. “What has she done?”


Mr. John Smithson

“It will be a trap, Father. They are only waiting until Bella is gone before they take us, and I don’t doubt for a second that is the only reason for the invitation. I, for one, am leaving, with or without the two of you. I do not care to know what Bella might or might not have told them.”

Jeremy got to his feet, swaying a bit. John had fortified himself with gin for the last encounter with Bella, and now wished he hadn’t. In fact, he wished he hadn’t even come to Saltash. Jeremy had taken the same drinks, but in celebration of their good fortune, which wasn’t so very good anymore, and he didn’t have the good sense to realize he would be better off facing what was about to happen sober.

“We cannot stay in Evercreech on Effingale’s land, or the house in Bath, or anywhere else we might be expected to go.” John looked his father and brother both in the eyes to make certain they understood. “We have no money if Holsworthy withholds payment, and there is no reason for him to pay if he knows we will be in Newgate on the morrow. We can go to a big city and lose ourselves in the stews until we can make a plan. What we cannot do is stay here and attend Bella’s wedding and her departure.”

Jasper was suspiciously quiet for a normally bellicose man, accustomed to getting his own way.


Mr. Jeremy Smithson

“The bitch has given us up, to be sure, and I will find a way that she will pay, I promise you that, perhaps as soon as the morning. But you are right, John. We will hire horses, and you and your brother will ride to London tonight and seek out Smite. He owes me a favor and he can put you to work at his tables. We can travel together as far as Evercreech, and I will meet you in London once I have collected what I need from Brittlestep Manor. It won’t do to leave evidence lying about when there are men on the lookout for it, and it will behoove us to keep track of our insurance.”

Jeremy argued, “It is not a far piece off the same road to the baron’s estate, Father. Angel Bairstowe and her father’s land is better insurance than anything you have hidden.”

John shoved his brother in the shoulder. “You would drag her down with you? Have you not a hint of honor? Leave Miss Bairstowe alone and face the problem at hand. Father is right. Smite can give us work in the gaming hells until we gather enough money to flee to the Continent.” John opened, then closed, then opened his mouth, finally shrugging and saying, “Father, I know I cannot stop whatever you think to do to ruin my sister’s life, but you should leave Bella alone. She has done nothing you would not have done, if it came to your own preservation. She is your daughter. Wish her happy, and bear the consequences of your own actions.”

“Bah. You have no loyalty. And I shall take care of you still, ungrateful wretch, and keep your neck from a rope. I will take care of your sister, too, and hear no more about it. Gather your things, the both of you, and we shall make a stop at the Bairstowe holding on the way. I should like to at least talk to the girl’s father before I allow my heir to be taken in by her.”

Readers, it was at this point, the Smithson gentlemen took their leave—and I use the term “gentlemen” rather more loosely than I might have only days ago—and I took up my pen to contact Bow Street and make careful notes for a story I might write once the law was able to see to the matter. Less than a fortnight later, once the Holsworthy’s ship was well away from England, the news came that Jasper Smithson, 2nd Bt. died at his own hand and his sons had disappeared. Miss Bairstowe remains unmarried and, it is said, has retired to her family’s villa outside Bologne.


The events of this vignette happen between Chapters Ten and Eleven of Shipmate, now FREE at book retailers, and mentions characters and situations from all of the books in the Sailing Home series, by Mariana Gabrielle.

Shipmate Front Cover-04The heavy hands and sharp tongues of Bella Smithson’s family have left her almost too timid to converse with a gentleman, much less conduct a husband hunt. Unfortunately, her overbearing aunt and managing cousin are determined to help her escape her black-hearted father and brothers.

Thanks to the Prince of Wales, retiring shipping magnate Myron Clewes has an ever-growing fortune, a fresh-minted peerage, a brand-new flagship, and an impossible set of requirements for a bride. Not least, she must be willing to leave England and everything she knows, possibly for good, in less than two months’ time.

Bella’s Happy-Ever-After in Royal Regard had its origins in a Happier-Than-She-Expected with her first husband, Baron Holsworthy, who gave her the confidence to steady her sea legs, take her life by the helm, and command her own voice, empowering a shy, young girl and unlikely adventurer to grow into one of King George IV’s trusted advisors.


The Sailing Home Series

Royal-Regard-cover-500x750Book One: Royal Regard

When Bella Holsworthy returns to England after fifteen years roaming the globe with her husband, an elderly diplomat, she quickly finds herself in a place more perilous than any in her travels—the Court of King George IV. As the newly elevated Earl and Countess settle into an unfamiliar life in London, this shy, not-so-young lady faces wicked agendas, society’s censure, and the realities of a woman soon to be alone in England.

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Tis Her Season cover tempBook Two: ‘Tis Her Season: A Royal Regard Prequel Novella
(available only until March 31, 2016 in Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem; re-release May 8).

Charlotte Amberly returns a Christmas gift from her intended—the ring—then hares off to London to take husband-hunting into her own hands. Will she let herself be caught?

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Shipmate Front Cover-04Book Three: Shipmate: A Royal Regard Prequel Novella

(FREE at all major retailers)

For shy Bella Smithson, landing a husband seems laughable, so when shipping magnate Myron Clewes offers to buy her from her unfeeling family and take her to sea, she is obligated to accept his suit—and a long list of demands she might never be able to meet.

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Rose Renamed cover temp-03Book Four: A Rose Renamed
(coming Fall 2016)

Major John Smythe returns from Waterloo a broken man, determined to stay one step ahead of his former life, but when he meets Rose Allen, the sins of his past must be confronted, for without her, he has no hope for a future.

The Final Fouret


His hands shook as he heated the letter opener over the candle flame and slid it beneath the wax seal. Since the killing had begun in earnest, the Duke of Malbourne’s hands had been shaking more often than was seemly for a man of the nobility, but there was more reason today than most: this letter represented the last hope his one remaining family member was still alive.

Three sisters and their families had already been executed by Madame La Guillotine, twenty-five souls in all, including his newest nephews, twins, born to his third sister not even a half-year ago. He could not imagine an animal as bloodthirsty as the ill-bred, ungrateful, insolent serfs of France.

He had lost one blood relation after another until only his youngest sister was left, and then she was taken by the rabble. Not for a quick, clean, killing, but ransomed by mercenaries more interested in a share of noble wealth than fair-minded principles of equality. Even assuming her abductors hadn’t killed her within hours, any demand was more than the duke could pay, as he had been moving gold, silver, jewels, and valuables overland for several months, preparing to relocate his family and close retainers from France to England. When the letter came, he had only enough gold available for the journey. They would all be safely across the channel by now, living in relative luxury, if Marie had not defied his express command, and taken a walk in the garden.



I am inconsolable at the loss of your sister. I was not able to secure Mademoiselle Marie’s release. She is gone.

Further word on household activities by usual communiqué.

I am, as ever, your humble servant.



His hand fell to the desk like the letter weighed as much as a brick. He closed his eyes to stave off the rare tears forming. Marie. Le bébé, Marie. His youngest sister, not yet married, the sweetest and kindest of all. The last woman who had been under Adolphe Fouret’s protection, now that his wife was dead and buried these five nights past.

HalifaxGibbetAllenHe could not wait two more days for Michelle’s weekly missive from her husband’s house, the center of the revolutionary elements in Alsace. The other note he had opened this hour, from one Pierre Bouchard, another spy in different circumstances, had warned: Go now. Do not delay. Michelle’s intimate knowledge of the insurrection would do him no good if her bourgeois husband and his ilk dragged their rightful liege lord from the chateau in chains.

Goddamn Michelle! She was to have found a way to remove her former mistress from whatever peasant hovel the kidnappers had hidden her in. He had placed his inamorata, his family’s most faithful servant, in the nest of revolutionary vipers, and paid her well, to meet exactly such a need.

The plan had been to take a coach and collect Michelle on his way out of Alsace with Marie. She had been Marie’s lady’s maid since the age of fourteen, and the duke’s confidante since they were children, and would have retained both positions in exile. But if he looked on her face now, he might kill her outright. Better to leave his lover alive, to imagine he might one day mete out sufficient punishment for such a grand failure as this.

He would travel faster alone. And he had no more time to lose.

The last surviving member of la famille Fouret gave instructions to his few remaining loyal men-at-arms, ordered his horse and weaponry and provisions prepared, and walked, one final time, through the halls of the chateau built by the first noble Fouret in the seventh century.

To discover the fate of Monsieur le duc de Malbourne and his lover, read Royal Regard.

Royal-Regard-cover-500x750After 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.

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To connect with Mariana Gabrielle

Amazon Author page

Royal Regard meets Encouraging Prudence

Author’s note: In the virtual worlds of historical fiction, authors create whole societies of characters, interacting with real historical events and even real people. But each virtual world sits alone, never touching the worlds of other authors. Until now.


“Lord Aldridge”

The year is 1801 in Fickleton Wells, Somerset.

The Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford, is 21, just down from Oxford. Lord Nicholas Northope, second son of the Duke of Wellbridge has been, at 27, racketing about England unchecked a fair few years without much purpose. And the trajectories of both young lives are about to change.

“The Duke of Wellbridge”

“I don’t fancy hanging so much, myself.” Lord Nicholas Northope observes, rubbing his fingertips along his throat, the iron chains at his wrist clanking as he considered the length of his neck. “I always thought if Prinny ordered it, I’d be drawn and quartered or boiled in oil. I seem to bring out his bloodlust.”

Nick looks out the window. They have been imprisoned in an old Norman tower at the home of the local baron. Fortunately. With the entire town of Fickleton Wells on the rampage, the local gaol would not have been safe. Even from this place of relative safety, he can see angry townspeople keeping watch from beyond the gate.

The two young noblemen are sitting, cramped and freezing, in torn, grimy clothes, awaiting the Prince of Wales’ pleasure after rather an uproar in one of his royal townships. Wrist and ankle shackles clank at each gesture, chains long enough to allow considered movement, but short enough to impede them if they run.

Back to the wall on the cold stone floor, Lord Aldridge, the Merry Marquis, tosses out, casually, “I don’t qualify for silk myself, you know. I’m just using my father’s second title. Hemp for me, same as you,” Nick thinks Aldridge is taking rather a ghoulish interest in the possible mechanics of his death. “Though I did rather fancy Madame La Guillotine if I were ever put to death. There is something so divinely aristocratic about it.”

“It seems one can only play so many pranks on a monarch,” Nick opines, “before one’s neck is stretched.”

“It wasn’t our fault. Those women…” Aldridge shudders. “I can’t have swived more than three or four, surely? We only had them to ourselves for one evening, after all.”

“I can’t possibly have swived all of them. Though perhaps half… There were… how many? Fifteen? Surely not.”

“I don’t remember much after the dancing. They danced beautifully, didn’t they? The rector’s daughters?”

Both men fell into rather a trance for a few minutes, remembering the plump thighs and comely smiles of the rector’s twelve lovely, lonely daughters.

“Nick, we didn’t do anything… dishonorable… Did we? They won’t really hang us? And the prince—he wouldn’t… Hell, Nick, I played with his little brothers and sisters from the time I could toddle.”

Nick shrugged, “And I might have married Sophia. You will do best not to remind him you might have touched his younger sisters with the same hands you used to defile the rector’s daughters. In fact, Aldridge, speaking as a man six years older and wiser, you will not want to mention the princesses—or defiling—at all.”

He can’t keep his chained hands away from his neck.

“My head feels very fuzzy,” Aldridge complains. “Nick, how many hands am I holding up? And what is that elephant doing in the corner?”

“Prinny won’t be fooled by false deliria. I’ve tried it once already and he caught me out by calling a physician.”

Aldridge subsides, grumbling. “Is it not worth trying? And how very like you to steal a man’s alibi before he even has the chance to use it.”

Perhaps Aldridge has a point. “The gin did have rather a sharp taste, to be sure, though. Did you not think?”

Aldridge straightens, clearly prepared to synchronize their stories. “Yes, of course. Assuredly. Quite sharp indeed.”

Nick laughs and shakes his finger. “Do not lie to your sovereign, Aldridge, and if you must, never so poorly as that. The mayor, the rector, and the squire have truth on their side. There can be no doubt of our guilt. I did visit the squire’s wife, and you did enjoy the mayor’s younger sister, no matter what we might or might not remember about the rector’s daughters. We both knew the town was on the prince’s estate—is that not why we were there? To avoid our fathers’ holdings? No, my friend, we’ve been well and truly served up for His Royal Highness’s supper.”

Aldridge utters an expletive, and sinks his head in his hands.

A sound outside the tower room brings them both to their feet. A key turns in the lock.

The Duke of Haverford brushes past the burly guard who opens the door. “Out!” he barks.

Lord Nicholas Northope is no stranger to the ducal disposition and backs into a corner first thing, a tactical error he started making in childhood and has never outgrown. Aldridge, the son of this particular angry duke, stays at rigid attention, which does not avert the ducal fire.

“You miserable, self-indulgent, beef-witted nodcocks! What on earth possessed you? What were you thinking? Don’t answer that. You were not thinking!” Nick and Aldridge shrink, inch by inch, to the size of ten-year-olds. “Northope, I blame you for this mess. Show the boy the town, I said. Give him a good time. Keep him out of trouble. What the hell do you mean by it, eh?”

If Aldridge thinks Nick will step forward to do the honorable thing and admit his part, he has lost his bloody mind.

“Aldridge,” the duke barks as his heir begins to edge to one side. “Stand, boy. I’ll get to you.” The last is uttered in a low steady monotone.

Nick sinks ever-deeper into the corner he should have abandoned when he had the chance.

“Listen to me, and listen well, you buffle-brained nincompoops. You have been banned from Fickleton Wells! Banned! The sons of two of the greatest men in the Commonwealth banned from an English town. How on earth did this happen?”

Nick clears his throat and still manages to squeak, “Patent medicine, Sir, I swear it!” He shoulders his way out of the corner, determined to give his lies confidence. “In the… in the gin… we were… we were poisoned! The brandy, too, I’ll wager. Lucky to be alive… Surely cannot be held responsible for…”

“Rubbish, Northope. Rubbish! I’ll tell you how it happened. You let a pack of women lead you by your willies. Yes, you did. Your father and I have talked to them. And paid them off, the bitches. Because…” he walks right up and taps Nick’s chest as he makes his point. “You. Let. Them. Fool. You.”

Nick’s hand runs around his neck again.

“Your Grace,” Aldridge has suddenly realized that they wouldn’t be banned if they were to be hanged. This has given him an altogether overly optimistic sense of confidence. “They say they are pregnant, Your Grace.” Haverford’s head swivels dangerously in Aldridge’s direction. “It can’t be us, Your Grace. It’s only been a week since we arrived, and surely, virile as we are, we cannot each have impregnated a dozen women in a week? Surely, not even Your Grace could—”

Nick suddenly realizes the benefit of being six years wiser.

Haverford turns all his attention on his son and heir, and Aldridge’s confidence shrinks to a needle point.

“They claim you have been visiting them for months,” Haverford explains, his suddenly gentle tones a sure sign that Aldridge is about to be very, very sorry. And then even sorrier than that.

While Aldridge tries to duck out of sight, Nick moves to a position well away from any more corners. He is a grown man, for heaven’s sake. And there are plenty of places to stand.

“I haven’t finished with you, Northope.”

“Months?” Nick responds, shaking his head, straightening his cuffs. “You’ve been coming here months, Aldridge?”

“Not I, Your Grace. It’s a lie.” Aldridge squeaks.

“I, on the other hand,” Nick offers, “just came to Fickleton Wells for a prize fight. At least that is why your son told me he was bringing me here. If he had another purpose… well… I cannot speak to that…”

Haverford casts his eyes to heaven. “No honor among thieves or scoundrels. Did the Duke of Wellbridge’s wife play him false with the village idiot? Aldridge, if your mother weren’t a saint I would swear you couldn’t be mine.”

Aldridge is casting Nick a look of deep betrayal. “Nick, how could you?”

Nick relents. There is no need to leave all the blame on Aldridge. “Admittedly, Your Grace, we had a bit more gin than two gentlemen should… But I would swear Aldridge and I were both unknown to them. And the gin had quite a sharp taste, rather like… patent medicine. I can’t help but think they are lying.”

“Of course they are lying.” Haverford throws up his hands in despair. “And of course they set out to trap you. And of course they drugged you. And of course you would drink anything put in front of you! Do you think I’m as big a fool as the two of you? But they have the whole town believing them, and the prince half believes them, too.”

“The prince,” Nick gulps. “What is Wales going to do to us?”

Haverford ignores him to continue his version of a fatherly sermon. “I have told you before, Aldridge. And you should listen, too, Northope. Never, ever, indulge yourself with the lower gentry or the middle sort. Servants, yes. Farmers’ wives and such. But never with people who can embarrass me… you. Keep a mistress. Keep ten; your allowance is large enough. Just don’t let your mother know, and stay away from the middle sort. One of our own, if you must, and if she has done her duty by her Lord. But never the middle sort. You have embarrassed me. You have embarrassed Wellbridge. And you have embarrassed the Prince of Wales.”

“On the topic of, er… Wellbridge… Sir?” Nick’s tentative voice demonstrated not an ounce of the Eton/Oxford poise he was so fond of displaying. “Did my, er… father… say what he would do? And Wales? What has he decided?”

“If it were up to me, and if Aldridge weren’t—God help the Haverford name—my heir, you’d both hang. But Prinny is inclined to be generous. I have no idea why.” He fixes Aldridge with another glare. “Your mother may have spoken to him.”

That brought up a very good point.

“Sir, Your Grace,” Nick asks, “might it be possible to bring this up with the Duchess of Wellbridge, not the duke?”

“There will be no discussion of anything with you, Northope. The king discussed it with Prinny, who discussed it with me and Wellbridge; we discussed it with your mothers, and the petty provincials in Fickleton Wells discussed it the length and breadth of England! You are asked not to find yourselves in the royal presence until such time as you are requested. You are further banned, until the general sense of noble fury is abated, from all of Prinny’s estates, his father’s, your father’s, and mine.

“Which. Will. Not. Be. Difficult.” Haverford’s finger drives the point home, “as you are both leaving England. Northope, your father has booked passage and suggests your long-delayed Grand Tour commence immediately on conclusion of this interview. Aldridge will be going to my estate in Outer Strathclyde, to study the wool trade. It is time he took a hand in estate business.”

“But Your Grace, isn’t Outer Strathclyde… didn’t you complain that you can’t seem to keep anyone there under the age of sixty?”

“Outer Strathclyde,” Nick snickers.

Aldridge looks hunted. “Outer Strathclyde,” he whimpers.

“Live to a ripe old age, they do in those parts. Something to do with the fine crisp air. Of course, all the young people have long since gone. But you could learn a lot there, Aldridge.”

“But Your Grace. You said you would never go there because you couldn’t get a woman to…” Aldridge’s voice trails off. Nick thinks he would have been better not to have opened his mouth.

Haverford, though, just smirks. “Precisely. And so the estate is neglected. But now I have no need to go. My ungrateful son—who could clearly do with fewer women—will represent me instead. And you, Northope…”

Nick knows exactly where he will be going, and if he can go without the ducal blessing, so much the better.

“Hanover, I presume?” he shrugs.

Nick has been recently considering a visit to his old friend, Adolphus, the viceroy, and Prinny will have no objection to Nick causing trouble in his brother’s viceregal Court. Northope second sons have a tradition of travel; it is how the French and Italian titles were acquired, and Nick will be more than delighted to continue the custom. Unexpected, given his brother’s infirmity, but not at all unwelcome. He does hope his father allows him a valet and enough money to eat well.

“Aldridge, you will not disappoint me,” Haverford’s mere tone of voice is a threat to both men… er, boys, who thus comply with the two burly servants come to escort the young lords to their respective transports.

“This is so unfair,” Aldridge hisses to Nick as they are separated. “You are being given the freedom of the globe, while I am being sent into celibate exile in a community of geriatric woollen weavers.”

Nick cannot help but grin. Aldridge is bearing the real punishment for their prank, and Nick is being rewarded with a merry jaunt across the Continent and no way for his father to object to it.

“I’ll remember this day, Northope,” Aldridge calls, as his keepers escort him away. “And I vow my exile will be a short one.”

Nick vows his might last forever.