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Lord Lynster Discovers

The Traitor Lords: Book 1

By Adella J. Harris





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When butler Daniel Rivers finds his employer, the Earl of Lynster, has shot himself rather than be arrested for treason, his first thought is to protect James, the new Lord Lynster, a man he’s secretly been in love with for years, even if it means letting suspicion fall on himself. James, the new Lord Lynster, knows the Crown suspects him of being a part of his father’s plot. At least he has his old friend Daniel to help.


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Copyright (c) 2017 Adella J. Harris





Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

About the Author



Chapter 1

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This publication has it on good authority that there are traitors in the highest levels of society. It has come to our attention that even now, the Crown and its officers are preparing to bring the three traitor lords to justice and stop their nefarious plot to kill our gracious king.

James had only read the first few sentences of the article, but he left the newspaper in the carriage and got out as soon as it stopped in front of his father’s townhouse. The pair hadn’t spoken since his sister’s wedding over a year ago, and both preferred it that way. But recently James had started to wonder if the current silence between them was more than their usual estrangement. The less careful newspapers had been writing about a group they called the traitor lords for months now—a group of titled men who were plotting to assassinate the king, and now the rumors were starting to spread to the more mainstream papers. James would have ignored that gossip entirely had it not been for some very odd questions he’d gotten from his father’s solicitor.

And then the visits started. He had been visited by agents of the Crown more times than he cared to remember in the past few weeks, and from the questions he’d been asked, he suspected his father was one of the traitors, although why Father would be a part of something like that was a mystery to him. Father was the farthest thing from a reformer and, if anything, thought the titled should hold more power, not less. He’d have gone back to the feudal system if he could, and King John was probably a personal hero. And yet, there were too many odd things said, too many questions being asked that showed a bit too much information about the family. And now this news that they were closing in on the traitors, and in a respectable publication.

James ran up the stairs to the townhouse. If he was right, he knew what he would find. He wished there were someone else to do this, but he was the oldest. He certainly couldn’t send his sister in any case, not in her condition. His brother-in-law might have been persuaded to handle the matter if there were a pressing need, say if he’d been called away by estate matters, but he couldn’t ask Lord Gatwell to take on a task like this simply because he didn’t want to. Not when he was soon to be the head of the family. And if his suspicions were correct, he had probably been the Earl of Lynster and therefore head of the family for several hours now, and it was most definitely his duty to check. He rapped sharply on the door.

Much to James’s surprise, the door opened almost at once. “My lord. A pleasure as always.” It was Daniel Rivers, the butler, and absolutely the best person he could have hoped to find on the other side of the door. They had known each other ever since Daniel had been an eight-year-old hallboy on the estate when James was six, and they had maintained a sort of friendship ever since, even if he’d barely seen the man during the estrangement from his father. Truly there was no one he’d rather have by his side now, and no one he would trust more with whatever secrets they might find. The man already knew his deepest secret, and James had never worried that it would be revealed.

James removed his hat and coat and allowed Daniel to take them. “Good morning, Daniel. I wanted to see if my father... I mean there was something in the newspaper...” He wished he’d brought it with him to show Daniel, so he wouldn’t have to explain.

“The Gazette or the Tattler? Both had—interesting articles last evening. I believe your father brought both home with him.”

“And you saw the articles?”

“I did.”

James tried to think how to ask the next question. He was still worrying over it when Daniel gently took control.

“Would my lord like a drink, or shall we proceed directly to the study?”

So Daniel suspected the same thing. “He didn’t drag you into it, did he?”

“No, my lord, but all of the staff have been questioned repeatedly on our days off and have been instructed not to tell him about it. Three maids and two footmen have resigned in the last month alone. And while they were instructed not to tell him anything, they were not given the same instructions with regard to me.”

“So you know all about the questioning.”

“I’m afraid so. It is most unfortunate. I told all of them to avoid purchasing or bringing home any pamphlets regarding any of the protests that have been occurring, just in case.”

“I hope they listened. We’d best go have a look.”

Everything seemed better with Daniel walking beside him. Daniel had always been the one he went to when Father had been cruel, and he’d been the one to tell James about his mother’s illness and when he could visit without Father being at home, and he’d been the one James had asked to keep him informed of Connie’s suitors so he could be certain Father wasn’t marrying her off to some brute with power. Daniel was the one person he trusted completely. The man was completely loyal, although it had never occurred to James to wonder why until this moment. Certainly not because of his father—Daniel had disliked him as much as James had, and yet he’d stayed, all these years.

And then they were at the study door, and James was dreading opening it, as he normally did, although this time not because he expected his father’s wrath. Daniel stepped forward and turned the handle as he always did, letting James concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other through the door into whatever horror awaited him.


He had expected more blood. That was his first thought. He wondered if Father had planned it. Most likely not. He wasn’t the sort to care about who would find the body or the servants who would have to clean up. Oddly, it was the least terrifying confrontation with his father in this room he could remember. Most ended with Father yelling at him or telling him to bend over and take six of his best. Father wouldn’t be doing either now.

James approached the desk and leaned over the form slumped on top of it. He didn’t need to look too closely to see that it was Father, although part of his head was covered with what looked like the blanket from the settee. To muffle the sound of the shot, perhaps, so the staff wouldn’t come running. There was a dueling pistol in his right hand. James located the other on the edge of the desk, still in the box they were kept in. He made himself touch one hand with the tip of his finger. Cold and stiff.

“Daniel, Father’s had an accident with his dueling pistol. Please send someone for Mr. Cuthbert and Mr. Sedmon. And a doctor, I suppose.” Although it was clearly too late for that. The vicar and the solicitor would be of more use.

“Right away, my lord.”

James didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to touch anything else, but was he supposed to? To go through the desk for papers perhaps? He didn’t know. He went to stand by the door. At least he wouldn’t disturb anything there. Unless he was supposed to disturb things.

He was still standing there when Daniel returned. “I sent a footman for Mr. Sedmon and Mr. Cuthbert in that order, and a second to Lord Gatwell.”

Telling Connie. He hadn’t thought of that, but somehow he’d thought he’d have to do it. But Lord Gatwell could tell his wife just as well. “Thank you, Daniel.” He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Telling Connie. What else had he forgotten?

“And I brought you a drink, my lord. A little Scotch and a fair bit of soda.”

James took the offered glass and took a long sip. It helped steady his nerves, but from the amount of soda he detected, he suspected that was all in his head.

“And this, my lord.”

He felt something sticky being pressed into his hand. A marzipan sweet, this one a simple circle with an almond stuck to the top with honey. His favorite treat. When he’d been a boy, Daniel would slip him one after particularly bad incidents with his father. During the particularly bad years at school, when he’d had no friends and thought everyone suspected the truth about him, Daniel had given him marzipan sweets when he’d come home for holidays and would hide small boxes of them in his trunk when it was time to leave. It wasn’t until years later that he’d realized Daniel must have spent most of his pocket money on the treats for him. His eyes felt warm and moist for the first time that morning. “Thank you, Daniel.”

“You’re welcome, my lord.” Daniel rubbed James’s shoulder gently.

The bell in main hallway jangled. “It seems Mr. Sedmon was prepared for something to occur. If you will excuse me, my lord.”

James stayed by the door to the study and waited. It wasn’t long before he heard Daniel’s calm steps followed by the brisk ones that belonged to Mr. Sedmon. James gulped down the rest of the Scotch Daniel had brought so Sedmon wouldn’t know he’d been drinking before breakfast, took a nibble of the marzipan, and then slipped the rest of the treat into his handkerchief.

Mr. Sedmon was a small man of indeterminate age. He was wearing his usual sombre grey suit and had a notebook in his hand. “Good morning, my lord. I’m told there was an incident.”

“There was. He’s in here.”

Mr. Sedmon nodded and entered the room. He walked over to the desk and looked at the scene, walked slowly round it once, then came back to the door.

“Did anyone hear the shot?”

“I haven’t asked the staff yet. I haven’t told them yet, although they’ve probably heard something by now.”

“I would suppose the footmen let it be known downstairs before they went to deliver the messages. I’m afraid it is unlikely that they heard the shot, however.” Daniel bowed slightly as they both turned to look at him.

Mr. Sedmon raised an eyebrow. “And you believe this because?”

“Last night, there was a panoramic exhibit on our great victory at the Battle of Trafalgar with refreshments afterward, which I thought would be educational for the younger members of the staff. And as I did not feel it prudent to send them out alone, I asked his lordship if I might give the whole staff a few hours off to take in the exhibit after dinner.”

“And the refreshments,” Mr. Sedmon said with almost a smile.

“As it were, sir.”

“And Father gave permission?” That didn’t sound like him.

“When I asked, he said, ‘Yes, yes, whatever, Rivers,’ without looking up from his newspaper. As I did not wish to disturb him, I did not press but took it as permission.”

“So no one else was in the house last night?”

“I stayed behind in case he needed anything and to let the others in when they returned.”

“And you didn’t hear a shot?”

“No, sir. If I had, naturally I would have been obligated to rush upstairs and see if medical assistance would save him.”

“Naturally. So why do you think you didn’t hear it?”

“I dozed a bit around nine thirty. Perhaps it happened then.”

“Perhaps.” Mr. Sedmon turned back to James. “You’re lucky about that, you know. If he’d survived and been found guilty, the Crown would have been within their rights to take the title, the property, the bank accounts, everything from him, leaving you with nothing to inherit.”

James wondered if Daniel had been aware of that. Most likely he had.

“And this is how you found him?” Mr. Sedmon walked slowly around the room.

“Correct. I didn’t touch anything, but he clearly had an accident with his dueling pistol.” Clearly, he had not, but it was the best story that could be derived from the evidence at hand.

“Clearly.” Mr. Sedmon sighed. “I suppose I should have expected something like this. From the questions they asked me the last time they called, I knew they were close. But that article in the newspaper must have confirmed it for him.”

“I suppose he’s lucky they let it be written.”

“I suppose, but the writer isn’t. From what I’ve managed to ascertain this morning, there wasn’t supposed to be an official confirmation until they were all in custody, but they don’t know who let the press find out how close they were to apprehending them.”

“Do you know who the others were?”

Sedmon looked up. “You really don’t know anything?”

James shook his head.

“I suppose it won’t go badly for you if I tell you then. But if they ask how you know, don’t hesitate to say it was from me. The three Traitor Lords, as the press has named them. Your father was one—that seems obvious now. According to my footman, who heard it from the cook, who heard it from the lad who delivers the eggs and also delivers them in parts of Mayfair, Lord Burfield was apprehended at his house in Ryder Street early this morning. I think he wanted to be arrested, as he didn’t try to run. Lord Martford and his oldest son ran last night and haven’t been found yet. So apparently there were actually four of them. Unless some of the other sons prove to have been involved.”

“I wasn’t,” James said to be certain Sedmon knew.

“What do you know of your father’s plan?”

“Nothing, as I have said repeatedly this morning.” Sedmon at least should have been on his side.

“I did not mean it like that, my lord. I meant as a general question. Have you read the newspaper accounts, for example?”

James knew he’d overreacted, but Mr. Sedmon seemed to be ignoring the outburst. He probably assumed James was overwrought with the morning’s events, and he wouldn’t be wrong, and it wasn’t even noon yet. “I haven’t been reading the newspapers very closely, not much beyond the first paragraphs on the traitor lords stories. It makes me think what fools they all were, and I did keep hoping maybe he wasn’t involved.”

“Understandable, to be sure. I suppose the simplest explanation is that they intended to kill the king and prince regent and frame several of the groups calling for reforms which have sprung up lately. Their thinking—if one can call it thinking—appears to have been that the government would then be forced to deal more harshly with such groups and prevent a revolution in England like that in France.”

“Is that even logical?”

Sedmon sighed. “Not when Lord Burfield tells it. And several of the groups they intended to frame can’t stand each other and would probably have been turning each other in at the first opportunity. And then there is the swindle.”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“As you should be. It’s a rumor, but it is widely believed that, rather than fund this objective with their own money, the traitor lords orchestrated several stock swindles, using their influence to cause shares they owned to become artificially inflated and then selling them before they crashed. As I said, not proven, but it is causing a great deal of personal ill will amongst many who might not have had much interest in the case beyond the chance at a public hanging.”

James groaned. “He’s left me an even bigger mess than I thought.”

“Small comfort, I’m sure, but at least he’s left you something. Lord Burfield’s heir will most likely lose the estate and title, as will Lord Martford’s, although the older son did run off with him so apparently was part of this. The younger is cleared, at least, as he’s been away at Oxford these last years.”

“You’re right, it’s small comfort.”

“But there are a few matters we ought to discuss.”

“Then we’d better get them over with.” Then maybe the day would begin to look better.

Sedmon glanced at Daniel. Daniel took the hint and bowed. “I will go and make certain the rest of the staff has been properly informed and that there is some breakfast prepared for you, my lord.”

James would have liked Daniel to stay so he would have at least one friend in the room, but Sedmon didn’t understand that Daniel was to be trusted, so he merely said, “Thank you, Rivers.”

When Daniel had left the room, Sedmon began. “Firstly, I must ask privately, as your solicitor—were you involved?”

Sedmon asked it with so little emotion that James couldn’t muster up much of his own this time. “Absolutely, definitely not. Father and I were barely on speaking terms. If I hadn’t been his sole male heir, we wouldn’t have been at all.”

“Very good. Then, as much as I hate to ask, is there anything in your life that may be used against you, either by the Crown or by the journalists that will no doubt be descending upon us like locusts?”

“Is this necessary?”

“I’m afraid so. The Crown will want to try someone, and that is the time when any little indiscretions come out.”

“I have a blameless life, sir.” He couldn’t possibly know about that, not when he never acted on it, at least not in any but the most discreet molly houses...

“Of course, it is simply that in times of trouble I find that some of my clients find themselves being asked to pay for various peccadillos, even those not of their making, for example, to keep a child of uncertain lineage from being produced in court. And if I am prepared in advance, I can be of more assistance.”

So not that then. “There is nothing like that in my past, Mr. Sedmon.” Then the rest of the statement registered in his mind. “In court? But Father is dead; there’s no one to put on trial.”

“I sincerely hope that is the case, my lord.”

“What do you mean you hope there’s no one to put on trial?”

Mr. Sedmon would not meet his eyes. “The Crown wanted to try a traitor to make an example of him. This traitor is no longer available to them. They may decide to look for a replacement. You inherited the title—you may also inherit the scandal.”

James groaned. “He never told me anything. Not only about this, about anything. I don’t even know where he kept the estate records. I assure you, I knew nothing about his plans.”

“But can you prove you knew nothing?”

James was saved from answering by Daniel opening the door and announcing, “Mr. Cuthbert, my lord. Peter is helping him with his coat. I’ll see there’s an extra place at breakfast.”

“Thank you, Daniel.” He turned to Mr. Sedmon. “I can’t keep the vicar waiting.”

“Of course not. I will get the will out of storage and make certain there isn’t anything that will be problematic for you.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll show myself out. If I may, I will call on you later and tell you if I’ve learned anything about this situation.”

“I’d appreciate it.” James watched Mr. Sedmon disappear down the hallway. He could hear Mr. Cuthbert’s loud voice carrying along the hall as he spoke to the footman about the sad day and evils of money. James wished he still had the Scotch.


When Daniel was safely behind the closed door of the butler’s pantry off the dining room, he leaned against the counter and closed his eyes. He felt like he’d served a weeklong house party short-staffed, and breakfast hadn’t even been served yet. But the body had been found, and James hadn’t had too terrible a time of it, so that was one thing well done. He heard footsteps coming from the kitchen and busied himself with the breakfast service.

Mrs. Harrigut, the housekeeper, took one look at his face and nodded. “I take it it’s happened then. I wondered when you got rid of us all last night, not that I’d say that to anyone but you and Mrs. Patterson. I suppose it’s a relief really.”

“We did know it was inevitable.” He didn’t need to ask what they were referring to.

“How is the earl I suppose he is now, how is he bearing up?”

“Well enough. Mr. Sedmon was here, and Mr. Cuthbert is there now.”

“And he’ll most likely stay to breakfast. I’ll have Nora set a place for him. This was a respectable house when I came to work here, Mr. Rivers.”

“As it was when I came, Mrs. Harrigut. This is merely a smudge on an otherwise good name.”

“But what a smudge. But I suppose you would know, seeing how long you’ve been here.”

“Since I was a mere hallboy.”

Mrs. Harrigut nodded. “Indeed. And now we’ll have to figure out where to go next. It’s a sad state, Mr. Rivers.”

“I’m certain his lordship will do everything he can to help.”

“I’m sure he will, but how much good will references from the House of Lynster be at a time like this?”

Daniel was going to answer, although she was correct—references from the house of a traitor would not get them many positions at all—but Mrs. Harrigut’s expression changed. He held still and wasn’t surprised to hear her say, “Bessie, have you finished the fires?”

“Yes, Mrs. Harrigut, all but the one in the study. I didn’t like to... I mean...”

Daniel interrupted. “I don’t think a fire will be required in the study today. If it is, I’ll see to it myself.”

“Thank you, sir. I didn’t like to go in there, with, you know.”

“His lordship discussing matters with Mr. Cuthbert?” Daniel knew that wasn’t the real reason, but it spared the maid having to mention the body.

“Yes, sir, more or less.”

Mrs. Harrigut nodded to the staircase. “Go and see if Polly needs help with the breakfast things, and tell her to set a place for Mr. Cuthbert.”

“Yes, Mrs. Harrigut.” Bessie hurried for the staircase, obviously glad of a job that did not involve going near the room with the body of the old lord.

Mrs. Harrigut sighed. “I suppose we’d best begin planning for the mourning calls, although not a one of them will be sorry to see him go. Gossip calls is what they are.”

“I ordered the fabric for draping the mirrors last week. You’ll find it in my sitting room.”

“What would we do without you, Mr. Rivers? I’ll get the girls on it after breakfast.”

“And I’ll send the footmen to deal with the outside, and see what his lordship wishes for everything else.”

“At least we have a plan to deal with things. I’d best see how the breakfast is coming.”

Daniel nodded so she would leave then went back to slumping against the counter. He had known this was coming and had tried to plan as best he could, but some things could not be anticipated. Like the bits of charred paper he’d pulled from the hearth. Should they have been left to burn or not? Well, he could always burn them himself if he needed to. For now, they were safe in his bureau. There was no way to completely rescue James from Mr. Cuthbert, but the sooner he got breakfast laid out, the sooner he could provide a distraction. He pushed himself away from the counter and went to set out the silverware.


James had no idea why he always assumed clergymen could be expected to stay to a meal, but he did, and Cuthbert didn’t disappoint. Once Dr. Matthews had arrived and commandeered the study so Cuthbert could no longer stand in the doorway and wax sympathetic on how hard it must have been to find the body, James felt obligated to offer him a seat at the breakfast table, and Cuthbert spent the entire meal telling James how sorry he was about his father’s death and how he was certain that he would never have taken such a dark path if he hadn’t been influenced by evil men, which was further proof that honesty in all things was the best course of action. James resisted the compulsion to be completely honest and tell him his father very likely instigated the whole plot, and if he hadn’t, he had certainly influenced its direction. But that would bring shocked lectures, which always took Cuthbert longer to deliver than his pious ones, so James toyed with his eggs, and when the sausages were all gone, mostly into Cuthbert, it seemed safe to say, “I am so glad you came in my hour of need.” A lie if ever there was one—so much for the honesty lecture. “But I’m afraid I have so many people to notify, and the house must be put into mourning, and there are papers to go through...”

Cuthbert finally took the hint. “Then I will leave you to it. Please let me know when you would like to hold the funeral. I say, do you suppose he was cleaning the gun to use on the other traitor lords for pulling him into this mess?”

Obviously not, but whatever Cuthbert needed to tell himself to get through the service. “We’ll never know, will we?”

“One day we all will.” He gave a pious glance up, and James tried not to look like he wished Cuthbert were at the door already. “But as you say, you are busy. You have my deepest sympathies, my lord. Good morning.”

James bit his lip and schooled his face into a look of regret but didn’t say anything. The phrase “good morning” had suddenly struck him as a pun, and he was imagining the vicar wishing him “good mourning.” It wouldn’t do to laugh at something like that, though, not with the vicar right there, so he kept his face bland and walked Mr. Cuthbert to the door of the dining room, where Bessie was waiting to clear the table. She offered to fetch Mr. Cuthbert his hat and coat, and the vicar followed her to the front hall.

Once Cuthbert was out of the front hall and James heard the front door close, James went to the library and collapsed into the nearest armchair and started laughing. He was still laughing when Daniel came into the room. Daniel took one look at him and shut the door behind himself.

“I haven’t gone mad, Daniel, at least I don’t think so.”

“The strain, my lord, it can be trying.”

“It sounds strange hearing you call me ‘my lord,’ but that wasn’t it. Just that Cuthbert said, ‘Good morning,’ and I heard it as a pun.”

Daniel grinned. “I suppose it could be taken that way.”

Daniel always did get his humor. “We’re still friends, aren’t we, Daniel?”

“Of course we are, my lord. But you are the earl now.”

“So no more James and Daniel.”

“It wouldn’t be proper in public, my lord.” Daniel grinned the way he had when they were boys running around the estate together. “But privately, I would not object, James.”

James grinned back. “Good. I think I will go mad if I don’t have one ally in all of this. What do I do now? That’s the question.”

“Funeral arrangements. Is someone coming to see to the body?”

“Dr. Matthews sent for someone. He told me the name, but I told him to get whoever he thought was good. Then there are Father’s papers. The Crown will want them, no doubt.”

“No doubt, my lord. James.”

“I’d better have a look at them first, just to see what I’m up against. Sedmon thinks the Crown will want to put someone on trial, and I might be a likely choice.”

“They wouldn’t.” Daniel sounded properly shocked.

“I hope not. There isn’t any gossip about me, is there?” He didn’t have to tell Daniel what sort of gossip he was concerned about. Daniel had been the first one to know about his inclinations.

“None that I am aware of, and I do try to listen to the house gossip, although clubs are outside of my purview. I will try, though. I could use the excuse of looking for a new position to find the gossip in other households. There will be servants coming along with their masters to pay condolence calls. Coachmen always appreciate a cup of ale.”

“You’ll probably have to buy some more ale then. I might as well get the papers looked at. Would you come? You’re the only one I trust to help.”

“Of course, James.”

Hearing his first name from Daniel’s lips seemed to make it all a bit better.



Chapter 2

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James led the way back to the study. The body was still there. Somehow he couldn’t think of him as “Father,” but then it had been a long time since he’d been able to. He went to the desk and looked at the first drawer, the only one that had been spattered with blood. Best to get that one over with.

“Here, James.” Daniel held out a white handkerchief.

“Thank you.” It was less disturbing to open the drawer when he didn’t have to actually touch the blood. At least there hadn’t been more, which struck him as odd all over again. He looked up at Daniel, who was watching the closed door. “You arranged this, didn’t you?” James gestured to the clean floor under the desk, which he now remembered had been covered with a rug the last time he’d been in here. Now that he looked properly, several things were missing: the uncomfortable chair he’d had to sit in when he visited Father, the framed map of Rome from Father’s youth spent wenching his way around Tuscany to hear him tell it, the tapestry runner that had been under the lamp on the table. All things that would have been in a position to be spattered with blood when his father fired the shot.

“Not the shot, I assure you.”

“But the lack of blood. There should have been more blood.”

“Oh, that.”

“Come on, Daniel, I’m in no mood for riddles.”

“No riddles, my lord. I merely did not wish to burden you with household matters. I did not want to make Bessie and Polly clean up the mess, so I hired some outside help. As I knew the circumstances of the death and that you would most likely be finding the body, I didn’t see any reason to make you stumble upon that scene either.”

“Outside help?”

“Two resurrection men who frequent St. George’s burial ground. I felt they would be happy for the money and not put out by the sight of quantities of blood.”

“And you prevented them attempting extortion by?”

“Posing as the one who fired the shot. They are convinced I will do the same to them if any word of their participation reaches the wrong ears.”

James laughed. “I’d forgotten you were so good at disguise. You could have been in the theater. I’m surprised you never tried.”

“I’m happy where I am.”

James was going to say more, when the door to the study opened and Mrs. Harrigut peered in. “I’m sorry to disturb you, my lord, but Lady Gatwell is here.”

“What?” James shoved the drawer closed without looking at the papers inside and hurried into the front hall.

Constance, Lady Gatwell, was being helped out of her pelisse by Polly. James ran over to her.

“Connie. Are you sure you should be here?”

Connie rolled her eyes at him. “I’m with child, darling, not ill. Although if you say I should avoid the scene of the actual...incident, I won’t object.”

“Of course you should. Come into the sitting room. What does Lord Gatwell think of you being here?”

Connie shrugged and followed him down the hall. “He knows I’ll be more agitated sitting at home and wondering than I will be here. Where did it happen?”

“The study. He was—um—cleaning his dueling pistols when the accident occurred.”

“At least he had the sense to give you an easy and obvious story. Although knowing Father, that was a happy accident and not planned at all.”

James nodded and gestured for her to take the largest armchair by the fire.

They both stopped talking when they heard the door open, but it was only Daniel coming in with a tray. “I thought you might like some tea, Lady Gatwell, and some raspberry tart.”

“My favorite. Thank you, Rivers.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No, Rivers, I’ll play mother.” Connie reached for the teapot without looking up.

“That will be all, Rivers.” He’d have to remember not to use Daniel’s first name in company—not that Connie was company, but she made for good practice.

“Very good, my lord, my lady.”

When Daniel had left, closing the door behind him, Connie handed over a cup of tea. “It must be quite a comfort having him here.”

“He’s very efficient. And thoughtful.” James leaned in. “It cannot go beyond this room, but Daniel actually found Father’s body last night, or I suppose it was really this morning. In any case, he arranged for a pair of resurrection men to come and clean up the scene before I found it.”

Connie helped herself to the largest piece of tart. “That was clever of him to get resurrection men. I would have gone for the butcher and had the gossip over the whole street before breakfast. But then he was always clever, and you two were always so close.”

James was surprised. He hadn’t thought of it that way. Daniel had simply been there, always, whenever he was needed. “I suppose we were when we were young.”

“And beyond.” Connie paused as if she were giving him a chance to say something more. When he didn’t, she went on. “Do you need help with the funeral arrangements?”

“Dr. Matthews suggested the funeral furnishers, and Mr. Cuthbert has offered to arrange everything with them, and I accepted the offer. It will look best if the funeral is sedate and pious.”

“Your final revenge on Father, eh? Well, considering what Mr. Cuthbert will consider a proper length for a sermon, I might allow myself to be persuaded that a woman in my condition shouldn’t attend.”

James groaned. “I wish I could make that excuse.”

“Would you want me to attend?”

He shook his head. “No reason for us both to suffer.”

“Is there anything I can do to help, as I’m getting out of the worst bit?”

James could tell by Connie’s tone that she wanted to be given something useful to do. He racked his brain for something. “Could you speak with Mrs. Harrigut and make certain she has everything she needs? I have no idea what one is supposed to do about maids and all that. And if you could go over the menus for the funeral with Mrs. Patterson. Approve whatever costs seem reasonable to you. I can have her call on you if that’s easier for you.”

“I can call here just as well. And I’d be happy to help with the arrangements however I can.”

James thought that should be more than enough to make her feel she was contributing. “I’ll let you know if there’s anything else, but unless you want Cuthbert asking you about every detail, it’s best to leave him to it. How is the nursery coming along?”

That had the desired effect, or at least Connie saw that he wanted to change the subject, and allowed it as he was the one who found the body, and James spent the rest of the visit pretending to be interested in Connie’s arrangements for what she was hoping would be Lord Gatwell’s heir until the funeral furnishers arrived. Cuthbert may have had several less than ideal qualities, but clearly, he was efficient. James told Connie to linger over her tea as long as she liked and went to deal with them, which he did by telling them to do more or less what they wanted. He went with them to the study to secure any papers that were in the desk, only to find Cuthbert’s efficiency had nothing on Daniel’s.

“I’ve taken the liberty of moving all the papers from the desk into the library, my lord, so you will not need to inconvenience the gentlemen at their work.”

“Thank you, Rivers.” He was so relieved he didn’t have to spend more time in the room with Father’s body that he barely caught himself before he said “Daniel,” but he did manage it. “Gentlemen, I will defer to your expertise in these matters.”

“Very good, my lord,” the gentleman with the discreet order book said as he ushered the other man inside. James retired to the library and the papers.

Daniel had placed the contents of each drawer in its own stack, so there was some order the mess he was confronted with, not that it was really a mess thanks to Daniel, but it was still more than he wanted to deal with at the moment. He’d gotten barely halfway through the first stack and found nothing more useful than a record of horses Father had bet on, when the door opened and Daniel came in. James put aside the papers he was looking at, which were three-year-old household accounts, and looked up, eager for the distraction, at least until Daniel started speaking.

“Mr. Rollins is here with Mrs. Rollins, my lord.”

“What? Why on earth are they here?” James didn’t know who he wanted to see less, Rollins or Rollins’s mother.

“A condolence call, I believe. News travels quickly, I’m afraid.”

“You mean gossip. I suppose I have no choice but to see them.”

“Not really, my lord. I’ve put them in the parlor. Polly and Bessie have finished there.”

James didn’t know what it was they needed to finish, but he was grateful to Daniel for having sorted it out. “I suppose you should bring some refreshments or something.”

“Very good, my lord.”

“Do I look like I’ve spent the day crawling through dusty papers?”

“You look fine, my lord.”

“Then I’d best get this over with. There’ll be more, won’t there?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And some will probably have daughters.” Unmarried daughters. And dodging their hints was the last thing he needed at the moment.

“It is likely, my lord.”

James sighed, resigned. “The parlor, you said?”

Daniel nodded and held the door for him.


When James arrived at the open parlor door, Rollins was pacing by the fireplace as his mother whispered loud enough to be heard in the hallway, “Do you think we’ll see him?”

“No idea, mother. You certain you want to?”

“That’s the point... Lord Lynster, we just heard the sad news.”

“Thank you,” James said even though he didn’t think he’d heard any condolences yet.

“Sorry, old fellow.” Rollins came over and patted him on the shoulder. James wasn’t entirely certain if that had been meant as an expression of condolence or an apology for having brought his mother.

“Thank you.” It was such a nice, all-purpose phrase. He’d never really appreciated it before.

“We were a little surprised to be shown into the parlor,” Mrs. Rollins said in a tone that would have told him she was hinting at something even if he hadn’t heard the previous conversation.

“I’m afraid the funeral furnishers are still at work in the study.” He was very tempted to make some comment on the state of the body or the room, but he held his tongue. If Mrs. Rollins fainted, he’d be obligated to let her stay until she recovered, and he had the feeling she would time her recovery to coincide with the funeral furnishers being done, even if that took a week.

“I see.” James wondered if it was his fancy or if Mrs. Rollins really sounded disappointed. Perhaps she had rushed over in hopes of being the first to see the scene, only to learn that she had come too soon.

“Probably wasn’t much to see anyway,” Rollins said in what James assumed was a tone meant to console his mother.

Everyone fell silent. James couldn’t think of a single thing to say to his guests, and they seemed unwilling to initiate conversation. Rollins was probably as uncomfortable as he was, particularly as Rollins’s normal line of conversation involved tales of his exploits with his latest paramour, not a good topic under the circumstances. Mrs. Rollins was probably hoping some bit of gossip would be spoken so she could bring it back to her friends, and not about her son’s paramours. When none was forthcoming, she asked, “And how is your sister?”

“Lady Gatwell is very well, thank you.” He noticed the alliteration—was it alliteration? He’d have to ask Daniel—and realized he’d have to find a better way to answer the question so he wouldn’t be tempted to smile at it.

“That’s good. I was concerned when she wasn’t here.”

“Oh no, she’s fine.” That was the last thing Connie needed, rumors that she was ill. “It’s just, in her condition, we all thought it best...” He trailed off, not sure how to go on.

“Her condition, of course. I had forgotten. One must be so careful, particularly as it’s the first.” She launched into a long dissertation on the difficulties of bringing heirs into the world, leaving Rollins looking a bit green and James wondering if he should blush or faint himself.

Mrs. Rollins was just hitting her stride when the door opened and Daniel came in. “I brought tea and some of Mrs. Patterson’s blueberry lemon cake.”

Rollins made a bit of a face, and Mrs. Rollins looked put out. Mrs. Patterson made excellent cakes, but Daniel knew full well neither of the Rollinses could stand lemon as they’d broken out in spots when they’d had the lemonade at some party he no longer remembered beyond how ridiculous they’d looked, although that might have been from the gin Fenning dropped in the pitcher as a joke. Either way, the almond cake he’d seen Daniel taking out of the breakfast room when Cuthbert arrived would have been a better choice, even if it was his favorite.

“And I believe Mr. Cuthbert is arriving shortly.”

So the cake had been deliberate, although James didn’t remember Cuthbert saying he was coming. But then after the day he’d had, anything could have slipped his mind.

“Cuthbert?” Rollins looked taken aback. “We wouldn’t want to bother you when you’ve got such...um...religious matters to discuss.”

Mrs. Rollins looked as if she were looking for any excuse to stay. When she couldn’t find one, she sighed and nodded. “If you are making arrangements for the service, we don’t want to be in your way.”

James grasped Mrs. Rollins’s hand and bowed over it. “Thank you so much for coming during this trying time.” He thought he was laying it on a bit thick, but she patted his hand.

“Of course, dear. If you need anything, I’d be more than happy to send Mrs. Shaw over to help you.”

Send her housekeeper, not help herself, not that he’d ask for either. “You’re too kind.”

“Sorry about everything, old chap.” Rollins patted him awkwardly on the shoulder then steered his mother towards the door.

James watched them go, half-convinced they’d turn around and come back, but Polly brought their coats, and they were soon out on the pavement. James slumped against the wall. “So now just Cuthbert to get through. When is he coming?”

“Well, my lord, it is possible I was mistaken.”

James burst out laughing. “That was a rescue mission?”

“I was beginning to get the impression that Mrs. Rollins intended to stay until the funeral furnishers finished with the study, so it seemed prudent.”

“And that could be days, and she would do that to get the first bit of gossip. What would I do without you?”

“I’m sure I don’t know, my lord, but I did have one suggestion.”

“Not for getting on without you, I hope.” The panic he felt at that seemed completely irrational.

“No, my lord. A general suggestion. As you are so busy with business matters and sorting out the estate, normally there would be someone to see to the guests. As Lady Gatwell is in no condition to receive callers, perhaps you could impose upon Mrs. Cuthbert to help you receive guests and entertain them while you are occupied with estate matters.”

Not that there were any estate matters yet. But it made a perfect excuse. “You’re brilliant, Daniel. And I’ll bet she would love nothing more than to play the hostess in a house like this, even with the hint of scandal. And tell Mrs. Harrigut I’ll give her a bonus for dealing with her.” He’d only met Mrs. Cuthbert twice, but from what he remembered, she was the sort to enjoy the novelty of a staff of servants to order around and take full advantage of it.

“I’m certain she will be happy to be of assistance.”

“Did Connie escape?”

“Only as far as the kitchen. She is visiting with Mrs. Patterson to discuss meal plans for the funeral. I assume you would like to see her when she’s finished?”

“Yes, she should hear about the Mrs. Cuthbert plan. She might think of something we haven’t. Show her into the sitting room when she’s finished with Mrs. Patterson and ask if she’d like to stay to dinner.” James went up to the sitting room to wait, which didn’t take very long at all. “Were you hiding in the kitchen all this time?”

“Hiding? Of course not. I had important business to discuss with Mrs. Patterson, and then I didn’t want to bother you when you had guests. I assumed you had important business to discuss with Rollins. Besides, she offered me tea and cake, and I really couldn’t say no to that.”

“You know perfectly well that Rollins has never discussed important business in his life. But Daniel has figured out how to handle condolence calls. I’m going to beg Mrs. Cuthbert for assistance.”

“That is brilliant, and considering my condition and your unmarried state, she will be thrilled to help. It’s a situation begging for gossip, even without Father’s stupidity.”

Something about the mention of his unmarried state annoyed James, but he wasn’t sure why. He knew he’d need to produce an heir at some point, and marriage was a requirement for that, but Connie went on before he could question it.

“Just warn Mrs. Patterson to have lots of cream cakes on hand. Mrs. Cuthbert has a passion for cream cakes. Tell Mrs. Patterson to buy them; Mrs. Cuthbert won’t know the difference. Really, it’s just the thing. Then your guests can give their condolences to you and move right on to the gossip as soon as you leave the room, and all perfectly proper as the vicar’s wife will be presiding. Why, if I were here to receive the calls, they’d have to wait until they were in their carriages to have a proper time ripping us apart.”

“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as all that.” Connie made it sound like he was being invaded by a series of wolf packs.

“You obviously don’t know the fine ladies of our acquaintance as well as I do. They’ll want to see how you’ve set the house up for mourning and criticize anything that is not up to their standard, then have a good gossip about why he did it, my condition, and your eligibility and suitability as a son-in-law. It will give them a marvelous day out.”

All topics James wanted nothing to do with. He changed the subject as quickly as he could. “How is Allister holding up?”

“Well, you know he never cared for Father, so this is something to be endured for my sake, I think. Or do you mean Lord Burfield babbling on about the conspiracy in the press? He won’t speak to me about any of that, and I don’t read the articles. Such a lot of rot. The man should keep his mouth shut, or at least have a care for his son, although I don’t think Lord Heathborough’s spoken to him since Lady Burfield died. And then there are reports every day of people spotting Lord Martford, but those have all been false. Allister tries to ignore all of it, but people who should know better keep asking about it. And I know Allister got a letter asking for a job from the Martford lad, the younger one, but he didn’t have anything he could offer, which is a pity really. I remember him as a very sweet boy, and I’m certain he had nothing to do with all of this.”

James tried to picture Lord Martford’s younger son. Edwin Gilford, that was the name. “He’s young, youngest of us I think, and still at university. He’ll get by. And so will we once this is sorted out.”

“I’m sure that will put Allister’s mind at ease. I think he felt rather bad about it. How are the funeral furnishers getting on?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve just left them to it. I assume they know their business.”

Connie nodded. “Would you like me to check on them?”

James shook his head. “I think Daniel has been, and he’ll do a better job of being certain I’m not being taken advantage of than either of us could.” The funeral was another topic he was rapidly becoming tired of, so he tried another change of subject. “Will you stay to dinner?”

“Is that a hint to be rid of me? Not that it matters. I need to go home before Allister starts to worry. And he does worry. It would be sweet if it weren’t so annoying.”

“Better than the alternative, I suppose.”

Connie shrugged.

“I’ll walk you to the door.”

“You think I can’t find it myself?” But she accepted his arm and went with him into the hall. “Is there anything else you need me for?”

“Not unless you want to dig through Father’s dusty old papers looking for his will and any estate records.”

“As I highly doubt you’ll find anything exciting like lost treasure or forgotten heirs, I think I’ll leave that to you.”

James smiled. “Then safe journey.”

“I’m only going to Berkeley Square.” Connie bounced up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Send word if you need anything, from me or Allister. And don’t work too hard.”

“You either.”

James watched from the window so he could wave to Connie as her carriage disappeared into the traffic of the street, just as they had when they’d been children, although then he was usually the one leaving for school while she stayed behind; then he went back to the library to begin searching through papers. He kept at it, finding nothing of any real use, until Daniel came in.

“Dinner is almost ready, my lord.”

James tossed the contract for a ten-year-old coal delivery on the stack of useless papers. “Then I may as well leave the rest until the morning.” He untwisted himself from his spot on the floor, only to find his left foot had lost feeling.

Daniel came to offer him a hand up. “Will you be returning to your townhouse tonight, my lord, or would you like me to have a room made up for you here?”

“I suppose it would be convenient to stay here and be on hand for whatever arrangements need to be made. And my townhouse is in a bit of muddle. I have to find a new butler.”

“The last did not suit?”

James leaned against the desk and stomped his foot on the floor to try and get enough feeling back to be able to walk. “Oh, he suited just fine. It was my plan that didn’t suit. I tried paying an outrageous sum to attract the best, and the fellow saved it up and left me to open an inn.”

“How much did you offer?”

“Two hundred pounds a year.”

“Gracious.” Daniel sounded truly shocked. “That’s at least double the normal rate.”

“I wanted quality.”

Daniel brought a chair over for James to lean on while he waited to be able to put weight on his foot. “Has it ever occurred to you, my lord, that you have too high a standard?”

“You should be the last to complain about high standards.”

“But I fear you are turning away many fine stallions in your quest for a unicorn.”

Oddly enough, that analogy seemed to apply to more than one area of his life. “What if I’ve seen a unicorn?”

Daniel smiled. “Then maybe you should have caught it when you had the chance.”

James chuckled. “I suppose so. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Daniel, why have I never thought of hiring you away from Father?”

“I’m sure I have no idea, my lord.”

“Would you consider it now?”

“I hardly know, my lord. As your father is in no position to continue my employment...”

“I’ll double your salary to start.”

“Really, my lord, that would not be necessary. I do need to consider a bit.”

James had been so caught up in the idea of having Daniel around all the time, he’d never thought the butler might have other plans. But now that he’d started to think, he noticed how formal Daniel had become all of a sudden. Perhaps Daniel had already made other arrangements. Or perhaps he wasn’t sure he wanted to work for James. That was a worrisome thought. “Of course you need to think. I’m rushing things. But it is a serious offer, and I really would double your salary.”

“It’s most kind. And I assure you I will not leave while this house is in disarray.”

“You’ve no idea what a comfort that it. I’ll just go wash up a bit and go to the dining room. No point in dressing when it’s only me.”

“I’ll send up some hot water.” Daniel bowed.

James watched Daniel leave and wondered what he could offer to convince him to stay. Now that the idea was in his head, he was quite certain Daniel’s continued employment in his household was essential to his happiness.


{--*--}


It was nearing midnight when Daniel was finally able to go upstairs. After he’d checked the work of the footmen and made certain they understood the importance of keeping their mouths shut around Mrs. Cuthbert (something that had been surprisingly easy to impart after Peter had said, “You mean that old busybody’s coming around? She’ll tell everyone every time you...” Daniel had cut him off at that moment, as Polly and Nora had come into the servants’ sitting room), he’d met with Mrs. Harrigut and Mrs. Patterson to discuss what else would be needed before the funeral. While he knew James had enlisted her assistance merely to make her feel she was doing something, Lady Gatwell had been of great help to Mrs. Patterson and Mrs. Harrigut, suggesting several things that could be purchased and brought in so Mrs. Patterson could do so with a clear conscience, and offering the services of some of her own staff so Mrs. Harrigut wouldn’t have to bother with finding temporary servants, a particularly difficult task under the circumstances.

When the staff matters had been discussed and the other senior staff were on their way to bed, Daniel had stopped to see how the funeral furnishers had got on and to be certain the men hired to sit watch with the late lord had not been into the whisky. And then there had been the arrangements to go through. He knew James wasn’t foolish enough to agree to just anything, but he was distracted by the scandals and fed up with everything, so Daniel had read over the contracted services to be certain James would get everything he’d paid for and wasn’t being taken advantage of. There had been plenty of other things he could have done after that, but he doubted he’d manage any of them without at least a little rest, so he’d stopped once he was certain that the kitchen was in order and all the doors and windows had been locked, as well as the dining room, butler’s pantry, and office just in case the watchers were not as honest as the furnishers had promised.

In his room, Daniel collapsed on the end of his bed and stared at the wall without seeing it. With no work to occupy himself, there was nothing to do but think. And he didn’t like the direction his thoughts had been taking. He should have left years ago. There had been so many offers, footmen starting inns, cooks starting pubs, even the last housekeeper who started a hotel with the last kitchen maid but one and two of the footmen. That had been profitable; he’d invested in it, but he had stayed on the small chance of seeing Lord James again. Lord Lynster now. And when his arrival had been imminent, Daniel had realized he should have been gone long before.


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