From the book
The door of the Duke of Eversleigh's library clicked shut. From his chair behind the huge mahogany desk, Jason Montgomery, fifth Duke of Eversleigh, eyed the oak panels with marked disfavour.
"Impossible!" he muttered, the word heavy with contemptuous disdain laced with an odd reluctance. As the sound of his cousin Hector's retreating footsteps dwindled, Jason's gaze left the door, travelling across the laden bookcases to the large canvas mounted on a nearby wall.
Expression bleak, he studied the features of the young man depicted there, the impudent, devil-may-care smile and mischievous grey eyes topped by wind-tousled dark brown hair. Broad shoulders were clad in the scarlet of regimentals, a lance stood to one side, all evidence of the subject's occupation. A muscle twitched at the corner of Jason's mouth. He quelled it, his austere, chiselled features hardening into a mask of chilly reserve.
The door opened to admit a gentleman, elegantly garbed and smiling amiably. He paused with his hand on the knob and raised a brow enquiringly.
"I saw your cousin depart. Are you safe?"
With the confidence of one sure of his welcome, Frederick Marshall did not wait for an answer but, shutting the door, strolled towards the desk between the long windows.
His Grace of Eversleigh let out an explosive sigh. "Damn it, Frederick, this is no laughing matter! Hector Montgomery is a man-milliner! It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to allow him to step into the ducal shoes. Even I can't stomach the thought--and I wouldn't be here to see it."
Pushing back his chair, Jason swung to face his friend as he sank into an armchair nearby. "More to the point," he continued, stretching his long legs before him, a somewhat grim smile twisting his lips, "tempting though the idea might be, if I introduced cher Hector to the family as my heir, there'd be a riot--a mutiny in the Montgomery ranks. Knowing my aunts, they would press for incarceration until such time as I capitulated and wed."
"I dare say your aunts would be delighted to know you see the problem--and its solution--so clearly."
At that, Jason's piercing gaze focused on his friend's face. "Just whose side are you on, Frederick?"
Frederick smiled. "Need you ask? But there's no sense in ducking the facts. Now Ricky's gone, you'll have to wed. And the sooner you make up your mind to it, the less likely it will be that your aunts, dear ladies, think to take a hand themselves--don't you think?"
Having delivered himself of this eminently sound piece of advice, Frederick sat back and watched his friend digest it. Sunshine shone through the windows at Jason's back, burnishing the famous chestnut locks cut short in the prevailing mode. Broad shoulders did justice to one of Schultz's more severe designs, executed in grey superfine, worn over tightly fitting pantaloons. The waistcoat Frederick espied beneath the grey coat, a subtle thing in shades of deeper grey and muted lavender, elicited a twinge of envy. There was one man in all of England who could effortlessly make Frederick Marshall feel less than elegant and that man was seated behind the desk, sunk in unaccustomed gloom.
Both bachelors, their association was bound by many common interests, but in all their endeavours it was Jason who excelled. A consummate sportsman, a noted whip, a hardened gamester and acknowledged rake, dangerous with pistols--and even more dangerous with women. Unused to acknowledging any authority beyond his own whims, the fifth Duke of Eversleigh had lived a hedonistic existence...