In an alternate universe, in the country of Angland, 1814, the gentry live lives of culture and class. It is a time of courtships, marriages of convenience, and titles, where scandal can ruin an entire family. Gender lines are blurred, and making a good match is of utmost importance. Children are born to men and women, which has led to the acceptance of same-sex marriages.
Lady Lucien Timothy Hawthorne is shocked and angry when he is betrothed against his will to Lord Heathcliff Eddington, III, the Duke of Pompinshire. While drowning his frustration at a popular gentleman's club, he meets "Robert," a gorgeous older man whom he sleeps with as "Timmy" regardless of the potential damage to his reputation.
After their liaison, Lucien corresponds with Robert via letters left at Remmington, and they decide to elope. Before they can get away, Lucien meets his betrothed, Heathcliff, who he is surprised to discover is also his beloved, Robert. Both men desire a marriage of the heart, but they find out that sometimes a marriage of convenience can turn into love under the right circumstances. But Lucien has a secret, and Tlondon isn't as safe as they once thought.
“Here we are,” Rosemary announced, her voice louder than normal, with a false cheeriness to it. Lucien’s eyebrows rose at his mother’s behavior, and he stopped her in front of the closed doors, which once again let Lucien know something or someone was behind those doors that his parents didn’t want him to know about until they’d had a chance to explain it to him.
“Mother, what is going on?” Lucien asked her.
Rosemary looked at Lucien and shook her head. “Why, Luce, absolutely nothing. Why would you ask me something like that?”
Lucien was really concerned, as neither of his parents used his nickname. Ever. He said nothing to her, just staring, unmoving.
Rosemary removed her hand from Lucien’s elbow and raised it to the pearls hanging at her neck to play with them a moment. Lucien was very aware of that gesture; it meant Rosemary was nervous and trying to figure out just what to reveal. He waited expectantly, confident she would let him know what was going on before he had to face his maldy, but when Rosemary shook her head and squared her shoulders, Lucien knew his ploy of silence wouldn’t work this time.
“All you need to know, Lucien, is that everything we do, we do as your parents and because we love you,” Rosemary told him. She raised a hand to his cheek and stroked the skin gently, lovingly. “We were so happy when I gave birth to you and discovered you were a girl. We had been surprised by the pregnancy, as the doctors told me I was past my conceiving years, but you were a delightful surprise. We always wanted a son, and we were finally given one.” She dropped her hand from Lucien’s cheek and lifted it to her face to wipe away the tears that had gathered in her eyes. “We do this because we care about you and only want the best for you.”
Rosemary turned back to the double doors of the red rose room and pushed on the handles to open them. She grabbed the skirt of her morning gown in one hand and glided into the room. Lucien stood in shock for only a moment before he followed her.
“Close the doors, Son.” His maldy’s husky voice came from the direction of one of the chairs next to the fireplace. Lucien nodded and, as he turned to close the doors, saw the Duke and Duchess of Cumbria sitting on the loveseat across from his maldy. He froze in shock for but a moment. Years of etiquette training wouldn’t allow him to just stand in front of the door, but he had never seen anyone in the red rose room who wasn’t family, and now here were two of the most prestigious peers of the realm, not only in their home but in their private family room. Lucien took a moment to compose himself. He smiled at both of them and bowed slightly before turning back to close the doors. After he released the handle, Lucien took a steadying breath and moved to face his parents.
“Well, have a seat, Lucien,” Annabelle directed him.
“Yes, Maldy,” Lucien answered automatically. His maldy was a stern woman. Lucien could only remember one instance where he had ever seen her be soft and loving, though he wasn’t supposed to have. He had woken up in the middle of the night when he was seven years old and had walked out of his room and down the family wing toward his parents’ room. He knew he was too old to actually sleep in the bed with them, but he had wanted comfort from a dreadful nightmare. Halfway down the hall, he’d stopped, frozen in place as he saw his mothers pressed together against the wall next to the bedchamber. They were dressed in evening attire, Rosemary in a gorgeous dress of blue velvet, one hand holding a white shawl, her black hair spilling down her back in a mass of curls. Annabelle was pressed close to Rosemary’s body, her thick blond hair pulled back into a harsh, unforgiving bun, her face pressed into the crook of Rosemary’s neck. Annabelle wore a slim dark green evening gown, embroidered in onyx gems under her small bust and around the hem. As Lucien continued to watch them, he saw Rosemary lift her leg and circle it around Annabelle’s waist, while Annabelle dropped a hand beneath Rosemary’s skirts. Lucien’s eyes had widened, and he’d turned to leave, not in the least bit interested in watching his parents copulate in the middle of the corridor. It was something he only knew about because he’d overheard his sisters speak of it and because he’d sneaked into the servants’ quarters many times and seen the same thing occurring among the servants. Just as he started to turn away, he saw Annabelle lift the hand that had been pressed against the wall on the side of Rosemary’s head and tenderly stroke Rosemary’s cheek. She had leaned close and kissed Rosemary’s lips gently before lifting Rosemary’s leg higher. It was Rosemary’s gasp and harsh groan of Annabelle’s name that had spurred Lucien to turn and race down the hallway to his room.
So while one part of him was happy to know his maldy had a gentle side, the self-preservation side of him tried not to remember how he knew that.
Lucien settled himself on the edge of the chaise next to the loveseat where the duke and duchess sat.
“I believe you know the duke and duchess?” Annabelle said, smiling thinly up at Rosemary, who stood and began pouring tea for all of them. Lucien crossed one leg over the other, balanced his teacup and saucer on his knee, and sat straight up—something else he’d learned how to do in his etiquette class—and nodded.
“Yes, Maldy. So nice to see you again, Your Graces,” Lucien said with a smile at two of the highest-ranking members of society. The Duke of Cumbria was a harsh-looking man. His skin had a healthy tan from spending a great deal of time outside, no doubt riding his horse or hunting, like most titled members of the gentry. It was a luxury Lucien wished he would have once he married, but one he believed he would have to go without once that occasion happened upon him.
The duke’s black hair was brushed back from his face and pulled into a queue at the back of his neck; gray had seeped into the dark strands and colored his temples. His eyes were a mesmerizing shade of light gray, almost silver, his chin pointed, a dimple resting in the middle of it.
He had broad shoulders shrouded in a brown morning coat over a startling white dress shirt with a white cravat and a black vest. He wore black breeches, which could barely contain his large thighs, and black boots on his feet.
Next to him, the Duchess of Cumbria wore a morning gown of yellow that caused her pale skin to look sallow. Her red hair, cluttered with gray strands, was pulled back in a bun, tendrils escaping to curl around her rounded face.
Lucien admired the fact that the Duchess had not felt the need to buy a wig of blonde or black hair that would make her much more fashionable. She no doubt felt she didn’t have to, being a superior member of the gentry. Her bonnet rested on her lap, and Lucien wondered if perhaps she had just removed it moments before he’d entered. Where his mother Rosemary had foregone heels for slippers, the Duchess wore a beautiful pair of white heeled shoes with lace and embroidery over the front of them. Her eyes were a deep jade color, and she smiled brilliantly at Lucien when his eyes fell on her.
“And it is indeed a pleasure to see you again, young Lucien,” the Duchess, Jane, if Lucien remembered her Christian name correctly, said, her voice light and melodious.
“I am sure you are wondering why you were summoned to the family home when we did not have a scheduled meal,” Annabelle stated, and Lucien gave the Duchess a final smile before turning his attention to his maldy.
“The thought had crossed my mind, yes, Maldy,” Lucien admitted.
“Well, my dear, we have taken it upon ourselves to make a decision about your life that I am sure you will find not only agreeable but practically miraculous and fortuitous,” Annabelle stated with a pointed look.
That look Lucien knew quite well. Even if he didn’t find the decision “miraculous” or “fortuitous,” he was being ordered to pretend he did in front of the duke and duchess.
“Thank you, Maldy. I am sure that I will,” Lucien agreed. He wondered if he had been offered to be a companion to the Duchess. While it wasn’t at all a notion he would have chosen for himself, it was inherently better than what he thought he’d been summoned to the estate for.
“Your mother and I have decided to accept the suit offered by the Duke and Duchess of Cumbria,” Annabelle told him before calmly lifting her teacup to her lips and taking a sip.
“Suit?” Lucien questioned, looking back and forth between the two couples.
“Yes. You are to wed Heathcliff Eddington III, His Grace, the Duke of Pompinshire, Marquess of Manchester, Earl of Southerby, Viscount of Berkinstock, Baron of Hempstead, heir to the Dukedom of Cumbria, in six months’ time.”
Vicktor “Vic” Alexander wrote his first story at the age of ten and hasn’t stopped writing since. He loves reading about anything and everything and is a proud member of the little known U.N. group (Undercover Nerds) because while he lives, eats, breathes and sleeps sports, he also breathes history and science fiction and grew up a Trekkie. But don’t ask him about Dungeons & Dragons, because he has no idea how to play that game. When it comes to writing he loves everything from paranormal to contemporary to fantasy to historical and is known for being not only the Epilogue King but also for writing stories that cross lines and boundaries that he doesn’t know are there. Vic a proud father of two daughters one of whom watches over him from Heaven with his deceased partner Christopher, a proud trans* and gay man, and when he is not writing, he is hanging out with his friends, or being distracted by videos of John Barrowman, Scott Hoying, and Shemar Moore. Vicktor has published numerous bestselling novels and has a WIP list that makes him exhausted just thinking about. He knows that he will be still be writing about hot men falling in love with each other, long after he is living in an assisted living facility, flirting with the hot, male nurses.
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