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Hazel Statham Writer of Historical Romance
Dominic, is the second book in the Dukes of Lear trilogy.
London 1776 Dominic Blake, Earl of Vale, is a young man of privilege and breeding whose world is turned upside-down by Jack, a beautiful young girl in boys' clothing whom he finds sheltering on his doorstep after fleeing an attack by her abusive brother.
Despite leaving his protection, Jack is once more destined to enter Dominic's life when, injured in a horse race, Dominic is forced to rusticate to his father's estate and agin meets Jack in her boyish guise. In turn, she becomes his pupil and his love and despite danger and misunderstandings, this is the story of their unconventional and delightful courtship.
Dominic, Earl of Vale, the wayward son of the Duke of Lear, returns home after a night of revels to discover a badly beaten youth on his doorstep. He takes the boy into his home only to discover that 'Jack' is a beautiful young woman who is fleeing for her life from her brother, Raymond Thornton.
Injured in a horse race, Dominic is sent to the family estate, Stovely Hall, to recuperate and once more encounters Sophie (Jack) Thornton in her boyish guise and agrees to become her tutor, teaching her to shoot, fish and fence. They enjoy their time together and Dominic finds her naivety refreshing. However, their idyll is short lived when the Duke arrives at Stovely and brings an abrupt end to their time together. When the Duchess arrives, she decides to take Sophie under her wing and takes her back to London. Dominic is forced to come to terms with his love for his pupil but meanwhile, Thornton returns to England from abroad where he had been forced to flee to escape his debts. Determined to bring an end to his tyranny, Dominic runs him to ground. However, unexpectedly, it is Sophie who saves Dominic’s life.
Despite Dominic's determination to declare himself to Sophie, misunderstandings stand in their way and believing Sophie in love with Wroxham, he goes with his friends to Grantham to witness a boxing match and remains there for a week of sport. Wroxham seizes the opportunity to further his own cause and through lies, persuades Sophie to elope with him. Can Dominic prevent the disastrous match?
The main gallery of Blake House echoed with the clash of blades as the two friends padded backwards and forwards in the throes of a mock duel.
“For pity's sake, Dominic, put up, put up,” laughed Lord Wroxham, half way between amusement and genuine terror of his companion’s blade. “We are supposed to be sparring. You take it too far; your wrist is so much stronger than mine.”
“You cry truce too easily,” scoffed the Earl of Vale, in no way relinquishing his attack, ever driving his friend back. “Have some energy man, use more cunning and you will find I am quite easily overcome. I no more than toy with you!”
“If this is toying with me I would dread to meet you when in earnest. Now have done, I tire.” Recklessly Wroxham threw aside his rapier, leaving himself open to attack.
He was no match for the energetic young Earl who, although owning no more years than he, had a wealth more experience in his twenty-four years. His height and breadth of shoulder alone made him intimidating without taking in his dark, dangerously handsome countenance and mocking green eyes. Here was no fop or dandy. His dress, although cut by a master's hand, was casual with no sign of the fripperies affected by the Macaronis. However, when occasion dictated, he was known to dress to perfection as many would attest. He had an assurance of manner brought about by matter of birth but even at an early age was widely known as a wild youth. He was well respected amongst his contemporaries who hailed him as a top rate fellow but his escapades were eyed askance by the older members of the haut ton who lamented his rakish ways. Some, who professed to be in the know, likened him to his sire the Duke of Lear when in his prime.
However, no such accusations could be laid at the Duke’s door now as, entering his fifty-sixth year, he represented the epitome of respectability.
The young Earl put aside his rapier, placing it on a small table set against the wall and stood with hands on hips, laughing at his friend. “You were ever weak livered, John,” he mocked. “Too easily intimidated.” Looking at his companion’s sullen countenance he relented. “Come, don't hold it against me, it was just too tempting. If you could have but seen your expression. It was priceless.”
Wroxham gave a reluctant chuckle as he rolled down his sleeves. “Damn you, Dominic, you always know how to take a rise out of me. Though I swear you will take your scapes too far one of these days. Then where will you be? As like as not, up before the magistrate on a murder charge!”
“You exaggerate, my friend,” continued the Earl in good humor. “You were never in any danger, I assure you. I was in full control of my blade at all times. Now stop your witterings. I have a mind to go to Ridley’s. Do you accompany me?”
“If I must, though I can't help but deplore your taste, surely you could find a more suitable gaming hell to enjoy your patronage?”
“Not one that plays so high at this time of day. By-the-bye, I have an assignation with La Belle tonight so I needs be away before midnight.”
“Another of your affectations I deplore,” replied Wroxham with some distaste. “Could you not be more discerning in your choice of mistress? I would have thought her artifice to have bored you.”
“She will reign only as long as she amuses me,” assured the Earl, drawing on his well-fitting boots. “I am well aware of her faults and promise you her days are numbered. I begin to tire of her already and will not tolerate her foolishness for much longer.”
“Then pay her off now and have done with it.”
“Once I have a replacement, I assure you I will. So for pity's sake, have done with your complaining. Be certain I know what I'm at.” Taking up his coat Vale shrugged into it and led the way out of the gallery toward the sweeping staircase. “We but call at my rooms to enable me to change and then we away to Ridley’s,” he said, as Wroxham came abreast of him. “I must recoup some of my losses. I dropped enough blunt last night to buy a kingdom and should it come to my most estimable sire's ears, he will try to rusticate me.”
“You play too wild, Dominic; you’re reckless in your choice.”
“Which, admit, usually pays off. You play like an old woman, John.”
“Your opinion of me is forever poor, I wonder you put up with me,” sneered his lordship, not now in the best of humors. “Perhaps it would be better if I relieved you of my company?”
“Don't put yourself into such a taking,” laughed the Earl, negligently laying his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they descended the stairs to the hallway. “You ever were a hen-worrier, though truth be told, I need you at times to keep my head level. Come; cry truce and we will make what best we can of the remainder of the day.”
* * * * *
Leaving La Belle’s house in the early hours of the following morning it was seen that the Earl was not at all in the best of moods and appeared, by the slight rolling of his gait, to be somewhat in his cups. At last he had ended the affair. Assured that she had already secured a new protector, he completely ignored her protestations of undying love and devotion, confirmed that the only love and devotion she ever felt was for herself alone. He was no fool; the affair had run its course. There remained no novelty in her ploys and her charms had decidedly waned. Indeed, he was amazed that he had ever found her worthy of any notice.
It did not help matters that he had again lost heavily at the gaming tables, everyone exclaiming at his bad luck. It was rarely seen that Vale did not recoup, but on this occasion he was not able to come about, a fact that served to blacken his mood.
Cursing his bad luck, he made his way through the dimly-lit streets toward his apartments, resolving to evolve some fail-safe scheme. He would not go to his father and he would be damned if he would start to issue notes of hand. A wager he was sure to win seemed his only chance, one that would not involve the laying out of any blunt - but what?
So engrossed was he in his musings that, approaching the steps to his apartments, he failed to see the form huddled in the shadows of the doorway and was startled as it attempted to push past him.
“Ho, young sir, what are you at,” he exclaimed, grabbing the youth by the throat as he would retreat and pushing him back against the darkened doorframe.
Under Dominic’s scowling gaze, the lad attempted to pull his tricorn further over his face and replied in a small gruff voice, “I would beg your pardon, sir. I was but seeking some kind of shelter from the elements.” He increased his efforts to wriggle free from the iron-like grip that pinioned him to the door, but to no avail. Dominic’s hand held him securely.
“You do not fool me so easily, lad,” scorned Vale. “You would way-lay me, but I tell you to your teeth, you would be sadly disappointed if you knew the contents of my pockets.” Without releasing his hold on the boy's neck, with one hand, he turned out his pocket linings as proof.
Clawing at his retaining hand, the boy tried to kick his shins, but even in his inebriated state, the Earl demonstrated a nimbleness his condition would have belied. “Spitfire,” he exclaimed, but then, as the fitful moon illuminated the half of the boy’s face that was visible beneath the tricorn, he drew in his breath at the cuts and bruising he saw there.
“I take that to be the retaliation of your previous victim,” he mocked, but he slackened his hold on the boy’s throat and instead took hold of his shoulders, attempting to turn him more fully to the light. “How old are you?” he demanded, for his would-be assailant seemed no more than a child.
“Eighteen,” came the youth’s reply as he calmed slightly, reasoning that if this man had intended him any real harm, his body would have been in the gutter by now.
Examining his face, the Earl again drew his breath in sharply and freeing one hand sought out his key. As he opened the door he ignored the youth’s plea to be set free and pushed him roughly inside. Once inside the dimly-lit hallway, he gained access to his ground floor rooms and propelled the boy inside. The youth having no comparable strength to prevent his actions stumbled as he crossed the threshold, catching at the doorframe for support, but Vale prised his fingers free.
“Stand still; don't move,” he commanded as he locked the door behind him. “Wait now whilst I light the candles.”
“Let me go, sir, please let me go,” pleaded the youth. “I truly meant you no harm. See, I don’t even carry a weapon.
Vale was surprised at the boy’s cultured tones. Here was no ruffian, and unless he was much mistaken, this was a gentleman’s son. Taking a taper he ignited it from the lamp left for his use and lit the candles in the sconces set about the room. He knew they would not be disturbed as his man was under instructions not to wait up for him and slept as one turned to stone.
“Sit there,” he commanded, pointing to a chair set at the table, the effects of the brandy he had drunk earlier still very much in evidence. “Now face the light.”
The boy sat still, ignoring the command.
“Face the light,” commanded Vale in an awful voice. “Do not defy me or it will be the worse for you. I will not be ignored.”
The youth turned toward the candles but attempted to shield his face with his hand. The Earl relented slightly. “You have obviously been badly beaten,” he said in a somewhat quieter tone. “One would not suspect so slight a youth of being a pugilist.”
“I am no pugilist, sir,” said the boy, attempting to smile but pressing his hand against his cheek as if the movement pained him.
Vale's attention was riveted on the boy’s face, then he ran his eyes over his slight figure. “You say you are eighteen?”
“You are not a very robust eighteen. Where do you come from?”
“Nonsense, everyone comes from somewhere.”
“I do not, sir. Please let me go.”
“If you come from nowhere, where am I to let you go to?” enquired the Earl with some aplomb, marveling, in his present inebriation, at his own ingenious.
“I but wish to relieve you of my presence, sir. I will trouble you no longer.”
“I will let you go when it pleases me to let you go. Now, take off your hat and that disgustingly dirty coat, which is far too big for you.”
Again the youth did not move to remove the garments but clutched the coat even tighter about his figure.
“Am I to remove them?” asked Vale, moving forward menacingly.
“I am quite capable, sir,” replied the youth, hesitantly removing the offending garment to reveal a surprisingly clean white shirt and breeches beneath.
“Now the hat!”
“Must I, sir?”
With a great reluctance the youth reached up to remove his tricorn and a riot of golden curls tumbled from beneath.
Vale stood riveted as the girl turned fully to face him. “My god,” he breathed, staring into her blue eyes that peered between swollen lids, “I suspected, but thought I was imagining it. ’Pon faith, a wench.”
“Then let me go, sir, now that you know I cannot possibly pose a threat to you. I will go quietly and you will not even know I have been here.”
“What is interesting though in fact, my dear, is that you did find your way here. How come you by the bruising? Am I to suppose you fell foul of a former lover?”
The girl made to rise, terrified of his mood and the fact that in his inebriation, his eye turned bold, but he was at her side and placed a restraining hand on her shoulder. “Come, sweeting” he cajoled in a mocking tone. “Who did this to you? Did you not please your protector? Would you not comply with his ruling?”
“Sir, you mistake me,” she cried indignantly, pushing his hand from her shoulder. “I am no lightskirt as I would have thought obvious…”
“Then why this masquerading as a boy?” he continued to scoff, seeing not her fear.
She sprang from her seat and attempted to reach the door, but he was before her, barring the way. “What, you would leave me so soon in our acquaintance? I am sure you would not deny me payment for my hospitality,” and taking her into his arms, he forcibly kissed her.
Her well-shod heel came into sharp contact with his foot and he dropped his hold in amazement. “Hellcat,” he cursed. “Do not think I am so easily dissuaded from my purpose. You have thrust yourself upon my company and you will pay the consequence. Come, you will not find me ungenerous.”
“I had thought you better than that, sir,” she scowled, rubbing her sleeve across her mouth, repulsed by the smell of spirits.
“Then that shows how little you know me.” he mocked, once more advancing toward her, making his intentions only too obvious.
Seeing a carelessly discarded fruit knife on the sideboard by the door the girl snatched it up in desperation and held it menacingly before her, attempting to ward off any further embraces. “I will use it” she assured him, backing away from her tormentor.
“Then use it, little spitfire and be damned,” he grinned recklessly, taking no mind to the threat and advancing, not to be distracted from his course. Taking hold of her shoulders, he once more bent his head toward her. He was intent on taking a second favor but in that final moment when he would have drawn her to him he felt the knife rip into his sleeve and enter his forearm. However, he did not relinquish his hold immediately as he had previously, but took the favor before releasing her, and only then did he slowly look down to see the dark stain spreading over his satin sleeve.
Seeing the scarlet start, the girl threw aside the knife and pressed her hands over her mouth, tears welling in her eyes, “I have wounded you,” she cried.
“Of course you have, you silly girl,” he replied, grinning. “What exactly did you expect to do? Surely, you must know that you would not intimidate me. Though I must admit, I admire your nerve. I have faced far more threatening adversaries than you, my dear, but, ’pon reflection, none that have managed to pink me quite so neatly, I assure you.”