Damian had no idea how to be a Duke.
In the weeks since Patrick, his uncle of all things, had been arrested and tossed into the Fleet, Damian tried to get used to his new status. Now people bowed to him when they used to consider him something they might scrape off their shoes. The stable grooms, in particular, worked hard to ingratiate themselves, perhaps remembering how they had once treated him rather badly.
The stable master all but fainted in fear whenever Damian encountered him. Grinning, Damian recalled how the man once threatened to have Gabriella dismiss him for laziness. Damian knew the man fully expected him to exact his vengeance and dismiss him for his past treatment of the late Duke’s son.
Striding toward the door, Damian paused, seeing Josie emerge from the parlor. “Hello,” he said with a grin. “Gabriella will be arriving later today, did you know?”
“Yes, she wrote me. I wanted to ask you if you thought I should put off my wedding.”
His grin faded. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”
Josie offered him a smile as she joined him, and they both ambled outside past bowing footmen. “You know,” she told him. “You have so much to learn about running estates, you have duties in the government now. I hate to say you need help, but you truly do. Maybe I should stay with you for another six months or so.”
As she spoke, Damian shook his head. “No. You are very sweet to make the offer, but Lord Ashtanshire also offered to help me adjust. He can teach me about the present issues in Parliament, as well as running my estates. I want to see you married and happy.”
“You said you liked Brackenshire,” Josie went on. “Did you mean that?”
“Of course. He is the sort of man I would have chosen for you, had I the option. The question is, do you like him?”
Josie grinned. “After his visit, when you first became Duke, I started to fall in love with him. My feelings have continued to grow since then. He says he feels the same for me.”
“Then I am happy for the situation and very happy for you.”
He gazed out over the landscape, the grooms working in the stable, the gardener in his domain. The sheep and cattle grazed in the fields, and farther out the farmers growing the crops that added money to his coffers. “Who would have believed all this would happen to me, Josie?” he murmured. “From a London orphan to a dukedom.”
“This is your birthright,” she replied. “Had Patrick not been greedy and evil, you would never have been that London orphan. Neither of us would have been robbed of our parents.”
Damian glanced at her. “You will have to tell me what they were like.”
“Father was so much like you.” She laughed. “Strong, but with a quirky sense of humor. Mother was so very kind. Warm, always hugging me.”
“Mr. Newcombe wants to know if I wish to prosecute the midwife,” Damian said.
Damian smiled sadly. “No. That would be like throwing Edith Denison in prison when she cared for me all those years. The midwife had little choice in the matter, what with Patrick frightening her. The poor folks have little say in some things.”
“That is very kind of you,” Josie said. “Mother would be pleased.”
“I hope so.”
“You are planning a trip to London?” Josie asked.
“I am. I have power now, and Jack Baxter would not dare touch me. But I still wish to make my peace with him. And pay a call on those I once considered my sisters.” Damian grinned down at her. “But it’s not like having a real sister.”
“And I have a brother.” Josie slid her arm through his. “Of all the people I would have wanted to be my brother, you are the best of them.”
Laughing, Damian bent to kiss her cheek. “You keep thinking that until we have our first brother-sister quarrel.”
Josie chuckled, then nodded toward the road. “That must be Gabriella coming.”
Damian saw what she was gesturing toward. A small group of riders trotted toward them. “I think the Marquess is with her,” he said, staring.
“Good. He may not truly be your father,” Josie commented, “but as your father-in-law, maybe he might become a surrogate father for you.”
“We shall see. He may not want the role.”
“Nonsense,” Josie snorted. “Gabriella has said he’s made the remark that he would have loved to have you for a son.”
Grooms ran from the stable to follow the riders to the house, ready to take the horses. Damian and Josie walked toward them as they reined in, grinning up at Gabriella as she smiled down at him. “You are early,” he said, handing her down from her horse.
“I could not wait to get here and see you again,” she replied. “And I persuaded Father to come along.”
The Marquess of Ashtanshire also dismounted and bowed formally to Damian. With a sigh, Damian tried to recall how many times he had asked the Marquess not to do that. “Your Grace,” Gabriella’s father said formally.
“May I make a suggestion?” Damian asked.
“You call me Damian, and I will address you as Noah,” he said. “Let us please stop the formality between us.”
Noah grinned, and shook his hand. “Very well. Damian. Though your true name is Timothy.”
Damian gestured toward the house. “Yes, and it will stay my name. But Damian can be my nickname, right?”
“I like the name Damian better anyway,” Gabriella said, strolling beside him as Josie walked to her other side. “But I suppose I should stop calling him ‘Turner’.”
“You can call me anything you like, my love.”
In the parlor, Damian enjoyed playing host to his guests, just as he had acquired a taste for port and brandy, drinks which tasted vile at first. Gabriella sat beside him on the sofa while Josie spoke to Noah about her upcoming wedding.
Gabriella leaned toward him with a grin. “My father and I have had some long talks,” she confided with a grin. “I believe I have persuaded him to marry again.”
Damian glanced at Noah, noting his relative youth and air of competence as well as his good-humored nature. “I imagine any woman would be pleased to have your father as a husband. And you truly want him to have another wife?”
“I want him to be happy.” Gabriella took his hand. “Just as you and I will be, and Josie with Brackenshire.”
“You are generous, my love.”
Gabriella half shrugged, her eyes on Noah. “I expect I became less selfish. Now, we need to talk about our wedding.”
Six Months Later
Not nearly as nervous to be standing at the altar in front of the cathedral as he thought he’d be, Damian watched as Noah escorted Gabriella down the aisle toward him. I am marrying the most beautiful woman in the world. And in front of a bishop with the cream of British society watching.
He glanced at Josie, who stood up for Gabriella, and caught her rapid wink and grin. She had married her Marquess with the same amount of pomp and ceremony and had gone north to the Brackenshire estates to rule them as their Marchioness.
Flicking his eyes over the crowds filling the seats, watching the bride pace demurely toward her future husband, Damian noticed Noah’s fiancé seated toward the front. The widowed Countess of Millhaven, half his age, beautiful and still able to bear children, bent her head in a nod as he caught her eyes.
I really like her, Damian, Gabriella had told him. She will be so good to my father.
And now her father delivered Gabriella to Damian’s side, then stepped sideways to stand beside Damian. Having no close male friends, Damian had asked Noah to stand up for him. He gazed down at his bride, seeing her smile beneath the veil, and settled her arm through his.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“And I love you, Damian.”
The bishop cleared his throat. Returning his attention to the front, Damian listened to the droning voice for a while, then turned his gaze to Gabriella. And found her watching him. You are beautiful, he mouthed to her and witnessed her grin.
“Do you, Timothy Wilkinson, Duke of Langdale,” the bishop began, making Damian start at the sound of his given name. I do hate being called Timothy.
He repeated his marriage vows and watched Gabriella’s face closely as she spoke hers. As the bishop intoned more prayers, he mouthed to her, My wife, and saw her say, My husband, then grinned. My wife, my Duchess, my best friend.
“Your Grace, you may kiss your bride.”
Ah, the best part. Damian lifted her veil, slowly revealing her beauty, her wicked smile, then bent to plant a tender kiss to her lips. Applause rang through the cathedral, and he grinned even as he still kissed her. Gabriella grinned, then broke the moment with a laugh.
“I love you,” Damian said, his face still close to hers. “My beautiful wife.”
“My handsome husband.”
“All right, you two,” Noah grumbled, his voice low, “can we finish the ceremony?”
Even as the bishop frowned at them, Damian and Gabriella shared a laugh as he pronounced them man and wife. Finally free to walk down the aisle with his wife at his side, Damian paced slowly past the smiling and clapping aristocrats, and never felt more proud to be counted one of them.
One Year Later
Seated on the porch, enjoying the spring sunlight, Gabriella and Josie watched their babies nap in their cradles. Gabriella’s son, humorously named Turner, curled his tiny hand around the light blanket covering him and yawned. Josie’s son, Timothy, woke and started to fuss.
“Oh, dear,” Josie commented, reaching down to pick him up. “I think someone has messed his britches.”
Gabriella motioned for the nurse to come and take the baby to change him. As the woman took the now crying Timothy into the house, she commented, “Damian is such a proud father. He even likes changing Turner’s diapers.”
Josie laughed. “So does my husband. I think it very strange when men want to do things like that.”
“Did I tell you? My mother is expecting.”
Josie’s eyes widened. “No, you did not tell me, you evil woman.”
“I just found out last night,” Gabriella admitted, “and you and the Marquess arriving, I suppose I forgot.”
“I like how you call her your mother,” Josie commented with a grin. “How does Noah feel about it?”
Gabriella laughed. “He loves it. Josie, he is so happy. I just hope she has a son.”
“Who has a son?”
Gabriella and Josie both turned to find Damian striding toward them wearing his usual breeches and shirt with no coat and no cravat, or hat. No matter how hard Gabriella tried, Damian refused to dress like a Duke save for dinner and when guests arrived. As he had grown up wearing commoners clothing, he told her he wanted to keep the connection to his past.
I suppose I’m lucky in that he finally hired a valet.
“My mother,” Gabriella replied. “A son would make my father so happy.”
Damian bent and scooped Turner up in his arms, then sat down on the edge of the porch. He grinned down at the baby. “Just as I am.”
“Damian,” Gabriella snapped. “You’ll wake him up. He just got to sleep.”
“Is that right, Turner?” Damian cooed as Turner woke up and waved his little arms. “You just got to sleep? Tell your mother she fusses too much.”
Gabriella rolled her eyes as Josie chuckled. “I do not fuss.”
“Your mama fusses, doesn’t she? Yes, she does.”
Damian tickled Turner’s tiny lips with his finger as the baby chuckled in delight, then yawned. “You need a little brother or sister,” Damian whispered, yet loud enough for Gabriella and Josie to hear. He then glanced at Gabriella slyly.
“Well, babies don’t create themselves,” Gabriella replied in an arch tone.
Laughing, Damian blew her a kiss. “No, they do not. How odd to think that little Turner will have an uncle or an aunt younger than he is.”
“It might be easier to just consider them cousins,” Josie suggested, “just as Tim and Turner are.”
Damian glanced at the empty cradle. “Just where is my namesake?”
“Getting his diapers changed.” Josie stood up. “He is probably hungry, too.”
She went into the house, leaving Gabriella alone with her family. Watching Damian tease and play with Turner, making the baby scream with laughter, she said, “Do you know how much I love you both?”
Damian grinned at her. “No. Tell me.”
“Come over here then.”
Rising easily with the gurgling and chuckling baby in his arms, Damian stepped onto the porch, then knelt beside her chair. Placing her arms around his neck, Gabriella kissed him, lovingly, tenderly. “I love you.”
Damian rubbed his nose against hers, gazing deeply into her eyes. “Good, Your Grace. Because I love you so very much.”
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