Scandalizing the Duke
It was late afternoon when Lucien signed the last of his correspondence and reached for the dark blue sealing wax on his desk. His morning had been interrupted by that fool Ailsbury with his outlandish offer, and then he’d needed to send detailed instructions for the transfer of funds to his steward for estate repairs. He’d sealed his reply to his man of business, and rung for a footman to deliver it when a commotion outside his door caught his attention.
An all too familiar low-pitched voice filtered through the study door from the entry hall. His stepmother and sister had not returned alone. Then a dog's bark startled him, and he strode across the room and flung open the door.
Charlotte Longborough's shaggy gray beast gave a delighted woof and sent Lucien staggering back into the room when he leapt up and licked Lucien's face in greeting. Dog breath filled his nostrils before he could regain his footing and push the beast down.
"Harry, down." Dismay, concern, and amusement succeeded one another on Charlotte Longborough's expressive face as she tugged her dog away from his person. "I am so sorry, Your Grace. I promise he will stay in the garden and not bother you again."
The dog settled to the floor but his whipping tail and quivering nose told another story.
"Oh, Lucien, I'm so glad you are home." His stepmother's calm voice announced as she came to stand beside Charlotte and her mongrel. "Lord and Lady Elsworth have been called to Portsmouth. Their son was wounded and is returning to England to recover."
Lucien eyed the various trunks and valises in his entry hall and completed the obvious statement. "So you invited the Longboroughs to stay with us until they returned."
"I knew you would understand," his stepmother declared. "Now why don't you join us in the drawing room for tea while Timmons and Mrs. Abbot sort out the luggage and find appropriate shelter for Harry?" She assessed his rigid posture and removed a long grey strand of dog hair from his lapel with a wry smile. "I suspect we've interrupted your concentration for the moment, so you might as well come hear what we know about Lieutenant Elsworth."
Lucien eyed the great gray beast. Was it possible he had grown even more since their encounter with Everham and his dogs? He turned his attention to the silent cluster of ladies who formed a frozen tableau in the hall and his gaze noted the combination of laughter and uncertainty in Charlotte Longborough’s expression. Catastrophe on two legs had just walked into his home, and he could not in all conscience send it away.
Feeling a bit of a martyr, he simply inclined his head and gestured for them to precede him up the stairs. “After you, ladies.”