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By Edith Layton. It was a cold, still night. The sky had a milky cast, the air a metallic tang, and the night lay heavy with the promise of snow. But the traveler sat folded deep within his greatcoat and rode at a leisurely amble. There were no onlookers to shake their heads at his folly, for cautious men stayed by their fires on such a night, and even incautious ones did not venture forth unless there were some urgent reason.

He had felt urgency, he thought, as he pulled his collar closer about his neck, when he had left the docks this dawn. He had felt such vaulting, surging impatience that he had abandoned his carriage and most of his belongings to the hands of others and given them directions to his destination, for he had felt a carriage ride too slow a pace to set for himself. He had packed a few items in his bags and set out at once, alone and on horseback, so that he could arrive ahead of them, so that he could gallop as his ambitions had.

But now the urgency had faded, now that he was, at last, within a few leagues of home, he found himself tarrying. It was amazing, he thought, permitting himself a smile that almost hurt in the frigid air, how he always forgot. For two years he had dreamed of home, and now that he was so close, the old memories came crowding back. Curious how those memories became dull and blunted when he was so far away that there was no possibility of a swift return, but when he was actually so near as to make desire a reality, reality blunted desire.

He nudged the animal into a grateful trot. The stallion had made his mind up for him. He would seek some other shelter tonight. And perhaps tomorrow night. There was no great hurry, after all.

Two years or twenty, when one came right down to the point, it made no difference at all when he returned home. The inn was small and snug.

The warmth that greeted him was such a contrast to the bitter night that it caused pain as he stepped through the door. An experienced traveler, he did not whip off his iced and leaden coat and rush to the fireside to thaw his constricted hands.

That would only cause more discomfort. He stayed, instead, a moment to chat with the landlord and agree that it was, indeed, a very cold night. Then he walked slowly to a table in the common room. Only when he had ordered some hot repast, and only after he had warmed his gloved hands against his mug of hot grog, did he begin to divest himself of his gloves and scarf. Only then, when he had absorbed some of the heat of the room and freed himself of bodily distress, was he able to fully take note of his surroundings.

It was a simple, pleasant place, he decided. A typical English inn, built by the side of the road to accommodate travelers. The floors were scrubbed wood, the tables and chairs simple hand-hewn things, the fireplace ample, the serving girl casual and cheeky.

Nothing elaborate, nothing for the Quality, it was merely one of a hundred such places strewn about the countryside. He had discovered himself longing for the sight of just such a place in the last months. There were not many patrons this night.

Those with homes clearly were in them. Nevertheless, there was custom. An elderly couple seated near him seemed to be a farmer and his wife. Forced to attend the unexpected birth of their grandchild, he thought, as he sipped his drink and listened absently as they consoled themselves about being so far from home this night with the expectations of a gay family reunion once they reached their destination.

A fellow who looked to be an unsuccessful peddler counted and recounted his small store of coins at a far table, while three young local lads laughed and traded heavy-handed innuendos with the serving girl. When he drew off his coat at last and draped it over the back of an empty chair, he became aware of a sudden silence falling over the room.

The quiet lasted only a second and then the various talk picked up again. But the landlord appeared at his table as if by magic, even as he settled back in his chair once again. Why sir, the landlord said unhappily, his round face all concern, you ought to have asked me for a private room. We have such, you know. Clothes do make the man, he thought, leaning back and smiling at his host. For his garb had marked him as a member of the Quality, and the landlord was clearly worrying about the insult of having placed him in the common room.

He had not bothered to change for travel; indeed, he had not even thought of it. But now he thought of what the landlord could see. In his high polished boots, with his dark gray pantaloons, gleaming white shirt, and well fitting black jacket, he was as exotic as a parrot among pigeons. Looking down at his green and gold embroidered waistcoat and carefully arranged neckcloth, he amended, no, he was as exotic as a peacock among geese.

No, no, he said in his soft voice, I am well content to be here. His host still seemed uneasy, although he backed away. The gentleman ate in silence, noting that a small pool of quiet seemed to have settled over his corner of the room, as though the others were aware of him but determined not to allow him to know it.

He was, in that warm and simple place, as apart as if he had been in his own parlor. But as it was a circumstance he was accustomed to, he finished his meal in charity with his world. When he had done and the sense of a well-being that the warmth and the food had brought had evaporated, as all comforts do when one becomes accustomed to them, he pondered his next move.

He could stay where he was, he thought, looking about him. The landlord surely had several rooms vacant this night. The serving girl had made such a symphony of movement over the clearing of his table that he knew he could have company to while away the small hours of the bitter night with, and a warm bed even if his host had no thought of using a hot brick to take the chill off his sheets. And as he was not expected, it did not matter how long it took him to complete his journey home.

But, he thought perversely, for all its pleasures, the inn was not a home. And a home was what he had promised himself.

This was only one of a succession of clean, comfortable places where he had sojourned recently. Though the serving girl was willing and familiar, she was too familiar. In fact, he wondered if he had not already sometime, somewhere passed a night with her.

And even if he were expected, it still would make no difference when he arrived at home. He made his mind up quickly, as he so often did. What town is this? Why, Oakham, sir, the landlord replied, with as much amazement as if he had asked if it were night. So far? Very near, sir, the landlord replied, with some worry now apparent, as it seemed, incredibly, as though his elegant guest were preparing to depart. And is not Kettering Manor in Leicester? Kettering Manor?

And would you happen to know if the countess is in residence now? But that was commonplace, too. Then for all your hospitality, thank you, the gentleman said smoothly. And further thanks if you can give me a swift route there. For I am expected, I think. As the landlord gave directions, his guest noted that all attempt at conversation in the room had ceased and that he was being watched with an admixture of shock and envy.

It was as if he had announced that he was about to dine with the devil. He shrugged into his now warm greatcoat once again and left a larger amount of coin upon the table than was strictly necessary. It was to compensate the serving girl, who looked after him reproachfully as he left.

He tipped her a sweet smile as he paused at the door, which only seemed to sink her spirits further. Even as he closed the door behind him, he could hear the babble of voices rise in his wake. He strode to the stables and apologized silently to his mount as he prepared to travel again. Only a little farther tonight, he thought, for himself and his horse.

Maybe not, Jem, another of the fellows chortled. Aye, and the countess herself, as well. Why such a pretty fellow would always be welcome there. The gentleman outside heard the burst of laughter even through the tightly closed doors and windows.

He gazed back at the inn, seeing the light glowing from out the fogged windows and scenting the wood smoke that poured from the chimney. For a moment, he regretted his hasty decision. Then, realizing that he would have been discontent with whatever his course of action might have been this night, he sighed and spurred his horse forward toward the road again. He was not expected, but he would be admitted. And if the countess was notorious, if even her name caused shock and her whole set caused scandalized comment in the simplest of country inns, why then, he would most assuredly be welcomed.

As the cold took hold again and he hurried the last weary miles, he thought that he was making haste to a home, at least, where his presence would be greeted by its mistress with glad welcome. Which was, he thought as he spurred his horse to a bracing gallop, a good deal more than what could have been said for his original destination. Just what was needed. Show him in, Gilby, at once. Only think, she said to the room at large, North has come to visit us. While a murmur went up among her company at her words, the lady turned to a tall, heavy-set elderly man at her side.

DIN 59200 PDF

Lord of Dishonor

By Edith Layton. It was a cold, still night. The sky had a milky cast, the air a metallic tang, and the night lay heavy with the promise of snow. But the traveler sat folded deep within his greatcoat and rode at a leisurely amble. There were no onlookers to shake their heads at his folly, for cautious men stayed by their fires on such a night, and even incautious ones did not venture forth unless there were some urgent reason.


Lord of Dishonor (Paperback)

I found The Duke's Wager really interesting and unusual, as a romance. I didn't exactly "enjoy" it the men were actual rakes, not the good-natured young men of basically decent morals who happen to employ a mistress who often show up in Regencies with that label but the prose was so good, and it felt so real and honest. I thought it pretty closely captured what as least feels like a male POV. It was also unusual in that the hero was more commitment-oriented than the heroine, who was sort of strange and unlikable in ways I hadn't seen in romance before. Thanks, anonymous, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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