Edward Lazenby didn’t lie abed late most mornings, but on this particular day he was awakened by a blinding headache, a consequence of downing too many brandies the night before—or rather the night that had progressed into the wee small hours of the morning.
“Late night, sir?” The usually soft voice of George, his valet, sounded like a foghorn to his pulsing brain.
“Damnably late, George. What time is it?”
“Gone nine, sir. Shall I bring you some tea before you go down for breakfast?”
“Please, and perhaps one of Mrs. Chalmers’ miracle powders. I have the very devil of a headache.” The idea of breakfast was not high on his list of things he might have enjoyed at the moment.
“Straight away, sir.” George gave him a sympathetic smile and left the room closing the door behind him.
“Lord…” Edward pushed himself into a sitting position and rubbed his bleary eyes. He looked around his bedroom, noticing that the clothes he had left strewn everywhere before falling into bed had been taken away. George must have been in tidying the room before waking him. He really was worth the wages Edward’s grandfather paid him…whatever they were.
Sighing, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, swaying as his head swam and the pounding between his ears increased. He staggered into the washroom to relieve himself and splash some water on his face. The mirror showed him a sorry sight. His usually well-brushed chestnut brown hair stuck up at all angles and there were dark shadows under his blue eyes. Even at the young age of two and twenty, too much liquor over too many days was beginning to leave its mark on his pale, smooth skin.
Perhaps I should forgo tonight’s soirée at Lady Haversham’s townhouse.
But Thomas would be there, and Edward hadn’t quite given up on trying to seduce the older man. He longed to at least steal a kiss from that luscious mouth. No matter that Thomas had never shown the slightest interest in joining lips with Edward. And when Edward was honest with himself, he imagined Thomas would in fact be appalled at the idea of kissing another of the same sex. He was, after all, engaged to Miss Margaret Flowers, and had never been seen at any of the ‘gentlemen only’ gatherings Edward and his friends, Albert Harcourt and Freddie Munceford, attended with increasing frequency.
True, there were many other handsome young men Edward could dally with, and had done so, but Thomas he viewed as something of a prize. Tall, with dark, almost black curly hair and a serene expression on his remarkably beautiful face. Edward had never seen him frown, or raise his voice in anger, and even on the occasion when Edward had been less than subtle in his approach, he had not uttered a sharp word of rebuke. Albert thought him boring, but Edward was sure that behind the implacable exterior hid a passionate heart and an insatiable appetite for the pressing of the flesh. Never mind that he, Edward, would most likely not be the one to press that flesh or explore Thomas’ sexual mores…unless some kind of miracle occurred.
Nevertheless, he could not deny that the Club had lost some of its appeal since he’d met Thomas, and despite Albert and Freddie’s cajoling, he’d not attended their soirées for some time. Last night had been a mistake. Foolish of him to sit in a corner and drink alone, longing for a love that could only be unrequited, but there it was.
As he re-entered the bedroom, George appeared carrying a tray that held the welcome cup of tea, and a glass containing a milky fluid. Mrs. Chalmers’ miracle powder tasted vile, and Edward screwed up his face as he downed it then gulped down his tea to dispel the odorous aftertaste.
“How is my grandfather this morning?” he asked George.
“Not very well, sir. I have sent for Doctor Shaftsbury to attend him. He has a bad cough, I’m afraid, in addition to the pain he’s been feeling in his back.”
“Hmm, I’d better visit him before breakfast then.”
“I’m sure he would appreciate that, sir.” George inclined his head politely. “Are you ready to dress, sir?”
“Yes, I’ll bathe later, thank you, George.”
Edward’s grandfather, Sir Rupert Lazenby, had instilled in his grandson the need to be polite to all, regardless of their station, and Edward had noticed that people deferred to him much more readily when he showed that he appreciated them or their work. Some of his friends were not as well-mannered as Edward and he’d seen several black looks thrown their way on occasions when they were together. Edward wasn’t thin-skinned but he knew he would hate it if those less than amicable stares were ever cast at him.
Once properly attired in his morning clothes and feeling somewhat better, Mrs. Chalmers’ miracle powder having begun to dispel the worst of his headache, he made his way to his grandfather’s bedchamber. He could hear the hacking cough George had told him about even before he knocked on the door and entered.
“Good morning, Granpapa.”
The heavy drapes in the large room had been pulled back to let in watery sunshine.
“Nothing good about it, and you don’t appear to be any better than I feel.” His grandfather struggled to sit up and fixed him with a disapproving stare. “Too many late nights, my boy, will make you old before your time.”
“Yes, I’m afraid I did overdo it a trifle, last night.”
“Liquor won’t help you forget, either.” Sir Rupert’s tone was gentler this time. “The sadness you feel at the demise of your dear mama and papa won’t dissipate in an alcoholic haze, no matter how much you imbibe.”
Edward sat on the edge of the bed, suitably chastened. “I know, nor will the rowdy company of my friends help, but sitting by the fire of an evening gives me too much time to think.” He covered his grandfather’s hand with his own and shivered at the coldness of the old man’s skin. “George says he has sent for the doctor. Please, this time, pay attention to what he prescribes.”
“What’s the point?” Sir Rupert said, bluntly. “A man knows his own body better than any physician, and I know that what ails me is slowly killing me. Too damned slowly I say.”
Edward stared at his grandfather with horror. “Granpapa, please don’t talk like that. You’re all I have left. I couldn’t bear it if you died.”
His grandfather sank back onto his pillows and regarded Edward with fondness. “You think that now, but you will get over it in time, and I’ve seen to it that you’ll be well taken care of. I have invested a considerable sum in a trust for you, Edward. That plus the house and its contents will keep you set up for the rest of your life. I know you’ve never shown any interest in the married state, but should you ever decide to change your mind and have little ones, they too will be provided for. Whitgrove has all my papers. He’ll see to everything for you.”
Arnold Whitgrove was Sir Rupert’s solicitor and had been for years. A man for whom Edward had no amiable feelings. On the occasions when social interactions were unavoidable, he found the solicitor condescending, with a shifty slant to his eyes. But now was not the time to be thinking of petty unpleasant matters.
“Granpapa, please…” He turned his head at the sound of a knock at the bedroom door.
Sir Rupert grimaced. “That will be the old sawbones. Go have your breakfast while he pretends to know what he’s talking about.”
“I will come and see you after he leaves. And no more talk of dying or any other such thing.” He squeezed his grandfather’s hand before he rose to open the door for the doctor.
Sir Rupert smiled. “You’re a good lad. Try not to fall into bad ways after I’m gone.”
* * * *
The conversation with his grandfather had unsettled Edward, and he rebuked himself for not paying closer attention to the old man’s condition.
I’ve been too self-absorbed of late, too eager to enjoy the freedom his money and position give me, too damn selfish. I’ve taken for granted all he’s done for me, that my parents neglected to do…
Sir Rupert’s elegant townhouse, that had been Edward’s home for as long as he could remember, overlooked the verdant open land known as Hyde Park. For years he’d had the privilege of the best education, but what had brought him the most joy were the riding lessons his grandfather had arranged for him from the time he was a small child. Edward loved horses. He’d cried for days when his favorite bay had died and it had taken him a long time to be able to choose another to take his place. Now, Misty, whom he had ridden for the past five years, was his favorite, stabled in the park, and often prized by Edward even above the company of his friends. All this he owed to his grandfather, and it was unthinkable that the man he revered should be taken from him.
He berated himself for even considering the fantasy of engaging Thomas Marsden in any kind of compromising situation. Such a thing now seemed superficial at best when weighed against the reality of his grandfather’s illness. As he toyed listlessly with the breakfast set before him he glanced at Charles, the footman attending him.
“Charles, please have Doctor Shaftsbury come to see me before he leaves.”
“Very good, sir.” The footman left, returning a few minutes later, ushering the doctor into the dining room.
“You wished to see me, Master Edward?”
“Yes, good morning, Doctor, please take a seat. Would you care for some tea?”
“Indeed, that would be most welcome.”
Edward waited until Charles had brought the doctor a cup of tea then said, “My grandfather is under the impression that he is dying. Tell me that isn’t so.”
Doctor Shaftsbury’s expression was somber as he shook his head. “I’m afraid Sir Rupert is correct, and there isn’t much more I can do for him. I’m sure he hasn’t told you this, but he has consumption, Master Edward, and he has been stubborn about taking the medicines I prescribed for him. Unfortunately, his condition is irreversible, and it will simply be a matter of time before he succumbs.”
At the doctor’s words, a numbness spread throughout Edward’s body and his head throbbed with the return of his headache.
“How much time does he have?”
“A week, perhaps two. It would be best to keep him sedated as much as possible to give him release from the pain. I have given him a dose of laudanum which will help him rest most of the day. It would be beneficial if you engaged a full-time nurse to help with his care.”
Edward found it difficult to even nod his agreement. “You have someone you can recommend?”
“Yes, a Miss Hayden. Very experienced and capable. I will send her over this afternoon after I apprise her of Sir Rupert’s needs.”
Doctor Shaftsbury finished his tea and stood. “I am very sorry to impart this bad news to you, Master Edward. I know you and your grandfather are very close. He has spoken so well of you on several occasions.”
Edward sighed. “Thank you, Doctor.” He walked with Shaftsbury into the hall, then after shaking his hand, he let Charles see him out. Climbing the stairs back up to his grandfather’s room felt like a huge effort. A week, perhaps two? He couldn’t bear the thought of being left alone in this huge house. He’d known that one day he would inherit the place, his father’s death had ensured that, but he would have gladly given it all up if he could have his family back again.
Without knocking, he slipped into Sir Rupert’s bedchamber and quietly approached his bed. The old man was asleep, his labored breathing pronounced, the tea and toasted bread on a tray nearby, untouched. Edward sat on a chair near the bed and gazed with sadness at his grandfather. From an early age, Edward had looked to Sir Rupert as the guiding influence in his life. His parents had been too busy traveling the globe to have much interest in raising their only child. The occasional visit between destinations had been the sum total of their parenting, his upbringing and education the willing responsibility of Sir Rupert.
If he suspected Edward’s sexual identity, he’d made no mention of it, but neither had he insisted on Edward pursuing the attentions of eligible young ladies. Edward’s friend, Albert, was of the opinion that the old man knew full well of Edward’s proclivities, but had made the decision that Edward must find his own way in life as long as he stayed discreet and out of trouble.
When the news came of his parents’ deaths in a shipwreck off the coast Gibraltar, even though their familial attachment was slight, Edward had taken the loss badly. The knowledge that now there was no hope of there ever being a stronger bond between them had driven him into a kind of black despair that only seemed bearable when in his cups. For most of the last year he had over-indulged in wild parties and drink. Sir Rupert had chastised him for it, but now Edward could see why he had not remonstrated more than he had. His grandfather had been ill, too ill to take on the burden of disciplining a self-willed, pig-headed ingrate.
He let his head drop into his hands and a shuddering sob of anguish and remorse wracked his body. I am so sorry, Granpapa, so sorry I was not a better man, for your sake, if not for my own.
A knock on the door startled him for a moment. “Oh, Grantham…” He stood and composed himself in front of the butler. “I was just making sure Sir Rupert was resting comfortably.”
Grantham gave Edward a polite bow. “Yes, Master Edward. Charles informs me that the doctor is sending a nurse for Sir Rupert this afternoon. As she is to be with us…uh, indefinitely, shall I make arrangements for a room to be at her disposal?”
“Yes. She should have the one next door to my grandfather’s so she is on hand should he need assistance during the night. What d’you think?”
The butler nodded. “It is one of our finer guest rooms, but under the circumstances I think you are correct in assigning it to the nurse.” Grantham took a step closer to the bed and gazed down at his employer, his normally austere expression softened with sadness. “Poor Sir Rupert, I hope they can control his pain until the end so that he does not suffer…”
“He’s told you then? I can’t bear to think of a future without him, Grantham.”
“Nor can any of us, sir. He is the epitome of the true gentleman in all things—kind, genteel, generous. He will be greatly mourned.”
Edward felt uncomfortable talking of his grandfather as if he’d already passed. He indicated that they should leave the room and once outside in the hallway he knew where Grantham’s conversation would go.
“You’re probably wondering what my intentions are after…” He faltered, finding it hard to continue, and Grantham gave him a gentle smile.
“Master Edward, you must do whatever it is you think best for yourself. You are young, and have a whole lifetime ahead of you. A large house like this, now that Lady Lazenby and your parents are gone, is a big undertaking. You should take your time in deciding what it is you wish to do.”
“And in the meantime, I will pray for my grandfather’s health to improve and save me from having to make any such decision.” He tightened his lips in a grimace. “Although it seems that may be something of a pipedream.”
Grantham nodded in sympathy before regaining his dignified expression. “Will you be dining in tonight, sir?”
“I was planning on going out with Mr. Harcourt, but I’ll write him a message canceling. Perhaps you can arrange delivery?”
“Of course, Master Edward. Just ring when you are ready.”