Home > The Heiress at Sea

The Heiress at Sea
Author: Christi Caldwell

Chapter 1

Grosvenor Square

London, England

Spring 1814

Since he’d been a boy, Lord Nathaniel Ellsby, the fourth Marquess of Winfield, had delighted in subverting his father’s wishes. Any opportunity to disappoint or keep him waiting, Nathaniel had grasped.

This time, stopped outside the Duke of Roxburghe’s offices, however, was no deliberate ploy on his part.

“A letter has arrived for you, my lord,” his family’s butler murmured, handing over the missive.

Accepting the note, Nathaniel examined the official seal of the Crown. He slid his finger under the crimson wax and unfolded the page.

He proceeded to read the handful of lines there.

It was time.

“When you’re able to join us,” his father shouted from inside his office, his displeasure reaching out into the corridor, “please do so, Nathaniel.”

After folding the letter along the neat crease, Nathaniel tucked it back inside his jacket, then waited several more moments before strolling inside. “Mother,” he greeted, crossing over to kiss her on the cheek.

“Nathaniel! My boy!”

The duke rolled his eyes at that display of affection.

“Do sit! There is so much to talk about,” his mother said, guiding him to the chair opposite the duke.

Silence fell over the room as father and son engaged in a long, unspoken battle of wills.

Nathaniel hadn’t been born the heir. Rather, he’d been born as the spare, along with a line of four other spares behind him.

In his mind, there’d been absolutely no expectation that he would one day be duke. It had surprised even his father, who’d been wholly disinterested in the lot of children he’d gotten on Nathaniel’s mother. The only child he’d seen had been his heir.

His other babes were just babes, an extension of the title—emergency children there in the event the worst ever befell the ducal line.

But there’d not been any idea that such an emergency would ever befall him.

After all, bad things didn’t happen to powerful, wealthy men of influence.

The paternal disinterest hadn’t bothered Nathaniel. Rather, it had been a boon.

He’d never envied his brother the attention he’d gotten from the duke. Just the opposite, really. He’d been grateful Marcus, older by a year, had received all the duke’s attention. It had spared Nathaniel the misery of his father’s company, and it had allowed him the freedom to do that which a nobleman’s heir was not allowed: whatever he wanted.

It was why, when he’d finished school and sought a naval commission from the vice admiral, he’d been free to do so without intervention or even an iota of interest from the man who’d sired him. When all the other lords of his ilk were strutting around London, drinking and bedding women, he’d gone to sea. He’d resolved to make something of himself . . . besides being just the spare.

It was why, after Nathaniel had learned all he could from the navy, sold his commissions, and established himself as a shipping magnate, his father hadn’t so much as batted an eye. After all, to do so, he’d have had to be interested in Nathaniel.

It was why he’d not had to discuss or debate his decision to pursue the scandalous venture of being a wartime privateer.

These were the freedoms and luxuries afforded the ducal spare. Such gifts were not so extended to ducal heirs.

This discovery had become increasingly clear since the unexpected passing of his elder brother, dead too soon by a fall from his horse.

Since that moment, all expectations had transferred to Nathaniel.

The duke broke the silence first.

He slammed his fist on the immaculate surface of his mahogany desk, the crystal inkstand jumping. “I have been patient with you, boy. I’ve been tolerant. Indulged your little pastime. But it is long overdue that you get on with your duty to me.”

“A duty to you which, of course, supersedes my service to king and country,” Nathaniel drawled.

His father, a man who was never crossed, would also never expect sarcasm. “Bloody right it does. At least you know that much,” he blustered. “Furthermore, you’ve not served king, Crown, and country for some years now.”

Leave it to his contrary father to happen to know that detail about him.

The duke looked to his wife, hovering just at Nathaniel’s shoulder. “Your son is being stubborn, just like you.”

Just like her?

The duchess’s greatest challenge to her husband’s ways had been to love her children far more affectionately than the duke deemed fit and proper. Children, in the duke’s opinion, should be raised by nannies, governesses, and the staff—not by his lady wife.

She fluttered there, like a pale, uncertain butterfly. “Nathaniel is a good boy.”

“A good boy?” The duke snorted. “If he were a good boy, he’d do his damned duties, seeing to his responsibilities instead of making my life difficult.”

His mother made nonsensical soothing noises, placating the blustery duke the same way she’d tended to all her sons.

Nathaniel narrowed his gaze on his sire, searching for a hint of himself in that face. With the duke’s bulbous nose flaring and his dark-eyed gaze rheumy from age, Nathaniel luckily found none.

Nathaniel had blond hair where his father’s was dark. He possessed blue eyes where the duke’s were brown. Aside from the obstinate line of an intractable jaw and a like towering height of six feet four inches, that was where all similarities between father and son ended.

Though there was one even more important difference between the two—Nathaniel didn’t give ten damns about the old duke. That indifference and absolute lack of connection to his sire had been a gift handed down from the man who’d sired him.

His Grace dropped his meaty paws upon the desk once more and leaned forward, putting Nathaniel more in mind of the duke’s prized hounds. “I’ve indulged you enough,” he said, spittle forming at the corners of his fleshy lips. “I’ve let you play at being a pirate—”

“Privateer,” Nathaniel interrupted in frosty tones to rival those of the coldhearted lord across from him.

The duke remained unvexed. “I’ve even allowed you to buy yourself a shipping company.” He thumped his fist once more, this time harder. “But I’ll be damned if I . . .”

As his father rattled on about his latest grievance, Nathaniel curled his hands sharply in his lap. For most noblemen, it would be enough that behind Nathaniel were Laurence, Sebastian, Eric, and Jamie—four equally capable sons. While the duke continued his lecture, Nathaniel stared at a point over the top of his head. He’d once had five brothers in total. The eldest, Marcus, however, was gone, as was the memory of him. Though in truth, as the heir, Marcus had been shut away by the duke and tasked with learning his future responsibilities early enough that he’d never been there—not truly. The fact that Marcus had been more stranger than sibling hurt still, and it served as another needless reminder of why Nathaniel so resented the man who’d helped give him life.

He cut into the duke’s fiery speech. “If anything should happen to me, Laurence, Sebastian, Eric, and Jamie would each do an admirable job in the role of future duke.”

“Sebastian and Eric are fighting that cur’s forces, and Jamie is just a boy.”

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