A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation
Book 2 in the The Lord Julian Mysteries series
Lord Julian Caldicott is summoned to the family seat by his ducal brother, whose bachelorhood is imperiled by the very determined Lady Clarissa Valmond. As the only titled Eligible the hostesses avoid including on their guest lists, Julian has little sympathy for the duke’s situation. He nonetheless agrees to lend a hand, because Clarissa is the last person who should be wearing the Caldicott family tiara.
Matters take a nasty turn when Clarissa’s brother, a talented artist, goes missing shortly before his debut London exhibition. Julian must unravel conflicting motives, dishonest witnesses, confusing evidence, old lies, and the real threats facing the duke if he’s to find the errant viscount before a fate worse than ruin befalls both surviving Caldicott brothers.
Enjoy An Excerpt
On my lengthy list of reasons for avoiding the Caldicott family seat, my brother Harry’s ghost took top honors, my oldest sibling Arthur came third, and Lady Clarissa Valmond occupied the spot between them.
Harry haunted me regardless of venue, appearing in my daydreams and nightmares. Like the good brother he’d been, he did not stand on ceremony in death any more than he had in life. I’d nonetheless been relieved to quit Caldicott Hall months ago to finish recuperating at my London townhouse, though I’d yet to achieve a full return to health.
After parting ways with the military following Waterloo, I’d come home from the Continent in poor health. My eyes still objected to prolonged bright light, my stamina wasn’t what it had been on campaign, my hair was nearly white, and my memory… my memory had been a problem before I’d bought my commission.
And yet, I knew every tree of the lime alley that led to the Hall, forty-eight in all, though two were relative saplings, having been planted in my great-grandfather’s day. The other forty-six were nearly four hundred years old, but for a few new recruits necessitated by lightning strikes, Channel storms, and other random misfortunes.
Atlas, my horse, knew the way to the Hall was well as I did, and picked up his pace as we turned through the open gate.
“You would not be so eager to complete this journey if His Grace had summoned you,” I muttered. Arthur had signed his summons with an A, meaning as a brother, not as the Duke of Strathbourne, and head of the family. He was six years older than I, and possessed of worlds more consequence, not merely by virtue of his title. Arthur carried the dignity of his station as naturally as a gunnery sergeant carried a spare powder bag.
He had been born to be a duke, and just as Harry had been a natural fit with the role of charming spare. The late duke had assured me many times that my lot in life was to be the despair of his waning years.
Atlas marched on, his horsey imagination doubtless filled with visions of lush summer grass and long naps in sunny paddocks. Harry and I had raced up the lime alley more times than I could count, on foot and on horseback, and one slightly inebriated time, running backward.
In earliest boyhood, I’d routinely lost. Harry had two years on me, and for much of my youth, that had meant size and reach. Then Harry had attained his full height, and I had kept growing. Had he lived to be an old, old man, I’d have delighted in reminding him that I was the tallest Caldicott son, having an inch on Harry and a half inch on Arthur.
What I would not give to gloat over that inch to him in person. Harry had been taken captive by the French, and I had followed him into French hands, thinking the two of us could somehow win free where one could not. I am not smartest of Caldicotts, clearly. Harry had expired without yielding any information to his captors, while my experience as a prisoner was complicated by…
Many factors. I’d survived and escaped, and I’d do the same again if need be, but now that I was home, public opinion castigated me for having the effrontery to outlive my brother. At least one faction of the military gossip brigade concluded that I’d bought my life through dishonorable means—betraying my commission—though the military itself had cleared me such allegations.
Arthur had welcomed me home with the reserve of a duke. Not until we had been private did he inform me that acts of self-harm on my part would reflect poorly on the family honor. I was not to indulge in foolish histrionics simply because I’d been labeled a traitor, much less because I could barely see, my memory was worse than ever, and I never slept more than two hours at a stretch.
One did not allow petty annoyances to result in foolish stunts, according to Arthur. He’d delivered that scold with characteristic sternness, though I’d never wanted so badly to hug him.
One did not presume on ducal dignity. My time among the French had also left me with a peculiar reluctance to be touched. With few exceptions, I kept my hands to myself, and hoped others would do likewise concerning my person.
I emerged from the lime alley to behold the Hall, sitting uphill from me on the opposite bank of William’s Creek. That placid stream was named for a multiply-great grandfather, who’d no doubt played in its waters as Harry and I had. Aided by boyish imagination, that little waterway had been the English Channel, where we’d defeated the great Spanish Armada; the Thames; the raging North Atlantic; and the South China Sea.
As Atlas clip-clopped over the arched stone bridge, a pang of longing assailed me, for Harry’s voice, for his presence, for even his relentless teasing and boasting. Why did Harry have to die? Why had he left camp that night? Why hadn’t the French taken my life as they’d taken his?
I’d asked those questions a thousand times, though I posed them now with more sadness than despair.
Caldicott Hall was sometimes referred to as Chatsworth in miniature, meaning the Hall was merely huge as opposed to gargantuan. Like the Duke of Devonshire’s seat, the Hall was built around a central open quadrangle. All four exterior approaches presented stately, symmetric façades of golden limestone, with obligatory pilasters and entablature adding a sense of staid antiquity.
I drew Atlas to a halt, giving myself a moment to appreciate my boyhood home and to gather my courage. My mother was off at some seaside gossip-fest, thank the merciful powers, but Harry’s ghost was doubtless in residence, as was my father’s. As if that wasn’t enough to give a fellow pause, my godmother, Lady Ophelia Oliphant, had threatened to follow me to the Hall once she’d tended to some social obligations.
Atlas rooted at the reins, suggesting a dutiful steed deserved his bucket of oats sooner rather than later. A slight movement from the window at the corner of the second floor caught my eye.
“We’ve been sighted,” I muttered, letting the beast shuffle forward. “The advance guard should be out in less time than it takes Prinny to down a glass of port.”
Half a minute later, a groom jogged up from the direction of the stable and stood at attention by the gent’s mounting block. As Atlas plodded on, I nearly fell out of the saddle.
A footman coming forth to take charge of saddlebags would not have been unusual.
The butler, Cheadle, might have welcomed me home in a fit of sentimentality, or one of my sisters might have bestirred herself to greet me if she were calling Arthur.
Arthur himself sauntered out of the house, checked the time on his watch—which had been Papa’s watch—and surveyed the clouds as if a perfectly benign summer sky required minute inspection. He was to appearances the epitome of the reserved country gentleman. Tall, athletic, his wavy dark hair neatly combed, his visage the envy of portraitists and sculptors.
To the educated fraternal eye, though, Arthur brother was in the next thing to panic. His Grace set very great store by decorum. When I had returned from France the first time, after escaping from captivity and before the Hundred Days, Arthur had received me in the library and offered me a brandy in Harry’s memory.
All quite civilized, though at the time, I’d been barely able to remain upright, my hands had shaken like an old man’s, and I’d managed a mere sip of libation. When I’d come home from Waterloo, Arthur had merely greeted me at supper as if I’d been up to Town for a few fittings.
Before my wondering eyes, he came down the terrace steps, and joined the groom at the mounting block. I swung from the saddle, taking care to have my balance before I turned loose of Atlas’s mane. I’d fallen on my arse a time or two after a hard ride, but I refused to give Arthur the satisfaction of witnessing my humiliation.
“You are a welcome sight, Demming,” I said to the towheaded groom, as I untied my saddle bags. “Don’t bother too much brushing Atlas out. A stop at the water trough, a quick currying, and a shady paddock once the sun sets will be the answer to his prayers. Then he will roll in the first dusty patch he can find.”
“Aye, milord,” Demming replied. “Does himself get oats for his trouble?”
“A mash tonight wouldn’t go amiss, but no oats until tomorrow if there’s grass to be had.”
“We’ve plenty of that. Come along, beastie.”
Arthur was an accomplished horseman, and would not begrudge Atlas good care, but impatience rolled off the ducal person as Demming led Atlas away. Now would come an interrogation—Had my journey been uneventful? How was Lady Ophelia? Was there any particular news from Town, and what did the physicians say about my dodgy eyesight? What exactly had happened at the Makepeace house party, and where was my valet, footman, groom, and coach?
“She’s driving me mad,” Arthur said, striding off toward the terrace steps. “The damned Valmond woman leaves me no peace, and it’s well past time you took a bride.”
End of Excerpt
This book will begin shipping in Autumn 2023
A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
November 7, 2023
Order links for A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation coming soon!
A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation is Book 2 in the The Lord Julian Mysteries series. The full series reading order is as follows:
Book 1: A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times • Book 2: A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation •