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The Reluctant Duke (A Seabrook Family Saga)

By´╝ÜChristine Donovan


A Seabrook Family Saga Book I




London 1816

“It appears, Your Grace, you have bested me and left me destitute.”

Thomas Seabrook, the Duke of Wentworth, met the eyes of Mr. Charles Hamilton, known as the New Bedford Whaling Tycoon, and could not shake off the prickling sensation which plagued the back of his neck. The Englishman had amassed his fortune in America during the past twenty years yet looked anything but upset at his loss. And it was a fortune indeed. Thomas could not even begin to contemplate his good luck. Deep down, however, intuition warned him to proceed with caution.

“Mr. Hamilton, how is it you came to be here today?” Thomas leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled on the table in front of him. He tried his best to appear relaxed and unaffected by the turn of events. “I’ve never had the pleasure of your company before. Nor have I heard rumors of your passion for the gaming tables. I do believe, sir, you were in over your head. Because of this, I will take the monies you lost, at least what is on the table. But I must pass on the rest.”

Gasps came from Thomas’s two friends at the table in a small private room at the back of White’s. Thomas ignored them. How could he, in good conscience, take everything this man had worked for his entire life? True, Thomas’s family was desperate for coin, thanks to the foibles of his late father, but he could not profit to this extent at the expense of another. Besides, he rarely indulged in games of chance. He had seen too many gentlemen of the ton lose everything in the gambling hells––their self-respect, properties, and fortunes lost in the shuffle of a card or the roll of bones.

Often gambling led to disgrace, scandal, and sometimes worse. He would not be responsible for this particular gentleman’s fall, could not subject this man’s family to what still haunted his on a daily basis.

Edward Worthington, the Marquess of Amesbury, spoke quietly into his ear. “Wentworth, do you realize what you are passing up? Here is your chance to regain your fortune and make the necessary repairs on your holdings. And bugger all, he might call you out. You have insulted his honor. Have you taken leave of your senses?”

Myles Fredrickson, the Baron of Norwich and heir to an earldom, added his two pence worth. “Have you forgotten your sisters’ dowries or your brother’s commission?”

Thomas had not forgotten anything. Bloody hell, how could he? Yet the tingling that had begun on his neck now spread down his spine. He never ignored his intuition and knew that no good could come of it if he ruined this man. Yet how could he, as a gentleman of the ton, ignore honor and integrity by refusing his winnings? And disgrace both Hamilton and himself in the process?

Hamilton abruptly pushed his chair back, crossed the room, and knocked on the closed door. From the room beyond a servant handed him a large packet, a packet Mr. Hamilton then held out to Thomas. “I’m aghast that you would insult my honor in the presence of these two gentlemen. I insist you accept from me what you are due. I believe, Your Grace—” He dropped the packet on the table, the sound of it resonating around the small room. “These now belong to you.”

Without further ado, he bowed, turned, and left the establishment.

With unsteady hands Thomas drained his glass of brandy, tucked the papers into his waistcoat, and left without a word to his friends who tried to congratulate him on his good fortune. They could attribute his rudeness to shock, which indeed was the truth.

When he stepped outside, the cold blasts of wind and rain that shrouded London in midday gray did not register, nor did he remember that he had left his greatcoat, gloves, and hat at his club.

Thomas signaled his driver. Once settled within his carriage, he stared at the packet in his lap, ignoring the damp chill clinging to the inside of the coach.


The rest of the day and into the evening Thomas sat at the mahogany desk in his study at his home on Cavendish Square, a brandy bottle in hand, now half empty as he swigged it straight. The papers he had acquired, spread across his desktop, did little to ease his foul mood or the crushing weight upon his chest. Through it all, the gruesome picture of his dead father haunted his vision.

His father’s years of wasteful spending, drinking, and whoring had contributed to his declining health. Dead at the age of fifty-one, in the decimated body of a ninety-year-old. Thomas shuddered as he remembered finding his father, lying dead on the floor of his study. His wasted body and the putrid stench of vomit had hung sour in the air. He gagged even now as he remembered.


Several days later found Thomas back at his desk, his mind still contemplating his altered situation. The arrival of his valet, Giles, interrupted that.