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Her Master and Commander
By Karen Hawkins
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Karen Hawkins
All right reserved.
A butler's primary purpose is to serve his employer thoroughly and discreetly. Valor is the first part of discretion. It also helps to possess a large dose of tolerance and a very, very short memory.
A Compleat Guide for
Being a Most Proper Butler
by Richard Robert Reeves
Pristine and perfect, the river wound through carefully tended forests, flirting here and there with the stone-paved path before gently toppling into a wide, crystal clear pond. The deep blue waters reflected the flawless outline of a meticulously planned rotunda decorated with several columns and a pink marble fountain. Over the years, the rotunda had served as a trysting spot for lord, lady, prince, and pauper.
Over this astonishingly well orchestrated bit of idyllic beauty rose a nearby hillock. On it, set like a crown on a velvet pillow, sat a massive and stately manor house of lush gold brick, the mullioned windows sparkling enticingly in the late afternoon sun.
Rochester House was widely agreed to be the epitome of culture. The king himself had lauded the house and its furnishings as "the most exquisite in all of England."
The comment had been made almost two score years ago, and at the time, the sixth earl had merely bowed his head ever so slightly to acknowledge it. Privately, of course, he'd been quite pleased, but it would have been ill-bred to have appeared so. And a Rochester was never, ever ill-bred.
Still, the earl allowed himself a generous amount of time in private to savor the king's admiration. Each night, before closing his eyes, he remembered the words and the exact expression on the king's face as he uttered them. It helped Rochester fall asleep and often gave him the most delightful dreams.
Except now, of course. Now, he was far too busy with the irritating duty of dying with dignity.
The dying part was, he thought, rather simple. It was the "with dignity" portion that was a struggle. But then, anything worth doing was worth a good fight. The earl had learned that caveat long, long ago.
To be honest, Rochester should not have been surprised that he was dying. After all, he was well past his seventieth year of age, a fact he attempted to hide from his peers by keeping to powdered wigs for as long as fashion allowed, the liberal use of rouge, and a superb wardrobe that dazzled the eye and removed notice from his sagging skin and wrinkled brow.
To further add to the illusion of youth, he'd married a woman who was, by any count, more than half a century younger than he. Ostensibly, he'd married the lovely, vapid Miss Leticia Crowell for the express purpose of adding a beautiful woman to his household, much like purchasing a certain type of orchid to decorate one's dinner table.
The truth was, Rochester was desperate for a child. He'd thought to marry, produce a son, and thus secure his lands, fortune, and title. He winced even now at the crassness of it all. It was so tawdry, this breeding aspect. Sex for the purpose of pleasure was an art. Sex in an effort to bring forth a mewling child -- Rochester curled his lip.
He'd never thought he'd have trouble fathering a child. After all, he'd managed to father brats before he was married, why would he have any difficulties after? Which was why he'd waited so long before tying himself to the demands of some silly chit who had to be told twice that one did not wear diamonds to a morning visit. Yet as much as he'd disliked the notion, he knew his duty and so, with the greatest reluctance, he'd married.
Unfortunately, fate had a cruel sense of humor. Now, here he was, gasping his last breath, married to a chit with more hair than wit, and not a single legitimate son to inherit either his wealth or the Rochester name. The name he'd worked so hard to build into something unique, something memorable, much like this house, was destined to die with him.
His fingers curled over the single sheet of paper resting in his hand, the noise drawing his gaze. Ah, yes, the list. He smiled a little, relieved. There was hope, after all.
He would make right all the things he'd done wrong. Even from the grave, he would maintain the quality of the Rochester name and keep the house in the family. It was a bold plan. But then...he was a bold man.
He smiled, wincing when a sharp pain rattled through his shoulder, the pressure on his chest increasing. Damn it, he had so little time left. Why had he waited so long?
The huge mahogany door that led into the earl's chamber opened and a tall, perfectly groomed individual entered. The man was dressed in the deep black of a butler, his air stately and calm. He carried a silver tray covered with a linen cloth.
Rochester never allowed any but the most elegant of servants in his employ. Yet even he had to admit that his butler, the indispensable Reeves, was a gem among gems. There was something startlingly commanding about Reeves. Dark and slender, his hair traced over each ear with a distinguished stroke of gray. And his wicked way of putting a shine on boots had caught even Beau Brummel's attention.
Rochester had the world's best butler and the entire ton was aware of it. Four times in the last two months alone, other members of the nobility had attempted to hire Reeves away, but Rochester knew the man's worth and he paid the butler a fortune.
Reeves set the tray on the table beside the bed. He removed a silver cover to reveal an amber-filled glass.
Rochester's hopes rose even more. "Bourbon?"
"Indeed, my lord."
"But Letty said she'd poured my bourbon out the window!"
Excerpted from Her Master and Commander by Karen Hawkins Copyright © 2006 by Karen Hawkins. Excerpted by permission.
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