Ready for an excerpt from Forsaking the Prize? This beginning scene follows on from Engaging the Enemy in Tobias’ point of view. Enjoy.
FORSAKING THE PRIZE
Once upon a time, Tobias Randall had expected a simple future; education, honest employment, and family. But the Duke of Romsey had stolen that bright future and discarded him to the whim of fate and the dangers of the sea.
Tobias glanced about him with a keen eye, surveying his current surroundings. Romsey Abbey wasn’t the home he’d expected to return to. However, since his brother Leopold resided here, managing the estate for the Duchess of Romsey, he had little choice but to remain as a guest if he wanted to be close to his brother.
“Can I be of service, Mr. Randall?”
Tobias turned toward the voice and found Romsey’s butler waiting at the doorway. “I’m well set up here, Wilcox.”
“You may retire for the night.” Leopold strode into the room and waved Wilcox away. “Come with me, Tobias.”
Tobias glanced around as he followed along. “I thought you might be busy for a while with Her Grace.”
“The duchess has retired for the night,” Leopold said in a tone that allowed no discussion. “It’s been an exhausting day for her.”
Tobias swallowed, conscious that Leopold may still be very angry with him. “Wilcox is exactly as I remember. How do you stand him?”
“Wilcox has been of great value to the duchess and to me.” Leopold strode up the stairs quickly. “Unlike some I can name.”
“Mama never trusted him and I don’t either,” Tobias said quietly as he followed along, gawking at the richness about him. He had learned the hard way when to trust his instincts. There was something wrong about the man, but he couldn’t put his finger on what.
Leopold hurried him along a dim hall. As they rounded a corner, Tobias spotted a maid and a footman before a door somewhat further along, whispering urgently to each other. They stopped speaking suddenly and then the maid scurried away. What exactly was inside that room that could be so diverting? And then it struck him. The mad countess was likely housed in there.
Leopold stopped one door shy of that bedchamber and turned the knob. “Here you are.”
Wonderful! Berthed next door to a mad woman. He hoped she didn’t wail during the night and whisper evil through the walls. Tobias crossed the threshold and whistled. If he’d thought downstairs was impressive, he’d been mistaken. This room could easily be part of a palace. Deep red velvet curtained a wide bed, roaring fire burning in the hearth, and a set of large windows that he could easily escape through. Certainly not the worst sleeping place he’d been in. He glanced over his shoulder at Leopold. “Bit small, isn’t it? Have you anything grander?”
“Tobias,” Leopold growled in warning. “Do not push my patience.”
“Sorry. The change is a lot to take in. After all, just a few weeks ago I was a seaman aboard a whaler. I never expected a warm welcome at Romsey.”
Leopold slapped his shoulder. “It does take some getting used to.”
A knock sounded on the door and Leopold bid them enter. Two footmen set a copper tub before the fire and two more carried pails of steaming water to fill it. Tobias shook his head. He’d not had a servant for more than a decade. This would undoubtedly take some getting used to.
Another servant crossed the threshold and when their eyes connected Tobias scowled. Eamon Murphy. They’d never gotten along when they were young and the look in Murphy’s eyes hinted he hadn’t entirely forgotten the pranks Tobias had played on him when he was a boy. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Murphy’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I really didn’t miss you.”
“The feeling is completely mutual.”
“Your valet sent these for Tobias, Mr. Randall.” Murphy laid a clean shirt and trousers on the bed. “Your brother has engaged me as his assistant. He runs the estate, I do his leg work. Just like old times. My first duty is to see that you are fit to be seen.”
Tobias scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Try it and you might loose your teeth.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Leopold spluttered. “Have you two not outgrown this childish competition. Tobias, you will be made presentable and Murphy will assist.”
Murphy shrugged. “Very well.”
“Fine,” Tobias groaned. “Can’t have Murphy under the lash on his first dangerous assignment. As much as I would like to continue in this vein, how about we renew hostilities tomorrow? Do we have an accord?”
Murphy nodded. “We do.”
Tobias smiled, glanced at his brother, and then began to laugh. “God I missed this. Good to see some things haven’t changed, brother. All right. All right. I give in willingly. I’ll behave.”
To be continued in Six Sunday tomorrow. See you then.