The Rogue Who Rescued HerBy: Christi Caldwell
The world had never thought much of Lord Sheldon Graham Malin Whitworth.
When he was a boy, there’d been no shortage of opportunities for the world—father and brothers included—to remind Graham of his numerous failings: too short, not clever enough, not the best at riding or fencing.
By the time he’d grown to be several inches taller than both his brothers and had become a more skilled rider, fencer, and boxer, those accomplishments had ceased to matter to his father, the Duke of Sutton.
Until Graham had ceased to try and instead learned to live for only his own pleasures.
In what could only be the most clichéd of directions a duke’s second or third son could travel, Graham had contentedly wandered the path of rogue, uncaring about paternal disapproval.
Neither was he one who particularly cared for those all-too-frequent ducal lectures. The latest of which Graham now subjected himself to.
And had been subjecting himself to since he’d entered his father’s office twenty-five minutes earlier.
“Are you even listening to me?” the Duke of Sutton called. The affected shout boomed off the thirty-foot-high ceilings. Of course, Graham’s illustrious father was too distinguished and refined to ever do something so gauche as to actually bellow.
“Indeed,” Graham drawled. From where he stood at the duke’s floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Kent countryside, Graham glanced at his father in the crystal panes and caught the manner in which his father drew his thick gray brows together. And because Graham knew it would raise the sterling-haired patriarch’s ire, he tossed back a long swallow from the snifter in his hand.
The duke wanted to bellow. It was there in the bulging vein at the right corner of his eye. In Graham’s youth, his father’s slight, uncontrollable twitches had represented a triumph. Now, they meant nothing. They changed nothing.
As always, his father collected himself. “Your mother is having a house party.”
As if to punctuate that statement, a pink carriage rolled down the long graveled drive. “Yes, I see that.” Graham followed it with his gaze until the garish conveyance came to a stop. Liveried servants immediately poured from the front door, scurrying off to greet the just-arrived guests, like mice sprinting along the bowels of the naval ships he’d served on seven years earlier.
“She wanted you here.”
Graham could not fathom why. “Did she?” Oh, it was not that he doubted his mother’s love. In the way of devoted parents, she had bestowed equal affection and regard on each of her three—now two—sons. Even when she had every reason to hate him for the loss of one of her sons, she hadn’t. But taking the grousing from her husband because Graham was around hardly seemed worth the bother.
“She did,” his father said coolly, in tones that betrayed a like confusion.
Graham swirled the remaining contents of his glass.
“I wanted you here, too.”
The amber spirits splashed over the rim of his glass, staining Graham’s fingers and falling upon the hardwood floor. For the first time since he’d been summoned to the duke’s offices, Graham faced him. His mother had wanted him about through the years as much as the Duke of Sutton hadn’t wanted the spare to his heir underfoot.
“Wipe that surprised look off your face.” There was a faint pleading there so at odds with the Duke of Sutton who commanded all. “That is no doubt the reason both the king and I together couldn’t convince the Home Office to put you to some use.”
“This again?” he drawled, tension snapping through him, and he resisted it. People, all people, will attempt to use your weakness as a weapon against you. Do not…
This time, with that lesson reverberating around his brain, he dispelled the old hurts. This time, he refused to give his father the satisfaction of his fury, nor did he allow himself that show of weakness. It was enough that Graham knew the truth: That he, the unlikeliest of rogues, had been tapped as an agent for the Crown, trained, and set to serve.
His father thumped the surface of his desk. “Your mind is wandering again.”