Regency Romantic Suspense Series
Captain Jack Ryder, the Duke’s Bastard Book One
Regency Sons Series
Captain Jack Ryder
Mr. Harry Feather
His Grace, Grant Neville, the duke of Stamford
Lord Timothy Scott, Baron Waddington’s heir
Lord Miles Hawkeswood, second son of Marquess Sterling
CAPTAIN JACK RYDER – THE DUKE’S BASTARD
The death of Captain Jack Ryder’s father, the Duke of Stamford, leaves Jack restless. The Duchess’ spiteful relatives have made his life a misery, and he wants nothing more than to escape London for a time. Dressed in buckskin breeches, he takes to the road on his horse, Arion, with the intention of visiting his mother’s grave in Ireland. But after one day, events conspire to interrupt his plans.
Jack finds himself not only caught up in a conspiracy of immense proportions, but also in a passionate love affair with a lady he cannot marry. Lady Ashley Lambourne’s father, the Marquess of Butterstone has been murdered, and Jack promises to find his killer.
A close friend of Jack’s from his army days, Harry Feather, heir to one of the largest fortunes in England, faces an arranged marriage to Lady Erina Roundtree. A tall half-Irish beauty, Erina is a spirited lady who makes it plain she doesn’t wish to marry Harry, either. Determined to enjoy a quiet existence after his years fighting Bonaparte, Harry fears Erina will run him ragged. Why he is indulging Erina in one of her harebrained schemes is beyond him when he should marry a quiet woman like Florence Beckworth.
The inn’s parlor was in an uproar. Guests crowded into the room where a man lay on the settee. He bled heavily from a chest wound. An older lady leaned over him, trembling, and sobbing, and patting his cheek.
“What happened to the fellow?” Jack asked the innkeeper, Joe Peck, who stood silent and concerned beside him.
“Lord and Lady Butterstone and their daughter, Lady Ashley were returning home to Ivywood Hall from London when they were attacked by a highwayman,” Peck said. “His lordship resisted and was shot. I’ve sent for the doctor.”
“I gained a little knowledge about treating gunshot wounds in the army,” Jack said. “I might be able to help.”
Peck rubbed his balding pate. “Then please do, sir. Lady Butterstone is close to hysterics.”
“Send the other guests back to their rooms. Fetch me clean cloths and warm water. Whiskey too.”
Jack approached the sofa where a young, fair-haired woman stood watching the sad tableau, her eyes stricken. The daughter. Jack smiled gently at her. “Let’s see what can be done, Lady Ashley. If you could take your mother away for a moment. Give her a little brandy, or a strong, sweet cup of tea. Mr. Peck will see to it.”
She nodded, murmured something in her mother’s ear. With an anguished glance at Jack, Lady Butterstone allowed her daughter to lead her away.
On his knees, Jack moved aside Lord Butterstone’s fine wool coat and pulled up the linen shirt. The ball had entered one side of his chest where frothy blood gave clue to a lung wound.
When Peck brought the whiskey, napkins and water, Jack wiped away as much of the blood as he could, knowing it was useless. He packed the linen against the wound. When he settled a pillow beneath the gentleman’s head he saw the victim was conscious.
“I’m dying.” A grim smile appeared in his lordship’s gray eyes. “Too late to set things to rights.”
“Jack Ryder, sir. The doctor is on his way. Is there something I can do?”
Lord Butterstone coughed and a trickle of blood touched his lips. With a weak hand, he motioned Jack closer. “Stamford’s son? Knew the duke. A good man.”
“Yes, he was.”
Lord Butterstone moaned. “Don’t have long. I must ask your help.”
“Anything.” Jack waited as the man fought to gain his breath. Did he require a priest?
“No highwayman… shot Bert, my groom, dead. A good servant. Can you see my wife and daughter safely home… stay with them until Lady Butterworth’s brother arrives?”
“Don’t worry, my lord. I will ensure their safety as long as is necessary. Who attacked you?”
“A long story…” He tried to raise his head. “… and no time to tell it.” He licked the blood on his lips.
Jack realized that his lordship was losing his fight and gestured to where Lady Butterworth sat with a teacup in her hand.
She hurried over, knelt beside her husband, and held his hand. “My love.”
“Forgive me, Mary, I’ve been a fool…” His head rolled back.
Lady Butterstone gasped and collapsed onto the floor in a dead faint.
“Mama!” Lady Ashley tried to assist her mother. When she couldn’t rouse her, she looked at Jack with an appeal in her eyes.
Jack grasped Lady Ashley’s shoulders and gently moved her aside. He hefted the unconscious woman up and carried her to an upholstered chair. The lady leaned back against the padded cushion, her face a ghastly white.
He’d seen a lot of death during the war, but watching these women was especially difficult. He hated feeling helpless. “I wish I could have done more.”
Lady Ashley patted her mother’s hand. Her tear-filled blue eyes searched his. “There was never anything anyone could do.”
She was shocked but did not seem surprised. He wondered if she referred to something other than the attack.
“Your father asked me to escort you and your mother home. But might it be better to remain until daylight? I’m sure Peck can find you a room.”
She straightened her shoulders as if trying to find some inner reserve. “I need to get Mama home. But you must be tired, Captain Ryder. We will have roused you from your bed.”
“I spent a few years in the army. I’m used to going without sleep.”
When she nodded, a pale gold ringlet stirred against her cheek. She looked exhausted. Violet shadows lay beneath her eyes, and faint worry lines creased her brow. “But we live twenty miles from here. Will it take you too far out of your way?”
“I’m not in a hurry. Your father asked me to remain with you until your uncle arrives. I’m happy to oblige if your mother wishes it.”
“I’m sure Mama will be most grateful.”
“Did you recognize your attacker?”
She shook her head while continuing to stroke her mother’s limp hand.
“Did he steal from you?”
“No. I suppose he panicked.”
When she met his gaze something unspoken hovered in the air. As if she wanted to say more.
Lady Butterstone stirred.
“Mama, can you sit up? Take a little brandy? This gentleman is Captain Ryder. Papa asked him to take us home.”
Jack addressed the prostrate lady. “I’m told you’ve lost your groom, my lady. I’ll see to your coach. And when you are stronger, I’ll escort you both safely to Ivywood Hall.”
Lady Butterstone blinked at him bewildered. “Thank you.”
Jack crossed the room to where Peck waited. “Have the parish constable, and the magistrate been sent for?”
Peck nodded. “Sent my ostler. Sad business. Butterstone was much liked in these parts.”
“Any idea who was behind the attack? I wasn’t aware of highwaymen roaming this part of the countryside.”
“They haven’t been seen around here for years,” Peck said. “I don’t know who the murderer is, but the locals will be worried.”
Outside in the cold damp air, the coachman walked the horses. The poor man appeared cold and defeated.
“Jack Ryder. Nasty business.”
“John Mullins, sir. Will Lord Butterstone recover?”
“I’m afraid he’s gone.”
Mullins lowered his head. “They were both good men. Didn’t deserve to be cut down like that.”
“Tell me how it happened.”
The coachman wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Blast and bugger your eyes, that rogue galloped straight up to us from out of the trees. Shot the groom, Bert, who sat beside me on the box without a how do you do. Bert was armed, but he might as well not have been. He was holding a lantern and had no time to raise the gun. Then his lordship stepped out of the coach, apparently to reason with the rogue, and was gunned down in cold blood. The murderous devil turned his horse and rode off. Made no attempt to rob her ladyship who was screaming fit to burst. And those diamonds of hers must be worth a king’s ransom.”
Not a robber then. “What did this gunman look like?”
The coachman shrugged. “Wore a handkerchief over his lower face and his hat pulled low. Tall in the saddle, decent roan.”
“I’m to ride with you to Ivywood Hall.”
The coachman nodded, looking pleased. “Lady Butterstone will be relieved to have a big strong fellow like you, guarding her, if you’ll forgive me for saying so.”
Jack retrieved his portmanteau from the bedchamber, loaded his gun and shoved it into his coat pocket. After he paid Peck for the bed he never slept in, he went to the stable to saddle Arion. It had stopped raining. The clouds had shifted away; the landscape cast in a chiaroscuro of silvery moonlight and deep purple shadows. Even with the carriage lamps lit, visibility would be poor, and the roads pot-holed and muddy. Jack checked the sky to the north. An ominous wall of midnight dark clouds lurked on the horizon. It begged the question of why Lord Butterstone had chosen to travel so late at night, and in this inclement weather.
It was going to be an unpleasant and possibly dangerous ride to Ivywood Hall.