Blame It on Bath

Chapter 1

Gerard de Lacey did not remember his mother.

His older brothers did. Edward had been eight, and Charlie eleven, when she died. He’d been only five, too young to have fixed memories. Sometimes his brothers would mention something about her—the songs she sang to them, the way she made their father laugh, her passion for the gardens—that made Gerard wild with envy they still had some piece of her, and he had almost nothing. Nothing bright and lovely, at any rate. Nothing that was purely his.

He’d seen the portraits of her, of course; the portrait painted when she was a young woman newly engaged to the Duke of Durham, the formal portraits of her and his father after their marriage, the family portraits of her with her sons. He knew she’d been pretty and slim, dark-haired and blue-eyed; but that didn’t help. In one portrait she held him on her lap. They must have sat for hours for the artist like that, but try as he might, he couldn’t recall the sound of her voice or the feel of her arms around him even though he had been told she was a warm and affectionate mother, and that he had been the particular favorite of her boys. The very fact he had no real memory of her made him miss her even more, more than either of his brothers did, Gerard was sure.

His only memory of her, in fact, was terrible. He remembered the day she died.

His father came to breakfast that morning in the nursery. That was the first clue something was wrong although Gerard didn’t realize it at the time. His father was a larger-than-life figure to his young eyes, and it was always thrilling when Father would come striding up the stairs, his heels ringing loudly on the treads, his deep voice booming off the high-vaulted ceilings of Lastings, their house in Sussex. Gerard remembered being tossed in the air, that exhilarating feeling of flying, then the sickening plunge before being caught safely in his father’s arms. In later years he discovered it was quite rare for a man like the Duke of Durham to spend so much time with his children, but at the time it only served to make him idolize his father. Durham was the best rider, the keenest hunter, the most jovial companion, the most forceful personality Gerard ever knew.

But that morning, Durham had been none of that. He came up the stairs grave and quiet, while they were eating their porridge. Charlie and Edward must have known why, for they didn’t say a word. Gerard, though, had no inkling until his father sat down at the round table with them as Nurse was bringing their toast.

“I’ve brought some sad news, my lads,” said the duke heavily.

Gerard thought it was about the puppies, just born to the duke’s best pointer bitch. Why he remembered the damned dogs and not his mother, he never could fathom.

“It’s Mother, isn’t it?” Edward said in a small voice.

The duke hesitated, then nodded. Edward put down his spoon.

“What’s wrong with Mother?” Gerard asked.

“She was very ill,” Father replied. “But now, unfortunately, she’s died.” Edward said nothing. Charlie put his head down on his arms. “I’ve written to your aunt, Lady Dowling,” Father went on. “I invited her and your cousin Philip to come stay for a few months.”

“I don’t want Aunt Margaret,” said Gerard. “I want Mother.”

“She’s dead,” Edward whispered.

Gerard scowled at him. “She is not!”

“Gerard, son, she is,” Father told him. “I wish it weren’t so.”

His chin wobbled. Gerard knew what dead meant. It meant they took the dog—or person, he supposed, but so far he’d only seen dogs die—and dug a hole behind the stable to put them in. Surely Father would never let them do that to Mother. “I don’t believe it.”

The duke was quiet for a moment. Gerard never forgot how the morning sun shone on his father’s forehead, the skin smooth where his hair had receded. “Would you like to see her?”

Gerard nodded. After a moment, so did Edward.

“Yes, sir,” mumbled Charlie. “Please.”

The duke nodded once, and all three boys slid off their chairs to follow him, breakfast forgotten. They went down the narrow stairs that led directly into the duchess’s sitting room. It was still and quiet in there, which was unusual. Gerard often came running down those stairs to see her and climb into her lap, and the room was always full of people: the housekeeper, the duchess’s maid, servants carrying tea