A Duke in Time (The Widow Rules #1) - Janna MacGregor

Chapter One

London, 1815

The Office of Malcom Hanes, Esquire

“He was a good man.” Katherine patted the family solicitor’s arm while the poor man hung his head in grief. She didn’t belabor the point that her husband’s horse certainly didn’t share the same opinion. Not when the beast had thrown Meriwether into a mud puddle, where he’d drowned. Seems his steady steed didn’t care to participate in a midnight steeplechase during a deafening thunderstorm with a foxed Meriwether handling the reins.

That act meant she was now the widowed wife of Lord Meriwether Vareck, the second son of the previous Duke of Randford. Her chest tightened, making it difficult to draw a deep breath. Indeed, she was sad her husband had died, and equally regretful that most of her grief was for the end of her too-brief marriage.

“Thank you for your kindness, Lady Meriwether.” The distinguished solicitor, Malcom Hanes, bowed over Katherine’s hand as they stood at the threshold of his office. With a heavy, soulful sigh, Mr. Hanes murmured, “Please accept my deepest condolences. Such a shame you were only married for a year. I’m sure you’re at a loss.”

She nodded briefly. That was putting it mildly. Lost would have been a more accurate description. She had lost him. Katherine had last seen Meriwether on their wedding day. She’d always hoped he’d come home. Yet as the days between his infrequent correspondence had multiplied, the reality that he might never return had grown stronger.

Now it was a certainty.

“There are a few complications”—the solicitor pinched the bridge of his nose—“before we start the reading of the will.”

“Is anything amiss?”

“No,” he objected a little too quickly. “Absolutely not.” His lips pursed in an expression that reminded Katherine of a tightly fastened reticule. “We’ll begin shortly. I’m simply waiting for the Duke of Randford to deliver Lord Meriwether’s will. It seems His Grace had it in his possession the entire time he was in France.”

This time Katherine’s lips were the ones to press together. She would not utter a peep against the Duke of Randford, her brother-in-law. Newly arrived in London after three years fighting the French, the duke was Meriwether’s only family. Having the same father but different mothers, the duke and Meriwether were half brothers. Truthfully, a person couldn’t tell by the duke’s actions. Randford had treated Meriwether like a stranger.

Worse than a stranger really.

The duke acted as if Meriwether were a disease, one to be avoided at all costs. The fact that Randford didn’t even write to Katherine when he received word of Meriwether’s tragic passing, let alone call on her when he reached London, showed the selfish man’s true colors. Whether he was a decorated war hero or not made little difference. A man of integrity and good manners should have shown some respect for his brother and his widow.

One of Mr. Hanes’s clerks came to the door. With a flushed face reminiscent of a volcano ready to erupt, the young man frantically waved for Mr. Hanes to follow him.

“If you’ll excuse me, Lady Meriwether?” Mr. Hanes nodded before taking his leave.

Katherine walked to the window and gazed at the gray London morning. How fitting the heavens looked gloomy today. Though she didn’t love Meri, her husband’s preferred name, his larger than life personality had shimmered with a brightness and light that had drawn people near. When he turned his brilliant blue eyes your way, a whirlwind erupted and you were swept into his carefree world.

Certainly, she had been.

She fisted her kidskin gloves. No good would come from feeling morbid about her husband’s death. Meri certainly wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way, particularly when his end came doing what he loved best—riding in a horserace and gambling on the outcome. Though they’d only spent six hours together as a married couple, Meri’s infrequent letters informed her of his travels. First, he’d made his way to Portsmouth, then Cumberland, all in the pursuit of investments—or so he claimed. Katherine had a suspicion the “investments” were nothing more than racehorses.

If he would have stayed by her side, they could have started their marriage.

Nor would he have been dead.

“If you’ll follow me, ma’am.” Another of Mr. Hanes’s numerous clerks, a young man with bright red hair, escorted a woman heavy with child into the room.

The woman caught Katherine’s gaze and smiled slightly.

“May I offer you something before we begin?” the clerk asked.

The woman nodded. “If it wouldn’t be too much bother, a glass of water would be lovely.”

Katherine’s eyes widened when the young man