From the book
Somerset, August 1837
So this was how it felt to be a conquering hero.
Ash Turner—once plain Mr. Turner; now, so long as fate stayed Parliament's hand, the future Duke of Parford—sat back on his horse as he reached the crest of the hill.
The estate he would inherit was laid out in the valley before him. Stone walls and green hedges hugged the curves of the limestone hill where his horse stood, breaking the brilliant apple-green growth of high summer into gentle, rolling squares of patchwork. A small cottage stood to the side of the road. He could hear the hushed whispers of the farm children, who had crept out to gawk at him as he passed.
Over the past few months, he'd become accustomed to being gawked at.
Behind him, his younger brother's steed stamped and came to a halt. From this high vantage point, they could see Parford Manor—an impressive four-story, five-winged affair, its brilliant windows glittering in the sunlight. Undoubtedly, someone had set a servant to watch for his arrival. In a few moments, the staff would spill out onto the front steps, arranging themselves in careful lines, ready to greet the man who would be their master.
The man who'd stolen a dukedom.
A smile played over Ash's face. Once he inherited, nobody would gainsay him.
"You don't have to do this." The words came from behind him.
Nobody, that was, except his little brother.
Ash turned in the saddle. Mark was facing forwards, looking at the manor below with an abstracted expression. That detached focus made him look simultaneously old, as if he deserved an elder's beard to go with that inexplicable wisdom, and yet still unaccountably boyish.
"It's not right." Mark's voice was barely audible above the wind that whipped at Ash's collar.
Mark was seven years younger than Ash, which made him by most estimations firmly an adult. But despite all that Mark had experienced, he had somehow managed to retain an aura of almost painful purity. He was the opposite of Ash—blond, where Ash's hair was dark; slim, where Ash's shoulders had broadened with years of labor. But most of all, Mark seemed profoundly, sacredly innocent, where Ash felt tired and profane. Perhaps that was why the last thing Ash wanted to do in his moment of victory was to hash through the ethics.
Ash shook his head. "You asked me to find you a quiet country home for these last weeks of summer, so you might work in peace." He spread his arms, palms up. "Well. Here you are."
Down in the valley, the first ranks of servants had begun to gather, jockeying for position on the wide steps leading up to the massive front doors.
Mark shrugged, as if this evidence of prosperity meant nothing to him. "A house back in Shepton Mallet would have done."
A tight knot formed in Ash's stomach. "You're not going back to Shepton Mallet. You're never going back there. Do you suppose I would simply kick you from a carriage at Market Cross and let you disappear for the summer?"
Mark finally broke his gaze from the tableau in front of them and met Ash's eyes. "Even by your extravagant standards, Ash, you must admit this is a bit much."
"You don't think I would make a good duke? Or you don't approve of the method I used to inveigle a summer's invitation to the ducal manor?"
Mark simply shook his head. "I don't need this. We don't need this."