For the Duke's Eyes Only

By: Lenora Bell

Prologue




Hertfordshire, 1814



Round. Rough. Not-dirt. Not-rock.

India’s fingers recognized the hard curve of metal before her brain caught on. “Coin!” she shouted to Daniel. “I think I found a coin!”

She pulled a handful of dirt out of the shallow hole she’d dug.

Daniel loped over on his long legs, a wide grin on his face. He’d finally outgrown her this summer, a fact he exploited mercilessly by holding things out of her reach or outrunning her across the woodland fields surrounding Bracket Hall, her family estate.

“Let me see.” He held out one of the delicate bowls they’d stolen from a china cabinet.

She released her handful of soil into the bowl. There was a metallic clinking sound.

A glint of copper.

The most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, except for Daniel’s copper-brown eyes, shining with excitement as he knelt beside her in the dirt.

They’d been excavating the woodland fields around Bracket Hall every summer for years and hadn’t found anything more interesting than grubs and the occasional rusted farm tool.

“We did it, Indy. We found buried treasure,” he said in an awed voice.

The pet name made her heart glow. No one else shortened her name. Her elder brother, Edgar, was away at school and her mother wasn’t given to endearments. Father was more likely to call her a noisome pestilence, if she was unlucky enough to catch his notice.

Daniel’s fingers shook as he brushed dirt off the coin. He polished the small disc with his shirt hem and held it up to the sun. “I think it’s Roman.”

She stretched out her palm. “Let me have a look.”

The coin was warm from his touch and from the sun. She traced the rough, embossed surface with her fingernail. “An emperor wearing a pearl diadem. Honorius? We’ll consult a coinage guide.”

“There can’t be just one.” Daniel held her gaze, anticipation lighting his eyes. “You know there’s always a hoard of coins.”

Most of the time they fought about almost everything. Who could jump their horse higher, or eat the most apples, or whose elbows and knees had the most bruises and scrapes.

Bruises were a badge of honor in their summertime world. A day with Daniel meant dares and danger, but today they labored as a team, dirty and happy, grinning wider with each new discovery.

They dug until their arms ached and until the sun had nearly abandoned them.

The coins piled higher. They were mostly copper, corroded by age and speckled with pale green, but there were several silver coins as well.

The person who had buried these coins had thought they would come back for them later. What had happened to prevent their return? War. Disease. A life interrupted.

A living connection with history—not an etching in a book but tangible and real.

Not just two children digging in the dirt. Historians. Adventurers.

“Must be fifty coins by now,” crowed Daniel. “We’re rich!”

“We’re already rich, you dolt.”

Both of their fathers were dukes, their estates in the town of Hartfield separated by a two-hour walk. Bracket Hall was on the eastern side, while Daniel’s home, Hartfield House, was on the northern end.

Somewhere in France, Daniel’s father, the Duke of Ravenwood, a diplomat and army commander, was bravely battling Napoleon.

India’s father, the Duke of Banksford, was . . . probably drunk by now. He’d been in one of his mean-red tempers when she’d escaped the house. Stomping around, shouting at the servants and haranguing her mother over an imaginary mistake in the housekeeping.

But she wouldn’t think about that. Not now. Not on this a perfect day.

“Stop a moment,” said Daniel, flopping onto the ground. “I’m thirsty.”

She sat down beside him. He wiped the back of his hand across his cheek and left a streak of dirt. She knew her face was similarly filthy but she didn’t care. She never had to care what she looked like with Daniel.

She’d tried to explain as much to her mother but the duchess hadn’t understood.

You’re his betrothed. Do you want him to remember his bride as a young harridan with soil under her nails and scrapes on her knees? Now do sit up properly, fold your hands, and kindly refrain from using the vulgar tongue. We are not Bow-bell cockneys.