DAY 1

* * * S P O I L E R S * * *

If you've read the full Desperately Seeking Duke series, you know there's another story: Lord William in America. I ended up including his tale in The Ultimate Epilogue, where he tells his sons what happened, but for a few days I considered actually writing his story—only a few days, but long enough to write one chapter. Here it is…

NB: If you've seen (or read) The Last of the Mohicans, you know about this fort. The two young ladies, Alice and Cora Munro, are being escorted to Fort William Henry, with Nathaniel (that's Daniel Day-Lewis, in some Oscar-worthy buckskin outfits), Chingachgook, and Uncas in support. I set this episode right before the fall of Ft. William Henry, and the massacre that followed, because the British army was in uproar and distracted and wouldn't be especially attentive to one more missing British soldier.

Unused scene from the Desperately Seeking Duke series

1757

Fort Edward, New York Province

British North America

“You,” said Colonel Fitzwarren coldly, “are a disgrace, Lieutenant.”

He knew better than to react to this. He kept his gaze fixed on the rack of muskets beside the door and said nothing. From his vantage point near the fireplace, Captain Jonas Meachum smirked at him, enjoying the show.

“You are an officer in the British army,” went on Fitzwarren, pink-faced in his fury. “From a noble family, with the finest upbringing. Not some dilettante colonial, let alone—God forbid—a farmer from New Jersey.”

He said New Jersey as if the word were made of slugs. It was difficult to keep from laughing at the colonel’s pale face screwed up in disgust.

“Swimming in the lake,” carried on the commanding officer. “With the provincials!”

Yes, indeed. He could almost feel the cool water closing in on him, remembering. It was beastly hot here in the forests of New York, and those provincials knew the best swimming spots. He hoped they’d go again tonight.

The colonel was in full froth now, ranting about other minor infractions. Not wearing his insignia and red coat at all times. Dodging the officers’ mess to eat roasted rabbits with the common soldiers. Fencing with the colonial soldiers. Fitzwarren was pacing in such agitation the gold lace on his coat fluttered with each sharp turn on his heel. His white-blond hair was damp with sweat and clung to his head, which was approximately the shape and color of a small boiled ham.

Ham. They had excellent ham here in the American colonies. He’d been sent to Philadelphia for a month, and the ham there still haunted his dreams. Sliced thin, crackling crisp on the edges, gravy rich with stewed mushrooms poured over it and sopped up with a feather-light biscuit, accompanied by delicate asparagus spears in butter and some kind of squash… That had been his favorite month in the army, by far, that assignment in Philadelphia.

“Playing like schoolboys with a ball! Shouting like wild men! Would you bring the French and their Indians down on our heads?”

“No, sir,” he replied to this actual question, still thinking about the ham.

Fitzwarren lunged toward him, stopping just short. Up close his light eyebrows bristled like angry caterpillars and his thin lips were shiny with spittle. “How do you know you haven’t?”

“The French are well aware that we’re here,” he said, still staring at the muskets above the door. “I daresay they know more about us than we know about them.”

At that, Meachum jerked upright with a scowl. He was the one who had alienated several of the colonial rangers who served as British scouts, calling them failed farmers and deriding their appearance. In return the rangers hadn’t stopped scouting, but they were hardly giving it their best effort.

“And you’re frolicking about, not caring that we are surrounded on all sides by the French, who might swoop down on us at any moment!”

That was what General Webb, the commanded of the fort, believed. But the rangers who actually went out to scout the wilderness around them consistently said no, there were no French this far south. They were further north, a good seventy miles away at Ticonderoga. Several of the men he’d been swimming with and playing lacrosse with were rangers, who knew these woods and rivers better than any English officer in gold lace ever would.

So he said nothing to the colonel, because he had learned there was no point in arguing anyway. He wondered what the punishment was for playing lacrosse, which was a ripping good sport.

Fitzwarren stepped up closer still, until their noses almost touched. “Your father is a duke,” he said with quiet, scathing, menace. “How pleased would he be to learn of your childish misconduct?”

Ah, that punishment. He knew damned well his father was a duke, and he knew even better how furious that duke would be that his second son wasn’t ruthlessly slaughtering Indians and Frenchmen at every turn. On the other hand, he also knew his father would never deign to read a letter from this turnip of a man, so there wasn’t much chance of His Grace discovering it.

For the first time he drew himself up fully, shoulders back and chin raised. Now he was looking down at the colonel. “I know my father well,” he said in an icy, aristocratic drawl. “You, sir, do not.”

This time the sir was tinged with scorn, vaguely bored, completely unconcerned; the contemptuous reply one made to an inferior—which Hugo Fitzwarren, mere gentleman’s son, was. He wasn’t even a full colonel, merely a provincial one; if he were sent to the war in Europe, he would revert to a major.

Fitzwarren heard all of that, and flushed purple. “You are dismissed, Lieutenant,” he barked.

Expressionless, Lieutenant Lord William St. James saluted and strode out.

He should have gone into the church. Not that he yearned to write sermons and tend the sick, but at least he wouldn’t have been sent around the world to kill people, as a curate. He’d known the army would be bad, but not this bad.

“On your way to the whipping post?” Jonathan Deane loped up beside him as he crossed the open parade ground of the fort.

William assumed a martyred expression. “Patience, old fellow. Not yet.”

“I could hear him screaming all the way down here.”

William shrugged. “He rarely speaks below a shriek.”

Jack snickered. “Not to you, he don’t. How did you get under his skin this time?”

“Disregarding my dignity and rank as an English gentleman and officer,” he said in a fair imitation of Fitzwarren’s Midlands twang.

Jack grinned, then sobered. “Did he say anything about Fort William Henry?”

“If you didn’t hear him shouting it, he didn’t say it.”

Jack shifted his weight, his gaze scanning the ramparts of the fort. Deane was one of the rangers, a woodsman from Massachusetts, which he assured William was far superior to this sweltering cesspit. “They need reinforcing.”

William paused. “You know something.”

“No.” Jack grimaced at his look. “Aye. The fort’s not been repaired.”

“How do you know that?” Fort William Henry, some thirteen miles to the north, had been attacked in the spring and damaged, but there had been months to do repairs. Their own commander, General Webb, had gone personally to inspect it and only returned late last night.

It was no secret the French had lustful eyes on William Henry, and it was no secret the English had to hold it. If Fort William Henry fell, the only obstacle between the French and Albany, the capitol of New York Province, would be Fort Edward—which everyone knew wasn’t in prime condition and had the bare minimum garrison.

Jack lowered his voice. “Word is, Munro is asking for more reinforcements.”

William paused. General Webb had called up some militias, but it would take days for them to arrive. And they didn’t have enough men here as it was.

“Well. Nothing to be done about it now,” he replied, shaking it off. “Fancy another round with the hatchet?”

His friend shook his head in amusement. “You just dodged the whipping post, and you can’t wait to provoke him again?”

“Webb believes we should learn your skills,” he replied, loosening the buttons of his coat in anticipation.

“Aye, so he can send us home and not be beholden to a bunch of provincials.”

William cocked his head. “It sounds as though you don’t want to face me with a hatchet.”

Deane cuffed him. “I taught you how to wield one, boy.”

He grinned. “Let’s to it, then.”

The Desperately Seeking Duke Series

<About a Rogue> About a Kiss A Scot to the Heart How the Scot Was Won All the Duke I Need Desperately Seeking Duke: The Ultimate Epilogue