Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE
St. Agatha's Hospital
London, 1820

Viola Cartwright, Duchess of Tremaine, stared down at the crisp piece of paper balanced between her fingers. Since she'd read the words written thereon, her heart had run off, leaving her chest with a painful knot in its place. She expelled a long breath in an effort to calm her riotous nerves and perhaps ease the churning in her belly. It was to no avail. Even though she'd known this moment would eventually come, she hadn't been prepared for the news of her stepson's homecoming.

Hoping against all odds that she might find a different message if she read the letter again, she adjusted her spectacles and considered the bold script for a second time.

Findlay,

Please be advised that it is time for me to come home. My ship sails from New York harbor on the fifteenth of March with expected arrival in Portsmouth no more than thirty days later. I hope I can count on you to greet me upon my return.

Robert Cartwright, 
Duke of Tremaine

No request for the loyal butler to inform Viola. No mention of her at all.

Setting the letter aside on her desk, she raised her gaze to Findlay, who stood near the door of her office waiting. "Thank you for showing me this." She couldn't imagine what she would have done if he hadn't warned her.

Findlay nodded. "I felt it my duty to do so."

He took his leave, and Viola forced herself to relax. She didn't owe Robert anything. The decision to marry his father had been hers and hers alone. Robert should have no say in the matter. Especially not since he'd chosen to marry the Earl of Clarendon's daughter right before departing for his father's coffee plantation in the West Indies. He'd been away ever since and had written only once to inform his father that his wife was dead and that he'd sold the plantation. There had been no word from him since. Worse than that, when Viola had written to inform Robert of his father's passing, her letter had been returned. It had taken two years to track him down somewhere in India—a task she could finally claim to have accomplished satisfactorily.

And yet, the pricking of skin at the nape of Viola's neck made her wary. She and Robert had not parted on the best of terms and she worried how he would react to her now, knowing she'd married his father.

A quick rap at the door brought a nurse into Viola's office. "You're needed in the operating room. Florian is already there," she said in reference to one of the best physicians Viola employed at St. Agatha's Hospital. His full name was Jonathan Florian Lowell, but he chose to go by his middle name because he claimed it helped people differentiate between him and his older brother Henry. This had not changed since he'd inherited his uncle's title and become the Duke of Redding. He still insisted his colleagues call him Florian.

Viola blinked. Florian was supposed to be on his way to Paris with his wife, the Duke of Huntley's sister Juliette. They'd planned everything so they would be back again in time for Juliette's expected due date. So if Florian was still here, then...

She was on her feet in an instant and hurrying after the nurse. "What can you tell me, Emily?" she asked as they half walked, half ran through a series of corridors and down a long flight of stairs.

"A man, roughly thirty years of age by my estimation, has been shot.
Florian brought him in himself."

"Any idea who the man might be?"

"No. If Florian knows him he gave no indication."

Of course not, Viola thought. Why would he? Issuing orders and acting with haste would have been his top priority. They pushed through a pair of double doors and turned down another hallway, entering the first room on their right.

"Help me," Florian said as soon as he spotted Viola. His expression was tight and professional, but his eyes revealed a crack in his otherwise serious demeanor.

Viola rushed forward while Florian continued speaking. "I am going to give you some morphine for the pain," Florian told the patient concisely. "It should put you to sleep."
...

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