Freddie sniffed the dregs. “Alcohol,” he confirmed. “The morphine is dissolved in it.”

“Just what I need,” Hugh muttered. “More alcohol.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Hugh just shook his head.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” Freddie said in a tone that forced Hugh to notice that he had not sat back down after pouring the laudanum. “I’ll ask Corville to tell Father. I’d rather not, you know, if I don’t have to . . .”

“Of course,” Hugh said. The world was a better place when Freddie avoided their father. The world was a better place when Hugh avoided him as well, but someone had to interact with the old bastard on occasion, and they both knew it had to be he. That Freddie had come here, to their old home in St. James’s, was a testament of his love for Hugh.

“I will see you tomorrow,” Freddie said, pausing at the door.

“You don’t have to,” Hugh told him.

Freddie swallowed, and he looked away. “Perhaps the next day, then.”

Or the next. Hugh wouldn’t blame him if he never came back.

Freddie must have instructed the butler to wait before notifying their father of the change in Hugh’s condition, because nearly a full day went by before Lord Ramsgate blustered into the room.

“You’re awake,” he barked.

It was remarkable how much that sounded like an accusation.

“You bloody stupid idiot,” Ramsgate hissed. “Nearly getting yourself killed. And for what? For what?”

“I’m delighted to see you, too, Father,” Hugh replied. He was sitting up now, his splinted leg thrust forward like a log. He was quite certain he sounded better than he felt, but with the Marquess of Ramsgate, one must never show weakness.

He’d learned that early on.

His father gave him a disgusted look but otherwise ignored the sarcasm. “You could have died.”

“So I understand.”

“Do you think this is funny?” the marquess snapped.

“As a matter of fact,” Hugh replied, “I do not.”

“You know what would have happened if you died.”

Hugh smiled blandly. “I’ve pondered it, to be sure, but does anyone really know what happens after we die?”

God, but it was enjoyable to watch his father’s face bulge and turn red. Just so long as he didn’t start to spit.

“Do you take nothing seriously?” the marquess demanded.

“I take many things seriously, but not this.”

Lord Ramsgate sucked in his breath, his entire body shaking with rage. “We both know your brother will never marry.”

“Oh, is that what this is all about?” Hugh did his best imitation of surprise.

“I will not have Ramsgate pass from this family!”

Hugh followed this outburst with a perfectly timed pause, then said, “Oh come now, Cousin Robert isn’t so bad. They even let him back into Oxford. Well, the first time.”

“Is that what this is?” the marquess spat. “You’re trying to kill yourself just to vex me?”

“I would imagine I could vex you with significantly less effort than that. And with a far more pleasant outcome for myself.”

“If you want to be rid of me, you know what you have to do,” Lord Ramsgate said.

“Kill you?”

“You damned—”

“If I’d known it would be so easy, I really would have—”

“Just marry some fool girl and give me an heir!” his father roared.

“All things being equal,” Hugh said with devastating calm, “I’d rather she not be a fool.”

His father shook with fury, and a full minute passed before he was able to speak. “I need to know that Ramsgate will remain in the family.”

“I never said I wouldn’t marry,” Hugh said, although why he felt the need to say even this much he had no idea. “But I’m not going to do so on your schedule. Besides, I’m not your heir.”


“Might still marry,” Hugh cut in, each syllable hard and clipped.

But his father just snorted and headed for the door.

“Oh, Father,” Hugh called out before he could leave. “Will you send word to Lord Winstead’s family that he may safely return to Britain?”

“Of course not. He can rot in hell for all I care. Or France.” The marquess gave a grim chuckle. “It’s much the same place, in my opinion.”

“There is no reason why he should not be allowed to return,” Hugh said with more patience than he would have thought himself capable. “As we have both noted, he did not kill me.”

“He shot you.”

“I shot him first.”

“In the shoulder.”

Hugh clenched his teeth. Arguing with his father had always been exhausting, and he was far overdue for his laudanum. “It was my fault,” he bit out.

“I don’t care,” the marquess said. “He left on his own two feet. You’re a cripple who may not even be able to sire children now.”

Hugh felt his eyes grow wide with alarm. He had been shot in the leg. The leg.

“Didn’t think of that, did you?” his father taunted. “That bullet hit an artery. It’s a miracle you didn’t bleed to death. The doctor thinks your leg got enough blood to survive, but God only knows about the rest of you.” He yanked the door open and tossed his last statement over his shoulder. “Winstead has ruined my life. I can bloody well ruin his.”