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Love and Other Disasters
Author: Heather Boyd


Chapter One



“Jasper,” the Duke of Ravenswood said slowly. “London will have to wait till next season. I need you to stay here for the summer.”

“What? Why?” Jasper Sweet, third son of the late Duke of Ravenswood, brother to the current duke, couldn’t be more surprised by this unexpected order.

“Someone must keep an eye on things. Unfortunately, Nash and I are committed to this house party I promised to attend,” Ravenswood murmured, looking grim, and then shrugged. “And Stratford has already promised himself to visit Aston. I’ll need you here for the entire summer.”

“Oh,” Jasper said, utterly surprised at the duke’s sudden request.

For years, Jasper had happily absented himself from the estate and reveled in the delights of London, seeking pleasure and fulfillment, often in the worst places. Mostly to irritate his late and hardly missed sire. London had become home. A place where men like him gathered to be at their ease. Jasper wasn’t truly needed at the Ravenswood estate. At least, he never had been until tonight’s pronouncement.

Jasper had once had lots of plans for this summer. Plans for the money he should have inherited but had gifted to his brother instead. He’d made the necessary adjustments without rancor or regret. Yet now it seemed his adjustments were still not enough. He sighed heavily, imagining an endless summer of boredom ahead of him.

Yes, the delights of London could and seemingly must wait. Ravenswood was never left unattended to by family.

Yet Jasper had only just returned to the estate after emptying Freemont Villa of his possessions ahead of the sale of the place. He’d planned not to unpack and head toward London immediately.

“What am I to do with myself here?”

“I have drawn up a list of the most pressing matters that require oversight,” Nash said, coming forward to hand it to him. “There are other matters that I shall not burden you with. They can wait until our return. I’m sure you’ll find them all tedious.”

Nash had so little idea of what Jasper found tedious. His lack of faith was as apparent as their father’s had always been. Father had excluded Jasper from serious discussions or sent him away whenever there was a problem on the estate to be solved. Yet, he was just as capable as his brothers.

Jasper had always been told that as a third son, he would never be important. For a time in his younger life, he’d lived up to that prediction. However, he’d too much intelligence to not make some effort to improve himself. He’d spent years visiting friends’ estates, drinking away his days and nights. However, that did not mean he’d not had his eye on the future, too. He had studied the activities of other families and every farm under their management, comparing the differences and successes.

However, to his family, until now, he’d pretended indifference to all that. But he was probably as well versed in land management as the duke and Nash. A fact of which his late father could never believe him capable, hence his disinterest in providing his third son much beyond a basic education. Jasper had to direct his own learning from the age of twelve, when his older brothers had both departed for Cambridge and Father had declared tutors unnecessary.

With Father gone now, was there any point pretending he didn’t know a fallow field from one bursting with a harvest-ready crop? He pulled a face.

Nash immediately turned to the duke. “Perhaps I should stay.”

“No,” the duke said. “I need you there by my side, distracting everyone from what I’m really there for.”

The new Duke of Ravenswood was on his way to claim a bride and not just any woman would do. Lady Stephanie Kent had already been chosen for the honor. She was the right age, had impeccable connections, and most importantly of all…she had pots of money to bring to the union. That, however, did not make her a particularly nice woman. Jasper was extremely glad the pair had not asked him to accompany them.

Jasper exhaled as Nash finally gave in to the duke’s decision. “Very well. I will remain behind.”

“Good.” Ravenswood beamed at him. “Think of it as some well-deserved relaxation in readiness for the coming season. Your return to Town, with money in your pockets then, is sure to be vastly more satisfying than pinching every penny and trying to hide that fact.”

Jasper nodded in agreement. He had no money because he’d loaned it all to save Ravenswood, just as they all had. “It better be.”

Jasper had had plans for that money, and the inheritance he’d long hoped for, too. Father had bled the estate dry. The newly adopted Sweet brother family motto was sink or swim together, but it seemed they were going their separate ways for the summer.

The duke winced. “I’d gladly remain behind with you if I could.”

Nash glared. “That is because you’re still fighting your fate. Your intended bride knows you’re coming.”

“She’s not my intended yet,” the duke said quietly.

“She must be by the end of the visit,” Nash reminded the duke somewhat unkindly.

Ravenswood looked away; his expression troubled. Clearly, Ravenswood had hoped there might yet be an alternative to marrying Lady Stephanie Kent. Jasper loathed the woman, but she had the money to save Ravenswood from crippling debt and the humiliation of society finding out about their precarious state. Father had likely planned all along for his recalcitrant son to come to heel and marry the woman he’d always favored. Ravenswood had not done their father’s bidding in the beginning, to marry the woman he’d chosen as the next duchess, but it was inevitable that in death, he’d get his wish.

The new duke was not reconciled to it yet, though.

Ravenswood straightened his shoulders. “We should rejoin the others.”

“Might as well,” Jasper agreed. Unfortunately, the others he referred to amounted to two relations and a dull governess who kept appearing at the dining table. Poor company indeed, for a discerning bachelor like himself.

They left the smoking room together, strolling the shadowed halls of Ravenswood with unhurried intention. Where once they might have moved as silently as possible, now they strode boldly about Ravenswood’s carved wood-paneled halls. Masters of this domain at last.

Jasper took great delight in owning, in a fashion, a tiny portion of the estate his brother had inherited. He’d given over all of his fortune to his eldest brother by way of a loan in order to save the estate. It was all nicely legal and one day that money would return to him with interest paid. In the meantime, he’d been told to make himself at home, and he certainly intended to do just that.

The duke led the way into the drawing room, throwing open the doors and catching the occupants by surprise. The ladies—Lady Win Sweet and Mrs. Amity Crawford—were not alone anymore. Stratford Sweet, their younger and newly married brother, was draped over his wife’s shoulder, though Win did not seem to mind him doing so. Roman Crawford, husband of their cousin Amity, was acting with slightly more dignity. He was merely holding his wife’s hand.

“I thought you’d gone out,” Jasper said to them.

“We’re just returned,” Crawford promised. “Fetched that half barrel of rum Uncle Henry had hidden under his old bed quicker than expected. I shall offer him a replacement when we see him. He left a few other things behind of value that I cannot in good conscience keep about and plan to return.”

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