Home > First Comes Scandal (Rokesbys #4)

First Comes Scandal (Rokesbys #4)
Author: Julia Quinn

Chapter 1



Kent, England 1791

At least no one had died.

Beyond that, Nicholas Rokesby had not a clue why he’d been summoned home to Kent.

If someone had died, he reasoned, his father would have said as much in the message he’d dispatched to Nicholas in Edinburgh. He’d sent it by swift rider, so it was obviously a matter of some urgency, but if someone had died, surely Lord Manston would have written more than:

Please return to Crake with all possible haste. It is critical that your mother and I speak with you as soon as possible.

My regrets for interrupting your studies.

Your loving father,



Nicholas glanced up at the familiar canopy of trees as he embarked upon the final leg of his journey. He’d already traveled from Edinburgh to London by mail coach, London to Maidstone by stagecoach, and was now completing the last fifteen miles on horseback.

The rain had finally stopped—thank the good Lord—but his mount was kicking up a bloody ridiculous amount of mud, and between that and the pollen, Nicholas had a feeling that by the time he made it home to Crake he’d look like he had impetigo.

Crake. Less than a mile to go.

Hot bath, warm meal, and then he’d find out just what had his father in such a lather.

It had better be something serious. Not death, of course, but if he found out that he’d been called across two countries merely because one of his brothers was getting an award from the king, he was going to take someone’s bloody arm off.

He knew how to do it too. All of the medical students were required to observe surgeries when the opportunity arose. It was not Nicholas’s favorite part of the program; he much preferred the more cerebral aspects of medicine—assessing symptoms and solving the ever-changing puzzles that led to a diagnosis. But in this day and age it was important to know how to amputate a limb. It was often the doctor’s only defense against infection. What could not be cured could be stopped in its tracks.

Better to cure, though.

No, better to prevent. Stop problems before they started.

Nicholas gave a mental eye-roll as Crake finally came into view. He had a feeling that whatever problem had brought him down to Kent on this rainy spring day, it was well underway.

Also, his brothers weren’t getting awards from the king. They were stand-up gentlemen, all three of them, but really.

He slowed his horse to a trot as they rounded the final corner of the drive. The trees slipped from his peripheral vision and suddenly there was his home, stately and solid, all two-and-a-half centuries of it rising from the earth like a limestone goddess. Nicholas had always marveled at how such a large and ornate building could be so well hidden until the final moment of approach. He supposed there was something poetic about it, that he could continually be surprised by something that had always been a part of him.

His mother’s roses were in full bloom, red and pink and riotous, just the way they all liked them, and as Nicholas drew close, he felt their scent in the damp air, drifting lightly over his clothes and under his nose. He’d never been particularly fond of the smell of roses—he preferred his flowers less fussy—but when everything came together in moments like this: the roses and the mist, the damp of the earth …

It was home.

It didn’t seem to matter that he hadn’t meant to be here, at least not for another few weeks. This was home, and he was home, and it set him at peace, even as his brain pricked with unease, wondering what manner of disaster had called him back.

The staff must have been alerted to his impending arrival because a groom was waiting in the drive to see to his mount, and Wheelock had the door open before Nicholas even took the front step.

“Mr. Nicholas,” the butler said. “Your father would like to see you immediately.”

Nicholas motioned to his mud-spattered attire. “Surely he will want me to—”

“He did say immediately, sir.” Wheelock’s chin dipped, almost imperceptibly, just enough to indicate the back of the house. “He is with your mother in the gold-and-green.”

Nicholas felt his brow draw down in confusion. His family was less formal than most, especially when they were here in the country, but a great-coat streaked with mud was never acceptable attire in his mother’s favorite drawing room.

“I’ll take that,” Wheelock said, reaching for the coat. The man always had been a freakishly good mind reader.

Nicholas glanced down at his boots.

“I would just go,” Wheelock said.

Good God, maybe someone had died.

“Do you know what this is about?” he asked, turning so that Wheelock could take the coat from his shoulders.

“It is not for me to say.”

Nicholas glanced back over his shoulder. “So you do know.”

“Sir.” Wheelock looked pained.

“I would have been down in less than a month.”

Wheelock avoided Nicholas’s gaze as he made a show of brushing dried bits of mud off the coat. “I believe time is of some essence.”

Nicholas rubbed his eye. Good God, he was tired. “Do you enjoy being cryptic?”

“Not particularly.”

Which was an utter lie. Wheelock loved the special brand of understatement that was available only to butlers who were very secure in their positions. But Nicholas could tell that Wheelock was not finding anything to love in this particular conversation.

“I’m sorry,” Nicholas said. “It is badly done of me to put you in such a position. No need to announce me. I’ll take my muddy boots and find my parents.”

“Gold-and-green,” Wheelock reminded him.

“Of course,” Nicholas murmured. As if he’d forget.

The entrance to the gold and green drawing room was at the end of the hall, and Nicholas had spent enough time making that short journey to know that his parents had to have heard him enter the house. The floors were marble, always polished to perfection. Stockinged feet slid like skates on ice and shoes clicked with enough volume to percuss a small orchestra.

But when he reached the open doorway and peered inside, neither of his parents were so much as glancing in his direction. His father was by the window, staring out over the verdant lawn, and his mother was curled in her favorite spot on the mint green sofa.

She’d always said the left side was more comfortable than the right. All five of her children had tested this hypothesis, scooting from one side to the other, and no one had managed to reach the same conclusion. To be fair, no one had reached any verifiable conclusion. Mary had declared that both sides felt the same, Edward pointed out that the only way to be truly comfortable was to put one’s feet up, which was not generally permitted, and Andrew had hopped back and forth so many times he’d busted the seam on one of the cushions. George had declared the entire exercise ridiculous, but not before making his own perfunctory test, and as for Nicholas …

He had been but five during this family experiment. But he’d sat himself down in every spot before rising back to his feet and declaring, “Well, we can’t prove her wrong.”

That seemed to cover a lot of life, he’d come to realize.

Proving something right wasn’t the same as proving the opposite wrong.

And if the left side of the sofa made his mother happy, who was he to say otherwise?

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