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Authors: Brenda Novak

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Of Noble Birth




Of Noble Birth




Brenda Novak




Electronic Edition

Copyright © 1999, 2011 by Brenda Novak

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Please Note


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales
is entirely coincidental.


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Cover by Kim Killion


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To my husband, Ted.

After fifteen years and five wonderful

I still see fireworks.






Heartfelt thanks go to my husband’s aunt,
Ruth Carlson, and our good family friends, Bonnie Severietti and
Russell Bilinski, for giving me the kind of support I needed at a
critical time while writing this book. Appreciation and love go to
my mother, LaVar Moffitt, and my husband’s mother, Sugar Novak, for
believing in me through the times I scarcely dared to believe in
myself. And last but not least, I owe my sincere gratitude to my
agent, Pamela Ahearn, who helped make my dream a reality.



Bridlewood Manor

Clifton, England

December 2, 1829


“The babe’s deformed,” the midwife gasped,
nearly dropping the slippery newborn.

“What do ye mean?” Martha Haverson rounded
the bed in alarm.

“Look at ‘is arm. ‘Tis no more than a

The housekeeper stared at Mrs. Telford’s
moon-shaped face before letting her gaze slide down to the
squalling child. Just as the midwife had said, one tiny limb
flapped about, ending just above the elbow, as though a surgeon had
amputated the rest.

“What?” The mother of the newborn craned her
neck to see the child. A moment earlier she had seemed oblivious as
she moved listlessly on the bed, all color gone from her fine-boned
face, her lips a pallid gray. Now her eyes sprang open with a look
of panic in their violet depths. “Deformed did you say? My son’s

Martha watched anxiously as Her Grace’s eyes
sought the child in the midwife’s hands. After five years and as
many miscarriages, the duchess had finally produced an heir. And
what a long, difficult birth it had been! Martha thought her
mistress deserved a moment of triumph before further worries beset
her, but Her Grace spotted the baby’s club-like limb before the
midwife could shield it from her view.

“No! No!” she moaned. “My husband hates me
already. What will he do?”

Martha took the baby into her strong arms,
and she and Mrs. Telford exchanged a meaningful look, sharing the
lady’s trepidation.

“‘E won’t do anythin’ but be glad the wee
babe’s a sweet, healthy boy,” Martha assured her, reaching down to
squeeze her mistress’s hand.

The baby let out a piercing howl that seemed
to contradict her words.

“You don’t know him,” the duchess whispered.
The revelation of the baby’s flaw seemed to sap what little
strength she had left. She let her head fall back and her eyes
close as a tear rolled back into her thick, dark hair.

“Don’t fret so, Yer Grace,” Mrs. Telford
advised. “Yer in a bad way an’ need yer rest. ‘Tis not good for ye
to stew so.”

But Martha knew that the duchess no longer
heard, much less understood, either of them. She remained somewhere
inside herself. Her lips moved without making a sound, as if in
prayerful supplication, and she tossed restlessly on her

“Don’t just stand there. Help me.” The
midwife scowled at Martha, making her realize she’d been standing
motionless, staring at the duchess. Her mistress did not look well.
The housekeeper doubted she would last the night.

“Will she live?” Martha whispered.

Mrs. Telford sent an appraising glance at
the duchess’s face, the harsh lines around her own mouth deepening
into grooves. “I don’t know. But ‘tis not doin’ ‘er a bit of good,
ye standin’ there like that. ‘Tis time to clean the whelp up.”

Sternly reminded of her duty, Martha pulled
away from her mistress’s bedside and headed off to bathe the new
arrival. His small weight felt good in her arms. She had been
unable to bear children herself, at least any that lived beyond
their first month, and had been looking forward to having a little
one in the house. But when she reached the small antechamber where
a bowl of tepid water waited and began to sponge the child off, she
couldn’t escape a heavy sense of loss. Poor Duchess. Heaven only
knew that her life had not been easy since her marriage to the Duke
of Grey stone.

“Mrs. ‘Averson?” It was the tweenie, the
least among the least of the maids.

“Yes, Jane?” The housekeeper paused from her
ministrations to look up at the gangly young girl. Only twelve,
Jane was all arms and legs and as shy as she was young.

“The master would like to see ‘is son,” she
said, slightly out of breath.

Martha could tell by the uncertainty in
Jane’s eyes that all was not well.
duke already knows,
she thought, wishing Mrs. Telford had
kept her voice down. The walls had ears. Evidently someone had
already carried tale of the baby’s arm to the master.

“An’ where is ‘e?” she asked. “I’ve barely
begun to bathe the babe. An’ ‘e should be allowed to suckle

“I’m beggin’ yer pardon, Mrs. ‘Averson,” the
jittery girl interrupted. “‘Is Grace demands we bring the child
right away, lest we both lose our positions. ‘E’s waitin’ in the
library. Mrs. Telford is on ‘er way there.”

Martha bit her lip and glanced over her
shoulder in the direction of the duchess’s room. “Very well. Fetch
a blanket. It won’t do for the babe to catch a chill, poor little

* * *

Albert Kimbolten, Duke of Greystone, was
pacing across an exquisite gold and blue Turkish rug when Martha
entered. Massive mahogany bookshelves crowded with leather-bound
volumes lined three walls. They were dusted once a week, though
rarely used. A fire crackled comfortably in the fireplace. The
midwife sat in a Chippendale chair near a long, rectangular table,
the fingertips of both hands pressed together, her lips pursed.

At Martha’s entry, the duke turned to face
her. His brows knitted together, a solid black line atop flashing
blue eyes, making Martha shiver as though a cold draft suddenly
swept the room. The heir had been born, and she was to present him
to his father. But this was nothing like the moment she had long
anticipated. There were no smiles of delight, no proud glances—only
anger, seething from the man before her with all the force of a
tidal wave.

Martha drew a shaky breath. “Yer son, Yer

“Lay it on the table.” Greystone did not
bother to watch as Martha reluctantly deposited her charge as
directed. Instead, he stared into the black night beyond the window
that mirrored his savage-looking visage. “That will be all.”

Martha backed away. Only the fear of making
matters worse forced her to take one step and then another until
she passed into the hall. After closing the door she paused on the
other side to listen to the words floating to her ears from within
the library.

“What are you telling me?”

Martha could hear the tremor in the duke’s
voice even through the door.

“As I said before, yer son is deformed,” the
midwife explained. “‘Tis not uncommon. Such things happen now an’
again. From the look of it, the babe will never ‘ave the use of ‘is
right arm.”

“And his mind? Is it similarly...

An interminable pause.

“I cannot tell, Yer Grace. ‘Twas such a
difficult birth...”

“I see. Will he ride? Hunt?”

“‘E may do neither. I ‘ave no way of knowin’
‘ow the child will develop. In all ‘onesty, Yer Grace, I am far
more concerned with yer lady—”

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