043 - A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby
A Duke: Has been named the guardian of his cousin’s son. To get to him he needs to chase down his cousin’s uncle and figure out what happened to the boy’s mother.
The Lady: Was locked in Bedlam by her husband’s uncle to keep her from her child. Now she’s a desperate mother with trust issues trying to find a way to leave England behind.
A Baby: Lionel Jordan is the catalyst that brings together his mother Patience Jordan and Busick Strathmore, Duke of Reppington. In sharing their love of Lionel these two must learn to trust in order to vanquish their foe in A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley. **As always, SPOILERS**
Pick up a copy of this week's book, A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley, here!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 08:30: Intro/Author Facts/History Facts/Tropes
08:30 - 32:36: Synopsis
32:36 - 35:13: Parlour
35:13 - 01:1:10: General Discussion
We also discussed the history of pap and pap boats on the podcast this week. If you'd like to learn more, take a look at our resources:
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby Synopsis:
Our story begins differently than any of our others - for we are seeing the scene through first-person, through the eyes of our heroine, Patience Jordan.
She is on a perilous yet essential mission - she has disguised herself as a white footman and has snuck back into her own home to breastfeed her son Lionel.
After the death of her husband, her husband’s uncle Markham had become a terrible tyrant. Already prejudiced against Patience due to the color of her skin, and blaming her for her husband’s suicide, he had locked her and her son in the nursery until she had become terrified and had panicked. When she had finally escaped the room, Markham had restrained her and sent her to Bedlam, but maintained guardianship of her son.
Unbeknownst to him, Patience had been released, and now she risked recapture to care for her infant boy.
Slowly and quietly she made her way up to the nursery for a feeding, because she knew that no one could better care for and feed an infant than his mother. And she sees right away that she’s correct - the boy has a rash and is stinky, and gobbles hungrily when she offers him her breast.
But while he isn’t in perfect shape, he isn’t in a dire way yet, and Patience knows that tonight isn’t the night for a jailbreak. She has to prepare more before she will be ready to rescue Lionel. Luckily, she has people to help her, and if she can trust them a little longer, she knows she’ll have her son back one day.
After his feeding, she hears voices in the hallway, and has to hide outside on the window ledge and scurry down the side of the building.
“Hand over hand, toehold after toehold, I lowered myself until one boot hit the ground and then the other. I drew my arms about me and made sure my heart was still inside my ribs. But it wasn’t. It was in a dingy crib, three stories up.”
But she’s made it out safely enough - and tonight, she can sleep knowing that her son has a full belly.
Except that she doesn’t quite get away unseen, for as she’s leaving the property, a carriage and cavalry come running through the gate. She stops herself once seen, knowing that she’s dressed as a footman, so perhaps her disguise will hold.
She is called to help a man out of the carriage - a Duke who is apparently at her old home to effectively “storm the castle,” for it turns out that he is actually the legal guardian of Lionel Jordan, and Markham is not.
Helping this man out of the carriage is a big job, as he requires a lot of help and isn’t quite steady on his feet. She struggles valiantly to help him into the house, as he uses her as a crutch until an actual crutch can be brought to him.
But this man who requires assistance and a crutch is not old nor overweight - instead he’s a prime specimen of manhood and obviously a soldier - so she assumes he’s been injured at some point. He is introduced as the Duke of Repington - and Patience is confused, for hadn’t that been her husband’s grandfather? But as we as readers know, Duke’s die and are eventually replaced with younger, handsomer, and eminently more single Dukes in these books!
Once they’re inside, things happen in a flurry. Repington’s men have assembled all the staff and are letting them go. He also lets Patience go (disguised as a footman whom she tells him is named “LaCroy”) as he cannot risk anyone loyal to Markham staying in staff here any longer. Though “he” is welcome to reapply in the morning. He also tells her that he is in want of a wet nurse for his new charge, in case she happens to know any she should refer them to him.
And there the seed is planted for our heroine to find her way back into her own house, but for now, she leaves to fight another day.
Once she has left for the evening, we turn to Busick’s POV, which is written in third person. The book will switch back and forth for the duration.
The Duke is pleased with the takeover. So far, it’s gone according to schedule, and Markham’s surrender is moments away. No one else quite understands why he would go to such lengths for a baby, but once he discovered his favorite cousin’s son had been left to him, he knew that he must care for him. They had had a falling out at one point in their lives - over a woman - and that had led to silence and for Colin Jordan to fall under Markham’s spell. When Colin had killed himself, Busick had been wretched at the news. He would not fail Colin’s son.
What he doesn’t understand is what kind of mother would leave her son? He knows nothing of his cousin’s wife, save for the fact that he cannot even get a wiff of where she’s gone. He searched for Markham and the babe for 6 weeks and eventually found them - all the while with not a whisper about what happened to his mother. And even more, what kind of a mother would abandon her child to Markham?
Patience, meanwhile, has returned to Lady Shrewsberry’s house with her accomplice for the evening, Jemina. Lady Shrewsberry runs a society to help widows that she calls the Widow’s Grace. She had rescued Jemina from Bedlam, and Jemina had refused to leave without Patience. And Lady Shrewsberry isn’t happy with Patience’s reckless behavior, quote
“I want to help you, but you continue to break the rules. Are your circumstances worse than any other widow here? Has your father’s wealth made you think you’re too good for our rules?” I was never “too good” or special. I was different and discouraged and alone except for Jemina. Tears welled, but I couldn’t swallow more grief. I was about to burst. “I am awful and terrible, but I’m a mother. That doesn’t make me better than anyone here, just more desperate.”
The countess tries to reason with Patience, explaining the dire circumstances of many of the other mother-widows, finishing with quote
“I have sensible rules for your protection, Mrs. Jordan. You jeopardize the safety of the group when you break them.” “Rules. I’m dying from rules.” I lowered my wet face into my gloves. The thin wool couldn’t mop up my sorrow. “Since stepping upon these shores, I followed rules, did as everyone said. I was a good wife. My mama would have been proud of the home I kept.” I wiped and wiped. Ashy powder caked on my gloves, my sleeves. “And you, a peer of this land, don’t you like how well I’ve conformed? I’ve even practiced and practiced until most of my Demeraran accent has fled. But you see my reward, ma’am? My son still gets taken away. Rules don’t help.”
Patience realizes that she needs the Widow’s Grace and Lady Shrewsberry’s help, but that doesn’t make her feel any less worried about Lionel and waiting. But she apologizes anyway. Quote
My repeated sorries garbled, and I wept upon the hem of the woman’s garment. “I don’t know how many times my Lionel’s been fed. His bottom is so red and pimpled from not being attended. I left him tonight to lay on soiled sheets. Soiled sheets! I don’t want to disappoint you, Countess. But how can I be away to let him suffer?” Lady Shrewsberry bent to me, and I tensed for a slap, but the woman put her arms about me and drew me into the tightest embrace. Forgiveness. Not earned. Not negotiated. Not even spoken, but felt through and through. That’s what Lady Shrewsbury’s arms offered. I clung to her, baptized in her rosewater and kindness.
And so, the next day, the plan can begin. Lady Shrewsbury had had a plan all along - she’d had a spy in the house as a nanny for the baby who was reporting to her, and she’d been waiting for Repington to take over. Now that she had, as a friend of his, she arrives at the manor house the next day with Patience and Jemina in tow to offer them as a wet nurse and maid.
When they do arrive, there are soldiers pitching tents in the hall who refuse to admit them because they’re not on Repington’s schedule. However, hearing the baby cry, Patience is reckless and runs to him, snatching him from the Duke’s arms and latching him on to her breast before anyone can even protest. And while the duke is not a fan of her antics, and does not know if he trusts her, he hires her on a trial basis as he can see that Lionel much prefers breastmilk to the pap milk he’d been trying to feed him. She introduces herself as LaCroy - the ambiguously either-sister-or-wife of the other LaCroy. Lady Shrewsbury tells him discreetly that Mrs. LaCroy had just lost a baby of her own, which is why she is available to wet nurse.
Patience and Jemina are relieved to be hired, not just to care for Lionel, but because a big part of Patience’s plan requires her to be in the house so that she can retrieve her trust documents before she books passage back to Demerara. She also wants time to look around a bit too, because she knows that Markham wouldn’t have stayed in this house so long if he hadn’t been looking for something as well. So now they have two reconnaissance missions to accomplish while they prove to the duke their worth and do their best to be unsuspecting.
The Duke, meanwhile, also suspects Markham of something dastardly to do with the manor, and also is interested in finding out what happened to Lionel’s mother as well.
So the group settles in to life at the manor. The Duke is very regimented and expects Lionel to be so as well. He’s created a schedule to help his new ward become exceptional - mapping out each quarter-hour of his day to include things like “Crawling practice.” it’s quite clear that the Duke doesn’t understand 3 month old babies, but Patience begrudgingly accepts to follow the schedule.
The ladies transform the manor back to a house rather than a barracks by finding all the sheets in trunks in the basement and getting rooms set up for the men. Over time, they all come to love Patience’s coconut bread too.
However, with such a schedule and so many men in the house, this doesn’t afford the ladies many opportunities to search or retrieve Patience’s documents. And in fact, they don’t try it for a while while they settle in.
In taking care of their ward, Busick and Patience grow closer together. Busick really does care for Lionel, even taking turns at nights to soothe him. Though he knows nothing of babies, it’s clear he does know a thing or two about nurturing and love. And of course, seeing the duke treat her son with such tenderness does things to Patience’s heart, and sharing the care of an infant and seeing him grow in moments together also helps them grow closer.
We also learn that the Duke is an amputee. He has not publicized the news and has taken a very long time in private to recover. But the men he has brought with him to guard Lionel and train on the grounds are also all wounded recoverees who are looking for a purpose. He dreams of returning to the battlefield one day - he was a top tactician and knows he can still be used.
However, while our hero and heroine learn more about each other and share some tender moments over Lionel - there is not much trust between them. Repington believes that LaCroy could be a spy for Markham, because she had too much knowledge of the house and for a few other reasons. He reasons though thtat for now, keeping her close is better than letting her go, for perhaps he can figure out why Markham wanted to be in the manor at all. And Patience doesn’t quite trust Repington either - while he seems to genuinely care for Lionel, she learns he believes that Lionel’s mother abandoned him and he thinks quite ill of her for doing so. How can she convince him that she’s his mother and was falsely imprisoned for insanity? And does she trust him enough to tell him who she is? The answer to the second query is no.
As time passes, Patience and Jemina grow weary at the lack of progress. They wonder if perhaps doing some snooping in London would help their cause and rally to try to get the duke to agree to them making a trip there.
The duke is hesitant to let Patience go to London alone. The reason he tells himself is because he doesn’t trust her and worries that she’ll be reporting to Markham, but deep down, he is becoming attached to her and doesn’t want her out of his sight both for her own protection and for his own selfishness.
However, plans for a London trip are postponed when the chandelier in the great hall falls dramatically. Patience ends up shoving Repington out of the way to save him, earning her a nasty lump on her head and a few hours rest until consciousness. When she wakes up, she sees Repington trying to feed Lionel with a pap boat, and sees her opening.
Patience and Jemina make use of this time by sneaking downstairs and into the study - the one room they have yet to be able to search because Repington is almost always in there. They know Patience’s documents are in there and there’s been a mirror that’s been jostled out of place a couple of times, so they decide to search behind it. And finally, they find something helpful.
It’s a vault, and inside are a few things of note -
Firstly, all of Patience’s letters to her family and her father are there. Her heart sinks as she realizes that Colin had never sent them.
But secondly, there is a journal, and within it is the final letter she had sent to Colin the letter that she felt had been the cause of his suicide. She pockets the letter and turns her attention to the journal. It’s an accounting record of some sort, with all debts cancelled by a man named “A. Sullivan,” so now they have a new lead to investigate! Plus, the ladies are sure that this book is what Markham has been looking for.
However, the ladies are interrupted by Repington who has caught them in the act! But quote
I wasn’t sure if he was going to toss me and Jemina out. But I didn’t care. I’d been through too much to be scared. I looked into those seeing eyes of Repington’s and wasn’t afraid. Too much was at stake.
Well folks, this scene doesn’t go how any of us thought it would. First there is some sly sidestepping on Patience’s part, which does seem to mostly dupe the duke. Then he asks Jemina to leave and some more serious flirting starts to happen. Then the duke “realizes” that Patience is in love with him, which is why there is so much tension between them. She of course laughs this off and decides that it’s time she quits his employment quote
“Let me help you, my dear Duke of Repington. I’m not in love with you, and I quit my employment. I end this farce now.”
“No. Don’t.” He reached for her hand but she’d jumped from the desk. “I want you to stay. We can forget this, just like we forgot how we met and go on, like normal.” (At some point, the duke did figure out that LaCroy had been the footman). She tottered a little and turned back to him. “Sorry, I must be swooning again. This love. It’s too much. Yes, I must quit it...I must quit, for there is something else I must do.”
And then she kisses him! Quote “This moved too fast, felt too good, changed too many of my notions of dreams and decorum and desks.”
But she does stop the kiss from progressing too far, because she really has something she must do. In front of him, she opens a secret compartment in the desk and retrieves her trust documents, and finally admits who she truly is.
She also goes farther to admit that Markham had had her committed to Bedlam. She is taking a risk but hoping that the duke has had enough time to understand that she loves her son and is a good and devoted mother.
To summarize, Repington is not entirely convinced, and also a little angry that she betrayed his trust by lying about her identity to him, twice…
However, the two continue to talk and speak more openly about Markham and the ladies thoughts as to why he’s trying to get Lionel and get into the manor. While Repington isn’t convinced, he is thoughtful about it
The next day, Patience tells the duke she’s off to London. She had to hide herself before, but now she’s not his employee and so she wants to be honest with him about her whereabouts. She frets about leaving Lionel, but knows he’s safe with him, so she sets out on her adventure.
Of course, she has some parts of her plan for London that she hasn’t divulged to Repington. Patience plans to check out two possible A. Sullivans that Lady Shrewsbury’s lawyer-nephew had found - and to do so in her male LaCroy disguise.
What ensues is a bit of a crazy caper where Patience goes into a couple of Gentleman’s clubs and does finally find A. Sullivan who is a loan shark and realizes that Markham was trying to extort him to get out of debts he owed. But then Repington arrives with Lionel in a basket (for he had had patience followed as he wasn’t fully trusting of her) and proceeds to terrify her while he plays a few rounds of Hazard. Eventually, the two leave and share their info after a bit of a fight, and head home as Repington’s back gets worse and worse from the fall from the chandelier, the carriage ride, and a slip and fall that happened on a stop on their way home. There’s also a kiss in the carriage, because...carriages!
But after that slip...once they’re back in the carriage, the duke actually asks Patience to marry him quote
“In fact, wear something fetching. I’ll recover faster, chasing you in my thoughts.” “A nice dress will help you heal?” “Yes, that and you agreeing to marry me.” “Now I know you fell and hit your head.”
And while Patience doesn’t believe it’s a true proposal, the duke has realized that Patience is actually one of the few people he actually trusts. Yes, they’ve been through a lot, but she’s proven herself over and over to him, and he realizes that his attraction is big, they are basically raising a child together, and she’s someone he wants by his side.
When they arrive home Repington’s back is out, so he becomes bedridden for a while until it heals.
This offers more opportunities for the two to grow closer and have some bedroom scenes with talking and touching and flirting. However, Patience is more wary about her feelings for the duke, quote
“I was afraid. Wasn’t I pretending that we hadn’t crossed a line in the carriage? That he hadn’t hurt himself chasing after me? But mostly, that I hadn’t turned down his proposal? What would make me commit to a marriage where I’d have to walk on eggshells? Lionel and I were meant for Demeraran seashells.”
But slowly, Patience learns to trust her heart and the duke more. She lets him know about A. Sullivan and the journal. He spends time while in bed reviewing it, and making a plan while the two grow closer and share a few more kisses.
Eventually, after a soothing in the middle of the night following a nightmare, the duke brings up his proposal again and tells her that he really meant it. They discuss it a bit more with Patience finally saying quote
“I don’t look like what they want for you. The duke’s dark duchess, his difficult wife, his different wife. I’d be safer in Demerara, all of us would be.”
So he is asking her to think of being his wife, and she is asking him to think of moving together to Demerara.
But Repington had done some digging into Patience’s family...and has found out some terrible news. Her father has passed a few years back and his plantation was sold. And he hasn’t been able to track down her sisters. Patience is distraught knowing that she lost contact with them all because colin didn’t send her letters and because there is increased unrest there, and her father’s brothers believed in enslavement...so she worries her sisters could be enslaved.
So there isn’t really a place for Patience to return to Demerara. And that’s why Repington wants her to marry him - because if something happened to him, as Lionel’s guardian, if she were his wife she’d get charge of his ward. Not sure why this wasn’t the case with her husband, but perhaps duchesses have more power, or he could arrange it as such.
And so finally, Patience agrees, and they quickly marry at his bedside as he still can’t get up with his back.
But there’s still a villain to vanquish!
They devise a plan once Busick is almost back on his feet to make it look like the house isn’t occupied and lure Markham to the house and trap him in his lies. Firstly, Repington has realized that the diary is actually in both Markham and Colin’s hands. Their writing is very similar, but some of it is Markhams and he realizes that Markham had been manipulating Colin.
And like a good villain, once ensnared in the trap, Markham admits to more wrongdoing. He admits that actually rather than killing himself when he received Patience’s letter, he had been set to ruin the entire plot he’d had going with Markham….so then we learn that Markham actually murdered Colin and that he was in fact, extorting Sullivan and the book proved that to the tune of over 30 thousand pounds, and that he’d drugged Patience to make her seem crazy to have her committed to Bedlam.
So after these revelations, there’s a brief scuffle which ends when Repington stabs Markham with his sword and he topples over the bannister! And since there were plenty of soldier witnessesses, and it was a duke who did it, this is all fairly easily explained away when the magistrate arrives.
But finally, our characters are safe from villainy and happy to have some closure. This causes them to confess I love you’s and have encounter number one, which is not explicit but sweet, quote
“This mattress made for two held our love. We were one, the love between us burning brighter, growing slowly from embers to roaring flames. I was consumed. I was the woman Busick loved. I loved him, for he gave my life more beauty. This sharing of our spirits was pure, as pure as gold.”
Then there’s an epilogue! Our couple is living happily at Hamlin Hall and the chandelier has been restored. Busick hadn’t had to return to the front, but instead helped rehabilitate injured soldiers sent to him by Wellington and others sent to learn tactics from him. And they are very much in love with each other, and their son Lionel.