IF THE DUKE DEMANDS
This scene was the original prologue to IF THE DUKE DEMANDS. I wanted to show the exact moment when the weight of the dukedom falls onto Sebastian's shoulders, as well as the deep grief experienced by the family over Richard Carlisle's death. But after writing the rest of the novel, I realized that moment actually came much earlier and added the prologue now included in the novel. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Seb's heart. (Read it with a box of Kleenex.)
Parish Church of St. James
Islingham Village, Lincolnshire
Sebastian Carlisle sat in the front pew and stared blankly ahead. All of him was numb, and each slow beat of his heart in his chest startled him. Still beating, even now...How could that be? Didn’t the damned thing know that the world had ended?
Standing at the front of the church next to the coffin, the vicar slowly read the funeral service, but Sebastian didn’t hear a word of it. The sobs being cried around him were too loud, too painful for a single word of heavenly comfort to reach him. The smoke of the tallow candles bit at his nose, helped not at all by the blanket of flowers that covered the coffin, the vases upon vases of more flowers filling up the altar and the side aisles of the tiny nave. So many flowers. So many mourners...the entire village had turned out for the service, and many more people from the countryside beyond. Many of them Sebastian had never met before, but they’d all come to pay their respects to his father’s memory and ease his family’s grief however they could.
Grief? He didn’t feel grief. What he felt was so much worse. His body was numb, had been for the past sennight since his father died, and he’d barely remembered how to put one foot in front of the other when he escorted his mother into the church. The only sensation was the burning stinging in his eyes from tears that he couldn’t let fall. Not here in public. Not when he had to be strong for his mother and his siblings, for the entire village. Later...later he would mourn in private, rage against God and heaven for being so damned selfish as to take Richard Carlisle away from the people who loved him, curse at himself for being in the arms of an actress instead of at home where he should have been when his father took his last breath, and somehow find a way to feel anything again except the overwhelming guilt of how badly he’d let his father down.
In the din of sobs and the vicar’s droning prayers, he heard his father’s voice reaching back to him through the past four years...
You are my heir, Sebastian, the one who carries on the legacy after me.
With each word that swirled around him and reminded him of all the expectations that his father had of him, the weight he’d carried on his shoulders all his life grew heavier. With each jarring beat of his heart, each jerky breath he dragged into his lungs...heavier and heavier with the burden he was born to carry.
You must always consider the family in every decision you make. One day your mother, your sister, and even the boys will depend upon you for their care, their way of life, their happiness...
God help him, that day had arrived.
You and your brothers were wilder when you were younger, and I let you. I wanted you to have the freedom to enjoy life and experience all that you could, to sow wild oats before manhood settled fully on you. But now it is time to be a man and set the example for your brothers and sister.
He slowly turned his head to look to his right, at his brothers Robert and Quinton sitting unusually still, unnaturally silent, both of them staring straight ahead. To their right, their sister Josephine held her young daughter in her arms and wept softly, with her husband showing his own pain of being unable to comfort them.
The trembling hand on his arm tightened, and his heart skipped. Slowly, he turned his head to look at his mother sitting at his side.
The woman you marry must be a reflection of this family, worthy of being your wife and duchess. Your mother has always brought dignity and respect to our family. Let her be the example for the woman you marry.
Elizabeth Carlisle had not cried a single tear from the moment she’d entered the church, when he’d walked her down the aisle to the coffin, to say her final goodbyes to the man she’d loved with all her heart. With all her life. Now she looked more frail and helpless than he’d ever seen her. Dear God, how would she go on without him? What reason would she find to crawl out of bed every morning?
Promise me that you will always do what is right, that you will always put the future of the dukedom first above all else...
“I promise you, Father,” he breathed, the words silent on his lips.
“Amen,” the mourners mumbled together as the vicar finished the funeral rites.
They rose silently, stiffly, with a shuffle of feet and more sobs. From somewhere in the back of the church a baby cried. Its wails drowned out the painful beating of his heart before it was hushed into silence.
The pallbearers carried the coffin from the church, and the family followed slowly behind. The coffin was placed on the back of the wagon for Father’s final ride from the village, along the winding river road and up the lane to return forever to Chestnut Hill. Then the family stepped into the black carriages to travel slowly behind the coffin, for the private service at the gravesite.
As Sebastian took his mother’s arm to help her into the carriage, she stopped him. She cupped his face in her hands and kissed his cheek.
“They will all take their cue from you now,” she whispered. “You are Trent now.”
With that whisper, the burden of the title and all it meant came crashing down on top of him.
And his heart stopped completely.