Encounter at White’s: a cross-post with Nicole Zoltack

Whites Club London-M

Oliver handed his hat and gloves to the porter as he removed his coat and presented it as well. Shivering in the notoriously chilly foyer at White’s Club, he made his way quickly toward the drawing room, where no doubt there would be a roaring fire. After more than a fortnight of escorting his fiancée and her mother to balls and ton events nearly every evening, not to mention drives in the park and ices at Gunter’s—along with his responsibilities at the bank—he was looking forward to an evening with his cronies and nice cognac or two. White’s always had the best spirits in town.

Oliver Stanton

Oliver Stanton

He hadn’t got very far, however, when he very nearly collided with Stephen Huntington, Duke of Wyngate, who was emerging from the card room with an expression of tight-lipped determination on his face.

“Pardon me,” the duke said, straightening his coat somewhat nervously.

“No need,” said Oliver easily. “Wasn’t watching where I was going. Join me in a drink, Your Grace?”

The duke blinked and stumbled back a step. “Why yes, I would appreciate that, Stanton.”

The two men strolled to the drawing room and claimed two leather chairs near the fire.

“A cognac for me,” Oliver told the waiter. “Wyngate?”

"Portrait of Citizen Guerin," by Robert Lefevre, 1801, French. The Age of Napoleon. Ed. Katell le Bourhis. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. p.82, pl. 72.

Stephen Huntington, Duke of Wyngate

He liked Stephen Huntington, and not just because he was a duke and one of the bank’s best customers. He was an honorable man and not at all puffed up about it. Some titled gentlemen didn’t deign to speak to him unless it was at the bank and they needed access to their money. Wyngate wasn’t that sort.

“Cognac sounds perfect.” The duke rubbed his forehead.

“Right away, gentlemen.” The waiter bowed and disappeared into the back rooms.

The duke cleared his throat. “I-I have a strange question for you, Stanton, if I may.”

Oliver nodded. Who was he to gainsay a duke, even if he wished to. And he was curious to know what was behind the normally easy-going duke’s skittish behavior.

“Have we crossed paths, recently? Since the Hansens’ ball last week, I mean?”

Oliver’s eyes narrowed. “Why no, I don’t believe so. Why do you ask?”

Stephen tugged at his collar. “Ah… well, that’s good. That’s good,” he repeated. “You see… I have heard rumors that there is a man impersonating me throughout the country. I can scarcely believe it! But I cannot ignore such a thing, lest it be true and the wretch is up to serious mischief.”

Oliver’s eyes widened. “Impersonating you? But how is that possible? You are widely known in London, Your Grace.”

shapeimage_1The duke plucked a glass of brandy from the waiter’s tray and took a long sip. Oliver did likewise, wondering who would dare to play such a trick on the Duke of Wyngate, of all people.

“I do not know. I guess the reprobate must resemble me. Sound like me as well.” Wyngate took another swallow and set down his glass. “No one has come to the bank asking about my money recently? That could certainly be a factor.”

“Money is always a factor,” Oliver said dryly. “But no, I can assure you that your accounts are safe. I would have been notified had someone come to withdraw funds unexpectedly.” He set his own glass on the table. “How did the news come to you of this extraordinary situation?”

“My friends.” He gestured behind him toward the card room. “They can be rather prone to jokes and mischief, but somehow I doubt they would jest about something as serious as this.” He shrugged. “No need to concern yourself further. I am certain the matter will be resolved shortly. Now tell me, Stanton. I see that Lady Julia has recovered from her illness. Will your nuptials be rescheduled soon?”

Lady Julia Tate (at age 27)

Lady Julia Tate

Oliver winced, as he always did when that particular question was raised, which was happening quite frequently in the fortnight or so since their wedding guests had been sent home without witnessing a wedding or even catching sight of the bride and groom.

“I do not mean to pry.” Wyngate drank the last of cognac. “I was hoping one of us was happy.”

“Soon,” Oliver said. “These things take time to arrange, you know. The ladies expect such things. And I wouldn’t want my bride to be deprived of the wedding of her dreams simply because she was taken ill the night before the first one was to take place.”

He grinned. “What about you, Wyngate? Any interest in setting up your own nursery any time soon?” Any man with a title had to concern himself with the matter of an heir sooner a later. Particularly a duke.

“Oh no. Not I. I am not the least bit interested in marriage. And even if I were, with an imposter running about, I will be far too busy to woo and win the heart of any lady.”

Oliver chuckled. “A wealthy duke could have his choice of any young lady in the ton. With or without the wooing. But you must certainly investigate this matter of an imposter. Particularly if he resembles you to the extent that he could ruin your reputation. Do let me know if I can be of any assistance to you, Your Grace.”

“Thank you. You have always been a loyal and good friend.” Wyngate stood. “I would appreciate it if you could keep this matter to yourself. Unless you should happen to see another me…” He shook his head.

map

“Of course, Your Grace.”

“I should be off to try to track this rogue down. Do take care.” The duke turned and called for his horse.

Oliver rose and offered his hand. “Good luck, Your Grace.”

“You as well.” The duke shook his hand and gave him a tight smile. “Shall I expect another wedding invitation any time soon?”

“Of course, Your Grace.” At least Oliver hoped it would be soon. The new house on Manchester Square was nearly ready, and he was eager to finally have Julia as his wife at last.

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