From Chapter One
One never expected to find the son of a marquess at a pub of questionable reputation, which explained the exact reason Evan A. Rounsevell occupied a stool at the Llandoger Trow. Evan had no wish to be found.
Especially with his knowledge that the marquess—his father— had arrived in London with the express purpose of forcing Evan to take up family responsibilities.
Without raising his eyes from the amber liquid in his glass, Evan put more coins on the slick and greasy counter to pay for his drink.
A shine of one particular silver coin caught his eye. Evan snatched the coin up again, his heart thudding against his chest, just before the barkeep scooped the rest of the money into his apron pocket.
With a single careless action, he’d almost parted with his most prized possession. He clutched the coin tightly in his palm, feeling its edge press into his skin. Slowly he opened his hand and studied the glimmering silver. The head of Lady Liberty faced upward, the year 1879 stamped just below her.
What a remarkable year that had been.
Although he hadn’t been as tall then as he was at present, Evan had the same features in place. Angular chin, sharp nose, dark hair, and copper-green eyes. He’d been a strapping youth, well-practiced in every art an English nobleman’s son ought to master. Which was why he had pleaded to go to the performance the Americans had put on for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, the moment he’d heard of it. Evan could shoot as well and any Englishman—but he’d heard the Americans did it better.
Evan turned the coin over to the side bearing the eagle, its wings widespread, talons clutching arrows and olive branches alike. Americans made strong, bold statements with everything, even their coinage. He smiled to himself as he remembered the day he had received the coin, eight years previous, from a man wearing more leather than one found at a tanner’s booth.
The man who had wrestled Indians, fought in a war, rode wild horses, and could shoot a gun and throw hatchets with equal skill. A man who challenged everything Evan knew about the world simply by existing.
A hand landed upon Evan’s shoulder, startling him into clutching the coin tightly lest he drop it. He looked up, ready to give a set-down to whoever dared disturb him, when he met the shrewd eyes of his elder brother.
William D. Rounsevell, heir to their father’s title as Marquess of Whittenbury, smirked down at him before perching on the stool beside Evan. “Thought I’d find you here. You always have preferred the more interesting pubs.” His eyes lingered on the dusty glasses on the shelves, his nose wrinkled with distaste.
“Perhaps.” Evan hastily tucked away the coin, having no wish to give his brother reason to mock him. The family thought Evan’s interest in the American West no more than a sign of eccentricity, and a shameful one, at that.
Of course, the marquess would send William after him. William was the least annoying member of the family, which consisted of his father, an uncle and aunt, his brother, and a handful of first cousins.
Although William was not a bad sort, he tended to share their father’s views on Evan’s behavior. So it was no surprise he immediately took up their father’s cause. “You need to come home, Evan. Father has a particular interest in speaking with you about your responsibility for the Shropshire estate. You know he wishes you to show some interest in family matters, but if you continue to neglect it—”
“I know.” Evan rubbed at his forehead before taking hold of the drink in front of him. “But I have no wish to settle on that land and look after sheep until the end of my days.”
“Father thinks if you marry you will settle.” William folded his arms, eyeing the barkeep suspiciously when the man came forward to offer William a drink. “Have you a brandy worth more than a few pennies?” he asked loftily.
The barkeep bowed and went in search of a bottle and glass.
Evan encircled his glass in his hands but did no more than stare into it. If only one could divine the future in the bottom of a cup.
“I have no intention of marrying. What is the point to a union for me? Even if I tend to the Shropshire estate, it goes to your heirs, not mine. Why spend my life toiling on another man’s property like a blasted tenant farmer?” He snorted into his cup before taking one last sip of the drink. He much preferred a strong cup of tea but trying to get that sort of drink at a pub as rough around the edges as the one in which they sat would only get him laughed out of the building.
William accepted a glass of his own and turned a bored sort of smile onto Evan. “It is the way things are. If you marry well, your wife’s funds will see to any children you may have. It is not as though I will turn them out into the cold the moment you die.”
“But if you go first, your son might.” Evan tapped his fingers on the smooth wood, worn down from years of patrons sitting in his exact spot. “Or if I irritate you. Or if I die, what will happen to a widow and children too young to have chosen their paths? The situation is intolerable, William.”
“Second sons have braved such circumstances for centuries.” William eyed his drink dubiously before taking a small sip. He winced and put it back onto the counter, pushing it away from himself with enough force to make the liquid slosh over the brim.
“Not in America,” Evan muttered, his eyes on the swirls in the woodgrain.
A deep laugh made him jump in his seat, his gaze coming up to see his brother’s head thrown back as he roared. Others in the pub turned to look, some appearing annoyed that the quiet, smoky atmosphere had been disturbed.
Finally, with a last guffaw, William reached out to clap Evan on the arm. “Your sense of humor does you credit, Evan. America.” William snorted and picked up his glass, but he must have remembered he held the liquid inside in contempt, for he lowered it again. “Land of the self-made man. More like land of illiterate, unwashed, uncultured upstarts.”
Saying nothing was safer than arguing. And less likely to get him laughed at again.
“Come home. Father wishes to speak to you.” William scattered coins upon the bar without regard to denomination then stood. “It is time to accept your responsibilities, little brother, and to stop living in a fantasy of cowboys and outlaws. You are a man of ancient and noble blood. Our family line comes first.” Then he saluted with two fingers and strode leisurely out of the pub.
Blood always came first. The family honor held more value for the marquess than the wealth of his estates combined.
Lord Whittenbury, their father, would not rest until Evan came to him, bowing and scraping, accepting his meager inheritance and responsibility for one of the family’s lesser estates. Evan’s only hope to escape managing his father’s Shropshire estate was to take up the practice of law, which he had no interest in, or marry an heiress, which he desired to do even less.
The silver dollar in his pocket reminded him of yet another option. The so-called fantasy his brother mocked. The American West, where fortunes were won or lost in a night, where a man could work to accomplish what he wished, and where expectations and futures were self-made.
Without familial support, he couldn’t afford a ticket to cross the Atlantic. Everything he had belonged to his father. Everything—no. Not everything.
Evan pulled out his gold pocket-watch and examined it. Worth a small fortune. A gift from an uncle. The stickpin in his cravat, his cuff-links, all real jewels. All his to do with as he pleased.
The idea that had been no more than the seed of a dream his whole life sprouted and grew like climbing vines upon his mind.
A slow smile stretched across Evan’s face as he took out the silver dollar, a gift to him from none other than Buffalo Bill himself.
An electric thrill ran up his spine, and a slow grin spread across his face.
Despite the faint light in the pub, Lady Liberty seemed to wink at him.
It wouldn’t be forever. But it would be something that was his and his alone. Not his father’s, not a responsibility, but a dream the likes of which few could ever attain. An escape from his title, his duty to his family, and the chance for a real adventure.
He left the pub, his pulse thrumming with the cadence of a galloping horse, and he didn’t look back.
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