Sequel to Duty to the Crown
The Crofton Chronicles: Book Three
Sebastian Hewel has never been happier. But after two years of playing the role of his twin sister Bronwyn, the wife of Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, his blessed life will never be the same. When rumours start circulating that Bronwyn is using witchcraft to enthral her husband, and false evidence is found planted at Crofton Hall, they need to act fast. If Bronwyn is questioned by the sheriff, even Sebastian’s best performance won’t keep their secret hidden.
Forced to lay Bronwyn to rest and bring their ruse to an end, Sebastian and Anthony must prepare to face an unknown future together. Anthony is determined to track down whoever it was who started the rumours and will make them pay in the most terrible of ways, and Sebastian vows to help. Sebastian once more has to be put his acting skills to the test, not just to catch a traitor, but to return to his first love of the theatre, which will not be easy, even with Anthony as his patron.
Second edition – previous edition published by Dreamspinner Press. Re-edited for publication.
- 4 To Be Read lists
- 2 Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Class Differences, Marriage of Convenience
Word Count: 62000
Setting: Elizabethan England
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
The dancing shadows of the undergrowth provided excellent cover. Sebastian moved quietly, placing each foot with care and avoiding the dry twigs whose treacherous snaps would give him away in an instant. He headed deeper into the woods and crouched down. The summer warmth didn’t penetrate this far, and he paid no attention to the gnats as they flew around his head or the earthy smell of the damp ground. His ears pricked at what he thought were footsteps, and he fought to keep his breathing shallow so not to disclose his hiding place. The sunshine dappled through the canopy of the trees, the pockets of light catching something and making it glint. Grinning to himself, he picked up a stone and threw it to the right, expecting it to draw out his quarry.READ MORE
A flash of dark green, just visible in the shadows, coupled with a rustle of leave only inches from where he hid had Sebastian ready to attack. He balanced himself, curled up like a frog about to leap to a lily pad, and sprung out of the undergrowth. But no one was there. He whipped around, convinced his prey should be here, but saw only trees and the mossy covering of the forest floor.
His instincts told him he should get back undercover, head to the safety of the trees before he became the hunted and not the hunter. He turned to dive back into his hiding place, but the weight of something hitting him hard sent him to the ground. With the air knocked out of him, Sebastian lifted his head and peered over his shoulder. Rolling backward, he stared up into Anthony’s grinning face.
Anthony sat astride him, grabbed his wrists, and held Sebastian’s arms above his head. “Not bad.”
“I thought I had you that time.”
“Oh, you’re a long way from being able to catch me in these woods, Sebastian. I’ve been causing mayhem in here since I was a boy.”
Sebastian tried to wriggle out of Anthony’s grasp. “Well played, my lord. Now may I be so bold as to ask you to let me get up?”
“And if I were to do that, how would I claim my prize?”
Sebastian struggled again but not with any real effort, and from Anthony’s wolfish smile, he could see his lover knew he was not really trying to escape. “But surely getting the better of me is good enough? There cannot be many men of your age who could claim they have beaten a man of mine.”
“I’ll give you ‘man of my age,’ you insolent whelp!”
Anthony’s kiss was hot and insisting, and Sebastian moaned greedily into it. The weight of Anthony holding him down excited Sebastian. As Anthony used his lower body to keep Sebastian in place, Sebastian felt the undeniable urgency of Anthony’s ardour in the press of his hard cock.
The sound of hooves in the distance made Anthony stop and pull back.
Sebastian tried to see what Anthony was looking at and was disappointed when Anthony rolled away. “What’s going on?” he asked as Anthony helped him to his feet.
“There’s someone on the other side of the trees.”
Sebastian tried to brush away the evidence of his adventure on the forest floor. He hoped he’d been successful and worried his appearance would make it all too clear what he was really doing with his brother-in-law.
“My lord!” came the cry.
The anxiety dissipated with the voice of Wallace, the steward of Crofton Hall. Although disappointed they had been disturbed, at least it was by a trusted member of Anthony’s household.
Anthony led the way through the thicket, and they emerged where they had tethered their horses to see Wallace waiting for them.
“Apologies, my lord, for disturbing you when you are hunting,” said Wallace, averting his eyes in such a way Sebastian could tell he was a little ill at ease. “But the gentleman insisted that he speak to you.”
“The Duke of Marchent, my lord.”
Anthony swung himself into the saddle of his horse, Zeus. “What is His Grace doing here?”
“He did not say, my lord. Just said that he needed to speak to you urgently.”
Sebastian blushed as Anthony bent down to pull a leaf out of Sebastian’s hair. “Come on, Sebastian. I need to get back to the hall.”
Sebastian mounted Star. “It is probably time for young William’s reading lesson. I hope he’s finished the work I set him.”
“If that son of mine hasn’t, you send him to me. He knows what he should be doing. Don’t let those big blue eyes of his fool you otherwise.”
Sebastian decided not to comment on how much five-year-old William Redbourn was like his father in that respect, and instead he encouraged Star to walk on with a kick of his heels. Wallace rode on ahead, and Sebastian spent much of the ride back to the hall picking bits of dried foliage out of his hair and from his doublet, much to Anthony’s amusement.
“Who is the Duke of Marchent?” asked Sebastian.
“An old friend. Stephen’s been busy overseas after a rather delicate altercation with the daughter of the Spanish ambassador. I’ve not seen him for several years.”
“So you weren’t expecting him?”
Anthony ducked to avoid a low-hanging branch. “No. I knew he was back in the country, but I thought I’d catch up with him when we’re at court later in the week. I doubt he’s here to chat about old times and drink my wine.”
“Why not? Seems to be the case with most of your friends.”
“Because Stephen, when he’s not been imbibing the claret, is generally of a serious disposition. He wouldn’t turn up here claiming urgency where there was none.”
Sebastian laughed. “Then how in the heavens have you managed to stay friends for so long?”
“He is not a dour man, more than capable of raising a friend’s spirits. And he also happens to be William’s uncle.”
Sebastian almost fell out of his saddle. “Did you not think it might be prudent to mention that he was your first wife’s brother?”
“What will he say when he meets your new wife?”
Anthony chuckled. “You trouble yourself far too much. I am sure he will be charmed by Bronwyn.”
Sebastian’s hope of an evening of reading and having Anthony to himself vanished. He’d grown to cherish the rare occasions when there weren’t guests at the hall and they could be alone. Instead, he readied the lie to cover Sebastian’s absence in order for Bronwyn to attend supper.
“Then it is fortunate that my sister is in good health for once.”
Anthony’s dry chuckle accompanied a friendly pat to Sebastian’s arm. Not the type of touch he’d hoped to receive from Anthony that afternoon, but he supposed, as Crofton Hall’s entrance came into view, it was better than nothing.
They dismounted at the front of the hall and handed the reins to Wallace to take the horses to the stables at the back. Anthony had only gone a few steps when a man a few inches taller than Sebastian, with a slim frame, darted out of the hall. His eyes were wide, and his mouth set in a grim line extenuated by his ginger beard. His wiry ginger hair stuck out in all directions, as if he’d dragged his fingers repeatedly through it.
“Crofton, thank the Lord you’re back!”
Anthony clapped his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Marchent, whatever is the matter?”
“I need to speak to you alone,” he insisted.
Marchent’s gaze lingered on Sebastian, and Anthony moved to answer his friend’s curious stare. “Allow me to introduce you to my brother-in-law, Mr. Sebastian Hewel. A trusted member of the family.”
Stephen nodded curtly and turned to Anthony. “Alone, Anthony. This is not the subject for a stranger’s ears.”
Like most nobles, Anthony’s friends called him Crofton in respect to his title. The use of his given name a clear indication that some was wrong if the way Anthony stiffened at the sound of it from Marchent’s lips. Deciding it would be better to excuse himself rather than be sent away, Sebastian excused himself. “Please excuse me, gentlemen, but the future Earl of Crofton requires his reading lesson.”
“You will join us for supper?” asked Anthony, giving Sebastian his cue to provide his excuse.
“Alas, no. I leave for Stratford mid-afternoon and won’t be back before you depart for London.”
“Travel safe,” said Anthony.
Sebastian took Anthony’s words as the excuse he needed to leave and headed inside to find William, even though he burned with curiosity about what Anthony’s friend had to say.