"Stop the carriage!" roared Andrew, Duke of Thorndon, pounding on the ceiling with his fist.
The carriage slowed and swerved to the side of the avenue. He unlatched the window and stuck out his head. Unfortunately, his eyes hadn't been playing tricks on him.
His younger brother Rafe was sprinting down the Strand holding up the front of his breeches with one hand, arse shining behind for all of London to see.
Drew briefly closed his eyes. Dear Lord, why me?
This time Rafe had gone too far. Running through the streets of London with his trousers undone wasn't the worst of it. Not even close.
Drew unclenched his fingers from the crumpled scrap of paper and read the chilling words one more time:
I know what your brother is doing. You must PAY. Await further instructions and TELL NO ONE or Lady Beatrice will be KIDNAPPED.
He'd left his estate in Cornwall within hours of receiving the letter. He wasn't going to sit around waiting for another threatening letter to arrive. Anger infiltrated his mind like weeds choking a wheat field.
He would never allow his innocent younger sister, Beatrice, to be kidnapped and held for ransom. Whatever trouble Rafe was in, Drew would fix it swiftly and be back in Cornwall well before the July barley harvest.
His manservant, Corbyn, opened the carriage door. "Is anything the matter, Your Grace?"
Drew pointed back the way they'd come. "That is the matter." Corbyn's mouth gaped open. "Is that...Lord Rafe?"
"And is he...?"
"Bare-arsed naked? Yes, yes he is. Probably being chased. Possibly by an angry mob brandishing pitchforks."
"Heaven had nothing to do with it."
Rafe stumbled and nearly collided with a gaggle of shop girls who turned to giggle and stare at his retreating posterior.
"He appears to be rather intoxicated, Your Grace," Corbyn observed.
"Hasn't been sober since our father's death."
In the five years since the old duke had died of a ruptured spleen, Rafe, always their father's favorite, had spiraled downward into a debauched life of gambling, mistresses, and misdeeds.
Drew had traveled in the opposite direction, retiring from the maelstrom of London society to the quiet seclusion of Thornhill House in Cornwall, where he led an orderly, predictable, and useful life. He'd discovered a talent for agricultural innovations. If successful, his new system of crop rotation would mean better yields for his tenants—more crops to feed more hungry mouths on his lands, and hopefully, on the lands of other noblemen.
Rafe caught sight of Drew and waved frantically, nearly losing his trousers. "Thorny," he shouted. "Thorny, it's me. Give us a lift?"
Heads swiveled. Inquisitive gazes drilled into Drew like beetles boring through rotting wood. He retreated into the gloom of the carriage. "Hoist him in, Corbyn, and try to be discreet about it."
"Very good, Your Grace."