Orin Kavanaugh scowled at the silver haired woman who dared darken his study doorway. One delicately arched eyebrow rose. He narrowed his eyes in response.
She chuckled and moved further into his study. The cream colored door slid shut behind her with a quiet hiss. Orin wished more than anything he'd left with his brother. Being absent would have been the best way to avoid this woman and the inevitable conversation he knew was coming.
And it would come. Dowager Olivia Kavanaugh was nothing if not determined to remind her sons of their duty: marriage to an upstanding woman and at least one child, preferably a male, to bear the distinguished family name.
He did not want to have this conversation with her today. Or tomorrow. If the Fates were kind, they'd make it so opportunities to speak about this never happened.
If being the operative word.
Not that he'd ever question the Fates' decisions. They worked their magic, kept the universe in order, disrupting that order only when necessary. This was probably Their way of bringing chaos to his otherwise orderly world.
His mother sat in the chair opposite him. She smoothed her skirts--why women wore them in less than formal settings he never understood--then looked up and gave him a smug smile. The telltale gleam in her eyes warned him she did something he would not like one bit.
He tapped his fingers against the smooth redwood desktop and waited. And waited. And waited. His patience wore thin as minutes ticked by in silence. Unable to take one more second of her smug expression, he demanded, "What did you do?"
Olivia rolled her eyes. "What I should have done six months after your father passed away," she retorted. "I've sent invitations for a ball that will occur at the Dowager house this weekend. You and your brother will attend, so help me, and you will introduce yourselves to the unattached women in attendance."
Orin gaped at her. She did it. The scheming woman made good on her threat from one year ago and did it. She would see him and his twin married by their forty-fifth birthday.
"Close your mouth," she ordered. Irritation twisted her features. "A Duke does not stare with his mouth hanging open when he receives news that really isn't news."
He snapped his mouth shut and glared.
"And fix your expression. Did you not learn what is and is not becoming of a Duke when we sent you to school? Or did war make you forget?"
Rage rose fierce and quick, flooding his chest with heat that left him shaking. There were many topics of conversation he could forgive, forget, even ignore. But war and its effects was not one of them. He'd lost too many good men and women to war or PTSD to allow anyone, even his own mother, the chance to make light about it.
Her expression softened to one of guilt, and she looked away when he cleared his throat. He wanted to lash out at her, to lay bare before her the broken man that he was because of war. But he couldn't. As much as she might deserve it, she was still his mother.
He kept his voice low and struggled to keep the anger from seeping into his words. "In the future, madam, you will refrain from referencing a topic you know nothing about."
Silence, once again, reigned between them. Orin watched the fight leave her as her shoulders slumped and she kept her gaze on her lap. She nodded. It was closest he'd get to an apology so he accepted it without arguing.
Olivia cleared her throat. Her voice was soft when she spoke. "You know this is important, Orin. Your father didn't send for you and Niall to come home so you would both die as bachelors. He wanted you happy with a woman and children you love, a life filled with what he and I shared."
Orin knew that. It'd been expressed by his father when he lay dying from a virus that stole his energy, mobility, and life. Whether said by a dying man or a living woman, the request still made Orin uneasy. What woman would want a man who woke yelling a warning to a comrade who was no longer living? Or who couldn't sleep because of the dreams and spent hours drifting around the house in a daze?
"You can't fulfill his request if you stay cooped up in this house, beautiful though it may be," she continued. "You deserve to be happy, son. I want you to know and believe that like I do."
Orin swallowed hard and looked away. Happiness was something he once dreamed of. Twenty-six years of military service and two major wars stole that dream from him. He wasn't looking for happiness now. He just wanted peace.