A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon
A Duke’s Secret Novel Book 1



Prologue





Robert Andrew Edward Deverall, future fourth Duke of Blackstone and First Lieutenant of His Majesty’s Army, took in the ridiculously handsome young man clutching a letter in his broad hands on his hospital bed. A still, silent, pained figure in a sea of wounded men.

Rob’s stomach twisted with surprising anguish at the man’s rigid frame.

There were no tears streaking down the young officer’s sleek cheeks, but his face was hard and stony as if he’d suffered a thousand blows over the years. Even so, from that resigned yet pained expression, it was clear he could still feel the pain of whatever was in that epistle down to his very bone.

Yes, the young man’s agony was palpable in the thick, putrid air of the hospital tent. One could sense it over the moans and cries of men ravaged by Boney’s best shots, cannon, and sabers.

Robert stood for a moment in the shadows of the tent room in which so many men lay on the threshold of death, one foot over into the unknown, the other here in continual pain.

Despite the moans of men drifting in and out of consciousness, a few men who had not succumbed to their wounds were engaged in the lighter chatter of men playing dice to pass the time.

War could be hell. Hell? Some days he thought hell would be a place of light diversion compared to the things he’d seen. Somehow, he’d survived them, spiritually as well as physically.

It was down to the simple good fortune of having excellent, close friends, all of them future dukes. They’d all been sent to this war by fathers determined to prove their sons were more than limp-wristed, lace-wearing fools that minced about White Hall and the rooms of power tittering away like pox-riddled lunatics. Oh no, their fathers wished to show the world that they were like the dukes of old. Dukes who led men into war and made kings. And over the years, they had all become warrior dukes, each of them climbing to the romantic tellings of the magnificence that was England and its nobles in past generations.

But unlike Rob, this particular young man, sitting on the low-slung, makeshift bed, had no friends. Rob knew. He’d done a good deal of inquiring.

Rumors of the man’s extreme heroism had gone round the regiments’ messes. After all, one couldn’t exactly save several men on more than one occasion then pick up the fallen colors only to be shot in the chest and not be talked about. But it was clear from everything Rob had discerned about this unique hero that he attempted to make no comrades-in-arms. In short, he was quite the mystery.

Truth be told, he was always alone, sitting silently in the otherwise busy hospital tent, always looking as if someone had hacked out his heart. Yet, the young man didn’t yield to his despair.

Rob had first noticed him when visiting one of his own fallen men and he’d been struck by the stony pain emanating from the officer.

It had not taken long to discover that this recently recognized hero was the best shot in his regiment, an excellent card player, the best with a saber, and capable of shouting orders with the best of them despite a slight stutter.

Quite frankly, Damian Avonby, future Duke of Drake was superior to most of the young officers about him. But Robert had come to understand a very disturbing thing. Damian, presently the Marquess of Havenwood, never left his regiment when given leave. Not to go into town. Not to go home. Not for any reason.

Worse, he received no letters from England. A few coins in the orderly’s purse had secured this interesting bit of information. No one sent inquiry about him. He wrote no one. And no one wrote him in return.

And the sneaking feeling in Robert’s gut told him that the young man wouldn’t be getting any letters. Even if he was likely to be mentioned in dispatches. Again.

It wasn’t right. It was a damned disgrace, a hero like that, shunned by his family. For Damian Drake’s parents were still both very much alive, if incommunicado.

Several feet clattered up the dirt path between the beds behind him. As if hearing the nearing group of officers, the man on the bed winced and stuffed the parchment under the thin mattress and turned to the beige tent wall, hiding his face.

When Robert looked back, he spotted his gang. Max, Rafe, Tristan, and George. They all came to a scrambling halt. Their cheeks were a bit red, hair windblown under their hats from whatever drill they’d been about on the grounds. They each gave him a quizzical glance, having all come to visit a few of their men who had been wounded in the recent battle.

When Rob swung his chin towards Damian, they all nodded silently.

Over time, they’d learned to move and think as one if the situation called for it. They shared an understanding. And this, they knew, was instinctively one of those times.

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