A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon

Everyone who’d learned of the recent heroics of the future duke thought Damian was odd. Everyone knew he stayed alone when possible.

And Robert was bloody furious that such a thing could be possible. So, taking his righteous indignation in hand, he strode over to the physically imposing, blond-haired man and stuck out his hand. “I’m Rob.”

The future duke didn’t turn. “I k-know who you are.”

“Yes.” Rob let his hand fall. “Well. I know who you are, too. The next Duke of Drake.”

The man’s broad shoulders slumped as if this were a curse rather than a recognition of mutual esteem.

Robert looked back to his friends who had followed quietly behind him, trying to decide what to say next, drawing inspiration from them. Then it hit him. What to do. And do it, he would.

“Going home for Christmas, Damian?” he asked softly. He and several of the others were being given leave over the holiday.

Damian shook his head with barely any physical movement. “No. But y-you know that. E-everyone does.”

“Well, that’s splendid,” Rob said cheerfully, forcing a smile.

The man whipped his head towards Rob and eyes so fierce, so full of pain met his that Rob nearly stepped back. It wasn’t often he felt his heart leap for another person. He was much more inclined to look after wounded birds and foxes as a child, now he took care of his men. But Damian Drake was wounded just the same.

“You t-think it’s funny. D-don’t you?” His lip curled in a slight sneer. “D-damian, with the s-stutter. All alone.”

“Look, old chap,” Rob returned quietly, but unapologetically even as rage at those who had clearly hurt this man coiled in his belly, “I don’t know anything about you really. But if you’re not going home, it means you can come home with me.”

A muscle twitched in Damian’s cheek. “W-what for?”

Rob shrugged a shoulder, though inside he felt a strong need to help the man opposite him. “Because it would be jolly good fun.”

The future Duke of Drake narrowed his icy blue eyes. “Y-you’ve never spoken to me before.”

“More fool me then. I always thought you preferred it when I saw you in the mess.” Rob looked the man up and down, taking in his strong, silent form that fairly seemed to hum with emotion buried deep within him. He gave a tight nod then said, “Being alone that is. But you don’t. Do you?”

Damian made no reply but his lips pressed into a white line.

“Look, my father’s a bit of a sot,” Rob said truthfully, knowing there was no point in trying to hide the extent of his father’s debauchery. A debauchery which had passed down and ultimately killed his older brother. “Loves his wine, you see. Loves to gamble and all that. But my mother is a marvel and so is my sister. They’d love to have you.”

Damian blinked, his gaze growing suspicious. . . and shocked. “W-Why?”

“To keep me company,” Rob stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Otherwise, I’ll be running wild through the house, and bothering them at all hours.”

Damian cocked his head to the side. “W-we’re not friends.”

“Not yet,” Max said from behind him, his voice a deep rumble.

“But we could be,” added George.

Damian looked from officer to officer, with an assessing glare then spat out, “I don’t want p-pity.”

“None of us have time for pity,” Rob said quickly, calmly. “But you’re going to be a duke one day, aren’t you? Just like us, aren’t you?” Rob leaned forward, folding his arms over his chest, determined to make the other man laugh, even if it killed him. “I say. You are a Whig, aren’t you? Can’t be friends with a Tory.”

Damian cracked a smile. “I confess, my father is a Tory, but I plan to change sides.”

“Victory then!” Rob announced clapping his hands together. “Of course you belong with us.”

Damian arched a brow. “W-with you.”

Rob nodded, making his declaration tantamount to law. “We must look after each other.”

“And the future of England,” Max added firmly.

“And the Whig Party,” put in Rafe cheerfully.

“Och, which means the future of England and Scotland,” finished Tristan boldly.

“And you’d be essential at billiards,” Rob supplied for good measure.

Damian looked back and forth at them as if they had all lost their minds.

“Don’t overthink it, Damian, Marquess of Havenwood, future duke,” Rob said. “Just say yes, even if it’s only for a good Christmas dinner and heaps of cake.”