A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon

“All right then,” Damian whispered, his hand going to the bloody bandage over his arm. “For the c-cake.”

And so the tradition began that, when on leave, Damian Avonby, Marquess of Havenwood, future Duke of Drake, spent every Christmas with Robert Deverall, Marquess of Rigby, future Duke of Blackstone. . . and every other holiday with his other soon to be fast friends, the future Dukes of Raventon, Harley, Royland, and Ardore.

But this? This was just the beginning of what would bind them together, for Damian Drake had a secret, a very dark secret. And one summer, just as he was called home to the deathbed of his father, he confessed it. And from that moment on, all four of his friends, Robert being the first, made a solemn vow, to keep the Duke’s secret.

Chapter 1


Six Months Later

Hate slid through Robert’s heart. Hate twisted with disgust. The emotions coated him, running like melted wax over his skin as he looked at his father.

The Duke of Blackstone lay back on the stained green silk divan, his white linen shirt open, his silver hair wild, a prostitute on either side of his once muscled but now gaunt body. The women, hard workers no doubt, had already slipped away on a stream of laudanum and wine. Their eyes were closed, their long tresses tracing over their naked bodies.

His father, on the other hand, had not sunk. Not quite yet. His once exquisitely handsome face was now ravaged by hard living and poor choices. His eyes, once vivid and sharp, were two pools of darkness.

Rob could still recall the big man who had occasionally visited the nursery and who had taken him to Eton. That man had long gone. Just like his brother, who they had buried last year after he’d taken too much laudanum and never woken up.

Perhaps it might have been too much to expect his father to act relatively behaved on his leave. Rob had traveled for days to come home for a short week and visit Horse Guards. But it seemed his father was beyond caring about anything.

“Mother is upstairs,” Robert bit out.

His father let out a snort. “Silly woman.”

“She’s your wife.”

His father’s lip curled. “And a disappointment. Always nagging. Absolutely no amusement there.”

Rob tried not to recoil at the venom in his father’s voice. “She has tried to save you.”

“Save?” his father asked. “Why should I be saved from myself?”

Rob waved a hand over the wasted existence before him. “Don’t you wish to be better?”

His father’s head rolled slightly to the side and he gazed up with prophetic eyes. “Boy, this is who I am. How can I change who I am? It is in my blood.”

Rob shook his head. “I refuse to believe that.”

“Believe what you will.” His father reached for the laudanum bottle and added a drop to his blood red wine. He then drank in great swallows, as if he could drink to oblivion.

After drinking the entire contents, he put the glass back down with a shaking hand and continued, “But my father died young. Your brother died young. You will, too. Mark me.”

“I am nothing like you,” rebuked Robert.

His father laughed, a low rumble. “Have you looked in a mirror, Son?”

The horrible truth of it landed like a saber cut from a French Cavalry officer. The truth was, he looked exactly like his father had before he’d begun to fall apart. Only his father’s tenacity had kept him going so long. But in that length of time, he had destroyed almost everything he touched.

“You will be just like me.” His father gazed at him and, as if laying out not a curse but a fact, he stated, “And your son like you. Time out of mind, boy. Blackstone men burn life like a candle at both ends. You will feel it soon.”

He swallowed. “That’s not true.”

“Get an heir, Son,” his father whispered, his eyelids fluttering. “Get an heir soon. For soon, you’ll slide down my road. You can’t die like your brother with no heir.”

Rob shook his head, his heart slamming against his ribs. He refused to believe that his future looked like the man on the couch, rotten with debauchery. In that moment, he hated his father and all the Blackstone men with every fiber of his being. He thought of his mother upstairs, silent, bearing it all with as much fortitude as she could. Of his sister, hiding in her room, crushing a pillow to her ears so she would not hear her own father’s goings-on. The fact that he had brought all this into their home was the final blow.

He would never hurt someone like that. Never.

“I love you, boy,” his father said abruptly, his mind wandering. “For all that you might not believe it. But love doesn’t fix anything. Just you remember that. If anything, love makes you feel worse.”

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