A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon

While the idea of being accosted by a highwayman was rather upsetting, she was quite looking forward to venturing deeper into society. Night after night, moldering away had grown quite the ordeal when so many people she knew were out in society.

After all, she dearly longed to go to plays and the opera.

“I do hope he doesn’t do the Tyburn Jig,” Eglantine said suddenly.

“Not him,” Harry said firmly. Somehow, she felt this highwayman was different. He was smarter, stronger than the rest. Perhaps it was just a foolish girl’s fantasy, but she didn’t think so.

From what she could tell of the news-sheets, he was very careful, and had no known associates. Affidavit men, friends who swore against other friends for a lighter sentence were often how criminals were caught.

Harriet picked up her tea again and took another delicate sip of the exotic beverage sans milk, sugar, or lemon. How she longed to drink vast swallows, but even with almost inestimable wealth of her family, she took her time, savoring each note of the hot drink. After all, it had traveled half the globe to be stewed into her cup. She ought to respect it accordingly.

Her friend leaned forward and waggled her brows, her violet eyes dancing. “Do you think the widow gave up more than her jewels?”

“Eglantine!” she sputtered, tea spewing most indecorously. Gasping at the lost beverage, she dabbed at her soft yellow skirts with a linen napkin.

Eglantine laughed. “It just seems she rather enjoyed the encounter a little too much.”

Harry arched a brow, for some reason finding herself possessive of a criminal. . . that she’d never met. “The way your mind does work is quite astounding.”

“Now, now,” Eglantine tutted. “I know the books you read. Surely, such a thought has occurred to you.”

It had. More than once. But, in truth, it had been she who had been the one to steal a kiss with the masked man in her dreaming. It was absolutely silly. He was a rogue.

Hardly the thing for a lady to think of. But she’d dearly adored Moll Flanders and, well, the handsome Jamie, the highwayman, had rather had a forming effect on her ideas about the ideal man.

She forced herself to be pragmatic, pushing all silly romanticism away and said, “It never turns out well in the end for men like that.”

“True,” Eglantine sighed regretfully.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” Harley said as he strode in.

Her brother, at least six foot two, easily covered the distance down the long hall, his polished Hessian boots treading the ancient, but beautiful woven burgundy and cream carpet.

She smiled at him, genuinely happy at his presence, and put her teacup down. “Brother, dear. How is the city?”

“It smells,” he said.

She frowned then let out a dramatic sigh. He did love to cause trouble. “Must you be so blunt?”

“You mean honest?” he asked, bending down to lightly kiss her cheek.

He scanned the pages strewn across the inlaid wooden table and let out a groan. “Not you, too?”

“Oh, yes,” announced Eglantine, her cheeks surprisingly pink as she studied the duke. “We are as entertained as any man by the papers.”

“Not that,” he teased then pointed a finger at a particular article. “This Gentleman Highwayman.”

“Do you know who it is?” Harry asked.

Her brother’s brows shot up. “Why the devil would you think I might know?”

She shrugged. “Well you do know many unsavory characters.”

He snatched up a muffin. “Why, thank you for your good opinion.”

“I think it’s wonderful that you know such a variety of people as opposed to myself,” Harry defended, eyeing the muffins herself, then deciding not. She collected plumpness the way some people collected ribbons or stamps.

“Or me,” agreed Eglantine, her lips turning down. “I do think I’ve met the same two hundred people over and over again my entire life.”

“It will only grow worse,” the duke warned mercilessly as he took a bite of his pilfered morsel.

“Don’t say so!” exclaimed Harry with surprising zeal, even to her own ears. “Such a thing doesn’t sound bearable.”

“Oh, we all manage it. It is our cross to bear,” her brother replied as he eyed the teapot. “I say, I don’t suppose there’s another cup, scamp?”

She arched a brow at her brother who, at present, wasn’t acting the grand duke at all, something she quite liked. So often now, he was a man who was little like the boy she’d known. How she adored him. They’d been fast friends as children, tramping through streams, collecting frogs, and skinning their knees on trees as they dared each other to climb ever higher.

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