A Duke for the Road

By: Eva Devon

A broken arm had finally put an end to that. Not hers, but George’s. She had always been the best climber. Her father had called her a goat with an affectionate smile.

Still, all that had ended the day she turned thirteen and she’d been relegated to learning the rules of society. She still rode with the best of them, but she’d given up her frog collection for French and Burke.

It had not been such an awful concession given her mother’s own considerable education and the way in which she made use of it. George, too, had changed a vast degree over the years. The cheeky imp of a boy had been replaced by a man hardened by war and a duke determined to change society.

“Why is the ton so very boring?” she sighed.

“Overbreeding,” her brother drawled.

Harry laughed.

But Eglantine’s eyes twinkled. “They aren’t all boring. The Duchess of Devonshire’s set is quite fast!”

George whipped towards her. “You stay away from that lot. A bunch of debauching artists and politicians.”

“But they’re Whigs,” Harry pointed out as she picked up the teapot and finally poured her brother a cup of tea. As she tapped the strainer ever so slightly against the cup and put it down on the tray, she waited for her brother to artfully reply.

Without apology, he merely asked, “And?”

“You’re a Whig,” she said, barely able to hide her frustration at his deliberate avoidance of her point.

“Of course,” he agreed easily, taking up the tea she’d poured for him.

“You go to their parties!” Eglantine exclaimed. For she, too, had known George since she’d been in leading strings. Being neighbors had bred a strong familiarity between the two.

“I didn’t say I shouldn’t,” he pointed out merrily. “I said you shouldn’t.”

Eglantine sniffed. “Hypocrisy.”

“Reality,” George countered, drinking from the offered cup.

Harry snatched a glance at her news-sheet and nibbled her lip. “Do you think he’s a lord?”

“Who?” her brother asked, as he crossed to the fire and leaned against the mantel.

“The Gentleman Highwayman!” Harry exclaimed.

He scowled. “I never thought I’d say this. But you’ve read too many novels.”

“But the way he speaks! His manners,” she protested.

Her brother took a long sip of tea then let out a sigh of resignation. “A good confidence man can do that, sister mine. They can play any part they choose. And I promise that’s all this bloke is, a confidence man. And a lucky one. Mark my words, he’ll be hanging by a rope come Michaelmas.”

She nodded, knowing further questioning would go nowhere. When her brother reached a decision, he was intractable.

Still, she wondered. And it struck her then, how very few people she’d truly met and how limited the variety. With her own little sigh, she acknowledged that would probably never end. Yes, her life was going to be very boring indeed.

Chapter 4

Robert wished to God his life was boring as, apparently, so many people’s were. How often had he heard members of his class lament their boredom, asking the dreaded question, “What shall we do?”

What he wouldn’t give for a moment of such inanity. Of ennui even. How lucky were those who just plodded through life, yawning, grumbling even, but secure. How marvelous it must be to know what every day was going to bring. It was nearly unfathomable to him that so many believed life to be a never-ending cycle of days doomed to repeat themselves. Lucky were they. That was all he could surmise. For they had never known the sort of uncertainty that he had become acquainted with.

As to his own life, he had not known a day of actual, blessed boredom since just before the grim death of his wastrel of a father. When he had returned home, laurels of victory upon his brow, he’d received a terrible shock. The hope he’d felt at a potentially bright future after his triumph at war was dashed as he’d been called to the deathbed to say his farewells. To a man who should have been someone Rob could love and look up to, trust and confide in, rely on and be helped by. But his father was not and never had been such a man. Point of fact, the old man had caused his own end through exceptionally hard drinking, hard gambling, and hard whoring combined with a complete lack of connection to reality and the consequences of his wild choices.

Rob had quickly discovered that he wasn’t inheriting a grand dukedom rife with wealth, lands, glorious houses, and political prestige. Oh no, he was inheriting chaos.

The wealth was so far gone that vast sums were actually owed. Lands had been sold and many fields were in such poor condition that they’d gone to wild seed. And the array of houses owned by his family? There was no money for their upkeep. One by one, they were rotting. Beautiful houses, crumbling in beautiful counties as tenants gazed on with dread and dismay. And his father had become so ridiculous that, really, he’d not been welcome at political meetings. He should have been one of the most powerful men in the land. Instead, he was one of the most derided.

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