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The Disgraced Lords Series
London, England, November 1815
If not for the fact that the rage-filled voice bellowing in his ear was speaking English, Christian Trent, the Earl of Markham, might have thought he was back in France.
Certainly the press of cold steel at his throat flooded his brain with memories of the war: nightmarish memories, pain-filled memories. Memories he fervently tried, but hopelessly failed, to forget.
Experience had taught him that when one was in such a precarious position, with a sword at one’s windpipe, with the identity and reasoning of the attacker unknown, one was wise to act cautiously.
Without moving a muscle he pried an eye open and tried to focus on the person who was holding the deadly weapon at his neck. The slight movement of his eyeball sent pain stabbing through his head. His mouth tasted like sawdust. Christ, he must have drunk more than he thought last night.
“I repeat, get up!”
To emphasize his request, the attacker’s sword point pierced Christian’s skin. A small trail of warmth trickled down his neck.
In a ghostlike voice, so as not to disturb the pounding in his head, Christian answered, “How can I get up with that sword at my neck? I might still be half foxed, but I have enough wits about me not to push myself upon your weapon,” and with his hand he batted away the blade.
The sword immediately swung back into place.
As lethal as the sword itself, the voice uttered, “That would save me the bother of killing you.”
For a split second Christian welcomed the idea of death before he doused it with an exhaled breath.
He ignored the cannonballs rioting in his head as he twisted and turned, desperate to untangle his limbs from the satin sheets wrapped around his naked body. He did his best to ignore the dizzying weakness his movements evoked. The headache had him willing the contents of his stomach to stay down.
Where was he? The brothel? He recalled he’d paid for a woman. He knew she’d shared his bed. He could smell her lingering scent.
He drew a deep breath and calmed his mind. He had always prided himself on his ability to use his brain more effectively than any weapon to get himself out of predicaments.
“You’re a perverted reprobate,” his attacker sneered.
He tried once more to rise. There was no doubt he’d rather collapse back into a drunken slumber, but through the degrading sickness, his body prickled with stark unease. It was like a second sense, and it had saved his life many a time before.
A movement in the shadows alerted him to a second man’s presence. This silent enemy moved across the floor to throw the curtains wide. Sunlight bounced off mirrors positioned strategically around the room, stabbing at Christian’s eyes like a sharp hunting knife. Christian put his hand up to ward off the sun’s blows.
The presence of the men in his room indicated he didn’t have the luxury of being able to lie down and resume his sleep. So much for drink-inspired oblivion. He’d not endured two years on the battlefields of France to die in a brothel in his own country. Clutching the sheet to his body, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and attempted to lever himself up, gritting his teeth against the hammering in his brain.
He clamped down on his rising panic. Panic did not serve anyone. Fear was the enemy. He’d learned that many times on the battlefield.
“You’ll pay for what you have done.” The second man’s voice indicated he liked to smoke—it was thick and gravelly. Like smoke, his anger was barely contained.
Christian’s throat constricted, as if the proverbial noose were tightening around his neck. He didn’t need a sword under his chin to understand that these men were serious.
His mind quickly evaluated the likely avenues of escape. The windows were the closest options. Although the room was on the second story, if he jumped, he could land safely on the hedgerow beneath. Alternatively, the bedchamber door was wide open, so if he could slip past both men, he could make it down the servants’ stairs.
He was still at the brothel. The Honey Pot was high-class, and even though he’d been a frequent customer there since his return from the war, he had never, ever slept here.
He rubbed the back of his neck. What had happened last night?
Anger cleared the fog clinging to his brain, but only for a second. He ruthlessly clamped down on his temper. Anger was a weakness. When consumed by anger, men lost control. As a child he’d watched his father repeatedly lose control. His father’s rages turned him into a man Christian did not recognize, and as a boy he’d suffered from the consequences. Besides, it led men to make impulsive decisions, and he was anything but impulsive. “Other than taking a little pleasure in this miserable world, what exactly do you—” He paused. “—gentlemen think I have done?”
“Pleasure? Pleasure?” The sword finally swung away as the man’s anger overcame him, and he gestured wildly. “Pleasure? You brought a young, innocent girl here—here!—and defiled her,” he bellowed.
Christian’s fists clenched the sheets. His voice held steady, his tone even. “I beg your pardon. Brought a girl here . . . ? I did no such thing. I’ll call out any man who utters such scandalous allegations.” But because he was not stupid, Christian felt his world slipping out from underneath him.
He’d changed at Waterloo, and not just physically. The puckered, reddened flesh of his neck, upper right arm, and torso was a constant reminder to him, and everyone else, that he was no longer the man he once was. The ugly burns on the right side of his face twisted his mouth and eye, making him a monster. But it was his inner soul that had changed the most. He’d grown sick of the pain, the pity, and the nightmares. At first, the laudanum he took was a necessity due to the agony of his burns. Now he used the drug not only to dull the lingering pain of his wounds but also to soothe his inner torment. The memories of the flames peeling his skin haunted him still. . . .
He’d been weaning himself off the opiate gradually—had he overindulged last night? He swore under his breath. Why couldn’t he remember?
He wiped a hand over his eyes, attempting to clear their drunken haze and get a clear view of his accusers. Christian swallowed back more bile. He was in trouble—the man before him was none other than the Duke of Barforte, with sword drawn. Looking past the Duke, Christian noted that the Duke’s eldest son, Simon—an acquaintance more than a friend—was the second man in the room. His sword was also drawn. Simon’s pale blue eyes looked at him with a coldness that made his insides recoil.
Barforte moved back to the bed. “We shall see the proof!” He pulled the sheets away from Christian’s disfigured body. “She’s marked you,” he said, gesturing down at Christian’s naked body, “with the blood of her innocence.”
Christian knew before looking upon his nakedness what he would see. But still he had to look. He glanced down past his horrific scars, and the bile he’d earlier kept down rose again and entered his mouth.
Blood. Dried traces of blood.
Snippets from last night suddenly flooded into his head. Vivid images, erotic images that turned into confusion. He’d paid for a woman to come to his bed—Carla. Had there been more than one?
Christian gulped air into his tightening chest.
Yes, he’d drunk a lot last night. But he would have sworn he’d not taken laudanum. He had drunk enough to ignore the look of revulsion on his paid companion’s face. Before Waterloo, although brandy used to leave him slightly befuddled, he’d always remembered where he was and, most important, who he was with. The fight against Napoleon had ensured that he learned to keep his wits about him at all times. Then he’d been badly burned. Now he seldom remembered what day it was.
He ran a hand over his mouth. Think! He turned toward the two men and summoned to his face a calmness that his rollicking insides did not feel. “Gentlemen, I think there has been some kind of grievous mistake.”
“Mistake? Everyone saw my daughter leave the Duchess of Skye’s ball in your carriage!”
Real fear clawed at his chest, but he stayed calm. “Grayson Devlin, Viscount Blackwood, took my carriage last night. I walked and hailed a hackney.”
This was absurd. He had never even met young Harriet Penfold, the Duke’s only daughter. He did not attend balls any longer. A man whose face sent children running from the room was an object of pity and embarrassment at such events.
He tried to stand up, but the Duke pushed him back down. Christian repeated his denial, snapping, “I did not bring Lady Penfold here.”
“The state my daughter was in, I could get very little out of her except your name.”
“It was not me. She is mistaken.” Think, damn it. Why would a chit he’d never met accuse him of such a crime? She couldn’t possibly be trying to trap him into matrimony.
The cold spread and coated his skin. Could he have done this heinous act during one of his blackouts? Could she have gotten into his bed, and then, in the throes of one of his nightmares, had he . . . ?
He shook his head. The dense fog on his brain would not clear.
Simon spoke, his voice razor sharp, slashing at Christian’s already fragile conscience. “Now she’s a liar too. I would never have thought a man of your honor could do such a thing.” He coughed. “But I know of your condition. If not for that, and the fact you saved my brother William’s life on the battlefield at Waterloo, you’d be dead by now.”
The Duke didn’t look as if that counted for anything. “Pah! Previous heroics be damned.” He spat on the floor. “His father’s blood flows in his veins. I’m going to see you ruined. If I didn’t have to save Harriet’s reputation, I’d have you hung, drawn, and quartered. My daughter is hysterical, covered in bruises and cuts where you beat her, and is so traumatized she cannot be left alone.” He was purple with rage. “Like father, like son.”
Christian flinched under the low blow. He was not like his cowardly father. He’d proved it on the battlefield. Blood was not thicker than water. He would never hit or hurt a woman. Or would he?
He thought of the French woman who’d so casually set fire to the cart he had been trapped under, happy to watch his skin burn, and he knew, to his horror, this was no longer true.
To survive, he would. He’d do anything.
But could he have done such a vile act now that he was safe and the war was over? His mouth dried even further. In one of his blackouts, perhaps he would.
Fear, stinking fear, slid over his nakedness.
It seemed illogical that he’d been set up. He couldn’t for the life of him understand why anyone would go to such elaborate lengths to discredit him. He was nothing, a nobody. His injuries had made him a recluse from society. He was the decorated war hero everyone pitied and no one wanted to look at.
They admired his sacrifice for mother England, but they did not want the constant reminder of it.
His stomach churned. He hated the pity. The flinching when people saw his face he could take. He flinched at himself too, hence his aversion to mirrors. But pity . . .
Simon voiced the question swirling in Christian’s mind. “Would you have us believe someone has impersonated you? Why would this occur? Stop denying the changes in you since Waterloo, and do the honorable thing. Leave England, or I cannot say what my father will do to you.”
Simon was right. Christian had no enemies that he knew of, and prior to the war he’d been one of the popular, lovable group of rogues known as the Libertine Scholars.
He and five of his friends had attended Eton together, and they’d taken to books and learning, drawn together by a desire to use their brains for more than just sport and whoring—not that they hadn’t partaken of their fair share of those, and then some more. So much so, they’d earned the nickname of the Libertine Scholars, sin and learning being a wickedly exuberant combination.
Those happy and enjoyable days now seemed a distant memory.
Christian ran a hand through his hair and licked his cracked lips. “Could you pass me the water jug—please?” he asked, stalling for time so that he could try to make sense of what he was hearing.
“Bloody cheek,” said the Duke, but Simon passed him a glass of water.
“I’d never do this.” He stared hard into Simon’s eyes and saw a shadow of doubt flickering in their uneasy depths. “I’d never hurt your sister. I abhorred my father’s behavior. I am nothing like him.”
“Perhaps you committed this terrible atrocity because of everything you’ve suffered. Perhaps it has unhinged your mind.” Simon could not hold his gaze. “I think it best if you leave England. And don’t ever come back.”
“I’m not running. I did not—I could not have done this.” But his voice lacked conviction.
“You know you have not been yourself since Waterloo. Grayson—Lord Blackwood—tells me the blackouts have been getting worse. Can you honestly tell me you remember everything about last night?”
Grayson. Grayson was the only reason Christian was still alive.
Damaged, but alive. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
He shook his head. “No. On my honor, I cannot categorically state I remember everything about last evening. But surely the ladies of the house will vouch for me.”
“We cannot find a woman among them who shared your bed last night. The madam didn’t even know you were here.”
This was getting ridiculous. Christian ran a hand over his face. God, he was tired. Since Waterloo he couldn’t remember when he’d last had a proper night’s sleep. His nightmares made sleeping next to impossible.
Every time he closed his eyes he felt the searing heat melting his skin and the horrifying smell of his impending death. The unbearable pain . . .
He sucked a steadying breath deep into his lungs.
The madam did know he was here. Christian was the Honey Pot’s most consistent customer. What woman in her right mind would want to touch him unless paid to do so?
Christian stood and began pulling on his breeches. “I paid for a woman to come to my bed—I do remember that. Something is amiss. I remember that the woman seemed very cheap. Usually I have to pay over the odds.”
Simon had the gall to look at him with pity. “You don’t remember bringing Harriet here?”
“God damn it, I did not bring your sister here. I walked here. I remember because I noticed the chill.” Christian suddenly halted in his dressing. “Maybe this has something to do with Harriet. Maybe someone is trying to discredit her, not me.” He swallowed. “If that is the case and I have been used as a tool for vengeance, then I will of course do the honorable thing and offer my hand in marriage to save her reputation.”
The room fell silent, and the Duke’s fists clenched by his side, his face flaring red with rage.
Holy hell, he’d said the wrong thing.
“So that’s what this has been about. You can’t get any gently bred woman to marry you, so you resort to dishonor in order to trap my only daughter.” The sword was back at his throat. “I should slit your throat from ear to ear.”
Christian looked toward Simon for understanding, but the coldness had returned to Simon’s eyes.
“You think I’d let Harriet marry you now? She’s so traumatized she can’t even say your name without shuddering. You marry her? Why, I’d sooner marry her to a leper.” The sword pressed into Christian’s neck. “No. I have a more fitting punishment in mind for you. With you out of the way, this incident never occurred. I’ll protect my daughter from disgrace and ensure Harriet marries a man befitting her station.”
Christian’s muscles tensed; the Duke wanted him dead. But he hadn’t survived months of agony to die at the end of a sword held by one of his own countrymen. Through lowered eyelids he appraised his chances of making it to the door. He’d learned that when the odds were stacked against him, it was far wiser to retreat, regroup, and live to fight another day.
He assessed the room, and a plan began to emerge in his mind. If Simon would just move away from the door, toward the windows, he could make it past the Duke. He might be scarred, but he was healthy and strong, something that many of his contemporaries overlooked.
He feigned a move toward the window, and Simon, seeing that his father’s sword had the door covered, moved to block that avenue of escape—perfect!
Christian made for the door before the Duke even had time to blink, although the Duke’s sword sliced Christian’s neck on the way past.
Hell, what was one more scar?
His bare feet hardly touched the floor as he ran for the back stairs. For once, he didn’t care that his twisted and marked body was on display.
He’d only just taken a couple of steps down when he scented danger in the form of floor polish—but it was too late. His feet slid out from under him, and he went down headfirst, tumbling down the narrow staircase. Tucking himself into a ball, he tried to protect his head.
He thought for one moment he might survive the fall unscathed, but when the iron doorstop came into view at the bottom of the stairs, dread set in. He knew he was going to hit it. He desperately clawed at thin air, trying to ensure he found the open doorway, but his actions were in vain.
I hate it when I’m right, was his last thought before his head collided with the iron doorstop.
Then pain seared through his brain until, mercifully, everything went dark.
The Disgraced Lords Series
Prologue – London, December 1815
Sebastian Hawkestone, you lucky sod, he told himself. Next he silently thanked his fellow rake and infamous Libertine Scholar, Hadley Fullerton, for allowing him to beg off their engagement this evening. A card game at White’s could not stir his senses like a night of sexual transgression.
Especially when the lady involved seemed determined to torment him with pleasure.
It was not unusual for women to extend seductive invitations his way. He was, after all, a man in his prime. He made no apology for being a red-blooded male who more than enjoyed his fair share of bed sport, plus he was a member of the notorious Libertine Scholars. His reputation of being a rake was well deserved.
He had, however, been surprised by the said lady’s invitation. A woman who earned her living as a man’s mistress rarely gave her services away for free, unless she wanted something.
It hadn’t taken Sebastian long to understand her motivation. It would appear that Clarice Hudson was applying for a role he had no intention of offering her—that of his next mistress.
If she knew him at all, she’d understand he formed no long-term relationships, monetary or otherwise, with members of the opposite sex. He found keeping liaisons fleeting meant neither party was disappointed. Nature did not intend men, or indeed women, to remain faithful. If nature had counted on fidelity, then it had failed miserably. Sebastian had yet to meet any man, or woman, who would turn aside temptation if they thought they wouldn’t be caught.
A flash of skin in the cheval mirror focused him on more pleasant matters.
“Clarice, dear. I must admit I’m eager to partake of an evening of mutual pleasure. However, to avoid unpleasantries the following morning, I must declare I’m not looking for any permanent arrangement. You know me. I do not, nor will I ever, keep a mistress.”
“They say,” she murmured, in tones meant to make a man as hard as granite, “you’re a man of legendary passions. Besides, who said anything about becoming your mistress? I already have a protector.”
The lovely courtesan stood over him, clad in nothing but silken skin, his favorite feminine attire, her hand expertly working his cock until his eyes crossed.
Her bountiful, pert breasts jiggled as her hand moved upon him, the petal-pink nipples making his mouth water for a taste. Her ash-blond hair swung about her upper arms and downward, cloaking the luscious curves of her waist and hips, matching the groomed hair between her thighs. A place he hoped to explore very shortly, and for the rest of this cold winter’s night.
One thing a Libertine Scholar wasn’t was stupid. His uncanny ability to read people as easily as he could read a map told him exactly why Clarice had invited him to her home and into his bed. It wasn’t just because of his reputation as a legendary lover. She lied. It was obvious she was looking for a new protector.
He breathed heavily. “I was under the impression Baron Larkwell, Douglas Hennessey, kept you.”
“Doogie is merely a boy.” She leaned forward, her silky tresses tickling his groin and making his balls tighten further. Her tongue teased his member, heightening his need for what was to come—her mouth fully upon him. She drew back, an assessing glint in her eyes. “Why settle for Doogie when I can have a real man?”
“Why indeed? Flattered as I am, perhaps it is more because young Doogie is about to marry. Marry an heiress whose father would not condone Doogie’s extramarital affairs. A father who knows he’s buying his daughter a title and expects Doogie to cherish her as much as he did. A father who holds the purse strings and is shrewd enough to count every single penny.”
A pout formed on her perfect lips before a sly smile took its place. “Men like Doogie always find a way to enjoy pleasure.” She gripped him tighter. “With the right incentive, I’m sure Doogie could become quite emboldened, enough to defy his father-in-law. But”—she ran her finger down his cock—“sometimes a woman needs more than money and trinkets. Sometimes we want pleasure for ourselves. You’re hung like a stallion and that excites me.” Her head lowered once more, hovering over his straining member. “I’m very good at providing appropriate incentives. Even you will find it hard to resist me.”
He had no intention of resisting her, nor any intention of taking a mistress. Even mistresses required too much emotional commitment. He’d seen how giving one’s heart neutered a man.
Then her delicious hot, wet mouth clamped firmly around where he’d wanted it to be from the minute he’d walked into her boudoir. With lips and tongue and teeth, she attended his throbbing member, utilizing a catalogue of expert techniques until he was teetering on the brink of coming.
She was not lying when she’d said she offered incentives hard to resist. She was putting on quite a show, Sebastian the eager and delighted audience.
Understanding that they were perhaps heading toward the finale too quickly, she desisted briefly in order to encourage his participation. “Touch me, my lord.” She took his hand and placed it between her thighs. “The sharing of mutual pleasure brings us both bigger rewards.” She eagerly resumed her ministrations.
Sebastian’s fingers worked her slick heat. She was indeed thoroughly wet and aroused. He chuckled, a low rich sound of pleasure, and closed his eyes to focus on the rhythm of her sweet mouth. Soon the world faded to black as he struggled to hold back his release. He wanted it to last longer; after all, they had all night. He would reward her efforts later with such pleasure she’d not regret inviting him to her bed even when he apologetically declined her delightful offer to become his mistress.
Her mouth worked him more urgently as she neared her orgasm. His hips began lifting of their own accord. Being a gentleman, he would hold on until she took her pleasure. As the pinnacle drew near, she enveloped more of him, sucking him as if she wished to consume him. He gritted his teeth and held on. With a muffled incoherent cry, she tightened her thighs around his hand as she found ecstasy, and finally Sebastian lost himself in the dark grip of passion. Arching his back against his explosive need, he let his savage lust lead him into oblivion.
Suddenly the door to Clarice’s room flew open, crashing against the wall.
Through his orgasmic contentment he could barely see who had rudely invaded their privacy, but he noted Clarice’s cry of alarm and tried to regain his bearings.
“I’ll kill you, you bastard!”
Sebastian closed his eyes on another groan, but the sound was not of pleasure but annoyance. Doogie Hennessey, the young Baron Larkwell. Reluctantly Sebastian opened his eyes, noting that Clarice had already pulled on a robe. He rose up on his elbows, quirking an eyebrow at the young hothead who was waving a sword in the direction of Sebastian’s genitals. He pulled a pillow across them more for protection than modesty.
“There will be no killing. I’m here at the lady’s invitation.” He flashed a wicked smile at Clarice. “What man could refuse?” He watched Clarice blush and a small smile curved her luscious lips. He really shouldn’t tease the lad.
Doogie stood there, his chest heaving, his eyes filled with hurt. Sebastian began to feel a bit sorry for the young man. He obviously had no idea how deceitful, manipulative, and downright mercenary the fairer sex could be. He prayed the hothead didn’t do any thing silly like—
“Lord Coldhurst, I challenge you to a duel at dawn to first blood. Choose your weapons.”
Raggedly Sebastian ran a hand through his hair. Of all the idiotic . . . He should accept the challenge and teach the whippersnapper a lesson. A good wound to the left shoulder would make him think twice about issuing challenges. Better Doogie be taught a lesson by him than challenge an opponent who wouldn’t care what injury they inflicted.
He sighed and shook his head. “Doogie—”
“Lord Larkwell to you.”
“Lord Larkwell, it’s obvious I’ve made an error in judgment. I did not understand your relationship with Clarice was more than a monetary one, nor that with your impending nuptials, the aforementioned arrangement had not ended.” He paused and gave Doogie his best steely gaze. “However, a duel is not necessary. I unreservedly apologize.”
The sword did not lower; it was now pointed at his heart.
“I demand satisfaction.”
This was ridiculous. He pushed Doogie’s sword aside and rose from the bed in one fluid motion, taking Doogie by surprise. He tore the sword from the young man’s hand and threw it across the room, where it clattered on the floor.
“You idiot. No one even knows I’m here. What satisfaction do you require? Clarice was more than willing. Don’t be rash with your challenges or I’ll be forced to teach you a lesson.”
Doogie’s answer was swift, a solid punch to his left cheek. It bloody hurt.
A fierce anger ripped through Sebastian. He had received enough beatings as a child and had sworn never to let any man get the better of him again.
Unfortunately, Sebastian let his temper engulf him.
“Pistols at dawn then. Perhaps I’ll teach you some manners. You’ll learn to accept a man’s apology when it is sincerely offered.”
Doogie’s face grew deathly pale. “Whom should my second contact?”
“Lord Hadley Fullerton. You’ll find him at White’s, where I’m now heading—I need a drink.” With that, Sebastian gathered his clothes, bowed low over Clarice’s hand, and said, “It was a pleasure, my sweet.” Under his breath he added, “Not quite worth the outcome,” and followed her maid to an adjoining room to dress. He could hear the couple’s angry words through the wall.
How stupid to fight a duel over something as insignificant as a lady’s honor. What honor? Clarice had invited him to her bed when clearly her arrangement with Lord Larkwell was not over. A woman’s fickle heart was nothing to duel over. A man’s pride shouldn’t be wounded because a woman was unfaithful. There would be daily duels if that were the case.
Once dressed, Sebastian escaped into the night to find Hadley. Perhaps he should have played cards this evening. The fleeting pleasure Clarice gave was not worth the early morning outing to come.
“Should you be wounded, it’s so bloody cold you’ll likely not feel it.”
Hadley’s words were of little comfort on this chilly dawn morning in a private corner of Kenwood, Hampstead.
“The mist will make it damn near impossible for Larkwell to see me. I doubt either of us will be in danger of being wounded, thank God.”
When Baron Larkwell arrived on the field with his second, Lord Eyre, and the obligatory surgeon, Sebastian simply wanted the whole damn charade over with. He picked the pistol closest to him and moved to his mark.
The count of twenty paces began and Sebastian once more cursed himself for agreeing to this folly. As they counted out the paces, he gave one final attempt to halt this nonsense. “For God’s sake, Larkwell. I unreservedly apologize. I did not realize you had such devoted feelings for Miss Hudson.”
“Bugger off, Coldhurst. I will have satisfaction. I may be impoverished but I will not have my woman defiled by the likes of you.”
The noises Clarice had made clearly indicated she wasn’t being defiled, or if she was, she was thoroughly enjoying it.
The surgeon gave the command. “Gentlemen, on my mark you may fire.”
Sebastian didn’t care that the swirling fog was so thick he could barely see Doogie. He’d been involved in previous duels and knew what to do. He closed his eyes and pointed his pistol wide of Doogie and fired.
Almost immediately a further shot could be heard. As Sebastian felt no pain, he surmised that Doogie had, thankfully, missed. He’d thought that likely, given the young Baron was not known for his marksmanship.
“Thank Christ that’s over and done with,” he muttered, and made his way through the mist toward his carriage.
He had almost made it to the edge of path by the carriage track when a series of loud curses rang out. A shiver of foreboding entered his being. He hastily looked at Hadley, who’d come to meet him.
“You’ve bloody killed him,” Larkwell’s second called out through the swirling mist, making the whole performance look like a scene from a graveyard, and now there was a body.
Sebastian stared at Hadley, shock rendering him mute.
“You must flee. Killing a man in a duel is a capital offense.” Hadley began shepherding him toward the carriage.
“I couldn’t have killed him. I aimed wide.” His voice rose as sickening regret choked him. “I aimed wide, I tell you. My shot should have gone nowhere near Doogie.”
Hadley hushed him and pushed him into his carriage. “You have to leave now. The surgeon is calling for the Bow Street Runners. If there has been some mistake, it would be better to deal with the outcome as a free man. Now go.”
“No. If I have done this, then I must face the consequences.”
His friend growled low in this throat. “Listen, I too noted you aimed wide. But while we sort out this terrible situation, you need to be free. Think on your family. What will happen to your sisters should you be incarcerated?” He glanced over his shoulder at the oncoming men and hurried Sebastian with a little push. “Go. I’ll take care of them, hold them off and hope I can pacify their reaction.”
Sebastian reluctantly agreed. He headed for the London dock and his ship, the Seductress. As he sat back in the carriage, regret and grief enveloped him. He wiped the sweat from his brow. This couldn’t be happening. He had purposely tried to avoid the lad. He’d wager his manhood on it, and for a man like him, that was not something he took lightly.
He’d fired well to the right of Doogie . . . Unless, in the mist, Doogie had paced off the mark.
He hung his head and tried to calm his racing heart by taking deep breaths. This was his worst nightmare playing out as if he were the lead in a morbid play. He had killed a man, for the most foolish and irresponsible of reasons—over a woman. It was a mistake—a tragic mistake.
His hands curled into fists against his thighs. He’d killed a young man. Killed him over a faithless, forgettable woman. He should have known better. He should have been the bigger man and walked away.
History repeated itself.
Perhaps he was his father’s legitimate son after all.
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About the Author:
Bronwen Evans grew up loving books. She has always indulged her love of storytelling and is constantly gobbling up movies, books, and theater. Is it any wonder she’s a proud romance writer? Evans is a two-time winner of the RomCon Readers’ Crown and has been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
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