Duke of PleasureBy: Elizabeth Hoyt
Thank you to my beta reader, Susannah Taylor, who, despite all evidence to the contrary, consistently tells me that I shouldn’t give up writing and become a professional dog walker instead; to my editor, Amy Pierpont, who hasn’t yet torn out all her hair due to my egregiously missed deadlines; to my assistant, Melissa Jolly, without whom I would have lost my fracking mind, oh my dear god; and to my darling husband, Mr. Hoyt, who brings me cappuccinos every morning whether I deserve them or not.
And a special thank you to Facebook reader Bernadette Bernstein for naming Pudding the puppy!
Thank you all.
Now once there were a White Kingdom and a Black Kingdom that had been at war since time began.…
—From The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon
Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, did not want to die tonight, for three very good reasons.
It was half past midnight as he eyed the toughs slinking out of the shadows up ahead in the cold alley near Covent Garden. He moved the bottle of fine Viennese wine from his right arm to his left and drew his sword. He’d dined with the Habsburg ambassador earlier this evening, and the wine was a gift.
Firstly, Kit, his elder son—and, formally, the Earl of Staffin—was only seven. Far too young to be orphaned and inherit the dukedom.
Next to Hugh was a linkboy with a lantern. The boy was frozen, his lantern a small pool of light in the narrow alley. The youth’s eyes were wide and frightened. He couldn’t be more than fourteen. Hugh glanced over his shoulder. Several men were bearing down on them from the entrance to the alley. He and the linkboy were trapped.
Secondly, Peter, his younger son, was still suffering nightmares from the death of his mother only five months before. What would his father’s death so soon after his mother’s do to the boy?
They might be common footpads. Unlikely, though. Footpads usually worked in smaller numbers, were not this organized, and were after money, not death.
And thirdly, His Majesty had recently assigned Hugh an important job: destroy the Lords of Chaos. On the whole, Hugh liked to finish his jobs. Brought a nice sense of completion at the end of the day, if nothing else.
“If you can, run,” Hugh said to the linkboy. “They’re after me, not you.”
Then he pivoted and attacked the closest group—the three men behind them.
Their leader, a big fellow, raised a club.
Hugh slashed him across the throat. The leader fell in a spray of scarlet. But his second was already bringing his own club down in a bone-jarring blow to Hugh’s left shoulder. Hugh juggled the bottle of wine, seized it again, and kicked the man in the balls. The second doubled over and stumbled against the third. Hugh punched over the man’s head and into the face of the third.
There were running footsteps from behind Hugh.
He spun to face the other end of the alley and another attacker.
Caught the descending knife with his blade and slid his sword into the hand holding the knife.
A howling scream, and the knife clattered to the icy cobblestones in a splatter of blood.
The knife man lowered his head and charged like an enraged bull.
Hugh flattened all six foot four inches of himself against the filthy alley wall, stuck out his foot, and tripped Charging Bull into the three men he’d already dealt with.
The linkboy, who had been cowering against the opposite wall, took the opportunity to squirm through the constricted space between the assailants and run away.
Which left them all in darkness, save for the light of the half moon.
He didn’t have to worry about hitting his compatriots in the dark.
He rushed the man next in line after the Bull. They’d picked a nice alley, his attackers. No way out—save the ends—but in such close quarters he had a small advantage: no matter how many men were against him, the alley was so cramped that only two could come at him at a time. The rest were simply bottled up behind the others, twiddling their thumbs.