Duke of Disrepute: Dukes of Distinction Book 3
Welcome to bestselling author Alexa Aston's new Regency romance series, the Dukes of Distinction! These five aristocrats all come with nicknames Polite Society has bestowed upon them. Renown. Charm. Disrepute. Arrogance. Honor.
A beautiful widow at the mercy of selfish relatives . . .
A duke broken by a terrible secret . . .
Lady Elise Ruthersby is with child when her husband is killed, and the family awaits the birth to see who will be the new earl. A daughter arrives, relegating Elise to the status of a servant as she becomes the unpaid governess to her two nephews.
Weston Wallace, the Duke of Treadwell, learns a devastating secret about his fiancée the night before their wedding, causing him to break their engagement. He becomes London's most notorious rake, with a rule that he only beds a woman once.
When Elise and her daughter are trapped in a carriage struck by a flaming tree in a perilous storm, Weston rescues the pair. Years of cynicism fall to the wayside as he becomes captivated by the beautiful widow and her enchanting daughter. Weston decides he must marry the woman who has thawed his cold heart without scaring her away because of his vile reputation.
The two strike a bargain where Elise will help Weston navigate the Marriage Mart during the upcoming Season if he will help her find a husband. Little does the unsuspecting widow know that London's most infamous womanizer has already decided who his duchess will be.
Can the Duke of Disrepute convince Elise that he's a changed man—due to love?
Find the answer in The Duke of Disrepute, Book 3 in the Dukes of Distinction.
Each book in Dukes of Distinction is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order and can be read for free in Kindle Unlimited.
Dukes of Distinction
Duke of Renown
Duke of Charm
Duke of Disrepute
Duke of Arrogance
Duke of Honor
Release date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 246
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Duke of Disrepute: Dukes of Distinction Book 3
Weston Wallace, Duke of Treadwell, tossed back the remainder of the brandy in his snifter. He was pleasantly drunk as he celebrated his upcoming nuptials to Lady Juniper Radwell with his friends. Juniper’s brother, Viscount Kingsbury, had hosted tonight’s gathering. He had known Monty Radwell from school, more as an acquaintance, since the viscount was four years older than Weston and his tight-knit group of friends.
He glanced to George, the Duke of Colebourne and his closest friend. Their fathers had been neighbors and best friends from their own school days and raised their heirs to be the same. Weston and George had done everything together from the time they could walk and talk and they’d been joined by Andrew once they left their tutors behind and began Eton together. Jon and Sebastian had completed their circle when they’d met at Cambridge. Though Jon was here tonight helping the two grooms-to-be celebrate their upcoming nuptials, both Andrew and Sebastian were far away on the Continent, fighting the menace known as Bonaparte. Weston wished they could be here but he understood war trumped the marriage of school chums, even if they were as close as brothers.
“One more?” Kingsbury asked, dangling the bottle of brandy from his fingertips, his smile tipsy.
Weston shook his head. “No more for me. Not if I am to be standing at the altar tomorrow, pledging myself to your sister.” He looked at George. “Are you ready to go home so we can get some sleep?”
George gave him a sleepy smile. He always looked sleepy when he’d had too much to drink.
“All right, West. Whatever you say.” He handed his half-finished drink to Kingsbury. “Thanks you for having us.”
Everyone else present did the same, setting aside their tumblers and noisily spilling from the library and down the stairs. Weston caught sight of Juniper standing in the shadows, a smile playing about her sensual lips. Lips he adored kissing. Lips that would belong to him alone once they wed tomorrow morning in St. George’s Chapel in a double ceremony with George and Lady Frederica Martin. Weston was utterly besotted with his fiancée. She was the most beautiful unmarried woman in all of London.
And she was going to be all his.
Not that she already hadn’t been. They’d both been too eager to wait until their wedding night to consummate their relationship. For the last few months, he had been sneaking into her bed regularly, taking precautions so that no little Treadwell would be growing in her womb on their wedding day. His caution would end tomorrow night. Both he and George were eager to start their families. That’s why they were marrying young. They’d both ascended to their dukedoms last year when their fathers passed away within days of each other and took their responsibilities seriously. That included making new little dukes to be their heirs apparent.
At least Weston was lucky enough to be marrying for love. He’d chosen Juniper to become his duchess because of her old, solid family name and hefty dowry, along with her immense beauty. It had surprised him when he’d actually fallen in love with her. Juniper was the woman every man of the ton worshipped—and she had chosen him to spend the rest of her life with. He warmed thinking of the heat that existed between them when they coupled. His fiancée was like a goddess come to life and she made him feel like a god instead of a mortal man.
He watched his friends file out the door, George the last to go.
“I’ll meet you at St. George’s Chapel tomorrow,” he promised his dearest friend. “Goodnight.”
George gave him a knowing wink and retreated down the sidewalk to his waiting carriage.
Weston closed the door and saw Kingsbury move away and enter his study just off the foyer. That left him alone with his fiancée.
Juniper left the shadows and came to him, winding her arms about his neck, pressing her curvaceous body into his. Weston kissed her hungrily. Her hand moved between them, finding his cock and stroking it through his trousers.
Laughing, he broke the kiss. “I’ve had a little too much to drink, my lady. Perhaps we should wait until after the ceremony tomorrow.”
“I don’t care,” she told him, her eyes gleaming. “I want you. Now.”
Taking his hand, she led him up to her bedchamber. She stripped him of his clothes, flinging them in all directions, and then pushed him onto the bed once he was naked. Lazily, he watched as she removed her dressing gown and night rail and then climbed atop him. Within moments, he was hard. She reached under her pillow and removed a French letter, sheathing him and then guiding him inside her, where she rode him with abandon. He watched her, her eyes closed, contentment on her face as they both climaxed at the same time. She fell onto his chest, breathing rapidly.
Then as usual, she moved off him. Juniper wasn’t a cuddler, something he hoped might change. She tossed on her night rail.
“You need to leave,” she said. “You look far too satisfied in my bed and much too sleepy. It wouldn’t bode well if you fell asleep and I couldn’t wake you.” Grinning, she added, “Think of the scandal that would cause. A groom found in his bride’s bed before the ceremony was performed.”
Weston dressed as she went to her dressing table. He watched her unpin her hair and brush it out. He longed to comb his fingers through it but knew she was right. He needed to get some rest before their big day tomorrow. He went and placed his hands on her shoulders, kissing the side of her neck and then the top of her head.
“Tomorrow at St. George’s then?” he asked playfully.
Her eyes met his in the mirror. “Yes, darling. Tomorrow.”
“Farewell, my lady.” His eyes twinkled. “Or should I say Your Grace?”
Her lips twitched with amusement. “Oh, I could get used to that. I think I will make for an absolutely marvelous duchess.”
“You will,” he assured her, thinking of everything he would lavish upon her once she became his wife.
He left her bedchamber, creeping down the hall. He met Kingsbury on the stairs and grinned sheepishly.
“Goodnight,” he murmured. “I’ll let myself out.”
Weston reached the ground floor and opened the massive door, shutting it quietly behind him. His carriage awaited him at the curb. As he reached it, he realized he’d neglected to put his waistcoat back on.
“I’ll be right back,” he told his driver and returned to the house.
Normally, it wouldn’t matter that he’d left his waistcoat behind but inside its pocket was Juniper’s wedding ring. He’d been carrying it with him for a week now, giddy as a schoolboy. It wouldn’t do to show up at the altar tomorrow without it. He was afraid if he sent word to her, she might not receive it with all the hustle and bustle of preparing for her wedding in the morning. Even if she did, she would have to get the ring to him. Weston didn’t trust that to happen, especially if she gave it to her brother. Monty had garnered a reputation of being irresponsible during their school days and it seemed nothing had changed as he’d matured into an adult. It would just be easier to claim the article of clothing and the ring inside now.
He reached Juniper’s bedchamber and decided not to knock and draw undue attention. She always fell asleep quickly and deeply after they’d lain together and was probably already dreaming even now. Turning the knob, he quietly pushed open the door, thinking he could retrieve his waistcoat and kiss her brow before retreating to his carriage.
What he saw caused him to come to a standstill, his mouth gaping.
Juniper was in bed.
With her brother.
Kingsbury’s bare back and buttocks glistened with sweat as he hovered over her. Weston could see her legs entwined about his waist. She was making the same noises she made when they made love. Bile rose in his throat. He couldn’t stand by idly, though. He strode across the room and shoved Kingsbury off her. Startled, the viscount fell off the bed and scrambled to his feet, a scowl on his handsome face.
Weston tore his eyes from the naked man and focused on his fiancée. She wore a satisfied smile, like a cat who’d been caught licking cream.
“Hello, darling,” she said sensually. “Have you come to join in our fun?”
Disgust filled him. He reached to the floor and picked up her dressing gown and threw it at her, turning away. His thoughts were in a jumble. Something touched his shoulder and he wheeled. It was Kingsbury.
“I say, Treadwell, we—”
Weston slammed his fist into the viscount’s face. The crunch of broken bone sounded and blood spurted from Kingsbury’s nose as he stumbled back. Curses flew from his lips.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” purred Juniper.
He turned and saw her climb from the bed, holding the dressing gown he’d given her. She padded naked to her brother and tenderly stroked his cheek, then used the gown to mop up the blood. Weston’s belly soured and he fought the urge to empty all the drinks he’d had, swallowing hard and then holding his breath.
His fiancée came to him. She tried to put her arms about him but he waved her off.
“Oh, come now, Treadwell,” she said softly. “You aren’t surprised, are you? You know my appetite is voracious when it comes to matters of the flesh.”
Anger flushed through him. “Surprised? I’m disgusted. Horrified.”
She touched his forearm but he threw off her hand.
“It’s only for fun. That’s what carnal pleasure is all about. Indulging yourself. Living out your fantasies.” Juniper smiled. “In fact, the three of us together will have some interesting times.”
“Are you mad?” he hissed.
She shrugged. “We’ll try it. You’ll get used to the idea. A wonderful, wicked world awaits you. You’ll see. You’ll try it . . . and like it. I know you will.”
“I’ll see nothing,” he said hoarsely. “There will be no trying. There’ll be no us to do the trying.”
She frowned. “What are you saying?”
“We are not getting married,” he told her.
“Treadwell, you must—”
“I must follow my common sense, Madam. Right now, it’s telling me to get as far from you as possible.”
“You cannot break our engagement,” she said firmly. “I’ve waited for the right man. I wanted a duke. A handsome, wealthy duke. One who enjoys sex as much as I do.”
“Not unnatural coupling!” he shouted, not caring who heard him.
She sniffed. “It’s in your nature, Treadwell. You are as carnal as they come. You enjoy all the naughty things we already do. There’s a world of interesting things to try together. It doesn’t have to be with Monty. We can find others. Your friend Colebourne, for example. He’s quite dashing. I’m sure he’d be amenable to having some fun with us.”
Weston vehemently shook his head in denial. “You are deliberately not understanding, Juniper. I want nothing to do with you or any of your sick games.”
Her eyes narrowed. “My reputation will be ruined if you break our engagement.”
“Then say you broke it for all I care. I will be a gentleman and keep to myself what I saw this night. Polite Society will never hear of your misdeeds from me.”
Her eyes gleamed. She looked like an entirely different person. How could he not have seen what she truly was?
“You must promise you will not speak publicly of this. That you will let me tell my version of the events and not contradict it.”
“I promise,” he said begrudgingly. “What is the story you will tell?”
“I’ll have to give it some thought,” Juniper said. “It must cast me in a positive light. I’m afraid, though, it will paint you in quite a bad one.” She smiled wickedly. “In fact, you will be totally, utterly disgraced. Of course, society forgives a duke anything. Eventually, that is.”
“What kind of lies will you paint me with?” he demanded.
“Lies which will become known as the truth. Ones which will make your new nickname reflect who you truly are, Your Grace.” She paused. “The Duke . . . of Disrepute. Yes, that is what I will call you. Disrepute. You will have no respect. No honor. No one will hold you in esteem.”
In that moment, Weston didn’t care what she said or did. He only wanted to get as far away from her as possible. He had loved this woman. Worshipped her body. Given his very soul to her. Now, he realized the truth. Love didn’t exist. Women were never to be trusted. And if he was to be known as the Duke of Disrepute?
Then he would live up to the title and wear it with pride.
Lady Elise Purnell waited nervously at the foot of the staircase with her father.
“Why can’t Mama ever be on time?” she complained.
He chuckled. “It’s not in your mother’s nature to let a clock rule her life, my dear. She’ll be ready when she’s ready. And she’ll be beautiful, as always.”
“But I’m the one making my come-out!” Elise exclaimed. “If we are late, we won’t be able to go through the receiving line. Or worse. All the eligible gentlemen will have already circulated through the ballroom and signed their names to dance cards. I’ll be left standing alone, the first designated wallflower of the Season.”
Papa came and enfolded her in his arms. “That won’t happen, Daughter. You are a lovely person, both inside and out. If the bachelors of the ton can’t recognize that, then I will take you home with me and keep you as my little girl until the next Season begins.”
It felt good to be so loved but Elise didn’t want to be her father’s little girl anymore. She was eighteen, for heaven’s sake. Poised to make her come-out with all her friends. She’d had an entire wardrobe made up for the Season. Taken dancing lessons. Polished her singing and piano playing. She was on the cusp of a new life.
If Mama could choose a dress and make her way downstairs, that is.
“I will go fetch her,” she said with determination.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Papa told her. “Besides, here she comes now.” Looking up at his countess descending the stairs, he called out, “My darling, you are a sight to behold.”
Mama laughed girlishly, the way she always did when Papa complimented her. “Oh, Shelby, you make me feel young again with that frisky look in your eyes.”
Elise grunted. This was not the time for her parents to ogle one another. They were old and married, not two people flirting at a ball, trying to be noticed by the other.
Her father kissed her mother’s cheek and, taking her arm, he looked over his shoulder. “Coming, Elise?”
She sniffed and followed them out to the waiting carriage. She sat opposite them, hoping they wouldn’t be too late. Even if the receiving line had already begun, they could join it at the end and pretend they’d been there at the same time the others had arrived.
Mama frowned. “Elise, my dear, we haven’t talked about this but I want you to refrain from your bluestocking ways tonight. You are not to talk about anything intellectual. No politics or literature. No conversation involving the government or science. Keep to safe topics. Such as the weather,” her mother instructed.
She didn’t want to change who she was. Elise did want to wed, though. She wanted to find a worthy man and bear him children. She just needed to attract a man who didn’t mind that she read voraciously and was interested in the world about her. She found geography and politics endlessly fascinating. Economics. Literature. The sciences.
“Wouldn’t it be wise to find a gentleman who shares my interests, Mama?”
“Oh, no. That won’t do at all. Men don’t want a woman who is smarter than they are.” She shook her head. “You are more intelligent than most men in Parliament, Elise, but you can’t show it. Men of the ton will be put off by that, especially those perusing the Marriage Mart.”
Before she could reply, her mother continued. “Try to dance with as many highly titled gentlemen as you can.”
Elise blurted out, “Surely, not the Bad Dukes?”
Lady Shelby’s nose scrunched up in distaste. “What do you know of that pair?”
Quite a lot, actually. She had Soames, her favorite footman, save the newspapers for her each day and devoured them. Besides all the interesting articles, she couldn’t help but devote a little time to reading the gossip columns. Why, just this week, an unnamed viscount had been caught in bed with his sister-in-law. A certain earl was rumored to have murdered his wife. And the two outrageously behaved Bad Dukes, the Duke of Charm and the Duke of Disrepute, had been involved in three separate antics, causing Polite Society to wag their tongues at the pair.
“I heard a few of my friends mention them,” she said meekly, not wanting a lecture from her mother while she protected Soames at the same time. If Lady Shelby knew Elise had been reading the gossip columns, Mama would ban her from reading any part of the newspapers. They were full of information that she gobbled up and she couldn’t risk that occurring.
“Oh, I forgot,” her mother said. “Take off your spectacles.”
“You are tolerably pretty without them. If you wear them, however, no man will ask you to dance.”
“You know everything is a blur at a distance when I don’t wear them, Mama.”
“That’s quite all right. You can see up close perfectly fine and distinguish the various men who ask you to partner with them when they stand close to you. Now, put them away.”
Begrudgingly, Elise slipped off the small, gold spectacles and slid them into her reticule.
By now, the carriage began to slow and her heartbeat sped up. The driver stopped and let them out and they had to walk two blocks to their destination because the streets were snarled with carriages. She hoped the dust wouldn’t cling to her new satin slippers. Thankfully, people were still coming from all directions and they joined the swell. The tide of others swept them into the house.
Once they’d gone through the receiving line, she parted ways with her parents, spying three of her friends and joining them. A footman handed her a programme.
“Did I miss anything?” she asked, but no one paid attention to her as the trio scanned the ballroom so Elise did the same, everything a total blur.
Several gentlemen came up and a flurry of introductions were made. Her programme was signed a half-dozen times and Elise relaxed, knowing she wouldn’t be a wallflower tonight.
Then suddenly, the others began whispering loudly and she figured out from what they said that two incredibly handsome men, both tall, were making their way toward them.
“Here they come,” she muttered, knowing in her bones it had to be the Bad Dukes, even though she couldn’t quite see what they looked like as they approached.
Then they arrived and, up close, they were a magnificent pair. One had a tawny mane of hair and golden skin that made him resemble a lion. The other was sinfully handsome, with dark hair and olive skin. Both were impeccably dressed and utterly confident as they smiled at the group of young women making their come-out tonight.
What would she do if one of them asked to dance with her? It wasn’t the done thing to refuse a duke. Would it hurt her reputation? She was a good girl. A very good girl, despite her bluestocking leanings. She always aimed to please others and never thought of herself.
“Good evening, ladies,” the Duke of Charm drawled, living up to his reputation with his smooth voice and lively eyes.
“Yes, I second that,” the Duke of Disrepute added, looking them over with interest.
His eyes stopped when they came to her. Elise swallowed. They hadn’t even been properly introduced to these gentlemen! How could she be embroiled in a scandal before she’d ever set a foot out on the dance floor?
A slow smile spread across his face. “My lady, would you care to dance? I hear the strains of the opening number about to start.”
She swallowed again, words beyond her. She’d never lost her ability to speak but he was breathtaking.
When she remained silent, the Duke of Disrepute lifted the dance card she’d tied to her wrist with the ribbon attached to it.
“I see you have this opening number available,” he commented, dropping the card. “Cat got your tongue?” He smiled, a dreadfully wicked smile that made her breath catch. “Come along, little kitten.”
He took her hand and placed it atop his arm in order to guide her to the ballroom floor.
Finding her voice, Elise said, “Watch out, Your Grace. Even kittens have claws and aren’t afraid to use them if they feel threatened.”
The duke stopped in his tracks and then laughed. His laugh was rich and deep, something one could become addicted to very easily. It made his gleaming, white teeth look even whiter.
“Oh, Kitten, you have nothing to fear from this wolf.”
She sniffed as he took her in his arms as the music began. “I didn’t think so, Your Grace. Not only is it well known that you have no wish to wed, but I know you would never want to wed someone like me.”
He frowned, seemingly puzzled by her words. “Why do you say that, Kitten?”
She shrugged. “I know I’m only tolerably pretty, Wolf.”
Elise looked away, trying to see the other couples on the dance floor and unable to make out anything beyond whirling blurs.
“Why are you squinting?” he inquired, drawing her attention back to him.
“I cannot see any great distance without my spectacles,” she admitted. “Only close up. Mama made me take them off in the carriage before we entered the townhouse tonight. She thinks I’m hideous-looking when I wear them.”
“Is it your mama who told you that you’re only tolerably pretty without them?” he asked gently.
“Yes,” she admitted, shocked she was being so open with a man so disreputable.
He smiled. “Well, she’s wrong about that. You’re very pretty with that russet hair and those violet eyes. I’ve never seen such an unusual shade as they are. I can’t see a pair of spectacles changing your appearance all that much.”
Elise felt her cheeks heat and her heart flutter wildly. “Thank you for the compliment, Wolf. I will add it to my list and share with any gentleman who wishes to know that the Duke of Disrepute found me pretty.”
She hadn’t meant to call him by his nickname, much less sound flippant, but something about dancing with this man emboldened her.
“You are quite unique, my lady. Keep being you . . . and the right man will find you.”
They continued to dance though the duke ceased conversing with her. She supposed her talk of spectacles had bored him immensely. He had told her she was very pretty, though. Elise supposed he told every girl who made her come-out the same thing. Still, he’d sounded terribly sincere when he’d said it. If the Duke of Disrepute was this charming, she wondered how much more his friend, the Duke of Charm, could be.
When the music ceased, he led her back to the spot he’d found her. The Duke of Charm was already there and met his friend’s gaze. Elise looked up at Disrepute and saw an imperceptible shake of his head. When she looked back at Charm, he was looking at another of her friends and she knew her partner had warned him off her.
“Thank you for the dance, Kitten,” Disrepute told her. “The man who captures your heart will land a very beautiful girl, both inside and out.”
He lifted her hand and kissed it and then strolled away. Charm followed him.
Immediately, her friends began pestering her for what they’d talked about. Elise blushed and they began teasing her. Feeling overwhelmed, she excused herself and went to the retiring room to escape them and their nosy questions.
Men like this wolf were dangerous. He made her want things that she shouldn’t be thinking of. She longed for his arms to gather her up and his sensual lips to touch hers. If he would have taken her outside and pressed her for a kiss, she wouldn’t have been able to deny him.
This brief experience made Elise decide she needed to play it safe. She would find a nice, boring man and live an ordinary life. She didn’t need the type of excitement and scandal that a man such as Disrepute would bring. Not that he’d ever be interested in marriage, much less with a green girl such as her.
Returning to the ballroom, her next partner approached. Lord Ruthersby was bland in looks but she found him to be quite intellectual. They wound up speaking about several topics and he signed her card again, claiming the supper dance. All throughout supper, they continued to converse. He was sweet. A bit awkward. They had much in common, though.
Elise decided this man would be the one.
Not the wolf.
Windowmere, Devon—September 1814
Weston sat in the library of the Duke of Windham, a brandy in his hand and the bottle close by. He’d been dragged to Andrew’s house by George. His friend feared Lord Ivy, an imbecile who couldn’t string two intelligent sentences together, might challenge Weston to a duel.
For sleeping with Ivy’s stepmother.
It seemed comical to him because Ivy had also been sleeping with his stepmother—and the woman had apparently mentioned her preference for the Duke of Disrepute over her stepson—thus, Ivy’s irritation with Weston. He didn’t truly think the fool would issue a challenge. Weston wished George had allowed them to remain in London to find out what Ivy would have done. The choices would have been to either shoot the idiot or ignore the challenge. If he shot Ivy and only wounded him, no harm would be done. If he killed him, as Weston had a mind to do simply because the young man annoyed him to no end, a scandal would ensue—and that meant fleeing London. With Bonaparte still causing havoc throughout Europe, it would limit the scope of places to live in exile for a few years, until the matter was forgotten.
On the other hand, he could dismiss the challenge. Disregarding a challenge would be possibly an even larger scandal and would certainly seal his fate forever as the Duke of Disrepute. Weston toyed with the idea of returning to London without George and seeing how the affair played out. This house party Andrew and his new wife, Phoebe, was holding had no appeal. The Duke of Disrepute found house parties limiting and boring, being confined to one place with a set number of guests.
He took another sip of brandy and admitted to himself what was really on his mind.
George’s troubling declaration.
His longtime friend had joined Weston for the last six years in cutting a swath through society after their broken engagements. The Bad Dukes, as they were known, lived for debauchery. They indulged in every known sexual pleasure and drank and gambled to excess. They broke every rule of Polite Society and lived their lives with no goal other than achieving enjoyment. They’d even come up with rules of their own making to guide them on their hedonistic journey through life.
Rule Number One had been easily agreed upon. They never stayed overnight with a lover. It was one thing to bed a woman but to wake up beside her in the morning light was quite another. Women were difficult creatures and could become very possessive. Finding a man had remained with them all night put odd notions in their heads. Ones that Weston and George didn’t care to deal with.
Their second rule allowed them a wide field of choices. They could make love to any willing woman between eighteen and eighty. Younger than eighteen was like robbing the cradle, and therefore, forbidden. Over eighty would be unthinkable—although he could think of one countess who had passed eighty and still looked a good twenty-five years younger.
They parted ways on the third rule, which was perfectly fine with Weston. He chose to have sex with a woman only once. One time was enough for him to get a taste for her and satisfy his curiosity. More than that led to that air of possession again, which he avoided at all costs. George, on the other hand, limited himself to three encounters before he moved on to someone else. Weston couldn’t remember why but it seemed to work for George. It probably had something to do with charming his lover and leaving while things were still sweet between them.
Rule Number Four was de riguer. They must come home and bathe after any encounter. Not having the smell of a particular woman on them—or their sheets—was important. Their home and personal bed must always remain their sanctuary, which led to their final rule.
Never, ever, ever allow a lover in your own bed.
The only exception occurred at a house party. Both he and George had gone to women and brought prospective lovers back to their beds when they were away from home, experiencing entertainment in the country. Since it wasn’t their actual bed but a guest bed instead, they eased the rule whenever they found themselves away from London.
These rules had served the both of them well. Until now. Out of the blue, George opened up to him on their carriage ride to Devon. That, in and of itself, shocked Weston. They never talked about anything having to do with their emotions. Though they were closer than brothers, they never allowed the personal to come into their conversations. They drank and gambled. Raced their phaetons and boxed and hunted. The closest they came to discussing anything personal was comparing various lovers they’d shared.
Then George had gone and ruined it all. He’d bared his soul to Weston, telling him he was tired of the years spent in emptiness. The loneliness and waste of time. How he wanted only one woman in his life and a family with her.
And then he’d mentioned Samantha.
The thought of his sister caused guilt to rush through him. Once, he and Sam had been the closest of siblings. Then she’d wed a boring, harmless viscount and moved far north while he’d lived with the aftermath of Juniper breaking their engagement and the creative lies she’d spread about him. He tried to live up to and beyond those lies, running wild amidst society. Weston had never recaptured his closeness with his sister. He’d seen the disappointment in her eyes when they crossed paths during the following two Seasons. Then she’d stopped coming to London. He hadn’t written or visited. He had nothing to say. Nothing that would explain his actions. He’d promised himself long ago that he would never reveal what he had seen in Juniper’s bedchamber. Not even George knew why Weston hadn’t married his fiancée. He’d merely joined in the fun once his own bride jilted him in front of hundreds of guests at their wedding.
Closing his eyes, he continued sipping the brandy, wanting it to dull his pain. Of all things, Sam had turned up at the Windhams’ house party, the last place he would have expected to find her. He dreaded the confrontation that would occur between them. Then he noticed a change in the air and knew he had company. He wearily opened his eyes and saw his sister seated in a chair next to him. He steeled himself for whatever she would say, knowing the time had come for him to pay the piper.
Giving her a rakish smile, he said, “I always have time for my favorite sister.” He brought the brandy to his mouth and downed what was left.
“Considering I’m your only sister, I have to wonder about that statement.” She took a deep breath. “Weston, why did you abandon me?”
“What? I don’t know what you mean.” He reached for the bottle and poured himself three fingers, hoping if he drank enough he could forget the past.
“You do know exactly what I’m speaking of. Put that drink down,” she commanded.
He did as asked and settled back into the chair, knowing from the moment he’d learned that she was at the house party that this showdown was inevitable.
“I want to understand what happened to you. To us.”
He shrugged, keeping a tight rein on his feelings. “You wed. I didn’t. You moved to the north with your husband. I remained in London, a bachelor sowing his wild oats. You’re a woman, which means you came out of the womb writing letters. I’m a man and can’t be bothered to write them.”
She shook her head. “You have an answer for everything. Not ones I’m pleased with, though.”
He studied her a moment. He loved her so much, despite the wide gulf between them. “Accept my apology, Sam. I know I’ve been a terrible brother. I’m not a very good person and haven’t been for some time. I thought you’d washed your hands of me after wedding Haskett. You never gave me the cut direct but you ignored me at ton events. I did try and write a time or two but I had little to say.” He ran a hand through his hair. “How do you tell the little sister who worshipped you that you’ve become a scoundrel of the worst kind?”
“I suppose you dip the quill into the ink and move it across the page,” she snapped.
Weston frowned. Sam had been a sunny child and had grown into a young woman full of optimism. He took her hand. “What’s wrong? Where is all of this anger coming from? Yes, I didn’t write to you much. I’m sorry I lost contact with you. But you had a husband, Sam. A new life. A new family. I was the idle, worthless brother you’d left behind. I know you’re ashamed of me and what I’ve become.”
“You never checked on me,” she accused. “I was miserable in my marriage. Lady Rockaway ruined every day I spent at Rockwell. Haskett was under her thumb and wouldn’t take a step without her. The sweet, sincere, awkward gentleman I thought I’d married became a stranger once we returned to Rockwell. His mother was unhappy he’d wed me and bullied me to no end.”
Samantha jerked her hand from his. Even with the contact broken between them, her pain radiated from her. “Then I lost my baby. You don’t know how devastating that was. My husband rarely visited me in my bedchamber before that occurred. He barely spoke to me after it happened and never touched me again.”
She stood and began pacing the room.
Weston came to his feet and hurried to her as she gripped the mantel and stared into the fire.
“I was so lonely,” she said, her voice small. “So alone. No one comforted me. No one cared if I lived or died. I wanted my big brother to come rescue me, especially after Haskett’s death. To take me away and bring me home, where I would be safe.”
“What do mean—safe?” he asked, wanting to get to the heart of the change he sensed within her.
She remained silent. He wondered if her secrets were as ugly and deep as his.
“Why didn’t you just leave after Haskett’s death? I would have welcomed you.”
“Because I . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Weston placed his hand on her shoulder, wanting to offer her comfort. She jerked away.
“You let me down,” she accused, her tone harsh. “You disappointed me. You abandoned me.” Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know if I will ever forgive you.”
“Sam.” He pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair. He didn’t know how to make it up to her. How to be the brother she wanted. She was broken, almost as much as he was. He knew in that moment that she could heal. With George’s help. His friend loved Sam. He would take care of her much better than Weston ever could.
He released her and she stepped back, crossing her arms protectively in front of her.
“Maybe you need George as much as he needs you.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
Weston shrugged. “I don’t know what happened, but the entire carriage ride here he went on and on about how he despised his life and wanted to change it. That he was ready to settle down and how much he wanted a family. And a wife.” He shook his head. “He talked about you, Sam. I think he’d already made up his mind to leave Windowmere after the house party and go directly to Rockwell to see you.”
He saw that his words stunned her. Good. She needed to be shaken out of the depths of her misery. Relief filled him. He knew he could leave—and she would be in good hands with the man he trusted beyond all others.
“At least George was thinking about me,” she said. “You never did.”
“You’re right,” he admitted. “I was a selfish bastard who forgot about you once you left London. You were someone else’s responsibility. Not mine. And I relished that. I was tired of being decent and honorable and always doing the right thing. So, I stopped doing it. You weren’t around to see my fall. When you returned the next Season, it had already occurred.”
Weston released a long sigh. “I’ve dug myself deep into a pit, Sam. An abyss of my own making. I didn’t want to drag you down with me. I thought with you gone, I could do whatever I wanted.”
She touched his arm. “Why, Weston? What happened between you and Lady Juniper? What could be so awful that it would make you hate yourself and everyone around you?”
He shook his head. His shame would stay with him. “No. You’ll not get that out of me. Thank God she’s dead and gone and I never have to see her again,”
He couldn’t hide the bitterness. The only good thing that had happened since he broke from Juniper was hearing of her death. She and Kingsbury had been racing their phaetons in Hyde Park three years ago and Juniper had lost control. The resulting crash had taken her life. In his grief, her brother went straight home and shot himself. Polite Society mourned their deaths, two young, vibrant souls being taken far too soon. Weston had celebrated by getting soused and staying that way for a week.
He saw the concern written on Sam’s face and couldn’t stand the thought of her pitying him. “I am what I am now, Sam. I won’t have a change of heart. Not like George. He might be able to save himself. You might be the one to help him. I’m just a blackguard of the worst kind. I have no heart or soul left.”
Weston placed his hand over hers. “I do love you. I always will.” He leaned to kiss her cheek. “But I never should have come to Windowmere. Say my goodbyes to everyone.”
He smiled sadly and left the room, thinking he should go and tell Wilson to pack. Instead, he went to his room and gathered up what coin he had and made his way to Andrew’s stables, where he asked for a horse to be readied. As he rode the mount toward Exeter, he decided he desperately wanted to fix himself. George thought he could do so by marrying Sam and having a family and Weston was all for that. The two people he thought the most of would have a good life together. For him, one woman wouldn’t solve his problems. He didn’t believe in love and would never wed. He was tired of his life, though. Tired of wasting it. Fed up. Exhausted. Jaded by his experiences.
What if he chucked it all—at least for a little while?
No more mindless encounters with women. No more being the Duke of Disrepute wherever he went. Or even the Duke of Treadwell. What if he escaped and had the time to discover himself, who he truly was and who he wanted to be in the future? Nothing held him back. He could walk away and give himself the gift of time. He knew he would never totally heal. The scars cutting through his heart could never be erased. But he might figure out what he wanted in life and make a fresh start. He couldn’t face decades of the life he now lived, else he’d go mad.
Reaching Exeter, he rode to an inn he had stayed at before and dismounted, leading his horse to the stables next door. He found a groom and asked for the horse to be put up for the night, giving the man ample coin to see to its care and asking that the groom return the horse in the morning to Windowmere.
“I’d be happy to do so, my lord.”
With that, Weston walked through the city and continued south.
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