The Duke is Wicked (League of Lords #3) - Tracy Sumner Page 0,1

of being a duke to that life.

Chapter 1

A raucous gaming hell in a ghastly part of town

London 1872

“I get into a brawl every time I come here,” Sebastian Fitzgerald Tremont, fifth Duke of Ashcroft, muttered against the embroidered handkerchief he held to his jaw. A jaw that had taken a solid clip after he’d stepped between an inebriated baron and an earl’s second son who’d made the mistake of sleeping with the baron’s rather voracious wife. Two overturned faro tables and six broken glasses later, he and his friends tossed the baron and second son into the Blue Moon’s dank alley, closed the establishment and retreated to the private salon.

“I should have stayed home. Or better yet, stayed in Oxfordshire,” Julian Alexander, Viscount Beauchamp, grumbled from his sprawl on the settee. His shirt was ripped, the sleeve hanging at an awkward tilt off his shoulder. His cravat had been used to mop up brandy, his coat lost somewhere in the shuffle. His supernatural gift of touching objects and seeing images connected to them often left him dazed, and he wore a familiar, fatigued expression. “Aside from the five of us coming to blows in your hell, Finn, what’s this about? I’m missing time with my wife and children for this stimulating gathering. Too, did you douse the lamp outside? We’ll have men beating on your door all night if they think there’s still gaming going on.”

“I turned it down. This isn’t Crockfords.” Finn Alexander, Julian’s half-brother, and arguably, the most handsome man in England, removed a bloodied compress from his knuckles and wiggled his fingers with a grimace. “Don’t be fooled, gentleman. His Grace loves to brawl. In fact, he comes here for the danger. I’ve read his mind enough times to count this as fact. The ducal contingent guarding the front and back entrances could’ve taken care of this little tiff in seconds. He didn’t engage them for a reason.”

“And that is?” Sebastian asked, though he’d rather not. When Finn was right, and they all knew it.

“I’m simply letting you have your fun. Running you like I would a prized stallion. As a friend, as a neighbor.”

Sebastian peered at his face in the grimy window before him and flexed his jaw with a pop. He’d recently purchased a ramshackle castle in Oxfordshire next to Finn’s—mere miles from Julian’s—when he needed another property like he needed a proverbial hole in the head. But this one, Adey Castle, was his and his alone. No bitter memories of growing up under a brutal hand to taint his love of the place; no ghosts, except the usual kind, waiting to spring at him from every dark corner.

It was true. He and Finn were neighbors.

And friends.

Sebastian smiled but kept it between himself and the leaded glass, the marvel of having friends still a wonder. Puzzling, this feeling of contentment, because he was surrounded, as most titled men were, by people. The higher the title, the larger the crowd. Former soldiers from his regiment. Women of varying levels of availability and consequence. Sycophants, servants, solicitors, tenants, beneficiaries.

But never friends. He shook his head and swiped his thumb over his battered bottom lip. Nay, the four men in this room were more than that. They were brothers.

The only ones who understood who he was, what he was.

They accepted him without question because they were, except for Humphrey, the gentle giant who played anxious papa to them all and now sat brooding in a gloomy corner of the salon, similarly cursed with a mystical gift they neither wanted nor could completely control. Julian had created a League of Lords for this very reason, to bring together the mystical misfits. Sebastian had happily joined the underground organization, for those locked in a supernatural world, the moment he’d been invited.

Still, even with his modest satisfaction of late, a victory in a life filled with chaos, Sebastian realized he was lonely—an ache he couldn’t soothe. Persistent and resounding as a bell ringing through his soul. With a sigh, he palmed his chest to contain it.

“You took a couple of hard knocks, Your Grace.” To calm himself, Julian had retrieved the pencil and paper he carried everywhere and was madly sketching. The scrape of charcoal on vellum circled the room. “Stepping between a cuckold and his betrayer is never a brilliant idea. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were inviting unrest into your life.”

“My face is going to bruise, a story I’ll have to explain all over Town, when