The Duke is Wicked (League of Lords #3) by Tracy Sumner




Prologue





A Wretched Ducal Home

Mayfair, London

February 1848





Dying was going to be easier than he’d imagined.

Sebastian Fitzgerald Tremont plunged his hand through the thin layer of ice and into the frigid fountain. Biting his lip until he tasted blood, he closed his eyes to the pain, his body shifting from hot to cold and back again so quickly he felt faint. He’d long ago surrendered to his skin going numb, rain and mud seeping through torn buckskin where he rested against the fountain’s rough stone. Long ago surrendered to wondering when, exactly, his father would succeed in killing him.

Long ago yielded to his hatred.

“This time, keep it there. Even if your skin turns blue,” the Duke of Ashcroft snarled. “And then we’ll see about these bloody fires you’re starting. The third one this month, my boy, and the third is going to be your last. With her death, I promise until mine, it’s your last. No son of mine will suffer this misfortune.”

Sebastian lifted his head, focusing a gaze close in color to the inferno that had ripped through the gamekeeper’s lodge two hours ago on the duke. He’d only gone there to mourn his mother in private, to rage over what could not be helped. As if he would suffer this misfortune if there were any option not to. “Don’t make me think about the fires, Your Grace,” he forced past lips clenched tightly to contain the tremors rocking his body, his vision spotting at the edges. If he passed out, his threat would go unheard. “You know what will happen if I do. I can see your coat going up in flames. Your bedchamber.” He jerked his shoulder toward the magnificent dwelling behind them. “This entire estate.”

His father gasped and stumbled back through the slush, filth splattering his fine woolen trousers. He pointed at his son, the ruby in his signet ring glinting in the moonlight, the crest of a lion with bared teeth leaping into the night. “No, you little spawn, you won’t touch me. You won’t! You killed your mother this very morn with this alchemy, put her in an early grave. Weak from dealing with your curse, she couldn’t survive. She nor the babe. Both lost to me.” He pounded his chest, three hard pops. “She loved you more than life, shielded you to the end. When I should’ve shipped you to the estate in the Highlands the moment I realized what you were. Somewhere so remote you’d never make it back.”

In a fury, Sebastian yanked his hand from the fountain and closed his eyes, let his fingertips heat, his mind sizzle. Fires raged in his dreams and out of them, smoke choking him, flames licking his skin. Forests ablaze, the world one fierce, glowing ember and him, the speck of life within it. Ribbons of crimson and gold and indigo flooded his vision. With his father’s wail, he blinked to find flames ripping across the fountain, water bubbling and churning. The rain had turned to snow, sticking to his lips, melting when it touched his cheek, an arctic slide into his collar—when all around him was blistering heat.

It was hell on earth in the middle of a Mayfair winter.

Hell on earth in his mind.

Hell on earth in his life.

His father backed up, tripped on a tree root and tumbled to his bottom. “You’ll die alone, do you hear me? Like I will, without my beloved. Alone. A lowly third son. I’ll make sure of it. No one can love a devil, Sebastian. Destroying everything he touches. No one can be expected to.” Scrambling to his feet, he backed away as if singed, when the fire was confined to the fountain, as Sebastian had intended.

Exhaling sharply, he cleared his mind and the firestorm faded. Only air thick with the scent of charred stone and despair lingered. And in the distance, the piercing fragrance of the Thames and the city he loved. He would die alone, he agreed, and slumped to the frozen earth, watching his father stagger down the gravel drive and into a home in which Sebastian suspected he’d no longer be welcome.

Maybe he had killed his mother. Not a breech baby, as the doctor had suggested.

Tears leaked from his eyes, and Sebastian scrubbed them away. He’d live a solitary life, he vowed, mired in misery and mud, the chill in his heart penetrating deeper than winter could.

A humble third son. A firestarter. A demon.

Cursed. Unloved. Unwanted.

A horror, all told.

But at least he wouldn’t add the burden of being a duke to that life.





Chapter 1





A raucous gaming hell in a ghastly part of town

London 1872