Once a Rake (Drake's Rakes) Online - Eileen Dreyer

Acknowledgments

Once again I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who helped me create my worlds. Of course to Andrea Cirillo and Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, my family at Grand Central; my brilliant ADD sister Amy Pierpont, for directing my wandering path, to Lauren Plude for her priceless assistance, Claire Brown and the peerless Grand Central art department for my exquisite covers, and Leda Scheintaub for copyediting. Special mention to my assistant, Maggie Mae Gallagher, for keeping me sane. To my writing families: always the Divas, MoRWA, the Published Author’s Group, the As Yet Unnamed Plotting Group in a Penthouse. To all my fans and supporters out there who make it worthwhile to write stories.

Specific thanks to everyone who helped me research and write a trilogy that suddenly involved early nineteenth-century science (I have a bibliography on www.eileendreyer.com). To the generous people of Lyme Regis who shared their stories with me. To my hosts in Ireland who let me run away to write. To my friends at Wired Coffee, and, of course, to my Rick, who kicks me out to write when it’s needed and never asks if the damn thing’s done yet. The damn thing’s done.

Prologue

October 1815

Later, no one would be able to agree as to exactly what happened on the HMS Reliance that night. The witnesses were too many and the action too sudden to gain a coherent story.

What everyone did agree on was that about two hours after dusk, the Duke of Wellington came up on the deck of the ship, a fast brig that was carrying him home from France. Surrounded by several of his staff, the very recent hero of Waterloo and military governor of France was in an excellent mood, the distinctive bray of his laugh carrying out over the choppy water as he cupped his hands to light a cigarillo. The waxing moon slung a thin necklace of diamonds across the water, and the wind was freshening. Off to port, the coast of Dorset appeared a black void against the diamond-rich sky, which put them two days out of the port of London.

The second fact no one could dispute was that when the group came up on deck, one man could easily be distinguished among them. Standing well over six feet, Colonel Ian Ferguson of the Black Watch towered over his commander. It wasn’t only his height that made him memorable. Even in the uncertain light of the night-running lanterns, his hair shone like fire, and his shoulders were as wide as a Yule log.

In the few days he’d been with the duke, Ferguson had proved himself to be loud, funny, fierce, and uncompromising. And even though he proclaimed himself a loyal Scot, he swore he was Wellington’s man. Which was why it was so puzzling that he would pull out a gun and point it right at the duke.

“A gun!” someone yelled. “To the duke!”

Chaos erupted on the deck. Men scattered, shouting warnings and commands. Others threw themselves in front of the great man. Swords were drawn. Several men must have had guns, because suddenly there was a staccato pop-pop-popping. Acrid puffs of smoke cut visibility, and the ship heeled a bit as the steersman ran to help. Some men prayed, one wept, and the Duke of Wellington, much as he had on innumerable battlefields, stood his ground, a cigarillo in hand and a bemused expression on his face.

“What the devil?” he demanded, looking down to where a man lay on the deck at his feet.

The deck stilled suddenly, the smoke writhing about the men and sharpening the air as the sails flapped uselessly above them. Bare feet thundered below as the crew roused to the alarm.

“He tried to shoot you!” one of his aides accused, already on the run to the railings.

“What?” Wellington barked, his focus still down. “Simmons here? Don’t be ridiculous. Get more lamps lit. Let’s see what’s going on here.”

There was no question that Simmons was dead. A sluggish pool of black blood spread out from behind his head, and his eyes stared open and fixed on the heavens. One of the crew retrieved the man’s pistol from his outstretched hand and stood.

“No, sir,” one of the officers said as he bent over Simmons. “Ferguson.”

“Who?” Wellington demanded, finally turning to look.

“That Scotsman. The one who tried to shoot you!”

“Ferguson?” Wellington stopped on the spot. “Bollocks.”

One of his newer aides, the Honorable Horace Stricker, stepped out of the shadows, holding on to a bleeding arm. “Saw