DUKES ARE FOREVER
Although the series began with a prologue in which we learn of the death of Edward’s brother, it is a shortened version of this original. I like this extended version because in it we are introduced not just to Edward but also to Grey and Thomas. We also get to see Edward as a soldier—a part of his personality which never leaves him throughout the book. This extended scene has a lovely exchange between Thomas and Edward, and it’s in this scene in which Edward’s role as protector is established (we also see hints of why he is willing to send Kate away when she defies his orders, just as Thomas did). I hope you enjoy it.
San Cristobel, Spain
“Forward!” Colonel Edward Westover yelled above the crackling noise of gunfire and the clashing steel of the bayonets, raising his saber into the air.
He dug in his heels, and his horse leapt forward to gallop toward the melee of blue and red uniforms on the field where until just hours ago sunflowers bloomed. Now the yellow petals were stained red with blood and lay crushed beneath the pounding hooves of the British cavalry as they charged the end of the enemy’s cannon line. Their orders were to stop the barrage of artillery so the infantry could advance, but to Edward, his personal mission was to keep alive as many of the men serving with him as possible. It was a suicidal charge, and if any of the cavalry survived, it would be a miracle. But their assault would save the lives of countless foot soldiers, and knowing that, none of the men riding beside him hesitated.
His two most-trusted captains flanked him, charging into the heart of battle together like blood brothers, shooting and slashing without remorse or pause, each of them prepared to give their lives to win the battle for the forces allied against Napoleon.
“Gap to the left!” Captain Nathaniel Grey shouted as he hacked his saber through the air, striking at a Frenchman who had advanced further than the infantry should have allowed.
“Push through!” Captain Thomas Matteson answered from Edward’s other flank, somehow miraculously firing his pistols and reloading on horseback while never breaking stride. He was the best shot Edward had ever seen, and the fearless lad’s luck in battle had been downright stunning. At times, Edward didn’t think he’d be able to protect the twenty-five year-old from harm, yet he tried—God help him, he tried his best to protect all of them—but Thomas’s reckless abandon for his own safety left Edward terrified.
“On the right!” he called out in warning, signaling for his men to close ranks as they neared the cannons.
Thomas rose from his horse, standing tall in his stirrups to point the pistol over his mount’s ears, seemingly not bothering to aim as his bullet found its way into the chest of a French cavalry officer who screamed as he fell from the horse that ran on without him.
“Christ,” Edward muttered in exasperation at the lad’s daring, the curse lost beneath the sounds of the battle raging around them. “Back!” he ordered, gesturing for Thomas to fall a length behind.
The young captain ignored the order, galloping on with a pistol in each hand and his reins clenched between his teeth.
“Fall back!” Grey growled as he swerved his horse into Thomas’s mount to push the lad to the rear where he would be safer. Despite the gunfire pounding around him, Edward let a grim grin pull at his lips as he glanced over his shoulder to watch the brief jockeying for position between the two men. If the French didn’t kill Thomas, Grey would.
A bullet whizzed past Edward’s head, so close that the heat of it grazed his cheek, and he flinched, reflexively ducking.
But a surge of anger rallied through him, and he leaned further over his gelding’s neck, his arm burning as he ceaselessly slashed his saber. “To the flank!”
“Yes, sir!” both captains shouted and joined behind Edward in angling their horses toward the end of the cannon line.
Around him, other officers and cavalrymen pressed on, rushing forward in a wall of horseflesh, sabers glinting in the sunlight, and focused on one objective—to stop the artillery fire.
As the last of the French infantry gave way beneath the assault of the onrushing cavalry, the three men galloped to the right flank of the cannon. The enemy line broke into a confused scurry as the Frenchmen fled from the horses bearing down on them and the slash of sabers. For a moment, Edward sagged with relief that he’d lived through the fighting on the field, and now he and his men could drive out the enemy and clear the cannons, leaving the rest of the battle to the infantrymen in the fray.
And thanking God that all three of them would live to see another sunrise.
Within an hour’s time, the allied forces had routed the enemy and sent them fleeing in disorganized retreat, the cannon line was abandoned, and the infantry had pushed forward to secure the village. The cavalry returned behind their line, exhausted mounts with their long necks hanging low, exhausted men slipping gratefully from their backs.
As Thomas Matteson lowered himself to the ground, Edward grabbed his arm and shoved him backwards against the wall encircling the village, pinning him against the stone and concrete with his steely arm pressed across the lad’s chest.
He leaned into Thomas’s face and growled, “You don’t ever do anything like that again, do you understand?”
“I saw a gap—”
“If I tell you to fall back, then you’d damned well better do it.” His hands clenched the red uniform into his fists. “I will not have your death on my head, you understand? Not yours, not Grey’s. Ignore an order again, and I’ll send you back to England.”
Thomas grew solemn. “Yes, Colonel.”
Edward glared at him. Any of the London blue-bloods who saw Thomas now would never have believed that he was one of them, a nephew to the Earl of Chatham, or the same young man who had easily taken a first at Oxford. He’d purchased his commission because he’d wanted his life to have purpose. Purpose. But Edward knew riding to his death against the French in an attempt to secure a tiny village was not the purpose Thomas sought, and he dreaded the likely outcome, that eventually he would have to notify his father that Thomas had died in battle, in a skirmish over a sunflower field.
But thank God, not today.
Edward arched a brow in warning. “If I had been any other officer,” his voice was low, just barely audible above the noise of the battle line around them, “they would have put you in front of a firing squad for it.” He paused, watching Thomas’s face pale for the first time that day. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” he murmured. “Thank you, sir.”
“Good.” Edward released him, pausing to straighten the wrinkles his fists had put into the red uniform and slapped him hard on the chest before stepping back. “I’m glad we’ve come to this understanding.”
Edward loved the lad like a brother—and they were brothers now, he supposed, he and Thomas and Grey, brothers bound by blood and battle—but he’d never hesitate to send either of them home in disgrace if it meant saving their lives.
He turned in the direction of his name. “Here!”
His shout split the noise of the line as the men reorganized after the battle, tending to the wounded, capturing the loose horses who’d had their riders shot off their backs, and collecting the weapons they’d captured from the French. Soon, they’d head in a straggling group back toward the edge of the field, toward their encampments and an evening spent tending their wounds and cleaning the blood from their bayonets.
Leaving the group of officers gathered around a flagged messenger still on horseback, Nathaniel Grey walked slowly toward him, his spine straight with grim determination.
The son of a blacksmith who ran away from a cobbler’s apprenticeship at ten, Grey had worked hard to carve out a better life for himself and scrape together enough money to purchase an officer’s commission of the lowest rank, but he was also lucky enough to be assigned to the First Dragoons in Spain, under Edward’s command. Despite their differences, with Grey’s hard-scrabble life standing in stark contrast to the privileged lives of Edward and Thomas, they were still all brothers-in-arms, each willing to lay down his life for the others.
As he approached, Edward clearly saw the hard lines of his face and the harsh set of his jaw. His normally bright eyes were somber.
It was the look of death.
Edward steeled himself. The battle had been horrific, and he was certain several good men had perished in their charge, men both he and Grey had proudly served with for years. He’d grown used to the terror and fury of battle, but the aftermath never became easier.
“Grey,” he said soberly as the captain stopped in front of him and glanced over at Thomas, indicating with a faint nod that the lad needed to remain. Beside him, Edward felt Thomas stiffen.
“Colonel, there’s news from England.” Meeting Edward’s gaze directly, Grey hesitated, then drew a deep, shaking breath. “Your brother is dead.”