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Lucien Mayer, fourteenth Earl of Ravensberry pulled the blanket a little higher on his knees and leaned back against the leather seat, absently staring out of the window at the ink black sky littered with stars. The London-Nottingham road made for treacherous going, rutted with holes, every jolt sloshing around the liquor in his stomach.
The night had been satisfying enough. He had left the card game at Lord Blackstone’s estate more than a little drunk and with a thousand pounds in his purse. It was a shame that he despised Lord Blackstone and most of his cohorts.
Lucien lived a fruitless existence alone in his mansion with his servants, squandering his inheritance on drinking and cards. He had come into this on his twenty-first birthday after the deaths of his parents, shot and killed by highwaymen on this very stretch of road. He had been alone in the world for eight long years and he doubted that would ever change.
The thunderous beat of many horse hooves shattered his drunken introspection. He lowered the coach window and stuck his head out, curious as to the commotion. He wished he hadn’t when he saw four black horses charging after his coach like bats out of hell, all their riders with scarves pulled up over their faces, the man in front brandishing a pistol.
“Faster Stephen!” Lucien yelled, rapping on the roof with his cane. Although he had never been robbed, he lived in mortal terror of just this event happening, not least because of what had happened to his parents. This stretch of road had recently become notorious with a gang of highwaymen known as The Dark Knights who robbed and killed with zeal. Lucien knew his luck had run out.
The horses’ hooves became deafeningly loud. Lucien saw one of the beasts overtake his coach to ride neck and neck with his own horses, the rider barking out an instruction to his coachman.
An instant later, the coachman reined in the horses and the coach came to a shuddering halt, almost throwing Lucien from his seat. An icy terror enveloped his heart as a shadow fell across him. He slowly looked up.
There was a face at the window, ghostly white by the light of the carriage’s lamps, under a tri-corn hat and a black scarf, only the eyes showing, a startling dark, emerald green with thick sooty lashes.
A pistol was thrust rudely through the open window, hard into Lucien’s chest, right over his heart.
“Stand and deliver,” drawled a deep, sardonic voice, the accent southern, “your money or your life.”
Lucien drew in his breath in horror. Staring into the cold, unblinking eyes, he found himself thinking that his life was worth little enough anyway, why should he roll over and die to these bandits?
“I haven’t got anything,” he said, his voice less steady than he would have liked.
The eyes gleamed with amusement, the mouth spread in a smile beneath the scarf. “The crest on your coach says different my Lord,” he said, voice edged with steel, “hand me your purse if you value your life. It’s cold tonight and my companions are anxious to be away to their beds.”
Lucien's eyes flickered behind the highwayman to the two indistinct faces of the other villains, the third just at the edge of his view, pistol trained on his coachman.
When the silence dragged on, the man at the front of the coach barked, “Do as he says, don’t be a stupid boy.”
Lucien clenched his fist in fury. “Do you know who I am?” he demanded, surveying the four men haughtily. “I’m not a boy! How dare you address me this way?”
The highwayman at the window laughed softly. “All right,” he said. “I’ve had enough. One more time. Give me your purse or you die. Boy.” The pistol jabbed further into his chest. The hammer was cocked back.
Lucien stared into the green eyes. Suddenly there was a swift movement from the front of the coach. The man who had been taking charge of the driver nosed his horse in next to the green-eyed highwayman’s. He reached suddenly in through the window so his face was close to Lucien’s, his eyes fixed on his, black as the darkness and slid his hand inside Lucien’s frockcoat, into the pocket at his breast where he kept his purse, his hand ice-cold even through the thick linen of his shirt.
He withdrew the purse to no protest from Lucien, who was too frightened to move and slipped it into a saddle-bag on the side of his horse.
“Let’s go,” he said dismissively, turning his horse’s head around, casting a look back at Lucien.
The green-eyed man stared a little while longer at Lucien. “Tell me why I shouldn’t put a bullet into your head anyway, you spoilt brat?” he hissed into Lucien’s face, jabbing him with the pistol.
“Leave it!” called his co-conspirator, the one who had robbed him. “Let’s go!” Although the green-eyed man appeared to be the leader, the dark-eyed one obviously had some influence over him, because his tormentor drew away from the window now.
“You’ll keep,” he said. “I don’t forget a face.”
Lucien had not even collected his scattered thoughts when a wave of impotent fury crashed over him at this injustice. While the sound of skittering horses invaded the coach as the four men turned their mounts around, Lucien threw open the door and leapt out.
Three of the men were already well away, the fourth, the one who had robbed him, was setting off at a trot, eyes turned back towards the coach.
“You sir!” yelled Lucien, running into the middle of the road. “Do you think you can just take what is not yours and run away? Are you such a coward that you need three companions with pistols in order to rob one unarmed man? I would like to have seen you take my purse fairly! I demand satisfaction!”
There was a shocked silence, all four horses reined in to a halt. Then the leader of the pack burst out laughing. He charged past Lucien swiftly, putting out a foot and aiming a hard kick at his side. Lucien was knocked completely off his feet.
He crashed onto his face in the dirt, momentarily stunned. Then he heard a thud as someone dismounted their horse and a voice, “Come on leave it,” from one of the two men who had yet to speak, before a large hand grabbed him hard by the scruff of the neck.
He was hoisted up off the ground and turned over before his head was slammed back against it, a booted foot on his chest. “Now, what were you saying?” the green-eyed leader asked him.
“This has nothing to do with you,” Lucien muttered sullenly, fear clenching his heart tight in his chest, his head aching fiercely. The man was so tall, at least six feet two, the muscles of his physique clearly defined in his figure-hugging frockcoat. “It was he I challenged, he that robbed me.” He gestured curtly to the dark-eyed man who had dismounted and stood a few feet away watching.
The leader looked down at him with scorn in his blazing eyes, pressing his boot harder into Lucien’s chest, sure to leave a bruise in the morning. “You really are testing my patience tonight, boy. I should have killed you straight away.”