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K.J. Jackson

Stone Devil Duke, A Hold Your Breath Novel 1 (EBOOK)

Stone Devil Duke, A Hold Your Breath Novel 1 (EBOOK)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ More than 1,400 five star reviews on Goodreads.

After her father is killed, Lady Augustine will do whatever it takes to bring those responsible to justice. The Duke of Dunway is bound by duty to protect her, but he doesn’t expect to fall in love… 

Marked for death, Lady Augustine Christopherson finds herself scouring the slums of London in a desperate search to find the men who killed her father, and are determined to dispose of her. To protect her family, to protect herself, she is determined to find the men before they find her.

The last thing she wanted was an entanglement with a duke that threatens her very survival…

Hardened long ago, the last thing the Duke of Dunway wanted was an entanglement with a chit of the ton. But in the flash of a pistol, his fate is altered as he finds himself honor-bound to protect Lady Augustine from, of all things, herself.


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London, England
May, 1819

The hack looked innocent enough.

But recognizing innocence had never been his forte.

Innocence had only sparked for a brief moment in the life of Devin Williams Stephenson, twelfth Duke of Dunway.

Devin looked at the shattered wheel on his carriage, the lantern’s light he held cutting through the thick fog, a remnant from the earlier drizzle. The rogue barrel had splintered the spokes on the left rear wheel, and it was clear he would travel no more in the comfort of his carriage this night.

He looked up through the heavy mist, searching for his coachman. The evening had already piddled on too long, and he had only been in town for two hours. He needed to get to the club, talk to Lord Roberts and Lord Vanes before they were so deep in their cups that business could not be conducted, and then he could use Killian’s coach to get home. Killian had best not balk at that—Devin was, after all, only out in society for his good friend’s benefit.

Devin liked things simple. No superfluous chitchat. No posturing. The minimum in everything, from his attire, to the very few people he allowed in his life. Simple in, simple out.

He rubbed his shoulder that had banged into the wall of the coach when the crash happened.

The evening was quickly turning into less-than simple.

The uneven clomping of a nag on cobblestones preceded the appearance of his driver through the fog. His coachman avoided Devin’s eyes as the hired hack came into view.

“Is your shoulder well, your grace? I am terribly sorry at the inconvenience.”

The duke paid his driver well, and knew the man took great pride in his job. Pride that was sorely beaten as he presented one very sad-looking coach as alternative transportation.

“It is quite all right, Monroe,” Devin said. “There was no real harm done. The wheel will be an easy fix.”

Uneasy, his driver glanced over his shoulder at the hack. “’Tis the best I could do right quick, your grace. There were no hack stands close, so I flagged it down. I checked out the inside, it seems right clean enough. The driver might be a bit sick, all balled up and grunting away like that, but I already paid him and he seems right willing to get you to the Red Horn quickly. Says he knows where it is.”

Devin scanned the hack, which, at one time, had obviously been an aristocrat’s fine carriage. Matching footman stands and ornate carvings gave evidence of once-possessed grandeur, but now the coach sat grungy from London’s filthy streets.

Atop the carriage, the hack driver hunched over, coughs racking his body, but he kept his head down.

Resigned, Devin nodded. He had been in worse coaches in his day. “It will do, Monroe. You will handle the carriage?”

“Yes, your grace. It will be repaired by tomorrow.” He pulled the step on the hack.

Dismissing his coachman, Devin got into the carriage, sat on the bench without the torn upholstery, and leaned tenderly back on his shoulder. He must have hit it harder that he realized.

He scanned the coach interior in the dim glow from the outside carriage lantern. Musty, and the whole of it had seen better days. He wondered how the hack driver had come about it. Most likely gambled away by one of the ton’s ever-indulging drunks. Devin had no patience for men who gambled and drank away fortunes that were hundreds of years old. The dead deserved more respect than that.

Leaning forward, he glanced out the coach’s window and noticed the fog had thinned. Small favor, for he suddenly found himself lost in an effort to stop thinking about the dead. It happened too frequently in the rain and fog, and the crushing guilt still caught him off-guard. He had yet to master how to live with his past.

Blasted rain. He lived in the wrong damn country.

He could now see through the lifting fog to the passing buildings, and Devin noticed they were not on the correct route to the club.

They had, in fact, taken quite a few unnecessary turns. The stench captured by the fog grew. Devin searched the buildings, looking for a touchstone—damn, Blackwaters gaming house passed by—they were deep into London’s east side. And now they were on a deserted street.

So much for the look of innocence.

Popping open the trap door, Devin demanded the hack driver stop.

The driver slowed the horse and turned his hunched form to Devin. He coughed the entire time, and Devin had to wait for a pause in his heaves.

“Red Horn. The Red Horn Club on Pall Mall. My coachman said you knew the place?”

“Sorry, sir, I be taking a left on the next block, and we be right back on track.”

The driver’s voice perked Devin’s ears. Something odd about how low and drawn-out the words were. Drunk? He sat back in the coach, trying to figure out what exactly was amiss about the driver. Devin couldn’t see his face—the oversized black cloak he wore hovered over his head. The driver was small for his station, but then, he’d seen men much smaller handle six horses with ease. It was just the voice that threw him. Must be the wretched lungs he continued to try to cough up.

Devin attempted to relax. Killian would be annoyed he was late, but Devin only partially regretted the delay. The less time at the club, the better. He would go for Killian’s sake, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to minimize his time there.

“Damn.” A woman’s swear cut through the fog, followed by a pistol shot booming along the street.

A man screamed in agony outside of the carriage.

Devin’s own pistol drawn without thinking, he flew to the floor of the coach, eyes out the window in the general direction of the continued bellows.

He saw no one outside the hack. But he heard the raged swearing of several men from the alleyways across the lane. Muggers. Which was exactly why he carried a pistol.

Blast it. That hack driver led him right into this. He should have listened to fate’s warning and gone home when that barrel hit his coach.

Devin heaved a seething breath, readying his pistol. The driver was about to be the first one punished. Muscles tensed in anticipation, he moved, crouching along the carriage floor toward the door closest to the nearest building—he would need that structure to protect his back.

He reached for the door handle, poised to dash to the closest alley, when the door ripped open and the hack driver’s head popped up in front of him.

“Please, sir, you must get out. You must leave.” Words flew in a high-pitched whisper. “There is an alley behind me leading to a busier cross street. It is lit, and—oh, you have a pistol.”

A woman’s voice came from the hack driver. Him—her. Devin wasn’t entirely sure. The dark hood still hung around the driver’s face, and in the flickering light of the coach’s lantern, the eyes that looked out from the hood were sunken and surrounded by dark circles.

She jerked back, scattering a look around herself, then looked back to him. “You can shoot, can you not, sir?”

“Yes,” Devin said, outrage lacing his whisper, “I can shoot, and you will be the first to go.”

“No, no, sir—”

A lone bullet tore through the carriage behind Devin. Wood splintered around the hole.

The horse took a few skittish steps, then amazingly, stood its ground.

“Damn.” The driver looked from the torn wood to Devin.

It was a woman. There was no mistaking it.

“No, sir, you misunderstand.” Her eyes veered over Devin’s shoulder through the carriage window. Biting her lip, she took a deep breath, seemingly for tolerance. “I am not with them, but if I can count on your kind assistance, I am sure we can be rid of them quite easily and justice will be served. There are four, and they are spread out in the two alleyways of this block on the opposite side of the street. I have already hit one of them.”

She waved a pistol in her hand. “The carriage will be our best defense, and if we can draw them out of the alleys, I am sure I can dispose of all of them quite quickly.”

Devin’s eyes were still trying to catch up to his ears. A woman. A woman who thought she could shoot down all four of these muggers by herself. Or with just a tiny touch of help from him.

To prove to himself he wasn’t crazy, Devin reached out and ripped the hood off the driver’s head. Tied back, blond tendrils cascaded from under a black cap, down her neck, and disappeared into the cloak.


The words that were stuck in shock finally loosened. Woman or not, he didn’t trust that this was not part of a trap. “Why should I trust you?”

She shot him a withering look, then, apparently realizing that may not be her best angle, she gazed up at him with pleading eyes. Pleading eyes that refused to look pathetic, even surrounded by dark circles and smudges of London dirt on her face.

If anything, her eyes gave off a controlled smidge of merriment. “Truly, sir, is it not obvious?” She did little to hide the sarcasm in her voice. “I am a damsel in distress, and I need you to save me.”

Her words choked off as her tone went down a notch. “Oh, bother that. I was never very good at batting my eyelashes.” She held up her pistol. “Clearly sir, I would have already shot you and stolen everything on your person if I was with them. I would also prefer not to be wasting precious moments standing here, chitchatting with you.”

Point taken, Devin bit off a blaspheme and jumped out of the carriage, shoving his pistol back into his jacket. He took a small amount of satisfaction in towering over her slight frame. “What, pray tell, woman, is your plan for finishing off these four and getting us out of here?”

Devin grabbed and stilled the hand she held her pistol in, still precariously waving about. He already had a plan set in mind to finish off these four, but wanted to know what this woman was about.

She twisted her arm, trying to free her wrist. Devin wouldn’t have it.

With a glare up at him, she grunted as she used her free hand to pull her hood back up over her head. “Quite simply, we need to first draw attention to the back of the carriage. Upon doing so, I can cross the street and sneak up on them at close range.”

Devin’s grip on her loosened, and she pulled her hand free.

“You, sir, will be my distraction at the back of the carriage, if you are so willing. The shot from your pistol should do.” She bent over and reached into the tall black boots she wore, producing another pistol. Devin thought he saw the silver flash from one more pistol strapped above her boot.

Now she waved two pistols about as she talked. “With luck, I shall be done with them once and for all.” She cocked the pistol she just withdrew. “Oh, and your name, sir?”


The side of her mouth pulled back, not quite into a smile, and she nodded. “D. All right, yes, well, thank you, D., for your help. I apologize that you are in this position, but if you could get on with it, that would be most helpful.” She flicked her wrist, dismissing him to go do his job.

Devin swallowed a deep groan. He had to admit—aside from the fact that he would be the one to sneak upon the muggers, using the skittish horse as a diversion—that had been his exact plan. But using this bit of a girl as diversion was definitely not part of the plan.

The devil. Did she think this was a game of lawn darts? They could very well end up dead, and she was acting as though this situation arose every night. Hell, for all he knew, maybe this did happen to her every night. Maybe she did this for fun, day in, day out.

Devin studied her. Even through the soot covering her face, he could see she was looking up at him expectantly, a determined glint in her eye.

It was time for him to walk away. This was already too sketchy. He needed to walk the hell down this dark street and get himself to the club.

But that glint in her eye stopped him. He couldn’t place the exact why, but the glint masked something—fear, vulnerability—something that struck him so deep inside, he couldn’t move his feet and do what his brain knew he should.

She shifted on her feet, not hiding her impatience at his lack of movement.

Devin’s jaw hardened. “The horse is the diversion. I will cut across and attack. You will wait on this side of the carriage.”

His advisement didn’t go over so well.

“Oh no, sir, that will not do at all. I will compromise with you on the sneaking up part, if you think you are up to the challenge—quite gallant of you,” she rewarded Devin with a quick smile. “It is best that we each take an alley. They will pay whether it is by my hand or yours. But not if you are to get hurt. That will not do. Nor will putting my dear horse in the line of fire. No sir, I am afraid your plan will not do at all.”

Two more shots flew at the coach, ripping wood and interrupting the argument. Both ducked.

Jumping on the opportunity of an unguarded moment, the woman scooted past Devin to the back of the coach and fired a shot. She dropped that gun to the ground and pulled a pistol from inside her coat.

A shot was immediately returned at her, digging into the coach inches from where she slid back to hide.

“Damn, woman.” Devin growled, and followed her to the back of the carriage, cocking his own pistol. He leaned out past her to survey the empty road, then sprinted across the street, his dark overcoat swinging in the night.

Back flat against the building lining the closest alley, Devin looked across the street at the coach, watching the woman as she juggled her pistols. Her tiny form shrank as she crouched around the corner of the coach, took aim, and shot again at one of the figures that had stepped partially out of the alley closest to Devin.

A wail pierced through the night. She had hit her mark.

At the scream, Devin slid along the wall to the edge of the building. The wailing had receded into the dark of the alley, and Devin glanced around the corner to find one man flat on his back and holding his leg, with another kneeling over him.

Taking advantage, Devin charged into the lane, splashing filth, and pounced on the back of the unhurt man.

The mugger reacted to the threat quicker than Devin anticipated, and turned just in time to send both of them into the wall of the alleyway. Hitting the building, Devin dropped his pistol. The thug landed a step away from Devin and whipped out a knife. He advanced on Devin, stringy hair swaying and hand wildly swinging the short blade.

The two jousted for a moment, the thug forcing Devin into the open expanse of the street. They were in plain sight of the girl, and worse, an open target for the remaining two robbers in the other alley.

Devin swore as he dodged a blade swing at his belly. His instincts were rusty, and it was not only costing him valuable time, it was also thrusting him deeper into a situation he was annoyed to be in. He would have been happy to just run them off. But then they shot at him.

It was time to put this man down and off the streets for good.

Devin saw the woman run to the front of the hack and scamper up onto the driver’s seat. Blast it. Now she was leaving?

Devin jumped away from another swing of the blade and snatched the wrist of the thug just as he saw one of the other muggers step out from the alley. He had a pistol leveled at Devin’s head.

Devin spun, pushing the greasy man with the blade in between him and the barrel of the pistol. He twisted the arm behind the man’s back and cracked his wrist. The grip on the blade opened, and Devin grabbed it from his hand.

Just as he gained angle and slid the sharp of the blade across the mugger’s neck, another shot cut through the night.

The mugger with pistol aimed at Devin thudded to the ground.

Devin looked at the carriage. The girl stood tall on the driver’s perch, arm straight out, hand shaking. She hadn’t left. She stayed. She stood.

And she just killed the thug who was seconds away from shooting Devin.

Devin kicked off the body that had fallen onto the toes of his Hessians.

The girl scrambled off the carriage and, new pistol high in her hand, cautiously approached the alley where she had hit the first robber in the leg. Devin mimicked her approach at the second alley. Quickly finding nothing, he turned and followed the girl into her alley.

Hers was empty as well. The last two muggers had disappeared into the darkness, the only evidence, barely perceivable dark stains of blood hidden in the deep shadows of the alley. And they took his favorite pistol.

She turned, head down, well-hidden in her cloak, and walked past Devin out to the middle of the street. Devin followed, still heaving breath from the fight, staring at the girl. She didn’t give him the slightest glance.

The girl froze near the man she shot and stared at the body in the puddle-soaked street.

Her voice crept out into the thick air, cracking in the lowest whisper. “The end, Papa…it is near.”

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