My Fake Rake

By: Eva Leigh

Prologue





Eton College, 1797



It’s just the library door, not the entrance to Hell. Stop delaying.

Sebastian Holloway tugged on his jacket cuffs, but no matter how much he pulled, his bony wrists protruded, proclaiming him to be firmly in the awkward stage of adolescence.

Logically, he understood that this period in a young man’s life was temporary. Countless volumes had been written about it and not one of those esteemed scholars ever mentioned that some boys remained permanently fourteen. So it stood to reason that eventually, he’d stop growing like a dandelion and his clothes might fit properly for longer than two weeks.

“You going in,” a voice growled behind him, “or are we going to stand here all day like a couple of sapskulls?”

Seb whirled around to face Theodore Curtis, who glared at him from beneath a heavy fringe of dark hair.

“I . . . uh . . .” Seb swallowed. Those two syllables were the first he’d ever spoken to Curtis. Normally, Seb gave the other boy a wide berth, given Curtis’s propensity for destroying school property and getting into fights.

“For fuck’s sake.” Curtis rolled his eyes. He reached past Seb, grunting when Seb flinched, and planted his hand on the door. “We’re going to get extra punishment if we’re late.”

Doubtless, Curtis spoke from experience. He was always being called before the headmaster, always being placed On the Bill for infractions, always getting flogged, but no matter how much penance he was forced to endure, it didn’t stop his unruly behavior.

“Sorry,” Seb muttered. “First time here.”

“I know.” Curtis pushed open the door. “I’d say do as I do, but you had better not. Unless you want a cane across your arse.”

Seb followed Curtis into the library, but the rows of books didn’t calm his racing heart, and the neatly arranged tables didn’t stop the film of chilled sweat slicking his back.

Three boys sat at tables scattered around the library, and they all turned toward him as he shuffled into the room.

Paste seemed to fill his mouth as he looked at the boys he knew only by name. They were all in the same house, and were all of them in E block, but it didn’t matter—Seb had almost no interaction with them. There was Noel Edwards, Lord Clair and heir to the Duke of Rotherby. Though Clair was the same year as Seb, the other boy practically ruled the entirety of Eton, but not by force. Everyone, from students to teachers, sought his good opinion. If Clair decided that mutton pie was his favorite supper, all the boys would insist on eating mutton pie. He once showed up to class without tying back his hair, and the next day everyone’s hair was loose. Those boys who were part of Clair’s inner circle were an elite and favored few.

Seb doubted Clair knew his name. Judging by the disinterested look in his eyes, it was a safe assumption.

Sitting nearby was Duncan McCameron, a Scottish earl’s second son. McCameron sent a brief smile toward Seb. The football match they’d played together the other day had been a high point of the week, with their team trouncing the other boys. On the pitch, Seb didn’t feel like a tongue-tied clod, and the match’s win had gained him a measure of McCameron’s respect.

The third boy gave Seb a tiny nod of recognition. Naturally. Seb and William Rowe weren’t friends, but they both dwelt on the edges of school society. At least Seb had a few chums. No one talked to Rowe. He rarely spoke, and when he did, it came out in an unintelligible mutter. A few whispered that he was mad, and most of the boys found him to be too eccentric to warrant an attempt at friendship.

Seb took off his spectacles and rubbed them on the corner of his jacket. The gesture was so habitual, he barely noticed.

Curtis strode past him, then threw himself into a seat and propped his feet up on a table.

“Sit, Holloway,” McCameron said, not unkindly. “Eddings is going to be here any minute.”

Seb grabbed the nearest chair and dropped into it. A strained silence fell.

The door to the library opened again and Eddings, a senior boy, marched into the room. He went to stand in the middle of the chamber, planting his hands on his hips and gazing sourly at each of the boys. Seb sat up straighter.

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