Viscount of vice, p.1

Viscount of Vice, page 1

 

Viscount of Vice
 


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Viscount of Vice


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  Copyright © 2015 by Shana Galen

  Cover and internal design © 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover art by Judy York

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

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  Contents

  Front Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  An Excerpt from Earls Just Want to Have Fun

  Two

  Three

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  One

  He was going to hell. Shame, Flynn thought, dangling from the third-floor window of a town house in exclusive Grosvenor Square. It was his birthday tomorrow, too. Actually, given the time of night, he’d already attained his twenty-seventh year.

  Moisture gathered on his fingers, and his hand slipped. He could not hold on much longer. Perhaps his death was for the best. It wasn’t as though anyone would mourn him. It wasn’t as though he had anything to live for.

  Still, it seemed harsh even for one such as Beelzebub to claim him when he was hanging naked from the window of one of the most prestigious addresses in Mayfair.

  “Flynn!” a woman’s voice hissed. His name was Henry Flynn, and he was the new Lord Chesham, but everyone called him Flynn—that was, when he wasn’t called something far less complimentary.

  “Still here,” he answered through teeth clenched with the effort of maintaining his hold.

  A cloud of blond hair appeared above him, and her hand gripped his. “Quick! Climb up before he returns.”

  He was her husband, a duke of enormous wealth and power. If he found Flynn in the duchess’s bedchamber, he’d ruin Flynn and the entire Chesham family. The danger of discovery hadn’t deterred Flynn from accepting the duchess’s invitation, though. In fact, the more risk, the better. He should simply let go of the ledge and get it over with. Then he could stop looking for death.

  Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and hauled himself upward. His arms shook with the effort, but he managed to gain the leverage he needed, and the duchess made a show of tugging him the rest of the way inside.

  “Where are my clothes?” he asked without preamble.

  “You cannot think to leave now,” she protested. She was dressed in a frilly robe, cut low to display her generous cleavage. Her blond hair tumbled down her shoulders, and the color in her cheeks was high from the excitement of near-discovery. But if he looked closer, Flynn could see the duchess was a bit past her prime. Their close call had stolen Flynn’s desire for the distraction of a dalliance.

  “I do think to leave now, Your Grace.” He looked about for his clothing. It had been scattered about on the floor by her bed, but now it had vanished. He did not want to walk through the ball naked as the day he was born, but he would do so if it became necessary. Let the duchess explain that to her guests. Of course, the ton expected nothing less of the man they’d proclaimed the Viscount of Vice.

  “But, my lord,” the duchess protested, extending a long, elegant finger to stroke his chest. “You have not yet fulfilled your promises. This was to be a night I would not soon forget.”

  Any lingering desire he might have felt revolted at her touch. “It is a night I will not soon forget,” he replied. “And one your husband will not soon forget if I’m forced to exit dressed—or rather, undressed—like so.”

  “That would be unwise, Flynn,” she said, raking her gaze over him. “One look at you, and the female attendees would swoon. You are an excellent specimen of manhood.”

  “Thank you. My clothing?”

  She folded her arms across her chest. “Certainly. As soon as you fulfill your promises.”

  Flynn narrowed his eyes. She thought that sort of veiled threat would persuade him? Even if she’d been the queen herself, Flynn was not going to bed a woman he did not desire. He had not sunk that low. “Very well, Your Grace,” he said with a nod. She smiled and reached for the tie of her robe. Flynn walked right past her, ignoring her squeal of protest, and stopped to retrieve his beaver hat, which he’d spotted under a side table. From that angle, he spied his trousers under the bed, and one of his boots behind a curtain. Thus attired, Flynn stepped into the corridor outside her bedchamber and closed the door firmly behind him.

  A maid rushing by with an armful of linen shrieked and dropped her load. Flynn tipped his hat and continued on. He was halfway to the main staircase when the duchess’s door opened. “Flynn,” she hissed. “Flynn!”

  Without looking back, he tipped his hat again and descended the stairs. The footman stationed at the base of the enormous curving marble staircase looked up at him, blinked, and looked forward again, his expression stoic. The guests in the vestibule were not quite so well trained. Fortunately, there were only a dozen or so men and women in the entryway. Most of the guests were in the ballroom, but there were always guests leaving early or arriving late. Several women shrieked, a man or two cursed, and Flynn kept his head high despite the chuckles and murmurs of appreciation.

  An old school chum, whose name Flynn didn’t remember, nodded at him. “Nice hat, Flynn.”

  “Thank you.”

  “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” a woman yelled, pointing a finger at him. Her other hand was wrapped around a debutante’s head, shielding the girl’s eyes. He could see the girl blinking at him through the spaces between her mother’s fingers. Flynn winked and kept walking. Finally, he was at the doorway.

  “Your carriage, my lord?” the butler asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Shall I have your greatcoat fetched, my lord?”

  Flynn glanced at the man and nodded. “Please. I find the breeze a bit nippy this evening.”

  “Yes, my lord.”

  And so it was that the Viscount of Vice had to return to his town house for a change of wardrobe before he was able to travel to his club. Of course, by the time he arrived at Brooks’s, the news had already spread, and he encountered every reaction, from slaps on the shoulder to cold stares.

  He headed for the Great Subscription Room, intent on gambling and drinking his way into oblivion, but he was stopped at the wide double doors. A bleary-eyed man with disheveled gray hair and a bulbous red nose stepped in front of him.

  “Excuse me, my lord.”

  The man was the earl or marquess of someth
ing, but Flynn would be damned if he could remember. He did remember he’d won a great deal from the lord the last time he’d gambled here. Apparently, the man held a grudge.

  “You choused me out of three hundred pounds last time we met.”

  Flynn raised a brow and observed several heads turned in their direction. The Great Subscription Room had a concave ceiling, which ensured sound carried. “I did not chouse you,” Flynn said. “I won fairly.”

  The lord stumbled forward and pointed a lily-white finger in his face. “You’ve never lived an honest day in your life. Get out before I have you thrown out.”

  Several men, presumably the lord’s friends, stepped forward in a menacing show of support for the man. Flynn sighed. This was not his night. Hell, it had not been his year or even his decade. He sure as the devil was not going to retreat, which meant he was going to be thrown out, probably quite unceremoniously. At least this time he’d be fully dressed. Flynn stepped forward, mirroring the actions of the men facing him. “I’d like to see you try to throw me out.”

  “Gentlemen,” a genial voice said from behind him. Flynn turned to the Great Subscription Room and watched as the Duke of Ravenscroft ambled toward them. “We are still gentlemen, are we not?” the duke asked, spreading his hands. “I came here to escape the squalls of the new infant in my home, and instead of peace, I find quite the opposite.”

  The bulbous-nosed lord opened his mouth to issue a retort, but one of his friends pulled him aside and muttered something in his ear. Flynn imagined it was something to the effect that they would all be ejected if this continued. Flynn glanced at Ravenscroft, who motioned him into a green-walled room where rows of tables, each with its own lamp or two, housed games of cards or dice.

  Ravenscroft led him to a rectangular table against a wall and seated himself on a red velvet couch. Flynn reached for the cards, but Ravenscroft moved them out of reach. “I would do better to hand you my blunt rather than try to best you. I have not slept in three days. Apparently, the phrase slept like a babe means one did not sleep at all, or rather, was woken at half hour intervals by screaming and wailing.” The duke lifted a decanter of brandy and poured three fingers into the snifter on the table. He surprised Flynn by pushing the drink toward him. “You look like you need it.”

  “I do.” Flynn downed it and pushed the snifter back for more.

  “Do you search out scandal, or does it find you?”

  “I am a lodestone for it,” Flynn said, taking the snifter when Ravenscroft had filled it again. Flynn leaned back in his chair. “Why did you help me just now?”

  “Clearly someone has to, old boy.”

  “If you are my last hope, I have fallen far indeed.”

  Ravenscroft laughed. “You always did amuse me, Flynn.”

  “That’s because you were generally foxed and easy to amuse.” Flynn drank the snifter down, feeling a pleasant sense of warm numbness settle in his bones. When he was numb, he didn’t have to think, to remember. “We used to be friends.”

  “We had a friendship of sorts, but when I caught you ogling my sister, I reconsidered.”

  “I never touched her.”

  Ravenscroft’s eyes narrowed. “And you never will.”

  Flynn shrugged. He did not need a lecture. “Thank you for the brandy. Good to see you, Duke.” He made to rise, but Ravenscroft shook his head.

  “I had another purpose for coming to your aid just now.”

  Flynn settled back into the chair and waited. No one, not even old friends, did anything for free.

  “Someone is looking for you. I told him I’d keep you here until he could return.”

  “Does this have to do with—”

  “That revealing incident at the ball in Grosvenor Square earlier this evening?”

  Flynn winced. “Touché.”

  The duke smiled. “I do not think the two are related. Do you know Sir Brook Derring?”

  “Derring? Is that the family name for the earls of Dane?”

  “Flynn, you do pay attention.”

  “Are you trying to goad me into punching you?”

  “This is the earl’s younger brother. He works for Bow Street, or perhaps he used to…”

  Flynn stood. “What the hell are you about? An investigator? And you claim to be my savior?”

  A hand clamped down on Flynn’s shoulder from behind. “You’ll want to hear what I have to say.”

  “Derring,” Ravenscroft acknowledged the new-comer.

  Flynn shrugged the hand off and turned to face the man. “Touch me again, and you’re dead.”

  “And with that,” Ravenscroft said, rising, “I will take my leave. Flynn, let’s not meet again. And remember what I said about my sister.” He nodded to Derring and walked away.

  Derring indicated the table. “Sit.”

  Flynn glanced about, noting that the men who had threatened him earlier still loitered nearby, standing expectantly under the chandelier. Perhaps now was not the best time to walk out. His gaze slid back to Derring. The man looked as though he’d been up all night. His dark blond hair was in disarray, as though he’d repeatedly run his hands through it. He had not shaved in a day or so, and his eyes were bleary. He had taken the time to dress, however. One did not enter Brooks’s in anything less than proper attire.

  Derring leaned forward. “As you might have gathered, I am an investigator. I was hired to find a missing person. I have not found that individual—yet—but I have found your brother.”

  Flynn felt his world tilt and spin. He gripped the edge of the table to keep from falling out of his chair, and he closed his eyes against a wave of dizziness. Derring was still talking, saying something about shocks, but all Flynn could hear was the howl of the wind. That was strange, was it not? He was inside.

  His hand snaked across the table toward the decanter of brandy Ravenscroft had left behind. The hand looked as though it belonged to someone else, though he recognized the stain on the thumb of the glove, as well as the sleeve of the coat. The hand trembled, and Derring finally took pity, lifted the decanter, and filled the snifter to the rim.

  Flynn gulped it as a dying man gulps the elixir of immortality, and pushed the snifter back. Derring shook his head. “I need you sober.”

  “No, you don’t.” Flynn looked Derring in the eye. “You do not want to see me when I’m sober.”

  “I will have to take that chance, because you are to come with me to Bath. Now. Tonight.”

  Flynn shook his head. “I’m not going to Bath.” Good God, his mother was in Bath, taking the waters or some such nonsense. He did not want to be obliged to call on her. She’d only shake her head at him and look disappointed. He hated it when she looked disappointed.

  “Your brother needs you,” Derring said. He reached across the table and caught Flynn’s hand before he could rise.

  “My brother is dead. He died years ago. I killed him.” The words echoed in Flynn’s mind, taunting him as he’d been taunted since that day so long ago.

  “That is not the way I heard it told.” Derring did not waver. His voice was low and calm, his tone even. Flynn had to wonder if he was going mad. Was he imagining this encounter? How could a man who appeared completely reasonable and sane, a man like Derring, spout irrationalities?

  Flynn couldn’t catch his breath. His hands had returned to the edge of the table, and his white-knuckled grip hurt. But he could not let go. He would fall; surely he would fall into oblivion if he dared release this anchor. The table was his last hold on sanity.

  “An extensive investigation ensued. The boy disappeared in London, which meant Bow Street conducted the bulk of the inquiry.”

  Ah, that was how Derring obtained his information.

  “Master Robert was never found. Until now.”

  Flynn shook his head. “You have done your research. I will grant you th
at, but you have not found my brother.”

  “I beg to differ. Come to Bath and meet the man. Then make your decision.”

  Flynn rose. “I’m not going anywhere. I have no interest in meeting a charlatan who claims to be Robert Flynn. He’s looking for money, that’s all. In which case, he should go to my mother. She might be fooled, but I am not.” He turned and almost stumbled. Righting himself, he lurched toward the exit. The men who’d waited for him turned in his direction, but when they saw his face, they made way. Flynn walked blindly through the club. He could not breathe, and when he stepped onto St. James’s Street, the cold night air revitalized him. He gulped in air, leaning on the building for support.

  He heard the door of the gentlemen’s club open behind him. “Damn you, man! Will you not leave me in peace?”

  Derring stood beside him. “I’d like nothing better, but if you will not come, I fear there is no saving him.”

  Flynn looked up. “Are you saying if I stay here, he dies?”

  “It’s far worse than that.”

  “What’s worse than death?” A stupid question. He’d wished for death many times.

  “You’ll find out.”

  Two

  Lady Emma Talbot, sister to the widely known Duke of Ravenscroft, daughter of one of the most treacherous spies in history, and sister-in-law to perhaps one of the most notorious courtesans to have graced the London social scene, stifled a yawn. The ball at the assembly room in Bath was well attended and had promised to be a diversion from the long day she’d spent doing charity work, but now she wished she had not come. Seeing all the happy, newly engaged couples reminded her that she was not newly engaged, despite everyone’s high expectations. The orchestra was in tune, the lemon water not quite so tepid as some she’d tasted, and there had even been champagne. Still, she was miserable.

  The source of her misery stood before her. Lord Ihle was not altogether unattractive, but he was boring her to tears. As hard as she tried to turn the conversation to something—anything—other than cattle breeding, she was unsuccessful.

 
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