Lord Vile (Beastly Lords Book 3)

By: Sydney Jane Baily
Acknowledgment




Thanks to my kind and capable copyeditor, Violetta Rand, tidying up after me like the good fairy she is, and to Dar Albert for another gorgeous cover. And a big hug and kiss to my smart and beautiful mother.





Chapter One




1849, London

“Why are you ’ere?”

Michael Alder, viscount and heir to an earldom he hadn’t seen in over a year, raised bleary eyes to the inquisitor seated on a stool beside him in a gin palace in Drury Lane. He felt no compunction to answer. He drank alone.

Turning away, he smacked his hand atop the sticky counter until the barkeeper responded with an enquiring grunt.

Nodding at his empty glass, Michael watched as the man refilled it with gin.

London Dry or Belgian gin? he wondered briefly. Then he downed it. He’d had too many to feel the burning sensation as it hit the back of his throat. No matter. It did the job nonetheless.

“I mean, you’re not like the rest of us,” continued the voice at his elbow. “You could be drinking brandy at White’s or Boodle’s.” Then the man laughed. “I betcha didn’t think I’d even know the names of them fancy clubs, eh, m’ lord?”

Couldn’t a man get himself positively ran-tan in an obscure and shabby pub without being buttonholed by some nosey bloke?

Feeling a hand stroke his back, Michael turned slowly to see the barmaid with the wide smile and even wider hips tilt her head toward the stairs.

“You won’t answer, eh? Too arfarfanarf!” His unwelcome examiner pointed out the obvious—Michael was well and truly in his cups!

Too many pints of ale followed by too many glasses of gin.

Nodding at the wench, Michael slid off his stool and followed her upstairs. He wouldn’t remember any of this in the morning. All the better.

*

Miss Ada Kathryn Ellis, known simply as Ada to her friends, acknowledged a sense of deep disappointment. It was the first time she’d allowed herself to do so in months. Her first Season, which was the previous year, had been all nervousness and learning the correct modes of behavior. This Season, having mastered the art of flirtation and witty conversation, she’d excelled at being in the right place at the right time, and often with a partner whom she didn’t entirely dislike, occasionally one whom she even found agreeable.

That wasn’t to say she’d found someone to tickle her fancy. Unfortunately, she hadn’t, and not for want of trying. Oh, she had tried!

To every dinner companion or dance partner, she’d compared one man, a young viscount she’d encountered two years earlier. As she’d not yet been brought out into society, he had been firmly off limits. Thus, at a dinner to which her parents had munificently allowed her access, Ada could only watch Lord Alder from afar.

Fervently hoping he would still be available when she was on the marriage market, alas, she’d seen neither hide nor hair of the viscount this entire Season.

His inexplicable absence hadn’t stopped her from participating in all the excitement of London society. However, whenever she thought she might fancy someone, a gentleman with a particularly nice smile or attractive eyes, she weighed his merits against the now nearly mythological memory of Lord Alder.

If only she could see him and maybe even speak with him, then she’d be able to disabuse herself of the ridiculous notion—he was the one.

As her friends got engaged, particularly her best friend Maggie Blackwood, who snagged an earl and became the Countess of Cambrey, Ada grew a little less interested in each social event. Perhaps her parents, the Baron and Baroness Ellis, had wasted their money on a daughter who seemed neither a wallflower nor a dazzler. Firmly in the middle of the pack of society misses, Ada was unsure how to proceed as the Season drew to a riotous close.

Should she grab any man who showed an interest in her fair face and large dowry? She could get engaged to a viscount’s son, who nearly declared himself before she ran off to the ladies’ retiring room in order to avoid the unpleasant task of saying no. There was another, an older bachelor who still had all his hair, a sizable yearly income, and a townhouse on the west side of Arlington Street. She was confident she could be mistress of his house by Christmas, if she so chose. In fact, there were half a dozen others who’d shown an interest.

If only she could decide to settle.

Or should she set her sights on the following year and go home to Juniper Hall in the Surrey countryside? Perhaps cut her hair in the new fashion or take more music lessons? Maybe she should learn to speak French like Maggie or attempt to stop talking so much about her interest in commerce. The latter scandalized her mother, yet Ada found most interesting the rise and fall of commodities on the London Stock Exchange. Fluctuations of price could make or break a man between sunrise and sunset. There was the Spanish panic of 1835. And four years after the 1845 crash, newspapers still wrote about the burst “bubble” from railway speculation. Some very old families, indeed, had been ruined.

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