Lord Vile (Beastly Lords Book 3)(6)

By: Sydney Jane Baily


She could not regret her boy. Nor the life she’d created since that fateful night. Unable to reenter the ballroom with her hair tangled and her gown in disarray, she’d slipped out through a cast iron gate in the brick wall and found her parents’ carriage in the long line. Once inside, she’d begun to shake and hadn’t felt warm again until her mother, having eventually been summoned by the footman, took her stunned and sobbing daughter home, got her bathed, and tucked her into bed.

Her disgrace had been obvious, but her parents’ love had been stronger.

In the weeks that followed, her folly had become even clearer. Far from being the noble viscount she’d envisioned, Michael Alder had already been given the moniker of Lord Vile by the ton for his drinking binges and his treatment of the fairer sex, including preying on debutantes when he wasn’t satisfying himself with whores.

Or so the gossips reported in the papers. If only she’d read them prior to that night instead of the stock reports!

She wasn’t his first ruined maiden, nor, apparently, would she be his last.

Now, from an elegant home in London, she would live as a mother, a widow as far as anyone knew, and a businesswoman, which no one would ever know. She was simply Mrs. St. Ange, a baron’s daughter, no longer grieving a husband lost at sea two years earlier before her baby was even born.

And without anyone’s assistance, except perhaps her old and dearest friend, Lady Margaret Cambrey, Ada would exact revenge upon the vilest nobleman in London. If her father had suspected her motive for returning to London, undoubtedly, he would never have let her out of his sight.

*

“There you are, old chap.” The voice had Michael coming out of his reverie, thinking of nothing more important than whether to see his paramour that evening. At White’s having read the papers and drunk enough tea to float an armada, he was ready for billiards and brandy. Perhaps a hearty meal first.

He smiled at seeing Lord David Hemsby, an old acquaintance from Eton with whom he’d renewed a friendship after he’d stopped slumming in filthy nameless pubs and gin palaces and returned to his rightful place at the gentlemen’s club.

Of course, Michael still drank far too much, though switching from low-class gin to more refined drink of his peers, French brandy. And still, he refused to speak to his parents, who’d sent him into the foul abyss from which he’d barely emerged. And, of course, he avoided any marriage-minded misses who foolishly hadn’t yet been scared off by his hard-earned reputation as a reprobate of the first order.

After a certain garden tryst with a woman whose face he couldn’t quite recall but whose floral scent haunted his senses, he’d stopped going to the Whitechapel doxies. They never smelled like anything except gin or frying oil. Instead, he kept company with upper-class widows and genuine Cyprians with all their learned charms, and the occasional nobleman’s wife, if one happened across his path. The latter was a rare treat, a titillating adventure that had nearly got him killed twice.

His life was playing out as he’d expected it would after the treachery of his broken engagement.

To his dismay, following a dinner with Hemsby, his evening was ruined by the appearance of the Earl of Alder.

Bloody hell! What could his father possibly want after all this time?

David excused himself to find amusement elsewhere. Brandy in hand, Michael stared across the table from the man he hadn’t seen in years.

His father’s hair was streaked with gray, a few more lines under his eyes, nothing remarkable that would indicate he’d suffered the loss of his son’s respect.

“Come now, you’ve been nursing this grudge long enough. I’m not getting any younger,” George Alder said. “You’ll be head of the family within a decade if not sooner.”

Sooner the better, Michael muttered under his breath. Then he instantly regretted thinking it. He didn’t wish his father dead, simply in another city, preferably another continent.

“And your mother wants to see you,” his father added, as if they were discussing a weekly visit. “This estrangement hurts her, though she knows you’ve stayed in contact with your siblings, at least.”

Rolling his eyes, Michael signaled the waiter for another drink. He didn’t care to discuss his missives back and forth with his younger sister and brother. In fact, he didn’t care to discuss anything with the earl.

“Is there anything else? Frankly, you’re boring me,” Michael said, hoping his tone dripped with the professed boredom. “I’m well-aware you’re aging. We both are. As for the ‘grudge’ as you call it, did you ever consider that maybe you ruined my life’s happiness, and now I simply don’t give a damn what happens to you or the earldom?”

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