The Troubled Knight Sample

thetroubledknight_thumbnailThe Troubled Knight is a 77,000 word romance novel in The Misbegotten Misses series published by Totally Bound Publishing. It is available for purchase at major retailers.

Four sisters are discovered by their father to illegitimate. The Outcast Earl (the story of Abigail) is followed by The Rusticated Duchess (the story of Gloria). The Second Sons (the story of Fiona) is available from Pride Publishing, and is not part of The Misbegotten Misses because it features a loving M/M couple who want to add a third (Fiona) to their small family. The Troubled Knight is the story of Genevieve de Rothesay, who was only sixteen when her parents’ marriage imploded and the world — and Genevieve — learned of her illegitimacy.

An extended sample of approximately 6,300 words is available below.

Summary: 

Sir Peter Devon spends his nights fleecing London’s young bucks, but when Fate traps him in her delicious coils, he must surrender or flee.

Sir Peter Devon inherited a baronetcy, survived a war, was knighted and spent too much time fleecing London’s naive rich. Gambling was—his mother often said—an immature way to spend the dark hours he spent awake, but he was unsuited to the normal life of a rich gentlemen. But Fate, in the form of friendly fire, trapped him anyway.

In his attempt to rescue a young girl from a corrupt and immoral ex-officer, he found himself engaged and quickly married to the chit. Abandoning her to the chaperonage of his mother was straightforward enough, but the girl didn’t stay young. Fate’s trap became a delicious torment. If he could only be certain that he wouldn’t lose his mind, he would want to keep her.

Genevieve, once an earl’s daughter but truly the bastard daughter of a duke and now a wife-in-name-only, is tired of waiting for Sir Peter Devon to see that she’s no longer sixteen. He’s watched over her, guarded her, supported her, appeared on command to escort her, called on her for twenty minutes at a time in his mother’s drawing room and even pandered to her desire to immerse herself in art and the country, when she believes he prefers the smoky gaming hells of London. Her hero has always been Sir Peter. He can be more than an absentee husband, and she doesn’t understand why he is so reticent when he clearly desires her. One way or another, they are together for life. Eventually he will let her be close to him. Won’t he?

Where to buy this book:

  1. Totally Bound Publishing
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Extended Sample of The Troubled Knight by Elle Q. Sabine:

Copyright 2015 by Elle Q. Sabine (elleqsabine@gmail.com). Published by Totally Bound, a subsidiary of Totally Entwined Group Limited.

All rights reserved, do not reprint in paper or electronic form without prior permission of the author and publisher. By reading further, you are stating you are 18 years of age, or over.

Chapter One

1st May 1825

“Happy May Day, angel.” Peter’s words reached Genevieve’s ears, but she didn’t respond immediately.

Peter was half reclining on the divan in her studio, thoroughly distracting her from the afternoon of painting she’d planned. Instead, she was completely nude, stretched out comfortably over Peter’s thigh, her upper body tucked against his so comfortably that he might have been a silk-covered pillow. Given the cool rain falling outside since luncheon, she could have been cold, but Peter had built the fire high before tempting her away from the easel with hot chocolate and delicious biscuits. While she’d nibbled on the mid-afternoon snack, he’d stripped her of her smock and the simple gown beneath it.

Not that she’d objected. No, when he stroked her skin and his admiring gaze scanned the curves of her form, Genevieve felt the urge to preen, not to pretend any sort of false modesty. But quite soon she’d found herself lying on her side, her plump thighs between his hard ones. Peter was an expert at fondling her bottom, and if he’d lightly smacked it a few times as he rubbed away the stiffness in the muscles of her hips and upper thighs, she’d only arched and tried to open her thighs to invite him to explore much more intimately.

Peter had, eventually. And here she was, his fingers still inside her from behind, bliss-filled and completely at ease.

At least the babe was quiet, perhaps worn out by the morning dancing in the village square and their afternoon antics. Genevieve spread her hand over her abdomen, the curve of her swollen body evidence of the change in their marriage in the last year. He followed her movement, clasping her hand in place against her skin.

“All the village women say that I need to slow down and rest more. How could I possibly do that, unless I’m to lie flat on my back all day?” Genevieve finally asked. But resting did sound awfully enticing. She didn’t want to move. She wanted to dwell happily in this warm cocoon of Peter’s embrace. “No one will let me do anything except walk in the gardens and paint.”

He chuckled. “I am quite fond of you lying flat on your back. Should I demonstrate?” he suggested wickedly.

“I should let you demonstrate how to do such a thing, then bring my brushes over here and paint it,” Genevieve threatened.

Around her, Peter shuddered. It was such an unexpected reaction that Genevieve was immediately intrigued. He was aroused by the idea. Peter couldn’t hide the jumping of his cock, even though it remained inside his trousers. Her outer thigh had been pressed up against his groin, and erections didn’t lie.

“Would you like me to paint you, Peter?” she purred, turning her head to look at him. “Strip off your shirt, run my brushes over your chest, your hips, your upper thighs?” She hummed happily at the thought, her imagination wild with a thousand possibilities representing the plethora of emotions and dreams she’d experienced with him. “And, of course, your cock.”

He grunted, not a particularly eloquent reaction. Peter was usually articulate when it came to intimacy, so she forgave him the momentary inability to speak. She, on the other hand, had at first been unable to express herself in any sort of intelligible language. But slowly, as the months had passed, Genevieve had been able to spell out what she was imagining and experiencing. Peter enjoyed that too.

“Though you’d have to remain still—very still—or it would just be messy. Not a proper piece of art at all.” She permitted herself the luxury of envisioning it—Peter spread out on the divan, his arms and legs spread apart. “Perhaps I’d have to tie you in place, to make sure you didn’t try to stop me halfway through.”

Peter began to shake his head, widening his eyes, but Genevieve put out a hand to his chest. “You’ve said that turnabout was fair.” Both of them suddenly jerked as she remembered the day months earlier when she had been tied down to her bed for hours while Peter had driven her nearly to the brink of unconsciousness through repeated orgasms. Genevieve could tell from Peter’s face that he was remembering the same afternoon. She liked to think it was then that she’d conceived the wee babe inside her. “You like it when I’m astride you. You like it when I take you in my mouth. You’ll like this too. You find being the focus of my attention, my imagination, extremely pleasurable.”

He gasped, but he didn’t deny being intrigued by her words. “And how exactly will I explain it to Grady?”

Genevieve smiled, raising her eyebrows and admiring the hard muscles before her, even if they were still covered by his shirt and waistcoat. Inwardly she was amused by the thought of Peter’s two devoted servants—his fastidious gentleman’s gentleman, Robin, and strictly reserved majordomo, Grady—trying to help Peter remove the paint from his body, but she’d never admit to that. She’d probably enjoy removing it herself anyway. “You will admit that you cannot deny me anything or that I’m fascinated by your beautiful skin. Or that you can’t stand it when I cry and I seem to all the time now that I’m in this delicate condition. Or that we were drunk and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Peter humphed, but his fingers were tangled at the buttons of his waistcoat. Genevieve sat up and kissed his jaw, her fingers slipping the buttons open and pulling up his shirt. He grunted. “I’ll undress. You get your paints.”

Not bothering to hide her smile, Genevieve stood, grabbing her smock from the floor as she did. With some three months to go, she could still bend, but the maneuver was more difficult.

“Don’t you dare put your gown back on or I’ll take it right back off.” He paused. “And no tying me down. What if you fell or the coals in the fire needed tending or someone came to the door?”

Genevieve frowned, but Peter’s fussy protectiveness was a natural outcome of his love and affection. He’d always been protective, but since he’d deduced she was expecting, he truly hovered. “I’d ring for help,” she returned serenely, slipping the smock over her shoulders.

“The object is to paint you, not me. I need to wear something.”

Behind her, Peter grumbled, but she heard him moving, so she found a dry palette and considered what she might do with the opportunity. It took her only a few minutes to retrieve the paints she wanted, then she turned back to Peter.

He waited obligingly on his back on the divan, completely nude with his erect staff displayed proudly. Perhaps it was obscene for it to be that blatantly erect, but Genevieve had long since lost any inhibitions when it came to admiring Peter’s body. He lusted for her touch, and she loved pandering to his cravings.

Genevieve licked her lips. He’d spread his arms out wide, gripping the legs of the divan on each side. His feet rested against one end, since he’d chosen the piece to suit his height, and he’d spread his legs so that there was enough space between his knees for her to kneel, should she so wish.

She grinned at him, and he fidgeted slightly.

Nevertheless, he was as still as a church mouse as she positioned her supplies alongside the daybed and joined him, her finger reaching out to trace his hip then over the front of his pelvis. She found the edge of the scar that marked his damaged skin and followed the edges of it up to his shoulder. Unable to resist, she bent forward and used her tongue to follow the path her fingers had made.

All of Peter’s muscles hardened, which she rewarded by pressing her lips tenderly to the nipple closest to her. “Thank you for letting me indulge my fantasies, husband,” she whispered.

“As long as they have to do with me, you’re welcome to use my body any way you see fit, angel,” Peter allowed. His voice was already low and strained, so she straightened and took up her brush and palette.

It was careful work, and she put all thoughts of intimacy out of her mind to concentrate. Keeping in mind his masculine pride, she kept to the red and orange hues, mixing the paints and gradually adding darker tints. She’d never done anything like this before, and she loved it. She wanted to keep him there longer, but sitting for a portrait was fatiguing, so she knew this enforced stillness that Peter was enduring would exhaust him. She used a very narrow brush, blowing on the black lines, and wound the image around his nipples, leaving them clear, working her way down and using his muscles to define the shape of the animal she was constructing.

“I’ve always wanted to paint you, as you very well know,” she said. “I didn’t imagine this. I rather thought a more traditional portrait. Someday I will paint you on a canvas. You know I’ve sketched you. You’ve seen several of those early attempts. And I’ve done detailed studies of your hands and your face. I’d do a complete study of your full body if you could be still for that long, though you know I’ve sketched you nude as well. But this…this is something different entirely. And you’re being so patient for me. Thank you, Peter.”

He moaned, and Genevieve looked up in surprise. She’d thought the sensuality from earlier was lost as she painted, but Peter apparently had the opposite reaction. He was stretched to utter stillness, but he was still wildly aroused. She glanced beside her, noting his stiff member. She remembered her hands, brushing over his skin and resting on his bare torso as she worked. She wondered how the tiny brush strokes on his skin and the drying paint felt.

Suddenly she very much wanted him inside her—not that she could paint that way, not that she wanted to hurry, not that she wanted the fantasy on his chest damaged before it dried and he could see it.

“How long until it dries?” he asked.

Genevieve swallowed heavily, using a finger to smudge a bit of the feather. “You’re fucking beautiful,” she whispered, watching the visceral reaction of his cock to the profanity he’d taught her to use. “And I’m going to drive you to utter madness when I sit astride you, but not before it’s perfectly dry.”

“Wash the damn brushes out before I cannot wait,” he ordered. Genevieve ignored him and continued to use her hand to add a few final touches to her project.

“Genevieve.” Peter’s voice cracked at the end, and she knew she had to be satisfied. She drew back, staring, breathing deeply. “It damn well better not be a picture of a naked woman or a card game,” he said.

“A little late for such restrictions, isn’t it?” she asked, raising an eyebrow to him. “It’s all done but”—she paused dramatically—“I would like to sign it, if you don’t mind.” He groaned but nodded, so Genevieve took the fine brush she’d used to give line and definition, added a bit of black and carefully added her signature to the edge along the fantastical tail feathers.

“Can you stay still while I clean up?”

Peter gave an infinitesimal nod so Genevieve gathered her things and moved around the room, setting the brushes to soak and covering the canvas she’d worked on earlier. The late afternoon sun would quickly dim the room, and she would paint no more today. Like Peter, she was certain she’d be exhausted this evening.

She wondered if he would keep it as long as possible or if he would scrub it off at the first possible opportunity, so that his chest was again smooth and bare pink when he next came to her bed. Only time would tell.

As she closed the paint jars, she noticed Peter’s head. It had turned just slightly, so he could follow her movements.

She obligingly stripped off the smock and left it on its hook, so that she was again unclothed. She’d felt awkward at first, being nude in front of him, especially as her stomach extended, but Peter had insisted and his behavior had clearly demonstrated his enthrallment with her body, even if she was too short, too buxom and breeding.

Genevieve returned to his side soon after, letting her gaze roam his body. “It’s not dry, not yet,” she told him. “But put your legs together, slowly. Keep your chest still, and don’t move your hips if you can help it. Yes, like that.” She breathed deeply, gathering herself. “If you can be absolutely motionless,” she whispered, kneeling on the divan and swinging one knee over his, straddling him. “I have a suggestion, for something we might try while it finishes drying.”

Peter’s eyes glinted from beneath half-closed lids, but he was silent as she moved up his body, careful to keep her hands away from him. When she sank down, his cock sliding up inside her welcoming sheath, he couldn’t stop from clenching his abdomen and thrusting inside her. Her eyes flew open. Despite that movement, her art was intact.

“Let me move. Stay still,” she ordered, knowing Peter could not have much stamina, patience or tolerance remaining. To give him surcease, she cupped her breasts with her hands, squeezing them together, and shifted her hips, pushing out and back down. The babe moved, so she released her breasts and cupped the mound at her belly. She didn’t want her swollen stomach bouncing against the paint. His lips pressed together tightly, holding back, but Genevieve could feel his engorged rod within her. She pumped again and pinched her nipples.

Peter watched intently, his hips and buttocks clenched tightly beneath her. She supposed asking him to relax was laughable. He couldn’t come inside her if he was relaxed. She breathed shallowly, her eyes half closing as she watched him. He caught her rhythm and found a way to urge them both along, using his thighs to guide her withdrawal and forward thrust. Balancing on her knees, she crawled forward an inch and rode him faster, thanking whatever deity that was listening for this man who was so much more than she had ever dreamed he would be. “Peter,” she moaned, desperate.

“Yes, angel, come now. Show me heaven.” Peter thrust upward, hard, with his hips, but this time Genevieve didn’t object. Instead, she screamed as the pleasure she found in his company spiraled into the climax he always gave her.

Tears were running down her cheeks when she managed to climb off of him. “Good tears,” she whispered, catching Peter’s anxious look.

“I’m going to stand now,” he announced. “I’ll be as careful as I can, but I need to take care of you.”

“Go look first,” she whispered, reaching for his hand.

He came off the divan in nearly one motion, still making an effort not to twist his chest. Keeping her hand, he brought her along, through the sitting room of their apartment suite and into her boudoir where a tall cheval mirror waited. He paused in front of it and stared. “The legendary phoenix,” he whispered.

“Resurrected from the fire for a new purpose, a new life,” she whispered.

“I have loved every canvas I’ve ever seen you paint,” he murmured, still absorbing the long bird, which was rising from the faint scars along his side. “But this is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen, outside of our bed.”

“So now you want Grady and Robin to see it,” she teased softly.

“Hell, I’d let the world see it. I want the world to see it.”

“I don’t.” He glanced down at her sharply, but Genevieve shrugged. “I don’t want any other woman admiring your chest except me.”

He bent his head and pressed his lips to hers, until her mouth opened and she stretched onto her toes, kissing back. Even so, they both remembered and held each other a foot apart. “Thank you. For the painting, of course, but also for my new life, for giving me a new purpose.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You may be a phoenix, but I’m the one who has benefited. Think of where I would be without you.”

Peter’s lips twisted. “Your sisters would have found some way to save you, if I hadn’t reassured Fiona of your safety.”

“But you are the one who rescued me, Peter. You were my hero. You still are.”

He nodded, and finally unable to bear being apart from her, pulled her close to his opposite side, away from the painting. He led her to a chair then brought her to sit carefully on his knees. There, together, they both remembered all that had happened to bring about their wedding—and later, their marriage.

thetroubledknight_facebook

Chapter Two

Three years earlier…

Peter watched, his façade of sophisticated boredom rigidly in place, as the earl’s heir threw out on his third cast. As the years had passed, it had become harder to see these youngbloods lose everything to dice, whether it had been hazard or the newer games that favored the hell house over the individual bettors. Still, Peter thought it better this buck should lose to him than to the other sharps who hung back in the corners of these smoky London rooms. Peter knew this one’s father, and they would reach some accommodation over the vowels. The hothead wouldn’t be forced to sell the family lands to meet his obligations, but he would spend a number of years rusticating in the country learning to make money, instead of in London, hazarding it away.

He slid the mark across, watched the boy’s hand shake as he signed the vowel, but Peter contained any expression of sympathy or denigration. “I expect you’ll be speaking about this to your pater tomorrow,” he finally suggested when the boy, perhaps only twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, swallowed.

Peter had been even younger when he had brazenly purchased colors with his newfound fortune and gambled his life on the Marquess of Wellesley and Lieutenant General Sir Rowland Hill. Despite their exceptional leadership and Peter’s decorated departure, he’d spent a half-dozen years trying to recover from those glorious campaigns in Portugal and Spain. Indeed, most gentlemen of the haut ton would see his semi-residence in this hell as a signal of Peter’s failure to become the proper gentleman expected of a well-bred Englishman.

Perhaps it was better that this one learn the painful lessons of prudence and discretion at the hands of debt, rather than at war.

“It seems I will,” the boy finally agreed, sobering up rapidly as Peter folded the document and secured it inside his jacket. “I should go.”

“Yes,” Peter agreed, standing. He followed the young man from the table but remained inside when the young lord escaped the den, satisfied to see the boy head into the street and not immediately into more trouble. Peter had no reason to leave, though. His small townhouse in Clarges Street was blessedly empty, except for his slumbering majordomo and gentleman’s gentleman. Even so, Peter never slept during the night in London. The noise of men and carriages on the cobblestones in the darkness disturbed him, and the constant odor of smoke in the air kept his mind running constantly. He evaluated the possible dangers—how to escape from the bedchamber alive, how to save his servants, the routes by which he could reach his mother at Fielding House and defend her from—

Peter cut off the swirling thoughts, viciously swearing under his breath. London in 1822 was relatively safe from any imminent uprising by the masses, and Fielding House was a proper brick mansion set apart from the houses on each side of it, lowering the danger from fire. In any event, his stepfather would have any threat dealt with and annihilated before Peter could even make it the few blocks from Clarges Street to Fielding House.

Peter might be overly sensitive to the crowded conditions and atmosphere in London, but his stepfather was ruthless about protecting his wife from danger. Peter honestly hoped Sir John Fielding never had reason to suspect the madness that sometimes ruled Peter’s life, but even that was preferable to having it whispered about among his mother’s friends.

Peter shuddered at the thought.

A loud voice in the corner had Peter turning instinctively, the awareness he’d been suppressing leaping to life again. It was a familiar voice but attached to a man Peter had hoped to never see again in this lifetime. General Malone—a colonel with a temporary command of brigadier general at Waterloo—was standing with two others, each with a glass of whiskey in hand as they watched a serious game of piquet.

The general apparently thought he was a better piquet player than the sharp and the three peers at the table, even if the sharp was drunk. Peter considered leaving, but Malone was not known to frequent this particular den. His unusual presence sparked Peter’s suspicions.

Almost against his will, he crept closer from behind, tipping his head to better pick up the banter.

“Lord knows she’s a pretty thing, but hell, the chit’s not old enough to tap properly,” the stranger to the right of Malone said disparagingly. “The general’s not tapping her. He’s marrying her,” the other stranger reminded the trio, tipping back at least a finger of whiskey in one gulp.

Peter held his breath, but Malone only laughed and tossed back his own drink. “Of course I’m marrying Winchester’s little princess. It’s the only way I can get my hands on that perfect young ass. And her tits? Christ, I’m going to keep that girl on her back for a month.”

“Better take advantage of the chance,” one of the others admitted. “You’ll knock her up. Won’t be able to enjoy her then.”

Malone laughed, but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “She’s only sixteen, damn it. I know what to do with girls who are knocked up. She won’t ever know there is one on the way. For the amount I’m paying Winchester for her, I’m going to enjoy every goddamned minute, whether she wants it or not. If she’s not underneath me, she’s going to know who owns her cunt every fucking second of the day. I’ll keep her on her knees if I fucking choose.”

Unbidden, Peter’s brain presented him with a memory of Winchester’s youngest daughter. The earl had four, and Peter had seen them all with their mother at Fielding House on several occasions. Once, he’d appeared in the middle of an informal afternoon tea to inform his mother he was leaving London for his Scottish lodge, and he had been bombarded by a crowd of silk gowns and dainty laughs. Lady Fielding had insisted on introducing him to every young lady in the room—fifteen in all—and their mothers. Most had still been in the schoolroom and enjoying the novelty of such an innocent event in the Season prior to their come-outs, when Peter, the known rake and card sharp, had shown up to add excitement to
the outing. The giggling had almost felled him, but he remembered the girl Malone was discussing.

Lady Genevieve de Rothesay. She had been memorable because she hadn’t giggled. Instead, she’d held out her hand and properly greeted him, kindly informing him that she thought it was considerate to call on his mother prior to traveling. Then she’d wished him well on his journey. Afterward, she’d turned to the side and engaged another young lady in conversation, allowing him to move on.

In his memory, her eyes were a glittering hazel—not memorable for their hue, perhaps, but for the intense focus in them. Beyond that, he could recall few details of her face beyond an impression of blonde hair. He did remember that she’d had to look up at him when they’d spoken, and that she’d worn an ice-blue gown that wasn’t quite the right hue for her complexion.

Nausea rose as he thought of Malone’s hands on her.

Peter truly would be damned if he could do something to stop that twisted maniac from this madness but chose to step aside instead.

Swallowing down his reaction, Peter thought rapidly, replaying Malone’s words. A half-baked plan came to mind. Malone would be a much harder mark than that poor sop from Derbyshire, but it might just be the most important game Peter had ever played. Casually, consciously readjusting his face to look slightly hammered, Peter snagged a glass of whiskey from a passing server, dumped half of it, spraying a few drops on his jacket and pants, then swirled the amber liquid in the glass and sloshed it against his lips. Hidden by the dark fabric of his clothing, the stench of the spilled liquor would sour as the hours passed, preserving the illusion of Peter’s drunkenness.

He stepped forward and bumped into Malone’s companions, looking up in surprise.

Peter’s eyes opened wide as he straightened with a brief apology, as though he’d just recognized that Malone was in the house. “General”—he proffered his hand for a shake—“haven’t seen you in years. Toulouse, I think.”

Malone’s eyes narrowed. In Toulouse, Peter hadn’t been a drunken sot in a gambling den. He’d been a decorated colonel, a war hero, a sober and well-loved regiment commander admired by his soldiers and his commanders alike. Malone had hated his successes. But after, Malone had been hale and whole, and Peter had been broken, a casualty of the battle, both in mind and body. Malone hadn’t known that. He’d departed for England in the company of the other celebrating officers. Peter had remained behind, confined to a field hospital, then recuperated in Spain for several months. He hadn’t gone to Waterloo.

“Peter Devon? Quite a surprise, seeing you here. Heard you were an expert at this sort of thing, but still surprised, I suppose.”

“You’ve been well?” Peter asked, slapping him heartily on the shoulder, his touch a bit too hard.

Malone’s companion guffawed. “He’s having a bit of an evening. Just signed a marriage settlement, you see. Came here directly from meeting the lucky father-in-law.”

“Never!” Peter looked appropriately horrified at the thought of being leg-shackled. “No wonder you’ve come here, then—a final hurrah before the grande dames of the ton demand you appear to be feted for hours on end. What’s your game? Piquet? Interested in playing?” He moved the glass to his mouth and splashed more of the whiskey against his lips, noting that Malone’s companions did the same.

Malone’s eyes narrowed and Peter felt a sick sense of triumph. He truly wanted this prick’s fortune, and piquet was not a high enough stakes game to accomplish that in one night.

“Dice seems more like my game than cards,” Malone demurred.

Peter hemmed and hawed, apparently thinking it over. “Don’t play hazard all that often,” he lied. “We need a third and fourth to make the table complete.” He eyed Malone’s companions, narrowing his eyes to improve his focus.

One elbowed the other. “George is here. He’s got the funds to throw.”

“Would give us time to catch up,” Peter taunted. “Always wanted to beat you fair and square.”

“Ass,” Malone muttered. “Haven’t changed a bit, have you?”

Peter offered him a happy grin. “Let me go refill my glass and find a fourth. Looks like we can try that table.” He gestured to an empty table off to the side.

Malone nodded, flagging down a server. “Get the man a drink, on me,” he instructed.

Peter waited until all three had turned away and taken a few steps, out of reach of his low voice. “Jim, keep topping me up, but make it mostly water. I need to stay sober. And where’s Lockley?”

“Right then. Stepped out into the back, sir. Want me to fetch him for you?” The servant boys all knew Peter was good for his tab and extra, and treated him accordingly.

“I’ll go myself. Tell the gentlemen I stepped out for a piss, and give them full rounds of whiskey—the most potent you have.”

Jim nodded briskly and edged away.

Peter took the side door out of the room. Lockley was always ripe for an adventure, and this surely counted as one.

He wasn’t surprised to find Lockley in the back courtyard. Only the den’s staff and a few of the hard-core regulars were allowed to use the space, though few others would ever wish to spend time there. Aside from the filth that most would find hard to ignore, the narrow, enclosed area was too cold and foggy right now for his taste.

Lockley was sitting casually on a bench, shielded by shadows. The girl on her knees between his thighs wasn’t even a surprise.

Bemused at his appearance, Lockley waved one hand in a negligent greeting and tightened his other hand in the skirt’s hair. “Come to enjoy her too?” he asked, reaching down.

Peter’s eyes followed Lockley’s hand to where the chit’s breasts were spilling out of the loosened bodice. Lockley twisted the girl’s nipple, and she moaned, a sound that clearly pleased his friend, who grunted appreciatively and adjusted his position, sinking farther into her throat. She sucked happily, almost purring as Lockley handled her.

“Not tonight,” Peter declined. He wasn’t innocent and he’d even enjoyed himself on that same bench a few times with one or more of the maids, but this woman didn’t interest him.

Maybe he was aging, but he also liked to take his time, which required a comfortable piece of furniture—and Malone waited inside. “I came out to offer you something of an opportunity. There’s some risk as it is hazard, but the man’s already half drunk.”

Lockley grinned in the darkness. “Give me five minutes to pleasure this lusty lass and clean up.”

Peter nodded and leaned against a nearby tree to watch. Malone would be encouraged by his delay, presuming Peter was reluctant. Lockley wouldn’t mind, and clearly the girl didn’t object to the show. She slid her hands up Lockley’s thighs and clutched his waistcoat inside his jacket. The man hadn’t done more than flip open the placket of buttons that held his trousers closed and pull his shirt out of the way enough for the woman to perform her magic.

Lockley was quite happy with her performance. He grunted as he spewed in her mouth, then lifted her to his lap and pushed his hands up under her skirts.

She gave a performance for that, too, arching backward and moaning rather loudly as he stimulated her. Peter guessed the climax was at least real, if somewhat exaggerated. The woman was practiced at her role.

As they walked inside, Peter explained his plan. But in the back of his mind was the realization that he hadn’t felt a bit of interest or desire, nor a moment of regret, that he couldn’t take his turn with Lockley’s tumble.

* * * *

Peter met Lockley’s eyes across the table. George had long since withdrawn from the game and on the winning side, but neither Lockley nor Peter had given Malone any indication that he might be playing too deep or exactly how much he’d lost. Peter had promised that Lockley might have the bulk of Malone’s cash funds. He’d explained that his primary objective was the marriage settlement contract that Malone had signed earlier in the evening. He’d heard Malone’s comment that he’d need to lay out a good deal of cash to make the marriage happen, so Peter planned to interfere by being sure Malone didn’t have the ready funds.

“I’ve got one more in me,” Lockley sighed as he finished his third cast.

Malone grunted, swallowed back another finger of whiskey and took the dice. He narrowed his eyes at the chips and coins on the table, the quantity of which Peter and Lockley had been concealing for hours by the simple and long-practiced expedient of stacking their whiskey glasses and snack bowls in front of them, and waited. The three played the round.

Peter laughed under his breath when Lockley deliberately threw out the first two casts. Peter bet on both, but small amounts, telling that he wasn’t willing to risk any additional blunt, and Lockley lost both. Malone fell for the ploy and bet large on the last cast, which Peter fully expected Lockley to win. Peter shook his head and declined then restrained his smile when Lockley took Malone’s tokens. Malone, who had been hearing stories for the last two hours about Lockley’s legendary losses at dice, frowned, but bet again. Lockley threw out the cast, ending the round and sent a much smaller token back across the table to Malone.

Peter tossed the first die and waited for Malone and Lockley to make a side bet. To his surprise, Malone actually bet on Peter throwing in, so Peter took his time and let fate have her way. Malone won the bet, so Peter hid his smile and tossed again. The two bet back and forth as Peter lost two more rounds, until Malone’s confidence grew. All three knew that Peter had one last throw to finish the night. He threw the first die and waited until Malone and Lockley bet, then reached down and tossed down half of the tokens at his elbow to the setters.

Lockley could barely restrain his grin.

Peter tossed the die and sighed, while beside him Malone uttered a string of curses. He collected his winnings from Malone as Lockley produced his stack of tokens and markers and started calculating. Peter waved Jim over and quietly asked for a round of watered wine. Malone held his liquor well, but he wanted Malone sober enough to think realistically. Lockley had done Malone up well. By the time the two had traded out the markers, it was clear that Lockley held a fortune in Malone’s vowels. The general looked to Peter, swallowed, and without writing out an IOU to Lockley, asked bluntly, “Settle up with me first.”

Peter presented his pile of markers. It was much smaller, but with Malone’s debt to Lockley, even the three thousand more pounds must have seemed overwhelming. But Peter had no desire to be sympathetic. “Horses, real estate, a warehouse full of salable goods if you’ve exhausted your cash reserves?” Peter suggested.

“Damn it, I have the money in the bank for the Lockley vowel,” Malone claimed. He shifted, rubbing his jacket lapel. “He’ll have it tomorrow. I just didn’t want to use it. Had other plans for the blunt.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “An investment?” Then he braved a wide grin. “Ah! The marriage. You have to pay for it?”

Malone grunted.

“Must be a love match.” Lockley smirked. “So what’s it going to be then, Malone? Your house or your bank account?”

“Damn you, Lockley. I thought Peter would be the one to try to fleece me.”

Peter laughed. “If you like, I’ll do you a damn favor and act as your agent. Paying to marry any damn girl is a wrong deal. Hand over that contract. I’ll get you a dowry that will get you out of the mire, instead of a damn debt.”

Malone grimaced. Lockley smacked his hand down on the table to get his attention. He leaned toward Malone and said clearly, “Are you saying you can’t meet your debt?”

“Not what I said,” Malone demurred. He put his hand up and shoved it into his hair.  Peter leaned back in his chair and waited.

Five minutes later and Malone was sweating. He’d already signed the vowel for the balance he owed Lockley and another he owed Peter. But Lockley wasn’t satisfied. He wanted his blunt immediately. Malone was starting to look for Peter to help, as it seemed clear that Malone’s two companions from earlier in the evening had slipped out of the den. Lockley, however, had two bruisers edging closer, watching to see if Malone reneged on his debt.

As if tired by Malone’s predicament, Peter finally intervened and revealed his terms. “What the hell. You want to cancel my vowel? This marriage of yours is arranged. There will be other girls. Give me that damn marriage contract and you’ll only have Lockley to satisfy when the bank opens tomorrow. Keep your house, your stables, your honor. Otherwise, all of London is going to know tonight’s outcome.”

His face red, Malone reached inside his jacket, withdrew a set of folded papers and threw them on the table. Peter opened them and quickly read through, then picked up his vowel for Malone and marked it paid. “I’ll leave you two gentlemen to resolve the rest, eh?” he asked, tucking the precious papers into the pocket inside his waistcoat.

Lockley, to whom Peter had already revealed the age of Malone’s prospective bride, was determined to make an example of Malone to the rest of London. “Next time I let you winkle me into a damn hazard game at midnight, Devon, the beggar had better have fucking sovereigns on his person.”

“Yes, next time I’ll molest the man’s pockets myself to see what he has on hand,” Peter returned sarcastically. He stood and left the table without another word for Malone but did make sure to say farewell to Jim and the den’s master to clear his tab. They knew he’d be back within a few nights, but periodically he made unexpected starts out of the City, and he didn’t like leaving an account open. Jim, at least, deserved better.