The Lord’s Wicked Ways (Preview)

Chapter One

For all the magic of the Far East, there was always something about London that spoke of kinship to Clayton Thorne’s soul. Perhaps they were both a little dirty, he thought with amusement as the scent of all the coal-fueled homes and businesses along the waterfront reached his nose, but a diamond of the first water nonetheless. His hackney coach sped west into better neighborhoods until it reached Regent Street. Neither he nor his valet spoke, both tired after the early six-month return journey from Calcutta.

The afternoon tide coming into port had been late enough that he was yawning, but not so late that he could easily retire straight to bed without hearing about it from his brother if he delayed announcing his return. Still, weariness threatened to drag his eyelids closed even as the coach came to a complete stop. Between himself, his valet, and the coach driver, they managed to unload three trunks and the important satchel of papers. The coach waited with the luggage as Clayton and his valet struggled to get each trunk up to his first-floor rooms, moving slower and slower as weariness overcame them.

His valet nodded at him as they set the last trunk in the center of the parlor. The man’s smile was thin but genuine. “Welcome home, sir.”

“It’s good to be back, Hoskins.” Clayton collapsed into an armchair without removing the dust cloth, sending up a puff of many months’ dust. He coughed several times until he cleared the irritation from his throat, shaking his blonde hair into his eyes. Brushing the hair from his eyes, Clayton considered it was definitely time for a haircut while his feet were on solid ground. Getting a haircut while on a ship rolling with the waves in the middle of the sea was dangerous for one’s ears, not to mention a somewhat lop-sided style.

“Hoskins, if you would be so kind as to ask one of the footmen to go to Thorensbury House, I expect Tobias will want to see me this evening. I’m not sure I’m quite the best company for supper, but I’m sure that won’t stop Georgiana from inviting me.” His sister-in-law was the consummate hostess, but he would be horrible company tonight. He quietly groaned as he rose to get paper and ink from his study, and he scratched out a few lines. He started to fold the note only to remember that his pantry was empty. Clayton added a postscript begging for scraps from his brother’s table, wondering if maybe he ought to suggest supper there after all. Supper would mean dressing up and making pleasant conversation—he wasn’t sure he had that in him.

“Yes, sir.” The valet began removing dust cloths so there was room to sit down, though he would never think of sitting in Clayton’s presence. Hoskins was nearly fifteen years his senior, but the man had not seemed any more bothered by the extended trip than Clayton himself, and at twenty-eight, even the nobleman had been feeling the months of travel well before the end.

The idea of collapsing into bed without first going to visit his brother was very appealing, but he knew how Tobias, the Earl of Thorensbury, would react to that. Unless he was injured, Clayton’s duty was to the family before all else. “I’d best change, and I could use a shave before I go. After you have that sent, of course,” he added, nodding at the folded paper he had handed his valet.

“Quite right. Why don’t you sit for a moment, sir, unless you wish to retrieve something from your luggage?” Message in hand, Hoskins hurried out the door to find an available footman. Clayton had no idea how the man had the energy to jump right into his duties without flinching.

Clayton returned to his luggage, feeling a bit guilty for making Hoskins leap into service so quickly. He was elbow-deep in one of his trunks when Hoskins returned. Between the two of them and their fatigue, it felt to Clayton like the simple actions of redressing in clean clothes and shaving took forever. There was a knock at his door as he was sliding into his jacket. He opened the door since he was standing right there, pleased to see the familiar face of one of Thorensbury House’s footmen with a large hamper.

“Welcome home, sir,” the man greeted him, barely betraying any surprise that Clayton had answered his own door. “His Lordship’s cook had dinner made up for you in no time.”

“Come in, come in.” Clayton gestured. “I probably owe Mrs. Powell a gift, the angel. What do you think, Hoskins?”

The valet reentered the front rooms after disposing of the shaving implements and nodded. “Some of the spices, sir.”

“Yes.” It was a good thing one of them still had wits after their journey.

Hoskins took the hamper of food from the footman, who retreated to the door. “Your gelding is below, sir. His Lordship is waiting for an answer as to when he might expect you, sir.”

“I’ll eat a few bites and be on my way. I doubt I’ll remain awake too much longer.” Clayton watched as Hoskins unearthed sliced ham and made him a plate. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Talbot, but I can’t stay too long. You can tell him I will also call upon them tomorrow morning to be more sociable, and we can go to the warehouse together then. I don’t have the energy tonight.” The footman bowed his acknowledgment of the message and let himself out.

Clayton followed the good smells to his coffee table and slid onto the settee as his valet set the plate down. “You must be famished, Hoskins, don’t let’s stand on ceremony. Do eat. We’ve had a long journey.” He liked and respected his valet and wasn’t about to let the man suffer just for propriety’s sake, not after they had journeyed together so far from home. On the trip, Hoskins had been valet, footman, secretary, and accountant, not to mention friend, sounding board, and confidant.

“Heavens no, sir. I’ll be just fine eating after you are through.” Not leaving the matter open to discussion, the valet moved away, shaking his head as he disappeared into Clayton’s bedroom to continue airing out the chambers.

Clayton sighed but would not force the point if his man wanted to return to polite society’s expectations. It was proper. Hang propriety. I couldn’t care less after six months at sea. Not that he was all that concerned with society’s wishes on an average day. He wolfed down his food, however, too hungry to delay his meal. “I’ll need my coat and hat, Hoskins—” The man appeared with the items before he could even finish the sentence. “Thank you. I don’t expect I’ll stay longer than I must.” Hoskins assisted Clayton with the greatcoat. Clayton picked up the satchel of papers and slung the strap over his head.

“Very good, sir.”

As the son of an Earl, Clayton was raised with servants, carriages, and all the domestic assistance he could ever need. Now that he made his own living, as the second son, he had only his gelding, and even the horse had been more his brother’s than his own while he was away. I hope the poor beast did not suffer for my absence.

Clayton was greeted with a familiar whinny, so he relaxed and shoved away the worries for another time. Clayton brought the gelding an apple and gave the fine beast some attention. “Hello, old boy. I’ve missed you.”

He rode quickly to Thorensbury House, feeling every jolt despite the gelding’s gentle gait. The townhouse was well lit and still very much awake, as evidenced by the waiting footman. Clayton dismounted and handed his reins to the footman. “I don’t expect I’ll be long, but he might appreciate not standing about in the cool evening while my brother dissects my latest travels.” The footman bowed his acknowledgment, and Clayton hurried to the door opened by the butler just as he reached it. “Good evening, Dowding.”

“Good evening, sir. His Lordship awaits you in his study.”

“No need to announce me, Dowding, thank you. I can find my way.” Clayton handed over his hat and greatcoat, took up his satchel once more, and then made his way down the hall to Tobias’ study—the same study in which his father had spent most of his time. He found Tobias bent over the desk, writing.

“My kingdom for a glass of whisky,” the younger of the two siblings announced with appropriate comedic melodrama.

When the Earl’s head flew up, Clayton could see lines of age that had not been there prior to his Far East journey. The sense of age and weariness disappeared as soon as Tobias smiled, however. “Welcome back, brother.” The Earl rose and moved around his desk to shake Clayton’s hand firmly. “It is good to see you looking well.”

“It’s good to be home,” Clayton agreed, sinking into one of the armchairs in front of the desk. “I don’t have the energy to stay long tonight, Thorensbury, but I can say we did well. The crates of fabric and goods were taken straight to the warehouse. But there are some gifts in there as well that I didn’t have time to unpack.”

Instead of returning to his chair, Tobias Thorne went to his sidebar and poured two snifters of brandy, one of which he offered to Clayton, before leaning against the corner of his desk. “Good to hear. I told Georgiana we would see you tomorrow, so she’s likely planning a supper fit for the celebration of your return.” His gaze traced Clayton’s face. “I hope your journey was not too dreadful.”

With a sigh, Clayton sipped from his glass and tried to relax his shoulders. “No, just long. Six months aboard ship drove me to distraction by the end.” He patted the leather bag in his lap. “New trade agreements, import/export contracts, and shipping schedules. Also, receipts for the first consignment. If they faced better weather than I, the first ship might well be nearing England in a matter of weeks. I thought we might go to the warehouse together tomorrow to open the new crates.”

The Earl nodded. “Good.” He sipped from his glass, but the action seemed to cover a moment’s hesitation, which was entirely unlike the brother Clayton knew.

He frowned. “What’s the matter?”

His older brother sighed, reaching up to rub his forehead. Hints of weariness reappeared, aging his brother beyond his thirty years. “I found some old correspondence belonging to father when I had the furniture in here moved. Seeing you reminded me.”

Clayton nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. “And?”

A dark look crossed his brother’s face. “Here, read it for yourself.” He moved behind his desk again and withdrew a packet of papers from a drawer. He flipped through them quickly until selecting one and holding it out.

Clayton glanced down at the signature. “Wilensdale? I wasn’t aware father was acquainted with the Duke.”

“Nor I. Keep reading.” Tobias drained the rest of his brandy in one long pull.

Skimming the pleasantries, Clayton read the key facts as quickly as he could. The Duke wrote that he agreed the first steps of their father’s idea had gone well, but that the business opportunity wouldn’t require him—Clayton’s father, the late Earl of Thorensbury—to be involved at all, for Wilensdale had it all under control. Clayton’s puzzlement was written on his face. “What is this?”

Tobias held up the rest. “These were exchanged a few months before father died.” A pained look shared between the brothers accounted for their sad remembrance of the late Earl’s demise after a long struggle with melancholia—it loomed large in their memories still. “It seems Father took an idea for a new business to the Duke of Wilensdale. The Duke was agreeable at first but then blindsided Father, double-crossing him and taking the business for himself. One of the Duke’s later responses refuses to accept that Father might have lost any large sum of money, so it seems Father blamed Wilensdale for at least some of his money troubles.”

Clayton felt his heart turn to lead and sink into his stomach. “Will the letters alone be proof of their partnership?”

His brother shook his head. “There’s never any explicit agreement of partnership, nor any contract of shares in the business. Even with only the Duke’s replies, it seems clear to me that the conversation was genial until it took a very sudden turn. That letter,” the Earl indicated the paper in Clayton’s hands with a pointing finger, “is the turning point. I can practically hear Father’s rude response to it, and the Duke’s replies turn sharper as well.”

Clayton’s stomach roiled with the possibilities. Had their father gone into business trying to dig himself out of debt, only to be swindled by someone like the Duke of Wilensdale? I can’t very well challenge him to a duel over incomplete correspondence. It was all he could do to remain in his seat and not release the boiling rage churning in his gut.  If Clayton or his brother had known how deeply their father’s personal finances had sunk, they might have been able to do something before their father’s melancholia claimed him, but neither had had any idea at the time. Why hadn’t Father come to us about this idea? Perhaps more importantly, what could lesser nobility like us do to return the ill wishes and knock Wilensdale down a notch?


Chapter Two

“Oh my dear, sweet Lila. You look magnificent.” Lila’s aunt’s eyes glistened as she peered past Lila into the modiste’s mirror. The cerulean ball gown flattered the young blonde woman better than a truer pastel shade might, really making her blue eyes stand out and sparkle. “You will do your father proud,” Aunt Maria added, dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes.

The satin dress was a lovely color, and it suited her very nicely. The azure and gold brocade trim at the high waist and hem shone in the reflected sunlight within Madame Gautier’s shop. “Thank you, Madame. You have remade me a lady.” Her slippers were made to match the brocade, and the gold thread’s shining peeked from beneath her skirts when she moved.

Both older women laughed politely at her jest—Lila had been a lady from the day she was born to the Duke and Duchess of Wilensdale—though she had not meant it as such. Until now, she had felt unprepared for her entrance to society. This gown helped her feel the part. Still, all Lila could think was that it ought to be her mother taking her for this final fitting of the gown she would wear at her debut soirée two days hence. Not that she didn’t appreciate her aunt, but she missed her mother sorely at times like this. Three years was not nearly long enough to distance herself from the raw emotions of losing her mother to a sudden illness. Aunt Maria had so far managed to guide Lila around the many emotional moments in preparing for her debut, but this one brought tears to her eyes.

“Here, my dear,” her aunt offered quietly, extending the handkerchief.

Lila took it, mute, and wiped her eyes. The modiste politely averted her eyes and checked the puff of the sleeves and how well the neckline lay. Lila had no desire to turn into a watering pot in such a prominent location. Already she spied familiar faces directing longing glances through the front window, even if she and her new finery were hidden for the moment behind a screen to maintain her dignity and the surprise of her attire. “This is perfect. Are the other gowns prepared?” There were many events planned for the opening of the London Season, and more would likely be announced before the social year concluded that summer. While some of Lila’s gowns had been ordered and made in advance, it was hard to get the same quality outside London.

“Yes, my lady. Camille will help you with the next.” The Frenchwoman gestured politely to the dressing room where one of the seamstresses had helped Lila dress.

Lila handed her aunt back the handkerchief with a small smile. Don’t cry. Just keep moving; don’t cry. As she passed toward the dressing room, her aunt and the modiste returned to the settee and their tea tray. She was glad her aunt had decided to remain at Wilensdale House this week as they finished all the plans for the soirée. As the Dowager Marchioness of Evensburg, Maria had the skills to ensure such a grand party was put together properly. For all Lila had been doing in the country as her father’s hostess, she believed herself unequal to the task of the far more demanding London ball. With Aunt Maria at the ducal manor at breakfast each day, they had saved time with their preparations, but more importantly, maintained Lila’s emotional stability.

Presented with a lavender gown as she entered the dressing room, Lila smiled and tried to push back further thoughts of her mother until she could be alone later. She had enough to worry about in the next two days leading up to the party, like her father’s repeated reminders of the status of her suitors. Lila loved him, but unlike her romantic mother, she knew the Duke of Wilensdale cared not for matters of the heart, only titles and land. Any marriage Lila made would be a business transaction to her father, even though she had promised her dying mother she would marry for love.

When Lila’s mother’s sudden illness had confined her to bed, the duchess had grown bored with optimism very quickly, but, at the time, Lila had refused to believe her mother wouldn’t recover. The fact Lila was distraught, and her husband was not had led the duchess to a frank discussion of how rarely love was a part of noble marriages. It had mattered so much to her that her only child married for love, that Lila had sworn she would. She would have promised her mother anything if it might help her get well, but the promise had begun haunting her as soon as her debut was mentioned last winter.

It would be up to Lila to try and find a marquess or Duke who might suit her father’s wishes with whom she could conceivably fall in love to honor her promise to her mother. All the while, every other debutante schemed for the same, the highest positions available to them. What Lila wouldn’t give for her mother’s help navigating through society without incident.

Again Lila put her mother from her mind and tried to focus on her new wardrobe, particularly the next one with its lace overlay. To which one of the many parties coming after her own she would wear this dress escaped her in that instant, but the lacy gown made her look like a princess if she did say so herself.


The day of Lila’s debut flew by as both she and her aunt saw personally to the details to make certain the Duke’s hospitality would be the pinnacle of the season’s opening weekend. Lila herself was so nervous she could barely remember everything that happened leading up to dinner. Still, as she had not been formally introduced to any gentlemen yet, her dinner partner was her cousin, who made it his purpose to force her to smile and forget herself. Lila had to admit she liked her father’s heir despite his position, which would someday oust her from her own home if she had not yet married.

It was only after dinner when her father took her hand and led her to the dance floor that she could begin to believe the night had been a success. “You look just like your mother,” her father told her. “She would be proud of you tonight.” It was uncharacteristic of him to praise her, but she was beyond grateful.

“Thank you, Father. I wish she were here to see it.”

Her father led Lila through the minuet without error, though he was a bit stiffer than many gentlemen who joined the dance around them. “As long as you can attract the eye of a Duke or marquess, there’s no reason to think she isn’t smiling on you from Heaven.”

That stung a bit. No doubt the Duke meant it as encouragement, but Lila knew full well her mother had wished her to look beyond the title and judge men on their personal merits, not their wealth.

“There are a number of gentlemen here tonight with whom a match would be more than suitable. I shall introduce you to most of them. See that you give them reason to call upon you come tomorrow.”

“Yes, Father.” There was nothing else she could say. Lila knew her duty, even as she hoped these men would not be awful people twice her age. Surely there are young noblemen of a station Father won’t abhor? Lila focused on the dance rather than dwell on hypothetical problems, trying to float the way her dance instructor liked.

As the dance ended, her father’s attention was drawn to one side. “Perfect. Come, my dear, let me introduce you around.” He escorted her to one side as the dancers readied themselves for the next set, heading straight for a tall, dark, and handsome gentleman more than ten years her senior. As soon as the man saw them coming, he turned a brilliant smile on her. He bowed as the Duke arrived beside him, nodding to the other nobleman. “Good evening, Your Grace. Please allow me to present my daughter, Lady Lila. Lila, His Grace, the Duke of Amberdene.”

The handsome Duke bowed over her hand. “Good evening, my lady.”

“Your Grace,” Lila murmured, curtseying.

“May I have the honor of this dance?” His brown eyes were kind, and he didn’t look through her as so many had. Then again, now that she had been introduced to him, he was permitted to interact with her.

Lila saw her father’s slight head shake in her peripheral vision and smiled even as she raised the dance card at her wrist. “Perhaps the next dance, Your Grace? I must greet our guests before allowing myself the privilege.”

Amberdene returned her smile, accepting the card and signing it—twice. If that wasn’t a positive signal, she didn’t know what was. “Very well, my lady, until the waltz.” He nodded politely to her father and let them pass. It seemed whomever the Duke had been conversing with was not high on her father’s list of introductions.

The Duke reclaimed his daughter’s hand, his fingers tightening briefly on hers in approval as he escorted her onward. Lila was introduced to three marquesses, another Duke, and two Earls who would one day inherit their father’s grander title and their grandfather’s. At least the Earls were of an age with her, which seemed like a much more pleasant arrangement than someone more than ten years her senior—or the one marquess who was older still. Apparently, anyone less would not suit, for her father bypassed them completely, despite the visible evidence that many had hoped for a chance to greet the Duke and his daughter on her debut. Lila’s dance card filled rapidly, and she had to refuse the request of one marquess who would have claimed two dances as the Duke of Amberdene had.

The first strains of the waltz precipitated the arrival of the Duke of Amberdene at her elbow. His nod in her father’s direction begged forgiveness for stealing her away amidst an ongoing conversation, but that did not preclude him from taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor. “My dear lady, you looked rather hemmed in by all your adoring suitors.” His hand settled at her waist, though she did not feel any fluttering such as the ladies in her books did upon meeting their true love.

Lila felt heat flood her cheeks. She had been surrounded; it was true, but she would not have brought attention to it. “I hope you are enjoying your evening, Your Grace.” He danced well, directing her around the floor with ease. His shoulders were muscular but not more than any other man. His physique suggested he didn’t do anything more tiring than horseback riding and likely spent much of his time in business or more relaxed leisure pursuits. Hopefully, such a man would have time to spend with his wife, though she had trouble picturing herself in that role.

“A fine showing, Lady Lila.” The nobleman’s eyes strayed briefly from her own, but it was only a momentary lapse.

Is it too much to ask that he be distracted by someone off the floor rather than my bosom? “I don’t believe I’m familiar with Amberdene,” Lila said, following his lead around the dance floor. “Are your lands far from London, Your Grace?”

“Not that much farther than Wilensdale, but north of London instead of west. With the coastline, we have more storms than I believe you are used to, but the beaches are well worth it.” He seemed more than happy to expound upon his lands as if that would make her like him more. Perhaps if she were more like her father, it might. “Does your father entertain much in Wilensdale?”

“Now and again, he does. More often dinners with business acquaintances than balls such as these.” If her aunt hadn’t helped, Lila doubted this would have been such a success.

“Every nobleman should have a ball now and again. Society would languish if not for such events to bring together like minds for business and pleasure. I’m sure I haven’t had one in recent history, but now that I’ve seen your esteemed guest list, I certainly shall. You have done very well, Lady Lila. All the prominent members of the ton have come tonight. Most are here to see you, I would imagine, but they will all have to strive to reach similar excellence with their gatherings this summer.”

It was hard to tell how he might behave in a more personal setting, but as they discussed the upcoming Season and finished their waltz, Lila could hope that he would call upon her in the coming days. She begged silently that the Duke would have more personality in a less crowded setting. Perhaps then he would sweep me off my feet.

The Marquess of Strickland was her next dance partner, and he waited to one side politely as the Duke of Amberdene bowed over Lila’s hand once more.  “I shall see you shortly, Lady Lila. I look forward to getting to know more about you during our next dance set.”

As the marquess swept her into the next dance, Lila pasted on a polite smile but found herself sighing mentally. If her father forced her to marry a Duke, Amberdene would not be completely unpalatable, but she felt nothing for him. Her mother’s words weighed on her—judging Amberdene on his merits was hard to do when he had not given her any insight into himself. He seemed too eager to impress her and had done nothing to engage her emotions, only discuss his duchy’s selling points. Still, she had high hopes for the other gentlemen to whom she had been introduced, for surely one of them might interest her enough she could fall in love with him.


Lila awoke the next morning when her maid threw the curtains open. She groaned quietly at the shaft of bright sunlight that fell across her face. Apparently, it was later than she usually slept of a morning, but then, she had been up quite late the night prior. She idly wondered if she could plead a headache and go back to sleep. Her feet ached, a reminder of her evening of dancing with the gentlemen of the ton. “What time is it, Leeson?”

“Past nine o’clock, my lady. Your father and aunt await you at breakfast.” Lila let her head fall back on her pillow and moaned, making her maid giggle. Lila’s young maid was the closest person to her these days, in the absence of her devoted mother. Were they not so unequal in social status, they might have been friends.

“You should thank your aunt for allowing you to sleep this long when your father would have had you up an hour ago.”

“Surely he can let me sleep after such a long night,” Lila whined. Even so, she threw back the covers and rose. If it was as late as Leeson said, she had little time to waste. She would not be so hasty to dance the night away again. Lila tossed her nightdress to the maid and scrubbed quickly at the washstand, allowing Leeson to dress her in a chemise. While Lila drew on her stockings, her maid laid out a green day dress and then fussed with her corset. They made remarkable time together, and soon enough, Lila was headed downstairs to meet her family and break her fast.

Upon entering the breakfast room, her aunt looked up with a smile, but it was her father, laying down his broadsheets and giving her a delightedly smug grin, that drew Lila’s attention. “Good morning, Father, Aunt.”

“Good morning,” both echoed. It was the Duke who elaborated. “You have done us proud, Lila. You have graced the scandal sheets, which offer very flattering promises about your potential.”

“They’ve already dubbed you the diamond of the Season,” her aunt added, looking quite pleased herself.

Her father nodded in agreement. “You certainly won’t have to settle for an heir at this rate. Amberdene seemed interested, wouldn’t you agree?” He didn’t wait for her to comment. “If you secured an offer of marriage from him, it would certainly secure my ties in the sugar trade. His connections are many and far-reaching. Most promising, indeed.” He grasped the broadsheets again but fixed her with a stern gaze. “You must do everything you can to ensure he offers for your hand.”

There was no way to respond to such comments but, “Yes, Father.” Lila nodded politely, feeling her appetite wither. The Duke of Amberdene had been a perfect gentleman the night before and a good dance partner. But is it too much to expect to have my heart race at the sight of him? Lila felt nothing in particular for him—truly, neither pleasure nor distaste, for which she was grateful—but her lack of any feelings in his regard made him less appealing in her eyes. At least she could imagine they would get on well enough, perhaps even grow to love one another at some point. She prayed that she might be able to find love in such a match despite her father’s favor for the Duke’s titles and connection. Please Mama, help me find something worthy in him. I will make a love match—I won’t let you down.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

  • Plans do not always go as expected. I can see the obstacles lining up before the happily ever after. Looking forward to the journey and getting to know the main characters better.

  • >