How a Lady Weds a Rogue
Falcon Club - 3
To Atlas and Idaho, my constant writing companions. You warm my toes. You lay softly contented in the sun that shines through my office window as though sunshine is all you need. You make me play when I foolishly imagine I must only work. And you remind me every day that love can be unconditional. Thank you for making me a better human.
Fellow Subjects of Britain,
At night I lie abed, heart pounding, breaths short, and mourn England’s ravagement. My soul cries and my frail feminine form aches to know that the Elite of Society to whom we all pay homage are stealing from our Kingdom to serve their profligate ways.
For three years now I have sought the identities of the members of the elusive Falcon Club, a gentleman’s leisure establishment that regularly receives funds from the Treasury without due process in Parliament. Today I announce my greatest accomplishment in this quest: I have discovered the identity of one member. I have hired an assistant to follow this man and learn of his activities. When I possess reports that I can trust, I will convey them to you.
Until then, if you are reading this pamphlet, Mr. Peregrine, Secretary of the Falcon Club, know that I look forward to the day you and I meet face-to-face and I will tell you exactly what sort of man you truly are.
In Care of Brittle & Sons, Printers
My dearest lady,
I am nearly breathless (as I daresay three-quarters of the men in London are now) imagining you at rest upon your cot, your breast filled with emotion, your lips trembling with feeling. I am moved by your devotion. And, like a cock released into the ring, I am roused by your eagerness to meet me in person.
But perhaps you have discovered not one of my fellow club members, but me. Perhaps I shan’t be obliged to wait long for us to finally become acquainted. Perhaps my own nocturnal imaginings will soon rush from the realm of dreams into reality. I can only hope.
Secretary, the Falcon Club
Send Raven after Lady Priscilla.
I shall mince no words: You are making a mistake in this. England boasts no sharper intellect or finer natural instinct. I will send Raven after the beast, and he will go without quarrel. But with this insult you will have lost him.
Must . . . get . . . to . . . the . . . stable.
Somewhere in a chamber abovestairs a girl screamed.
Not a girl. A woman. Throaty voice, inebriated, a scream of pleasure. The girl’s scream was in his head only. As always.
Get to the stable.
Rescue the lady.
Wyn pried his eyelids open. The parlor tilted. But he was standing. In a corner, against the wall. Nevertheless, standing. Far better situation than his host, who was lying unconscious over the threshold, bottle clutched in one hand, a woman’s naked ankle clutched in the other. The remainder of the woman lay in the corridor beyond, similarly indisposed.
Wyn cast his gaze about the chamber strewn with glasses and smoke. A ruined neck cloth decorated a bookshelf, and a pair of ladies’ stockings—sans lady—straddled the arms of a chair with suggestively vigorous intent. A snapped billiards cue protruded from a lamp top, and the butts of any number of cigars dug black holes in the carpet.
He squeezed his eyes shut. “Are we having fun yet?”
Then commenced the burning in his gut.
Ah. Awake a mere twenty seconds this time before the torture began; his most reliable nemesis had grown insistent of late. He’d no memory of eating since arriving at the country house three days earlier. Food quieted the torture in his belly. No time for that now. He’d been here too long already. If the others were in the same state as his host, he must take his leave with haste.
“Off to the races, then.” Focusing on the doorway, he pushed away from the wall.
“Wha’s that you say, Yale?”
Had he spoken aloud? Good God.
Carefully, so carefully, he shifted his gaze in the direction of the voice. He never hurried. Hurrying led to mistakes. Wyn Yale, agent of the Falcon Club and consummate gentleman from his sparkling boots to his neatly tied cravat, never made mistakes. He never fell. Never tripped. Never revealed a thing, not even when he could not make the sounds to pronounce his own name. Then he simply remained silent.
Pride did not drive this perfection. His father and elder brothers used to criticize him for his pride. They’d had no idea.
But apparently now he spoke aloud when he did not intend it. He was, perhaps, finally slipping. A shame. Rational precision was all he had left, after all, and of course the damned fireball that lived in his midsection.
“Wha’ races?” The other guest sprawled on the divan, this one without a woman at present, perhaps due to his waistcoat soaked in wine. Rule #3: Ladies expected a gentleman to maintain his accoutrements. Even demi-reps. Wyn’s great-aunt had insisted on that.
“Who’s racing?” the slovenly gentleman slurred. “I’ll lay ten guineas on you over any of’em. Clever son of a—”
“No race.” With deliberate steps Wyn moved to the sideboard and sloshed wine into a glass. Blinking hard to steady himself, he pivoted, carried the glass over, and curled the fellow’s hand around it. Warm. Human sinew and flesh. Strange that he should notice this. But it had been an age since he’d felt another human’s skin, touched another person. “Merely seeing to my horse.”
The sot quaffed, dribbling wine from the corner of his mouth. “He’s a pretty goer. Sell him?”
“No.” Wyn had one loyal companion in addition to the burn in his gut: the sleek black thoroughbred in the stable that deserved a great deal better than him.
The man waved his hand, brushing away the refusal in that happy haze of alcohol saturation that Wyn himself had not experienced in years. Not happiness, no.
“S’just as well. Wife’d skin me alive if I spent that sort of blunt.”
“Far better to spend it on drink and whores, of course,” Wyn murmured, focusing on the door again. It tilted to one side, then the other.
“Din’ know you had that sort of blunt either.”
“Not lately, old chap.” But he’d bought Galahad five years ago, before his funds ran dry.
The man slurped from the glass then again slumped into a snore. Wyn made his way over the prone bodies at the door and along the corridor. In the butler’s closet he sought his coat. Had he brought a coat? The month? September.
He pulled his topcoat from a hook. Best to make certain it was his. He fished in the pocket for the one item he suspected only he would carry to a country bacchanalia. His fingers slipped around the knife’s sheath. His pistol, of course, was still in the saddlebag. No need for a firearm at this sort of friendly gathering of wastrels. He’d brought it for the road, and because to be without it was to be a great fool.
For all his sins, he was not a great fool. Not even a minor one.
He left the house and the men and women inside locked in a revelry they all enjoyed because they knew nothing more satisfying, and made his way across the muddy drive. Within the stable all was damp straw and the musky warmth of horses. Galahad had his own stall because he deserved it, not because his temper did not allow for company; the thoroughbred was gelded, much like his master at this gathering—temporarily. No women while working. No drink usually either. But this assignment had called for it. Thus the horse’s four eyes now. And four nostrils, and four ears.
Wyn reached for both of Galahad’s muzzles, each satin black marked with a blaze. He grasped either side of the animal’s face and the two heads became one. A quiet-natured fellow, Galahad did not protest.
“Can you bear her company, my friend?” Against the horse’s coat, his breath was heavy with brandy. “She is very pretty, after all.”
Galahad stared at him with eyes the color of earth and bumped his nose into his chest.
“You will do whatever is asked of you. We are a fine pair.” He closed his eyes. “But I will soon do what I have not been asked to do. Then they will take you from me. They will take everything, but”—he dipped his voice to a whisper—“you will be all I regret losing.” For a moment he stood still, the straw-littered floor bobbing beneath him. Then he set to saddling and bridling his horse.
Traveling bag slung across his haunches, Galahad followed him through the stable at his heels like a spaniel. They halted before another stall. The animal within shone like a jewel, from her tapered nose and intelligent eyes to powerful withers and silken brown coat.
Wyn bowed. “My lady, your escort has arrived.” He opened the stall door.
Lady Priscilla, as prime a piece of horseflesh as could be bred, came without protest, young and light of hoof but biddable. Thus, no doubt, she had gone with Wyn’s host after he won her at cards from Marquess McFee—unjustly, for she belonged to McFee’s uncle, the Duke of Yarmouth.
Now the duke wanted his prized young hunter back. Who better for the job than Wyn? The crown knew that when it lifted its little finger to demand a service of Mr. Wyn Yale, penniless third son of a Welsh squire of little land and less wit, he would leap to it. And, of course, he did it because he enjoyed it. Rather, had enjoyed it. More lately he did it to keep himself in waistcoats and brandy.