O lsen Adley nursed his third glass of brandy, staring dolefully past the gambling tables to the club door. He had been ensconced in White’s, the most esteemed private gentleman’s club in London, since the early evening. Now the hands of the golden carriage clock above the fireplace ticked towards two in the morning. Adley moaned softly to himself, head in his hands. It would not be long before this reputable establishment refused him at the door. Once they heard of his insurmountable debts, Le Beau Monde would reject him, his creditors would be contacted, and a jail sentence would follow quickly on their heels. Unless he could miraculously dig himself out of it. That’s what he was here for: He was in pursuit of a miracle. “Speak of the devil! Lucifer, how have you been, old chap?” Adley’s head shot up, staring blearily in the direction of the voice. In the doorway of the gaming parlour stood a slightly drunk patron, leaning his corpulent form against the arm of a tall, dark gentleman with a profoundly disturbing aura. There he was, in the flesh, the legend that Adley had been seeking: Lucifer of London. He watched tentatively as Lucifer’s right-hand man, a shorter, athletic Italian Adley vaguely recalled as being named Giovanni pushed the drunken punter away from his master and cleared the way for Lucifer to descend. A poker table was made available, the current players being cleared with a dark, angry glare, and Giovanni ushering in suitable opponents. Adley recognised that they were all stern and mysterious men of business with hard reputations and even harder poker skills. He knew he would have no hope at a table like that, but he had no choice.
He rose from his leather chair unsteadily and licked his dry lips before approaching cautiously. “Who are you?” Giovanni asked, stepping in his path. “Marquess of Willington.” Adley tried to straighten up. “I seek an audience with …,” he swallowed hard. “Lucifer.” Giovanni crouched down next to Lucifer’s ear to murmur, “Mr Klane, the Marquess of Willington seeks an audience.” At first, Adley was confused but then remembered, of course, even the legendary dark king of London had a real name: Silas Klane, though it seemed rarely used. Adley tried not to let his hands shake as he took a seat next to Lucifer. He was an uncommonly tall, well-built man with dark brown hair that he wore greased down, and black eyes under heavy black brows.
He had an unsettling scar on his jaw, suiting his deadly reputation. No one in London knew exactly how the man had accumulated his vast fortune. After all, he had no family of significance, only a sister he kept away in the country, and no title at all. Yet he was never refused entry to any ball, gentleman’s club, or even the court of the Prince Regent. No one said no to Lucifer. “What is it you want, marquess?” Adley almost jumped. Lucifer’s voice was sharp as a knife, but it was refined: the . deadly tone of a predator. He swallowed hard. “I want your help.
” “Oh? What could you offer me? Your investment portfolio is worthless.” Adley flushed. “A person cannot devalue like an investment.” The look Lucifer gave him was truly terrifying. “I do not trade in human flesh.” “No, no, that is not what I mean!” Adley hastily back-peddled. He remembered, with horrifying clarity, that there had been rumours that Lucifer had made a large portion of his fortune as a mercenary on the Continent, a murderer for hire. He felt he could see death in those black eyes. “I have a d-daughter,” Adley stuttered out. “A rare beauty, of marriageable age -,” Adley fumbled in his coat pocket for the miniature portrait his daughter had given him inside a gold locket.
He opened it and set it before Lucifer’s hands, his daughter’s angelic face in clear view. Lucifer’s eyes paused, settling carefully on the exquisite portrait. “How old is she?” “Five and twenty.” “Too old.” “Not yet, she will still breed,” Adley rambled. “And her beauty has only increased with her womanhood. Her hair curls that way naturally, her skin is truly porcelain, her eyes as green as summer leaves -,” “Such beauties are rarely unplucked.” Lucifer pushed the locket away. “I have no need of another man’s seconds.” “Not my Anna.
” Adley pushed the locket closer again. “She is as pure as the driven snow. With a title and inheritance like mine, and my only child – she – she would suit you well.” Lucifer laughed. “If she really is as fine as you say, what could possibly be worth such a loss?” “Settle all of my debts,” Adley blurted it out. “Give me enough to live on. You can have her, and I will never ask or question your rule of her. She will be yours … entirely.” “How much is your debt?” Lucifer blew smoke in his face and Adley forced himself not to cough. “Ten thousand pounds,” he whispered.
Lucifer nodded. Adley saw that he wasn’t surprised. He already knew the debt, likely had known this was the reason Adley had sat down and was only toying with him. Adley felt a surge of helpless rage. There was nothing he could do with it except stare at the man, willing him to accept the offer. “Will you have more children?” he asked finally. “No. My wife is unwell.” “That’s not what I mean,” Lucifer leaned closer. “You would need to sign a legal document to say that any progeny your daughter produces will automatically inherit the title of Marquess of Willington.
Would you ensure that any child you had, any male bastard that might be lurking around would not be able to ever inherit. That instead, your title will defer to your daughter’s progeny.” “You are asking me to sign over my title?” Adley jerked back. “Do not worry.” Lucifer gave him a chilling smile. “You would retain the title until your last breath. After that, however, my child would bear it. And, all of my line afterwards. On those terms.” Lucifer extended his hand.
“Do we have an accord?” Adley’s name, the name that had borne the title of Marquess for generations, would die out entirely. Adley closed his eyes against it. It did not matter, he realised painfully. His name had already died out. It had died with his only son. This was only the nail in the coffin. Sighing heavily, he extended his hand. “You have an accord, Lucifer.” Chapter Two “F ather, you cannot be in earnest!” “I am.” Anna Adley stared at her father across the breakfast table, her fork hanging loosely in her hand.
He had come home impossibly late, risen with red eyes and the stench of smoke and brandy, sat at the breakfast table in a mope for most of the meal and now had the indecency to tell her, mumbling the words into his morning coffee, that she would soon be married. “To whom shall I be married?” “Mr Klane.” Anna’s fork clattered against her plate and her father winced. “But – but -,” Anna barely knew where to begin. “Anna,” her father raised his hand placating. “He is the richest man in a London -,” “With a terrible reputation!” Anna exclaimed. “Everyone says he has no background, he does not even have a title, he is thought uncouth, and hard, and possibly a criminal! You truly want to align our family with his?” “It is no longer about want. I am doing what I must.” Her father rubbed his red eyes. “He will take my title for your firstborn son.
” “But – but that is Andrew’s title -,” Anna’s heart constricted as she thought of her brother. “You told me no other man would ever bear it, that it died with him -,” “Everything died with Andrew!” Her father jumped from his chair, his plate, eggs and coffee cup smashing to the floor. “Papa!” Anna rose quickly, sweeping a napkin off the table and bending down to clean it up. She was reluctant to call the servants in when her father was like this. “You should not even mention his name to me!” her father roared. “If you hadn’t been in that carriage -,” “It was your idea, Papa!” Anna cried, rising up to face him. “You told us to attend the ball -,” She didn’t see her father move but his slap made Anna stumble against the breakfast table, spilling the tea pot. She pressed her hand against her stinging cheek, her eyes smarting as she stared at her father. Since he had begun drinking, these violent tendencies had been emerging. “I will not marry him,” her voice was tremulous with tears.
“You cannot make me.” “There may be nothing I can do to force the words of marriage from your lips, but I can tell you the truth.” He lifted his red, feeble eyes to her face. They were filled with malice. “Our finances are ruined. You cannot expect another offer of marriage to be made to you once the news of our misfortune is made known in Town. How will your poor mother fare, do you think, when we are ruined?” She could not believe that her father was leveraging her mother’s poor health against her. Then again, a year ago she would not have believed her father would gamble away their fortune, trade her happiness for gold, and strike her when she dared to speak her mind. She did not know him anymore. There was only one more bargaining chip she had.
“Andrew would not want this for me,” she said softly. “If he were here, he would stop you.” Her father looked at her with hard eyes. She saw his hands clenched into fists and winced, anticipating a second attack, but he did not move. “If he were here, you would not be.” Her father shook his head. “No amount of wishing can change that.” Anna drew in a sharp breath, pained by his words. She knew he wished his children’s places were exchanged, he had said before, but it burned just as much as the first time he had said it. “Will you accept him?” The question was moot.
Her father was really asking if she would save her mother. It took an army of doctors and specialists on rotation to attend to her various medical needs. Without financial support, she would surely perish. “On one condition: You will take care of my mother. You will not gamble away her health with the money my new husband gives you.” Her voice caught on the strange word. Soon she would have a husband. “You will swear this.” “I swear.” He spoke the words too quickly, his watery eyes darting to avoid meeting her own.
She doubted him completely, but she had no idea how to make him care. “When will he come?” “Tonight. You will be married in three days.” So soon. Her heart was weak with the immediacy of it, but she stood strong. “I have told your mother.” Anna nodded. At least she was spared that task. “Well, I should have a conversation with her.” Anna swept out of the room, walking quickly upstairs so that her father wouldn’t hear her tears.
She rested against an upstairs door, letting her sobs fill the heavy, silent air. Their money problems had started the day that her elder brother Andrew died. Her father had walked into an alehouse and not come out for three days. Her mother was so worried she had taken to her bed. It had been five years, and Anna had been forced to run back and forth between the two, trying to mend something that she soon realised could not be fixed. In the last year, her father had held the estate together on a thread of promises and loans. Anna was tired of the humiliation, of lying to society, and asking the cook to stretch the side of beef as far as it could go. She was so deeply tired. “Anna, darling? Is that you?” Her mother’s voice drifted to her from down the corridor. Anna rubbed her hand across the back of her nose, sniffling hard before making her way to her mother’s suite.
“Yes, mother?” Anna’s mother sat up in bed, resting against a pile of cushions. Anna’s heart clenched when she saw her pale, drawn face and thin grey hair, braided into a neat plait. The years since her brother’s death had aged her – she looked like an old woman. “Have you been crying?” “No, mother.” “Come, sweetheart, don’t lie to me.” Her mother patted the bed beside her with a frail hand. Clearly, she was having one of her better days. Though her body seemed as weak as ever, her eyes were shining with some of their old interest and spark. Anna crossed the bedroom to sit on the embroidered quilt beside her mother. “Papa told you?” she asked dully.
Her mother nodded. “This morning. He said he has made a fine match for you. You are unhappy with it?” “The man, he … he is not -,” Anna struggled with her words. How could she explain her fear and worry at being matched with such a disreputable man without potentially putting her mother at more risk? Doctor Graham, her primary physician, had been very clear about not putting additional strain on her mother’s nerves. “He is not what I expected,” she finished lamely. “Oh my dear, no man ever is!” Her mother smiled gently. “Every young girl feels trepidation before their wedding.”