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In Bed With the Devil

By´╝ÜLorraine Heath

Prologue


From the Journal of Lucian Langdon

They say my parents were murdered in the London streets by a gang of ruffians. I have no memory of it, yet it has always seemed to me that I should.

After all, I was supposedly there, but only if I truly am who the world recognizes me to be.

The Earl of Claybourne.

It is not a pleasant thing to always doubt one’s identity. I often study the portrait of my father hanging above the massive fireplace in the grand library of my London residence and catalogue the similarities in our appearance.

The hair—black as the soot that lined the inside of a chimney.

The eyes—the shade of pewter that brought a fair price from fences.

The nose—a slender knife-like shape, a fine-honed blade, aristocratic. Although that similarity might be merely wishful thinking on my part. It’s difficult to tell if our noses are truly the same, as mine was severely broken at an early age, the result of an encounter that left me nearly dead. I have always attributed my escape from death’s clutches to Jack Dodger, who offered himself up as a target for the abuse being delivered to me. Things went much worse for him. Not that we ever speak of it.

When you grow up on the streets of London you learn about a great many things of which people never speak.

It’s my eyes that convinced the old gent who called himself my grandfather that I was indeed his grandson.

“You’ve got the Claybourne eyes,” he’d said with conviction.

And I readily admit that looking into his was very much like looking into a mirror at my own, but still it seemed a rather trite thing upon which to base so grand a decision.

I was fourteen at the time. Awaiting trial for committing murder. I must confess it was a rather fortuitous moment to be declared a future lord of the realm, as the judicial system was not opposed to hanging young lads who were considered troublesome. I’d developed quite a reputation in that regard. Considering the circumstances of my arrest, I have no doubt I was traveling a swift path straight to Newgate and then the gallows. Having a fondness for breathing, I was determined to do whatever was necessary to escape the hangman’s noose.

Because I was brought up under the tutelage of Feagan, the kidsman who managed our rather notorious den of child thieves, I was adept at deceiving people, at pretending to remember things of which I truly had no memory. During a rather intensive inquisition, observed by inspectors of Scotland Yard, I was quite the showman, and the old gent not only declared me to be his grandson, but appealed to the Crown to take the unfortunate circumstances of my life into consideration and to show extreme leniency. After all, I’d witnessed my parents’ murder, been stolen and sold into near slavery. Certainly it was understandable that I’d engage in a bit of misbehavior. If returned to his keeping, he vowed to set me back on the righteous path to being a proper gentleman. His request was granted.

And I found myself traveling a far different—and more difficult—road than I’d expected, always looking for the familiar, the evidence that I truly belonged where I now resided. By the time I grew to manhood, by all appearances, I was an aristocrat.

But beneath the surface…I remained a scoundrel at heart.





Chapter 1




London

1851

It was common knowledge that one never spoke of the devil for fear that in so doing one would attract his ardent attention. So it was that few among the aristocracy spoke of Lucian Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne.

Yet, as Lady Catherine Mabry stood in the midnight shadows near his residence, she couldn’t deny that she’d been fascinated with the Devil Earl ever since he’d dared to appear at a ball uninvited.

He’d danced with no one. He’d spoken with no one. But he had prowled through the ballroom as though taking measure of each and every person within its confines and finding them all sadly lacking.

She’d found it particularly distressing when his gaze had settled on her and lingered a second or two longer than was proper. She’d neither flinched nor looked away—although she’d dearly wanted to do both—but she’d held his gaze with all the innocent audacity that a young lady of seventeen could muster.

She’d taken some satisfaction in his being the first to look away, but not before his strangely silver eyes had begun to darken, to appear as though they were heated by the fiery depths of the very hell from which he was supposedly spawned.

Few believed him to be the rightful heir, but none dared question his status. After all, it was well known that he was quite capable of committing murder. He’d never denied that he’d killed the previous earl’s remaining son and heir.

That night at the ball, it had been as if the entire throng of guests had taken a solitary breath and held it, waiting to see where he might strike, upon whom he might vent his displeasure, because it had been quite obvious he was not one to exhibit gaiety. And it could only be assumed that he’d arrived with some nefarious purpose in mind, for surely he was aware that no lady in attendance would dare risk her reputation by dancing with him nor would any gentleman have his respectability questioned by openly and willingly conversing with Claybourne in so public a venue.

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