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by Maggie MacKeever
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Lord Quinton, the Black Baron, a wicked rakeshame. He cannot count the females he has debauched, the duels he has fought, the games of chance he lost, and won. Still, he wonders if a man might expire of ennui. But then, his past strolls up to his front door and slaps his jaded face. And Quin discovers that his passions can still be enflamed. Regency Romance Novella by Maggie MacKeever; originally published by Vintage Ink Press
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2016
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [114 KB]
Reading time: 63-88 min.
Play was deep at Moxley House, and the stakes were high. Gamblers flocked to try their luck at hazard, faro, rouge et noir, E.O; to discover what changes the new owner had put into effect (none, to date); and to speculate upon how much time would pass before he abandoned the place altogether, the gentleman not known for sustained interest in anyone or anything.
That new owner stood, just now, in the supper room, which was fitted out with crystal chandeliers and a thick carpet, small tables set with silver and fine china and pristine linen cloths. The patrons were feasting on boiled fowl with oyster sauce, washed down with liberal amounts of champagne.
Lord Quinton was, as usual, dressed in black. He was a devastatingly handsome man in (or so the ladies said) a deliciously diabolic way, with black hair worn unfashionably long and eyes as dark as his transgressions, ascetic features stamped with dissipation and ennui. No less memorable was the gentleman with whom he was engaged in conversation (or rather, to whom he was listening, with a disinterested expression), who was athletic of figure and angelic of feature, with red-gold hair and sapphire eyes.
The Black Baron was the most wicked rakehell in all of London. His companion was one of the legendarily libidinous Loversalls.
Quin led the way into the next chamber, where amber-eyed Daphne was casting the dice at hazard. If Daphne nicked, or called her main, the house would win the stake.
Beau raised his voice to be heard above the gamesters crowded round the green baize table. "A face that could launch a thousand ships. A mouth made for sin. A body--" His hands sketched a sinuous shape in the air. "I can't say when I've been so taken with a female."
"I can't say when you haven't been," Quin responded drily. Beau maintained a stable of sweethearts, most notable among them the languishing Mrs. Ormsby and the volatile Mrs. Thwaite, which in no way deterred him from acquiring a new petite amie approximately every other week. "Last month, it was that pretty equestrienne who performed bareback at Astley's. You vowed she had the most neatly turned ankles you had ever seen."
Beau smiled in reminiscence. The artiste's name had been Nanette, her specialty a rousing variation on the traditional handstand. However, Nanette's ankles could not compete with the fair face and lips, etcetera, of Miss Mary Fletcher, newly employed at the Opera House further down the street, and so he said.
Quin turned a deaf and not entirely sober ear to these renewed rhapsodies.
Indeed, Lord Quinton hadn't been entirely sober since he took over the hell. Truth be told, he hadn't been entirely sober for a long time before that. Idly, he wondered when he had last been sober. After a brief cogitation, he gave up the attempt.
The world, in Quin's opinion, was a much more pleasant place when viewed through a narcotic haze.
He raised his glass, and found it empty. A female attendant hurried forward with decanter in hand.
Quin sipped his whiskey. There were distinct advantages to owning a gaming hell, one being that a man could lose a fortune without leaving his house. Though Quin had not thus far managed to rid himself of a farthing, he was not discouraged. His luck would change.
Of this much he was certain, sober or no. Dame Fortune was a fickle bitch.
He entered the third chamber, accompanied by Beau, who continued to blather on about Miss Fletcher, annoying as a buzzing gnat. The noise level was higher here. Dice rattled, the E.O. ball clattered, the players conversed among themselves while the dealers announced results and called for wagers to be made anew.
Gamblers were gathered around a faro table covered with green baize cloth. Behind the table stood the banker, statuesque brunette Adele. In an honest faro game, the punter's chances were slightly more than even of coming out ahead. On the other side of the room, the E.O. table was being set in motion by russet-haired Rosamond. The odds were less inclined to favor the players gathered there, intent on the turn of the table, or alternately admiring Rosamond's decolletage. Moxley's employed more women than any other London hell.
Quin grew weary of Beau's continued exaltations. "So tumble her," he said.
Beau stared in astonishment. "Are you grown so jaded that you no longer savor the excitement of the chase?"
Quin considered the question. He could not recall when he had last embarked upon a pursuit. More often than not, females pursued him. Recently he had been waylaid and damn near ravished at Vauxhall by a young woman determined to be divested of her virtue. The memory was so unpleasant that he drained his glass.
"Caught in flagrante delicto," said Beau, who had an unnerving -- and annoying -- ability to sometimes guess a person's thoughts. "Like the most callow youth. You must redeem your reputation. If you will take my advice--"
Quin regarded him with faint curiosity. "Why should I?"
"Because I am seven-and-forty, whereas you are only thirty-five. And you remind me of myself at your age."
Quin was briefly appalled by the suggestion he might spend his dotage ogling opera dancers' ankles. However, at his current rate of dissipation dotage was not likely to be achieved. He glanced into one of the private alcoves that opened off this chamber, where a disgruntled exclamation indicated that another unfortunate transaction (from the player's point of view) had just taken place.
The front room was dominated by the rouge et noir table, which was marked with two red and black diamond-shaped spots on which the players placed their stakes. On either side a croupier waited with rake in hand, her task to watch the cards and gather in the money for the bank. A passing attendant noted and replenished Quin's empty glass.
As the banker called 'Le rouge perd!' indicating that the first card was red, the bank thereby rendered safe, a bald brawny individual entered through the outer doorway. Samson looked every inch the bruiser he had been before allegations of misconduct resulted in his banishment from the ring. Now, in his retirement, he oversaw the gaming rooms, a comedown perhaps from the days when he had remained on his feet against Jem Ward for one hundred thirty-eight rounds spread over one and one-half hours, but a comedown for which he was extremely well-paid.
Whereas Quin might find it mildly diverting to own a gaming hell, he wasn't interested enough to involve himself in the running of the place.
Samson beckoned. Leaving Beau to appreciate the croupiers' considerable assets, Quin stepped into the relative quiet of the hall.
Candles burned in sconces along the long narrow corridor. At the far end stood Liliane, one of the attendants, a shapely young woman with masses of honey-blonde hair.
To her bosom, Liliane clutched a bust of Voltaire, fashioned from black basalt ware. At her feet, curled in a fetal position, a slender man lay groaning, his hands cupped around his genitals.
The hell had been doing a brisk business ever since Lord Quinton took possession. His fellow profligates flocked to inspect the gaming rooms, expecting to discover the bawdiest of whores on the premises, the lewdest of posture women, private rooms where all manner of depravities might take place; and stubbornly refusing to accept this was not the case.
Quin strolled down the hallway. "Hallo, Coffey. Why are you lying on my floor?"
Gingerly, Coffey uncoiled himself and staggered to his feet. He was a slender man with abnormally pale skin and hair and, currently, a bloody nose. "I like a bit of pepper in a pullet. It adds spice to the game."
Liliane brandished the basalt bust. "This salaud placed his hands on me. It requires a punishment, milord."
Quin held out a handkerchief. "From all appearances, punishment has already been dealt out."
"You do not take this seriously!" Liliane stamped her foot. "Me, I am no doxy. I should not be treated so."
Coffey took Quin's handkerchief and dabbed his damaged nose. "All women are doxies. A man needs only find their price."
Few knew better than Lord Quinton that there was no point attempting rational conversation with a drunkard. Still, he felt obliged to try. "I fail to understand why you should seek a doxy here. You must have mistook the address."
"So you say," scoffed Coffey. "But I know a doxy when I see one, and I'm looking at one now."
In point of fact, Coffey was looking at Lord Quinton. Nonetheless, Liliane snarled, "Go to the devil, pig!"
"It's you as should go," interrupted Samson, as he removed the bust from her grasp and replaced it on its stand. "Back where you belong. Before I start inquiring why you was where you shouldn't be." Liliane huffed, turned on her heel, and flounced down the hall.
Coffey watched until she disappeared into the gaming rooms. And then he staggered, stumbled to his knees, and emptied the contents of his stomach out onto the floor.