In Bed with a Rogue

By: Samantha Grace

For my husband, who shares my quirky sense of humor and appreciation for the slightly absurd





One


25 May 1819

Sometimes a gentleman needed a place where no one knew his name. For Baron Sebastian Thorne, that place was the Black Dagger. And if all went as planned, he wouldn’t know his own name by the end of the night.

Draining his ale, he signaled the serving wench to bring another. The East End tavern hummed with chatter, not that he could follow any of it. Perhaps his drunken state explained the problem, or maybe the patrons’ butchered English was to blame. He didn’t know. Neither did he care, as long as they weren’t talking about him or his betrothed jilting him.

The shadowy interior hid the filth, but he could still smell it, and there was something sticky under his boots. Yes, the Black Dagger was perfect. He wouldn’t cross paths with anyone he knew among this nest of thieves.

“Damned thieves,” he mumbled. Sebastian couldn’t escape them no matter where he went. Whitechapel. Mayfair. It made no difference. A thief was a thief, even if he dressed like a gentleman.

Just that morning he’d learned Anthony Keaton, the most callous of thieves, had returned to Town. The Earl of Ellis had recently stolen the one thing Sebastian needed most: a wife with connections. He chuckled, although there was nothing humorous about being deceived by his former best friend, or in Sebastian’s failure to protect his betrothed from falling prey to Ellis’s scheming.

The tavern wench plunked a tankard down in front of him, sloshing foam onto the scarred table. “Are you havin’ a right jolly time over here by yerself, milord? If you be lookin’ for company, I know a place.”

Sebastian tried to fix his blurry eyes on her, but she spun in circles, along with the taproom. “You are a right tasty morsel. Why don’t you keep me company?”

She cackled, showing off rotting teeth, and patted her scraggly, graying hair. “I got a man that don’t like that sort a carrying-on. A toff like you is temptin’, though.”

“Damn the luck,” he said and graced her with a smile the ladies had always liked. “Well, if you are not available, I believe I will make my way home.”

He lurched to his feet and stumbled into the table. More ale sloshed onto the table and splattered his waistcoat.

“My apologies, madam.”

When he weaved, the wench sidled up beside him and he slipped his arm around her bony shoulders. She smelled of yeast and a hard day’s work. “Steady now, milord. Can’t have you tearin’ up the place. The Dagger was just redecorated.”

Sebastian laughed genuinely for the first time in a week. He held on to the woman as the taproom continued its erratic tilting. She stood about as tall as Lady Gabrielle and tucked under his arm as easily.

He leaned close, underestimated the distance, and bumped his forehead against hers. “I almost married a girl as pretty as you.” His words slurred.

“You don’t say.” The woman gazed up at him with a half smirk. “What happened to her?”

“She eloped with another man.”

Her eyes widened for a moment. “Law! Sometimes the pretty ones be real corkbrains. You get yerself an ugly woman next time. She’ll make you a good wife.”

Sebastian scoffed. “There will be no next time.” He released the woman and swayed before he regained his balance.

“Are you sure ye’re fit to go, milord? There’s a room abovestairs where you can sleep it off.”

He groped for the coin purse in his coat pocket. “Your concern for my welfare is kind. Allow me to give you something in return.”

Lord knew he rarely experienced kindness from anyone outside his family these days. He wished he could repay his mother and sister as easily as he could the tavern wench. Instead, he had made their lives more difficult by fouling up his search for a wife. Most everyone had forgotten the scandal of his father’s madness and his sister’s abandonment at the altar until Sebastian’s betrothed eloped with his childhood friend. Now the ton was convinced there was something terribly wrong with the Thorne family. Bad blood, they said.

Fumbling his purse, he tugged the drawstring and dropped it. Gold pieces scattered at his feet. “Damnation!”

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