A Gentleman's Position (Society of Gentlemen #3)

By: K. J. Charles

Prologue


FEBRUARY 24, 1820

Lord Richard Vane and his valet stood in the book room, waiting. The clock on the mantel ticked.

“What the devil is keeping Julius?” Lord Richard demanded, of David or of the empty air. “He should surely have the man here by now.”

“Conspiracy to murder and high treason.” David made a face. “It may not be that easy to secure his bail. Mr. Norreys has an authoritative manner”—Lord Richard gave a short laugh—“and your name has a great deal of power. Nevertheless…”

“Indeed. Oh, damn Dominic and his accursed democrat. What will we do if Julius can’t get him out?”

Silas Mason, a radical bookseller and writer of sedition, had been arrested that morning. He was one of a group of gutter revolutionaries that had plotted to murder the entire British cabinet the previous night, and although the conspiracy had been thwarted, an officer had been killed in the melee. Everyone involved would doubtless hang.

That was not David’s problem and certainly not Lord Richard’s, except for the matter of Dominic Frey. Lord Richard’s best friend was conducting an intense affair with Mason, and when the radical had been arrested, he had been wearing Mr. Frey’s coat. If people started asking what linked a murderous seditionist to a gentleman of the Home Office, Mr. Frey could find himself in very deep trouble indeed.

Lord Richard had fallen out badly with Mr. Frey over his disgraceful affair, but they had been lovers once and friends since boyhood. Lord Richard would not see him suffer if he could prevent it.

Or, rather, if David could prevent it. Lord Richard gave orders; it was David who carried them out.

To the world, he was a valet, nothing more. A servant who wore Lord Richard’s livery and obeyed his commands; even his offensively red hair was powdered away to white on his master’s orders. But when he had Lord Richard’s will to enforce, David Cyprian was silently and secretly one of the most powerful men in London. Unknown, unseen, and in charge. The pleasure of it tingled in his veins.

“It depends, my lord,” he said now. “We’ll have to play the hand as it’s dealt to us, but we can play it. Trust me.”

“Oh, I do,” Lord Richard said. “I depend entirely on you. Otherwise I suspect I should have run mad after the last few months, and as it is, I can feel Bedlam beckoning. Cyprian, what the devil do I do if Mason is not innocent?”

“Mr. Frey insists he is.”

“Dominic may not be the best judge at this time,” Lord Richard said grimly. “If the man is part of murder and treason— But he had Dominic’s coat, curse it. What if saving my friend requires saving a traitor?” His voice was strained. David knew how deeply he loved Mr. Frey, how heavily he bore his responsibilities, and his master’s dilemma was a stab to his own heart. “God rot it, how can I decide that? What can I do?”

“You can leave it to me,” David said.

Lord Richard’s eyes widened, as well they might. David went on before he could speak. “You should not have to make a choice between duty and friendship. Nobody should. If it happens—and it may not; Mr. Frey is no fool—but if it does, my lord, I beg you, walk away, and let me deal with it.” He offered his master a smile. “That is what you pay me for.”

“It truly isn’t,” Lord Richard said. “Golden Ball himself could not pay you enough to do that. I can’t ask you to take on that responsibility for me.”

You can ask me for anything you like. The words hovered on David’s lips. He wanted to say them; God knew they were true. But this was his master, and he couldn’t do it.

It was enraging. David balked at nothing, from burglary to blackmail, to achieve his ends; he had certainly never struggled with something as simple as approaching a possible bedmate. He usually just asked, because it was astonishing what he had won for himself by daring to reach for it. It had always surprised him that others were so afraid to try.

And now he understood why they were afraid. Through almost four and a half years of service, of growing alliance and trust and even friendship underpinned by the persistent heartbeat of desire, David had never yet dared ask for the one thing he wanted most, because he could not bear to learn he could not have it.

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