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London, October 1822

Lord Henry Kellington – Hal, to his family and countless friends – was exactly where he wanted to be.  His face was buried in the ample bosom of a whore named Terry, while his cock was being sucked by her colleague Sherry.  Both would be well-compensated for the evening’s work.  Indeed, both women had nearly trampled their fellow prostitutes as Hal had walked into the brothel’s sitting room earlier to choose his evening’s entertainment.  His lordship was known for being generous with both his blunt and his sexual prowess, and there wasn’t a female in the place who hadn’t wanted to accompany him upstairs.

The three of them were on a comfortable featherbed in one of the nicer rooms in the Marylebone brothel of Madame Aurelia Thurmond.  Madame ran an exclusive establishment on the very edge of Mayfair.  Known for the cleanliness of both the girls and the premises, it was as hard to gain membership to Madame Thurmond’s as it was to get into White’s.  Harder, since White’s was known to let its members run a tab.  But Madame always demanded cash at time of service.

At five and twenty, Hal was the youngest brother in the Kellington family.  He was also known as the wild one of the bunch.  Quick with a joke, Hal made everyone laugh.  Those who didn’t know him well, which included most of the people who thought they knew him, would say that Henry Kellington never took anything seriously.  He was an excellent companion for whatever lark one could imagine and he was such a ton favorite that he could usually talk his way out of any trouble.  Young men loved to go out on the town with him.  Young women dreamed of marrying him.  Bored matrons blushed when they saw him.

It was rumored that his eldest brother, the Duke of Lynwood, was most unhappy with him at the moment.  But since the Kellingtons never aired their family grievances in public – much to the dismay of the gossips – no one knew for sure.

It had been a momentous year for the Kellingtons, four brothers and one sister named for Kings and a Queen of England.  A few months earlier, Hal’s second eldest brother Edward, known as Ned, had married at the age of nine and twenty.  His unusual bride, Jane, worked as a surgeon in their village of Marston Vale.  Even more unusual was that she’d borne Ned’s daughter Violet out of wedlock six years earlier, but he’d had no knowledge of it until he’d met up with them quite unexpectedly the previous June.  What might have been a tremendous scandal was accepted by most without question because the Duke of Lynwood had made it known how pleased he was with the match.

Only a few weeks later, Hal’s younger sister Elizabeth, at one and twenty, had published a tract in the broad sheets advocating greater rights for women.  It was thought she’d finally gone too far for even Lynwood to fix, but a marriage to the very eligible Marquess of Riverton had helped squelch the scandal, even if Lizzie didn’t show any signs of ceasing her political activities.

Arthur, at seven and twenty, had just wed an agent for the Home Office named Vanessa Gans.  There had been a rumor that she wasn’t just common, but illegitimate as well, but when Lynwood and Riverton told everyone about her bravery in recovering some of England’s most priceless treasures, all was at least somewhat forgiven.

With three marriages in quick succession, there were only two unmarried Kellingtons left.  And if the ton had any say, that would soon be remedied.

William Kellington, known as Liam to a select few, was two and thirty.  Even if he hadn’t been ruggedly handsome, the duke would’ve been a target for the matchmaking mamas.  As it was, he was more hunted than England’s most vicious criminals.

And while he would never be considered the catch his eldest brother was, Hal was also highly sought after as a husband, in part because, unlike Lynwood, Hal didn’t have to marry.  He was currently third in line for his brother’s title and with Ned’s wife expecting a child, there was a good chance he’d be moving even further down the list.  But many ladies considered him a challenge too tempting to resist.

While all of the Kellingtons were well portioned, Hal’s good looks were the most perfect.  His chestnut hair was thick and fell past his shoulders.  His light brown eyes were fringed with dark lashes.  His lips were firm and almost always curved in a smile.  He was well-muscled, but slender.  And he moved with the grace of someone who was in excellent physical condition.

His family knew that Hal had taken their parents’ tragic deaths more than a decade earlier especially hard.  Liam had worried at the time that Hal might never regain his previous good spirits.  Even now, Liam could see behind the lighthearted mask Hal wore for others.  He worried that his youngest brother was lost to a frivolous world of pleasure, showing few signs that he was ready to truly grow into adulthood.  It had been a source of contention between the two for years and now that Hal was spending more time with his friend Charles Francis, the friction with Lynwood was increasing.

Charles Francis, the youngest son of the youngest son of the Earl of Westwood, was a few years older than Hal.  They’d known each other casually for a few years – the ton was so small that just about every young man about town had at least a passing acquaintance with one another – but they’d begun socializing more frequently since Francis had come to Hal’s aid a few months earlier.  A gang of street toughs had set upon Hal as he left a gaming hell.  The attack had left him bloodied and bruised, but he’d sustained no serious injuries, thanks to Francis’s timely intervention.

Since then, they’d been thick as thieves.  It was not, Lynwood liked to remind Hal, a flattering metaphor.

Currently, Charles Francis was on the other side of the room from Hal, pounding into a prostitute named Sonia from behind.  He had the girl bent over the back of settee, while he watched the allegedly French Lindella Dupuis pleasure herself with a silver cock.

Hal was caught up in his own pleasure, but not quite so much that he didn’t suspect some of Lindella’s quite loud self-enjoyment was at least partially an act.  But if Francis suspected, he certainly didn’t let on.

As Sherry worked her talented mouth on Hal’s cock, he drifted in a sensual haze, helped along by drink and hashish.  The girls had wanted him to smoke opium.  It was no secret that Madame Thurmond had connections to the drug trade that she liked to promote.  Lynwood would be furious, of course, but Hal didn’t need his eldest brother to warn him away from the opiate.  The previous two times he’d smoked it had been disastrous.  He’d become so ill it was a wonder he hadn’t died in the flophouse he’d passed out in.  As it was, he’d lost his purse and his boots.  If Francis hadn’t pulled him out of there, he likely would’ve been stripped naked and had his teeth pulled.

But currently, Hal didn’t want to think of anything but Sherry and Terry working their magic on him.  Unfortunately, that was not to be.

“Damn and blast!” said Francis, as he pulled his softening cock out of a protesting Sonia.  He then began tapping it on her ass and rubbing it against her in an attempt to regain his erection.  “Kellington, I told you we had too much to drink,” he said with a slight slur.  “But you insisted we finish the damned wretched bottle.”  Francis was a blond god to Hal’s darkness.  He had hair the color of wheat and green eyes that never failed to incite swoons from debutantes.  He was beginning to get a bit thick about the waist, but only a little.  He was still the best pugilist at Gentleman Jim’s boxing salon and never passed up an opportunity to prove it.

Francis watched Hal lose himself to passion.  “What say we switch whores?  Maybe what I need is variety to set myself to rights again.”

Hal lifted his lids halfway to look at his friend.  Francis was still spanking his cock against the poor girl’s arse and somehow Hal didn’t think variety was what was lacking.  They’d both had too much to drink.  It was a wonder he was able to perform at all.  But he didn’t want to switch girls with Francis.  For one thing, Hal was meticulously careful when he was with a prostitute.  He never failed to use French letters as a precaution against both pregnancy and disease.  Francis, he knew, wasn’t quite as cautious.  And, after all, he was enjoying himself just fine.  Hal pulled one of Terry’s breasts into his mouth and let Sherry continue.

For his part, Francis simply told Sonia and Lindella to switch places, then shoved his cock into Lindella as soon as she was in position.

The evening continued thusly.

*                    *                    *

Afterward, at a much earlier hour than usual, Hal and Francis were walking through Marylebone trying to find a hack.  Francis hadn’t wanted to leave Madame Thurmond’s so soon, but Hal had family business to attend to the next morning and Lynwood had set the meeting for the abominably early hour of ten of the clock.  Hal suspected it was Lynwood’s way of cutting his night short, which made Hal want to stay out all the later.  But their paternal aunt, Agatha, the Countess of Crenshaw, was going to be in attendance.  And he knew he needed to be, if not at his best, then at least not vomiting into a bedpan.

“There they are again,” said Francis, motioning to a group of dour-faced women huddled together, wearing grey and holding signs about the dangers of drink.  “You’d think they’d have better things to do on a Friday night.”  Then he looked closer at the woman in the lead.  “Or perhaps not.”  Their leader was well into middle-age with graying hair, a prominent nose and a look of disapproval unmistakable even from across the street.  “I don’t think the owners of Dill’s will take kindly to the harassing of their clientele.”

Dill’s was a gaming hell, whose entrance was just behind the women.  Even in the few moments Francis and Hal had stood there, three men who’d initially appeared to be heading into the hell had instead continued down the street.

Hal looked toward the group, automatically scanning the members’ faces as he’d been doing the last few weeks ever since spotting a beautiful young woman in a group similar to this, with mahogany hair, hazel eyes and, as unlikely as it might seem, a courtesan’s stockings.  He’d only caught a quick glimpse of her legs as she’d adjusted her boot.  But they’d made quite an impression.

As the reform movement gained in popularity, groups such as this were gathering in areas most frequented by noblemen out for an evening’s entertainment.  Some of the women were members of religious orders.  Others were the wives of tradesmen who believed the problems of the lower classes were often caused by drink, particularly the cheapest forms of gin which could cause blindness and death.  And in the midst of the drink epidemic were the sons of the upper class who used poorer sections of London as their playground to do what they wanted, heedless of the cost to others.

Hal knew the temperance movement would never truly take hold, although he did understand the concerns the reformers had for London’s poor.  They lived in squalor, with little assistance from the government and even less from the upper class.  He had heard enough stories to know that his peers considered themselves kings outside of Mayfair.  It was a most unfair situation, even if there didn’t seem to be much to be done about it.

“Where the devil did she come from?” asked Francis, as he rather inelegantly pointed to a young woman who’d come to the front of the group from her previously unseen position in the back.  She had mahogany hair, hazel eyes and was a good twenty years younger than anyone else.

Hal’s gaze was riveted on the young woman, for she had to be the same one he’d seen on the earlier occasion.  He wondered if she was wearing the same stockings.  Then he imagined what it would take for him to find out.

His mystery woman was currently having an intense conversation with the leader of the group, who was gesturing wildly toward the entrance of the hell.  The younger woman was much calmer and seemed to be advocating a different course of action.  The rest of the group watched the two discuss the situation, then slowly drifted into two groups, with more of them moving toward the stocking woman.

That did not sit well with the older woman.

The older woman said something to the stocking woman that was shocking enough to make most of the group gasp, then she turned on her heel and marched toward the entrance of Dill’s, motioning for the other women to join her.  After a moment’s hesitation, most of the women who’d sided with her followed.  The stocking woman and her group held back.

Just as the older woman was about to enter Dill’s, two large men exited the building.  Hal knew them to be the servants charged with keeping peace in the establishment.  A third man exited after them.  It was Conrad Patton, the manager of Dill’s.  He had a slight cockney accent and a charm that was exceeded only by his ruthlessness.  Only a foolish man angered Conrad Patton, whose enemies were known to either suffer accidents that left them physically incapacitated or to disappear all together.

Words were exchanged between Patton and the older woman.  While Hal couldn’t quite make them out, he could tell things became heated quickly, although it looked like Patton and his men were exercising a great deal of restraint.

Suddenly, the woman spit on the ground a few inches from Patton, and Hal could see the immediate change in the man’s countenance.  The stocking woman must have seen it, as well, because she stepped between the older woman and Patton, who looked like he was about to unleash his formidable temper.

Hal started across the street without even thinking about it.

“You’re not going to get involved in this, are you?” asked Francis, who leisurely followed.  “Don’t you have to get home to your dear brother?”

“I can’t very well leave the ladies in danger, can I?” asked Hal, even though most of his attention was focused on only one member of the group.  The one who was currently standing between the older woman and the wrath of one of the most dangerous men in London.

“At least I shall never be bored when I’m with you,” said Francis, as he caught up to his friend.

By the time they reached the entrance, a small crowd had gathered.  Three young lordlings in their cups were wagering on how long the disturbance would last, while several upstairs windows had been opened to allow Dill’s patrons to watch the entertainment.  The reform ladies huddled together for safety, but after a smile from Hal they parted to let him and Francis through.  By the time they reached the entrance, it was obvious Patton’s patience was wearing thin.

“You and your ilk shall face damnation,” yelled the older woman to Patton, despite his standing only inches away from her.  “It would serve you right to have this unholy building burned to the ground around you.”

“I don’t take kindly to threats,” said Patton.  “Nasty things ‘appen to them who try to ‘urt me or my business.”

The stocking woman turned to him, trying to calm the situation.  “I’m sure Mrs. Seton does not mean you or your establishment harm, Mr. Patton.  Nor is our protest focused directly at any one establishment.”

“This man is the devil’s own spawn!” shouted Mrs. Seton to the crowd around her.

“Mrs. Seton!” said Hal’s stocking woman.  “I am quite sure you are not helping the situation.”

“I’m certainly doing more than you,” replied the woman.  “And I shall not stand for this any longer.”  With that, she slapped one of Patton’s enforcers, then the other.  The first exercised admirable restraint.  But the second took a menacing step forward.

“Patton,” said Hal, with a slight slur to his voice.  “I thought no finer entertainment could be found than inside your good establishment.  You did not tell me you were producing theatricals in the street.”  That elicited a few laughs from the male onlookers both on the street and at the upstairs windows.  More importantly, it seemed to calm the large servant who’d been on the verge of violence.

Patton produced one of the smiles he employed on the peers he so enjoyed fleecing.  “Good evening Lord Henry, Mr. Francis.  I’m sorry for the commotion, but do step inside.”

“I appreciate the offer, Patton, and I shall do just that very thing,” said Hal.  “But I cannot leave these lovely ladies unattended.”  He smiled at Mrs. Seton, who looked like she wanted to slap him for the trouble.  But as he turned his charm on the other women, he sensed a gradual thawing of the crowd.  Right up until he smiled at the one woman he was most interested in impressing.

The stocking woman simply stared at him with one brow raised.  “My lord, do you think to charm us unto silence? “

“Why?  Is it working?”  When no response was forthcoming, he continued.  “Pray
forgive me if I offended you, Miss…..”  He waited for her to supply her name.

He waited in vain.

“My lord, it would be most improper of me to give you my name without benefit of introduction,” said the stocking woman with an accent Hal couldn’t quite place.  But there was no mistaking her hint of amusement at his obvious ploy.  “My colleagues and I are trying to impress upon gentlemen such as yourself that a house of gaming is not the type of establishment they should frequent.”

So the little minx wouldn’t back down.  Perhaps it was time to show her the streets were no place for a lady late at night.  “Then what type of ‘house,’ do you think would be suitable for men such as Mr. Francis and me?  We have recently come from quite an interesting one.”

The implication was not lost on any of the women nor on Patton, who was watching the exchange with some amusement.

“I’ll thank you not to speak of such debauchery, you scoundrel,” said Mrs. Seton.  “If you were a man of any decency, you would immediately apologize.”

“My apologies, ma’am,” said Hal with a nod in her direction, “but I was speaking to your charming associate.”

“I believe,” said the stocking woman, “that the ‘house’ you should most concern yourself with is your home.  Unless you are too inebriated to find it.”

There was a choked sound behind her as Patton stifled a laugh.  Francis felt no such reticence and enjoyed himself loudly.

Hal found it hard not to laugh himself.  He might be the worse the wear for drink, but not so cupshot as to miss both the humor and irony.  He was making no progress charming the woman, which was a bit unusual.  He wasn’t an arrogant man, but he was an observant one.  Women – both improper and upstanding – tended to, if not melt, then at least soften around him.  It was actually refreshing to find one who seemed to have little use for him.  Before he could explore the intriguing possibilities she presented, the Watch arrived.

“Wot’s goin’ on ‘ere?” asked the larger of the two uniformed officers.

“Thank heaven you’ve come,” said Mrs. Seton.  “You should arrest this man for harassing my friend.  Then you can tell this whoremonger….”  She pointed her rather bony finger at Patton.  “…to let us into his business so we can shame the men inside.”

“Mrs. Seton,” said the stocking woman, “I still do not think that is a wise course of action.”

“Be quiet!” said the older woman.  “I’m in charge here.”

“Actually, I’m in charge,” said the officer, with wary glances at both Patton and the two lords who’d been speaking to the ladies.  “And there’s laws against people creatin’ a disturbance outside a place of business.  I’m afraid you ladies will have to take yer protest somewhere else.”

“This is preposterous!” said Mrs. Seton.

“It’s also the law,” said the officer.  “And you wouldn’t want us to ‘ave to take you to Bow Street.”

It looked like Mrs. Seton might want that very thing, but the stocking woman turned to the other ladies who appeared more than ready to retreat.  “I believe the prudent action would be to decamp so we can fight another day,” she said.  “It looks like Mr. Patton and his police force have made their position clear.”

Hal watched as she began herding the women away from Dill’s.  He hadn’t missed her implication that this section of the Watch was bought and paid for by Patton.  He suspected she was right.  He saw Patton and the officers exchange a meaningful glance.  Then he made a move to follow the stocking woman, until Francis nudged his elbow.

“Shall we?” he said, indicating Dill’s.  “Surely you can stay out just a bit longer, can’t you?”

“I shall spot you ten pounds each,” said Patton, “It’s a reward for ‘elping to move the ladies on their way.  It’s the least I can do for two lords such as yourself.”

“What say you, Hal?’ asked Francis once again.

Hal was torn between wanting to catch up with the stocking woman he’d thought so much about during the past few weeks and joining his friend in the hell.  Considering how little progress he’d made with the woman, he took the sure thing.

“I suppose another hour wouldn’t hurt,” said Hal, as he followed his friend into Dill’s.