Home > Someone Wanton His Way Comes

Someone Wanton His Way Comes
Author: Christi Caldwell

 

Prologue

1826

Gentleman Jackson’s

13 Bond Street

West End of London

It took a moment for Clayton Kearsley, Viscount St. John, to register his friend’s words.

In part because of the din in Gentleman Jackson’s, where too many noblemen had packed into the club to play at being gentlemen gladiators.

In part because of the casualness with which the words had been delivered.

And in part because what he’d heard made no sense.

“Beg pardon?” he blurted.

And for a moment he thought perhaps he might very well have imagined that question—a request, really, after all. For the Earl of Norfolk, his closest friend since their Eton days, attended to the wraps on his hands with a good deal more focus than he did to Clayton.

He lifted his right hand up close to his face and angled it back and forth, inspecting his knuckles. “Someone is going to have to look after her,” he finally said, confirming that Clayton’s ears, in fact, hadn’t deceived him. That he’d heard what he thought he had.

And yet hearing it changed nothing, as Clayton still struggled to process the implications of precisely what his friend was saying. Because there could be no doubt: it was more a statement than a request.

“You will look after her,” Clayton said slowly, at last finding something meaningful to say. That was, after all, the other man’s responsibility . . . and had been for three years, twelve weeks, and a handful of days. “She is your wife.”

Norfolk flexed his fingers several times, as if testing the feel of the wraps before setting to work adjusting them once more. When he bothered to look up at Clayton, he wore a frown. “Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?” There was an impatient quality to his question.

“Have you been listening to anything you are saying?” Clayton countered, loud enough to garner looks from several sets of gentlemen.

Norfolk’s frown deepened. “Have a care, St. John. Show a little calm, would you?”

Clayton had long been the equanimous one of seven siblings—the rest being sisters for whom he was responsible. The Kearsleys were a volatile lot, tempests, really, and he the voice of calm and the family member of reason. As such, he drew on the thirty years of inner calm that had prevailed amongst the chaos that was his big, unruly family.

And yet, all that went out the proverbial window as he finally saw that Norfolk spoke with an absolute seriousness of intent. “Be calm? You’re telling me to be calm?”

More stares were directed their way. Long, curious looks that could come only at finding one of society’s most even-keeled, scandal-free lords raising his voice—to his best friend, no less.

“My God, man, you are talking about . . . about . . .” He couldn’t even get out the rest of what his friend intended.

Grabbing him by the arm, Norfolk forcefully guided Clayton back to the corner of the studio. “Quiet.”

The moment they had that flimsy privacy, Norfolk resumed speaking, this time in more measured tones. “I am talking about going away with the woman I love.”

Clayton had known Norman Prescott, the Earl of Norfolk, since they were boys of eight. There’d been times he’d been in awe of Prescott’s ease around people. In awe of his boxing. There’d been times he’d envied him.

He could count just one time he’d resented him.

But this? This was the first time he’d ever actually hated the man he’d called a friend.

“You have a wife, Norfolk.”

“I don’t love her,” the other man said simply on a little shrug that served only to overemphasize the callousness of his admission.

A haze of red fell across Clayton’s vision, briefly blinding, but not before he caught the casual way Norfolk went back to tending his hand wraps. That was . . . it? That was all the man would say? He’d just speak of leaving his wife and gallivanting off with his . . . lover?

“It is a little late on that score,” Clayton gritted out between his clenched teeth, and this time when he looked up, there was something akin to surprise in the other man’s eyes. Yes, but then why should he be anything but shocked at being challenged by the ever affable viscount? “You asked her to marry you.” Just three weeks after meeting her. “You courted her.”

A sound of impatience escaped Norfolk. “I do not need you to remind me of my courtship with Sylvia. I assure you, I am well aware of it. I did that which was expected of me.”

Clayton didn’t relent. “The moment you said ‘I do’ and promised to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health? And forsaking all others, keep only to her as long as you both shall live . . .”

Grief contorted the other man’s face in the first hint that Clayton had managed to break through whatever madness had compelled this reckless, and heartless, thought.

Sensing that weakening, Clayton put further pressure on him. “You’d just leave her to her own devices?”

“She is well loved by her family. There’s Waterson.” As in her brother, the Parliamentarian earl, who was known for his devotion to his kin. “He’ll care for her.”

Clayton tried once more. “But she is your wife.” And when that made no difference in the other man’s implacable features, he appealed to Norfolk’s commitment to his family’s title. “There’s not even an heir.” Even as those words left Clayton’s mouth, he cringed in shame at having spoken them. But if he could get Norfolk to reverse course, god help him, he would.

The earl spoke in quieter tones. “Sylvia’s maid informed me that my wife missed her menses. As such, I’ve done my duty by the Prendergast line.”

Hatred tightened Clayton’s gut and seared his veins, threatening to burn him from the inside out in a fiery ball of fury. “I don’t even know you,” he spat. And fearing he’d do something like put his hands around the other man’s neck and choke the life from his blackhearted body, he started from the room. Ignoring the friendly greetings called in his wake, his gaze forward, his intent just one: escape. Flee this thing his friend intended to do. And what Clayton now knew would come.

He reached the front doors of the posh club, grabbing the handles before the servants stationed there could, and let himself out.

The London heat, higher than usual, slapped at his face, cloying and clawing, the thickness of it only adding to the nausea that churned in his stomach.

I am going to be sick.

With quick steps, Clayton headed for his horse.

“St. John!”

That frantic call rose above the hubbub of Bond Street’s bustling thoroughfare, and he whipped around to find the other man rushing over.

Norfolk stopped before him and tossed his arms up. “What would you have me do, Saint?”

“I’d have you honor your commitments,” he said, as matter-of-factly as he could manage. “I’d have you be a husband to your wife, and a father to your child.”

“I can’t do that.” Another would have at least had the grace to show some compunction at that charge. With the rapidity of his response, however, Norfolk didn’t even bother to feign false hesitancy.

“There is . . . nothing I might say, nothing I can do to convince you to not do this thing you intend to do?” Something. There had to be something. The man Clayton knew . . . would never do this.

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