The Scoundrel and the Lady (Lords of Vice)

By: Robyn Dehart

To my faithful readers who’ve driven hundreds of miles to meet me, who’ve bought their first ereader just to get my books (Angie!), and who continue to support me…these stories are for YOU!

And to my husband Paul, a.k.a. the Professor, you are my favorite hero ever.





Prologue

May 1850

Inside the offices of the Daily Scandal, London

Merritt Steele read over the article one last time, searching for any errors. It would seem that Lord Prescott had not only lost his fortune through a series of embarrassingly bad investments, but he’d been caught sleeping with his younger brother’s wife. The newspaper’s patrons would devour the story, as well as the rest of the on-dits that would be in this week’s offering.

It had been nearly four years since Merritt had taken over the paper and shifted it from a standard broadsheet to one that fed the never-ending hunger for scandal and gossip among London’s elite. The change had resulted in the Daily Scandal becoming the fastest selling paper in all of London and Merritt himself becoming one of the wealthiest men in all of England.

Someone knocked on his office door.

“Enter,” he said without looking up from his proofing.

“Merritt, there is a Mr. Brewer here to see you,” Rand, Merritt’s assistant and oldest friend, said.

“Who?” he asked, as he glanced up at Rand.

“He’s a solicitor. Said he must speak to you immediately as it is of the utmost importance,” Rand said.

“Indeed. Well, then send him in.” He glanced at his watch. “This cannot take too long. We have to finalize the rest of these pieces before we go to print tomorrow.”

Rand nodded then disappeared for a moment before returning with a short, paunchy man with a balding hairline and small wire spectacles perched on his squat nose.

“Mr. Steele, you are an incredibly difficult man to find,” the solicitor said.

“I don’t believe I’ve been hiding,” Merritt said.

Rand turned to go, but the solicitor stopped him. “We shall require a witness for this.”

“Official business?” Merritt asked, unable to hide his curiosity.

“Indeed.” He handed Merritt a card. “My name is Irving Brewer, and I am the solicitor of the Earl of Ashby.” He waited as if somehow this news would mean something significant to Merritt.

“I suppose this Lord Ashby has sent you to protest something we printed about him in the paper,” Merritt said. “I can tell you that if we print it, we have first verified it. We are in the business of reporting scandals, not merely gossip.”

“I should have said the late Earl of Ashby.” Mr. Brewer frowned. “May I sit?”

“If you must,” Merritt said. “Rand, you too.” Both men sat across from Merritt’s desk. “Mr. Brewer, I am a very busy man. If we could move along with whatever has brought you to my offices?”

“Yes, of course.” He dug into the satchel on his lap and rifled through it before pulling out a small stack of papers. “Did you know that the Earl of Ashby was your cousin? On your mother’s side.”

Ah yes. So the Lord Ashby in question was that earl. A distant cousin of his mother’s. Growing up, he met the earl only a handful of times, occasions on which the earl had summoned his mother to visit. The old man was pompous and condescending, rude and domineering. But, as Merritt’s mother had said bluntly, too rich and powerful to be ignored.

Merritt felt a frown weigh down his brow. “We were very distantly related.”

“Yes, well, you are his cousin. Or rather, were his cousin. He has died.”

“My condolences,” Merritt said drily.

Mr. Brewer said nothing for a long moment, as if he expected more of a reaction from Merritt. Then, finally, he cleared his throat. “You are his heir, Mr. Steele. You are now the Earl of Ashby.” He set the papers on Merritt’s desk.

Merritt reached forward and snatched up the papers.

Rand did his best to hide his chuckle but ended up releasing a bark of laughter.

Merritt couldn’t even look up to glare at his friend. Instead, his attention was set on the words in his hand. “How is it possible that all of the other heirs before me have died?”

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