Darius (Lonely Lords) - By Grace Burrowes

One

“I

f one knows precisely where to inquire, one hears you provide favors to a select few ladies in exchange for the next thing to coin.”

William Longstreet—the Fourth Viscount Longstreet, no less—delivered this observation without so much as a quaver to his voice. His veined hands were rock steady, and his tone cordial as he held his glass out to his host. “Just a touch more, perhaps? The wind is bitter, even for November.”

And Darius Lindsey, veteran of more unnerving moments, stiff beatings, and bad luck than any earl’s younger son ought to have endured, took his guest’s glass to the sideboard and filled it with another finger of cognac—a scant finger.

Lord Longstreet was known as a shrewd politician, capable of quietly negotiating compromises between embattled factions in the Lords. He’d sent around a note asking to make a call privately, after dark, and Darius had accepted out of curiosity.

A curiosity he was apparently going to regret at length.

Darius crossed his arms and leaned back against the sideboard. “You’re repeating rumor, my lord, and slanderous rumor at that. Just what did you come here to say?”

“Blunt.” Lord Longstreet’s faded brown eyes gleamed with humor. “Suppose you’ve learned to be, and that’s all to the good. Excellent libation, by the way, and I notice you aren’t keeping up, young man.” Longstreet raised his glass with gentlemanly bonhomie, while Darius wanted to smash his drink against the hearthstones—not that he had the coin for even such a small extravagance of temper.

“You needn’t confirm or deny these rumors,” Lord Longstreet went on, shifting a bit in a chair more sturdy and comfortable than elegant. “I have no intention of recalling the information or where I came by it once I leave you tonight.”

“Gracious of you, when you’re repeating the kind of insinuations that can get a man called out.”

“Involving as they do, the honor of several ladies,” Longstreet rejoined. “If one can call them that.”

Darius didn’t rise to the bait. Tonight was not a night when he was expected elsewhere in the wee hours—thank a merciful God—and in deference to his guest’s age, Darius had for once built up the fire to the point where his quarters were cozy. This also resulted in more illumination cast on threadbare carpet, scarred furniture, and a water stain high up on the outside wall.

“Ah, good.” Longstreet’s amusement was in evidence again. “You don’t rile, and you neither gossip nor disparage the women. This comports with your reputation as well.”

Darius set his drink aside while foreboding and distaste—for himself, his guest, and this topic—roiled in his gut. “While I am pleased to have your approval for mere gentlemanly reticence, I must ask again if you troubled making my acquaintance only to banter gossip. You are an important man, both politically and socially, while I am the proverbial impoverished second son, making my way as best I can. What errand brings you to my doorstep, my lord?”

Longstreet nodded, as if acknowledging that opening arguments were over. “Lady Longstreet—”

“No.” Darius paced off to the door, wanting to pitch the old man onto the stairs.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I will not be procured for your wife’s entertainment,” Darius said, “or for yours, or yours and hers. Finish your drink if you must, and I’ll show you out.”

“I would far rather you heard me out. Had I any other alternative, Lindsey, believe me I would be pursuing it.”

Darius turned his back to his guest and resisted the urge to slam his fist into the wall. “Despite what you’ve heard, my lord, there are limits…”

“You don’t swive them,” Longstreet said briskly, as if conceding an otherwise unimpressive mount had good quarters and a sane eye. “You won’t, in fact. Which is why you find me here, because any other man—any other young man with a need for coin and the ingenuity to go on as you have—would have taken what was offered and considered it his revenge on the feckless women throwing their money at him.”

Darius turned a granite stare on his guest, even knowing the man had the ear of the regent. “I find this conversation exceedingly tedious.”

Longstreet met that stare. “Lindsey, do sit down. Please. I am older than your braying ass of a father, and this is difficult enough without your wounded pride added to the general awkwardness.”

“Did she put you up to this?” Darius took the other chair—the one that rocked slightly, though it wasn’t supposed to—and didn’t touch his drink.

“She would never do such a thing. Vivian is a lady