Worth Any Price





  Lisa Kleypas

  Worth Any Price

  To my mother-in-law, Ireta Ellis,

  for your love, generosity, and understanding,

  and for making me happy whenever I’m with you.

  Love from a most appreciative daughter-in-law,

  L.K.

  Contents

  Prologue

  He was twenty-four, and it was the first time…

  Chapter One

  As was his long-standing habit, Nick entered…

  Chapter Two

  She was here. He was certain of it.

  Chapter Three

  “Sit,” the stranger told Lottie, his huge hands…

  Chapter Four

  The English celebration of May Day varied…

  Chapter Five

  Nick had known that Lottie would not react…

  Chapter Six

  When Lottie emerged from her slumber, day…

  Chapter Seven

  As Lottie consumed a plate of salty mutton…

  Chapter Eight

  As a wedding to Lord Radnor had figured…

  Chapter Nine

  Lottie went upstairs with him, her hand…

  Chapter Ten

  “Something in pale yellow, I think,” Sophia…

  Chapter Eleven

  London was so vastly different from…

  Chapter Twelve

  Bracing herself, Lottie looked up into the face…

  Chapter Thirteen

  Sunlight streamed in through the windows…

  Chapter Fourteen

  “You’re going to Bow Street today, aren’t…

  Chapter Fifteen

  Lottie did not fully regain her senses until she…

  Epilogue

  An hour after Master John Robert Cannon was…

  Author’s Note

  About the Author

  Other Books by Lisa Kleypas

  Copyright

  Prologue

  London, 1839

  He was twenty-four, and it was the first time he had ever visited a brothel. Nick Gentry damned himself for the icy sweat that had broken out on his face. He was burning with desire, cold with dread. He had avoided this for years, until he had finally been driven to it out of desperate carnal need. The urge to mate had finally become stronger than fear.

  Forcing himself to keep moving, Nick ascended the steps of Mrs. Bradshaw’s red brick establishment, the exclusive business that catered to well-heeled clients. It was common knowledge that a night with one of Mrs. Bradshaw’s girls would cost a fortune, as they were the best-trained prostitutes in London.

  Nick would easily be able to pay any price that was required. He had made a great deal of money as a private thief-taker, and on top of that, he had garnered a fortune from his dealings in the underworld. And he had earned a great deal of notoriety in the process. Although he was popular with most of the public, he was feared by the underworld and detested by the Bow Street runners, who regarded him as an unprincipled rival. On that point the runners were correct—he was indeed unprincipled. Scruples had a way of interfering with business, and therefore Nick had no use for them.

  Music drifted from the windows, where Nick could see elegantly dressed men and women mingling as if they were at an upper-crust soiree. In reality, they were prostitutes conducting business transactions with their patrons. This was a world far removed from his flash house near Fleet Ditch, where buttock-and-file whores serviced men in the alleys for shillings.

  Squaring his shoulders, Nick used the lion’s-head brass knocker to rap sharply on the door. It opened to reveal a stone-faced butler, who asked what business he was about.

  Isn’t that obvious? Nick wondered irritably. “I want to meet one of the women.”

  “I am afraid that Mrs. Bradshaw is not accepting new patrons at this time, sir—”

  “Tell her that Nick Gentry is here.” Nick shoved his hands into his coat pockets and gave the butler a grim stare.

  The man’s eyes widened, betraying his recognition of the infamous name. He opened the door and inclined his head courteously. “Yes, sir. If you will wait in the entrance hall, I will inform Mrs. Bradshaw of your presence.”

  The air was lightly scented with perfume and tobacco smoke. Breathing deeply, Nick glanced around the marble-floored hall, which was lined with tall white pilasters. The only adornment was a painting of a naked woman regarding herself in an oval mirror, one delicate hand resting lightly at the top of her own thigh. Fascinated, Nick stared at the gold-framed picture. The female image in the mirror was slightly blurred, the triangle between her legs painted with hazy brush strokes. Nick’s stomach felt as if it were filled with cold lead. A servant wearing black breeches crossed through the hall with a tray of glasses, and Nick’s gaze dropped swiftly from the painting.

  He was intensely aware of the door behind him, of the fact that he could turn and leave right now. But he’d been a coward for too long. Whatever happened this night, he was going to see it through. Clenching his fists in his pockets, he stared at the gleaming floor, the swirls of white and gray marble reflecting the glow of the chandelier overhead.

  Suddenly a woman’s voice broke lazily through the air. “What an honor it is to receive the celebrated Mr. Gentry. Welcome.”

  His gaze traveled from the hem of a blue velvet gown to a pair of smiling sherry-colored eyes. Mrs. Bradshaw was a tall, wonderfully proportioned woman. Her pale skin was lightly dotted with amber freckles, and her auburn hair was pinned up in loose curls. She was not beautiful in any conventional sense—her face was too angular, and her nose was large. However, she was stylish and impeccably groomed, and there was something so appealing about her that beauty seemed entirely superfluous.

  She smiled in a way that caused Nick to relax in spite of himself. Later he would learn that he was not alone in this reaction. All men relaxed in Gemma Bradshaw’s agreeable presence. One could tell just by looking at her that she didn’t mind coarse words or booted feet on the table, that she loved a good joke and was never shy or disdainful. Men adored Gemma because she so clearly adored them.

  She gave Nick a conspiratorial smile and curtsied low enough to display her magnificent cleavage. “Do say you’ve come here for pleasure, rather than business.” At his brief nod, she smiled once more. “How delightful. Come take a turn through the drawing room with me, and we will discuss how you may best be served.” She came forward to slip her arm through his. Nick jerked slightly, checking the instinctive impulse to fling off her hand.

  The madam could hardly fail to notice the rigidity of his arm. Her hand fell away, and she continued to chat comfortably, as if nothing untoward had occurred. “This way, if you please. My guests often like to play cards or billiards, or relax in the smoking room. You may chat with as many girls as you wish before deciding on one. Then she will show you to one of the upstairs rooms. You will be charged an hourly rate for her company. I have trained all the girls myself, and you will find that each has her own special talent. Of course, you and I will discuss your preferences, as some of the girls are more willing than others to engage in rough play.”

  As they entered the drawing room, a few of the women cast Nick flirtatious glances. They all looked healthy and well tended, entirely different from the whores he had seen near Fleet Ditch and Newgate. They flirted, chatted, negotiated, all with the same relaxed manner that Mrs. Bradshaw possessed.

  “It would be my pleasure to introduce you to a few of them,” came Mrs. Bradshaw’s gentle voice in his ear. “Does anyone catch your eye?”

  Nick shook his head. He was usually known for his jaunty arrogance, for having the smooth, easy banter of a confidence trickster. However, in this foreign situation, words had deserted him.

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