The Dark Discovery of Jack Dandy Page 3

There was a rather pregnant pause. And then a click as the lock on the door was disengaged and the heavy oak swung open.

Jack stepped over the threshold with a bored air. Of course he’d gotten his way. There was no greater threat to the working class than their employer’s wrath. That was why he hadn’t been in any employ other than his own for the past six years.

The woman who greeted him was indeed pinched looking. She was barely five feet tall—he spied the box she had to stand on to inspect visitors on the step—and just shy of being considered “sturdy.” Her gaze was downcast as she bobbed in a slight curtsy before him. “This way, Mr. Dandy, if you please.”

He did indeed. He walked behind her as she led him from the hall to a corridor lined with portraits that dated back several hundreds of years, given the dress of the individuals. The rich hung on to family as if they were currency—unless they were illegitimate like Jack; then they were tossed away—while the poor couldn’t spend theirs fast enough.

The house was decorated at the height of modern fashion, despite the obvious age of its exterior. Floral prints in a dizzying array of colors, shining brass and polished wood. He even saw a maid putting a small sweeper automaton away in its cupboard.

Jack had three of the little devils. Not because he was particularly dirty but because he thought them cute. And also, because he could.

Hmm. There was something familiar about this place, something tugging at the back... Bloody hell. He’d robbed it. Oh, this was a fine kettle, now wasn’t it? Not that Abernathy had any way of knowing who’d filched his silver and jewels that night, but the realization made Jack feel a little dirty all the same. He didn’t often have to look his marks in the eye.

This was Finley’s fault, this sudden attack of conscience. He was going to have to send that girl a bill or something. Or perhaps demand that she give him back his spine. Guilt was not a good look for him—it gave one unsightly lines.

And now he felt bad for being rude to the housekeeper, as well. Damnation. He was going to have to cheat at cards and seduce a married woman just to get his equilibrium back.

The housekeeper stopped at a closed white-washed door, knocked and, when bade, entered. Jack heard her announce him, and then he swept into the room.

Abernathy was older—perhaps in his late forties or even early fifties. He wasn’t very tall, had thinning blond hair, pale blue eyes and a nose that could only be described as...British. He was dressed in gray-striped trousers, a puce waistcoat and a dove-gray jacket. His shoes were so polished they were like mirrors—not that the viscount could see his shoes past the prodigious curve of his belly. Jack didn’t think he’d ever met anyone who made him so keenly aware of his own height and slight build.

The viscount’s expression when he saw him was terribly amusing. Either Abernathy hadn’t known of Jack’s parentage or he was a very fine actor, because all the color drained from his face, save for the blue of his eyes.

Jack waited until the housekeeper closed the door, sealing the two of them in the study alone to speak. “I’m a busy man, your lordship—fings to do and peoples to see and all that. To what ‘onor do me boots muddy-up your prett-ee rug?”

The man winced at his atrocious accent. Jack narrowed his eyes. Perhaps he’d laid it on a bit too thick. Of course it was a horrible way of speaking—he’d worked hard to perfect it. Sounding the way he did ingratiated him to the people of Whitechapel, but it also made people from other parts of the city underestimate him. For the most part, he liked being underestimated. People said and did all sorts of things in front of you when they thought you were more thug than brain.

Viscount Abernathy, however, would do well not to underestimate him. Did the older man think himself better just because he had a big house and a lofty title? The aristocracy wasn’t what it used to be, and Jack reckoned his fortune was as large, if not larger, than the viscount’s.

Bloody hell. What was wrong with him? Next thing he knew he’d suggest a pissing contest just to see which of them had the longest reach.

“Would it give less offense, my lord, if I spoke to you in a manner of conversation to which you are more accustomed?”

The older man’s eyes widened. Perhaps he noted the change in Jack’s demeanor as well as his speech, or perhaps Jack resembled his estranged pater in more ways than his good looks. “You may speak in whatever manner you choose, Mr. Dandy.”

Jack shrugged. “You, as well, my lord.” He glanced at a black leather wingback chair. “Mind if I sit?”

Abernathy gave his head a shake. “Yes, of course. Please, do. Would you like a drink?”

“Coffee, if you have it.”

The man blinked. “Coffee?”

Jack nodded as he set his hat on a small table and propped his walking stick nearby—within reach, of course. “Yes, please. I never imbibe when I’m discussing business. It’s bad...for business.”

“Yes, I see how it would be.” It was obvious, however, that he didn’t “see” it at all. Judging from the gin blossoms on the man’s beak, Jack would wager the man spent most of his time half-pickled.

The viscount pressed a switch on a little box on his desk. A second later the housekeeper’s voice came out of the box. “Yes, Lord Breckenridge?”

“Coffee, please, Mrs. Dean. And some sandwiches. And some of those little cakes you make that are so delicious.”

Good God. Was Abernathy flirting with his housekeeper?

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