It Started with a Scandal

By: Julie Anne Long

Charm had begun to seem superfluous in light of other urgencies. Certainly it had been no defense against the band of cutthroats who’d attacked him in London and left him with a lot less blood, a little less money, a few more scars, and in debt to the last person on earth to whom he wished to owe his life.

And he always, without fail, honored his debts.

He stood again, slowly, stiffly, and turned toward the window.

The rain had ceased, and the sun was beginning to drop, and the sky was blushing.

Pink had rushed into Mrs. Fountain’s cheeks when he’d told her she could have the job. It had been rather like the sun rising to illuminate a delicate landscape. He’d ducked his head, feigning distraction, to spare her dignity.

But not before he’d noticed a tiny impression, a dimple, in her chin. He’d imagined pressing the tip of his finger into it, just so.

Perhaps further indication that he was right to ease up on his laudanum.

Chapter 2

“ALL RIGHT. SHOW ME the Starry Plough, now, Jack.”

They were sprawled on her bed in the dark, their heads aimed toward the window, the night brilliant and thick with stars. Her arm was draped around him, his hard little head rammed into her armpit, and he was drumming his heels on the bed and making flatulence noises with his mouth.

He was never really still. He was just six years old, and she supposed he was still discovering all of the things he could do with his limbs—­dance, leap, create, destroy, annoy. And he was never really quiet, except when he was asleep. And then he slept with a loose-­limbed, flushed-­cheeked abandon that humbled and astounded her. Ever since he was born, life had been exquisitely beautiful and terrifying all at once, and probably would be forever. He was the gift that had cost her nearly everything else.

“It’s riiiight . . . there, Mama.” He pointed up through the dormer window.

“Oh, very good. But shhh. What did I tell you about those noises? Perhaps we can sing a song instead if you must make noise. Quietly.”

“The song about Colin Eversea?”

“Where on earth did you—­definitely not that song.”

“From Liam,” he benignly answered her unfinished question.

Of course. Young Liam Plum worked at the pub and helped out at the vicarage. He was allowed to ring the church bell, which filled Jack with awe and envy, and he cheerfully helped out with odd jobs about the village. He was quick and clever, and he wasn’t much older than Jack. He’d been rescued from life in the London slums by Captain Chase Eversea and his wife, Rosalind, and his education at the hands of the streets was, diplomatically put, diverse. Jack took lessons with Liam held by the vicar at the vicarage, and he was allowed to help with chores there, too.

“He’s famous, Colin is,” Jack told her with a superior, confiding air. “I saw him once, riding a horse. Big cove.”

“Cove” sounded like another word he’d learned from Liam. She would have a discreet word with the vicar, who had such exquisite manners and a refined vocabulary.

Colin Eversea was indeed famous for being the most dashing man to ever escape the gallows, in an explosion and in front of an audience of thousands, no less. A flash ballad had been written about him, and it had proven so popular that it was still sung in pubs and on street corners by cheery drunks and by university students and anyone who felt like singing while they worked, it seemed. New verses were added all the time, most of them quite prurient.

“You’re quite correct. I remember when we saw Colin Eversea on the horse. The Eversea family is everywhere here in Sussex, rather like the Redmonds. They’re very important ­people in this town, and every time you see them you will treat them with great politeness and respect. If you see him again, bow and call him Mr. Eversea, not Colin, and you certainly won’t refer to him as a ‘cove.’ Or sing that song to him.”

“Mr. Eversea,” Jack tried dutifully.

“Well done. Just like a gentleman.”

She could feel him beaming. He squirmed a little, pleased to be praised.

“And now that we’re speaking of large and important ­people, I’ve something exciting to tell you, Jack. We are going to move from here into a large, beautiful house that’s rather close by, and I am going to look after it for a . . . for a large man.”

Jack took this in silently.

“We’re going to leave Miss Endicott’s and this room forever?”

If he’d sounded more plaintive than curious, her voice might have cracked when she spoke next.

“Yes. It’s time to go.” She said this with a lilt. To make it sound like a game.

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