Four Horny Lords - Kieran Kramer
USA Today best-selling author and double-Rita finalist Kieran Kramer writes Regency historical romances for St. Martin's Press. IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A VISCOUNT, the fourth and last book in her lighthearted Impossible Bachelors series, is on store shelves now. Her new series, House of Brady, premiers in 2012. A former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher, Kieran's also a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.
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Four Horny Lords
The Earls of Bonham, Berwick, Chauncy, and Deare were being naughty. Their families supposed each of them to be at the Goodmans’ annual Yuletide masquerade ball—a dreary affair, really, with simpering misses and flirtatious widows demanding their constant attention. There was bowing left and right, country dances in which elbows were bumped and toes trod upon, the sharing of stale on dits, and if one were truly unfortunate, the opportunity to sit next to one of Lady Goodman’s four daughters at supper.
Oh, it should be mentioned that none of the Goodman girls were the least bit interesting. Pretty, perhaps, but not interesting. They were good, you see. And it got worse: their father was a good man, making his name entirely appropriate. And Lady Goodman was good herself. Which was all well and good, one would suppose…if one had a shred of decency.
But when you’re a hot-blooded youth of twenty-three with no cares in the world, as all four lords were (separated at birth, their headmaster at Eton used to tell them), then good is the last thing on your mind.
No, on this Christmas Eve, when they were properly drunk, Lords Bonham, Berwick, Chauncy, and Deare sought bad--
Bad girls, that is.
“You don’t suppose they all have the evening off, do you?” asked Lord Bonham (Tripp to his friends, and the most sickeningly handsome among them: he’d once posed for a portrait of the archangel Michael).
They were making their way down a usually sad, dilapidated London street, although this evening it was quite pretty, what with the snow falling in big, puffy pieces, like lamb’s wool from the sky.
Lawrence Davis, Lord Chauncy, was an out-and-outer, a Corinthian extraordinaire, known as the infamous winner of the naked curricle race to Brighton. “I suppose even lightskirts want to enjoy the Yuletide season,” he said on a chuckle.
“I hope they’re enjoying it with no clothes on,” said Anthony James, Lord Deare, who found the most success out of the four with women because of his bedroom brown eyes and hapless charm. Now he wore a mischievous grin--which disappeared when he promptly ran into a gas lamp.
Fortunately, the brim of his top hat took most of the impact.
“Good God, Deare,” said Lord Bonham, stopping in his tracks, as did the rest of the party.
“He’s not your dear,” Halston Avery, Lord Berwick, said to Bonham. Berwick, an orphan now, was the wealthiest, the cleverest, and the naughtiest of them all. Not only was he able to concoct harebrained schemes with great élan, he tossed gold coins around to see that his wild plans were enacted promptly--with the added bonus of no guilt.
The others still had parents to consider. Not that they did…at least very much.
“Yes,” Lord Chauncy added, swaying. “You sound like his mother, Bonham.”
“What am I supposed to call him?” Lord Bonham poked Chauncy in the chest, and reached out to grab his arm when his good friend almost fell backwards. “He’s Deare.”
Lord Deare, meanwhile, had taken the crumpled black hat off his head and was now staring at it in rapt fascination. “You sh-aved me, Hat, he slurred.
The snow began to cover his chestnut curls.
“It’s a hero,” Lord Berwick said with confidence, eyeing the hat. “It got squashed in the line of duty.”
"That’s sad,” replied Lord Bonham, and apparently, he meant it, for one small tear slid down his cheek.
And it was rather tragic, especially when you were four drunken lords with nothing more important on your minds than entertaining yourselves on Christmas Eve.
“Le’s all squash ours,” suggested Lord Berwick, “in sympathy.”
So they did, and while they were busy squashing their hats—Lord Chauncy stomped on his for added measure, and Lord Berwick punched a fist through his for the sheer joy of it—a young lady walked by, carrying a basket.
They all stopped punching, stomping, and crushing and stared after her.
She wore a cloak, but that look in her eye…they’d all seen it: a certain twinkle. A twinkle no good girl ever had, as far as they knew.
“Happy Christmas!” called out Lord Deare.
“Yes, Happy Christmas!” the others shouted after her.
God, they sounded desperate—and they were. Desperate for a delicious romp in the proverbial hay with a warm, willing bit o’muslin.
The girl stopped in her tracks and turned around. “Happy Christmas to you gentlemen,” she said with a warmth in her tone that could only mean—
They stumbled after her.
“Care for a drink?” one of them asked.
She giggled. “I know what you’re after,” she chided them. “But it’s Christmas Eve. My friends and I have the night off.” And she turned on her heel and kept walking, swinging her basket.
“I knew it!” Lord Bonham cried. “They get the evening off, too! Everyone does!” He seemed quite excited at being right.
But the other lords weren’t so happy about that fact. Neither was a large woman with bushy black brows pleased with his outburst. She threw open her shutters from the second story of the building behind them.
“Shut your gobs down there,” she shouted in a fishwife’s accent. “We’re busy getting a start on having Happy Christmases—we don’t need no drunken lords interfering!”
And promptly pulled her shutters shut again.
“Dammit all,” Lord Chauncy murmured, looking after the pretty, twinkly-eyed girl.
Berwick and Deare merely threw their arms around each other’s shoulders to prop each other up, watched the girl’s swinging hips, and sighed.
“I suppose we could actually go to the Goodmans’ ball,” muttered Bonham.
“Too drunk,” said Deare.
“I rather like the eldest Goodman daughter,” confessed Chauncy. “She laughs like bells. Bells are nice at Christmas.”
“I like her, too,” said Berwick. “But I prefer the third eldest.”
“She’s got a lovely bosom,” said Deare with a small hiccup.
“Don’t talk about her bosom,” warned Berwick.
“Right,” said Deare. “She’s yours. I’ve got dibs on the second eldest. She likes horses almost as much as I do. And she’s got a very kissable mouth.”
“Not as kissable as the youngest Goodman,” said Bonham. “Dibs on her.”
And then, for the first time in their history as best friends, it seemed there was nothing left to do or say. The snow kept falling. The street was silent. And the four lustful lords felt lonely, even though they were standing shoulder to shoulder.
But even worse, they felt a wee bit ashamed of themselves. Each one wore an expression of regret.
“We’ve got dibs on no woman,” said Berwick, a catch in his throat, “Good or bad.”
“Because we’re always gadding about,” added Deare.
“Busy cavorting,” Chauncy said.
“In high spirits,” Bonham explained further. “Who can ever keep up?”
Not a one of them moved, their expressions wistfully woebegone.
Then from half a block away, they heard a feminine shout. “Oh, come on, you four.”
It was the girl!
They half-ran, half-stumbled after her.
“You can come inside and sober up at our Christmas party,” she said, and held up her basket. “I’ve got a lovely plum pudding from my gran. She made it special for all the ladies. We’ll put some coffee on and have a bit a’ Christmas cheer, eh?”
The four exchanged glances.
“Does that mean spirits?” Bonham asked. “As in brandy, whisky--”
Chauncy held up a hand to interrupt Bonham. “And does Christmas cheer include…“ He paused, waggled his eyebrows, and hoped the twinkly-eyed girl would understand the rest.
“Don’t even think it,” she said loftily. “I told you. It’s our night off.”
There was a collective sagging of broad male shoulders.
And she went walking away from them down the street.
The men stared after her.
“Just coffee, puddin’, and good company,” she said without looking back. “Take it or leave it.”
“We’ll take it,” Berwick said immediately, never one to give up.
“Yes,” echoed his mates, and followed her a few doors down to a three-story, narrow house that leaned only slightly to the left. A taper flickered in every window, lending it a welcoming air.
“They told us at the club it leaned to the right,” Deare whispered loudly.
The girl chuckled. “I’m Stella. Come in.” And she threw open the door.
“Only thirty-five minutes ‘til Christmas,” one of Stella’s housemates said an hour later.
She was a gorgeous girl, with rosy cheeks, a modest air--and a shimmering gown with almost no bodice, it was so low.
The men did their best to take only discreet glances at her voluptuous bosom, although Bonham dropped his plate of pudding by accident when she leaned over to throw more lumps of coal on the fire.
Everyone was seated in a half-circle before the meager flame, the men on rickety chairs and the girls on worn tufted ottomans. In total, there were five young ladies, all of them beautiful and similarly attired in jaw-dropping, shimmering gowns—“we wear our finest frocks on Christmas Eve,” said Stella--and every one of them as friendly as a shop girl would be…but no more than that.
No special friendliness, that is. Although one of them with long, black hair and exotic black eyes had taken off her slippers and placed her tender bare feet in front of the fire, exposing a bit of shapely leg in the process.
The men sipped their coffee and exchanged tortured glances. A loud clock ticked on the mantel.
“Well, I suppose it’s time for you lot to go,” said Stella, on a yawn, and stretched her arms above her head, which only served to tighten her bodice across her breasts in an enticing fashion.
“Are you sure about that?” asked Chauncy, trying to look at her eyes and not her bosom.
Stella let her arms drop to her sides and laughed. “Yes, really. We get to go to bed early tonight. It’s quite a Christmas treat, isn’t it, girls?”
They all murmured assent.
Four male hearts sank.
Stella leaned forward and put her hand on Berwick’s knee. “Besides,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone, “you boys need to go back to Mayfair and do what gentlemen do on Christmas Eve. Attend a ball. Pay your respects to the good ladies there. Make your mark on the ton.”
“Excuse me.” Berwick laid his hand over hers. “You’re good ladies, and we thank you for sharing your hospitality with us tonight. I insist on ringing in Christmas with you. Don’t you, boys? It would be an honor.”
“Of course,” was their enthusiastic answer.
But Stella withdrew her hand and stood. “Sorry, but we really must insist you go. Happy Christmas to you all, and thank you for making our little party special.”
The other women stood as well.
The lads knew the ladies meant business—erm, that is, they meant no business. At least not tonight.
“Hurry,” Stella said. “You can make it back to a ball on Grosvenor Square by midnight if you leave now.”
“Just a minute,” said Chauncy, and lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it. Then he went down the line of prettily dressed maidens and kissed every girl’s hand. “Happy Christmas,” he said with feeling.
His friends followed suit.
“A token of esteem freely given by a happy heart,” Stella murmured when the last man was done, and clutched her kissed hand to her heart. “That’s the best Christmas gift of all, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Berwick with more sincerity than he knew he was capable of.
“Jolly right it is!” Bonham added fervently.
Chauncy slapped Deare on the back, and he didn’t teeter in the least.
It seemed that all four of the bachelors had found their legs again. And their good spirits, as well.
Deare gave the ladies a sweeping bow with an elaborate flourish. “Good evening, sweet angels,” he said, and the girls giggled.
And why not? Christmas was soon upon them all. It fairly shimmered in the air.
“I hear a hackney,” the ebony-haired girl said of a sudden.
And the warm spell was broken.
Bonham flagged down the shabby hired vehicle. When it rolled up before the house, its creaky wheels hissing in the snow, the horse drawing it snorted, impatient to be gone.
“Good night,” the prettily dressed Sirens called like a chorus of songbirds to the men from their open door.
The tapers in every window of their home flickered brightly.
After Bonham instructed the driver to take them to the Goodmans’ ball, he was the last to enter the hackney. At the open door, he turned around. “Thanks for making us feel at home,” he said gruffly, “when we’re really just four rich ne’er-do-wells. Four rather selfish, rich ne’er-do-wells.”
“Nonsense,” said Stella firmly. “Beneath your bluster, you’re fine men—or nearly there. And for tonight, we’re princesses. Christmas reminds us, doesn’t it? To have hope.”
The hackney jerked forward, and the fellows exchanged wary glances.
“That was…interesting,” Berwick said after a moment, his gaze fixed on the snow still falling gently out the window. He sounded more thoughtful than usual. “Although I could have done without the lecture at the end. How can a lightskirt have hope? It’s ridiculous.”
“They live in the worst part of London,” Deare said, and shook his head.
“They have to sell their bodies for a living,” added Chauncy.
“Right,” muttered Bonham sheepishly. “I fell for it, too, there, didn’t I? They were so damnably pretty.”
No one made fun of him. In fact, no one said a word. The atmosphere in the vehicle was tense, which only made sense. The effects of their boisterous evening at a few pubs were wearing off. They’d never got their roll in the hay, either, a fact that had somehow seemed all right mere moments before but which now made for four unsatisfied gentlemen.
A few more seconds passed, and the hackney swayed on its axle.
“Dammit, I forgot my cane,” Bonham said with a hint of annoyance.
After he opened the door and called to the driver to turn back, Chauncy told a fast, rude joke about a dancing monkey and a cane, which seemed to restore the quartet to a sense of normalcy.
When they returned to the leaning house, it was dark.
“We’ve only been gone a minute,” said Deare, rather surprised.
Bonham drew in his sculpted chin. “They’ve already blown out all the candles in the windows.”
“They said they would enjoy their sleep,” Chauncy reminded them.
“There’s no way they could have fallen into a slumber yet.” Berwick opened the hackney door and hopped out.
“It’s my cane—I’ll get it,” insisted Bonham, and jumped out after him.
“We might as well go, too,” said Deare to Chauncy. “You can never see too many pretty girls. Pretty, sweet girls with hearts of gold. And voluptuous bosoms. I don’t know which I liked more—their hearts or their bosoms. Do you?”
“No. I liked both. We’re pathetic, aren’t we?” Chauncy murmured, and followed him out.
Bonham gave three loud, firm knocks on the door.
The snow kept falling.
And nobody came to answer their summons.
“Knock again,” said Deare.
Bonham did, but there was still no response.
“Try the knob,” Berwick urged Bonham.
Bonham did, and the door swung open easily. The small foyer was completely dark.
“They move fast,” said Chauncy.
All four men stepped inside and slowly looked around.
The foyer was empty.
“I could swear they had a small table here,” Deare whispered. “And a looking glass. I saw myself in it.”
“Perhaps they didn’t.” Berwick frowned and moved forward. “Let’s go into the drawing—“
But he stopped abruptly at the drawing room entrance. It, too, was empty.
“The entire house is vacant,” said Chauncy in disbelief.
“You’re right.” Bonham gulped. “I felt it outside when we returned. There’s no one here.”
“We’re in the wrong house, clearly.” Berwick’s voice was a bit thin. “We were in our cups, remember?”
“And still must be,” Chauncy insisted. “We’ve made a mistake, is all. We were probably at the house next door.”
“But there’s my cane!” Bonham strode to the hearth, picked up his cane, then bent low and held his hand over the hearth. “It’s completely cold,” he said, and turned to face his friends. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
“No,” said Berwick in clipped tones.
“Yes,” Chauncy said at the exact same time.
Deare said nothing but crossed his arms over his chest and tried to look menacing, a habit of his when he didn’t know what to do.
“My mother always told me about them,” Bonham said, “but I never believed her.”
“Told you about what?” asked Deare.
“Angels,” Chauncy said on a ragged whisper. “Christmas angels. My grandmother swore by them.”
“Yes.” Bonham gazed around the empty room. “That’s exactly right. My mother told me they existed when I was a boy, but I thought she was merely entertaining me.”
Berwick, the most cynical of them all, appeared rooted to the spot. “Impossible,” he finally said, then slowly went forward and took Bonham’s cane. He looked at the fireplace, back at the cane, and then at his friends.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Deare gave a short laugh. “Say you’ve been visited by angels, Berwick.”
“Say it,” Bonham urged him, and grabbed his cane back.
The horse outside the door whinnied and stamped his hooves.
“I’ve been visited by angels.” Berwick’s tone was flat as he stared into the dark, cold space that was the hearth. Slowly, he crouched before it and held his hand over what only a few minutes ago was a humble coal fire. “And they were the most beautiful angels I’ve ever seen,” he added in a hoarse whisper, his voice cracking just a tad.
“They’re the only angels you’ve ever seen,” Deare reminded him.
Everyone chuckled, and Berwick stood, his face reflecting the same wonder his friends’ expressions revealed in the shadowy darkness of the vacant room.
“But why would they visit us?” Bonham gazed at each of his companions in turn. “We’re four lecherous lords. They knew it, too. Stella even said we weren’t quite men.”
“Yet,” Chauncy corrected him. “She did say yet.”
There was a beat of silence, and then from far away, bells began to ring from St. Paul’s. Christmas had come to London.
And so had hope.
“Right,” said Berwick, his voice steady and strong. “Off to that ball.”
“And to dancing with the wallflowers,” added Chauncy.
“Before we dance with the Goodman girls.” Deare grinned.
“Ah, the Goodman girls,” said Bonham lightly. “They’re probably not missing us in the least.”
And without another word, the four earls left the house, pulling the door gently shut behind them--a little closer to being men already.
All the single ladies want him.
If life were a fairy tale, Daisy Montgomery’s stepmother and two stepsisters would surely be cast in the wicked roles. For years, they’ve made life miserable for Daisy. But when she discovers she has a godmother, she’s determined to ask her for help. Little did Daisy expect her godmother to play matchmaker with her very own grandson—who happens to be a viscount!
Is he ready to put a ring on it?
A freewheeling playboy, Charles Thorpe, Viscount Lumley, is bored with his wealth-seeking female admirers. Not only that, he’s been cut off from the family coffers. One day, on a bet, he rids himself of what little money he has left in his pockets and vows to solve problems using his wits alone. But when the Impossible Bachelor is confronted with Daisy’s plan to save her castle, the payoff is more than he could have bargained for. Sometimes, if you give a girl a viscount, you just might find love….
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