The Wicked Quills of London # 1 & 2
A man rich in wealth and scandal walked into Eleanor Hawke's office.
Eleanor was no stranger to scandal. Anything immoral, disreputable, shocking, or titillating made its way into the pages of her newspaper—particularly if it involved the wealthy and elite of London Society. She detailed all of it for her thrice weekly publication, The Hawk's Eye. Nobody wanted to read about ordinary shopkeeper Mr. Jones who might or might not be spending time with the humdrum widow Mrs. Smith.
No, The Hawk's Eye sold strictly on the basis that it published the latest scandalous doings of Lord This and Lady That. All, of course, under the pretense of decrying the lack of morals in this fair city, and that these lurid activities ought to serve as object lessons to the young and impressionable.
And it was Eleanor's job as owner and publisher to see to the moral education of London.
Which was utter rubbish, naturally.
But scandal put bread on her table and kept the rain off her head, and she readily immersed herself in it—the spirit of free enterprise, and all that.
Still, when Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford himself walked into the offices of The Hawk's Eye on a Wednesday afternoon, blocking the gray light as the door opened and closed, it was both shocking and inevitable that he should do so. Unsurprisingly, he clenched several copies of her paper in his hand.
Lord Ashford marched through the cramped warren of rooms, writers' heads lifting from where they bent over their desks to watch in open-mouthed amazement as he passed. Eleanor’s private office lay at the end of the corridor, giving her an ample view of the scene as it played out before her.
The earl stopped in front of Harry Welker's desk. The young writer stared up at the Lord Ashford, the men separated not just by the expanse of battered oak, but circumstance and birth.
“H…how might I help you, my lord?” Harry asked, his voice cracking.
“Tell me where Mister E. Hawke is.” Lord Ashford had a deep voice, rounded by generations of excellent breeding and noblesse oblige.
“Mister Hawke, my lord?” patent confusion in his voice.
Lord Ashford pointed to one of the papers he carried. “It says here that The Hawk's Eye is owned and published by one E. Hawke. Where will I find him?”
“Nowhere, my lord,” Harry answered. “There's no Mister Hawke here.”
The earl scowled, clearly not used to being denied. “This scurrilous rag cannot publish itself.”
“It doesn’t,” Eleanor announced, setting aside her quill and standing. “If you're looking for Miss Eleanor Hawke, I’m right over here.”
Lord Ashford looked directly at her, and for the first time, she had a sense of what a rabbit might feel like when sited by a wolf. But she wasn't the only one at a disadvantage. The earl couldn't hide the shock in his expression when he discovered that the publisher and owner of the paper was, in truth, a woman—which gave her a small measure of gratification.
He turned from Harry without another word and walked straight toward her. And she could only stand, pinned by his gaze, as he approached.
The closer he got, the more she realized how dangerous the earl was. Perhaps not in the traditional sense—though she'd heard and written about the duels in which he'd fought and won—but certainly in the realm of masculine allure. Her few times seeing him were from a distance: the theater, the races, at a public assembly. She knew him by sight, but he didn’t know her, and they’d never met. And in those instances her vision had been good enough to recognize that he was a fine specimen, well-formed, handsome—everything a rich and notorious nobleman should be.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be… and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.
Enter Phoebe, in country dress.
Phoebe: What a task I have set before me!
The Shattered Heart
The curtain at the Imperial Theater fell. The audience rose to its collective feet and applauded.
Standing in his theater box, adding his own applause, Cameron Chalton, Viscount of Marwood was filled with excitement. Much as Cam enjoyed the theater—he went practically every night, and often saw the same work over and over, enjoying it anew each time—half the pleasure came after the performances.
“What say you, Marwood?” drawled Lord Eberhart, one of Cam’s companions for the evening. “Gaming at Donnegan’s? Shall we away to the rout at Lord Larkin’s? He’s brought in a whole bevy of beauties from France just for the occasion.”
“Why choose?” Cam answered with a laugh. “The night’s in its infancy, and we can do anything at all.”
“Good point.” Eberhart grinned. He wasn’t the brightest star in the firmament, but ever since Cam’s good friend Ashford had wed and settled into marital bliss, Cam couldn’t afford to be as selective with his company. Besides, Eberhart was always up for a night’s revelry. “Let’s go.”
“Not yet,” Cam answered, watching the theater slowly empty.
The Imperial was smaller than the other popular theaters in London, with only three tiers for seats and boxes, plus a smaller pit and orchestra. Yet it wasn’t shabby. The proprietors kept its appearance well. Painted plaster friezes depicting scenes from mythology adorned the fronts of the boxes, and blue velvet curtains draped the sides and top of the stage. Gas lamps provided lighting.
The boxes now released their occupants like tropical birds flying free of their cages. In the pit, the younger, wilder set laughed and boasted, jostling one another, flirting, arguing. Orange girls and women of fast reputation circulated freely among the young men.
Cam’s status prevented him from sitting in the pit anymore, but he missed it. The energy, the rowdiness. Still, he couldn’t complain, not when he’d just watched a performance of a work written by the celebrated and mysterious Mrs. Delamere. Not when the evening opened up for him like an endless banquet. One he would sample to his heart’s content. But not quite at this moment.
“Tell you what, Eberhart,” Cam continued, turning back to his companion. “I’ll meet you at Donnegan’s, then we’ll sally forth from there onto Larkin’s.”
“Going to circulate?” Eberhart said with a grin.
“This is my kingdom,” Cam replied with a wink. “I must inevitably tour my realm. Inspect its crops.”
“Of actresses.” His friend leered.
Cam tilted his head in acknowledgment. “Merely a part of my dominion.”
“Enjoy, Your Highness.” With a chuckle, Eberhart slipped from the box and out into the night. Once his friend had gone, Cam took one last minute to enjoy the theater’s house as patrons continued to leisurely make their way. The thrills from the performance still resonated in Cam’s body, palpable as electricity crackling along his veins. Though he’d seen this particular work several times, it never lost its excitement—the soaring highs and resounding lows that came from watching characters’ love and loss. He especially loved how the heroine thoroughly humiliated the aristocratic villain before gaining her tragic vengeance against him.