In Bed with the Earl (Lost Lords of London #1) - Christi Caldwell


Some twenty years earlier

London, England

“Keep up, ya little shite, or ya’re going back in the bag.”

Noooo. Not the bag.

Percival couldn’t go in there again. He couldn’t breathe in there. And it was so dark. So very dark. And he hated the dark.

That alone was enough to jar Percival Northrop into quickening his pace.

Or he tried to. He really did.

But he was just so tired, and every part of his body ached.

“Oi said faster.” A rough fist caught him hard between his shoulder blades, and he stumbled, pitched forward, and would have landed flat on his face.

The only thing to prevent it was when the tall, toothless man who’d been herding him along caught Percival by his hair. “Stay on yar feet,” he growled, yanking those strands so hard he whipped Percival’s head back.

His head hurt.

And not even like the sickness that had made him and his parents and all their household ill.

The stranger released him, and Percy bit his lip to keep it from trembling.

The man scoffed. “Ya’re a slow shite, aren’t ya?”

Tears filled Percy’s eyes. But he didn’t want to cry. He didn’t want them to see him do it. Even though his papa and mama had always said there was no shame in weakness, the men who’d snatched him didn’t seem to be of the same opinion. Neither the man who was hurting him nor the other ugly man, hairy like the bear his papa had shown him in an illustrated book, didn’t like tears at all. It made them angry and impatient.

Unlike Percival’s mama and papa.

Mama . . . Papa . . .

And this time, the tears fell freely. They coursed down Percy’s cheeks until they were warm and itched his face.

He missed his mama and papa. He missed them so much. He didn’t care what the mean men who’d taken him from that horrible place said about his crying.

Trembling, he stumbled, trying to keep up. Not because he wanted to go with them. He didn’t. He was trying to move as quickly as he could because when he slowed, they prodded him in the back, forcing him forward.

Only it was so hard to keep walking.

He still hurt from the fire in his chest, as his mama had called it. It burnt inside even now, and Percy hadn’t been out of his bed—any bed—since his sickness.

Until these men had come to his bed. Stood over it. Then, one of the men had given the mean nurse some coins, and the other stranger had tossed Percy into a sack and over his shoulder. Percy had been struggling to breathe since.

Now, Percy’s heartbeat came loud in his ears. Like the times he’d race his papa so fast and so hard that it had climbed into his ears and pounded hard there. So loud he could barely hear his and Papa’s laughter.

It was too much. He couldn’t do it.

Percy fell down.

He yelped, and put his hands out, but they scraped the rough stones, ripping up his skin.

“Oi said not a word, ya shite.”

The man hit Percy on the back of his head so hard it slammed him forward into the stone. He couldn’t even cry out. Blood filled his mouth. There was a rock on his tongue. Only it wasn’t a rock . . .

He spit a tooth out.

They broke my tooth. “You broke my tooth,” he whispered.

And then he cried.

Because he’d never lost one before. His tutor had said they’d one day fall out, and Percy hadn’t slept for nights and nights because he’d been so very afraid of when that day would come: his teeth falling out of his mouth. But now, these men had done it. These mean, ugly, angry strangers. Percy cried all the harder and curled his hand around his tooth.

“Let’s just cut ’im,” the bearish man whispered. “Oi told ya he was too weak. We’ll find another one.”

“We already paid the coin for this one,” the other stranger spat. And then he turned to Percy. “Forget yar damned tooth. Or Oi’ll break yar bloody head,” he growled as he yanked Percy up on his feet. “Get movin’.”

And Percy knew he was supposed to be afraid. He knew they were going to hurt him and then kill him. But he didn’t want to die. Even though when they killed him, he’d get to go see Mama and Papa. But he was an earl’s son and had responsibilities that now fell to him.

Papa was now in heaven, and Percy was all that remained of the Northrop line.