Julius's Passion (Regency Club Venus #4) - Carole Mortimer

Chapter One

Early February, 1819

Suffolk, England

“We will shortly be arriving at the village of Lavenham, which, as you know, is only two miles from the Ipswich estate.” Lord Julius Soames, the Earl of Andover, glanced at the young man dressed in the plan clothes of a valet, and seated opposite him in the carriage. “Is there anything else I need to know before I leave you to deal with the damage to the carriage while I ride to Ipswich Park?”

Or rather, the damage which would shortly be deliberately inflicted upon the carriage they were currently traveling in, so as to give the appearance of Julius being stranded in the area for several days.

He was hoping Adrian Metford, currently the Earl of Ipswich and in residence at Ipswich Park, would offer him somewhere more salubrious than the small local inn for his accommodation.

Lord James Metford scowled across at him. “Is it not enough that you know my Uncle Adrian is the bastard who paid men to kill me ten years ago so that he could steal my title?”

“And yet you are not dead, and we are here to gather information so that you might reclaim your title,” Julius reminded calmly.

James glared. “It was pure happenchance I did not die that day those men attacked me and left me floating in the Thames.”

“I am aware of those dire circumstances, James.” Julius accepted the rebuke. “Luckily, instead of dying, you were rescued by several young men residing in St Giles.” His frown of displeasure was for the fact that slums like St Giles still existed. He had brought the subject up several times in the House, with the result very few of his peers had backed him up.

James nodded. “When they could just as easily have slit my throat for the clothes I was wearing.” His grin was full of affection for the three men who, instead of killing him, had become his closest friends and associates in the ten years since saving his life.

“That they could,” Julius acknowledged. “Nevertheless, I am pleased you were able to persuade them to remain in London rather than having them accompany us into Suffolk,” he added dryly.

James’s friends could occasionally be overly exuberant in the protection they had shown since rescuing him. Twice. Once from drowning in the river, and a second time when they had hidden James from his uncle’s thugs after their employer had asked them to produce confirmation his nephew was dead. That protection had even stretched so far as providing a dead body for the authorities to find and release into the care of the new Earl of Ipswich, purporting it to be that of his nephew, James Metford.

James assured Julius his gang of three had not killed anyone, and that the body had been “a floater” which had been in the Thames for the same number of days as James should have been. Time and tide, along with the frequency of river vessels passing to and fro, had ensured the body was too bloated and damaged to be recognizable.

Julius was still slightly in awe of how James, badly beaten and homeless, and aged only sixteen, had turned his situation around. Not only had he been taken in by those three ragamuffins from St Giles, but over time, he had become their leader. Occasionally, they carried out an illegal act, but more often than not, it was done as a means of helping one of the other families living in St Giles. Indeed, James and his friends had become known as a modern day Robin Hood and—in James’s case—his gang of thieves, stealing from the rich to help the poor.

Most of the rich might not appreciate that sentiment, but Julius had only admiration for James and his gang of three.

Probably because he knew he was subject to some of Society’s disapproval in regard to himself. Not openly, because his title and friendship with the Prince Regent prevented anyone from daring to do that. But in private, he knew many believed him to have spent the years of war between England and Napoleon taking advantage of his position and ignoring the fighting to instead enjoy social events and run his estates. Julius was not at liberty to tell them what he had really been doing during those years, which was acting as a spy for the Crown.

“There is still the possibility I shall send for my friends if we cannot find any evidence and need to adopt a different…approach to the problem,” James warned.

The younger