A Lily Among Thorns - By Rose Lerner
This book had two editors. I’d like to thank the first, Leah Hultenschmidt, for caring so much about this book’s success and for spotting exactly what it was missing, and the second, Chris Keeslar, for being kind and welcoming to an author nervous about change. I’d like to thank Tanya at Dorchester’s marketing department for making things much less scary for a newbie author, and Renee in production for making my books so pretty. I’d also like to thank my fabulous copyeditor, Kim Runciman, for asking good questions and saving me from many embarrassing errors and anachronisms.
Thank you, of course, to my agent, Kevan Lyon, for being unfailingly even-keeled and good at your job, and just all-around awesome.
Thank you to this book’s first readers and cheerleaders: Matti Klock, Dina Aronzon, Greg Holt, Steve Holt, and my mother, who all provided key pieces and made me believe the story had a future. Thank you to more recent ones: Gwen Mitchell for helping get the first three chapters in shape, Sonia Portnoy-Leemon for getting me through that nerve-racking time between submission and the revision letter, and Kate Addison for helpful feedback, helpful squee, and explaining why Serena couldn’t be eating a hot cross bun.
Thank you to my fellow members of the Greater Seattle RWA for your advice, support, and friendship, and for putting on an amazing conference every year. I can’t even begin to list the ways you’ve helped me. Thank you to all my friends and family for believing in me, for being fabulous, funny, and generous, and for making my heart grow three sizes on a regular basis.
And, finally and always, thanks to the Demimondaines: Alyssa Everett, Karen Dobbins, Vonnie Hughes, and especially Susanna Fraser, for seeing this book through several drafts and more than one identity crisis. I am so lucky to belong to a group of not just talented writers and wonderful friends, but also talented critiquers, who understand how a book fits together under its skin, and week after week tell me the hard truth kindly and tactfully.
September 29, 1809
Solomon Hathaway was drunk. He was drunk, and he didn’t want to go to a brothel. On the other hand, Mme Deveraux’s front steps were cold and windy. “‘The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein,’” he said, and clung to the wrought-iron railing.
Ashton and Braithwaite shared a disbelieving look. “Is the parson’s son quoting Scripture again?” said Ashton.
“Don’t—don’t call me that.”
“D’you prefer ‘tailor’s nephew’?” Braithwaite asked. Drink always made him cruel.
Ashton snickered. “Leave off. It’s normal for a virgin to be nervous.”
Solomon straightened. The motion made his head whirl. “I’m going back to the hotel.”
Ashton grabbed his sleeve. “Oh, don’t take it like that, Hathaway. Come along, this is the best house in London! This is why we came up to town on quarter day, isn’t it? To spend our blunt on things we can’t get in Cambridge?”
“Yes . . .” Solomon was already regretting it. He should have gone home and let Elijah lecture him on obscure French poetry instead. “I was going to buy a cal—calor—calorimeter.”
“It measures heat. Lavoisier disproved the existence of phlogiston with it. No, wait—I’m getting my experiments confused—”
Braithwaite pushed open the door of the brothel. “He’s just making up words now. I’m going in. If Hathaway wants to turn twenty-one without ever knowing the touch of a woman, let him.” Heat gusted out in his wake, and after a moment his two friends followed him.
Inside, Solomon took a deep breath into his cold lungs—and choked on an attar-of-roses fog. Scalding tears sprang to his eyes, refracting the room into red and gilt and skin. A great deal of skin, multiplied by dozens of elegant mirrors. He averted his eyes, but not before a flash of petticoat revealed raised red welts on a smooth thigh.
A girl touched his arm, startling him. She was pale and dark and hit him like a fever, hot and cold at once. But even that chill grounded him, blocking out the heat of the salon. Were the fires kept too high, or had the brandy affected his senses? It would be an interesting experiment, the exact effects of alcohol on the blood—
“Come upstairs,” she said.
Solomon blinked, focused his eyes on her again. She was looking at him, but her eyes were empty. Nothing there. No human connection at all. He swallowed, trying to keep the bile down. “I think I should go.”
“You’ll like it.”
He followed her