Read Brook Street: Thief Online

Authors: Ava March

Brook Street: Thief

Brook Street: Thief

By Ava March

London, 1822

It was only supposed to be one night.
One night to determine once and for all if he truly preferred men. But the last thing Lord Benjamin Parker expected to find in a questionable gambling hall in Cheapside is a gorgeous young man who steals his heart.

It was only supposed to be a job.
Cavin Fox has done it many times—select a prime mark, distract him with lust, and leave his pockets empty. Yet when Cavin slips away under the cover of darkness, the only part of Benjamin he leaves untouched
is
his pockets.

With a taste of his fantasies fulfilled, Benjamin wants more than one night with Cavin. But convincing the elusive young man to give them a chance proves difficult. Cavin lives with a band of thieves in the worst area of London, and he knows there’s no place for him in a gentleman’s life. Yet Benjamin isn’t about to let Cavin—and love—continue to slip away from him.

40,000 words

Dear Reader,

It’s hard to get excited about the month of March. The weather in this part of the world isn’t quite spring, and if it’s still cold, can make a long winter feel even longer. There are no fun holidays to look forward to except the green beer, corned beef and cabbage of St. Patrick’s Day, and the school season is at a point where the kids are starting to whine about having to wake up in the morning and go.

That’s why I’m excited about our 2012 March releases at Carina Press. The variety and excellence of the stories give us a reason to anticipate and enjoy the month of March! The rich diversity of these books promises a fantastic reading month at Carina.

Kicking off the month is mystery author Shirley Wells, returning with her popular Dylan Scott Mystery series. Joining her book
Silent Witness
at the beginning of March is BDSM erotic romance
Forbidden Fantasies
by Jodie Griffin; Christine Danse’s paranormal romance
Beauty in the Beast;
and a romantic steampunk gothic horror that’s like no steampunk you’ve ever read,
Heart of Perdition
by Selah March.

Later in the month, fans of Cindy Spencer Pape will be glad to see her return with another paranormal romance installment,
Motor City Mage,
while Janis Susan May returns with another creepy gothic mystery,
Inheritance of Shadows.
Historical romance lovers will be more than pleased with
A Kiss in the Wind,
Jennifer Bray-Weber’s inaugural Carina Press release.

I expect new Carina Press authors Joan Kilby, Gillian Archer and Nicole Luiken will gain faithful followings with their books:
Gentlemen Prefer Nerds,
an entertaining contemporary romance;
Wicked Weekend,
a sexy and sweet BDSM erotic romance; and
Gate to Kandrith,
the first of a fantasy duology that features wonderful world-building. Meanwhile, returning Carina authors Robert Appleton and Carol Stephenson do what they do best: continue to capture readers’ imaginations. Grab a copy of science-fiction space opera
Alien Velocity
and hot romantic suspense
Her Dark Protector.

Rounding out the month, we have an entire week of releases from some of today’s hottest authors in m/m romance, as well as some newcomers to the genre. Ava March kicks off her entertaining and hot m/m historical romance trilogy with
Brook Street: Thief
. Look for the other two books in the trilogy,
Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
and
Brook Street: Rogue,
in April and May 2012. Erastes, who can always be counted on to deliver a compelling, well-researched historical, gives us m/m paranormal historical romance
A Brush with Darkness,
and science-fiction author Kim Knox makes her debut in the m/m genre with her sci-fi romance
Bitter Harvest.
KC Burn gives us the stunning m/m contemporary romance
First Time, Forever.
Joining them are new Carina Press authors Dev Bentham, with a sweet, heartfelt m/m romance,
Moving in Rhythm,
and Larry Benjamin with his terrific debut novel, m/m romance
What Binds Us.

As you can see, March comes in like a lion but will not go out like a lamb. All month long we offer powerful stories from our talented authors. I hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Angela—for being a fabulous editor and for giving me the opportunity to make this trilogy possible.

Chapter One

March 1822
London, England

Lord Benjamin Parker exited the hackney and reached up to hand a few coins to the driver. “That will be all.”

With a tip of his head, the driver pocketed the coins. A flick of his wrists, and the long leather lines slapped against the horse’s back.

The moment the carriage lurched forward, Benjamin opened his mouth, the words to call the driver back on his tongue, but then he snapped his jaw shut. It wasn’t as if he were in the stews, where drivers with any common sense rarely ventured, especially this late in the evening. And while he had hailed the hackney a couple of blocks from his Mayfair town house, it
had
been only a couple of blocks.

Best to have let that one go. No need to ask the driver to wait when in all probability he wouldn’t have need of it for many hours.

Or would he?

He glanced about. The handful of streetlamps lining Silver Street illuminated a series of nondescript buildings, none of which resembled a hotel or anyplace that would let rooms for the night. But the patrons had to go somewhere…unless the hell had rooms.

That thought didn’t appeal. A shudder of revulsion gripped his spine. Too close of a resemblance to a molly house.

Uncertainty began to seep into his stomach, already knotted with nerves, but he pushed it aside. He would do this. Was determined to do this. After months upon months—nay, years—of debating and questioning himself, he had finally come to a decision. He was tired of the unknown, tired of fighting those feelings and even more tired of worrying about the ramifications if his suspicions proved correct. In a few weeks the Season would begin, and he refused to go through another one with that particular question hanging over his head. Before the not-so-subtle nudges from his brothers and sisters started anew to find a wife among the bevies of young ladies, he would know the truth about himself. And either way, he would accept it.

In any case, it wasn’t as if he’d find the answer to the night’s logistical options standing along the street.

With that, he gave his tan coat a tug to straighten it and set off toward the red brick building a bit farther up the street. One would not know by looking at it that it was a gambling hell, but that wasn’t uncommon. What made this one unique, what made it his destination, was its clientele…if rumor proved true.

“Unless you’re of an unnatural persuasion, best to avoid Clements.”

Roger’s drawling voice, backed with an unmistakable note of revulsion, echoed in his head. His eldest brother, the Marquis of Haverson, would never again invite Benjamin to another hunting excursion at the family seat if he discovered his comment made during a discussion about the merits of the various hells about London had not immediately put Benjamin off the place.

Rather it’d had the opposite effect.

Benjamin stopped before the plain black door. The number twelve painted on a square of wood beneath the lamp to the left of the door confirmed he had arrived at Clements. A single knock would summon the guard, gain him entrance and hopefully lead to an answer to the question that had plagued him for years.

If no one suits, I can simply leave,
he reminded himself for what felt like the tenth time since he’d walked out of his town house less than an hour ago.

The nerves gripping his stomach eased a notch. Fist clenched, he raised his arm.

The sound of his knock echoed in his ears.

The door opened. The burly guard barely glanced at him before stepping aside, allowing Benjamin to enter.

Following the sounds of boisterous voices and the distinct clatter of roulette marbles, he passed through the small entrance hall and stopped just inside of what appeared to be the main room of the house.

Brass chandeliers, which looked as if they hadn’t seen the attention of a maid in months, hung from the ceiling, illuminating the packs of bodies around the tables scattered throughout the room. The floorboards were scuffed and sticky from spilled liquor, and the lingering scent of dried sweat and greed hung in the air. Definitely a far cry from the hells he was accustomed to, but that was rather the point of the evening.

He passed his gaze over the crowd before him, noting how a fair number of patrons stood quite close to another, more than crossing the line of male camaraderie. Shoulder pressed against shoulder, a hand that lingered on a hip, an intimate lean to whisper in an ear. Regardless, he wasn’t dim enough to believe every man there would fit his primary requirement. Surely there had to be some who favored the lush swells of breasts over a hard wall of muscle. Was there even a way to tell upon first glance if a man preferred other men? But if that was the case, then did his acquaintances already know the truth about him?

He shook that worry aside. While he wasn’t entirely certain, he suspected a couple of his friends favored a hard wall of muscle. He didn’t fool himself into believing he was the most handsome man in a room, but he wasn’t horrid either. He had been labeled “a pleasant fellow” more times than he cared to count. If one of his friends believed he was open to male partners, certainly he would have been approached by now. A hint, a nudge, something. But there had been nothing, not even when he’d been full in his cups and had found himself alone with one of them.

In a way he was thankful he had never received a nudge toward something more. What if his inexperience turned the thing into a disaster? What if his suspicions were wrong and in the heat of the moment he discovered he didn’t truly prefer men? Best to avoid what could prove a very awkward situation.

Hence why the hell posed such a lure. It was far from Mayfair, far enough to bring the probability of seeing someone he knew close enough to zero for his comfort. The place had never even been listed as an option during debates with his friends over which hell to frequent on a particular night. Clements offered complete anonymity, and with that precious commodity came the freedom he sorely needed to see tonight through to completion.

He stepped farther into the room. Might as well pick out a man that interested him first, then… Well, he could simply strike up a conversation with the fellow and see where it led. It shouldn’t be all that difficult to tell if his interest was returned. He could usually gauge a woman’s interest, and men were far less complex creatures.

Striving to appear casual, he scanned the clusters of men as he passed each table. No, no, and definitely not that one. He cringed as a brown coat stretched across a broad back as a man leaned forward to place a bet at a roulette table. Much too large and foreboding. At five-foot-ten, Benjamin wasn’t a slight slip of a man, but that one looked like he could crush Benjamin under his weight. His gaze skipped across those with bulging bellies or balding heads. Someone closer to his own age would be preferred. He didn’t need handsome, either. An average gent like himself would do.

His attention paused on one such average gent. Brown hair, tidy clothes, a genial smile on his lips as he picked up the chips a croupier pushed toward him. But…nothing. Not even a tiny spark of interest reached Benjamin’s prick.

By the time he reached the back of the room, he still hadn’t felt anything that approached interest toward any man he’d seen. He cast his gaze once more over the various tables but… Again nothing.

The heavy weight of disappointment settled over him, chasing away every trace of nervous anticipation. His shoulders slumped. After finally getting up the ballocks to come here, the effort had been for naught.

One night, that was all he wanted. One night to determine once and for all if he truly preferred men. But it appeared as though that one night would not be tonight.

Should he return tomorrow and try again? No, couldn’t do that. He was hosting a small dinner party tomorrow evening. Maybe the next night then? But what if it proved a repeat of tonight? Clements had seemed ideal. It was the only place he was aware of where men who preferred other men tended to gather. He knew of the existence of molly houses, but didn’t know where exactly to find one. Not that he’d ever frequent such an establishment. The thought of paying a man held absolutely no appeal. At least Clements held the hope of finding someone who genuinely returned his interest and wasn’t simply after a fold of pound notes.

Suppressing a sigh, he took up the only empty stool at a crowded
vingt-et-un
table. Might as well play a few hands while he was there.

Perhaps his expectations for tonight were too high? He pulled a handful of coins from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. But it wasn’t as if he had an image of an ideal man set in his head. The wicked thoughts that fueled his solitary nights were more…sensations. A hard, strong body. Solid muscle beneath his hands. Not a hint of lilac or rosewater beneath his tongue. Nothing but the stark, pure scent of a man. The scent that pulled at his gut whenever he walked into the fencing academy.

The dealer pushed a small stack of chips toward him. Benjamin placed one chip on the table. With a quick, practiced flick of the wrist, the dealer dealt two cards to each player and then put a card facedown in front of himself.

Dealer’s seven versus his own ten and a five. Benjamin tapped once on the table and received a four of hearts. He waved a hand over his cards to signal the stay. Not bad. He just might win.

And win he did against the house’s eighteen. He ignored the groan from the man on his right as the fellow shoved his losing cards toward the dealer and turned from the table, bumping Benjamin in the shoulder.

Benjamin’s luck came and went over the next few hands, leaving him hovering around even. He watched as the dealer snatched up his single chip and his twenty-two. Deliberately keeping his bet low, he placed another chip onto the table. At least he wouldn’t arrive home disappointed and with empty pockets.

“Good evening.”

A masculine voice with a gorgeous lyrical hint behind it washed over him. The hairs on his nape pricked. His cock twitched behind the placket of his trousers. He sensed a body take up the empty stool on his right.

He hesitated before looking to the voice’s owner.

Please, let the man match that voice.

He glanced right and met deep blue eyes.

Good God.
The man more than matched that gorgeous voice.

Dark blond hair with a trace of a wave curled over his ears. Full lips tipped in the beginnings of a friendly smile. A slightly crooked nose that somehow fit his handsome face. A face that still held a bit of boyish beauty. The width of his shoulders indicated he was nowhere near a boy, but Benjamin doubted he approached his own five-and-twenty.

The man pulled a handful of chips from the pocket of his coat, dropped them onto the table and pushed two into his betting box. “Table any good tonight?”

Benjamin snapped his jaw shut and nodded. Then he thought better of his response. The last thing he wanted was for the man to walk away, but it wasn’t well done to exaggerate either. “Well, the table’s decent. Shouldn’t take all your money, but I doubt it will leave you a rich man.”

“Good thing I gave up that hope long ago then.”

Cards whisked from the dealer’s hands, coming to rest neatly in front of each player. Benjamin stayed on his ten and nine. His gaze was locked on the other man’s cards as he rubbed a contemplating finger across the seven of diamonds next to a king. A knick marred the smooth skin just below his knuckle. The pale red mark bunched and flexed as the man tapped the card, asking for another.

Three of spades. A relieved breath whooshed from Benjamin’s chest.

The house busted, making them both winners.

The man scooped up two of his chips, leaving the remainder in his betting box. Benjamin followed his lead, leaving his original bet on the green baize.

“Always nice to win the first go at a table. Bodes well for a good night, don’t you agree?” the man asked.

“Most assuredly.” He hoped it boded well for more than simply a
good
night.

“Care for a drink?” At Benjamin’s nod, he twisted at the waist to motion to a serving girl passing behind them. A knee bumped Benjamin’s thigh. Sensation shot straight to his groin. “What would you like?”

That knee stayed pressed to Benjamin’s thigh. He swallowed hard before replying, “How about a brandy?”

“Would love one, but they don’t serve it. Only ale or gin.”

Benjamin scowled. “Rather drink from the Thames than have a sip of gin.”

A distinct spark of laughter lit the man’s blue eyes. Those full lips curved into a genuine smile, displaying a single dimple in his left cheek. He turned back to the girl. “Two pints of ale, and be quick about it, my dear.”

In the blink of an eye, a pint was placed at Benjamin’s elbow. Before he could reach into his pocket for a coin, his companion flicked two chips onto the serving girl’s tray.

“Thank you. And I’ll get the next set,” Benjamin added.

The man tipped his head. He took a sip from his pint, leaving a faint sheen of ale on his lips. “Drinkable stuff. Not that anyone seeks out Clements for the ale.” He turned his attention to the cards before him and lowered his voice. “Or the tables.”

“Indeed,” Benjamin murmured, before taking a long swallow of ale. The dealer started a new game, giving him an ace and a six.

“What do you say? Split or stay?”

Benjamin glanced to the man’s cards. “Two nines against a nine? Always split.”

“Always?” he asked, with a teasing arch of a brow, which left Benjamin with the distinct impression that he didn’t actually need his help in the slightest.

“Always,” Benjamin reiterated, playing along. “Well, unless the house plays by rules I’m not aware of.”

“Split it is then.” The man pushed out two more chips.

There was a hint of something else in his voice, a faint coarseness working against the gorgeous lilt. Chin tipped down, Benjamin studied him from the corner of his eye. Adequately tailored black coat. A black waistcoat similar to his own. Cravat tied in a simple knot. A casual informality to his posture. Likely a merchant’s son, and not the variety of merchant that owned a shop along Bond Street.

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