Jack Dandy wasn’t his real name. It had been chosen carefully with another man in mind. This man had earned the moniker “the Dandy” by being a fashion plate, a man of style, breeding and grace. He was Jack’s father, though Jack had scarcely laid eyes on the man, other than when he’d received money for schooling. That expensive education had served no other purpose than to rub Jack’s face in the life that could have been his, if only his father’d had the guts to marry his mother instead of using her and tossing her aside.
Oh, and it had taught him how to use people. How to manipulate, charm and rob them blind. It had taught him how to spot weakness, and how to hide his own. That was perhaps the most important lesson, though learning that he would never, ever be more than an unfortunate mistake as far as his father was concerned followed at a close second.
A most unfortunate mistake indeed—one he intended to see the old man pay for. One day.
But for now he was Jack Dandy, prince of the London underworld at barely one and twenty. He had more “associates” than enemies and more enemies than friends.
And he had no family, aside from that stranger of a father, whom he thought of every time he entertained a new criminal venture. Almost everything Jack did was with his father’s ruination and embarrassment in mind.
So when word reached him that Lord Charles Abernathy—Viscount Breckenridge—wished to set up a meeting, Jack let the viscount know he was available the following afternoon.
Abernathy was a friend of his father.
Most likely his father knew little, if not nothing, of Abernathy’s need for a man of Jack’s particular skill set, but word of the meeting would reach the earl, and he would wonder what his friend wanted with his bastard son. That was good enough for Jack.
He went to the heavy armoire in his bedroom and opened the double doors so that the tidy contents were revealed to him all at once. Most of his wardrobe was black—with touches of white, red and gray. It wasn’t that he didn’t like color—in fact he liked it very much—but he’d worked hard to build a reputation for himself and how he dressed was part of it. It was all in the presentation.
He tossed his black brocade dressing gown on the bed, rolled his neck and shoulders, and selected a pair of black trousers. They slid softly over his naked legs, the fabric cool and sleek. Next, a black shirt, perfectly pressed, followed by a black silk cravat and dark gray waistcoat. Black stockings followed, along with highly polished black boots with a squared toe. A long black velvet frock coat that hugged his back and shoulders topped it all off.
Jack ran his fingers through his long, wavy black hair, set a top hat on his head and collected his gloves. He had shaved earlier in the bath, and he smelled of sandalwood. Abernathy probably expected him to reek of brimstone, as the devil ought.
But Jack Dandy wasn’t the devil. He was just the son of one.
He made his way downstairs. He lived alone, but there were usually a few hangers-on lazing about on his sofas, smoking his cigars and drinking his absinthe. He had a little group of blokes who seemed to fancy themselves “Dandy Boys.” They were petty criminals with piercings in their faces and walking sticks in their hands. Mostly bored aristocratic brats. They were tedious at best.
But they supplied the best information when one wanted to know all the scandals of the Mayfair crowd, of which his father was a part.
Griffin King was also part of that crowd, but there was rarely any gossip about the reclusive young man—not that Jack cared to know it. He hadn’t quite decided if the Duke of Greythorne was friend or foe. Come to think of it, though, the fact that he’d won Finley’s favor made King slightly more likable than others of his kind.
Finley Jayne. The thought of her made him smile. For a moment he entertained romantic thoughts of her, but she deserved better than a debauched cretin such as himself. Tough as she was, his Treasure needed someone strong enough to look after her. Jack was strong enough for the task; he just hadn’t the heart for it. Still, she was possibly his best friend—if anyone could claim that title—and he liked to use their relationship to poke at King, who was entirely too easy to make jealous. It was barely even sport.
And, if he admitted it, she was the closest to love he’d ever come. That was reason in itself to leave her be.
“Brought your carriage ‘round, Jack,” called a young man from his parlor.
Jack turned his head and smiled at the lad. This one wasn’t an aristo’s brat. This was Henry, who had been born into circumstances much like Jack’s. Only, Henry had been tossed out of the brothel when the madam had caught him with one of the girls.
A boy after Jack’s own black heart, he was. Thirteen years old, smart and eager. Someday, he’d challenge Jack’s position in Whitechapel, but for now he was one less boy on the streets.
“Fanks, mate. Help yourself to luncheon in the pantry, but keeps your dirty fingers out of me absinthe, or I’ll cuts ’em off, do you forstand?”
The youth nodded, but he grinned. “Aye, Jack. Be there cake?”
Jack rolled his eyes. Other than girls, all the boy seemed to think of was cake. “On the sideboard. Save me a slab. I’ll be back for tea.” Normally he wouldn’t have dropped that last bit of information, but sometimes Henry worried if he was gone too long. That’s what happened when fathers and whores abandoned their sons.
Jack opened the door and stepped out into the overcast afternoon. A warm breeze kept the damp from seeping into a fellow’s bones.