Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wicked Game by Jade Falconer

Niels Eriksson strolled down the cobblestone path of the park, alongside the manicured landscaping, and pretended for a little while that he belonged there. The trips served a dual purpose. Besides indulging his taste for the finer things in life on the cheap, Niels cased the mansions that surrounded the park. If he could just keep his eyes open, follow the society column in the papers, figure out when which house would be empty, he could break in and come away with a lovely haul of goodies.

Stealing from the rich was far riskier than stealing from the poor, but the benefits outweighed that danger. No one he knew was willing to go into it with him. It was probably just as well. More people meant a greater chance of being caught.

There was one house he'd had his eye on for some time. He hadn't actually seen the master of the house, but he knew who he was. He enjoyed being able to converse with high society during his Sunday outings, making them believe he was simply a foreigner conducting business in London, and he'd learned quite a lot about the house and its occupant. The man lived alone. He was some sort of aristocrat, and it had been implied that he was something of a rakehell. Niels respected that. With that much money, Niels was sure he'd break every heart in England given half a chance. He'd drink and gamble and spend money frivolously and sleep with a different beauty every night and never fall asleep before daybreak.

He sighed and took a seat on a wrought iron bench facing the house in question. Tonight. There was a huge ball that surely this man was invited to. Midnight. No respectable rake would be whiling away the hours in front of his own hearth at midnight, anyway.

* * * *
Richard Essex drained yet another crystal tumbler full of imported cognac, resisting the urge to fling the glass across the room. Not that he didn't have a score of them, but he stopped himself at the last moment. He could hear his mother's voice in his mind, chiding him on being wasteful. That was one of the nicest things she'd ever called him. His lips twisted into a sneer at the thought of his late mother. When she'd died, half the city and all the house servants had breathed a sigh of relief.

He sighed and set the glass down gently, and rubbed his hands over his face. He glanced at the clock. If he went over to the ball now, he'd arrive fashionably late. The women would flock over him, giggling idiotically, daring each other to approach him, knowing their mothers would disapprove strongly. As well they should.

Or he could just stay in and get even drunker on liquor that was older than he was. No wonder his father had built up such a selection of alcohol. He'd needed it to live with his mother. Except he'd drunk himself to an early death. Richard barely remembered him.

He stood up unsteadily, and decided to go down to the cellar to find something new to drink. He wasn't drunk enough that anyone would notice, but he wasn't going out. He was in too foul a mood to deal with the overprotected, spoiled idiots that passed for the cream of society. He'd stay in tonight. The party would go on without him.