Sneak Peek of The Lord Who Adored Her and Other Love Songs

October 1822

Not a day passed in which Lord Atlas Bromley didn’t fall in love. Today the pianoforte in his brother’s music room demanded his admiration. Shiny and sleek, gorgeous legs, a voice to tune a man’s heart. This instrument could bring him joy, string it high in the air and weave it deep into his bones. He closed his eyes, tested a key, thrilled at the pitch of the sweet note. Yes, joy.

Or a new song to sell to the highest bidder. But weren’t those two things the same these days?

He sat on the bench and pinged out a song, something bouncy and bonny just like the instrument. But it couldn’t be about the instrument. It must be about … ah, yes, naturally, a buxom beauty with a grin like the sun. He hummed, picking through words and images, finding a few good ones. A very few.

Then he sang, “No star or sunbeam can compare. No other instrument half so fair.” His fingers froze above the keys. “Bollocks.” He’d have to replace instrument with lass or some such. Yes, that would work well. He picked up the tune once more, humming first, singing after the words poured into his brainbox. “My bonny lass, so shapely. My bonny lass, so smooth. My bonny lass elates me. My bonny lass, my truth.”

He snapped his hands away from the keys, laid his gently curled fingers atop his thighs. Not a perfect rhyme, that, and a bit … nonsensical. What did it mean for a woman to be your truth? He stood and abandoned the music room. Didn’t matter. The song would sell, and no one would ever ask what it meant.

“Atlas.” His brother, Lord Andrew, strode down the hall, glasses perched perfectly on his nose, hiding blue eyes beneath sandy-brown hair. His tiny, intimidating secretary—Mrs. Amelia Dart—bustled just behind him like an extension of his body. “Are you ready?”

Atlas tried to fold in on himself when Drew reached his side. His brother stood taller than most men, and Atlas still eclipsed him. Stood out like the tallest, broadest tree in the forest. Always. When he really just wanted to be lost in the woods, beneath the branches, alone and observing.

“I am.” Atlas set his steps in line with his brother’s, headed toward a small schoolroom in the back corner of the Waneborough Charitable School of Art, an establishment run by their brother, Lord Theodore, and his wife, Lady Cordelia. His brother and secretary were in London for only a short time before returning to Manchester where Drew’s educational agency was located. They were expanding to London and looking for locations, and Atlas had convinced Drew to help him search for a cabinetmaker or joiner to assist Atlas back home at Briarcliff. “I’d like you to do most of the talking.”

Not even a hitch in Drew’s step. “Why? I see no reason. You’re the one who needs an assistant, not me. I’ve got one already.”

Atlas glanced at Mrs. Dart.

She rolled her eyes. Then hopped when she realized she’d been caught, her black curls bobbing. Her cheeks flushed, and she popped her chin into the air. “Lord Atlas, were you playing the pianoforte?”


“Such a lovely tune.”

“Thank you.”

“Is it one of your own?” She peeked at him as Drew opened a door and glided into the room without them.

“Yes. A new one.”

She smiled. “Ah. I shall be able to say I heard it first.” She followed Drew inside.

Atlas did, too, feeling the squeeze of the frame despite the clear space between it and his shoulders. He always felt too big inside, too rough, a slab of uncut wood, weathered and beaten by time. No elegant drawing room chair, he. More like a sawed-off stump around a campfire.

He looked about the mostly open room. Drew sat at a small writing desk, and Mrs. Dart sat at another smaller one behind him. A chair rested between his desk and the window. For the applicants, no doubt. But where should Atlas sit? He shifted from foot to foot. The chairs were all too small. He’d break one. But he couldn’t plop down on the floor. Perhaps he’d just … hold up a wall.

“Drew,” he said, “how long do you think we’ll be at this?”

“Can’t tell.” Drew didn’t look up from organizing paper, quill, and ink on his table. “Could be half an hour. Could be all day. It depends entirely on the quality of candidates.”

Atlas could stand all day. Hell, he used to march all day, ride all day. Fight all day. But after a half hour or so, his leg would begin to ache. After an hour, it would truly hurt. And by that time, he’d be a bear, growling at everyone, desperate to escape. If he kept moving, the old injury didn’t hurt so much. Or if he sat with his leg stretched out and his weight on his good side. But standing … for that length of time? No. 

A chair then. He found the biggest one available and pulled it against the wall at the side of the room. He could watch from here—nap even, if he wished—and leave the talking up to his capable brother.

Besides, in watchful silence, he could better decide whom to hire  to assist with the joining work and the furniture. Once he’d put his family’s dower house to rights, he could do what he’d been aching to do since returning home four years ago—leave again. He’d been slowly working through the improvements on the dilapidated house for almost a year. He’d had few resources to move the work along swiftly. The family had only just begun to recover from the financial difficulties their father had left them in. When he finished, though, they could rent out the dower house. Perhaps then he would have finally done enough to lighten the burden of his existence on his family’s shoulders.

He would travel. Not to encounter adventure but to find beauty. To replace the shadows in his memory with moments of joy, to repaint a dark world of death back into color and life. 

A body swept through the door. Thank God, Atlas still stood. He wouldn’t have to creak to his feet in front of a stranger.

“Peter Mathews?” Drew asked in his clipped voice, peering over his glasses to a list on the table before him.

“That’s me,” the stranger said, sitting in the chair before Drew.

“Occupation?” Drew asked.

“I work at the theatres in Drury Lane. Building sets and scenery.”

“And you can build furniture?” Drew’s eyebrow arched high.

“I can.” Said with only slight hesitation.

Drew looked to Atlas.

Atlas cleared his throat. “Moldings. Stair rails.”

Drew returned his sharp gaze to Mr. Mathews. “Can you do those?”

The man snapped his hat from his head, clutched it tight. “Joiner work. I can learn.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mathews. We’ll let you know.” Drew did not even stand.

And as Mr. Mathews took himself off with a curse, Atlas blessed his brother. Better him doing all this than Atlas. Much better. Especially after five other applicants came and went in the same fashion.

A ripple of pain made Atlas’s muscles clench. Bloody hell. He’d been standing too long. He’d tormented himself over the chair only to never use it. Had to now, didn’t he? When the fifth applicant crept out of the room, head bowed, Atlas sank onto the spindly seat. Why were chairs made as if they were spider’s webs, all fragile curves and flossy spun silk? Hardly useful for a man of his proportions, a man more used to a worn leather saddle than silk, a man who’d caught bullets in his hide like spiders caught flies.

Hm. A song there. Not that it would sell. No one wanted truth. They wanted moonlight and pretty lasses, fluttering hearts and sunsets. Well, so too did Atlas. He looked for it every day, fell in love with each spot of beauty he discovered so he could cling to life instead of shadows, needing to remind himself life still contained moments worth living even after all that death.

He stretched his leg out, shifted onto the left side of his arse, and tried not to think of Waterloo despite the constant waking reminder.

Drew and Mrs. Dart hissed back and forth.

“What do you think?” she asked. “Lord Atlas, don’t you think the third applicant showed promise?”

“Who?” Atlas didn’t grimace when he spoke. Had years of practice hiding pain.

“Mr.”—she dropped her gaze to her notes, rifled through them—“Clapton. He has many years of experience.”

“But he said several questionable things.” Drew removed his glasses, scowled at his secretary. “We would be inviting the man into Briarcliff and the surrounding area. We cannot admit a man there who exhibits questionable sense. He has a family. And would leave them here to work there.”

“Some people must make desperate decisions,” Atlas said. He certainly had.

“Yes, but he talked about it as if he considered it a holiday. If a man has children, he should not think of them as burdens.”

“No.” Atlas agreed there. “He should not.” Their own father had never treated them like burdens. And yet he’d made them feel that way, nonetheless. Their father had possessed an addiction to art that had brought the family near to ruin. He’d spent every penny of the family fortune, neglected each responsibility, to buy his art and support every rising artist that asked for a penny. When Atlas and his brothers had finally discovered how bad it was, they could do little to improve matters. Only after their father’s death year and a half ago had they begun to climb out of the hole he’d dug with every painting and sculpture.

Though they’d tried to do so sooner, each in their own ways. His oldest brother, now the Marquess of Waneborough, had taken hold of the estate, managed it as well as he could. Zander had loaned particularly valuable paintings to those who wanted them for a small time only. Theo sold satirical drawings to the printshops, Drew ran an agency for governesses and tutors. Their only sister, Maggie, had married a wealthy man.

And Atlas had gone to war.

He’d not been able to purchase a commission. No money for that. But he’d not minded joining the militia and blending in with those not born in a big house to a man with a title. Until it came time to move up the ranks, until opportunity presented itself to earn a pretty pence through death.

Each battle a victory, and each victory a prize to send home for whatever improvements were needed, to keep his brothers and sister well. He’d do it again for them. Would do anything for his family. Including acting as groom, gardener, and footman when they could afford none to work those positions. Including writing songs and selling them. Including fixing the dower house so it would attract the highest price from the best inhabitants willing to rent it. But first he needed someone to help with the final touches, the fancy sort of carpentry that required an elegance and skill Atlas lacked.

A knock on the door.

“Come in,” Mrs. Dart called, but the door already crept open.

A slippered foot first, then the hem of a sensible brown gown. But nothing else about the woman entering could be called sensible. She was a song in human form. Deep auburn hair, thick and silky, shiny and smooth. Lush pink lips and a birth mark just beneath her right eye. Creamy skin and the body of a goddess, all gorgeous curves draped like velvet over a tall, strong frame. Not as tall as him, but he’d not have to bend at the waist to kiss her.

Kiss her?

God, yes. His heart thumped to make it happen. Palms itched and that pain in his leg? Who the hell cared. He sat up straighter as she sat in the chair before Drew, the large windows behind her drowning her in sunlight.

My bonny lass, my truth.

He might understand that line now. The truth?

In less time than it took a second hand to travel round the clock, and for the second time that day, Atlas fell in love. This time not with a pianoforte.


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