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K.J. Jackson

Promise: A Lords of Action Novel 2, (EBOOK)

Promise: A Lords of Action Novel 2, (EBOOK)

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Steamy Historical Regency Romance

A deal with a notorious rake may be her only hope.
In a desperate search for her missing sister, Lady Natalia Abbingale is out of money, out of options, and out of hope—until she spies the one man that may be the key to finding her sister—the Marquess of Lockston. He was a rake. A connoisseur of young widows. She knew that. But he was also the only man that could help her.

Fletcher Williston, the eleventh Marquess of Lockston, had been minding his own business in the brothel, never imaging he was being watched. That is, until Lady Natalia appears at his home, demanding he help her to find her sister. Refusing her should be easy. He has secrets he must live his life by. And those secrets did not need to be threatened by a downfallen lady of the ton.

Yet Lady Natalia possesses the right family, the right veneer, and most importantly, the right circumstance—desperation—and a deal made with her could possibly be just what he is looking for.

Note: The books in the Lords of Action series by K.J. Jackson are each stand-alone stories, and can be read individually in any order. These historical romances are set in the Regency and Victorian eras, and do not shy away from scenes with steamy heat, occasional naughty language, and moments that might possibly make you squirm.

The ebook of Promise is currently available on Amazon to buy or read for free in Kindle Unlimited.


{ Chapter 1 }

London, England
November, 1822

The thick liquid ran from the pot, rank clumps of devil-spewed muck splattering out to the ground. A blast of wind whipped between the tightly stacked buildings, sending an incomprehensible swirl of smells into the air.

Her lips drawn tight, Lady Natalia Abbingale snorted a puff of air from her nose, trying to expel the stench that had attacked with the gust. The wind chilling her arms through her thin wool dress, she ignored the shivers, shaking the chamber pot empty and stepping back to the rickety door.

Under the weak light of one lantern hanging to the left of the door, she pulled the handle, refusing to acknowledge the brown splotches that had splattered onto her hand. As much as she could stop her nose from wrinkling, she couldn’t stop her stomach from churning.

Revulsion. Fear. Rage.

All of it seethed in her gut, fermenting. Not that she would unleash any of it.

If she stopped now, she could count her sister lost to her forever.

The door jerked open toward her, jamming her knuckles and sending her stumbling a step backward.

“Out ove me way, wench.”

A large brute pushed past her and Talia scampered to the side, her head bowed so low she could only see the man’s shoes slopping through the muck in the back alley.

A quick breath that she tried to convince herself didn’t stink, and Talia stepped through the open door. Pulling it closed behind her, she yanked hard, forcing the askew door into the frame. Glancing upward, her look quickly ran across the wide main room of the brothel. The haze of smoke in the air muddied the light the many lanterns gave off, making her squint. Ignoring every one of the slovenly drunk males, her searching gaze had to pause longer than she would have liked to stare at each of the females in the room.

None of the women were Louise.

Not out here in the public area. Talia had to get upstairs.

A flurry of bodies flailing. A scream. Talia’s look flew to the side of the room, searching the commotion afoot by the long bar that stretched nearly the depth of the main area. Several men—the brutes that kept the brothel from descending into pandemonium—were wrangling a writhing girl with a hood over her face. A quick scan of the girl’s plump body told Talia it wasn’t Louise.

A tall man with brown hair stood next to the door, waiting for the girl to come under control. Even with only being able to see his profile, Talia could see that the tall man was clearly bored with the proceedings.

Rage bubbled from her gut into her chest. The devil himself treated girls with more respect than the men in this wretched place did.

Far better dressed than most of the sailors and vagabonds in the place, the tall man turned slightly, looking across the many tables in the common room, his full face turned her direction.

Talia nearly dropped the pot in her hand. It fumbled down her skirts and onto her knees before she caught it and had it under control. She looked up just in time to see the man grab the writhing girl and disappear out the side door of the brothel.

A face she recognized. Recognized from a past she was so far removed from now.

Lord Lockston.

She lowered her head, ducking back out the alley door of the brothel into the cold. Setting the pot down, she ran along the back of the building, slowing at the corner to sidle along the side of the brothel and past the door Lord Lockston had exited.

Slipping into the shadows along the street, she followed him down the block.

The poor girl with the hood covering her head struggled the entire way, forcibly dragged to Lord Lockston’s waiting carriage.

Bile hit Talia’s throat, as it had the last two times she had seen a girl dragged off like this. That her sister could have been…

No. Do not think. Do not imagine.

Do not think on the possibility of what Louise could have—may be suffering somewhere at this very moment. Do not.

Her fingers running along the brick of the building behind her, Talia skulked to the corner, dipping back into a side alley where she could still see Lord Lockston’s large, black coach.

Lord Lockston opened the door of the carriage and lifted the girl, pushing her inside. The girl resisted, her bound wrists flailing, her nails dragging across his hand.

Yanking his hand free from the girl, Lord Lockston shook it, rubbing a long line along the back of it after closing the coach door. His head swinging back and forth, he stood on the cobblestones, watching the carriage start to roll away from him. Talia strained, but could not hear what he appeared to be muttering. A curse, she imagined. The girl looked like a wildcat. Good for her.

The carriage rumbled down the rough street. Lord Lockston remained in his spot, a lone figure in the muck of the street staring at the coach as it disappeared. He glanced about and moved further along the block, then vanished around a corner.

Talia’s breath caught in her throat.

Lord Lockston.

Was it possible? Was he the one?


Talia tugged the wet strand of red-blond hair that whipped into her eye. The bitter wind had not ceased in the last eight hours, instead, conspiring with mist to make the walk to Lord Lockston’s townhouse particularly chilly.

She noticed a swath of black covering the tip of the strand of hair. Blast it. She had spent two hours scrubbing the black soot from her hair. The coal she’d used to darken her hair worked well enough, but it was nearly impossible to remove all of it using the small washstand basin in her rented room. It didn’t help that she hadn’t bothered to clean the soot from her hair since she arrived in London a week ago. She had been exhausted and had let the color sit day after day.

She rubbed the blackened strand between her thumb and forefinger. The hair had not been protected from the drizzle by her small black bonnet, the trimming long since tattered and removed. She sighed looking at the wet, dark smudge smeared from the strand of hair onto the thin leather of her gloves. The black coloring had only partially disappeared from her hair, making it more or less obvious, she couldn’t discern.

Stopping, Talia tucked the wet lock behind her ear, hoping the dark hairs were hidden, and turned, her steps heavy up the three marble stairs. She took a deep breath, staring at the gleaming brass knocker just above her eye level. Her gaze travelled upward, her eyes squinting through the mist as her palm flattened on the front of her dark blue carriage dress—truly, her only dress, save for the one black wool maid’s dress and apron she owned.

Looking up at four tall stories above her, Talia noted the middle two floors were unusually tall, if she judged by the large windows. She had not noted the impressiveness of the façade—of the home—when she had attended a dance here five years before. Of course, she wouldn’t have noticed it—she hadn’t noticed anything back in those days. Back when she never would have imagined her life would take this turn.

This money, this wealth was too commonplace in her world in those days—homes such as this were not impressive because every home she visited was just as elaborate as the last.

Her eyes dropped back to the brass knocker, hoping this wasn’t a waste of her time. Hoping she hadn’t completely misread what she had seen in the street in the middle of the night. She was giving up sleep that she desperately needed.

Lifting the heavy brass ring, she clanked it three times.

It only took two breaths before the door swung wide.

The butler looked Talia up and down, his nose wrinkling before his eyes even made it up to her face. Apparently, she hadn’t cleaned herself up as well as she had attempted.

She opened her mouth before he could say a word. “Lady Natalia Abbingale to see Lord Lockston on imperative business.”

The wrinkle of his nose flared out, making him look like a mad bull. “You are accompanied, Lady Natalia?” His look lifted above her head to scan the sidewalk and street behind her, searching for a coach and companion.

Dammit. She had been in such a rush to make it to Lord Lockston’s home that she had forgotten to consider the need for a companion. Had she lost all memory of propriety?

She smiled what she hoped was the sweet smile of a simpleton. “I was, but I lost my shoe in an impossibly large puddle of street muck a block away, and it was subsequently run over by a wagon. I only moved to the side just in time to avoid injury. I took my maid’s shoes and she went back to retrieve for me replacement footwear for the walk home. As we were already so very close to his lordship’s residence, I thought it more prudent to approach Lord Lockston with my business, than to waste half the day chasing shoes. My maid should arrive shortly with proper boots in-hand.” Talia looked to the sky, overblown distress flooding her face. “But I would much like to get out of the rain. You see, the rain as well, I did not plan upon.”

The butler looked down, noting the scratched, worn leather of her boots peeking past the bottom of her skirts.

Good thing her only pair of shoes were boots barely fit for a maid.

Her story verified, the butler looked to her face, his eyes shrewd. “You will excuse me for a moment, Lady Natalia?”

She nodded, and the door promptly slammed closed in her face.

Staring at the black paint right below the brass knocker, she tried to still her heartbeat. If this didn’t work, what would she do next? Stalk Lord Lockston? Accost him on the street? Wait for him to leave in his carriage and sneak onto the footman’s back footboard? Or did Lockston have footmen as he travelled? From what she remembered of the man, he was not the type to appreciate displays of pomposity. He seemed the type to prefer minimal fuss—not the grandiose show of matching footmen hanging and running about his carriage.

Truly, how would any of those scenarios of her surprising him in public play out? Not well.

She had to get into his house today. She had to.

The door opened.

“His lordship will allot you five minutes, Lady Natalia, for your business.” The butler’s voice dropped on the word “business,” making it evident that he knew she had no proper business to see Lord Lockston about.

She didn’t care. She was in.

Stepping into the foyer, Talia swallowed the nervous clump lodged in her throat.

She was so close and she knew it. She felt it.

If Lord Lockston was the one she thought he was, then she had hope.


Fletcher Bartholomew Williston, the eleventh Marquess of Lockston, stepped into his lower drawing room. Having only slept for three hours, he had been attempting to convince himself to sleep longer when Horace had announced the arrival of Lady Natalia Abbingale.

Fletch had almost had Horace send her away until a faint memory of the name clicked into his mind. Her father was the Earl of Roserton. Or had been until his death several years ago.

Not that he could recall ever meeting Lady Natalia.

Yet instant curiosity had gotten the better of him and put a stake through the last thoughts of achieving more sleep.

Standing by the door to the drawing room, Fletch lifted the tumbler of brandy that Horace had handed to him, sipping as he took a quick second to observe the back of the woman warming herself by his fireplace. Her hands rubbing vigorously close to the fire, she stood maybe as tall as his mid-chest and was slight—a thin leaf that could blow away in the wind. Loose tendrils of her red-blond hair dripped wet splotches onto the shoulders of her dark blue carriage dress which was worn thin in spots.

Another step in and Fletch cleared his throat. “Lady Natalia, I do not believe we have had the pleasure of meeting. But I did wonder what would send a young lady to my door, unchaperoned, early in the day.”

She jumped at his words, spinning, the blue skirt of her carriage dress swinging wide. Her initial surprise at his voice quelled by the time she faced him.

“Lord Lockston.” Her head tilted with the two words, her eyes running him up and down as her hands disappeared behind her back. To hide the wringing or to continue the warming, Fletch wasn’t sure.

“Your maid has not yet arrived with your shoes, Lady Natalia?”


Her eyes flickered to the side. Liar. Fletch could recognize that easily enough.

“And you are not fearful of being here unchaperoned? You know as well as I it is not done, Lady Natalia.” His gaze ran over her. Her dark blue carriage dress with gold trim and a line of brass buttons had been at the height of fashion four—maybe five—seasons ago. There were swaths across her chest, at her hips, along the top and bottom edges that were threadbare, slightly tattered. Her red-blond hair was weaved into a serviceable upsweep with a small black bonnet that had been partly crushed and then bent back into place sitting at the crown of her head. The hat would be no help against the current freezing drizzle.

His look stopped at her face. Large hazel eyes with blues and browns twisting in a mad dance around her irises stared at him just as quizzically as he took her in. It was then Fletch noted she was pretty. Even if the bones of her elegant cheekbones and soft jawline were stark—stretched far too thin. Her nose was pleasantly pert and her lips, though currently purple with cold, were fairly plump. She wasn’t old, yet she wasn’t a young pup, and a slight wariness sat uneasy across her brow. Fletch wondered if it was permanent.

Indeed, were it not for the sweetness of Lady Natalia’s face, he would have thought her unremarkable on every level. For there was certainly not the level of care taken with her appearance as he was accustomed to with his widows.

Her eyebrows arched as if to inquire if his assessment was over. Before he could react, she took a step toward him. “Being ruined is the least of my concerns, Lord Lockston.”

“What is your concern?”

Her eyes dipped down to his left hand holding the tumbler and then back to his face. A visible spark ran through the dancing blue-brown in her eyes. “I am here to beg of you your assistance.”

Fletch searched his mind. Did he possibly know her?


He took care with his next words. “How may I be of assistance?”

“I saw you last night.”

“You did?” Fletch could not for the life of him remember this face at Lord Gregory’s party the previous night. “I apologize—did I cut you in some way? If so, I did not intend harm. I am sure all can be remedied.” He took another sip of his brandy.

“I saw you at the Jolly Vassal, Lord Lockston.”

Brandy caught in his throat. The woman was fortunate she didn’t get spewed upon.

He coughed, clearing his throat. “You were at the brothel?”

“I was.”

His hand flew up, stopping her next words as he turned and closed the door of the drawing room.  

He turned back to her, his eyes narrowed. “What in the hell is a lady of the ton doing at a brothel?”

Her hands pulled from behind her back, her arms folding across her ribcage as her spine straightened. “I was a lady. Now I am a maid. My current position is the natural downfall for a woman with a mother who has never lifted the tip of her finger in labor, and a sister that needs food in her belly.”

Bitterness laced her words, even though Fletch could see her attempting to control her voice.

“What do you think happens to the family of a dead earl when the title passes to a distant, vengeful branch of the family, Lord Lockston?”

“Surely the current Earl of Roserton ensures your well-being.”

She took another step toward him, her chin lifting as her look pierced him. “Surely you do not think your contemporaries are all paragons of responsibility.”

“Your father left you nothing?”

She took a quick breath, her lips tightening. “He assumed we would be taken care of.”


Her head tilted, her hazel eyes shrewd upon him. “Incorrectly.”

“But a maid in a brothel, that is uncalled for, Lady Natalia—you could be a maid anywhere and support your family.”


His look went hard, the true meaning for her visit surfacing. Fingers tightening about the tumbler in his hand, he took a step closer and leaned over her. “If you think to blackmail me with knowledge of my nightly activities, Lady Natalia, you had best reconsider your current course of action.”

She didn’t cower, meeting his glare. “Please, do not be obtuse. I care to do nothing of the sort. Yes, I can work as a maid anywhere. But I cannot find my sister anywhere.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am here to ask for your help. My sister disappeared from the village of Knapton in Norfolk where we are living.”

“I do not see how I can help you, Lady Natalia.” Fletch took a step backward, his head shaking. “If your family situation is as dire as you say, maybe she just left to escape you and your mother.”

“Do not dare to utter a blasphemy such as that.” Her voice slipped low, vehement. “She would not have done so. Never. Someone took her. Another girl was taken at the same time. Another girl that returned to the village a week after they disappeared. She didn’t want to tell me anything—would not admit to anyone what happened—not until she saw how desperate I was.”

“Lady Natalia, I still fail to see how I can be of assistance.”

“The girl—she is the blacksmith’s daughter—she told me she was taken to a brothel here in London. They sold her. But the man they sold her to did not touch her. Instead, he delivered her to several women who then brought her home. Maybe you remember her? Her name is Valerie.” Lady Natalia’s arms unthreaded and her hand went to her chest height, palm down. “She is this short, rotund, black hair down to her waist.”


Fletch bit down on letting the blasphemy slip from his lips. He had purchased a virgin from the Jolly Vassal two weeks prior with that very description. And this waif knew of it. Knew of him.


The business of buying virgins to save them had apparently caught up with him. No one—not a soul could know what he was doing at the Jolly Vassal. Not when the whole operation of saving the girls hinged on secrecy. Hinged on him being nothing more than a sordid lecher with an insatiable need for the virgins.

Fletch’s eyes narrowed on Lady Natalia. “That is quite a tale, Lady Natalia, and I do sympathize with your plight, but I am not the man you seek.”

“No.” Her foot stomped, her hands balling to fists at her sides. “You are the man. Please, Lord Lockston, I have no one to turn to, no one to trust, and I have to find my sister.” Her head dropped forward, and she took a deep breath. He could see her struggling with her pride, but then she looked up at him, her soul bared in her eyes, begging. “I need help, Lord Lockston. Please. I cannot do this alone. I have looked so hard, done things I never thought I could and I…I have not a soul that can help me.”

Fletch looked to the front window, unable to watch the agony in her hazel eyes. Agony or not, he could not risk being discovered. There were too many innocent lives at stake. “I am not what you are looking for, Lady Natalia. You have approached the wrong man.”

She rounded him, jabbing her face into his line of sight. “No, I do not think I have. I think I have approached the one man—the only man—that can help me in my particular situation. You save the virgins. You are the one. My sister, she is my height, my build—she has blond hair and looks very similar to me. Maybe you have seen her—bought her?”

His eyes met hers and he forced his voice bland. “Again. I am not the one you seek, Lady Natalia. I cannot help you.”

“You cannot or you will not?”

“Either way, I must refuse you. You will not receive my assistance.”

Her lips curled into a snarl. “You are despicable.”

“Possibly. But that hardly gives you the right to come into my home and say as much to me.” His gaze settled on her tight lips. “Of course, what else should I expect from a lady turned brothel maid?”

“I saw what you did last night. I saw her scratch you.” Her fingers whipped out to snatch his left wrist, and she yanked his hand up. Brandy sloshed over the rim of the tumbler he almost dropped. “I see that very scratch now. It is you. You were the one.”

He clamped her wrist with his right hand, squeezing her sharp bones until she released his arm with a squeak. A flicker of pain crossed her face, and Fletch instantly dropped her wrist. But he did not let her escape him. He leaned down, his voice brutal. “Whatever you saw, Lady Natalia, you were mistaken. I am not in the business of saving virgins. You need to take your accusations and exit my home.”

Rubbing her wrist, she stared up at him, not cowed by his words. No. It was only fire that lit her hazel eyes. Fire brewing with annoyance. Yet just when she looked ready to speak again, she instead shook her head, a muttered whisper slipping from her lips. “You are all the same. I should have never expected anything from a bloody peer.” She stepped around him, quick to the door.

Within seconds, she had exited his townhouse.

Fletch spun, staring at the opening to the drawing room for long minutes, the cold blast of air from the door opening in the foyer dissipating around him.

The devil. He wanted to go after the brash chit. Wanted to help her. The urge was unmistakable—unexplainable, even as he attempted to deny it.

His heels dug into the thick maroon threads of the Axminster carpet. He couldn’t risk the countless girls he could save in the future for one lost sister that had most likely long-since been sold from the brothel. If the Jolly Vassal was even where Lady Natalia’s sister had been taken. No, he couldn’t risk it.

Yet the waif still pulled at him. What was it that made him want to admit the truth to her—to help her?

The cut of her mouth, the tilt of her chin? Her hazel eyes drawing him in, pleading with him? She was beautiful enough, especially if she ate some meat and filled out her cheeks. But beauty had never swayed him before.

His eyes closed, and her face flashed in his mind. The one moment when her soul was bared to him. It was the fire burning in her. Her vitality. Her spirit drawing him in.


Youth against all odds.

The thought hit him with uncharacteristic boldness, for he attempted at every turn to avoid self-examination. But there it was. Her youth was the thing drawing him in. Her youth was what he wanted to possess. Possess just a tiny bit of it while he still could, before death came for him.

Fletch shook his head, swallowing the last gulp of brandy in his tumbler.

Her hazel eyes were dangerous. And not at all simple. Complex blue strands twisted with brown in her irises, yet there was a modicum of innocence sprinkled into her intelligent gaze. A determined gaze that had pierced him with expectations that he be the man she needed—that he deliver the world for her, even though they had just met. Expectations he had no doubt he would disappoint.  
He couldn’t get involved. And she would involve him. He had known her for little more than five minutes, and he already fully understood he could not throw her away like he did so many of his trysts.

There was a reason he liked the company of widows. He liked them not only for their easy lack of commitment, but also for their acquaintance—their comfort with death. Nothing was permanent. They knew that.

And he knew Lady Natalia was not one to be tossed aside.

He was not about to do that to her spirit.

He was a dead man, after all.


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