We are thrilled to share an excerpt from Jess Everlee’s The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, which is out November 29th 2022 and the first installment in the Lucky Lovers of London series with A Rulebook for Restless Rogues to follow next year.
Is their real-life love story doomed to be a tragedy, or can they rewrite the ending?
Finely dressed and finely drunk, Charlie Price is a man dedicated to his vices. Chief among them is his explicit novel collection, though his impending marriage to a woman he can’t love will force his carefully curated collection into hiding.
Before it does, Charlie is determined to have one last hurrah: meeting his favorite author in person.
Miles Montague is more gifted as a smut writer than a shopkeep and uses his royalties to keep his flagging bookstore afloat. So when a cheerful dandy appears out of the mist with Miles’s highly secret pen name on his pretty lips, Miles assumes the worst. But Charlie Price is no blackmailer; he’s Miles’s biggest fan.
A scribbled signature on a worn book page sets off an affair as scorching as anything Miles has ever written. But Miles is clinging to a troubled past, while Charlie’s future has spun entirely out of his control…
“Would you look at that,” said Charlie, breaking a streak of silence as he examined the front of his shirt. “You did pop the button off.”
Miles opened his eyes at last, mouth still pressed to the side of Charlie’s neck. “You can’t do it, can you?”
“Let anyone sit quietly in your presence.”
Charlie stiffened a bit. Miles realized how he might have sounded, and quickly kissed his cheek to show he’d meant no offense. Charlie relaxed against him again, but as the haze of consummation dissipated, Miles wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do next. For the past five years, his encounters had either been meticulously planned and paid for, or so stupid and frantic that there was nothing to do but run when it was over. But he’d let Charlie into his own home. And so far, Charlie hadn’t run. He hadn’t asked for payment. He hadn’t even simply done up his pants, wished him well, and left. Charlie’s heart, it seemed, was not so dead as all that.
In fact, it was full of enough life to hop to his feet and say, “Perhaps a brew?”
Miles blinked. “What?”
“Cup of tea? I don’t know.”
“Or wine.” He wandered over to the rack near the kitchen. “Well stocked. No wonder you’ve learned a few things.” He picked a bottle up and examined it like someone who had no idea what he was looking at. He put it on the table and glanced back at Miles. “Do you get quieter when you drink? Or do you talk more?”
“I’ll just fix both.”
Miles’s jaw dropped as Charlie—in his flamboyant purple waistcoat, rumpled shirt, and stained trousers—put the kettle on the fire and started rummaging through his cupboards with a candle in hand.
“Stop it!” He got to his feet and slammed one of the cupboards shut.
“Digging through my things.”
Charlie raised an amused eyebrow. “Is there really something in there you don’t want me to see?”
Miles opened his mouth, but couldn’t actually think of anything. They were cupboards, filled with the usual sorts of cupboard things. “It’s the principle of it.”
Before he’d even finished saying it, Charlie was laughing at him. “Go on, then.” He stepped in and sweetly straightened Miles’s collar. “Why don’t you brew it if it will make you feel better?” He patted Miles’s cheek. “Wouldn’t want me to see the scandalous arrangement of your teacups, after all.”
Miles grabbed his wrist mid-pat. He wanted to want to throw this bugger right out of his flat. But when he looked down, there was that smirking mouth, even more fascinating now that Miles knew what it was capable of. Not to mention the dark, clever eyes, full of good humor that Miles himself hadn’t known in years.
“Watch it,” was the harshest thing he could bring himself to say. And Charlie didn’t seem to notice even that pathetic harshness, prancing on over to the table with a corkscrew in his hand that he’d apparently found within the few seconds of snooping.
Miles examined him with his arms crossed. “So, I take it you’re making yourself at home, then?”
Charlie paused. He licked his lips as if thinking carefully, for once, about what he wanted to say. He seemed to come up short, scratching the back of his neck and grimacing. “This is very silly of me, isn’t it? I should go.” He put the corkscrew on the table and adjusted the wine bottle a bit, so the label was facing perfectly outward. “That’s what you want?”
“No,” Miles said instantly, startling even himself. He came over and took up Charlie’s task, uncorking the bottle in a few smooth movements. “You, er, you’re welcome to stay for a drink, if you’d like. The glasses…” He cleared his throat. “The glasses are in the second cupboard on the left, but leave the wine to get some air for a minute. I’m going to go downstairs to get the shop closed properly. Make yourself comfortable, I suppose.”
What the devil was he doing? Miles cursed himself all the way down the stairs. This was madness, wasn’t it? He’d lost his mind at last. Bad enough to have let things go this far already; letting Charlie stick around for wine and tea was so foolish he hardly recognized himself. He should cut it off now, before he got more attached. After all, he’d been in mad tears over this fop once already; what state would he find himself in if it turned out he actually liked the fellow?
But God, how could he make a man leave after that? Miles couldn’t remember the last time he spent so hard. Charlie was temptation itself, and rather than quench the fire that had been lit during the wine tasting, this evening had left Miles burning even hotter. As he went about pulling drapes and snuffing lamps, he was practically ready to go again just thinking about it.
He stared guiltily at the abandoned counter. He ought to count the drawer, especially after a busy day like today. The task, though, sounded very dull compared to what was waiting for him upstairs. He’d count it in the morning; for now he’d simply tuck it all in the safe.
As he started gathering up the notes and coins, he spotted the paper Smithy had brought in, offering to buy the shop. He glared at it, ready to throw it out properly, before realizing that it was on the wrong side of the counter. For a moment, he assumed he was confused, but thinking back… No, the way he’d been facing wouldn’t allow for it to land here. Once he’d gotten the money locked up, he got the offer in hand. It uncrumpled too easily, like someone had already been at it.
Back upstairs, he found Charlie sitting at his table with a steaming cup of tea in his hands and a pot on the table before him.
“Been busy up here?” Miles growled.
Charlie poured some into the spare cup for Miles. “Idle hands and all that.”
“Yes.” Miles threw the crumpled-up paper at his head. “Idle hands might snoop.”
Charlie guiltily caught the offer as it bounced off his forehead. “Sorry. How did you know?”
“It wasn’t where I left it.”
“Wasn’t where you threw it, you mean?”
Miles shrugged. He picked up the teacup, but didn’t sit down. He took a silent sip. He knew Charlie wouldn’t let it stay quiet and awkward for very long.
Indeed, Charlie went on in a rush after only a few seconds.
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning red in the face. “It’s so silly, I hate to even say it. But I thought it might be a bit of writing you’d thrown out. The fanatic in me couldn’t help myself.”
That wasn’t at all what Miles had been expecting. “You don’t have to flatter me, Charlie.”
“I mean it!” Charlie put his own cup down so hard it splashed out the side. “You saw my collection. Be angry that I’m a snoop, a spy, and a potential thief—if it had been writing, I’d have nicked it—but don’t accuse me of flattering you.”
At last, Miles let himself relax a little. He sat in the second chair. “I’m not selling the shop.”
“Yes, I gathered as much.” Charlie rolled the ball of paper back across the table to him.
Miles tapped the paper thoughtfully on the wood, then nudged it back to Charlie. “What did it say?”
“You didn’t read it?”
Charlie laughed, threw it in the air, caught it. “Perhaps you wouldn’t have been so hasty had you seen it. It says to name your price; the man is clearly quite motivated.”
“Was there a name?” Miles caught the paper as Charlie threw it back and suspiciously opened it at last. It was creased beyond repair, so he flattened it out on the table. It was true: the handwritten letter said to name whatever price felt reasonable. He peered at the signature. “O’Donnell. I don’t know him.”
“Didn’t he come in and give this to you?”
“No. He’s some friend of my publisher, who stopped by with it an hour ago.” He glanced at the clock. “More like three hours ago. Damn, is it really so late?”
Charlie peered over the rim of his teacup, his heated gaze settling upon the writing desk that he’d recently become quite intimate with. “You get awfully wrapped up in your work, don’t you?”
“That’s one way to put it,” Miles muttered, half-tempted to see what other creative acts might suit such a surface.
“I’d love to hear about it. The writing, that is,” Charlie clarified with a wink that let Miles know they were thinking along the same lines. “You looked so enraptured. Like you were in a different world. Now that I know how you go about, ah—” He broke off with a sort of happy self-consciousness.
“Like a complete brute, I know,” said Miles.
“Indeed. Now I know about that, I’d like to know how you go about putting these stories together. Did you really just have an idea all at once and run up here to get started? The notion is so delectable, I hardly dare believe it.”
Miles was shocked by the line of questioning. He didn’t have the slightest idea how to talk about this, but Charlie looked so expectant and genuinely interested that he wished he had an answer dreamed up that would be as romantic as Charlie seemed to think it was.
“I, er, I suppose that’s sort of what happened.” He wanted to leave it at that, but then Charlie pointedly pushed the wine bottle across the table toward him, his expression very open as if to say keep talking. Miles snatched it by the neck and poured modestly into the goblets Charlie had laid out by the teapot, listening to the muddled-up words inside his mind and wondering if he’d forgotten how to have a conversation. He took a sip and tried his best. “The ideas sometimes just…come to me.”
Charlie lifted his glass. “They come to you. Of course.”
They clinked and sipped. Naturally, it was Charlie who went on, asking, “Why erotica?” He paused just long enough to accept Miles’s need for more prompting. “Forgive me for saying so, but the stress of illegality seems to wear on you quite a bit.”
Miles’s first thought was that he didn’t have the talent to write anything better, but that wasn’t quite as true as it used to be, back when he was pestering all the publishers with winding imitations of Dickens. There had been reasons for his rejections back then, problems in craft he’d had more than enough time to fix in the course of five quiet years.
“I could write something else,” he said carefully. “If I felt like it.”
“But you don’t?” prompted Charlie.
“No,” he said. He wasn’t sure how to expand on that, though, without killing that intrigued smile on Charlie’s lips. There was no pleasant way to explain that his interest in writing palatably for the masses had died when his lover did.
It did not make for good conversation. Not at all.
“No,” he repeated quietly. “I suppose I don’t.”
“Why’s that, d’you think?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Charlie?” He could not bring himself to ruin the moment, so instead he leaned in close, whispering, “My disposition is simply too depraved for anything better.”
Charlie’s eyes flicked down to his mouth. He licked his own lips. “That’s not really an answer, but I want to kiss you so badly, that I think I’ll let you get away with it this time.”
From THE GENTLEMAN’S BOOK OF VICES by Jess Everlee, published by Carina Adores. Copyright © 2022 by Jess Everlee. Reprinted courtesy of Carina Adores.