Just a Little Madness (The Brotherhood #7) by Merry Farmer

Chapter 1





London – January, 1891



The theater was one of the only places in London where a man like Edward Archibald could truly hide. Of course, it was rather like hiding in plain sight, because everyone with even a shred of sense knew that the world of the theater was and always had been full of inverts, women of loose morals, and every other sort of unconventional personality to be found under the sun. Society was willing to overlook certain aspects of the character of theatrical types as long as they were entertaining and put on a good show, which playwright Niall Cristofori and star of the stage Everett Jewel always did. Almost no one batted an eyelash over the personal lives of those two men and their ilk, the lucky bastards. Members of Parliament weren’t so lucky, as Edward most certainly knew.

Edward rose along with the rest of the audience to applaud the end of Love’s Last Lesson from his seat near the back of a box in the second balcony. He’d seen the show six times since it opened in the fall and considered that night’s performance one of the best. The rest of the crowd thought so as well, as attested by their enthusiastic applause. They clapped particularly loudly for up and coming comedic actor Martin Piper when Jewel shoved the man forward to take a second bow.

Edward tried his best to ignore the thrill in his chest and the way his breath caught in his throat at Martin Piper’s affable, smiling face and strong, lean form. He absolutely refused to acknowledge the way his trousers suddenly didn’t seem to fit properly as the man blew kisses to his adoring public, landing one relatively near him, before giving way so Jewel could take his bow. Jewel’s prowess on the stage and magnetic appeal were a given, but Edward had been taken with Piper from the very first time he’d seen the play. His gaze stayed on the man once he resumed his place with the ensemble as Jewel preened and bowed. Piper made Edward laugh, and precious little made Edward laugh anymore.

Before the applause had fully died down, Edward scooted his way to the exit at the back of the box. He was not an actor. He was the very opposite of the theatrical luminaries who could get away with murder as long as they were charming and entertaining. He was a back-bencher in the House of Commons. His job was to represent his constituency in York by staying as quiet as possible, never drawing untoward attention to himself, never, ever landing in the papers as part of a scandal, and shouting out “Aye” when his party told him to. Which was why he found sitting in the dark at the back of a crowded theater, not a soul in the world aware of his existence, merely looking on as other, better people than him shone like diamonds, to be the most enjoyable thing he could possibly imagine. And it didn’t hurt that the male chorus for Cristofori’s show was made up of some of the finest specimens of masculinity he’d ever—

“Archibald, is that you?”

A familiar voice startled Edward out of his indulgent thoughts, driving home the fact that his trousers still didn’t fit right after an evening of feasting on the sight of Martin Piper and chorus boys.

“Lord Chesterfield.” Edward jerked to a stop in the middle of his flight through the lobby and turned to his fellow parliamentarian with an uneasy smile. God, the man could probably see the state of his lower regions as if he were standing up like a sequoia. A man like Chesterfield would know exactly what he was thinking and exactly whom he was thinking it about. The whole world could see right through him, and he would be damned for it. He cleared his throat. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Likewise.” Chesterfield approached him with a broad smile and extended a hand. He had to drop the arm of the attractive lady—who was years too young for him and who was most certainly not his daughter—to do so. “Smashing show, didn’t you think?”

“Yes, it was rather droll,” Edward replied with as bland a look as possible. He smiled and nodded to the woman with Chesterfield, debating whether he should appear to find her alluring so as to avert any suspicion his thoughts might cause.

“I never thought I’d see such a doggedly conservative man like you haunting a place like this,” Chesterfield went on with a laugh. He turned to his companion and said, “Archibald never steps a foot out of line. He’s the most boring and flaccid member Parliament has.” He followed his comment with a raucous laugh.

Edward smiled warily at the comment. He heard that and much worse on a nearly daily basis, but it was better to be called boring than to be called out for the truth. “I was just on my way home,” he said, swaying forward and trying to indicate to Chesterfield that he didn’t want to chit-chat.