Home > Heartbreaker (Hell's Belles #2)

Heartbreaker (Hell's Belles #2)
Author: Sarah MacLean

 

Adelaide

 

 

St. Stephen’s Chapel

South Lambeth

October 1834

 

Storm clouds, they said, brought good luck on a wedding day.

The bleakness of the sky over the marriage vows, they said, would mark the bleakest point of a union. Sheets of rain, they said, would wash away any ill fortune fated for the couple, leaving only the future, filled with good luck.

After all, they said, weddings were the happiest of days—times for blushing brides and fresh-faced grooms and new frocks and families full to the brim with joy at the prospect of doubling in size. What was a bit of rain against the promise of such happiness?

Bad weather, they said, would make the worst of the day and the match.

But what if the weather was not the worst of the day? What of the match then?

That late October morning, as the rain came in sheets, thunder shaking the rafters, Miss Adelaide Trumbull stood at the altar of St. Stephen’s Chapel in South Lambeth, the scents of incense and candle wax all around her, in a frock thieved in the dark of night from Mayfair’s finest dressmaker, and considered the possibility that they were wrong.

There was nothing blushing about Adelaide, the twenty-one-year-old daughter of Alfie Trumbull, a brute with a fist the size of another man’s face. Alfie had put that meaty weapon to good work as soon as he’d been big enough to pack a punch, and he’d built himself a small empire, such as it was, on the South Bank, the head of The Bulls, a gang of thugs and thieves named for the man who’d brought them together. Adelaide had learned fast that if she was to survive her father’s violent dominion, she would have to earn her keep, and by six years old, she’d been one of the South Bank’s finest nippers—with long, slim, quick fingers that could lift a pocket watch or cut a purse, her mark none the wiser.

A princess of thieves.

And when it came time to marry, there was no question that her father would choose the groom—that was the role of kings, was it not? To marry off their daughters for land or power or an army made exponentially larger by the match.

It did not matter that Adelaide was too tall and too plain, or that John Scully had absolutely no interest in her. Oh, he smiled when she came into the room, and he’d been more than willing to sample the wares, which her father had all but insisted she allow, and when he talked, he did so with the easy patter of a man who knew how to catch flies with honey. But he didn’t have any interest in catching Adelaide, so she expected that once she was caught, there’d be far less honey than there would be vinegar.

What mattered was that Scully was the leader of The Boys, a smaller, newer gang making waves on the South Bank. More anarchy than organization, The Boys posed a danger to residents, businesses, and the kingdom belonging to Alfie Trumbull—a man who believed strongly in the adage that friends should be kept close and enemies closer.

If that meant sacrificing his daughter to them, so be it.

Adelaide didn’t care for her father. And she highly doubted she would care for her new husband. But this was the life into which she was born, and if she was lucky, she would survive marriage to a monster better than her own mother had. Perhaps John Scully would die young.

A wicked crack of thunder sounded, and it occurred to Adelaide that pondering the death of one’s groom while before the parson would likely offset the good luck of the torrential rain outside.

A tiny, wild laugh bubbled out of her. No one noticed.

She adjusted her spectacles and touched her fingers to her throat, where the high lace collar of the wedding gown made for another was too tight.

The priest prattled away, his words a run of stuttering gibberish, born of fear of what might come if he failed in following his instructions, no doubt.

Adelaide made out something about Cana of Galilee as she cast a look at the man she was to marry—rocking back and forth on his heels, as though he had somewhere else to be. Her gaze slid past him, to his mother, seated in the first pew—the one hiding the entrance to the underground cellar that held half-dozen cases of weapons waiting for whatever war Alfie waged next. The older woman’s gaze was stern, as though they were before the magistrate and not the minister.

Adelaide’s attention shifted to the others in the row. Two young women, Scully’s sisters, looking as though they might be rendered unconscious from the boredom of the day. Behind them, a row of men. Scully’s brothers, one by blood and the rest by fire. Soon to be her brothers, too, she supposed. Hideously brutish, brows low over eyes, heavy enough to shade their noses, broken so many times over that smashed was a better term for their state. They, too, fidgeted.

An ordinary bystander might think the movements the result of a collective fear for souls. That a house of God was not their preferred location for a Saturday morning.

But this was no ordinary house of God, and Adelaide was not an ordinary bystander.

The priest continued, finding enough clarity to say something about hellfire, which Adelaide thought a bit much for a wedding, but perhaps he was attempting to turn the assembly to the light.

Good luck to him.

She shifted, just enough to see her father out of the corner of her eye. Just enough to see that he was not watching the ceremony. Instead, he was staring over her head, past the priest, to the stained glass in the windows beyond.

His meaty fingers tapped against his knee. His jaw worked as he chewed the side of his tongue—a tell that Adelaide had learned early meant she should find a way out of the room, and fast. Squinting through her spectacles, she looked to his boots, still caked with muck from the Rookery beyond. There, touching the heel of one, was the wooden handle of the club that was her father’s preferred weapon.

And that’s when she realized that she wasn’t going to be married that day. It was not to be a merger, but a conquest; her father planned to kill her groom.

She snapped her attention back to the priest, instinct taking over. There was a chalice on the altar behind him. Likely made of pewter, though. Not heavy enough. No, she’d be better with the brass candlestick. The short one on the far side of the altar. She’d have to get there first, up two steps. Were candlesticks holy? Adelaide lowered her hand to her skirts, annoyance flaring. If she’d known she was going to have to fight, she would have protested this frock. She rolled one shoulder in the too-tight dress. There was no way she would be able to swing that candlestick hard enough to do damage. And she needed to be able to do damage.

What kind of animals turned a wedding into a turf war?

And more importantly, what were they waiting for?

“If any here assembled . . .”

Adelaide rolled her eyes. Of course. No one liked theater like a lifelong criminal, thinking himself a hero.

“. . . has reason for these two to not be joined in holy matrimony . . .”

Beside her, Scully shifted, his hand slipping beneath his coat, to where he no doubt had a blade holstered. Her father wasn’t the only one out for blood that day.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” she muttered.

The priest turned censorious eyes on her, as though no bride would ever consider speaking up at this moment. “. . . speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

For a moment, silence fell, long and heavy, and for a heartbeat, Adelaide wondered if she was wrong.

She held her breath as thunder boomed, filling the church, reverberating off the centuries-old stones.

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