In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(2) by Lorraine Heath
Bringing up the hood of her pelisse, covering her head in an attempt to warm herself as the damp fog thickened, she studied the earl’s residence more closely, searching for some clue to indicate that he was home. She wasn’t certain that her fascination with him was entirely healthy. As a matter of fact, she was fairly certain it wasn’t.
She couldn’t say exactly what it was about him that drew her; she knew only that she was irrevocably drawn. Clandestinely, unknown to her family, after her first encounter with Clabourne, she’d even dared to have invitations to her balls and dinners hand-delivered to him by a faithful servant. Not that he’d ever bothered to acknowledge her overtures or attend her social functions.
As far as she knew, save for that one night, he’d never made an appearance at any other soiree. He was not openly welcomed in the best of homes, and she was quite insulted that he’d rebuffed her attempts to include him in her life. Although she had to admit that her reasons for wanting him there were quite selfish and not entirely respectable.
She no longer had the luxury of trying to entice him nearer with gilded invitations. She was quite determined to have a word with him, and if not within the safety of a crowded ballroom, then she would do it within the privacy of his own residence.
An icy shudder skittered down her spine, and she tried to attribute it to the chill of the fog, rather than her own cowardice. She’d been standing in the shadows for quite some time and the dampness had seeped into her bones. If she didn’t approach soon, she’d be a shivering mess and that would hardly suit her purpose. She had to appear as though she had no qualms whatsoever about approaching him, otherwise, she’d no doubt garner his disdain and that wouldn’t do at all.
Cautiously she glanced around. It was so very late, and the night was very quiet.
No one was about to witness her approaching his door, no one would be aware of her scandalous midnight visit. Her reputation would remain unscathed. Still she hesitated.
Once she set foot on this path, there would be no turning back, but she didn’t see that she had any other choice.
With renewed resolve, she stepped into the street and began marching forward, fearing that, before this night was done, her reputation would remain the only thing untouched by the Devil Earl.
None would ever dare claim that Lucian Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne, was a coward. Yet as he sat at the gaming table, he knew the truth of it. He was there only because he hadn’t the courage to press his suit with the lovely Frannie Darling. He’d come to Dodger’s Drawing Room with the specific intent of finally asking Frannie for her hand in marriage, and just before he’d reached the door to the office where she kept track of Jack Dodger’s accounts, he’d decided to take a quickdetour by the gaming tables. Just to give his hands an opportunity to stop quaking and his mind the chance to rehearse once again the words he’d been practicing.
That had been six hours ago.
He could blame his delay on the fact that he was winning. But then he always won.
The next set of cards was dealt. He gave his a passing glance. It wasn’t the cards he was dealt that assured his victory, but rather his ability to accurately determine what the other gents were holding.
The Earl of Chesney’s eyes bugged slightly when he received a nicely matched set of cards, as though he were taken by surprise by his good fortune. This round, his eyes remained noticeably unbugged. Viscount Milner kept rearranging the order of his cards, never finding satisfaction there. The Earl of Canton always took a sip of his brandy when he was pleased. His glass remained untouched. The Duke of Avendale sat forward as though ready to pounce upon the winnings when he thought they would be his. He lounged back when the outcome was doubtful. Presently, he looked as though he were in danger of sliding out of his chair onto the floor. A monstrously bad hand that he no doubt thought he could bluff his way through.
The game continued, with each man betting or passing. When this particular round of brag was completed, with all the other lords groaning and moaning, Claybourne took his winnings and added them to the stack of wooden chips already resting in front of him.
“I believe, gentlemen, that I shall call it a night,” he said, coming to his feet.
A young lad, dressed in the purple livery for which Dodger’s was so well known, rushed over with a copper bowl. He held it at the edge of the table while Claybourne slid his abundant winnings into it.
“See here, Claybourne,” Avendale said, “you’re hardly being sporting about this. You should at least give us an opportunity to win it back.”
Removing a crown from his pocket, Claybourne took the bowl from the lad, flipping him the coin as he did so. The boy, who was probably no more than eight, touched his fingers to his brow and dashed off.
“I’ve given you most of the night, gentlemen. Trust me when I assure you that you’ll come out ahead if I leave now.”
The gentlemen did a bit more grumbling, but Claybourne knew they weren’t sorry to see him go. He made them uncomfortable. No more so than they made him. But that was his secret. Unlike them, he never allowed his emotions, thoughts, or feelings to rise to the surface. Not even when it came to Frannie. He doubted that she had any idea how deeply his affection for her ran.
He stopped by the exchange window and swapped his chips for coins, relishing the additional weight of the bowl.
As he strode through the gaming establishment, he realized that Frannie had no doubt already retired for the evening, in which case, he’d have to wait until tomorrow to proclaim his feelings. But as he neared the back, he saw the door to her office was open.
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