on June 22nd 2016
Miss Lucinda Parnell is out of money, a dismal failure at the Marriage Mart, and she’d just as soon leave Society far behind. Desperate to earn funds to retire with her grandmother to the country, Lucy disguises herself as a man to gamble in London’s hells. But the Earl of Dartford, an Untouchable she never imagined speaking to let alone spending time with, is onto her in a trice. When he insists on joining her, Lucy fears her desire to remain an independent woman is destined to go up on flames.
As a boy, Andrew Wentworth, Earl of Dartford lost his family to illness, leaving him a hollow shell. Obsessed with conquering one adventure after another to fill the bitter holes inside of him, Andrew has set his sights on parachuting. Nothing will stop him from trying to achieve his goal—not the hazard of death and certainly not a woman who’s gotten far too close. Love is the one risk he doesn’t have the heart to dare.
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Miss Lucinda Parnell is out of money. A dismal failure at the Marriage Mart, she’d just as soon leave Society far behind. Desperate to earn funds to retire with her grandmother to the country, Lucy disguises herself as a man to gamble in London’s hells. But the Earl of Dartford, an Untouchable she never imagined speaking to let alone spending time with, is onto her in a trice. When he insists on acting as her protector, Lucy fears her chance to remain an independent woman is destined to go up in flames.
After losing his entire family, Andrew Wentworth, Earl of Dartford built a wall to keep attachments at bay. He believed he could keep Miss Parnell safe without compromising his defenses, but she’s exciting and irresistible. Their deepening relationship makes him even more determined to push her away. Nothing will stop him from trying to avoid reliving the anguish of loss. Love is the one risk he doesn’t have the heart to dare.
“Hellfire, that one’s got the luck of the devil tonight,” Andrew Wentworth, fourth Earl of Dartford, remarked to one of his companions. Andrew didn’t know the gentleman currently scooping up his winnings, but he was causing a stir.
His friend, Edgar Charles, nodded. “Never seen him before. You?”
Andrew shook his head. The gentleman looked young, his fresh face framed with dark sideburns that cloaked the upper edge of his jaw.
The banker, one of the fairer as far as gaming hells went, nodded toward the young man as he finished paying out his winnings.
The lad’s gloved fingers, slender and long—almost graceful—swept the bounty across the table and scooped it up. He stashed the profit inside his coat, perhaps in a pocket sewn into the lining. Everyone in the room would know exactly where to find it, should they wish to rob him outside.
Andrew glanced around at tonight’s visitors—young bucks and rakes, a few working men. He didn’t think anyone would accost the man, but he also doubted the fellow’s ability to defend himself. He was on the shorter side and a bit thick. His legs were long, however, so perhaps he could outrun trouble if necessity required.
Charles gestured toward the table. “Again?”
Andrew was more interested in this mysterious gentleman than in continuing his own play. But then gambling was not his favorite pastime, as it was Charles’s.
The banker called for the next round, and the unknown gentleman went in again, placing his bets on the various cards. It was a game of chance, yet the man looked as though he had a strategy. That alone was enough to pique Andrew’s curiosity. He watched as the round started up. Immediately, Charles began to lose heavily. The unknown gentleman, however, continued to have incredible luck.
By the end of the round, Charles was lamenting his misfortune. “Do save me from myself,” he said to Andrew and the rest of their group.
It was a commonplace plea from their friend, and one of the reasons they ventured forth as a group. Each had their vice and relied on the others to keep them in check. Except for Andrew. His only vice was that he’d rather be out, be doing…anything but staying home alone.
Was that really a vice?
Of course it wasn’t. For Andrew, though, it might be termed a compulsion.
The portly young gentleman appeared to be without company, which was odd, and not just because Andrew would never dream of spending an evening thus. Again, he scooped up his winnings, but Andrew noted he stashed them in a different pocket within his coat.
Horace, the banker, looked up at the young man. “You finished?”
The man nodded. “Thank you, sir.” His voice was surprisingly deep, with a hint of gravel.
Horace grinned, revealing a gold tooth. “Come back soon. I need a chance to win my money back.”
The stranger’s mouth tugged into a half smile, but he quickly masked it. Though not before a flash of awareness curled up Andrew’s spine. There was something about him…
The lad turned and left the salon. Charles was still bemoaning his losses, but their friends had rallied around him. It was time to go. Knowing they would be right behind him, Andrew quickly departed.
He strode to the entry hall, where the burly footman was just showing the unknown gentleman out. Andrew nodded at the footman as he moved outside and followed the man down the short flight of stairs to the pavement. The man moved at a sprightly pace, differently than Andrew would’ve thought given his girth.
“‘Evening,” Andrew said. “I’m Dartford.”
The man turned, but his features were shadowed by the brim of his hat and the fact that the streetlamp was behind him. “‘Evening.” His low, almost steely voice caught Andrew off guard even more than it had inside. There was something…off.
Curiosity burned through Andrew. “It would be polite of you to introduce yourself as I’ve done.”
“Ah, of course.” He coughed. “Smith.”
Andrew moved so that the man had to turn, which brought him into the splash of light from the lamp. “Indeed?”
He gave Andrew a furtive glance, his long, dark lashes sweeping down over his eyes. “Davis Smith.”
“Pleased to meet you. Come, meet the others.”
Smith tipped his head up, and his eyes widened briefly. “Others?” He looked down at the street and tugged at the brim of his hat.
Andrew nodded toward his small group of friends as they joined them on the pavement. “Gentlemen, meet my new acquaintance, Smitty.”
Pleasantries were exchanged, and then Roderick Beaumont, a young viscount whose preferred vice was that of the flesh, looked around at everyone. “Another hell, or is it time for Mrs. Longley’s? I’m sure you know my vote.” He grinned, and there was no doubt he would end up at his favorite brothel—either now or at some point later.
“Longley’s,” Charles said. “I can’t afford another hell tonight.”
The group consensus was quickly made—Longley’s was their destination.
As they started along the street, Andrew looked at Smith. “You should come along with us.”
“To a brothel?” His deep voice had climbed a bit on that last word.
Andrew laughed. “Why, Smitty, are you a virgin?”
“No.” The answer came too swiftly to be believed.
“Then you should definitely…come.” Andrew looked at the young man’s face to see whether he registered the double entendre, but there was no indication.
“I don’t think so. I need to get home.” Smith turned from him and started to walk away.
Andrew caught the shadowed movement near the hell they’d just left. He reached out and snagged Smith’s arm, drawing him back. What he felt beneath the sleeve was soft but not fleshy. And the gentleman was not as heavy as he looked, for though Andrew hardly exerted any effort, the man came crashing into Andrew’s side. His head tipped back, and the full illumination of the lamp spilled over his features.
Those ink-black lashes curled away from moss-laden hazel eyes, and the gasp that leapt from the too-supple lips gave the man away completely.
“Damn me,” Andrew breathed. He kept his hand firmly clasped around the woman’s elbow and tugged her along with him as he followed his group of friends.
“I’m not going with you.” Her voice had gone low again as she yanked the brim of her hat down.
“You’ve no choice.”
She tried to pull free of his grip. “You can’t force me.”
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