Published by Entangled Publishing on May 14th 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
London society is cruel for a young woman whose father is an avid gambler. Miss Grace Ashton is not one to stand idly by while her family becomes destitute. Donning a mask, she slips into the night and attends the infamous Raven Club to confront the proprietor. But nothing prepares her for the sinfully attractive and wealthy Ian Swift.
Ian is intrigued when Grace walks into his gambling club but refuses her offer of a few jewels to pay her father’s large debts. Unbeknownst to anyone, Ian has inherited the Earldom of Castleton, and he must reluctantly take his place in Society. But Ian’s manners as a gentleman have suffered. He needs a tutor, and he knows the exquisite lady standing before him is the answer.
But soon tutoring turns to flirting, which unfortunately lands both of them in...marriage?
The Raven Club,
An Undisclosed Location in London
He didn’t look at all like a gentleman.
Tall and lean, the man standing in the corner of the gambling club looked more like a pirate, with dark hair that reached just below his collar and a bronzed complexion that spoke of hours in the sun.
Miss Grace Ashton reached up to adjust her half mask as she stood in the entrance of the Raven Club. She wasn’t one to take such a reckless risk. It mattered naught that her mask, combined with the hood of her cloak, hid her identity. Her stomach had been in knots ever since she’d stepped out of the hackney.
Ian Swift stood alone, his gaze scanning the faro and whist tables. He was dressed in a white shirt and buffcolored trousers—no coat, waistcoat, or cravat. She’d overheard whispers of the notorious gambling club owner in the ladies’ retiring room, and she’d wondered if the rumors of his aristocratic lineage were true. Other disturbing gossip came to mind. He was ruthless, without compassion, and never forgave a debt.
A cold-hearted man.
And yet, she had no choice but to seek his aid.
She wove her way through the room and glanced at the gamblers sitting at the tables as she passed. Men and women gazed at their cards with an avaricious intensity that made Grace shiver. Smoke wafted around her, and the sound of rolling dice from a nearby hazard table made her frayed nerves tighten.
Her attention returned to the man standing alone in the corner. Aloof and unapproachable, he exuded an air of command. She walked forward and halted before him. He didn’t bow, didn’t move. The only indication that he’d noticed her at all was a sideways glance.
She cleared her throat. “Mr. Swift?”
He turned to face her, and she sucked in a breath. Up close, he was taller and more powerfully built that she’d thought. Without a coat, the wide breadth of his shoulders strained against his shirt. She’d heard there was prizefighting in a boxing room in the back of the club. He looked like a pugilist himself—hardened, strong, and roughhewn—nothing like the refined and elegant men of the ton. Heavens, he wasn’t even clean shaven but had a day’s growth of stubble on his cheeks. Her pulse skittered alarmingly.
Coal black hair gleamed in the candlelight of the chandeliers, and an unruly curl rested on his forehead. He was graced with strong cheekbones and a determined jawline. A thin scar across an eyebrow marred what many would consider a perfect masculine face. But it was his eyes that made her want to step back. Dark as midnight, his gaze boldly swept her from head to toe.
She grew warm and felt a curious sweeping pull in her stomach, causing her uncertainty to grow.
He gave her a quick glance. “If you’re seeking to join one of the tables, ask for Brooks.”
She shook her head. “You misunderstand, sir. I’m not here to gamble.”
“Then you missed the boxing match.”
She frowned. “The match?” He must be speaking about the club’s pugilist activity, a barbaric form of gambling, in her opinion. It was also forbidden by law, but clearly that hadn’t stopped Swift from offering such entertainment. Based on his dress, she wondered if he’d just stepped out of the ring himself. A smudge of dirt marred his right sleeve, and his hessians, though of good quality, were dusty and unpolished. A dandy would immediately dismiss his valet without a reference. “I’m not interested in that, either.”
“Then you shouldn’t be here at all.”
His stare was unnerving, intense and intelligent at the same time, causing a flurry within Grace. Heat swam up her neck, and the air seemed to grow heavy.
From his dismissing tone and arrogant stance, it was clear he wanted her gone. Under any other circumstances, she gladly would have obliged and fled. But she couldn’t. Her livelihood depended on it.
“I need to discuss a different matter with—”
“Not gambling. Not here to watch a fight. I’m a busy man.” He turned away.
A heavy feeling settled in her stomach. She couldn’t allow him to turn his back on her. She hadn’t come this far, risked this much, only to return home without a solution to her dilemma.
“Wait! Please, it’s a matter of grave importance. My father frequents your establishment far too much.”
His gaze returned to her. “I see. You must be the meddling daughter.”
“The concerned daughter,” she said sharply.
“Pardon,” he said, a hint of mockery in his tone. “If I may be so bold as to guess. You are the concerned daughter who wants to reform her wayward sire.”
“He doesn’t need complete reforming, just from habituating this particular place.”
A flicker of amusement lit his eyes. “Look around you. Men come here to escape. They gamble. They drink. I don’t drag anyone through my doors, nor do I force them to stay against their will.”
“Not physically, perhaps. But you prey upon their weaknesses.”
He glared at her, frowning. “What exactly do you want Miss…?”
She raised her chin a notch. “It’s Miss Grace, and I’m asking you to refuse my father admittance into your club.” She withheld her surname, not willing to reveal it until she had his cooperation.
He stiffened, and for a moment she thought she had pushed him too far, but then he threw back his head and laughed. Straight white teeth flashed in his bronzed face, and the corded muscles of his neck were revealed.
She stared. She couldn’t help herself. She’d never seen a man’s naked chest, and although he wore a shirt, its top two buttons were undone and she could clearly see the sprinkling of dark hair.
His lips curled in a slow, wicked smile as if he knew her illicit thoughts and was fully capable of satisfying each one. “Now why would I want to refuse your father admittance? I’m not in the habit of turning away patrons.”
“You don’t understand. Father is a baron, and he always behaved respectably. He never gambled, never drank…not until Mother died during my first Season three years ago.”
“Ah, I see. I take it your Season did not go well.” His voice softened a bit.
“Of course not. It was spent mourning the loss of my mother.” To her dismay, her voice broke slightly.
“It won’t help.”
“Even if I turn him away from my club, your father will go elsewhere. It won’t solve your problem.”
Whatever glimpse of sympathy she’d thought she’d detected was gone. The cold, hard gambling hall owner was back. She bit her lip, and his gaze dropped to her mouth.
She felt an unwelcome stirring of heat in her veins. As a third-year debutante, she was not entirely unaccustomed to male attention. She’d danced at balls, taken private walks in the garden, and had even been kissed. But she had yet to receive a marriage proposal. If she was truthful to herself, she hadn’t been devastated at the time. She’d found them all dreadfully boring, couldn’t envision a life of matrimony bound to any of them, and had intentionally dissuaded any serious interest.
But Ian Swift was entirely different from the men of her acquaintance. Others had looked at her as a gentleman should look at a lady, whereas Swift’s stare was earthy, intense, and good heavens…lustful.
She took a deep breath and strengthened her resolve. “There’s something else.”
“Ah, there always is,” he drawled.
“Father’s debts here. I want to pay them.”
One dark eyebrow shot up. “You have money?”
She clutched her reticule. “I do.” She didn’t have banknotes, only the remaining pieces of her mother’s jewels. She’d kept them hidden from her father and prayed they were valuable enough.
He stepped to the side and motioned to a staircase leading up to the second floor. “Then by all means, please follow me.”
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