How to Tempt an EarlBy: Tina Gabrielle
My knight in shining armor.
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 buff-colored 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.