Good Earl Gone Bad
Audacious, extravagant, indulgent-the Lords of Anarchy live at top speed, with nothing to chase but pleasure…at every imaginable cost.…
Marriage? To a gambler? You must be joking! Yet Lady Hermione Upperton has never backed down from a challenge. When her spendthrift father offers her at the gaming tables, she is given a difficult choice—wed the Earl of Mainwaring, an infamous gamester with no respect for her skills with the reins, or face charges for the murder of a member of the infamous Lords of Anarchy. Either way she’ll have to clear her name. Can she count on her husband’s help the way she has begun to count on his kisses?
All Jasper Fawley, the Earl of Mainwaring, wanted was a night of cards. But by the end of the evening he’s walked away with a fortune—and a bride who’s suspected of murder. Jasper knows Hermione is passionate about her unorthodox membership in the Lords of Anarchy, but he’s certain she would never kill to keep it. Can he protect his headstrong wife from prosecution and a ruthless killer without endangering both their hearts in the process?
“For a club called The Lords of Anarchy,” said Miss Ophelia Dauntry wryly as she scanned the crowded ballroom of Lord and Lady Payne, “they seem remarkably well behaved.”
As the current president of the once notorious driving club, Lord Payne had done much to repair the club’s image in the eyes of the haute ton. And part of that campaign had been the invitation they club had extended to Lady Hermione Upperton, whose membership was the reason for tonight’s celebration. They had even gone so far as to celebrate her induction with a rout instead of what they might otherwise have done—taken the excuse to drink to excess in their favorite tavern on the Brighton Road.
“I think we all know why they are behaving so prettily,” Lady Hermione said with a speaking look. She was under no illusions about the reasons for her warm welcome into the brotherhood. But as a driving enthusiast with a desire to take her place among the sporting elite, she was happy to take whatever chance she could get.
Especially since her father had done his level best to keep her from fulfilling her dream by threatening every other club with a lawsuit if they allowed his daughter to become a member. Only the Lords of Anarchy had ignored the Earl of Upperton’s threats and extended the invitation.
“I believe you should be chatting with your new compatriots,” said Mrs. Frederick Lisle—more commonly known as the celebrated poet Leonora Craven. “Especially since you are looking so lovely.”
Hermione smiled at her friend’s compliment. It was true that she felt far more fashionable than she was normally accustomed to in her deep blue silk gown. The color contrasted with her creamy complexion as well as bringing out the blue in her eyes. And she’d chosen to have her maid dress her dark hair in a newer, softer style which was more becoming than her usual utilitarian chignon. Though she was now a member of a club that was known for its masculine pursuits, she hadn’t wished them to forget that she was still a lady. And as such she would bring a new sensibility to the membership.
“Thank you, Leonora,” she said, suppressing the urge to twirl about. “I was sure Ophelia would faint dead away on seeing me rigged out in such finery.”
“I always knew you had it in you,” Ophelia said primly. Then in a lower voice said, “I’m just happy you chose to put away your dowdy gowns on an evening when there are so many handsome, eligible gentlemen around.”
“Are we interrupting?”
Ophelia’s consternation was almost comical as she realized that Leonora’s husband, Freddy, was behind her.
“Of course not darling,” said Leonora with a twinkle in her eye as she made room in their little circle for both Freddy and the two men flanking him: the Earl of Mainwaring and the Duke of Trent. Friends from school, the three had once been four—with Leonora’s brother Jonathan rounding out the group.
“I am surprised to see you here, Mainwaring,” Hermione said with a raised brow. “I thought you were firmly against the notion of ladies participating in such rough pursuits.”
As if he knew how much it would irritate her, Mainwaring raised his quizzing glass and surveyed her with it. When he lingered in his perusal, she found herself blushing.
Finally, dropping the eye-piece, he mimicked her quizzical expression. “I do not believe you are showing any signs of masculinity, Lady Hermione,” he drawled. “So I suppose I must withdraw my objections.”
His sigh, which was heartfelt, only served to further annoy her.
That he was as handsome as he was provoking vexed Hermione even further. With dark unruly curls that cried out to be tousled and the fine boned features of a Renaissance angel, he would have been called pretty if he were a woman. But he was most certainly not—as his wide shoulders and trim waist attested. Yet, Hermione could focus only on his maddening personality.
“You are the most infuriating man,” she said with a scowl. “Do you really have to enjoy setting my back up so much? It’s most unbecoming.”
Mainwaring gave a shrug. “Perhaps not, but it’s far too amusing for me to give up.”
She wondered idly if it would spoil the party in her honor if she were to start a brawl. Likely not, but knowing that the Lords of Anarchy wanted to rejuvenate their image, she could jeopardize her membership. And though it would feel wonderful to snatch away Mainwaring’s quizzing glass and smash it into tiny pieces, she would not risk her new place, even for him.
“There is more to life than amusement,” Hermione retorted. “In fact, I would find it most amusing to…”
“Children,” interrupted the Duke of Trent “I believe our host is approaching his guest of honor.”
Hermione, without the height of the duke to let her see above the crush, stared in the direction Trent had indicated, and soon saw that he was correct. Lord Payne, accompanied by his lady wife, was headed their way.
“My dear, Lady Hermione,” said the viscount, “I hope you are enjoying yourself. I see that you have found your friends.”
He smiled politely at the circle around her, but without warmth. He and Freddy had crossed paths during the tenure of the previous club President, who was also Freddy’s cousin. And it was obvious there was no love lost between the men.
“I am pleased to see so many of the membership came out to support you, Lady Hermione,” said Lady Payne, her hand lying possessively on her husband’s arm. Hermione wondered if that was for her benefit. It cannot have been easy for her to stand by his side through the wilder exploits of the club. “I do wish you will consider me a friend during your membership. As the only lady, I know it will be difficult for you to find your footing.”
Definitely for her benefit, then Hermione thought ruefully.
Aloud, she said, “Thank you, Lady Payne. That is most kind of you to think of me.”
“Nonsense,” her host contradicted his wife. “I foresee no issues for Lady Hermione with the other chaps. We are not the first driving club to admit ladies, after all. So long as she knows her way around a coaching pair, she’ll be fine.”
Lady Payne flushed in embarrassment. Hermione exchanged a speaking glance with Leonora—there was something very unhappy about that match.
Before Hermione could break the awkward silence, Payne gave a brisk nod. “We’ll leave you to it then. I shall see you later this week at the first club muster of the season in Hyde Park. We meet by the Queen’s Gate.”
And just as quickly as the couple had appeared, they disappeared back into the crush of guests.
“Well, that was awkward,” Mainwaring said once their hosts were out of earshot. “I wonder if he is that charming with all ladies or reserves such bombast for his wife.”
For once, Hermione couldn’t argue with him. But if she were going to succeed in the club, she’d need to accept the bad with the good. Even if it meant suppressing her dislike for the way the club’s President treated his wife.
“Once a bully, always a bully,” said Freddy grimly. “I had hoped he’d become a bit less difficult with my cousin Gerard gone, but it would seem that the leopard does not change his spots.”
“Don’t let’s spoil Hermione’s night with all this dark talk,” Leonora said, linking her arm through Hermione’s. “I see champagne over there. Why don’t you gentlemen go fetch some for us.”
“Ahh, I see how it is,” Freddy said with a much put-upon sigh. “Now that we’re wed, you think you can just order me about.”
“Trent and I aren’t wed to her, but she’s ordering us about as well,” Mainwaring pointed out with a shrug. “I think she just wants us gone so that they can talk about lady things.”
And since none of the three ladies denied the accusation, the three men soon took themselves off to find the champagne tray.
“Are you sure you wish to be part of this club, dearest?” Leonora asked Hermione once the men had gone. “I know you are desperate for some place to show your skill with the reins. And I do most certainly think that you are any of these men’s equal, if not superior. But I cannot like it that you will be associating with Lord Payne. He was not particularly blameless in all that went on with the club when Freddy and I were involved.”
But Hermione had already made up her mind about the group. And though she too found Lord Payne troublesome, she had decided that until she saw evidence that the club was sliding back into its former bad habits, she would give them the benefit of the doubt.
“I know it’s difficult for you to understand,” she said aloud. “But I am doing this wish my eyes open. At the first sign of trouble, I will sever my ties, I promise. But until then, I would like the chance to determine whether a club like the Lords of Anarchy can give me what it is I’m looking for.”
“But what is it that you’re looking for?” Ophelia, who had remained silent until now, asked. “What do you want from them?”
“What every woman wants.” Hermione smiled sweetly. “To win.”