How to Entice an Earl
Some wallflowers are content to sit on the outskirts of the ballroom. But sometimes you have to take a chance—if you really want to dance…
FLIRTING WITH DANGER
Lady Madeline Essex is the last of the unwed “ducklings” in her family—and by far the most outspoken. But when she boldly enters London’s most notorious gaming house in search of fodder for her novel, even her sharp tongue can’t save her from the horrible crime she stumbles upon there. As luck would have it, first on the scene is the last man she wants to see her vulnerable. The one man who could tempt her heart…
ENFLAMED BY DESIRE
Christian Monteith, the new Earl of Gresham, isn’t much for card rooms and gaming hells. But as a favor to his former commanding officer, he’s investigating a gamester for espionage on the night that Maddie ventures in looking more enticing than he’s ever seen her. Suddenly, his feelings for his friend aren’t so friendly anymore. And when her curiosity brings the impetuous novelist to the attention of a madman, Christian will stop at nothing to protect her—from a sinister plot that is far more dangerous than any stolen kiss…
At Mrs. Bailey’s Gaming Hell
As she watched the table, Maddie felt a male body step up close behind her. Startled, she jumped and turned to look up into a familiar green gaze.
“Lady Madeline,” Gresham said, stepping back to allow her to turn. “I would like a word.”
Annoyed, but knowing that she would have to speak to him sooner or later, Maddie excused herself to Tinker and Lady Emily. Grudgingly she followed the earl to an alcove on the edge of the chamber.
“What the devil are you doing here?” he demanded in a low tone that only she could hear. She could feel the frustration emanating from him in waves. “More importantly, what the devil was Linton thinking bringing you here?”
“You know perfectly well why I am here,” she said in an equally low voice, trying to ignore the jolt of attraction she felt despite her anger. This is not how you are supposed to respond to Gresham, she informed her pounding heart. “I told you last night that I needed to be here so that I might write about a gaming hell in my novel. And what business is it of yours that my brother brought me here? I do not see you ringing a peal over the heads of the other ladies here.”
“They are not related to my best friend’s wife,” he hissed, apparently unaware of the response his nearness was causing in her. “And their presence here will not somehow end up biting me in the…”
“Oh, do not be melodramatic,” Maddie interrupted, annoyed both at herself and him. Leave it to Gresham to be attractive to her even when he was setting her back up. Curse him. “You are not responsible for my presence here. My brother is, and as he didn’t seem to find the idea overly disturbing, I do not see why you should.”
Gresham shoved a hand through his light brown curls.“You’ll pardon me,” he said, “if I do not use your brother’s behavior as a guide for my own. He is not best known for his moderation or good sense.”
At the slight against her brother, Maddie’s attraction transformed into anger. It was all well and good for her to criticize a member of her family, but Gresham had no right to do so.
“How dare you speak of my brother in that way, you…you…hypocrite!” Bristling with anger she continued,“If you are such a paragon of virtue, what are you doing here?”
Though they had started out speaking in undertones, both Maddie and Gresham had allowed their voices raise a bit in their exasperation with one another. So much so that Linton, his luck at faro having run out, turned his attention away from the gaming table and hurried over to the bickering couple.
“Madeline,” her brother said in a hiss, conveniently ignoring Gresham and addressing himself to his sister. “You are causing a scene. Do you not recall the terms of our agreement?”
The injustice of being taken to task by her brother, whose behavior—despite Maddie’s defense of him to Gresham—was frequently outrageous made Maddie’s teeth clench.
“Yes, I remember, but that was before I knew that I would be accosted by this interfering baboon.”
Gresham raised his brows. “Baboon? Really?”
“Be quiet,” Maddie ordered. She was thoroughly sick of both of them. There were reasons that ladies continued to press for emancipation from domination by men, and these two were prime examples.
Gresham, however, had not forgotten his quibble with the young viscount. “Linton, what do you mean bringing your sister to a place like this?” he demanded. “It’s not as if her reputation is flawless to begin with.”
“Oooh, you…you…” For once in her life Maddie found herself at a loss for words and had to vent her frustration by stamping her foot instead of shouting as she wished to do. The nerve.
“If you dare to ask me that,” Linton said with a shake of his head, “then I’ll wager you’ve never tried to convince Maddie to abandon a scheme. I’d have had more luck convincing the sun to rise from the west.”
“Her persistence notwithstanding,” Gresham said with a twist of his mouth. “Are you really claiming to have no control over your own actions? You could certainly have left this evening without bringing her along. I cannot imagine you’ve brought her with you all the other times you came here.”
“Pardon me,” Maddie interrupted, “But she is here and quite capable of speaking for herself.” If she let them they’d make arrangements between them to have her home and she’d be in bed before the clock struck midnight. And she had only just got here.
“Yes, I know you are.” Linton said through his teeth. “And you promised not to bring attention to yourself if I brought you along tonight. You were supposed to be quiet and to keep to the background as much as possible. You swore to me.” This last he said with a pout in his voice that reminded her of their childhood tiffs.
“But I didn’t know Gresham would be here scolding me like a disapproving governess,” Maddie said hotly, angry that her brother cast the blame on her rather than on Gresham where it belonged. “I can hardly be expected to refrain from defending myself.”
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” Mrs. Bailey asked, stepping up to the threesome, her brows raised slightly.
“Not at all, ma’am,” Linton told their hostess, masking his annoyance. “We were merely discussing an upcoming race at Newmarket and my sister became incensed. She does have strong feelings about the races.”
“Especially when she’s backing the wrong horse,” Gresham said grimly.
Madeline, realizing that it might be best to remain silent before their hostess, kept quiet.
“Interesting,” Mrs. Bailey said glancing from one to the other of them. “I hadn’t suspected that Lady Madeline was a racing aficionado. You must let me show you my stable one day, my dear. I think you’ll find it quite amusing.”
Somehow, Maddie got the feeling that Mrs. Bailey wasn’t talking about horses. She would have asked for clarification, but just as quickly as she’d approached them, Mrs. Bailey left them again.
Which was frustrating since Mrs. Bailey’s use of metaphor was something that might work well in her novel. Yet another crime to lay at Linton and Gresham’s doors.
“If it would be all right with the two of you,” Maddie told them, “I believe I will excuse myself to repair my coiffure.”
Nevermind the fact that her hair was just fine, Maddie wanted to be away from her annoying brother and her equally annoying…annoyance, or whatever it was that Monteith was to her.
Perhaps a few minutes alone would allow her to calm down and remember why she was here in the first place.
Not waiting for a response, she strode to the doorway and asked a lurking footman for the direction of the room set aside for the ladies. Upon learning the direction, she hurried toward the chamber.