silver knob, intent on finding something new to read. The knob turned, the heavy door swung wide, and for a moment, she stood frozen in the opening. A lamp was lit and the room was far from empty.”Good evening, Miss Woolcot.” Nicholas Warring leaned back in a black leather chair, a glass of gin in one hand, a thin cigar in the other. The florid, foul-mouthed Nigel Wicker,
Baron St. George, sat like a puffed up toad in the seat across
“Good evening, my lord. I didn’t mean to intrude. I didn’t
realize you were in here.” They appeared to be playing cards.
Stacks of money rested in haphazard piles on the polished mahogany table, and a fresh hand had been dealt face down in front of each of the men. Elizabeth hesitated only a moment, then walked farther into the room, determined not to be intimidated this time. Whether his lordship approved or not, she had come for a book and she didn’t intend to leave without one. She set the branch of candles on the table next to a row of leather bound books behind the two men. “Gambling again, I see,” she couldn’t resist saying to the earl. “I don’t suppose this time you are winning?” He grinned at that. “Not so you’d notice.”
“Nick’s a demmed fine player,” St. George slurred, “when he
puts his mind to it.” The baron’s thick lips curled up in
the semblance of a smile. “Fortunately, that doesn’t happen
all that often.” Ravenworth took a draw on his cigar, blew
several floating gray rings and watched them linger in the air.
“Miss Woolcot doesn’t approve of my gaming, do you, sweeting?”
The unexpected endearment rolled through her, curled warmly in her stomach. Elizabeth resented the intrusion, the ease with which he could affect her. “You know I do not.”
St. George took a gulp of his drink, sat back, and belched loudly. Ravenworth arched a sleek black brow in the man’s direction.”I believe you met the baron a couple of days ago. “He took a sip of his drink. His hair was mussed, his cravat missing, his frilled shirt undone several buttons down. Smooth dark skin covered with curly black chest hair appeared through the opening. He looked roguish and handsome and he was obviously foxed, St. George even more in his cups than the earl.
Elizabeth straightened her spine. “Yes, I believe we met just
yesterday afternoon.” She had encountered Nigel Wicker walking with Ravenworth in the mazeof hallways running through the house, and the earl had been forced to introduce them. She pasted on a smile for the overweight baron. “Good evening, my lord.” But her gaze remained fixed
on the earl and she thought what a waste it was for a man likehim to fall into such ruin. “As I said, I’m sorry if I’m
interrupting. I finished the book I was reading, but still couldn’t seem to fall asleep. I promise I shan’t be long.”
“Take as long as you like, my dear,” slurred the baron, leaning precariously toward her. “Pretty little thing like you can disturb me any time she likes.” Until his arm snaked out
toward her waist, she hadn’t realized how near to him she was standing. “By jove, Nicky, old boy, she’s a comely bit of
In an instant, Ravenworth was out of his chair, the thin cigar on the floor, his drink spilled onto the table. St. George’s blunt hand never reached her. Instead the dark, long-boned fingers of the earl curved painfully around the man’s thick wrist.
“I told you before, the girl is out of bounds to you and anyone else who comes here. I thought I made myself clear.” The baron’s fleshy lips curled in a grimace of pain and Nick released his hold. Elizabeth backed away, pressing herself against a row of books.
Watching her, the baron gave up a slow, lecherous smile.
“Very clear, my friend. I didn’t realize you had a claim
on the lady yourself.”
Ravenworth’s mouth thinned into a tight, warning line.
“The girl is under my protection, nothing more. Remember that, St. George, and we won’t have a problem.”
Elizabeth just stared. Her mind kept replaying a picture of the earl rising out of his chair with the swift grace of a panther–andnot a single trace of the drunken man he had appeared.
“Elizabeth,” he said softly. “Are you all right?”
She blinked several times, dragged in a soft breath of air.
“Yes…yes, quite all right. I shall simply get my book and return upstairs.”
“Fine, but do it quickly.”
She didn’t dawdle, just picked up one of Mrs. Radcliff’s Medieval novels she had spotted on the shelf two days ago, turned and hurried out of the room. The sound of men’s voices followed. She wondered what they were saying, but mostly she thought about Ravenworth. He hadn’t been drunk-not really. Her suspicions grew more pronounced that the earl wasa far different man than he appeared. He intrigued her, more than any man she had ever met. Interest quickened her pulse as she decided, one way or the other, she would discover the truth about the Wicked Earl.
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