Home > Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(9)

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(9)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

“She’ll murder me on the spot,” Pandora managed to say, nearly choking on misery and desperation.

“For what?” the old man asked incredulously.

“For being compromised.”

Chaworth let out a guffaw. “Dear girl, I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t dance a jig. I’ve just made the match of the year for you!”

Chapter 2

Gabriel swore and shoved his fists in his pockets.

“I’m sorry,” Westcliff said sincerely. “Had it not been for Chaworth—”

“I know.” Gabriel paced back and forth in front of the summer house like a caged tiger. He couldn’t believe it. Of all the clever marital traps he had evaded with ease, he’d finally been caught. Not by a worldly seductress, or a society beauty with finishing-school polish. Instead, his downfall had come in the form of an eccentric wallflower. Pandora was the daughter of an earl, which meant that even if she were a certifiable lunatic—which certainly wasn’t outside the realm of possibility—her honor had to be redeemed.

The overwhelming impression she conveyed was of constant nervous energy, like a thoroughbred waiting for the starter’s flag. Even her smallest movements seemed to hold the potential for explosive action. The effect had been unsettling, but at the same time, he’d found himself wanting to capture all that undirected fire and put it to good use, until she was limp and exhausted beneath him.

Bedding her wouldn’t be a problem.

It was just everything else about her that would be a problem.

Scowling and troubled, Gabriel turned to set his back against one of the summer house’s outer support columns. “What did she mean when she said she would lose everything if she married me?” he asked aloud. “Perhaps she’s in love with someone. If so—”

“There are young women,” Westcliff pointed out dryly, “who have goals other than finding a husband.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Gabriel sent him a sardonic glance. “Are there? I’ve never met one of those.”

“I believe you may have just now.” The earl glanced back in the direction Lady Pandora had gone. “A wallflower,” he said softly, with a faint, reminiscent smile on his lips.

Aside from his own father, there was no man Gabriel trusted more than Westcliff, who had always been like an uncle to him. The earl was the kind of man who would always make the moral choice, no matter how difficult.

“I already know your opinion about what I should do,” Gabriel muttered.

“A girl with a ruined reputation is at the world’s mercy,” Westcliff said. “You’re aware of your obligations as a gentleman.”

Gabriel shook his head with an incredulous laugh. “How could I marry a girl like that?” She would never fit into his life. They would end up killing each other. “She’s only half-civilized.”

“It would seem Lady Pandora hasn’t mixed in society long enough to be familiar with its ways,” Westcliff admitted.

Gabriel watched a yellow brimstone moth, besotted by the torchlight, fluttering past the summer house. “She doesn’t give a damn about society’s ways,” he said with certainty. The moth flew in ever-smaller circles, glancing repeatedly off the wavering heat in its fatal dance with the torch flame. “What kind of family are the Ravenels?”

“The name is an old and respected one, but their fortune dwindled years ago. Lady Pandora had an older brother, Theo, who inherited the earldom upon their father’s passing. Unfortunately he was killed in a riding accident soon afterward.”

“I met him,” Gabriel said with a pensive frown. “Two—no, three—years ago, at Jenner’s.”

Gabriel’s family owned a private gaming house, ostensibly a gentlemen’s club, patronized by royalty, aristocracy, and men of influence. Before inheriting the dukedom, his father, Sebastian, had personally run and managed the club, turning it into one of London’s most fashionable gaming establishments.

In the last few years, many of the family’s business interests had transferred to Gabriel’s shoulders, including Jenner’s. He had always kept a close eye on the place, knowing it was one of his father’s pet concerns. One night, Theo, Lord Trenear, had visited the club. Theo had been a robust, good-looking man, blond and blue-eyed. Charming on the surface, all explosive force beneath.

“He came to Jenner’s with some friends on a night when I happened to be there,” Gabriel continued, “and spent most of his time at the hazard table. He didn’t play well—he was the kind who chased his losses instead of knowing when to quit. Before leaving, he wanted to apply for membership. The manager came to me, somewhat agitated, and asked me to deal with him because of his privilege and rank.”

“You had to turn him down?” Westcliff asked, wincing visibly.

Gabriel nodded. “His credit was bad, and the family estate was drowning in debt. I declined him in private, in as civil a manner as possible. However . . .” He shook his head at the memory.

“He went into a rage,” Westcliff guessed.

“Foaming like a bull in clover,” Gabriel said ruefully, recalling how Theo had launched at him without warning. “He wouldn’t stop swinging until I dropped him to the floor. I’ve known more than a few men who couldn’t control their tempers, especially when they were in their cups. But I’ve never seen anyone explode quite like that.”

“The Ravenels have always been known for their volatile temperaments.”

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