A Rake's Ruin (Devilish Lords #1)

A Rake's Ruin (Devilish Lords #1)

Maggie Dallen

Chapter One

Claire Cleveland watched from the upstairs balcony as the guests clustered on the dancefloor below. Everyone was here, it seemed, either to revel with the Earl of Davenport and his new bride at their newfound wedded bliss or to gawk at the reformed rake and his scandalous wife.

The scandalous wife in question was Claire’s younger sister Anne, the new Countess of Davenport. Their other sister, Georgie, was the first to say what Claire was thinking. “I do believe your first ball is a success, Anne.”

Anne wrinkled her nose. “Are you quite certain?”

Claire patted her arm reassuringly. “Without a doubt.” She knew what this ball meant to her sister. Anne and her husband, Frederick, were trying to turn over a new leaf within society. Her husband, who’d long been known as the Devil of Davenport, had decided to reform his image and attempt to become an upstanding member of society.

And all because of her sister.

Claire shook her head now, still in shock all these weeks later at the sudden change of fortune in their lives.

Anne was lovely, no one could doubt that. With her fiery red hair and her pretty figure, she was a beauty beyond compare. But, despite that, no one had thought for a second that she would marry well—certainly not well enough to save their family from the debts their eldest brother, Jed, had gotten them into with his gambling.

For though she was beautiful, Anne was one of the younger Cleveland siblings, which meant her parentage was up for debate. In fact, in Anne’s case, there was no doubt that she was illegitimate, despite the fact that their father had taken her in and their mother had raised her as one of her own. But of course, that was only common knowledge within the family. No one openly acknowledged her illegitimacy in society, but the whispers had been enough to damn her from the start.

As the only one of the siblings to have a spotless reputation, it had been assumed that Claire would be the one to marry well and, hopefully, save their family and their home. But as luck would have it, the earl—who Anne had picked out for her to marry—had fallen head over heels for her sister, and vice versa.

Even now, she caught Anne’s gaze flickering to her husband down below as he made the rounds and, more shockingly, made nice with the ton.

The smile that Anne wore could only be described as witless. The poor girl was besotted. And with her own husband, no less.

Claire shook her head again. She was still in awe at her sister’s lack of good sense. Anne was quite possibly the smartest of them all so the fact that she had fallen for this love nonsense made it that much more remarkable.

Georgie, the middle sister, who shared Claire’s blonde hair and blue eyes but not her jaded views, seemed oblivious to Anne’s distracted husband-gazing. “Yes, I do believe this ball is the best of the season.”

Claire and Anne exchanged a quick look of amusement. “It’s the only ball of the season,” Anne pointed out. “The season has only just begun.”

“Still,” their sister said loyally, “I predict it will be the best of them all.”

Georgie was a sweet girl and just about as cheerful as any one person could be. Even when their fortune had been lost and they had been in danger of losing their home, Georgie had been in good spirits, eternally hopeful that they would somehow miraculously be saved.

And they had been saved, and by the Devil of Davenport, no less. But no one aside from Georgie would call the earl’s sudden descent into madness a miracle.

Anne called it true love.

Claire called it good luck.

Claire might be the luckiest of them all. As Anne liked to point out, there was now no desperate need for Claire to marry well. Or at all, even. Davenport had paid off all of Jed’s debts and given the family ample money to get them back in the clear.

Jed had told her the details of the deal, which included that Jed work off the money. She knew without having to ask that Davenport made that stipulation to ensure that Jed learned his lesson and did not fall victim to his gambling addiction in the future.

The condition was sensible and she approved. The thought of her elder brother with his wicked habits and dangerous friends threatened to dim her happiness on Anne’s first successful ball. She sought Jed out in the crowd below them. Fear nagged at her, making her stomach twist when she should be reveling in Anne’s triumph.

Instead she warily searched for her brother. She knew Jed had good intentions, but good intentions were rather meaningless, along with well wishes and words of love. All sounded pretty but held no substance.

Claire spotted Jed’s dark blonde head in the crowd, but her temporary relief fled when she saw who he was speaking to.

Lord Nicholas Galwin, second son of the Duke of Roxborough. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the handsome, sharp features, the dark hair and that devilish grin.

Galwin might be a gentleman by birth, but he was a scoundrel by nature. A notorious womanizer, a shameless flirt, and, worst of all, a fellow gambler who sat by and watched as Jed nearly destroyed their lives.

Anger made her stiffen at the sight of him, affronted by his stylish clothes as much as that superior smirk. But, as always, she reined in the fiery emotion and hid it behind a simper, the way she’d been taught.

Simpering was an art, really. For Claire to find that balance between coquette and innocent was her mother’s greatest wish when she’d been a girl, and Claire had done her best to succeed. Now it was second nature to don a simpering smile even as she raged inside when an old, married gentleman leered at her behind his wife’s back, or when a lady of the ton slighted one of her younger siblings.

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