A Rake's Ruin (Devilish Lords #1)(5)

The driver’s brow furrowed in confusion at having missed that, but then he gave a short nod.

She looked out the carriage window as the earl’s drive was replaced by the streets of London. With a gasp and a laugh of disbelief, she clasped a gloved hand over her mouth. She was doing it. She was really doing it.

Miss Claire Cleveland was breaking the rules.

Chapter Two

Someone was following them. Galwin thought perhaps he was being overly suspicious, but then the carriage turned into the back alley after them. No one in their right mind would drive down this alley.

Well, no one except for him and Jed, and that was only out of necessity. Jed had one last debt to pay off and it wouldn’t be easy. For a man with a weakness like Jed’s, walking past the gaming tables with a pocketful of money and not trying a hand at the cards? It would require the fortitude of a saint.

But Jed could do it. He knew better than anyone the terrible toll his debts had cost him. Watching his family’s prospects dwindle had made him even more desperate to win, which had made him pathetically reckless. But nearly all the debts had been paid, and by Jed. He’d insisted on doing the humbling deed himself as a sort of act of penance.

Fortunately Jed was too distracted by his imminent mission to notice much, particularly the fact that they’d been followed. “Is that another carriage behind us?” Jed asked when they came to a stop.

Galwin gave him a push out the carriage door. He knew Jed well. They’d been friends since their schooldays, and one thing he knew was that his friend excelled at finding excuses to procrastinate. Particularly when there was an odious task at hand. And this? This definitely fell under the description “odious.”

“I’ll deal with it,” he said. “You go on ahead.”

He waited until Jed was safely inside before turning toward the coach, which had stopped at the end of the alley. He strode toward it, ready to confront whoever it was that had followed them and inform them that they had either taken a wrong turn or were too curious for their own good.

Either way, he’d get rid of them.

It was probably Dalton or Kingsley, two of their more tedious friends who never could stand to be left out of any outing, even one such as this. They must have seen them leave the party and followed in their wake to ensure they didn’t miss out on any diversions.

Bloody imbeciles, the lot of them. Many times he found himself playing the role of nursemaid these days, or worse, mother hen. How else to describe his actions tonight? Jed had been ready to cry off for this last meeting, but that would only lead to more trouble.

The first warning that the carriage’s occupant was not one he might expect came in the form of the driver’s wary expression. He avoided Galwin’s eyes and feigned an interest in his gloves.

Who on earth was in the bloody—

Oh hell.

He saw her skirts first, bursting through the carriage door in an explosion of crinoline and silk. Pale blue silk, just like Claire Cleveland had been wearing.

No, it couldn’t be. She would never.

Then came blonde ringlets and those long white gloves. He knew those curls, he recognized the gloves, and the dress should have given it away completely. But he still couldn’t quite believe his eyes.

It couldn’t be. Claire Cleveland would never do something so rash.

But then she was out of the carriage, without any assistance from him or the driver. She glanced in the opposite direction before turning to face him.

There was no denying it now. She stood before him in all her magnificent glory. There were clear, bright blue eyes and those beautiful, lush rose red lips.

And yes, there was the scowl he knew so well.

“What are you doing here, Miss Cleveland?” He kept his voice hushed. The last thing he needed was to call attention to the fact that a lovely, young, unattached woman was here. With him. In an alley.

He peered past her. “Who let you come here?”

“No one.” She shrugged, tilting her chin up higher. “I brought myself.”

He gaped at her. “You brought yourself,” he repeated slowly. The words shocked him so thoroughly that all he seemed to be able to think about was how beautiful her eyes looked when they glittered with mischievous determination. Shaking his head, he tried to focus on the urgent matter of her being in an alley. Alone. With him. “What are you doing here?”

She ignored the question, leaning slightly to peer around him. “Where is Jed?”

Ah. So that was it. Some of his questions were answered then and there. She’d come to save Jed.

How very…na?ve. Sweet, he supposed. He couldn’t imagine either of his elder married sisters rushing after him if they thought him to be heading into trouble. In fact, he couldn’t imagine them rushing anywhere for anyone for any reason, unless perhaps it entailed buying a new gown. Yes, he could see them hurrying if it meant winning their ceaseless quest to be deemed the best dressed in the gossip rags.

Claire’s eyes were darting around the alley as though Jed might be hiding behind that pile of rubbish.

“I’m afraid you’ve missed him, love.” He watched with some amusement as her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed at the term of endearment. Lord, but it was fun to tease this one. He’d always taken an inordinate amount of pleasure out of teasing Claire, but tonight? Tonight there was something different about her. Tonight he actually managed to provoke a response.

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