The Earl of Davenport: Wicked Regency Romance (Wicked Earls' Club #7)

The Earl of Davenport: Wicked Regency Romance (Wicked Earls' Club #7)

Maggie Dallen & Wicked Earls' Club

Chapter One

The sound of a carriage coming up the drive had Anne and her chaperone hurrying toward the drawing room window in a manner that was entirely unbecoming for two proper young ladies. Although, it seemed to Anne that being late to one’s scheduled meeting with two proper young ladies was equally unbecoming, so perhaps it could be overlooked.

Her chaperone, Betsy, went so far as to peek through the curtains, while Anne contented herself by leaning a bit to the left so she could see through one of the cracks where the curtain fell away from the wall.

“Here comes the devil himself,” Betsy murmured.

Typically, Anne would have scolded her former governess for the breach in etiquette. The man was an earl, for heaven’s sake—he should be referred to by his title. But she kept her mouth shut. The entire country knew him as the Devil of Davenport. Scolding Betsy wouldn’t change that.

Besides, Betsy didn’t know the earl the way that Anne did. As far as Anne was aware, she was the only one who knew Davenport’s well-kept secret.

He wasn’t a devil, not really. Not at all.

In fact, he was every bit a gentleman.

She watched the gentleman in question stride into the house with a few muffled orders to the footman who’d met him at the carriage door. Anne could only wonder if he would make them wait much longer.

Now that he was here, the butterflies in her stomach went into a flurry of activity. Drawing a deep breath, she reached for the back of a nearby chair to try and calm her nerves.

There was no need to be nervous. This was Davenport, not some beastly rake as the scandal sheets would have one believe. As the owner of the land neighboring her family’s, she’d known him since forever, it seemed. If anyone could help them, it was him. And surely he would help. He had to.

He was their last hope.

“I cannot imagine what you were thinking coming here this morning, Anne,” Betsy said, interrupting her thoughts, her voice filled with disapproval.

Anne held back a sigh. Her friend was not helping to fortify her courage.

“You have done a great deal of silly things in your day, miss, but this is the most ludicrous of them all.”

Anne pressed her lips together and stared with determination at the door where he would enter. She should not have brought Betsy. She wished she hadn’t. But of course, she’d had to. Who else would have come? As a young, unmarried woman it would be unseemly to visit any gentleman alone, but to visit the so-called devil himself?

That kind of ruination could never be undone.

Anne might not have had much of a reputation in society to begin with, thanks to the rumors about her family, but she refused to provide additional fodder for the gossips. “Betsy, do try to understand—” Her plea was interrupted when the door to the hallway swung open with undue force.

Anne’s breath left her in a whoosh, the way it always did upon seeing him. No one could deny that Frederick William Belford, the Earl of Davenport, was a striking man. And now, standing here in the doorway—posing, really, as he leaned against the doorframe and openly assessed his visitors—Anne decided that striking didn’t begin to describe him.

He was beautiful.

No, perhaps beautiful wasn’t quite right either. That sounded far too feminine and delicate. And handsome seemed far too mundane. Definitely not pretty, that did not describe him at all. His features were too sharp for that, his shoulders too broad.

But he had an air about him that reminded her of one of the Arabian stallions her brother, Jed, liked to race. All sleek lines and barely restrained power. He moved with an easy grace and his strong jaw and firm mouth seemed to always be set in a way that spoke of strength and power.

There was an elegance about him, despite the fact that he didn’t seem to heed the latest trends. Like now, for instance. His black hair was just a bit too long and the jaw she so admired was clearly in need of a shave. Despite his haughty expression, his clothes were ruffled and mussed. Almost like he’d slept in them, or….

Her throat grew dry as it became very clear why he was late to an early morning appointment at his own home.

He hadn’t slept there.

The earl was just now arriving home, and it appeared he was wearing yesterday’s clothes. By the smug look on his face, he didn’t seem to care who knew. In fact, his smirk made her think he enjoyed the discomfort it caused.

Cheeky devil. No, not devil. She refused to use that awful nickname even in her thoughts. But just because she knew he was not the heathen the ton claimed him to be, that didn’t mean he was a saint, either.

The Earl of Davenport was merely a man.

She licked her lips and took a steadying breath as she repeated that to herself. He was merely a man. But then he shifted and his shirt strained across the hard muscles of his chest, his breeches molding to his thighs as he moved. She tried to swallow. He was a man all right, but there was no merely about it.

His eyes moved over her just as studiously as she’d eyed him, but what he found did not seem to leave an impression. His gaze roamed over her bright red hair, her pale gray morning gown, all the way down to her slippers. She stood there stoically, as if awaiting some sort of judgment. But when his eyes met hers, there was nothing there. No verdict, no emotion… and no sign of recognition.

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