As the Earl of Blackmore, Lucas Devalle is no stranger to the scandals propagated by Society’s elite, particularly since more than a few of those scandals have come about due to the Devalle family’s affairs. As such, it comes as no surprise when a young lady in search of a scandal attempts to entrap him at the ball he’s giving to honor his brother’s betrothal. He is surprised when second young lady intervenes in the name of freeing him from an undesirable fate. Why would anyone feel the need to safeguard his name when he is one of the devilish Devalles?
When she escaped into the gardens at Lord Blackmore’s ball, Miss Julianna Selwyn’s intentions had merely been to escape from an elderly, marriage-minded marquess’s unwanted advances. She never planned to eavesdrop on her host. But no matter how wicked Lord Blackmore is purported to be, he doesn’t deserve to be forced into the parson’s mousetrap when he’s done nothing wrong. Had Julianna not overheard every sordid detail of a young lady’s plan to ensnare the earl, however, she might have avoided initiating her own scandalous to-do.
With his curiosity piqued, Luke does what any reasonable man, rogue or not, would do—he seeks out an introduction to his charming liberator. Upon uncovering Julianna’s dilemma, he’s determined to return the favor as only he can: he makes certain his rescuer gets more than just A Dance with the Devil.
Lucas Devalle, the sixth Earl of Blackmore, took a sip from his glass of whiskey and grimaced as the liquid filtered down his throat. The path left in its wake burned as much as it soothed. His brother, Gabriel, repeated the gesture in so similar a fashion they might have been the very same man. They both stared out across the sea of faces surrounding them, Gabriel sporting a grin while Luke bore his usual, perfect mask of boredom with the proceedings. Typically, there was very little that could take place within a Season that could jolt him out of that boredom, apart from a good game of chance.
“Miranda seems certain her sister will attempt to entrap you, just as she tried with me,” Gabriel said as a matron passed by them with her debutante daughter, both decked out in gaudy jewels and elaborate headpieces. The corner of Gabriel’s mouth quirked up on one side, and he raised a single brow at Luke. “My intended would love to protect you from her sister’s schemes. She thinks it’s her duty, as she will soon be your sister-in-law, but I’ve forbidden it. The last thing we need is for her to inadvertently start some scandal in which the ton can pit one brother against the other. You should be on your guard.”
The two of them stood side by side along the fringes of the ballroom at Blackmore House, staring out at the sea of well-wishers who’d come to celebrate the impending marriage between Gabriel—who was no stranger to scandal in its many varieties—and the altogether agreeable Miss Miranda Hunt. Miranda was a perfectly proper and respectable young lady. No one in his right mind would have thought she would ever be caught doing anything with a Devalle, least of all marrying one of them.
At least reveling in the upcoming nuptials was the generally accepted reason for the presence of so many at the ball tonight. In all honesty, Luke believed with every fiber of his being that the vast majority of those attending were here with an entirely different purpose in mind: they wanted to discover what scandal had finally forced the hand of Gabriel Devalle, as it was commonly agreed among those knowledgeable about such things that none of the three Devalle siblings would ever come willingly to heel.
In terms of the numerous and seemingly never-ending gossip-worthy tidbits surrounding Luke’s family, the one that had brought Gabriel and Miranda together was rather pedestrian, all things considered. Gabriel had done nothing more than take the young miss off the beaten path at Hyde Park so that they were alone and away from the prying eyes of everyone who’d been out to enjoy the afternoon sun. Soon after their brief disappearance, her father and brother, and Gabriel and Luke’s mother, had come upon them—soon enough that Luke couldn’t believe anything more untoward had taken place than what the two guilty parties swore. They had claimed there had been nothing more than a kiss.
Granted, a simple kiss in private would have been damning enough to necessitate their marriage, of course, and a hasty marriage at that, lest the young lady’s reputation be left in tatters. Hell, the mere fact that Gabriel had removed her from the main path was all that was required to bring about their imminent marriage in short order.
The fact remained that leaving her reputation shredded to bits in such a circumstance was exactly what the ton would have expected of Gabriel or either of his siblings. There was little wonder all the gossipmongers’ tongues constantly wagged about them, calling them those devilish Devalles—a moniker they’d come about quite honestly. No one would ever accuse their sister, Amelia, of being a prim and proper young lady, and both Luke and Gabriel had done a fair bit more than was considered acceptable for a gentleman sowing his wild oats before settling down to become a respectable member of Society.
The fact that Gabriel had readily done the right thing by the chit, despite having only known her for two days to that point, had taken the beau monde by surprise. Needless to say, everyone and his cousin had accepted the invitation to the betrothal ball, which Mother had insisted Luke must give in Gabriel and Miranda’s honor. The revelers wanted to bask in Miranda’s downfall, yet they would soon be disappointed that they must instead be relegated to witnessing only Gabriel’s fall.
Luke’s one and only brother was, to be plain, thoroughly besotted with his intended. Luke had never imagined he’d see Gabriel in such a state, fully head over ears in love with the girl. That discovery had made it much easier to stomach doing as Mother had insisted when he would rather spend the evening holed up in some gaming hell or another.
In general, he preferred to avoid doing anything that might lead to Mother thinking he agreed with her or thought she was right. If not for the fact that they needed someone to oversee Amelia during the Season, someone who could chaperone her at balls and accompany her to the various other outings a debutante must attend, Luke would banish his mother to some distant estate and wish her to the devil. Lord knew she wished all of her offspring to that very same devil on a daily basis and had done so ever since the day Father died, as though they had been responsible for taking him away from her.
How could his children have had anything to do with him going off to spend time with his mistress, for God’s sake? Luke thought that responsibility ought to rest on his mother’s shoulders, not his own. Yet, she somehow blamed them for the fact that Father’s carriage had hit an icy patch of road on his way home in the dark and had flipped over and killed him.
But that was neither here nor there. Their guests were certain to be disappointed when they departed in the wee hours in the morning, as Luke was sure nothing even remotely scandalous would take place at this ball. Further, he had no intention of falling prey to the elder Miss Hunt’s attempts to ensnare him. Miranda had already personally given him the same warning Gabriel was now relaying.
“I’m certain if you successfully avoided her trap, I can do the same,” Luke said. He let his eye fall meaningfully upon Miranda across the ballroom before turning back to Gabriel with a smirk. “I daresay I can even manage it without ending up betrothed to some other young lady as you did.”
His remark earned him a wicked smile from his brother. “Care to make a wager on that?” Gabriel drawled.
“Do you doubt me?”
“No, but neither do I underestimate Samantha Hunt’s desperation. Nor her willingness to go to extreme lengths to get what she wants, for that matter.” Gabriel took another draw from his whiskey, eyeing the woman in question.
Luke followed his brother’s gaze and found Miss Hunt staring straight at him with a determined gleam in her eye. He had to admit that Gabriel had a point—the young lady seemed decisively undeterred. But she’d yet to attempt anything, and he had the advantage in that he already knew her aim.
Gabriel swallowed the last of his whiskey and chuckled. “And then there’s the fact that you’re always ready to gamble. What harm will it do to place a friendly wager on this, particularly when it is all in the family?”
Gambling had been Luke’s preferred vice for almost ten years—ever since their father’s death when Luke had inherited both the earldom and the care of the family. He hadn’t been ready for either of those obligations, and yet they’d been his whether he’d wanted them or not, and his they remained to this day. He’d taken to his duties as well as anyone could expect of a young man, then a mere twenty years old, but he’d needed an occasional distraction from familial responsibilities and pressures the earldom afforded him. The gaming hells had provided that distraction for him. Though gambling had been responsible for earning him a rather healthy reputation as a ne’er-do-well, it had also given him that much needed freedom from the less enticing aspects of his life, however temporary the respite might be.
“What sort of wager did you have in mind?” Luke asked, never removing his eyes from the vexing elder sister of his brother’s intended bride.
“Ten quid?” Gabriel suggested. “I say you’ll find yourself caught in the parson’s mousetrap alongside Miss Hunt—or some other young miss as a result of Miss Hunt’s machinations—and you say you’ll remain free.”
That should be a simple enough wager to win. Luke narrowed his eyes upon his brother. “Since she has given every indication she intends to act tonight, I suppose whatever end shall result from her endeavors will make itself known within the fortnight, wouldn’t you agree?”
Gabriel chuckled and stared at his betrothed, who was standing next to her duplicitous sister. “With all my heart. The loser will hand over his blunt in two weeks’ time. I look forward to having it line my pockets.”
“We have a deal, although I’m afraid you’ll be emptying your pockets. Are you ready to open the dancing with your lady, then?” Without waiting for his brother to respond, Luke caught the eye of the lead violinist of his hired string quartet and gave a nod. He made his way across the ballroom to the two sisters, his brother close behind him, as the first strains of a country dance filled the cavernous space.
He reached for the elder Miss Hunt’s hand and bowed low over it. “Would you do me the honor of the first set?”
She might have plans to entrap him, but that didn’t mean he could ignore his responsibilities to her family. Gabriel was claiming a dance with Miranda even as Miss Hunt’s eyes glimmered with a devilry that made him think she belonged in the Devalle family more so than her sister. Not that he intended to let her have her way. Gabriel might be ready to settle down and become a respectable gent, but there was no rush for Luke to follow in those same footsteps—even if he must someday wed and beget an heir. He could take his time and find the perfect lady to become his countess.
Miss Hunt curled her fingers around his and smiled as wickedly as a wanton widow. “You do me a great honor, Lord Blackmore.”
With that, he led her out to the center of his ballroom and took up his place alongside his brother. All the while, he watched as Miss Hunt’s eyes scanned every corner of the grand room, though for what she was searching, he did not know.
She might be a devious little thing, but he was a Devalle. Perhaps tonight he would give her a lesson in what it means to truly behave devilishly.
It would be on his terms, however.