Earl of Grayson By Amanda Mariel

Damien Archer, the Earl of Grayson, reclined on a leather armchair with a glass of brandy firmly in hand. The Wicked Earls’ Club bustled with patrons this afternoon, and Damien was pleased to be among them. During the years, the club had become a second home to him. He spent numerous hours within the safety of its walls gambling and partaking of women and booze. He did not want to imagine what life would be like without his club.
Earl of Grayson
Earl of Grayson By Amanda Mariel

“I cannot believe another of us has willingly handed over his key.” Damien shook his head. It seemed that one earl after another had disappeared from within these walls over the last few months.

Benton, who sat opposite Damien, swirled the liquor in his tumbler. “Who do you suppose will be next?”

“So long as it’s not me, I don’t bloody care.” Davenport took a swig of his whiskey and stretched his legs out in front of him as he reclined in the chair across from Damien.

Far too many of their fellow earls had left the club as of late, Sussex, Westcliff, and Basingstoke among them. Each had become love-bitten and then chose to marry. The consequence being that they had to turn in their pins and keys and leave the club—forever.

Damien would never make such a choice. “I second, Davenport,” Damien said. “In fact, if I should ever be so stupid as to consider it, please take me out in the woods and shoot me at once.”

Benton’s eyes rounded for a moment before he began to chuckle. “You would not want us to carry out that wish if you actually fell in love.”

“The hell I wouldn’t!” Damien drained his tumbler, then signaled for a refill.

“What do you know of love?” Davenport appraised Benton.

“Only that it makes a man lose all sense.” Benton glanced at the large floor-to-ceiling window. “It is hard to believe that any skirt could wreak such havoc, and yet we’ve seen it time and again.”

Damien shook his head and stood. “Far too often for my comfort.”

“Where are you off to?” Davenport asked, one eyebrow arched.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Damien walked away, leaving them to wonder. He could have told them he was heading for home, but why disappoint them? Surely they expected something far different, like a house of ill repute, a mistress, or a gaming hell. Truth was, he would rather be off to engage in something wild and reckless if he weren’t so bloody tired.

He stifled a yawn as he exited the Wicked Earls’ Club. He’d spent the previous evening carousing about his usual haunts with Edgemore. Then, after a few hours of sleep, he’d ventured to the club. Now he found himself in need of more rest. Perhaps once he’d had a nap, he would find some more fun to partake in.

After giving his driver orders, Damien settled against the plush seat of his carriage and allowed his eyes to close. Before long the carriage jostled and turned into the long drive of his Mayfair mansion. Sitting up straight, he adjusted his coat as the conveyance came to a stop.

He wasted no time stepping down from the carriage intent on reaching his front door, and more importantly, his bed. Halfway across the drive, the pounding of hoofs drew his attention. Damien glanced up the gravel drive, releasing a heavy sigh.

Two women raced toward him mounted on white horses.

Who the devil were they, and what did they want?

Damien peered at the riders, attempting to make out their features. He focused on the one in front. When she came into view, all the air left his lungs as if someone had punched him in the gut. He forgot all about her companion as disbelief and shock gripped him—shaking him to the core.

Lady Charlotte Lawson—pale blond curls bouncing as her small frame sat proudly upon her mount. He’d wager her icy blue eyes sparkled with merriment, though he could not see them to be sure. Of all the woman who could have been racing up his drive, it was her—his Charlotte.

No, not anymore. She hadn’t been his in years. Why had she come? Did he even care?

Charlotte pulled up on the reins, slowing her mount before bringing the horse to a stop. “I had so hoped to find you here.” She gave a charming smile, eyes sparkling just as he’d imagined they would be.

She shifted in the saddle, pinning him beneath her stare. “Don’t just stand there, Damien. Do come help me down. I must speak with you at once.”

Momentarily incapable of words or actions, he hazarded a glance at the other rider. Charlotte’s sister Lady Elizabeth, or rather, Lady Oxford since she’d wed, had pulled rein several yards behind Charlotte.

“Well,” Charlotte said, her voice laced with impatience.

Damien drew in a breath as he stepped closer, his gaze holding hers. “Why are you here?”

“Help me out of this saddle, and then I will be glad to enlighten you.” She impatiently dropped the reins, allowing them to hang across the horse’s shoulder. “Or am I to jump down on my own?”

How many years had passed since he’d last spoken with her? Ten? Twelve? He had seen her about the ton; at balls, musicals, and other events on occasion too, but he had not spoken with her—not one word since the day he’d set her free.

It had been for the best back then—it still was. “I have no need to hear you out.” Damien pivoted and began strolling toward the shelter of his home.

* * *


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