Kiss of the Lyon by Meara Platt

Chapter One

Lyon’s Den

London, England

May 1817

Lady Daniella Haverfield realized she was being watched by the dark-eyed stranger seated in the corner of the notorious Lyon’s Den gaming room. Despite the ladies of questionable reputation who approached him, he remained alone, his back to the wall, and his beautiful eyes taking in all that was going on in the efficiently run establishment that was no place for genteel young ladies such as herself.

She cast a hesitant glance his way.

She’d worn a mask and donned one of her mother’s powdered wigs to come here, but it felt as though this man could see straight through her disguise and into her very soul.

Who was he? And why had he singled her out for watching when he was strikingly handsome and could have taken any of the eager women who had already propositioned him? Did he believe she was one of those fast ladies of the demi-monde?

Was he waiting for her to approach him?

How dare he!

She tipped her chin up in indignation.

His lips broadened in the hint of a smile. He raised his glass of what appeared to be brandy in a mock salute and then took a casual sip, his gaze never leaving hers.

She turned away in dismay, determined not to spare him another glance. But this resolution proved impossible to keep. After a moment, she stole another glance and stifled her disappointment to find him no longer paying attention to her.

He was assessing the gentlemen seated around the card table where she was standing. They were involved in a high-stakes game of poque, apparently derived from a Persian game popularly called as-nas, and hideously referred to in the former Colonies as poker. The wagers tossed into the pot were so dizzying, they made her head spin.

One of the players happened to be her brother.

He was deeply in his cups and would have been quite out of his depth even if he were sober, which he was not.

“Please, Simon. Let’s go before you lose everything.” She’d risked her reputation to make her way to this gaming hell in the dark of night to save him. She had to get him home before he careened headlong into trouble. It mattered little that luck happened to be on his side just now.

She feared it would soon change. “Please.”

“Go away, Danny.” He pushed her hand away when she reached for him. “You’re distracting me.”

She noticed the stranger make a sudden move to rise when her brother gave her a nudge. But it was only a light push, and Simon did not follow it up with anything more threatening than a frown when she refused to budge.

Obviously noting her lack of fear at her brother’s gesture, the stranger eased back in his chair. Could it be this man was a gentleman and meant to come to her defense?

What was he doing in this copper hell known as the Lyon’s Den?

“Simon, enough. I will not go away,” she said more urgently. “Come home with me.”

“Blast it, Danny. Leave me alone. How did you get here? In a hack?” Her brother blinked his reddened eyes, suddenly realizing she could not have taken one of the family carriages for fear of being found out. “Father will thrash you within an inch of your life if he ever discovers you were here.”

“He’ll do the same to you when he finds out how heavily you’ve been wagering…and mostly losing. One night of good fortune will not make up for all the bad ones. I’m taking you home before you dig yourself into a deeper hole. Braxton is waiting outside for you in the brougham, is he not? He’ll take us both home. I’ll have to slip him a coin so he doesn’t tattle.”

“Do you think he will?”

“No.” She sighed. “He’s a good man.”

“Three aces,” one of the players said in triumph, setting his cards on the table.

“Beats my three queens.” Her brother tossed his cards down in disgust, having just lost a hand he thought certain to win. “Will you tell Father about this?”

“Of course not!” Her eyes widened in horror. How could he suggest she would betray him? Despite the four-year difference in their ages, he being the elder, he had always been kind and attentive toward her. In turn, she had always worshiped him. She would do whatever it took to protect him from their father’s fierce temper. “But what of all the gentlemen here tonight? Might one of them recognize you and report it to him?”

He looked around the crowded room and gave a drunken laugh. “They’re all indulging in their own bad behavior. They won’t tell. There’s safety in knowing each other’s wicked foibles.”