SEDUCED BY A DEVIL
Gabriel Deville, Earl of Raine, glared at the hapless individual who had told him no.
“This was the address I was given for her.”
“No, sir, Miss Brown no longer lives here.”
Tall, with a shock of red hair, the boy looked no older than twelve.
“But she did live here?”
“Aye she did, but no longer. He didn’t want her here anymore.”
“Her brother. He forced her out of her home.” The boy’s face twisted into a snarl.“It was wrong of him, it was.”
Dimity Brown was not high on Gabe’s list of people he tolerated. She expressed her views too freely and had no respect. In fact, she was a mouthy, opinionated shrew, and yet here he stood on what he’d supposed was her doorstep with the night settling around him while rain ran off the brim of his hat. Sisters, Gabe thought, could play hell with your best laid plans.
“Do you know where she may have gone?”
Gabe may not like Miss Brown, but he did like his sister, who was concerned for her friend. Plus, there was that little niggling thought in the back of his head that while Miss Brown annoyed him, he had no wish for her to be sick or distressed.
“Her brother said he’d promised her to a man.”
“I beg your pardon?” Gabe was sure he’d heard those words wrong.
“Miss Brown’s brother. Said she’d been worthless her entire life, so she could pay his debts now.” The boy’s face twisted into a grimace. “Said a man—can’t rightly remember his name, but he said this man would take Dimity to clear his gambling debts.”
“You are not serious?”
“I am. Got a bit nasty after that. I heard a sound, like something hitting something, or someone. As I was outside the door, I rushed in. He had a terrible black eye forming.”
The boy nodded. “Miss Brown punched him. Squealed like a piglet, he did. Miss Brown told me all was well and that I was to leave.”
The thought of her brother treating her with anything but respect and love enraged him. Yes, Gabe could be a trifle high-handed with his siblings, and especially his sister, which actually had led to Abby directly disobeying him and throwing herself into danger, but there was never any doubt he loved them.
Sisters were to be protected, not sold or tossed out of their homes by brothers.
“What happened then?” Gabe was sure the boy would know, as clearly he’d made sure he witnessed the entire incident.
He sucked in his bottom lip in a gesture that was more befitting of a man triple his age, without teeth.
“She left with only a single bag and didn’t tell me where she was going.”
“Where is her father?” Gabe asked, remembering Abby had told him he too was a teacher.
“Her father passed away suddenly. Miss Brown found him ill in bed. She called the doctor, but nothing could be done. He died the following day, and not long after, he came home—her brother. Right cold fish he always was too, and mean as a snake. Felt he was better than everyone; always walked about with his nose in the air. Me ma said he’d end up down a drain if he wasn’t careful.”
“Back to Miss Brown.” Gabe looked at the sky as the drops of rain grew heavier.
The London weather had turned from warm sunshine to frigid cold in the blink of an eye. It was cold enough to turn his nose red, and he’d much rather be home with his feet up before the fire. Or playing billiards with one of his brothers.
“When did her father pass?”
“Two months back. Died suddenly. Right shock it was too.”
“Find her, Gabe. I fear something terrible has happened. She has never failed to write to me, but it is many weeks now since Dimity has replied to any of my letters.” His sister had written those words in a letter that arrived this morning. Abby was in Edinburgh with her husband on business and had implored him to go and find her friend, as she’d woken in the dead of night gripped with dread. Sisters, he’d always noted, could be very dramatic. “She needs us, Gabe. I implore you to find her with haste. If you love me, you will do this.”
She’d added the last sentence because she knew bloody well he would cut off his right arm if she had use for it.
“So no one took her away? This man her brother supposedly promised her to did not arrive?”
“No, she left by herself.”
“Surely she gave a direction to someone?” Gabe’s voice sank to a growl.
Dimity Brown had been Abby’s piano teacher, and a large pointy thorn in his side for as long as she’d been in his employment.
“Where is her brother?”
“He left after Miss Brown and has yet to return. His eye was swollen shut.” The boy smiled. “The father was a good man. Worked as a music teacher, among other things. Right sad it was when he passed. We all miss him, and Dimity, as she’s a favorite of mine. Read to me and taught me my letters.”
“Do you have an idea where I should start looking for her?”
“You could ask at the Pig and Pigeon. She sometimes used to work there.”
Gabe knew where the Pig and Pigeon was, having spent his life frequenting such places, talking to informants and searching for those who would threaten the monarchy.
Looking out the window of his carriage minutes later, he wondered why he was doing this. He could tell Abby he’d looked for Dimity and not found her. Yet even as he thought the words, he knew he could not do that. Abby trusted him to look for her friend, and he would not have that trust misplaced.
The Deville brothers were in London for the season, as they always were, which was in full swing. Gabe usually enjoyed society with all its nuances, for some reason he wasn’t this year. He was dissatisfied and not quite sure why. It was like he had an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn’t reach. He was restless, and something niggled at him. He just wasn’t sure what.
“We’ve arrived, my lord.”
“Thank you, Toddy, and forgive me again for dragging you out in such weather. My hope is I shall not be long.”
“I’m snug, my lord. No need to worry.”
His driver wore a thick coat, scarf, and hat pulled low so Gabe could only see his eyes. He had a blanket over his knees and a flask of something to warm him tucked away somewhere, Gabe was sure.
Getting out, he looked at the Pig and Pigeon. The windows told him that people were inside; was Miss Dimity Brown one of them? Exiting minutes later, frustrated, he now had another address. This one in a location he would not send his worst enemy to.
“Are you sure you want to go to the Salty Sailor, my lord? It’s a right bad place.”
“Yes, thank you, Toddy, I shall not be there long.” His driver didn’t know—nor, in fact, did any other of his household staff—that he often frequented such places with his brothers.
As the carriage rolled toward the docks, he checked his pistol and knife, not that he needed them. Gabe, like his brothers, had been trained to use his fists and feet. The Deville brothers hadn’t always had the purest of reputations and had fought many a brawl defending it. “Those damn Devilles” was not an uncommon statement to spill regularly from the lips of a society member.
Men had been murdered in the Salty Sailor. Drunkards and sailors seeking a good time frequented it. No lady or gentlemen should be there.
“Stop the carriage here, Toddy, and walk the horses. This is where I will meet you again shortly. Simply circle this street and the next until I return.”
“If you’re sure, my lord, but I wish you had some backup.”
“I require no backup, thank you.” Gabe walked away from his carriage.
He heard the hum of noise as he approached. There was a cracked pane of glass in the mullioned front window and rubbish piled around the exterior of the building. Exhaling slowly, Gabe entered.
Looking around the room, he searched for Dimity and found her on the filthy bar, dancing and singing. Her bodice was cut low. Skirts tucked up at the sides. He felt that little jab of heat in his belly he got when she was near. Dark hair hung free of restraint in ringlets to her waist, and he knew those blue eyes would be alive with some emotion; as yet, he was not sure what. Lush and curved, she was taller than Abby. Disturbing Dimity Brown was definitely no shrinking violet. And he’d wanted her from the first moment he’d seen her.
Belying her shrewish temperament, she had the face of an angel. Soft creamy skin, lovely full lips, and a smile that lit her entire face.
Men were five deep looking up at her and another woman beside her, cheering. Gabe moved closer.
What could possibly have put her in a place like this?
She had a smile on her face, but it didn’t reach her eyes—in fact, now that he could see her expression clearly, he saw the desperation. She hated what she was doing; he just had to find out what or who had put her here.
“Aww, come on, lovely, show us a bit more!” One of the men roared the words at the women. The lady beside Dimity smiled coyly back, clearly enjoying herself. Dimity’s smile dropped, and she scowled at the man.
“She’s a right bitch, that one. Not sure why Jack employs her,” he heard someone say as Gabe passed him on his way to the bar.
“Jack says she’s efficient and doesn’t take any rubbish from anyone.”
“Wouldn’t mind having some fun with her. She’s a shapely lass.”
Gabe elbowed the man in exactly the right spot, and the air hissed from his lungs.
“‘Ere, you watch yourself!” he gasped.
Dimity Brown may not be high on his list of morning callers, but Gabe would have no man insulting her but him. She had irritated him from the first time he’d met her. But his sister had liked her, so he’d employed her and regretted it every day since.
There was a confidence about the woman that annoyed him. An arrogance. She looked down her nose at him, and yet he was the one with the title. She’d never been intimidated by him as many were.
Gabe watched as a hand grabbed Dimity’s ankle. She tried to kick it away, but it traveled upward.
“Release her!” His words rose above the noise of the others. Surprise had the man who was touching Dimity step back.
Looking up at her, Gabe watched the shock on her face change to shame, then anger.
“What are you doing here?”
“My sister is worried about you and sent me to find you.” He raised his voice above the roar as he muscled his way to stand beneath her.
She loved Abby; he saw it in the tears that formed in her blue eyes at the mention of her name.
“Tell her I am well. Now leave.”
“This is you being well, is it?” Gabe grunted as someone shoved him in the back.
“Go away, Lord Raine. I am working.”
“Come down off that bar, Dimity, and I will take you home.”
“No.” She started singing loudly, swishing her skirts, the hem rubbing his cheek. Gabe swiped it aside. “I no longer have a home.”
“Get lost, she’s having fun. This ain’t the place for a fancy-dressed gentleman. You’ll end with your pockets empty and your pretty face bruised if you don’t leave.”
Gabe turned to face the man who nudged him in the back again.
“Back away,” he growled. “Now.”
“Make me.” The man’s jaw jutted out, and those around him urged him on.
“Don’t touch him!” The words came from Dimity. “He’s leaving.”
“I’m not leaving without you.” He looked at her over his shoulder.
“Don’t be a fool. This is no place for the likes of a soft-bellied nobleman,” she said between verses. “An earl.” She spat out his title with her usual disrespect.
Hell and damnation, only this woman could boil his blood in a matter of seconds.
“Shut up and get down here.” He grabbed her hand and tugged; she fell into his arms with a loud screech that had his ears ringing.
“Unhand me, you bloody fool! They’ll tear you apart.”
Gabe ignored her, simply placing her over his shoulder. Clamping a hand around her legs, he began to wade through the crowd of men, who were now howling their protests that he was taking their entertainment away.
He used his legs and the free hand, ensuring every strike hit its mark and would subdue, but still he took a couple of blows to his face. Dimity hammered on his back, but he did not release her. Pulling out his pistol, Gabe held it before him, and suddenly his path to the door was cleared. Reaching it in a few strides, he wrenched it open and left the building, slamming it behind him.
It was amazing just how much the wood muffled the sound, as now he could hear Dimity Brown’s curses clearly. Deciding to put some distance between her and the Salty Sailor, he walked back the way he’d come, still carrying her over one shoulder.
“Put me down, you oaf!” Her fists pummeled him. “I need that job!”
He knew she had pride and also knew she’d never ask him or his family for help, but what was his sister’s piano teacher doing working in the Salty Sailor, or any tavern for that matter?
As luck would have it, his carriage was rolling to a stop where he’d left it, so he opened the door and stepped inside.
“Drive and don’t stop until I tell you, Toddy.”
Dropping Dimity onto the seat, he took the one across from her.
“You bastard!” She spat the words at him. “Why did you do that? You’ve likely cost me my job!”
She was dressed in a cheap gaudy dress that showed off far too much of her lovely body. He saw the rise of her breasts above the ruched red bodice. Rouge was smeared on her cheeks, and her lips were the color of rubies.
“You look like a trollop,” he said. She should revolt him. Unfortunately, she didn’t.
“Don’t speak to me that way! You don’t know me. I hate you!” Words continued to pour from her lips. Defamations of his character, and words that from a man would result in meeting him at dawn.
He’d never seen her this way before.
“Calm down, Dimity.” Gabe used his soothing tone. It didn’t work. The next minute, he had his arms full of irate woman as she launched herself at him.
Her nails were close to his face, so he took evasive action, wrapping both arms tight around her.
“Stop now,” he ordered in the voice that usually subdued his siblings.
“Go to hell!” Her mouth was inches from his, so he did the only thing he could.
He’d wanted to kiss this woman from the first day she stood across from his desk, buttoned into a prim brown gown. Those lips and her lush beauty had slapped him hard in the face. It wasn’t like him to be reckless or take action without thought. But this was different. This, Gabe told himself, was a necessity.
Soft, he thought, and sweet. Her lips tasted so good. Shock had them opening, so he delved inside. His arms pressed her body to his. His head was soon swimming with nothing but Dimity and the need to get closer to her. The need that had his body tight and hard in seconds. She softened and slumped into him. Seconds or minutes; he wasn’t sure how long he held her. Then he felt the sharp sting of pain.
“Ouch!” He thrust her onto the opposite seat and touched his now puffy lip. She’d bitten him.
“Don’t ever do that again.” Her eyes were narrowed and glaring at him, but she was calmer. “I will not be pawed by you.”
“You were kissing me back, Dimity.”
“No, I wasn’t,” she lied.
“I’m sorry.” He said the words slowly, realizing that he did owe her an apology. What the hell had he been thinking to do that to her, especially considering the emotional state she was currently in. Gabe didn’t behave without thinking his actions through… ever. “I should not have done that. I assure you it won’t happen again.”
She gave an abrupt nod.
“I am sorry too,” she whispered. “I should not have spoken to you as I did.” Her jaw clenched, and she looked close to tears again.
“Tell me what you were doing in that place, Dimity?”