Earl of Tempest (Regency Cocky Gents #7) - Annabelle Anders

Chapter 1

“Are you sure it’s okay for both of us to go in, Clarissa?” Lady Lydia Cockfield, daughter of the Duke of Blackheart, had never in a million years imagined she’d enter such an establishment as the Wicked Earls’ Club—a Gentlemen’s club, frequented by earls.

And if the name was anything to go by, she could only assume they were wicked ones.

Lydia tilted her head back to stare up at the mostly unimpressive building, her arm locked with that of her friend and mentor, the Countess of Baxter.

“You’re not afraid to enter vacant warehouses on the docks in East London, but you’re reluctant to enter my husband’s gentlemen’s club?” Clarissa teased, looking extraordinarily pretty despite wearing a plain gown for today’s errands. The married countess, not quite a decade older than Lydia, smiled impishly as she pounded on the door a second time.

“Bully for you, Clarissa. As Lord Baxter’s wife, you’ve had years to get used to—” Lydia waved her hand in front of the door and then lowered her voice. “—all of this wickedness.”

“Not quite eight years.” Clarissa sighed and then the heavy door swung open for them, revealing a giant of a man. Although he was dressed impeccably, he was obviously not one of the members. It showed in his bearing, as well as the scars on his bald head and the watchfulness in his eyes.

Upon seeing the countess, he bowed. “My apologies for keeping you waiting, Lady Baxter.”

“Not at all, Ben. Lady Lydia and I only just arrived.” Clarissa smiled. “We’ve come to have a word with my husband. Is he busy today?”

“No more than usual. May I take your coats before showing you up?”

Lydia squashed down her nerves as she handed over her coat and scarf. If either of her two older brothers discovered that she’d come here, they would banish her to Crescent Park for the rest of her life.

Thank heavens Blackheart was on holiday with his new wife, and Lucas and Naomi were residing at his estate in Kent, preoccupied with their little family.

When Lady Baxter had written to her at Crescent Park, suggesting Lydia travel to London to volunteer at one of the orphanages she and her husband had founded, Lydia had leapt at the opportunity. It had been precisely what she’d needed to get over… well, to move on with her life.

And as she’d become more aware of the lost childrens’ plight, she had not been able to settle for such limited involvement.

Which led her to the Wicked Earl’s Club today.

A strand of dark hair had slipped out of her chignon, and she brushed it back.

Not even Lucinda, her twin sister, was here to question any of her decisions.

Dismissing any guilt, and curious now that she was actually inside, Lydia trailed behind Clarissa, awed by the dark wood paneling, the rich and gleaming tables, and the ornate sconces and chandeliers. Contradictory to her expectations, most of the gaming tables were occupied.

Even early in the afternoon, it seemed, gentlemen of the British aristocracy wagered and drank.

A few curious eyes followed her suspiciously at first, but she was quickly forgotten when a scantily clad woman stepped onto the floor bearing a tray of drinks.

What would it be like to be so composed, dressed so provocatively in a room filled with nothing but men?

“She’s not a prostitute,” Clarissa whispered over her shoulder.

“I didn’t think she was!” But Lydia had wondered…

“The men aren’t allowed to touch her without permission. If they do, they are given only one warning; after that, their membership is revoked. This is a gentlemen’s club, not a brothel.”

“So they aren’t allowed to be completely wicked?” Lydia’s question was only half-joking. She’d always heard otherwise but supposed Clarissa likely wouldn’t approve of her husband overseeing that sort of establishment.

Recognizing a few of her brother’s acquaintances standing at a table with a large spinning wheel, she couldn’t help asking in a hushed voice, “Is Blackheart a member?”

Even though he was married now, that didn’t mean he hadn’t been wicked once.

“Members’ names are never shared, not even with family—or should I say, especially not with family. To be honest, it’s likely the main reasons they pay—anonymity and confidentiality.”

“So he is?”

“Be good, Lydia.” Clarissa’s blue eyes twinkled as she wagged a finger over her shoulder.

So he was. But would he remain a member now that he’d married?

Lydia smothered a grin and slid her hand along the smooth wood of the rail as they climbed a wide carpeted stairway.

Most of her earlier trepidation had vanished. She’d expected the club