Last Dance in London (Rakes on the Run #1) - Sydney Jane Baily


1814, London

Jasper Ashton, the Earl of Marshfield, surveyed the crowded upstairs room at White’s. He didn’t gamble at cards, although he was game to wager upon a good racehorse. So why, when pressed by the man seated opposite him, did he agree to a silly wager about his marital status?

“I tell you I shall not marry,” he said, a little loudly because it was late and he’d had his share of brandy, and perhaps someone else’s share, too. “Despite how I’ve been pursued recently.” Over the past months, the papers had practically posted the banns for him over one or two young ladies who spoke out of turn about his devotion.

He was only devoted to how much he could get away with, which due to his looks and title was usually quite a lot.

“For how long?” a fellow club member cried out, and the rest of the men started to slap the tables, knowing a wager was instantly brewing.

“What are the stakes?” someone else called out.

Jasper sighed, but he was assured of winning. “All right, gentlemen. I vow I shall not marry, even if I’m presented with the Queen of Sheba, herself.”

“Or Cleopatra,” a voice interrupted.

“Or Prinny’s mistress,” said another.

Jasper ignored them. “Eventually, of course, I must carry on my family name. But not this year.” How long could he continue to enjoy his bachelorhood and his status as London’s premiere rake? Or so he prided himself he was.

“I shall be a bachelor until we see the last day of our Lord 1815, or I shall forfeit a goodly sum.”

“How much?” came instantly from more than one, amidst laughter.

“One hundred pounds,” he said.

“So, you doubt yourself, eh, Marshfield?” More laughter erupted.

“Five hundred pounds, then.” He nearly made it a thousand, but there was no need to tempt the devil.

Chapter One

“Lord M__ threw a dinner party in which he seemed to ignore his latest lady-love, Miss T__, in favor of an unknown country miss. Nothing surprising from this rakish earl.”

-The Morning Post

“What are you doing in here?”

Julia startled at the smooth male voice behind her, but she didn’t turn, not at first. Instead, she took a steadying breath and calmed her racing heart. She had counted on being the only dinner guest who’d ventured away from the party, the only guest upstairs in the Earl of Marshfield’s private rooms on the third floor of the four-story house on Grosvenor Square.

What a nuisance!

“The question is,” she began, hoping to put the inquisitor on the defensive, “what are you doing here?”

Turning slowly and with dignity, as if she were not at all out of place, Julia encountered the well-heeled, impressive figure of the evening’s host, Lord Marshfield himself.

Blast it all!

At her question, his dark eyebrows rose above his coffee-colored eyes, practically to his hairline of thick, brown hair. Then he grinned, and she recalled his reputation. Certainly, his smile caused a flutter inside her, and she could imagine many a female had been won over by the same.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, with no outrage to his words but only amusement. Appearing entirely at ease with her presence in his bedchamber, he leaned against the door casing, arms folded, and appraised her from head to toe.

And back again!

“If you would truly like to know what I usually do in this particular room,” the earl said, “we can partake in a demonstration. By necessity, with a drawing room full of guests, it would have to be done in haste. A quick mixing of the giblets before anyone realizes we’ve stolen away.”

Julia ought to be shocked, or perhaps even frightened, but the reputation of Lord Marshfield was well-known even to her, who had been in London for barely a year. He liked female flesh and had a great many public associations — and probably many more private ones with ladies of the bon ton.

However, he had never been reputed to have forced a woman. He simply lavished a certain brand of charm that made them willingly lift their skirts for him.

Thus, with her singular purpose having nothing to do with romance, she didn’t feel the least qualms about being alone in a room with him. Even this room of rich brocades and silken bed covers, with a thick, colorful carpet she knew must be from Turkey or Persia, which would feel unimaginably soft under her bare toes.

He clearly had good taste in burnished mahogany furniture, including a tall armoire in which she’d already had more than a passing glance. She’d quickly discovered it was where