Kiss of the Lyon – Meara Platt

LADY DANİELLA HAVERFİELD 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.” To prove the point, his gaze traveled to an older man who had a young woman on his lap, and he was— Danielle abruptly looked away.

She turned toward the doorway in time to see a lecherous lord taken upstairs by a lady young enough to be his daughter. He was soon followed by a man she recognized as a friend of her father’s, and he was escorting two giggling women up the same staircase. “Danny, don’t be so shocked,” her brother said gently. “This is what unhappy souls do. Mrs. Dove-Lyon has her watchdogs posted everywhere to make certain no little wrens, such as yourself, are forced upstairs against their will.” She glanced once again at the stranger who was still watching her, but his gaze felt protective and not at all leering. He did not seem the sort to treat a woman poorly. In truth, he struck her as the strong, silent type. The honorable sort who would come to the defense of a dog being beaten on the street.

Although he was half cast in shadow in that quiet corner, it was hard to overlook his pleasing aspect. He was a big, broad-shouldered man with a full head of light brown hair she imagined would look golden in the sunlight. His eyes were dangerously dark and alluring. Curiously, despite his brawn, there was an elegance about him. She shook her head and turned away. “Simon, who is that man?” Her brother refused to look up. “Not now, Danny.” She glanced at his cards, her heart sinking as she watched him attempt to bluff a weak hand. This was bad. His luck was turning.

Suddenly, it got worse. The stranger rose and took the chair just vacated by the first player to be wiped out. “Mind if I join ye?” he asked, settling his large, surprisingly muscled frame in the empty chair. His brogue revealed he was a Scot. What was he doing in London, seated here with these upper crust, English lords? He tossed an indecently large pile of money onto the table. “Deal me in.” Danielle felt a shiver run through her. On instinct, she placed a protective hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Go away, Danny. You’re bringing me bad luck.

” She rather thought he was bringing it on himself. The stranger turned to her, regarding her with surprising kindness. “Lass, ye should no’ be here. Might I suggest ye wait in the Black Widow’s office? When I’m done, I’ll escort ye and yer brother home. I dinna think he is in any shape to make his own way back.” Simon shot him a belligerent glance. “Are you accusing me of being drunk?” “It is merely an observation, not an accusation.” He held out his hand and introduced himself. “Matthew Lyon’s the name. Pleased to make yer acquaintance.

” “Lyon?” Danielle’s eyes widened in surprise. “Any relation to Mrs. Dove-Lyon?” “The Black Widow herself?” He nodded. “Aye, lass. Distant relation by marriage.” He did not elaborate further. Nor did her brother and his inebriated companions press him for more information. When her brother lost the next hand, she took the stranger’s suggestion and decided to settle herself in Mrs. Dove-Lyon’s waiting room. She could feel Simon casting daggers at her as she walked away, no doubt blaming her for his sudden turn of fortune.

Perhaps if she were no longer standing over his shoulder, his good luck would return. If it did not, she hoped he would place responsibility for his losses squarely where it belonged, on himself. Not that she wished to condemn him. She simply did not understand the recent change in his character. He’d never behaved so foolishly before. It was as though his world had suddenly fallen apart, and he wished to destroy himself along with it. A footman approached her the moment she stepped out of the raucous gaming room and into the hall. Perhaps she appeared lost, for she did not know her way around the establishment and feared the slightest wrong turn could be dangerous. “Mrs. Dove-Lyon will see you shortly,” the man said before she could ask him for directions to her office.

“Please follow me.” “Oh, you misunderstand. She isn’t expecting me.” She clasped her hands to stem her embarrassment. “You see, I should not be here. I merely thought to hide out until my—” This giant of a man did not seem in the least interested to know every detail. “Follow me,” he repeated. “Yes, fine.” She walked alongside him, her insides tightening when they stepped into the anteroom of the lady’s private office. “I can sit in here.

” He glanced at the row of wooden chairs, the only items of furniture in this sparse waiting chamber. “No, it won’t do.” Danielle became visibly flustered. “I did not mean to disturb her. You see, I only came in here because…I’m waiting for someone…to take him home.” She realized how it must have sounded. “I’m his sister. That’s all.” The fierce man stared at her for a long moment. “Yes, Lady Danielle.

She knows.” “She does? Wait, how do you know my name?” Her mask and wig had proven to be not much of a disguise, not even able to fool strangers. Sighing, she followed the Black Widow’s footman into a surprisingly well-appointed room. Her gaze strayed to the teacart near the elegant desk and the decorative porcelain pot, cups, and plates upon it. Also on the cart was an assortment of cakes and tea biscuits, obviously freshly baked if one were to judge by the warmth emanating off them and the enticing aroma now filling the air. “Am I intruding? Was Mrs. Dove-Lyon expecting a visitor?” “No, my lady. Just you.” Well, that was nonsense. Not even she knew of her plan to come here until deciding upon it a few hours ago.

She shrugged off the comment as one of mere politeness. How could the Black Widow know she would step into her surprisingly stately web? She sank into one of the comfortable, cushioned chairs and gratefully accepted the tea delicately poured for her by this big ogre of a man. “Would you care for a scone? Or lemon cake?” “That would be delightful.” Even his accent was coarse. However, she had to admit his manner was quite pleasant. She cast him a genuine smile. “A scone, please.” He had the mottled face of one who had lived a rough life. He looked out of place in uniform, dressed as he was in his impeccable livery. This man belonged in a dockside tavern or on a battlefield wielding a sword in his hands, not holding a teapot patterned with pink roses.

After serving her, he left her alone in the office and closed the door behind him. She was surprised. Surely his employer kept sensitive information in her desk. Were they not afraid she might snoop? Well, if they were not concerned, neither would she worry. She removed the irritating wig and mask, setting both atop the neatly ordered desk. They’d both belonged to her mother when she was alive, which she had not been for almost twelve years now. Danielle had taken care to keep these items hidden from her father and meticulously preserved in a box in her bedchamber. She had thought to wear them one day to a glittering masque ball, never to an establishment such as this. There was no mirror in the room, unfortunately. She could not see herself to fix her hair.

Not that it mattered. Her coiffure did not need to look perfectly styled. Her brother often teased her about its odd color, coming up with ridiculous pet names for her such as Cinnamon Bun or Ginger Cake. But lately, he hadn’t engaged her much, just walked around looking morose and defeated. Sighing, she brushed back the stray wisps, tucking a few stragglers behind her ears. After all, she was not here to impress any gentlemen. She sat in oppressive silence, sipping her tea and merely staring at the tempting scone. It would be impolite to start eating before the Black Widow joined her, would it not? But after about twenty minutes of sitting alone with her thoughts, no sound but the occasional burst of cheer or raucous laughter, she gave in and ate. The scone was delicious, so she took another. And waited.

Almost an hour had passed, by her reckoning. She set her teacup and plate aside and was browsing the widow’s bookshelves for something decent to read when she heard a commotion in the anteroom. “Finally,” she muttered, turning toward the door in anticipation. In the next moment, an older woman dressed in black, her face partly veiled, bustled in. Behind her was her brother looking quite miserable, and immediately behind him was the big Scot who’d introduced himself as Matthew Lyon. He looked…well, handsome, of course. She could not tell by his stone-faced expression what he was thinking or feeling. She glanced at her brother again. Oh, no. What had happened? She reached out to him with a trembling hand.

“Danny, I’m so sorry.” He drew her into his embrace and hugged her fiercely. Dread washed over her as he ended the hug and took a defeated step back. She studied his anguished face. “Simon, what have you done?”

.

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