Reckless in Innocence
for my Historical Romance readers ❤
© Jane Lark
Publishing rights belong to Jane Lark, this should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark
Reckless in Innocence
Marcus had played a number of hands of cards with his brother, and shared a couple of hours of congenial conversation, when Jason leaned back and declared, “It is time I returned to make amends to my wife, and eat my humble pie for not returning at a reasonable hour.”
When Jason stood. Marcus rose too, pocketing his winnings and preparing to leave.
“Elizabeth, do stop making a fuss.”
Marcus’s gaze left his brother and shot to look at the women who stood across the room. What on earth was Lady Derwent thinking of, bringing her daughter to a gambling hell? This particular one was not gentlemen only but regardless, it was a place for hell-raiser and named for the purpose, it was not a place for innocence.
Desire and then guilt curdled Marcus’s blood.
Her eyes looked at the floor as she trailed behind her mother.
She had lost the confidence she’d gained in the weeks he had given her his attention. Elizabeth Derwent had always been vibrant and smiling. This girl was staring blankly at the floor as though she regretted what she had done, as though she had learned a harsh lesson. A harsh lesson taught by him, damn him.
Forgetting his brother, Marcus left the table and crossed the room, to her side, pulled like the pin of a compass to true north. “Lady Derwent, Miss Derwent,” Marcus bowed with all the grace he would have given Elizabeth had he encountered her at Almack’s, which of course he never had. Her parents’ reputation would never qualify Elizabeth access to a place with such a high opinion of itself. “I am surprised to see you here.” He focused his address to her mother, not wishing to draw attention to his particular acquaintance with Elizabeth.
“I have come to play, Your Grace. I cannot see there is aught surprising about that.” Lady Derwent dismissed Elizabeth’s presence here as though it would be insane not to see debutantes in every gaming hell.
“Then you may have my seat at the table there, Lady Derwent.” He directed her attention to the vacant seat he’d just left and when she turned, he looked at Elizabeth, meeting her gaze for the first time.
It bore no gladness. There was no smile for him tonight, no light catching in her eyes. Yet her skin had reddened with a deep blush.
Marcus glanced back at her mother. “If you would approve, Lady Derwent, may I offer to accompany Miss Derwent to seek refreshments?”
“That would be most kind, Your Grace. I would love a glass of champagne. Run along, Elizabeth.”
Of course. Lady Felicity Derwent was a notorious gamester, her eyes had barely left the vacant seat at the table. She was never away from the cards.
Guilt sliced through Marcus with the force of a double-edged sword.
What hope had Elizabeth had of not being prey to hawks like him, with a mother that sat at the tables all night?
Lady Derwent nodded at Elizabeth and then turned to the table immediately, forgetting her daughter.
From this point forward Marcus knew it would be as any other night. Elizabeth could do anything she wished without censor.
Temptation teased, and he had drunk enough to consider taking a room upstairs, but not enough to fully silence his new-found conscience. Elizabeth is a debutante, not a randy widow and certainly not a whore. Be sensible and have some respect for the girl… God knows you did not have enough respect for her last night.
His fingers lifted and brushed through his hair, then lowered. He offered her his arm. “We should talk, Elizabeth,” he said quietly.
Marcus looked across his shoulder to meet Jason’s gaze. Damn. He’d forgotten his brother.
“Forgive me, Jason. You will excuse me if I do not accompany you home?”
“Of course.” Jason raised his brows. “I shall say goodnight then Marc, Miss…?”
“Good night.” Marcus responded sharply. He did not wish to introduce Jason to her… That would be insane. This had to be forgotten, and introducing her to his family was not the way to sweep this mess aside…
Marucs’s companion gave her a swift bow, he had asked for an introduction, by inference, but Marcus had refused it.
As the man left, Marcus turned to face her, a smile lifting the edge of his lips.
Her insides turned over sharply in salute to the magnificence that was Marcus Campbell, Duke of Tay. But she was wiser now than she had been a day ago. She knew how cold-hearted he could be beneath that beauty.
She closed her mouth tightly, so she did not shout the obscenities that screamed through her head, and clutched her hands into fists at her sides rather than take his offered arm, so her hands would not slap him.
Lowering his arm, Marcus accepted her rebuff. It was what he deserved, she told herself, even though she knew where the blame really laid. With her.
The smile fell from his lips as instead he lifted a hand to direct her. “This way. I shall find us somewhere quiet.”
“I will not…” It was a quick retort and it implied the weight of her regret, and he heard it.
“I know, Elizabeth. I do only mean to talk…” He gripped her upper arm and pulled her into movement. It was like he was angry too, when he had no cause to be, as he steered her from the room, his movement stiff. She had never known him like this.
“For heavens sake. What the hell was your mother thinking?”
His head had bent to hers, and the harsh whisper stirred the hair beside her ear. But his gaze still looked across the room, presumably to hide the depth of his emotion.
“I have no say over what my mother does,” Elizabeth bit back, echoing the same note of anger. “I cannot control her choice? Apparently my father is here, although I have not seen him. She came here seeking funds. Yet now she is here she will not walk away from a game of course.”
The explanation only seemed to increase his anger, as his fingers gripped her arm more tightly, while the pace of their progress across the room increased.
A few moments later she was planted on a sofa in the lobby, as though she were no more than a sack of coal. Men and women wandered through, choosing between the gaming rooms. Elizabeth clutched her hands together in her lap as he sat beside her…
She schooled her expression to a blank, trying to conceal her inner turmoil as Marcus turned sideways, to face her, watching her as though now he had her here he could find no words.
“I thought you wished to speak to me, Your Grace? Pray, if you have something to say, say it,” she prompted, bitter and angry, even though she knew it was she who had let herself down. But even though it was herself she was truly angry at she could not stop herself from hurling that anger on to Marcus. He had accepted the offer of her innocence and then walked away.
“I sense that you are agitated with me,” he began. “I admit I do not blame you.” He paused as his gaze seemed to look deep into her eyes… She blinked, she did not wish him to stare at her anymore. “Perhaps I should have made things clear from the beginning.”
Elizabeth watched him, intently. Disbelieving… What did he imagine she thought… Made things clear… He had indeed made them very clear today when he had been shopping with another woman as if nothing had occurred the night before.
“I do not know what you expected, Elizabeth, but I have no intention of being shackled by the parson, and I am not so jaded as to offer you anything else. I would not take you as a mistress. Nothing can be acceptable in your situation. I am sorry. What occurred between us should not have happened, and it will be as though it did not. I will tell no one. I give you my word.”
Sitting straighter in the seat, her chin lifted higher, but she did not take her eyes from his.
He looked at her as if he expected her to cry. She was too numb inside to cry. Her expression remained set… I would not take you as a mistress… No she had seen today that that position was already filled, and – how could he think she would wish for that.
He took a deep breath, as if he would say more. Enough. Elizabeth did not wish to suffer anymore of his words.
“Thank you, Your Grace. I am most grateful to you for making your position clear. I am sorry to hear that you regret the events of last evening. However, I am sure your entertainment today has wiped it from your mind, so there is a blessing.” He looked at her blankly.
She ignored his dumbfounded expression. “Now if you will excuse me.” She rose.
“Elizabeth.” He lifted his hand to catch her arm and draw her back but she moved out of reach.
“Good evening, Your Grace.” She turned away.
“Elizabeth,” he said again, rising. “I did not say…”
He reached out to capture her arm, again, but she dodged his hand, and headed back into the gaming room to find her mother, leaving him standing there, alone.
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now 😀
and until October the 27th many of the books are on sale in the UK and the USA from $1.99 and 69p
To read the Marlow Intrigues series, you can start anywhere, but this is the actual order
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel
#1.5 Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ This Free Novella
#2.5 The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella
and, yes, there are more to come 🙂 soon…
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.
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