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
(sorry, there’s a little bit of jumping about tonight at its several posts in one 😉 )
Elizabeth descended from steps of the carriage, clutching Lord Percy’s proffered hand. She really did not feel quite the thing this evening, but her Mama had insisted that there would be no complaint. Her stomach had been queasy for days and she had put it all down to worry over finding a position before her time in London ran out, she could feel it slipping through her fingers like sand running through an hour-glass, but she had more fortitude than to give in.
“Take her for a walk, Lord Percy. I am sure the gardens are lovely in the light of the lanterns.”
“You will join us, Mother…” Elizabeth looked back.
“You do not need my company. Go along,” her mother encouraged them to go with a wave of her hand.
Inwardly sighing, Elizabeth laid her hand on Percy’s forearm, unable to protest further in his presence. He began to lead her away without a word, towards the dark pathways, which ran away from those that were lit. She did not feel at all comfortable.
Percy steered her away from the numbers gathered here to dance and watch the entertainments. It was silly, she had never worried with Marcus, but Lord Percy was indeed a different character, just as Marcus had said.
“Surely we should not walk too far away or we will miss the fireworks.”
“There is plenty of time yet, Elizabeth.” He patted her hand and smiled.
Lord Percy had increased his attentions of late. He had ceased to simply approach her at social events and had now taken to personal invitations extended to herself and her mother… a drive in the park, an escort to events such as this, an entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens. Her mother seemed delighted by his interest, but Elizabeth had already achieved her aim in igniting Marcus’s anger, and any interest she had in Percy had worn thin. There was some amusement in their excursions, but if he made her an offer, she had no intention of accepting. Yet his behaviour was becoming progressively more familiar towards her; using her forename, even in public, and setting his hand at her waist or on her knee. She was therefore becoming more and more concerned that she would place herself within a predicament from which she could not escape.
Lord Percy turned down a dark unlit avenue.
Marcus had attended Vauxhall en famille at the behest of his sister-in-law, whom he strongly believed had taken it upon herself to draw him from his melancholy. It was not working.
Surveying the gathering across his aunt’s shoulder, Marcus heard her speak but was not truly listening. Aunt Margaret had always been close to her sister’s sons. She was in her later years and yet a woman of good humour and enthusiasm. She dressed and behaved extravagantly in all things, and had always turned a blind eye to Marcus’s excesses, laughing off the scandals. Tonight she had been Angela’s perfect excuse to draw him along, stating that the evening would be much more entertaining if they attended as a group and that Aunt Margaret would definitely desire his company over anything.
“Marcus! Tay! You are not attending.” Aunt Margaret tapped his arm with a closed fan, the peacock feathers in her turban fluttering at the movement.
It had been like this for weeks. Everything bored him; he could not apply his attention to anything for any length of time. Nothing seemed to catch his interest any more. That was, except for thoughts and memories of Elizabeth.
“Forgive me, Aunt, I-”
“Never mind your excuses. What is it? Some filly over there?” She turned to look across her shoulder.
Marcus’s gaze followed hers and was then drawn to a couple turning into a darker pathway. Elizabeth. Elizabeth with Percy.
“Forgive me, Aunt, there is something I must do.” Without waiting for her leave, Marcus set her fingers from his arm and rose, leaving their private box.
He narrowed the distance between himself and the couple in his sight as quickly as he could.
Elizabeth pulled back a little, hesitating in her stride. “I think perhaps we should turn back.” The orchestra’s music had begun to sound quite distant.
“Nonsense.” Lord Percy drew her on, his elbow squeezing her arm to his side securely, discouraging her from pulling it free. “We shall have privacy along this path, it is much quieter.”
Elizabeth held her stance, looking back.
Lord Percy stopped and looked across his shoulder. “Go away, Tay! You are interrupting a private conversation.”
Elizabeth’s heart pounded. The sight of him still affected her even though it had been weeks since she’d seen him last.
“You have no exclusive right over the woman, Percy. You cannot deny me the opportunity to speak.” His voice was a steady timbre, not the anger she had known on the last occasion they’d crossed paths, possibly a month ago. Letting her hand fall from Percy’s arm, she turned, facing the inevitable.
Her body reacted instantly with the physical recognition of her longing for this man, sending a spiral of sweet pain spinning to the place inside he had once occupied.
“Miss Derwent, I would speak with you.” He sounded breathless.
“Whatever you have to say, you may speak before Lord Percy, Your Grace,” she answered, even though every element of her being cried out for him to take her away from Lord Percy, she would not own to it, she would not have him think that he could still orchestrate her life.
Marcus searched her face for any softness towards him, but apparently there was none. The music of a brisk quadrille slowed and drew to a close, to be followed by the first few notes of a waltz.
“I merely wished to ask you to dance with me, Miss Derwent.”
Her mouth gaped.
“Would you honour me?” Marcus held out his arm, willing her to accept.
For a moment she merely stared at his arm, as though it was something of disgust, but then Percy reached an arm about her waist and it must have triggered something because at that moment she stepped away from him and towards Marcus. Hesitantly she set her fingers upon Marcus’s coat sleeve. Turning slightly to Percy she mumbled some apology, while Marcus set his other hand over hers on his arm, feeling as though he had caught a hold of something precious.
A sharp stitch like pain caught in his chest as her familiar scent filled his nostrils. Even the weight of her hand upon his arm was an unexpected balm; his body was so accustomed to her, his senses so attuned to her. She felt right.
He turned her away from Percy, and walked back towards the sound of music, anger suddenly fizzing in his blood. What on earth had she been doing, walking into a dark pathway with Percy, with everyone here to watch her go.
He bent his head as they walked and whispered sharply, “Have you no one who may chaperon you?”
A scoffing sound erupted from her lips. “It did not seem to bother you before, if I recall correctly, Your Grace.”
She spoke dismissively. He responded in the same vein, even though he had approached her with full intent of being civil. “That was very different. Unless it is your intention to become the doxy of every member of the ton?”
“Lord Percy has made no inappropriate suggestions…”
“Give him time,” Marcus growled, leading her up the shallow steps to the pavilion and onto the dance floor. “Have some sense, Elizabeth. Percy is a dangerous man.” He took her fingers in his, then set his hand at her back.
On this occasion, unlike that night which still haunted his dreams, she made certain there was no other contact of their bodies.
“But you are the most notorious of all rakes…. How can there be any greater danger from him.”
It was not a question but a statement as they took the first turn.
“Believe me, there are things that others may do to you that are nothing to my mistakes.”
Her feet stopped dead at that, which meant he had to urge her on.
“Ah, forgive me. I forgot you called our little interlude a mistake,” she said as she did move.
“You surely cannot call it anything else?” It seemed now they could do nothing other than argue, not even dance.
“Then I am sorry to have been…” she whispered back, her tone cutting, but then Elizabeth suddenly gripped at his hand and his shoulder over tightly, and stopped dancing, leaving them standing on the edge of the floor in the way of others who spun about them. Her forehead tipped to his shoulder, only for an instant. “Forgive me,” she said, as she freed her hand from his grip, stepping back. She had recognizably paled. “I am not well.” She stepped back again.
She looked as though she was about to faint.
Marcus caught her arm, bracing her forearm. “Come.” He led her away from the dancing and into the crowd, his eyes searching the gathering, looking to spot their supper box, but when he did, it was empty.
His gaze passed over the crowds again. “There.” Jason and Angela were walking across the lawn hand in hand.
Determinedly he led her on, as she leaned heavily on his grip.
“Jason!” He caught their attention, when they were still a few feet away, but immediately they turned towards him.
“I shall leave you with my sister-in-law while I fetch you some refreshment,” he said as they approached.
“Jason, Angela, this is Miss Elizabeth Derwent. Elizabeth, this is my sister-in-law, Angela, and my brother, Jason Campbell. Pray look after Miss Derwent for a moment, Angela, while I fetch Elizabeth some refreshment, she is not feeling well. Where is Aunt Margaret? I would suspect she will want some too?”
“She has found other companionship for a while and I believe is already partaking of refreshment, Marcus. You go; we shall take Miss Derwent back to the box.”
Elizabeth found herself left in the hands of strangers, when Marcus disappeared. But then she looked at the woman and recognized her face. It was the woman she’d seen him with in the street?
“Miss Derwent? But we have met before, when I was shopping with my brother-in-law. Come, we will get you settled until he returns. It has been such a warm day, no wonder you are overcome. Perhaps a little too much heat.”
His sister-in-law… She had misjudged him in that.
But she had not misjudged his words when he’d said he would not take her as a mistress or a wife, that making love to her was a mistake. Nor had she misjudged the fact that he’d avoided her ever since she’d given him the gift of her virginity. She had not misjudged him at all in that. Just because he’d not slept with another woman did not in anyway mitigate his behaviour, or improve her opinion of him.
“Please, sit.” Angela led her to a seat.
She then sat beside Elizabeth and unfurled her fan, then wafted it in Elizabeth’s direction. “Are you feeling any better?”
“A little.” Elizabeth responded politely. It was true that the dizziness had now eased, but she did not feel steady enough to stand and walk away.
“I saw Marcus move to speak to you. Was it not Lord Percy whom you were with?”
“I should warn you of that man. He is not a good one.”
Elizabeth was about to speak and tell her how poorly behaved her own brother-in-law was, only to have Marcus reappear with a glass of cool lemonade in hand.
“Here, drink this, Elizabeth.” His voice was full of all the concern and care he had used to her before their intimacy. Elizabeth accepted the glass from his hand.
“Thank you.” She felt a softness she had not felt toward him for a long time, and the feeling leaked into her pitch. She took a sip.
“If you are unwell, perhaps we should escort you home.” Marcus had squatted onto his haunches before her so that his eye level was close to hers.
“Thank you, but no, it will not be necessary. Lord Percy is escorting me.”
“You did not come with him alone?” Again it was concern, not anger.
“No, my mother is here.” Elizabeth looked up and glanced across the gathering. “Somewhere.”
“Jason, would you find Lady Derwent?” Marcus looked up to his brother, and she followed his gaze only to discover an amused expression on the man’s face.
“Of course.” He nodded, smiling with a knowing look at Marcus, then he departed.
Elizabeth looked at Marcus, “I feel foolish having to rely upon you, after…” she faltered.
His deep brown eyes were just as she remembered, and they caught the light as his smile set in creases at the corners of his eyes. His smile had enchanted her from the first moment she had seen him.
Marcus knew he was speaking to the Elizabeth of his memory, the shy and timid girl whom he’d first met and brought to life. This was not the woman who was courting Percy – who’d courted half the men in the ton. This woman was his. “Think nothing of it.”
Elizabeth drained the glass and rose from the chair. Both Marcus and Angela stood with her.
“Thank you for your concern, Lady Campbell.” Elizabeth bobbed a curtsy. “Your Grace. Can you see Lord Percy or my mother?”
“He will have disappeared. He will not come near my brother and his wife,” Marcus responded roughly, his demeanour changing again as anger rippled through his blood. She could stir him up so easily…
“But his carriage is here. He would not have left.” She looked around once more while Marcus saw her mother approaching with Jason.
Marcus looked at Angela, speaking with his eyes, asking her to leave them alone.
Accepting his request Angela turned and left them, descending the steps and lifting a hand to Jason, as if to beckon him in their direction.
Marcus’s fingers slipped to Elizabeth’s forearm, preventing her from going as he whispered hoarsely. “Leave Percy alone, Elizabeth.”
Her gaze turned back to him, a look of stubborn granite on her face, the reformed Elizabeth again. Fire flashed in her turquoise eyes.
Marcus knew a sudden desire to have and then mend an argument with this woman. The ensuing passion would be wonderfully volatile. “If I am to find a husband, Your Grace, I cannot avoid suitors.”
“Then at least find a decent chaperon, Elizabeth. For heavens sake, I am tempted to do the job myself if your mother cannot -”
“Lizzie!” His ranting was interrupted by her mother’s approach.
His hand fell from her arm and Elizabeth turned away.
He straightened and looked at her mother, who ignored him, as though she disapproved of him… Did she know?
“Elizabeth, Lord Campbell has told me you are unwell.” Lady Derwent’s pitch was heavy with annoyance.
“Yes, Mama. May we go home? Will you help me find Lord Percy?”
With that… within moments… Elizabeth was gone… without another word of thanks, or farewell, or with any word of gratitude from her mother.
Angela’s fingers brushed Marcus’s sleeve. “Miss Derwent is hot-headed, is she not? But I am sure that Percy will not touch her. She is a debutante after all, and even Percy would not stoop to that.”
The soft smile and gentle words struck Marcus in the gut as Angela moved away. Here was he, protesting about Percy’s intentions, when he had done far more than intend. Angela did not know that. She would not be happy if she did. He was unhappy with himself. He currently hated himself. This was his fault.
Hell. Perhaps he’d had no conscience before, but he had one now.
To be continued…
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now 😀
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
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback
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’.
Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark