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
Read the earlier parts
“Good morning, Miss Derwent,” Angela greeted Elizabeth when she entered the room. Elizabeth was the last to arrive to break her fast, everyone else was seated.
She smiled uncertainly and looked about the group. “Good morning.” Her gaze settled on Marcus who sat beside his sister-in-law.
He did not smile, but he watched Elizabeth as she took the empty seat opposite Angela. She looked down, but sensed his gaze follow her movement.
She leaned to her side a little when a footman offered to fill her cup with coffee, and she stared at the spout of the pot as it was poured. Months ago she had looked for Marcus across rooms full of people and the moment their gazes had met it had seemed as if no one else was there.
“Marcus said you do not like to hunt?” Angela spoke.
Elizabeth looked up.
When they’d arrived yesterday Elizabeth had felt out of place, she was the only stranger, yet all the women had gone out of their way to include her when they’d taken tea and after dinner in the drawing room. The gentlemen had done their utmost to keep her talking through dinner too.
“No, it is not to my liking. I like to watch the animals. I do not wish to see them harmed.” If the women sought to include her then it would be rude not to respond, she had done her best to try to let herself be included, and yet she was shy in this company because she was so unlike these people.
What did his sister-in-law and brother think of her invitation here? She had wondered that a dozen times. Had they guessed that something must have passed between Marcus and her? Her skin heated. But why on earth would a notorious rake trail a debutant and then invite her to his home? There could be only one conclusion.
Elizabeth stood under the direction of the butler and walked to the buffet to look at the array of food. It was a week’s menu for her family, scrambled and boiled eggs, bacon, ham, kedgeree and kippers. A footman helped her select her choices but she did not fill her plate, she dare not eat much, her dresses had been growing tight.
“You will not be joining us today, then?” Marcus asked her directly when she returned to her seat.
She looked up, shock flooding her. “You are hunting?”
“Not the stag!” She was appalled by the suggestion. They had watched that beautiful creature last night and tonight he intended to put it on their dinner plates.
He leaned forward, his voice lowering to an intimate tone, despite the fact that he was speaking across the table. “I promise, if we see the stag I shall not let anyone shoot.”
He was teasing her. The rogue. Why had he brought her here?
She looked down at her plate, simply to look away from him, he was too overpowering when he was in his charming mood.
“We are shooting pheasant.” Marcus clarified. She looked up and narrowed her eyes at him, to tell him it had been mean to let her think he’d kill the stag. “Have you ever used a gun?”
“Never, and I do not wish to.”
“Then what will you do? Do you ride?”
Elizabeth blushed. “I learnt as a child but I have not ridden for several years. My father sold his stock.”
“Then you shall ride and I will join you. You will become accustomed to the saddle again soon enough.”
“But I have no habit.”
“You may borrow mine, we are a similar size,” Angela interrupted. “I shall neither be hunting nor riding. I have the menus to consider for our stay.”
“Beautifully offered, Angela dear.” Marcus turned a smile from his sister-in-law to Elizabeth.
She looked at Angela. “Thank you.” But I wish you had not offered, I do not trust him.
“Then it is settled. Be ready to ride at eleven.” Marcus grinned at her.
An hour later Elizabeth gripped a groom’s hand to climb the mounting block, wearing Lady Campbell’s riding habit.
“Bonnie is a steady mare, Miss, she’ll not lead you a dance.”
Another groom held the mare’s head as Elizabeth gripped the pommel and sat down, then she turned and hooked her knee across the side-saddle. It had been about five years since she had sat on a horse. She took the reins, her heart pounding.
Angela’s heavy velvet riding habit was scarlet, it was not a colour Elizabeth usually wore, and it was tight about her waist and the bust. She gripped the reins in one hand for a moment to adjust the thin veil adorning the small hat which had accompanied the habit. The mare side-stepped and Elizabeth grabbed at the rein, which had the mare lifting its head and whinnying in disgust.
Elizabeth balanced her grip on the reins, and steadied the mare. It shook out its mane.
The mare was chestnut, and tall, taller than any horse Elizabeth had ridden before, but the groom had told her there were no smaller animals in the stalls. It was Bonnie or nothing. All Marcus’s horses were bred for the hunt, built for speed and the agility to jump fences and walls.
“Thank you, Johnson.” Marcus turned his black stallion and spoke to the groom who’d helped Elizabeth. “You have kept the stable well. You have some well bred animals here.”
“We have kept it so, Your Grace, not knowing when the family may visit. The workhorses are bred from our own stock as well as the horses for the hunt. Titan, the stallion you are riding, has fathered two sturdy foals this year. We turn a reasonable profit from the breeding, as I am sure you are aware.”
“Certainly, Johnson. I will catch up with you a little later if I may? I would like to see how you run the place. It would be interesting to look at your breeding plan and see the animals.”
“Indeed, Your Grace. I’d be glad to show you.” The man put his thumb and forefinger to the fringe of his curly hair and tugged it, leaning forward a little.
Marcus turned his horse and then he leaned across and tapped a hand against the backside of hers, gently setting it into a walk without her bidding. “Come, Elizabeth. As you are rusty we shall take it steady while you find your seat. Keep your mare to a walk until we are off the drive.”
She rocked her bottom forward urging the animal on. She had not remembered how high up riding on horseback felt or how vulnerable it felt when she tried to keep her balance through the grip of one knee.
She held the reins awkwardly and she was certain if she tried to steer it the mare would not turn, but fortunately it wished to follow Marcus’s stallion and so it did.
She looked at his easy posture with envy, he must ride daily, his weight seemed light and balanced on his stirrups, she would swear he could control his horse without reins.
“Bonnie is several hands taller than the pony I rode as a child.” She spoke only to try to dispel her nerves..
Marcus gripped the back of his saddle and half turned to look back at her.
She continued to speak, as fear twisted through her stomach. “She is beautiful. I have never ridden an animal as fine as this before. We had one pony when I was young, and when my brother grew out of riding her he used father’s hunter, but I never progressed. Father would not allow me to ride Major. He said two masters for one horse were enough. But we have not had horses for several years.”
He smiled, then turned around again, looking ahead. “Your seat is good regardless. Just just grip the reins a little further up and tighten your hold or the animal will not know you’re in control.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Then that is the two of us.”
His head turned as he laughed too. It was a sound of pleasure she had not heard from his lips in weeks.
“Should we not have brought a groom with us, Marcus?” She knew well enough that they should not be alone.
He looked back and smiled again, then laughed “Is it not a little late for you to demur?”
“I was thinking of appearances.”
“Of my guests? They are all out, or busy, they’ll not know we left the groom behind.”
Yet, if they did, bearing in mind his reputation, hers would be ruined. But she had ruined it weeks ago, it was just that no one knew. “Do you come to your estate often?” She changed the subject to free her mind from the memory.
“No, never.” He did not turn this time.
“I thought… It is beautiful, why would you not come?” Her voice lifted high. “Do you not like it here?”
“I am by nature a town man, Elizabeth. I have no interest in the pursuits of the country.”
“Is that why you are not hunting?”
“I am not hunting because it would be unfair to ask you to join me here and then leave you alone.”
“You said that you brought me here only to keep me away from others. In that case I see no reason why you are under any obligation to entertain me.”
“I am not the harsh man you believe me to be, Elizabeth.”
She laughed. It erupted in a mocking sound. “Really? I had come to the conclusion you are as cold as stone.”
He surprised her when he merely laughed, and his laughter was not harsh. “Well Jason may agree, he has often said I lack a heart.”
Clearly he was not in a mood to argue with her.
He turned his horse onto the drive leading away from the house and rose into a trot. Her mare followed and she bounced in the saddle, until her knee obtained a better grip and then she lifted, and fell in the rhythm he set.
“You are in a bright mood today.” She stated.
He looked back and merely smiled again.
Perhaps it would be pleasurable to spend some time with him if he was in a good mood. Again the memory of the hours when they had sought each other out in ballrooms, ignoring everyone else slipped through her mind. She still loved that man.
Yet thinking of that only reminded her of her foolishness and that made her wish to stab at his ego for revenge, with words, but it was no fun if he would not bite back.
To be continued…
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now 😀 And if you have read them all already, then there’s another treat on its way, on the 29th January you can begin devouring, The Dangerous Love of a Rogue
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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all ~ The paperback would be a lovely stocking filler 😉
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
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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