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Marcus was seething as he thrust aside the door to his own office, where his brother occupied the desk. “Angela told me that Elizabeth has gone!”
He had gone for a ride this morning to burn off his frustration, and then he’d broken his fast among his guests and neither his brother nor his sister-in-law had said one word of this. They had not told him because they knew he would go after her, they had deliberately given her chance to get away. The first that he’d known was when she did not show up for breakfast at all. It was half past eleven when he had finally gone looking for her, and it was only then that Angela had told him the truth.
“She said that you drove her into Tunbridge Wells at first light. What is this, brother? Why have you aided her in fleeing from me at such a ridiculous hour? Anyone would think me a monster, the way this escape has been so carefully planned!”
Jason stood. “I wondered how long it would take you to notice. Are you certain that you are not the ogre in this tale, Marcus? She is not one of your women from the stage, or a lover like Lady Hillsborough, to whom you were just one more. She is a young woman who has expectations of a marriage and a family to accompany it. She does not need a scoundrel like you destroying her prospects.”
Jason came about the desk, his anger reddening his cheeks. “Congratulations, Marcus. For the first time in your life you have thoroughly disgusted me. I am ashamed of my own brother. If this gets about town then I do not think that even Angela, who has been the most patient of women as far you are concerned, will deem to entertain you. When you said that you would bring Miss Derwent here, I had thought…” Jason snatched a deep breath, clearly struggling to control his temper, then began again. “I believed you intended to offer her marriage, not that you had planned seduction. Miss Derwent was distressed yesterday, distraught last night and silent this morning. You have ruined that young women, have you not? I thought better of you, Marcus.”
They stood eye to eye just for a moment.
Marcus did not flinch from Jason’s judgement, seeing himself through his brother’s eyes, hearing Jason’s words repeated in his mind. He saw the person he had always expected to be, the person his mother had always claimed that he would be, a worthless man, and he was not surprised at all. It was what he deserved. He had spent years developing this façade.
Marcus turned his back and walked away, heading for the stables.
Elizabeth perched on the edge of the sofa in the parlour, still clothed in her travelling dress, blue spencer and bonnet. Her trunk stood in the hall where the hackney cab driver had deposited it and she clutched her reticule in her lap, her head bowed to her father’s tirade.
“You have let me down, Elizabeth. Beyond measure, girl, you have let me down! The deal was done! The marriage sealed! You were the only woman invited at His Grace’s request. You have had an entire weekend in which to extract a proposal from the man and you have not done it!”
“Father,” she did not look at him, “Lord Tay never had, nor ever will have, any intention of offering me marriage. Marriage was not what was on his mind.”
“Then it is your role to make it his intent. You should have put it into his mind!”
Elizabeth stood up to walk away, but her father caught her arm, his grip firm and painful. Her face turned to him, but her gaze rested on his mouth, it did not lift to his eyes. “What am I to do, Father? Place him in a situation where he is forced to make me an offer?”
“If that is the only way Elizabeth… if that is the only way, then that is what must be done.”
“But Father, he would hate me. Would you wish me to marry a man who hated me?”
“That is insignificant. You would be wed, and your mother and I would have some blunt. I cannot keep a girl about my neck forever. If you will not take the Duke then you must accept Lord Percy.”
Elizabeth pulled her arm from his grip and backed away one step. She could see his fingers shaking. He had not had a drink yet. “Lord Percy has not offered that. When will you understand what I always knew, Father? No one will have me. I have no dowry and you and Mother are an embarrassment to any family in the ton. No one will take me!”
Elizabeth turned and fled. Lord Derwent followed her, and as she hurried up the stairs, he gripped the newel post of the banister and shouted after her, “Not good enough, Elizabeth! Not good enough! You will find a husband and you will do so by the end of the week or you shall find yourself without a home. You will do what has to be done, or we shall all be without a roof over our heads.”
While she’d been away her parents had been indiscreet. Her mother had borrowed funds while gambling and the money had been loaned to her because she had declared that her daughter was to marry the Duke of Tay. While her father had launched into another business venture, citing her potential engagement as a deposit on the deal. They had no funds, and they had speculated on her match. A match which would never happen. The fault was theirs, but the blame would be hers.
“You shall not make a fool of me!” Her father’s voice rang out behind her. “I shall have to contact my business partner and ask for more time! It is you who needs it! It is you who must make a match!”
Marcus stood before the Derwents’ door. His fist had risen and fallen at least four times over the last few minutes. He was wet through from an earlier shower, and he stunk of horseflesh after riding his horse hard to get here. It was no way to present himself at someone’s door, but then Elizabeth Derwent’s family were not of the normal mould, undoubtedly they would not care a jot about his appearance. They would be over the moon that he was here at all.
His hand rose again. This time he did not allow himself to hesitate; he had made up his mind and the deed must be done.
The three hour ride from Kent had given him time to think things through, and Jason’s anger had driven him a hard ride. He could not forget Elizabeth’s warm and willing body against his and could not deny to himself that he wanted more. Had he truly dragged himself so low that he would offer a debutante anything but marriage? Was his fear of taking a wife so great that he would destroy the life of the one woman he’d discovered he could love?
Somewhere on the edge of the city he’d decided not. He’d decided that he would not live without her – could not live without her. That was untrue; he had made the decision the night before last, before he’d undone his trousers.
He curved his fingers into a fist to stop them shaking. Fool! He was still kidding himself. Jason had been right in his judgement. He had made his decision before they had gone to Larchfield, he had just not been ready to admit it.
His knuckles struck the door.
Abigail opened the door for him to enter and then held out her hand to take his hat and gloves. He removed his hat but held it, rather than let her take it as he swallowed, steeling himself to request an interview with Lord Derwent.
The voice of the man in question rose from a side room leading off from the hall. The door stood a little ajar. “I am no longer able to give you the additional money.”
Marcus looked over. He could see Lord Derwent slightly as he paced about the room, passing before the door, but not the person he spoke to, yet Marcus could hear their conversation clearly.
“It is too late to withdraw. You signed the agreement, you cannot back out.”
“Please understand, Mr Jones. I am in a difficult situation.”
“And I, sir. If you are about to tell me that you seek the return of your funds, the money is not there, it is invested.”
“But I had hopes, man. I told you that I had hopes, and they have not come to pass. I must have the money back and withdraw from our agreement.”
“If you were foolish enough to gamble money upon your daughter’s face, Derwent, that is not my concern. You have agreed to fund my venture, you cannot withdraw. You have signed an agreement. You owe me another fifty pounds within the month and I shall expect it.”
Marcus caught the expression on Lord Derwent’s face. He had never believed the drunkard capable of calculation, but there was definitely an idea forming. He stopped pacing and stood in Marcus’s clear view, confronting the man who Marcus could not see.
“She will do it. I will see that she does. I had planned for the girl to be able to claim she carried his offspring, that would seal it. She will compromise him and force his hand. You will have the rest. She will marry him. I will ensure it.”
“I have already invested on the understanding we have made, Derwent. I don’t care how you get the money, just get it?”
“She has Tay tamed already. It is just that he must be pushed to make the match.”
Marcus’s innards turned to stone. He’d heard enough – he’d heard exactly what he needed to hear. He put his hat back on his head and looked at the maid. “Tell no one that I called.” His voice rang with a cold pitch that carried the disdain and bitter betrayal which ran in his blood.
The maid bobbed a curtsy, silent, her skin flushed.
“I have your word?”
In answer she bobbed again, her head bowing further.
Marcus turned and opened the door himself then strode out, his head high and his shoulders back. He considered himself lucky. He had been saved on this occasion.
He would never make a fool of himself over a woman again.
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 out now, you can begin devouring, The Dangerous Love of a Rogue To read the Marlow Intrigues series, you can start anywhere, but the actual order is listed below ~ and click like to follow my Facebook Page not to miss anything… The Marlow Intrigues The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all ~ The paperback would be a lovely stocking filler 😉 The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5 The Passionate Love of a Rake #3 The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5 The Scandalous Love of a Lord #4 The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5 The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback and, yes, there are more to come 🙂
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