Reckless in Innocence
Reckless in Innocence
~ Read the earlier parts listed in the index
Elizabeth laid her hairbrush on top of the dresses she and Abigail had packed.
“Are you ready, Elizabeth?”
Lord Percy’s voice surprised her. Elizabeth looked up to see him rest his shoulder against the frame of her bedroom doorway. The intimacy of his position in her private room, and the nonchalant way in which he stood, immediately made her feel uncomfortable. He’d been in an odd mood when he arrived, cocky – far too sure of himself, and it was as though he was angry. Yet he was here. And this was her choice. She had given him the right to intimacy, she could not deny him now he’d accepted. She had invited his attentions and she must accept his closeness and what must follow; she had no choice.
She did not have a choice!
She had repeated those words to herself at least twenty times in the last hour, ever since the note had arrived to say that he was coming.
Of course, he had said how desperately sorry he was to hear the news of her father’s misfortune. Then he had offered her his protection for as long as she needed it. His protection, his money, his food, his home, she needed those things, not for herself but for her child.
And in return…
She would not think of the things that she must give him. Not yet. Though how different was this in comparison to most marriages of the aristocracy? Men and women did not marry for love; they wed for children, for notability, titles and money. She had accepted this arrangement for money too. There was simply no ring to bind it.
“I am almost ready, Lord Percy, just these.” She picked up the latest books that she’d borrowed from the lending library and placed them in the top of her trunk.
“You must call me Christian now, Elizabeth.”
“Yes, indeed, Christian.” His name felt odd to her lips. Her lips still only wished to say Marcus.
His stare seemed possessive as it hovered on her while she reached for her blue bonnet, which lay on the bed.
Abigail held up Elizabeth’s cloak. “Thank you, Abigail,” Elizabeth acknowledged as Abigail lay it over her shoulders. Elizabeth slotted the buttons into their holes to secure it, as her hands shook a little. She glanced down as she did so. Her expanding waist was not too obvious. Abigail had spent the final hours of last night adjusting the seams and clasps of Elizabeth’s clothing. Elizabeth hoped that she would have at least another month before her pregnancy would show so much that Lord Percy would be able to see it.
“I am ready.” She smiled uncertainly as she turned to face him. He looked her up and down without restraint or deference as though she was a prize heifer that he was eyeing up for purchase.
“Good. Then we will go,” he said, but instead of stepping aside to let her pass, he came forward, his hand lifting, and then the tip of one finger trailed over the curve of her breast.
It was as though he deliberately sought to unsettle her.
She shivered, and then every muscle stiffened in denial. She turned away to look at Abigail. Abigail gave her a lost look in return, before bobbing into a shallow curtsy. When she rose from it she glanced at Lord Percy, her eyes expressing her mistrust.
“Abigail.” Elizabeth touched her arm.
The maid’s gaze spun to her. “Don’t do this, miss,” she whispered.
“Elizabeth…” Lord Percy encouraged, behind her.
Elizabeth shook her head at her maid, asking her silently not to make a scene.
When Elizabeth turned, Lord Percy lifted his forearm for her. She lay her fingers on it and then allowed him to lead her from the room. His servants moved into the room as they left it, to collect her luggage.
On the landing Elizabeth looked through the open door of her mother’s room. Her mother’s clothing was strewn about the floor in disarray. She had taken all her jewellery and her ball gowns, and even some of the china pieces from her dresser; she had already gone to pawn them all. She had thought only of herself to the last.
At the bottom of the stairs Elizabeth turned back to Abigail who’d followed her down and hugged her young maid firmly, whispering to her ear. “Take anything you wish for, there will be nothing for your arrears in wages.”
“Miss…” The maid said uncertainly. Elizabeth heard the silent plea which begged again, don’t go.
But Elizabeth had no other choice. “I have to go,” she whispered, before stepping away. Abigail bobbed another curtsy.
When they were outside Lord Percy handed Elizabeth up into his carriage. Even that innocent, simple, contact felt lascivious as he let her fingers slid slowly from his.
She took the corner seat looking back at their rented home of the last few months. Lord Percy occupied the seat immediately beside her, so his leg pressed against hers, and he took hold of one of her hands, gripping it firmly as though he claimed ownership.
The door slammed shut, and Elizabeth suddenly had the sense of being locked away, like the door of the carriage was the door of a prison cell.
As the coach shifted into motion, Elizabeth leant her temple against the small window of the carriage and watched the house as the carriage progressed along the street. It was the end of life as she had always known it.
Sensing a presence at his shoulder, Marcus looked up from his hand of cards.
He was playing in the gambling club where he’d once met Elizabeth and if that was a deliberate choice to seek memories of her he’d not let himself admit it. He had avoided home today, he’d spent the afternoon looking at horses at Tattersall’s, dined at White’s and then come here for a deep game. He’d never felt more bloody lonely and isolated. He hated being at odds with Jason. His brother had always been his best friend too.
Now he viewed his rakehell life from this current ridge he saw exactly what it was, a shallow existence. If he died tomorrow, who would care? No one. Not his staff, nor his friends, who he would call no more than acquaintances or associates. They were all only close to him because of his title or his money.
He sighed as he acknowledged Elizabeth’s mother, “Lady Derwent.” His voice was bland. He’d known she was here. She’d been sitting at a table across the room. It had left him wondering, despite himself, where her daughter was.
“Your Grace.” Lady Derwent focused narrowed, bloodshot eyes on him. “I would speak with you.” A bitter note of accusation and anger edged her voice.
“Forgive me, madam, if I cannot spare you any time.” Marcus looked back at his hand of cards, disregarding her challenge. He was in no mood to listen to the woman ranting. There was no point to it, his position was immovable, he was not about to be sucked in by them.
His acquaintances about him laughed. It was callous of them. But then Marcus would have mocked her in their position, the woman was a gambler and tonight she was drunk. She was also a scheming hussy. Any sympathy he’d had for Elizabeth’s family was long dead.
Lady Derwent thrust her reticule at his shoulder,and hit him with it. “You ill-treated my daughter, Tay. We had hopes in you. Hopes. My husband thought you an honourable man, but you are not. You are not!”
Again her outburst brought forth laughter from his group. Marcus did not respond.
“Because of you, Your Grace, I have had to pawn my jewellery, my husband cannot pay his debts and we are without a home. Remember, Your Grace, that you have a responsibility to my daughter. I never thought you capable of leaving your child penniless.”
Marcus looked up, his brow furrowing with annoyance and impatience. He was not the one in the wrong. There was no bloody child.
She read his expression as concern. “I should hope that you feel remorse. You have led us a merry dance, courting my daughter day in and day out, and then not fulfilling our expectations. My husband had invested in the child, you know, and now he has no return!”
That was enough. Marcus lay down his cards, face down, and stood up. His chair scraping back, as he turned to glare at the woman. “And what of your daughter, Lady Derwent? Where does she fit into this tale of woe for which I am to blame? Does she have no blame at all?”
“She is homeless, as I am homeless!”
She was angry on her own behalf, though, not speaking for Elizabeth. Schemer that she was. Marcus stared at her for a moment, his lips pursed. He did not want to care. He did not want to know anything about Elizabeth or her family. But despite himself he did care. “Where is she?”
“I have no idea. I left her at home.”
She was not homeless then. It was simply another lie. Elizabeth was safe and her mother was spouting nonsense. “Where you should be,” he stated, gripping her arm as she swayed.
She snatched her arm from his grip and nearly fell but caught at a chair, then tossed him visual daggers before turning away and stumbling into the table beside them.
“The woman is foxed,” Appleton laughed as Marcus sat back down. “I will be very surprised if she makes it home with her winnings.”
“Coarse country stock,” another of Marcus’s companions replied. “None of them knows how to behave in town.”
But Marcus felt suddenly out of sorts, regardless. He was no longer in a mood to play cards. Questions whispered in his head without answers. Once he’d finished the hand he dropped out of the game and left.
When he reached home Jenkins opened the front door with a frown. “Your Grace. We had a visitor.” The butler took Marcus’s outdoor coat as he carried on explaining. “A young maid. She wished to speak with you alone. She waited for a while this afternoon but left hours ago I’m afraid. I thought I would mention it, it seemed rather odd.”
A maid? It was odd. “Did she leave any message?”
“All she said was that she was from Lord Derwent’s household.”
Bloody hell, what was going on tonight?
* * *
Marcus tapped his whip against his leg impatiently. No one was answering the door, not even the maid. He had swallowed his pride, as far as a man could, to bring himself to her front door, he’d come early, he’d not even stopped for breakfast, and now she had the audacity to pretend to him that she was not at home. Of course it would be Elizabeth who excluded him. Her mother would most certainly not be out of her bed.
He knocked the door again, and then took off his hat, brushing his hair back from his forehead as he turned to face the street. He had not slept a wink for thinking of Elizabeth, wondering what was behind her mother’s words and the maid’s visit. He turned back to the door. Still no answer. Marcus walked over to the far side of the street and looked up at the windows of the upper floor. There was no movement.
Elizabeth would not see him. He took a deep breath to calm his growing frustration before it broke into anger. It was probably another ploy, another lie, one last attempt to see him shackled. No, there was nothing to do here.
He turned to walk back to the mews to collect his horse.
He would go to Larchfield. Why had he not thought of it before? The distance from her and the rumours about town would suit him well. He had not had chance to talk to Jenson about the management of the stables. He would visit Larchfield and find out about Jenson’s breeding programme. Perhaps think of purchasing some new stock. He’d never bred animals, although he was good at spotting a fast horse. It would be interesting to see if he could breed his own, and with Jenson’s knowledge he could quite possibly generate a race winner. That would give him something to consume his thoughts and look forward to.
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 out now, you can begin devouring, The Dangerous Love of a Rogue
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The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
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