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
(an early Jane Lark story that is not at all associated with the Marlow Intrigues)
~ Read the earlier parts listed in the index
“Marcus…” Jason’s shoulder rested against the embrasure of the open French-door which led onto the terrace. The night was cold for late September. The air was near freezing and damp with mist. Marcus turned away and uncaring of the cold leant his hands on the balustrade where he had once stood with Elizabeth watching the deer. Now he faced the fog, looking out into pitch black.
“What are you doing?” Jason’s footsteps crossed the terrace towards Marcus.
“I cannot sleep. If the night was clear I would not wait for dawn, I would go to her now, but it is too dark to see within a foot from my face and too far to ride with a lantern.”
“There are but a few hours until the cock crows. Those hours can make little difference.”
“Then why does it feel as though they do? Why does it feel as if I must reach her with all speed or I may never see her again?”
Jason sighed, his hand resting on Marcus’s shoulder, “We will find her, and when she is safe and well, you will have a lifetime to repent.”
Marcus laughed bitterly. “I wish now that I had never heard her father’s words. I should have known that she was not involved. I would have known if I had stopped to think. What a fool I have been, an arrogant self-centred bloody fool.” He shook his head. “And I am not like our father. I have spent my life believing that I am, living under the damned curse of it. But I am not. I enjoy it here at Larchfield. There is more fulfilment working in the stables here than there has ever been for me in the pursuits of town. I see now what a shallow life I led.” Marcus looked over his shoulder and smiled at Jason, then turned and rested a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “And you have known this for years. You and Angela have had this treasure for years and hidden it from me.”
Jason smiled. “We have never hidden it from you. You have always been too blinkered to see. And, dear brother,” Jason tapped his arm, then let go, “you have no idea of the full measure of it yet, you have merely peeked into the treasure chest.”
“We ought to at least try to sleep,” Marcus answered. “I intend to ride at a fast pace tomorrow. We shall find her if I have to knock on every bloody door in London.”
“Very well, but promise me one thing, Marcus, before we retire for the night?”
“You will never tell Angela how much she is worth? She would take horrendous advantage of me.”
* * *
Encouraging his horse on at an urgent walk, with a tap of his heels, Marcus guided the animal into the stables of his town house, Jason riding beside him. As a groom caught the bridle of his mare, Marcus leaned forward and slid his leg across the saddle, then dropped with a leap to the ground. He began calling orders to the staff the moment his feet touched the cobbled yard. “My stallion is at Limpsfield, at the Bell Inn.” They had changed horses twice on the ride from Larchfield. “Send someone to collect him as soon as you can. I would have him returned to my stable by tomorrow. Our mounts are from the Crown at Mitcham. Let them rest and take them back. The groomsman at the Crown will direct you to the horses that need to be returned to Limpsfield.”
He and Jason had kept the pace throughout their journey and even now Marcus only intended to grasp some refreshment quickly then saddle a fresh horse and set out again.
“Where will we start?” Jason swung down from the stallion he had acquired from the small inn at Mitcham.
Rubbing his hand over his face, Marcus fought the weariness of fatigue from lack of sleep. “I suppose that we should start at the beginning, at her parents’ home.”
“I have spoken to the neighbours. They have said that they know nothing of her whereabouts,” Jason responded.
Marcus could still not quite grasp the effort his brother had already put into worrying over and searching for Elizabeth. Marcus should have looked himself. She had not, not answered that day he’d called after he’d seen her mother, she had already been gone. Her maid had come to him for help the day before too. He’d wilfully ignored all the signs of trouble. It was that thought which had been on his heels all the way to town. He should have started looking for her then. During their desperate ride back to town he’d sworn he would find her, yet here in London the task seemed so hopeless. They had been riding through streets and houses for over half an hour since entering London, Elizabeth could be in any one of them.
“Has her parents’ house been cleared?” Marcus called as he headed for some quick refreshment.
“It had not, but it could be by now.”
“Then that is where we start,” Marcus hollered across the stable yard, the heels of his boots echoing on the cobble with the haste of his steps.
Only an hour later they arrived at the humble residence in which Elizabeth had lived. A cart, hitched to two solid working horses, stood in front of the house and it was piled high with goods. Marcus drew his horse to a halt, dismounted and tied his reins to the railings as Jason did the same. The door to the Derwents’ former home was wide open and two men were busy lifting out the sofa on which Marcus had spent several hours of his life in recent months. It felt wrong, very wrong to see Elizabeth’s life in pieces upon the pavement.
“Have you seen anything of the family?” Marcus questioned a labourer walking from the cart back towards the house. When the man did not stop, Marcus followed him onto the steps leading to the front door.
“Not as I know, Sir. They had cleared out before the bailiffs knocked the door in. Left all this stuff, though. It isn’t my job to care about the families. If a fool spends more money than he’s got, then it isn’t my problem now, is it, sir?”
“No, no, it is not, but I was a friend of the daughter. I am looking for the daughter, not the man. She has been missing since her father was taken to jail. As you will understand, I am sure, I am worried about her disappearance and concerned in case anything ill has befallen her, if there is any news?”
“As I said, sir, I don’t know nothin’ about the families.”
“Then may we search the house? There may be something that will suggest where she has gone.”
Marcus stepped sideways, he’d damn well search it whether the man agreed or not.
The labourer glanced back at his colleagues who were loading the cart. “Do you agree with that, Bill?” He called to one of the men.
Marcus waited, knowing that the job would be easier done with consent.
The labourer turned back and walked a couple of steps towards the cart. “This gent is looking for the daughter who was ‘ere. He’s after a forwarding address. He wishes to look for himself, Bill?”
The man, dressed in a long grey coat, who’d been organising the loading of the cart stopped what he was doing and walked towards them. “The majority of the rooms is empty, mister.”
“The young woman’s bedchamber?”
“All the bedchambers ‘ave been cleared.”
“What of the man’s office? A letter, an address book, anything that may give me a clue? There may be friends of whom I am unaware. It would give me somewhere to begin my search, if nothing more.”
“The office has not yet been cleared.” The supervisor’s eyes narrowed and his chin dimpled as his lips pursed.
Marcus reached into his pocket and withdrew some coins. “Here.” He also deliberately identified himself, as he held out his hand towards the man. “Marcus Campbell, Duke of Tay. I am a close friend of Miss Elizabeth Derwent. I must search the office and I would rather do it with your agreement.”
The man mumbled something and took the money. Then shrugged. “Take the address book, Y’ur Grace. If you can find it. It ‘as no value to us.”
“Thank you, good man.” Relief swelled in Marcus’s voice, as it also swelled in his chest, and without hesitation he climbed the steps, two at a time, with Jason in pursuit, heading for her father’s office.
Marcus slid the desk drawers open, looking for obvious signs of communication, flicking through papers. When he saw nothing of interest he slammed each draw shut.
Nothing. There was nothing that gave them any information. He sat back in her father’s chair staring at Jason, and then his gaze fell to the desk as he tried to think of what to do. Some sheets of paper lay on top of the desk. He ran the tips of his fingers across a blotting paper. His eyes were drawn to the line of a P and he thought he saw from that the outline of Percy. Had Elizabeth sat in this seat and written to Percy again?
“Jason, look at this.” Marcus pointed at the marks. “Do you see what I see?”
Jason leaned forwarded and then nodded. “It looks like Percy.”
Picking up the page, Marcus folded it and thrust it into his inside pocket, rising from the seat. He was unable to speak. Had she begged the man he had warned her away from to save her? His steps were heavy but swift as he left the house and returned to his saddle. He had to find her. Percy had no conscience and Percy knew that she carried Marcus’s child. Had he decided to use Elizabeth to take revenge on Marcus’s family? Marcus felt sick – this was all his fault.
Their next stop was Percy’s town house.
“Lord Percy is not at home, Your Grace.” The pompous butler intoned.
“And the woman, Miss Derwent?” Marcus did not hesitate in facing the subject. If she was here, then he would know it, and he would not be denied access.
The butler’s face twisted into an expression of confusion.
She was not here. Marcus could see it immediately from the man’s surprise. He had no idea who Marcus was speaking of.
“Do you know where I may find him?” Marcus challenged the butler, without giving him chance to answer his previous question. He had no time to waste.
“I am sorry, Your Grace, he did not give me any particular direction. I know that he is commonly in White’s at this hour.”
“Do you expect him home this evening?” It suddenly occurred to him that Percy may have put Elizabeth up elsewhere. If he intended to make her his mistress then perhaps he had taken rooms for her.
“I am uncertain, Your Grace. He did not arrive home last evening. I have had no word from him today.”
That was enough. That was all he would glean from this man. Turning away, Marcus forgot to even offer a word of thanks in his haste. Percy had her, certainly… but where?
Their next stop was White’s, where Marcus slid a coin into the hand of the porter. But again there had been no sign of Percy for a couple of days.
Frustrated, Marcus turned away, his face reflecting the turmoil that spun in his head. Was Percy with her now? Marcus’s heart hit like a hammer in his chest just at the thought. Where? Running his palm across his face to brush away the fatigue, Marcus walked out of White’s, Jason followed, his feet striking the stairs behind Marcus.
Marcus glanced back at his brother.“I am glad you are accompanying me. I cannot say I would like fear as my only a companion. I have no idea where he may have taken her.”
Marcus lifted himself into the saddle. Jason set a foot in his stirrup, gripped the saddle and pulled himself up. “I have an idea, Marcus.”
Marcus turned his horse and looked at the routes they could take from here, uncertain which direction to turn, or where to go. “Speak,” he said to Jason, he had no ideas himself.
Flexing his fingers, Jason pulled on his leather gloves. “I know Lord Percy’s man of business. If Percy had rented property recently, he would know.”
“You are a genius, Jason,” Marcus exclaimed. “Which way do we head?”
And so another half hour on and Marcus was hammering on the door of the solicitors’ office, his eyes turning to the brass plaque embossed with the names Barriclough, Coulport and Preacher. He had been knocking for at least ten minutes without reply, and there was no sign of life within. They had a way to reach her, and the information was barred from them by a single door. The side of his fist struck the wood one last time.
“I would say that Barriclough, Coulport and Preacher have gone home.” Jason quipped beside him, touching Marcus’s shoulder. Marcus faced his brother. “It will not be too long before its dark.” Jason raised his eyebrows in implication.
Marcus laughed uneasily at that, the tension inside him overflowing. “And what; you fancy theft?” God, the idea was tempting. He looked back at the offices before turning his gaze to Jason again, actually considering it.
“What are our other choices? We can find a magistrate, tell him the story and seek legal access to the building. But I would be loath to do that. Coulport knows Angela’s story. He has kept it quiet, yet if we bring in a magistrate then the truth may come out and the information would be open to the vultures of the ton. Elizabeth’s situation would be equal fodder for the gossips. I would put neither woman through that if there is any other choice. Or we can wait until morning and approach Coulport ourselves. He would speak, I am sure, but not without persuasion, and it will take time to encourage him to talk.”
Jason fell silent. Marcus understood the unspoken question and knew his brother’s desire. He nodded. They would wait a couple of hours, until it was dark enough to break into the solicitor’s office, and then they would damn well do it. A peer of the bloody realm would play common thief. He’d do it for Elizabeth. He’d do anything for Elizabeth now he knew she was genuine and he had been a fool.
“Let us go home. I am in need of a change of clothes and a wash.”
“A meal would not go amiss,” Jason added.
To be continued…
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The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
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
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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