Reckless in Innocence
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
A hesitant tap struck the dark, wooden door. Elizabeth looked, waiting for the door to open. It did not. She pressed her hands down onto the mattress and pulled herself up a little further in the bed, then leaned back against the pillows piled behind her as her hands rested over the slight curve of her stomach.
“Elizabeth, may I come in?” Tremors raced through her at the sound of Marcus’s rich tenor.
“You may!” Her voice shook at little as she self-consciously smoothed the sheet across her stomach, then clasped her hands together.
“Elizabeth.” Her name was more hesitantly spoken when the door opened. He looked as uncertain as she felt, and for the first time she saw his vulnerability clearly. Guilt had been eating him up. The Marcus she had met that night in the billiard room, the Marcus who had been trying to run from his parents’ ghosts was the man who entered the room; only he was no longer running, and a dozen times more open, so his inner feelings were on show.
But heavens, the look of insecurity only made him more lovable, it softened his strong features and made her wish to hold him, and protect him.
He did not approach, but stood with the open door still in his hand. “You should be angry with me,” he said quietly as he looked at her. “Are you?”
“I am not.” She tried for a smile and flinched at the pain in her lip.
Marcus turned to close the door, as though by turning he sought a moment of privacy. The latch clicked as it shut, highlighting how silent they were.
When he turned around his brown eyes were glossy. He tried to smile, but the edge of his lips did not really lift.
“Truly?” he asked as he took two steps closer, as though he would come and take her hand. Yet he did not.
Elizabeth took a breath, holding it in for a moment, to hold in her own emotion. There would be no good in crying before him. This had all been her fault, and it would only make him feel more guilty. But her honesty would make him feel better. “I was angry with you, until I heard my parents’ part. I know now you were right. They did plan it.” She understood why he’d made the decisions he’d made, and said the things he’d said. It was not his fault that her parents, and she, had encouraged him to do what they should not have done.
Warmth washed through her cheeks and she glanced away from him looking to the ceiling as embarrassment filled her, probably as harshly as guilt overwhelmed him.
“Elizabeth…” Her name was a soothing gentle balm.
She looked to see him walk a few paces closer. a smile touched the edges of his lips and creased beside the corners of his eyes, a true slight smile of reassurance.
“You are not your parents, nor like them. They manipulated you, not just me. I know that now.” Determination and regret played in his voice. “I am sorry. I’m sorry for that night, for what I accused you of, and for the first night, and for every night thereafter. I have behaved appallingly. Do you forgive me?”
“Ow.” A sharp pain lanced through Elizabeth’s side, from where she had been bruised in her battle to escape Lord Percy.
“Is there anything I may do for you?” Marcus was immediately at her side, his eyes wide with concern.
Elizabeth laughed a little at his earnestness, as she repositioned herself on the pillows. That was a part of Marcus she had never known. Yet perhaps that was not true, in the beginning he had always been earnest in his attention and kindness, it was she who had taken the simplicity of their attachment further – to more dangerous, difficult ground. It was then his earnestness had died.
She smiled at him, as thirst gathered in her throat. “You could make me tea. I would love another cup.”
His lips twisted into a grimace, as if it was some great test to fill a cup with hot water from a pot. It did not look as though that was what he’d expected her to ask for.
“I will go without if you would rather not…”
“No. I shall pour you tea, if that is what you desire.” Confidence and a dismissive humour swelled in his voice, the old Marcus returning, the Marcus she’d always known. The one who had hidden among the potted palms beside her, before he’d chosen to bring her out. He looked at her cup, then moved to pick it up, but as he did, he looked back up at her. “Are you sure you would not rather have brandy? I can more easily manage that.”
“No.” She smiled as the past pinched her, the hours they’d spent teasing one another, before she’d made her reckless error. “Tea.” When she breathed out, she pushed the memories of her error aside. What did it matter now, in the future she would need to be on good terms with him, at least she knew they were capable of friendship, for the sake of their child.
He grunted when he studied the tray across the room, with his back to her. But then she watched his limbs and the muscle in his arms and shoulders move as he poured her tea.
When he returned to the side of the bed, the full cup was presented to her like a gift, with a smile of proud achievement. He really did wish to please her.
She took the saucer from his hand.
“How do you feel?” Marcus asked as he backed away.
“How should I feel?”
Marcus leant an elbow on the high carved oak footboard of the bed. Elizabeth’s appearance slashed at his heart, and his gut, as though her pain was his. “Sore, stiff and in agony, I imagine.” Violated… He swallowed. He’d been fighting that silent knowledge ever since he’d carried her away from that bloody house. “Did Percy force himself on you?”
A note of surprise left her lips and her skin coloured a deep red as she shifted awkwardly in the bed. But he had his answer.
“No… He did not hurt you that way?”
The relief he’d been denying himself for hours welled in his chest. He turned away from her and walked to the window, unwilling to continue to look at the state Percy had made of her face, while he recaptured control of his feelings.
“Your maid, Abigail, is downstairs. Jason found her, she came immediately. I told her she may stay with you here.”
He glanced back at her. “You have nothing to thank me for.” He breathed in and turned back to face her. It was time to set things right.
“Elizabeth…” A different pitch touched his voice, it had become needy.
The look in her eyes became wary. Her gaze followed him to the edge of the bed.
He sat at her side, on top of the covers, drawing up his knee, so he might face her fully. Her cup rattled on its saucer as he moved. But then she picked it up and took a sip. She looked at the contents of her cup when it lowered, not at him, with the timidity she’d hidden behind before he’d set that shy, self-conscious woman out amongst the rakes and rogues, like him.
“I know that I am asking much of you, but you did not say that you forgave me. I would like to know if you can.” Her turquoise eyes lifted and looked at him. “I am sorry. I wronged you. I was foolish and short-sighted. An idiot.” A rough sound of humour rumbled in his throat as he gave in to the desire to touch her. His hand lifted and his fingers brushed over the bruising on her cheek, by her lip. “If I had believed you…”
The memory of his words of condemnation passed across her eyes.
“If I could take back my words I would. They were spoken from ignorance. I swear. If I promise I will work to make you forget them, do you forgive me?”
She looked at him, without answer, her eyes full of sadness.
“Is there nothing I can say to put this right? I wish us to be married. We should wed for the sake of the child alone, if that is all that endears me to you. Will you not pardon me, Elizabeth?” Her expression twisted. He was making a mess of this.
His hands lifted, palm outward, in a gesture of truce. Then fell to rest on his thighs. “What can I do to make you take me?”
Elizabeth smiled slightly at Marcus’s artless gesture, but it made the pain pull at her lip, and her heart. She held up her hand in return, in a similar gesture, telling him to cease. She had let this go on long enough.
Her hand fell.
She knew the answer. She did not want his apologies, she just wanted his love.
She shut her eyes and let her head fall back onto the pillows.
“Is something wrong?”
Yes. Everything. She opened her eyes. She had made her choice, she could not live with him knowing he’d taken her due to guilt – knowing that when her back was turned there would be other women in moonlit glasshouses because he did not love her enough for faithfulness. “I think that there is nothing you may do. I think you should live your life how you choose. There is nothing to forgive. I know you were right. My situation is of my own making. We both know it. You have my permission to wipe your conscience clean -”
“It will never be clean.”
“It ought to be. I will not ask you for a penance.”
His expression fell into a look of confusion. He’d not anticipated her refusal. He’d thought she would take him for the sake of the child, if for no other reason.
He sighed out a breath as he rose, looking away from her. “If that is what you wish.” His tone was hollow. “You know that Jason is willing to keep you with him, you may raise the child here. I shall support you regardless.”
There was another sharp jolt of pain in her stomach, as Marcus stood. One of her hands pressed over it, as the other tried to stop her cup wobbling. It was the child kicking, it kept catching the bruising.
“Sorry.” Marcus apologised, as though he thought he’d hurt her.
“It was not you, Marcus. It was your child who was at fault.”
“My child…” The look which cut across his face changed from regret to agony.
Elizabeth held out her free hand, reaching out for Marcus’s. “He moved.”
“He…” Marcus looked at her stomach as he reached out and let her take hold of his hand. While he took the cup from her and set that aside.
She pressed his palm against her nightgown, forcing him to lean forward. “Can you feel? It is as though he does somersaults.”
Marcus’s palm pressed down on her stomach and his fingers spread wide. “I feel…” He looked up at her, his brown eyes glowing with emotion. “How do you know it is a boy?”
“I do not know, it is only to have something to call the child.”
He sighed out a breath as he looked down again and his fingers stroked over her nightgown. “Our child, Elizabeth.” He looked back up . “How can you deny the infant its father? We should bring him up together, as man and wife – mother and father.”
She closed her eyes not willing to face the emotion in his. If he could love the child and not her, should she take him?
His touch left her stomach. “Please, Elizabeth, stop this madness.” His fingertips touched her cheek instead, and his thumb stroked her eyelid, as his breath caressed her cheek, then his lips pressed against her there.
“I love you,” he said as he pulled away. “I think I always have. From that very first moment I saw such a shy beauty hidden away amongst the palms.”
The breath of his laugh brushed her cheek as he rested his forehead to hers. She opened her eyes. Her gaze met the intensity of sparkling rich brown.
He pulled away slightly, but his hand remained against her cheek, and his eyes on hers. “Then you became about as shy as a peacock in an ornamental garden and I loved you more; and then you offered me everything that I had dreamed of and I grew afraid. Love is new to me; giving your whole life to someone is a daunting thing. But I will never be content without you. I am taking the risk and giving you my heart, even if you do not give me yours in return.” A smile parted his lips. “God, it feels good to say it. I love you.” His hand opened out and cupped her cheek as it had held their child in her stomach.
“I’m giving you my life, Elizabeth. Do with it as you will. There’ll be no pleasure in it for me if you are not part of it.” He touched his lips to hers, careful not to hurt her. Then pulled away, and his hand fell. Instead it gripped hers. “Say that you will marry me. Say that you still have some affection for me, even if it is only a small amount.”
Emotion clasped at Elizabeth’s soul. She leaned forward, wrapped her arms about his neck and held tight. “I love you also. I have loved you from the moment you first smiled at me. I thought you did not love me.”
His low laugh rang in her ear. “Sweetheart, what man would not love you?”
“I do not want anyone to love me but you.” She held him tighter.
“Then that is good, because I want no one to love you but me, either.”
“Marcus.” She smacked his back then let him go. Resting back against the pillows, as the pain overwhelmed her.
His palms pressed onto the pillows either side of her shoulders as he leaned over her. “I have a promise then, that my wife will not be reckless?” There was that old mischievous, mocking glint in his eye. “I love you, but now you must rest, the future Duchess of Tay must excuse me. I must go and catch Dr Hammond before he leaves. I wish to know what a man and wife may do while expecting their first child.”
He was still a rogue.
This is really the end, although there is still an epilogue to come, so you will meet them one more time and have a little glimpse of their future. It seems very sad to leave them behind though, doesn’t it 😥
It has been quite a step back in time for me. As I said in the beginning this was a very early story, which I wrote years and years ago and submitted to Mills & Boon so it was written very much for their less complex story structures, and less reality based lines. I’d never publish it now as it is a long way away from the way I’d write a duke’s character today, the simplicity of it is far too unrealistic so it would damage the brand of writing I’m establishing. But I am really glad people have enjoyed reading it here (and been kind enough to ignore my bad proofreading skills – dyslexia makes it impossible to correct everything entirely).
John, in The Scandalous Love of a Duke, is surrounded by crowing servants and is very used to a luxury that many people didn’t have, which is the way it would have truly been. Yet if you read the Marlows’ series having read this, you’ll discover some elements from this story if you’re clever enough to spot them, that I’ve pulled out and used in those because I liked them too much to just let them go. I’ll give away one, as an example, the scene at the beginning of The Dangerous Love of a Rogue (The Rogue, Drew, being my most Marcus like character in the Marlows) was a flash back to me writing the first scene in Reckless, because I loved capturing the predatory stare of a man watching a woman, with hunger, like some rakish men do when they really fancy a woman. Although, as you’ll know if you’ve read it, all the background issues and relationships and character motivations are very different. Oh and thinking about it… I also put Drew and Mary together in a glasshouse. Which was also because I loved that Reckless scene and desperately wanted to use it 😉
I hope you enjoy the epilogue in the next post, and don’t despair too much as I have another whole unpublished novel I could share here, if you’d like me to, but if you want me to you’re going to have let me know, I’ve set up a secret Facebook group, only for lovers of the books, where you can vote. I’ll also use the group for giving away book related things, they’ll be no blog sharing or anything there, it’ll be all discussion, so if you are a fan of the books it would be worth joining. If you would like to join the group, message via the page through the link above, or let me know in the comments below and I’ll send you an invite.
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now, and do not miss your chance for the great Magical Weddings summer reading box set, containing Jane’s super sexy story The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel “If you love Reckless, you will love the Jealous Love of a Scoundrel 😀 ” 99c or 99p
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
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
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