Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 22

Mac scowled at an empty-armed Bellamy, who came running toward him. "Where the devil are my paintings?"
"In your coach, my lord. I got it and the horses out of the mews."
Something inside Mac loosened. "I think you need a rise in wages, Bellamy. You didn't happen to bring one of my shirts out as well, did you?"
"In the coach, sir. A complete set of clothing."
Mac clapped Bellamy on his beefy shoulder. "You're a marvel of a man. No wonder you won all your matches."
"Preparation, sir." Bellamy looked up at the house and the smoke above it, the crowded street, the firemen plying the walls with water. "What do we do now, my lord?"
Mac laughed, which ended on a cough. "We climb into the coach you so thoughtfully prepared and find another place to spend the night. I believe I know just where to go."
Isabella leaned over the landing where Mac had kissed her not six hours ago and drew her wrapper closed over her chilled body.
"Morton, what on earth is going on?"
The babbling of voices below didn't cease, and Morton didn't answer. Isabella trotted down the stairs, stopping in astonishment before she reached the bottom.
Mac's entire household-Bellamy, Mac's cook, footmen, and two maids-were trailing toward the back stairs, all talking excitedly to Morton and other members of Isabella's staff. "You should have seen 'im, Mr. Morton," the maid called Mary said. "His lordship was like the hero in a magazine story, carrying us out and across the rooftops and all. I'd like to have swooned."
Isabella cupped her hands around her mouth. "Morton!"
Mac strolled out of her dining room, arrogant as you please, and grinned up at her. His shirt was open to the waist, his kilt pocked with burn-marks, his face soot-stained, his auburn hair partially singed.
"Beg pardon, yer ladyship," he said in an exaggerated Cockney accent. "But could you see your way to taking in meself and me band of gypsies?"
Chapter 7
Mount Street is once more overflowing with entertainment as the Titian-haired Lady held an End-of-Season ball lasting a day and a night.The Lord and Lady were once more billing and cooing, their guests among the most glittering in the land, including the Lord's oldest brother, the high-placed Duke. Meanwhile the Lady's father, a redoubtable peer, spends his days giving lectures on temperance and modesty.
-June 1876
Isabella stared down the stairs in shock. "Mac, what the devil happened?"
Mac's grin remained in place as he looked up at her, but his eyes held anger. Down the hall, Morton herded the babbling group, including Daniel, toward the back stairs. The door shut behind them, halving the noise .
"Someone set fire to my attics," Mac said. "The fire brigade managed to quash the blaze before it destroyed the entire house, but the upper floors are pretty much ruined."
Isabella's eyes widened. "Your studio?"
"Gone. Or at least I assume so. The lads from the fire brigade wouldn't let me back in."
"Is everything in the attics burned?" A small dart of pain lanced her heart. "Everything?"
"Yes." Mac's eyes softened. "It's gone. I'm sorry."
Isabella swallowed, her throat burning, and she wiped away a tear that trickled from her eye. How silly, she thought in anger. Why weep over a piece of furniture when Mac and his people were obviously safe?
She cleared her throat. "Your servants may, of course, stay here. I wouldn't turn them out."
"And what about the master, your ladyship?" Mac rested one arm on the newel post, unnerving in his disheveled dress. "Would you turn him out?"
"You can afford a hotel."
"No hotel will admit me looking like this, love. I am in desperate need of a bath."
A vision swooped at her of Mac leaning back in the zinc-lined tub in her large bathroom, his voice raised in some Scottish tune. He always sang in the bathtub, and for some absurd reason that memory made her blood heat.
"Cameron is in town," she began.
"Ah, but he's lodging at the Langham Hotel. Same problem."
"I cannot imagine you have no more friends in Mayfair who can put you up."
"Most of my friends are off in the country riding horses or shooting things. Or they're in Paris or Italy painting the view."
"What about Hart's house? It's always staffed."
"It is the middle of the night, and I don't want to wake them." Mac's raffish grin returned. "I'm afraid you are my last hope, my dear."
"You're a poor liar. I do hope that the gossip newspapers do not put about that you started the fire yourself as an excuse to come here. I can imagine them saying so."
Mac lost his smile. "I will strangle them if they do. Sal and Mary almost burned to death."
Isabella shivered, the weight of the situation pressing at her. "I know you'd never be that ruthless."
"Oh, I can be ruthless, love. Never doubt that." Mac mounted the stairs toward her, the acrid scent of smoke clinging to him. "Whoever did this couldn't be bothered to care that two girls were snug in their beds not ten feet away. He didn't worry about who else he might hurt." Mac's copper-colored eyes sparked with anger, but he was gentleness itself as he brushed the tear from her face. "Whoever this chap is, he doesn't know the meaning of ruthlessness. But I assure you, my love, he will find out."

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