Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 26

Daniel brightened, prone to lightning changes of moods. "Settle down like you did, Uncle Mac?"
"Mind your tongue, boy."
"Leave him be." Isabella signaled to Bellamy, who approached with more coffee. "You're perfectly welcome to stay with me, Daniel. We'll play games all day, and you can escort me to the theater at night. I'm certain your Uncle Mac will have far too much to do to pay much attention to us."
"On the contrary." Mac set down his cup. "I have all the time in the world." He winked at Daniel. "Besides, I'm very good at games."
Mac spent the next two days busily trying not to go mad. Living in a house with Isabella, knowing she slept in the bedroom just beyond the bathroom, kept him sleepless and randy. But considering that someone had succeeded in burning Mac out of his house, possibly this person forging his paintings, possibly simply a mad arsonist, he wanted to keep a close eye on Isabella. A few of Bellamy's cronies from his pugilist days agreed to help watch Isabella's house, and Mac asked Inspector Fellows to have someone watch Crane's gallery in case the forger returned. The efficient inspector already had done so.
Meanwhile, Mac had to get through the strain of living in close proximity with Isabella without touching her. The worst was when he heard her maid prepare the bath for her, followed by the soft splash as Isabella descended into the water.
He'd groan and rub his face, his body demanding that he fling open the door and fall into the water with her. She'd be soapy and bare, her skin flushed with heat. Even stroking himself for relief didn't do much good. The only hands that could appease him were hers.
Leaving for Doncaster couldn't come quickly enough for him-but then again, Mac was loathe to abandon the cozy setup of the two of them in one house. Daniel was there too, of course, the boy cheerfully escorting Isabella about. Mac would trail along with them, wishing Cameron could take care of his own son, but not having the heart to send Daniel away.
Mac strolled into the drawing room the day before they were to leave, while Daniel was out stocking up on books. That is, Daniel claimed that he was off to the book shops, but he was likely holed up somewhere playing cards with his friends.
Isabella sat near the window overlooking the garden behind the house. An open magazine rested in her lap, but she wasn't reading it. She gazed out at the rainy garden, the scarlet glory of her hair bright against her gray and blue frock.
She looked around when she heard him enter, and Mac saw that her eyes were rimmed with red.
He moved to the sofa and sat next to her. "Love, what is it?"
Isabella looked away. "Nothing."
"I know you far too well to believe that. 'Nothing' usually translates to 'something dreadful.' "
Isabella opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again and slid a cream-colored paper out from between the pages of her magazine . Mac took it and read.
My dearest sister,
I am excited beyond all measure at the prospect of communicating with you again. Mrs. Douglas has my deepest gratitude. My debut will commence this spring-dare I hope that I will be able to see you after my coming-out? I will look for you at every soiree and musicale and ball, longing for one glimpse of the beautiful sister I miss with all my heart. I must not linger on this note, or Papa will suspect something. I dare not risk you writing back to me, but if you were to give Mrs. Douglas any little message, or even the promise of a kiss when at last we meet, I would treasure it as the most precious diamond. Ever your loving sister,
Familiar anger at Isabella's father rose as Mac read the missive. Earl Scranton was a selfish, priggish bastard. Isabella had cried without consolation when, after writing to her sister and mother immediately after her marriage to Mac, her letters had been returned by her father, cut into shreds. The earl had added a stern note forbidding Isabella further contact with the family. Scranton had never lifted the ban, not even when Isabella had ceased living with Mac.
Mac handed the letter back to Isabella. She slid it into her jacket, nestling it over her heart.
"This Mrs. Douglas is your old school chum?" he asked, striving for something light to say. "The one who could scramble down a trellis in her nightdress?"
Isabella nodded. "She offered to send my love to Louisa for me when she saw her again. Apparently she coaxed a note from Louisa to give me in return."
Mac leaned uncomfortably into the corner of the small sofa, few pieces of furniture able to accommodate his large body. "Good for Mrs. Douglas."
"She's rather sorry for me." Isabella gave him a faint smile. "But I'm grateful for her help."
"I am too." Mac fell silent, and Isabella looked out the window again.
Earl Scranton was the same kind of unforgiving terror Mac's own father had been, though in different ways. Mac's father had been volatile, hot-blooded, and violent, whereas Isabella's father was ice-cold and never raised his voice.
The litany of the many ways in which marriage to Mac had ruined Isabella's life paraded through his head. That she'd stuck with him for three years said much about her fortitude.
"We leave for Doncaster tomorrow," Isabella said without turning from the window. "You will not share a hotel suite with me there, so put the idea out of your head."
Mac stretched his arm across the back of the sofa. "You won't be staying in a hotel, love. Hart has hired a house for all of us, you and your servants included. Ian insists that Beth will be more comfortable in our own accommodations, and I agree with him." He propped his feet on the tea table, still seeking a comfortable position. "Beth will want you with her."

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