Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage


Page 31




Hart entered the box as horses were led out for the first race, his annoyed glance telling Mac he'd guessed what they'd been discussing. He settled in a chair a little way away from them and fixed his opera glasses on the horses below.
Next to Mac, Isabella and Beth chattered about whatever they could think of. Ladies' Day at the races was an invitation for wives and daughters and sisters to show off their best hats and frocks, and Beth and Isabella had entered the fray with enthusiasm. Beth's high-crowned hat was adorned with ostrich feathers that drooped down her back. Isabella's hat was trimmed with a swirl of ostrich feathers and yellow roses. Its precarious angle gave her a coy look, one that made Mac want to pull off the hat and cover her with kisses.
"There's Cam." Isabella peered through her opera glasses, pointing out a large black-coated and kilted man. Daniel, also black-coated and kilted, followed him at a brisk trot. Daniel looked up at the box and waved.
Isabella waved back. "Mac, you must go down and make our wagers for us. On all of Cam's horses, of course."
"All?" Beth asked her. This was Beth's first racing season with the horse-mad Mackenzies, and she looked a bit uncertain.
"Of course, darling. Everyone knows that Cameron raises the best horses in Britain. I think a tenner each way on the first race? We might risk more as the day goes on. It's such fun."
"Cam scratched his filly from the first race," Hart said from beyond Mac. "She came up lame not an hour ago, he told me downstairs."
Isabella lifted her glasses and watched Cameron take the bridle of a horse and lead it away. "Oh, the poor thing."
"She'll live," Hart said. "But she won't race today."
Isabella bit her lip. Unfriendly people might think her fretting about her wagers, but Mac knew that Isabella worried about the horse. The horses were like Cam's children, each one a member of the family, and Isabella had a kind heart.
Beth scanned the racing sheet. "Should we wager on another then?"
Isabella looked over Beth's shoulder. "How about this one? Lady Day. I like that name."
"Wrong color," Ian said.
Isabella threw him a perplexed look. "Ian, the horse won't win the race because she's bay instead of chestnut."
"I mean her jockey. Colors aren't right."
Lady Day's jockey wore blue with green stripes. Mac himself had no clue what Ian was talking about, but when Ian made a pronouncement, Mac knew better than to waste breath arguing with him. Ian was usually correct.
"He's convinced me," Mac said. "Choose another."
"I think you're both mad," Isabella said. "Lady Day to win. Beth?"
Beth shrugged. "Unless my husband has another choice?" She waited for Ian's reaction, but he was staring stoically down at the paddocks, no longer paying attention . Mac grinned, touched his hat to them, and left the box.
"Back again, my lord?" the bookmaker asked him when Mac reached the stand.
"Again? What are you talking about?"
The bookmaker, a little man everyone called Steady Ron, narrowed his eyes. "Didn't you come to place a bet with Gabe over there?" He jerked his chin at the next booth. "Not a half hour ago? I was that hurt. Mackenzies always do business with Steady Ron."
"I've just arrived, and I've been up in my box with my wife. She says she's a firm believer in Lady Day."
"Good choice. Excellent horseflesh, odds seven to two. Win, place, or post?"
"To win, she says." Mac placed the rest of the bets, taking the slips from Ron.
"Could have sworn it was you, me lord," Ron finished. "Same face, same easy manner. Not much mistaking you."
"Well, you were mistaken this time. Tell you what, if you see me again, make certain it's me before you get your feelings hurt."
Ron grinned. "Right you are, yer lordship. Enjoy the races."
Ron's mistake made Mac uneasy, especially in light of what Crane had told him about the man who'd brought him the paintings to sell, not to mention the fire. Mac's footman had declared that no one but Mac had gone in and out of the house that day, but the man must have gotten in somehow. If the footman had been in the back hall, or down the road a few houses speaking to another footman-or even more distracting, a pretty maid-he might have mistaken the other man for Mac.
Then again, the crowd today was thick. A sea of men in nearly identical black coats and top hats stretched to all corners. Ron could have made a mistake. Gentlemen looked pretty much alike these days, English male fashion being rather monotonous.
Mac's logic tried to comfort him with such thoughts, but Mac felt an itch between his shoulder blades. He didn't like the coincidence.
Back in the box, Isabella and Beth were on their feet, waiting for the race to begin. Ian stood close to Beth, his hand straying to the small of her back. Mac felt a twinge of envy. At one time he'd had the privilege to stand so with Isabella.
A roar rose from the crowd as the horses leapt forward. Beth and Isabella bounced on their toes, peering through opera glasses, growing more and more excited as the horses charged past the stands. The two shouted encouragement to Lady Day, who was running for all she was worth.
"She's going to do it." Isabella turned her laughing face to Mac. "I knew I could pick a winner." She excitedly grabbed Mac's hand, squeezed it, and turned back to the race.





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