Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 32

The gesture hadn't been a grand one. Just a little touch, a pressure of the fingers. But the imprint of Isabella's hand lingered, the warmth of it more precious than the most treasured gem. Isabella, un-self-conscious, had touched Mac as she'd done when they'd been friends and lovers. As though nothing terrible had ever happened between them.
Mac savored the moment, memorized it, this small thing even more cherished than what they'd done in the drawing room in London. Satiation couldn't compare to the casual, trusting touch of two people who loved each other.
Well, Mac would prefer both kinds of touching, but the fact that Isabella had turned to share her excitement with him made his heart swell.
He was so fixed on Isabella that he didn't notice the horses pulling ahead of Lady Day. Mac only saw the light go out of Isabella's eyes. She'd looked at Mac like that in times past, her vibrancy fading, and Mac, bloody stupid idiot that he'd been, hadn't paused to figure out why.
Lady Day came in sixth. Her jockey patted her as she dropped from gallop to canter to trot, as though reassuring her that he didn't love her less for losing. Mac wanted to lean into Isabella's neck and comfort her.
Isabella turned to Ian in exasperation. "All right, Ian. How on earth did you know that Lady Day would lose based on the jockey's colors?"
Ian didn't answer. He was watching the horses trot along the far side of the field, lost in contemplation.
"He means that the horse was recently sold," Hart said from behind Mac. "Lord Powell bought her a few months ago. It's likely she hasn't adjusted to her new surroundings, new routines, new jockey. They shouldn't have put her in the race today. She had no heart for it."
"You couldn't have explained this to me earlier, Hart Mackenzie?" Isabella demanded. Then she softened. "The poor darling. They shouldn't have made her race." If anyone knew about the bewilderment of a young woman ripped from the bosom of her family and deposited among strangers, it was Isabella.
Hart's stern mouth relaxed into a smile. "I didn't want to spoil your fun. And it serves you right for not listening to Ian."
Isabella put her tongue out at Hart then turned back to Ian. "I beg your pardon, Ian. I should know better than to doubt you."
Ian gave her a quick look, and Mac saw Ian's hand tighten on Beth's waist, seeking comfort in her. Ian couldn't always follow the teasing and banter common in his family, words flying about before Ian could catch and understand them. He'd listen with a distracted air before cutting through their gibberish with a pointed remark. It was easy to think Ian simpleminded, but Mac had come to learn that his brother was an amazingly complex man with vast intelligence . Beth had recognized that from the start, and Mac loved her for it.
Cameron's horses did run in the next two races, winning each time. Isabella's excitement returned, and she and Beth cheered on the family's pride. Cameron remained down at the rail, watching like a worried father as his horses galloped to the finish line.
Daniel, on the other hand, capered and danced about, probably rubbing the noses of everyone near in the fact that Mackenzie horses were the very best. Cam would be more interested in the horses' well-being, but Daniel loved to win.
"An excellent showing," Isabella said happily after the third race. "Now then, Beth, let us retire to the tea tent and positively gorge ourselves."
"Aren't there more races?" Beth asked.
"We will return and watch later, but part of the St. Leger is to wander about and be seen by everyone. Why else would we have spent so much time on these hats?"
Beth laughed, and the two ladies left the box arm in arm. Ian opened the door for them, falling into step behind them.
Mac prepared to leave after Ian, but Hart's hand on his arm stopped him.
"Not in the mood for a lecture right now, old man," Mac said, impatient as he watched Beth and Isabella disappear down the stairs. "Once I have clasped Isabella to my bosom again-for good-then you can browbeat me. But not just now."
"I was going to say, it's good to see you with her again," Hart answered dryly. "It will take you a long time to win back Isabella's trust, but the fact that she is speaking to you at all gives me hope."
Mac turned to him in surprise. Hart and he were the same height, Cameron being the tallest Mackenzie, and Mac could look straight into Hart's golden eyes. Mac saw in them the weight of the dukedom, the responsibility for his brothers, and his own unhappy past, but also a thread of relief. He hadn't realized that the strain between Mac and Isabella worried Hart so much.
"You're getting sentimental in your old age." Mac continued the banter. "What's softened your heart?"
The eagle gaze flickered, and Mac closed his mouth. Hart's mistress of many years had recently passed away in tragic circumstances, and Hart felt it. Hart never said a word about it, but Mac knew he grieved for her.
Hart's expression eased. "If I've gone soft, it comes from seeing Ian happy. I never thought I would witness that."
"Neither did I."
Mac was truly glad for Ian. Mac had alternately pitied and protected his younger brother, who'd spent years locked in an asylum, put there by their devil of a father. But Ian had recently found the contentment and joy that eluded Mac. Ian was the wise man now.

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