Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 33

"Don't let go this time," Hart said in clipped tones.
"Appreciate what you've got and hold onto it. You never know when it will be taken away."
"Are you speaking from experience?" When Hart had proposed to Eleanor, he'd been so certain of her, and her jilting of him took them all by surprise. But perhaps it was not so surprising. Hart was difficult to endure when he was cocksure.
"Yes, I am. Learn from my mistakes." Hart pinned Mac with a severe look. "And don't make any more."
"Aye-aye, sir," Mac said, and then Hart let him go.
"This is scrumptious." Isabella lifted a spoonful of sweet cream to her mouth, savoring its smooth taste. She didn't like that she immediately remembered licking a similar glob of cream from Mac's erect c**k in her drawing room. He'd tasted wonderful. The sight of him hard for her had excited her beyond anything she'd felt in a long while.
"Lovely," Beth agreed. "It's frivolous of me, I know, but I believe I enjoy the lap of luxury."
Sitting on stools in a cramped tea tent was hardly the lap of luxury in Isabella's opinion, but Beth had grown up in poverty. Drinking tea from dainty cups and scooping up spoonfuls of cake and cream while wearing brand new frocks and hats must seem decadent to Beth. Beth was a lady, however, descended from minor gentry, and the manners she'd learned from her long-dead mother were impeccable.
Beth took another dainty bite, eyes dancing. "Our gentlemen look fine, don't they?"
Isabella glanced at Ian and Mac, who stood together not far away. They did indeed look fine, two tall Scotsmen with auburn hair in black coats and kilts. Ian and Mac were close in age, Ian twenty-seven and Mac just thirty. They both wore the Mackenzie plaid, with tartan wool socks emphasizing their muscular calves. As a girl, Isabella had laughed at the thought of men in skirts, but when she'd first seen Mac in his kilt, her opinion had undergone a rapid revision. Mac in a kilt was a glorious sight.
Mac sent Isabella a wicked grin, as though she were a spoonful of cream he wanted to eat, and her heart throbbed.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Mac had changed. His words were no longer slurred with drink, his speech no longer erratic or his actions unpredictable. Not that Isabella wanted Mac to be perfectly predictable, but when he spoke with her now she was certain his focus was on her. Not on his latest painting or whatever larks he'd been up to with his friends, or his thoughts half-soaked in whiskey. He'd been sober for three years, his brothers had informed her. Many of his friends had deserted him, she'd heard, considering sober, sensible Mac not entertaining enough for them. Selfish sycophants.
But Mac now seemed too subdued, the look in his eyes-behind his teasing-too sad.
Did I do that to him? Isabella's heart squeezed . Her leaving Mac had hurt him badly, she knew. It had hurt her too, but at the time, she'd thought she had no choice. But the knowledge that she'd cause him such pain made her unhappy.
Beth put aside her plate and touched her hand to her stomach. "Mmm. I think I've eaten a bit too much."
Isabella was about to make a jest about her having to eat for two, but one look at Beth's face had Isabella jumping to her feet and calling frantically for Ian.
Ian dropped his plate, his piece of cake landing facedown on the ground. He ran over to the ladies and swept Beth into his arms before she could protest.
"For heaven's sake, Ian," Beth said. "I'm fine. No need for fuss."
Isabella knew quite well that Beth was not fine. Her face was paper white, her lips pale, her pupils enormous.
Ian wasted no time carrying Beth out of the tea tent, scattering startled ladies before him like flocks of birds. Isabella followed, and she sensed Mac on her heels. At one point Mac tried to catch Isabella's arm, but she shook him off and hurried with Ian and Beth toward the gates.
She heard Mac stop someone behind them and instruct him to run for the Mackenzie carriage. Thank God for Mac. He loved his jokes and his escapades, but in a crisis, he knew how to keep his head. Soon Hart's landau careened toward them, the coachman standing on his box.
Ian climbed swiftly in, cradling Beth, and barely waited for Isabella to ascend before he bellowed at the coachman to get them home. They'd traveled to the track with the top down because the day was fine, and the seats were now warm with sunshine. Isabella dropped into one as the coach sprang forward.
Mac got left behind. Isabella looked back and saw him raise his hand to them, and through her panic, she felt grateful to him for knowing what to do.
She felt grateful again when they reached home and a doctor arrived on their heels to look after Beth. Mac had sent a messenger racing through the town to find him, the doctor said, with money for a hansom cab.
The doctor ordered Isabella out of the room. She didn't want to go, but Beth smiled wanly and repeated that she'd be fine. Ian refused to leave, however, and the doctor stopped arguing with him.
Isabella paced the upstairs hall of the long house, barely seeing the grand view the gallery gave to the extensive gardens. The dogs followed her, shooting her worried looks, knowing something was dreadfully wrong. Servants rushed into and out of Beth's room, carrying towels and basins, but no one stopped to speak to Isabella, and she heard nothing from inside the bedroom.
She was still pacing when Mac arrived. All five dogs rushed down the stairs to greet him, then rushed back up the stairs with him.
When he asked, "Any news?" Isabella felt as though she'd burst.

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