Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 36

For the next week in the Doncaster house, Cam and Daniel attended the races, Ian stayed with Beth, Isabella stayed home in case Beth needed her, and Mac moved between racetrack and house. He kept an eye out for the man Steady Ron had mistaken for Mac, but neither he, nor Steady Ron, nor the other bookmakers saw the Mac look-alike again. He also heard no word from Fellows in London, but Mac's prickling feeling remained, and he could not relax his guard.
Hart had withdrawn his insistence that Beth act as his hostess in light of her brief illness, and the air between him and Ian thawed. Mac had the feeling that Hart would ask Isabella instead, which made him understand Ian's annoyance. But neither Hart nor Isabella mentioned it. Besides, Hart seemed to vanish quite often from the house these days. He was involved in all kinds of schemes that Mac frankly didn't want to know about. Hart had turned his former propensity for dark, sensual appetites to a ruthlessness for politics. But then, Hart had always had a genius for the game-he'd stood for election at age twenty-two and won by a landslide, years before he'd become the lofty duke and took his seat in the House of Lords. Now he had most of the Lords and Commons under his formidable thumb.
Beth and Isabella walked together in the large garden most days, two lovely ladies in colorful dresses, heads bent together. Mac heard much laughter from the two of them and wondered how they found so much to giggle about. But he liked hearing their voices. Most of all, he liked Isabella's laughter.
While Mac and Ian read newspapers, smoked cigars, or played billiards in companionable silence, Isabella and Beth never ceased talking. They talked about everything-from houses and clothes to music to the flora and fauna of far-flung corners of the British Empire. It was domestic and pleasant, and Mac's wild friends would be appalled at him for liking it so much.
At night, Isabella disappeared into her bedroom, and Mac, sleepless, roamed the house. His body was tight with need, and though he and Isabella spoke together more easily these days, he wasn't stupid enough to simply slip off his clothes and slide into her bed. When he finally did gain entrance to that sanctuary, he vowed, he'd do it in such a way that he'd never have to leave it again.
The old house had no bathroom, which meant that when Isabella wanted to bathe, she reclined in a tub the footmen lugged into her bedroom. Mac could hear her in there through the wall between his bedroom and hers, Isabella splashing as she washed her body, her melodious humming arousing him to the point of pain.
One night, Mac couldn't take it anymore. Beth and Ian were ensconced in their own suite, and Cameron and Daniel were out, as was Hart. Isabella's voice drifted through the wall, a lady alone, happily bare in her bathtub .
Mac pushed open her unlocked door and walked inside, not bothering to knock. "Love, are you trying to drive me mad?"
Isabella dropped her sponge into the water with a large splash. She was quite alone, no Evans in sight. She'd piled her hair on top of her head, but a few escaped red ringlets had drifted to her wet shoulders.
Isabella fished up the sponge and regarded him over it in annoyance. "Not everything I do has to do with you, Mac."
There was no alarm or anger in her voice. She might have been answering him in a drawing room over tea. Mac's thoughts strayed to the last tea they'd taken in her drawing room, and he began to sweat.
He closed the door. "I've always admired your attention to cleanliness. Once a day, Lady Isabella is found in her bath, no matter how far the servants have to haul the water."
"There is a tap at the end of the hall. They do not have to haul it far."
Mac folded his arms so she wouldn't see his shaking fingers. Soap suds and the damned sponge obscured the full view of her body, but the pink arms and the soft knee poking through the water made him ache.
"Did you not tell me that your mother once compared you to a duckling?" Mac asked in a light voice. "Because you like to splash about in whatever water is handy?"
"I suppose I never grew out of it."
She was going to kill him. This was her dastardly plan-to let him glimpse what he couldn't have so that he'd burn into ashes on the carpet. Evans could sweep him up and throw him in the dustbin; no more intruding Mac Mackenzie.
"Ian and Beth are returning to Scotland at the end of the week," he said.
"I know." Isabella ran the sponge up her arm, rivulets of soap and water trickling back into the tub. "Will you be going with them?"
The exact question he wanted to ask her. "That depends," he said.
"On what?"
"On how many musicales and little soirees you'll be putting on in London. It's too cold now for a garden party, so I don't imagine you'll be holding them at the house in Buckinghamshire."
Isabella arched her brows and slid the sponge up her other arm. "My social calendar has been predictable for years. An opening and closing ball for the spring season, garden parties in July and August, the most important races of the circuit through September, shooting season and Christmas at Kilmorgan Castle. I see no reason to alter my plans this year."
"My social calendar seems to be much the same as yours," Mac said. "What a happy coincidence."
"For a change."
Mac went serious. "For a great change."
Isabella regarded him with her beautiful green eyes, and then she lowered her lashes and floated one foot to the edge of the tub. Mac watched the sponge glide from toes to knee, and his hunger grew.

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